Paul Riley – the full safari report

As of late, I am very pleased to receive more often photos from guests, all photos they took themselves during their stay with us. Paul and his wife (and his kid) stayed with us for 3 nights, coming over from Joburg for a long weekend. They come to the lodge on average once to twice a year, to get some much-needed rest and calm.

I always find it interesting to post these photos, because it shows me how our guests see things, and also what they see. It is unfiltered, and a 100% guaranteed true reflection of what can be seen when out on safari with us.

So, without any further ado, here the shots that were sent it. Beautiful!

Many thanks to Paul for allowing me to share these amazing photos with all our fans and future guests. :-)

White Rhino
White Rhino
Giraffe (of course)
Giraffe (of course)
Warthog
Warthog
Mongoose
Mongoose
Chameleon
Chameleon
Cheetah
Cheetah
Owl
Owl
Yellow Bill Hornbill
Yellow Bill Hornbill

A very interesting plant

We saw a very cool plant today: the Leopard Orchid.

I will just quote from a website that gives a very good description for that plant:

“The African Ansellia is commonly known as the Leopard Orchid. It is not difficult to see the rationale behind the common name when one takes a look at the Ansellia africana orchid, named in honor of John Ansell who discovered the first specimens when he embarked on an expedition on the Niger river. Some orchid enthusiasts claim that there is only one species of Ansellia africana that can be described as a monotypic genus, but the Leopard Orchid is actually a very complex group of species that all share a common growth structure and flower bearing habit. The other names that are associated with the Ansellia africana are as follows: Luipaardorchidee (Dutch), Luiperdorgidee (Afrikaans); Imfeyenkawu (Zulu).

Another odd, but wonderful characteristic of the Ansellia africana orchid also earned it an odd name, Trash Basket Orchid. That characteristic is the Ansellia africana’s ability, due to its epiphytic nature, to create a makeshift container of its aerial roots to not just catch but also to digest falling leaf litter and use it as nutrients.”

So … Trash Basket Orchid … let’s take a look at the photo that Togara took today:

Well ...
Well …
... maybe ...
… maybe …

The Ansellia africana is a huge epiphyte that grows in clumps. In nature you can find them attached to tree branches (see above, true!) by their epiphytic aerial roots that resemble canes, showing off spectacularly when the Ansellia africana is in bloom. These aerial roots can become very thick and resembles rope like structures that will anchor the orchid plant onto the substrate. This orchid uses its ‘other’ aerial roots, pointing upwards, making them appear like a trash basket (to catch organic debris) around its pseudobulbs. Each of these pseudobulbs can carry up to 8 leaves which in turn bears the flowers. The organic debris serves as nutrients for the orchid when it grows in its natural habitat. These aerial roots look different from the ones used to anchor the orchid plant. In its natural habitat the Ansellia africana can live and thrive for a long, long time, become huge plants with spectacular masses of flowers.

As I always tell our guests … don’t expect a safari here to just be about a few animals and that’s it. We have hundreds of species of birds here, some of them so pretty that it takes your breath away (European roller, anyone?), some so huge that some are rumoured to outsize an Peruvian Condor even (so I’m talking huge). Some say: “Oh, I am not very interested in birds”. Well, let’s see if you still say that when you see an eagle with a 4 meter wing span fly past you). We also have over a hundred species of trees, and lots and lots of bush and flower types. And all of these elements make for a beautiful and interesting safari in the African bush, and very often it is these little things that provide the most lasting memories.

Here a nice photo of a journey of giraffes that we also came across on our day out in the bush today. Always curious those …

We will get you there … for that amazing lion sighting!

Gilles just composed a hilarious video, showing the lengths to which we go to get you to a sighting … this is quite rare, but when it makes sense, then that’s what we will go for!

And when it pays off, this is the sort of sightings you will get … all worth it!

Female lion!
Female lion!
... very close-up!
… very close-up!
And here's the man!
And here’s the man!

Lions are much, much bigger than photos make them look. They weigh up to 500 pounds, so you can imagine!
Lions are much, much bigger than photos make them look. They weigh up to 500 pounds, so you can imagine!

 

Possibly the most amazing sighting (and news) of the year!

This morning we were looking for Cheetahs – and did we find Cheetahs!! Hendrick and Aggy stopped the Landcruiser and set off on foot to track them, as they suspected them to be nearby. The guests told me that they were gone for quite a while… the next minute they both came storming out of the thicket, jumped in the car and told the guests to “hold on” and then there it was:

The female with 5 cubs had joined up with the two brothers (probably her previous offspring also). All 5 cubs are still alive and well. So we had a sighting of 8 Cheetahs!! This is outstanding on so many levels …

First of all, we have never seen so many cheetahs together on our reserve. It is in general very rare to see so many together, as they are solitary animals (unlike lions who hunt in coalitions most of the time). It is unusual for a female to join up with other cheetahs, even for a short while. To be honest, this is a mystery to me. Maybe because she recognised the two males as her own offspring?

