One of those many surprisingly fascinating and exciting sightings for our guests (though many couldn't imagine it before coming here), is always a chameleon sighting. There is something captivating about them, their odd look, and the placidity of their movements. And here, on our reserve, one gets really close to them. As close as you can imagine it. You get the chance of holding one, and it is something very memorable, and unique. Many thanks to Chad for his quick eyesight for spotting these little creatures in the bush at night, and introducing them to our guests!
Gary and Ali stayed with us a few days ago at the lodge, and they absolutely loved their stay! Gary has sent me a link to a dropbox with his best photos, and wow, I really loved them. Several magnificent shots of rare cats like cheetahs (on a kill too!), elephants, leopards, lions, and a super rare Black Rhino. These guys were lucky indeed, and they really enjoyed their luck.
I really like the photos that Gary took of some birds. In fact, with about 400 species of birds on our reserve, we are famous for bird watching here. Some of these photos prove the point as to why that is, beyond any doubt.
And now, with any further ado, curtains open for my selection of Gary's very best photos. A "best of best" selection, so to speak.
Many thanks to Gary for sharing his photos with all of us and our many fans.
I confess, I am guilty of forgetting about many of the animals that we see here! Guilty as charged!
Truth is, we have several hundreds of species on this reserve, so when you visit here, then you will see so much more than this blog suggests. Some of these animals are so "common" that I forget to even mention them, but that's not doing them justice, because they are all beautiful ... and important.
Chad took some nice shots of an animal that one doesn't see see quite that often (unlike, say, impalas, wildebeest or even Kudus).
So curtain open to ... the Tsessebe!