What is also amazing is the fact that this cheetah mother has succeeded in rearing 5 cubs, and as far as we know now, all 5 have survived. Given that the usual survival rates of cheetah cubs range from 25-50% at the most, this is testimony to how perfect this reserve is for wildlife conservation, and also what an amazing cheetah mother this is. I am in awe, and I could not be any happier. What a beautiful moment, and what an incredible thing to be happening here.

Bear in mind, there are only about 400-500 cheetahs in the wild still in South Africa, so our guests just saw … 2% of all wild cheetahs in South Africa, in one go. It shows you how immense the positive impact is of private game reserves such as ours on the conservation of these species, many of which are literally on the very edge of survival.

And we certainly are proud of it!

Approach ...
Approach …

... there they are!
… there they are!
... the little cubs ...
… the little cubs …
... and moving off ...
… and moving off …

 

A fleeting hyena and then quite the iconic cheetah sighting

I mentioned in a recent story … every day out there on safari is different … and it is like a box of chocolate: you never know what you’ll get. Well, you have an idea, but then nature throws in these luck sightings that one really didn’t expect.

So yesterday we sighted a spotted hyena on a portion of the reserve we call “Leopard’s Bent”. Unfortunately he was rather quick and we only managed two quick photos. It was pure luck and the guests loved it … a very interesting, and quintessential animal to the ecosytem. Beautiful.

Spotted hyena!
Spotted hyena!

We then picked up fresh Cheetah tracks and found the two boys in the Zandspruit river bed. They were moving around and then flopped down and repeated this process a couple of times before settling down in some grassy shrub. It was a great sighting as they are so very relaxed and don’t seem to have a care in the world.

At the risk of repeating myself: If you are after some of the best sightings of this super rare, and iconic, animal, from up-close in wild nature, then we are one of the very top places to go to. It doesn’t get much better than this, quite frankly.

Let these photos speak for themselves!

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Brian McLaren Foote – the full safari report

I am always delighted (because it is quite rare!) when guests email in photos of their safari here at the Vuyani Safari Lodge. Brian stayed with us earlier this month and checked out a few days ago. Well, by his own accounts, he absolutely loved it here and he is keen on coming back. Indeed, to judge by the photos he has emailed in, he has seen rare and beautiful animals, and very much up-close. He also loved the food and the general atmosphere here, so I could not be more thrilled for them.

It is hard to offer a genuine “Out in Africa” safari experience, right in the African bush wilderness, and yet combine it with all of modernity’s amenities, such as warm water, electricity, air conditioning, top quality international food, free (and fast) internet wifi connection everywhere, etc etc, so it’s all the more rewarding when it all comes together, and our guests have a fantastic time here.

Here the photos Brian has emailed in to me. Great shots indeed! Many thanks for letting me share them with our many fans out there.

image1 image2 image9 image8 image5 image4

Are they dead … ??

… nope …. just sleeping … again!

Sleepy cheetah!
Sleepy cheetah!

If you think lions are lazy (and they most certainly are), then that’s before you have seen cheetahs. They are quasi always resting or sleeping, whenever we come across them.

In their defense, they can afford it. When they do hunt, they are ruthlessly effective. Average kill success rates go up to 80%, while a very good lion will reach 40% or so.

And that also explains these long rest periods. The kind of muscles that cheetahs have are quasi all “fast-twitch” fibers, and that gives them this explosive power, enabling them to reach speeds in excess of 100 km/h, making them officially the fastest animal on earth. That’s the current record. Maybe there was a faster animal at some point in the past, but if there was, it wasn’t recorded, and it’s extinct now in any case.

Back to muscles: Fast-twitch muscles need much longer recuperation periods than slow twitch muscle fibers, and so when they do fail to make a kill it often takes them a very long time period to recover and to regain their strength for the next attempt. But as I said above, this is only rarely the case, they tend to succeed much more often than they fail.

After a good meal, they tend to retreat to an area they feel safe in (these 2 brothers have their favourite spot in a dry river bed), and laze about for hours on end, digesting and getting ready for the next hunt. That about covers their life. Sweet.

Cheetahs are also VERY rare now. There are probably only about 400 specimen left in the wild in South Africa, but thanks to reserves such as ours, their numbers seem to be edging up again. We have at least two breeding females now, so the future seems to be safe for them on this spot, for now … if you want to see these extremely rare, and utmostly beautiful animals in the wild, there is no better reserve than this one that I can think of. That’s guaranteed. We see cheetahs here 3-4 times/week, and that’s a very, very high sighting occurrence.

... with his brother
… with his brother
Alive or dead?
Alive or dead?
Alive!
Alive!

And how about the lion cubs?

We knew one of our lionesses had had 3 cubs quite recently (well, it was a few months ago), and we saw them a couple of times, but it is chronically hard to find them, and see them clearly. Survival chances of lion cubs are low …. there are animals that will actively target lion cubs when they smell them (with the aim of killing them), as they know that they are future enemies. As a result, lioness mothers are very protective and careful … they change hiding spots frequently, and they try to keep them hidden from anyone and anything as much as possible. And that includes game drivers. Yesterday, however, we got lucky! We had a beautiful sighting of the entire pride, and at least 2 of the cubs. Since our last sighting they have visibly grown up and I now think they are quite likely to make it to full adulthood. They look very healthy. This is great news, everyone’s excited. Our guests got more than they hoped for, and they were, understandably so, over the moon. What an amazing moment we could all capture here. :-)

I am looking forward to seeing more photos of them in coming months. The dad was very engaged and playful with the previous litter, and it will be interesting to see if he has maintained that attitude. It is unusual behavior … male lions are usually not very interested in rearing the offspring …

Enough said, here the photos!

What a beautiful morning!
What a beautiful morning!
Lion cub!
Lion cub!

Dad's not far either ... keeping an eye out ...
Dad’s not far either … keeping an eye out …
... and here the mother!
… and here the mother!

Zebras and giraffes

When our guests book, very often they keep talking about wanting to see the “Big5″. Well, most struggle to name all the members of the Big5, but besides that, what I have noticed is that when they leave from here, and I ask them what their favourite sightings were, many mention zebras or giraffes. Indeed zebras are definitely one of those strikingly African animals, and also, in my eyes, one of the most beautiful and elegant. But that’s just my own opinion. What is surprising is that many reserves struggle quite a bit with zebras. As they have too many predators (remember, Big5?), zebras come under pressure and so they become rare. Many reserves in the south of the Kruger suffer of this issue, and that is a shame. When one is on safari in Africa, one should really have seen zebras!

The same is true for giraffes! This animal is most definitely the most gracious, and the most distinct of all African animals. No single safari brochure will not have giraffes on the cover, and there is a good reason for that. They are simply stunning, and very, very tall. It is hard to fathom their size and height on a photo, but when you are next to one, it will blow you away. They are truly enormous! And we are blessed with MANY on this reserve. We have several hundreds of them on our reserve, and accordig to a relatively recent estimate, it was close to 1000. That’s an amazing number, given that the total estimate of giraffes living in the wild in Africa is only 300,000. To put it in context: Africa as a continent is larger than Europe, Latin America and North America COMBINED! So you can imagine what an achievement that is … something we should be proud of.

Here a herd of zebras we saw yesterday, as well as a beautiful set of giraffes. Enjoy!

Bottom?
Bottom?
Zebra ... obviously so ....
Zebra … obviously so ….
And a journey of giraffes
And a journey of giraffes

“Accident” sightings

Most of our sightings are the result of tracking and searching … which is a methodical type of work. It’s a combination of work and experience. Some guides know the reserve so well, after several years, that they can quasi feel the animal’s intentions … and where they have been heading. It’s really quite amazing to watch them at work. Sometimes, however, we have “accident” sightings, which is the kind of sighting you didn’t really expect, and they just happen, out of the blue. They are sometimes the best of all as they even cause our guides and trackers to be a bit shocked and excited. We saw a big herd of wildebeest at first, yesterday, and were heading towards an area we call “Leopard’s Bend”, to see what there is.

Herd of wildebeest
Herd of wildebeest

And promptly we spotted two male cheetahs, to our guests’ delight. Great sigting on its own, and one of the rarest kinds that one can get in Africa. Successful safari trip already right there and then.

Two male cheetah brothers
Two male cheetah brothers

On the way back, near the Muruti portion of the reserve (the reserve is so large that it has several large parts that have their own names), we ran into a couple of rhinos, by total surprise. Rhinos are not there too often, so that was a very nice surprise! Stunning sighting also, with lots of opportunities for our guests to take up-close photos.

So that was most of yesterday, with some seriously exciting safari encounters, and pretty much all of them by pure accident. Could be worse! ;-)

Impressive rhino spotted yesterday!
Impressive rhino spotted yesterday!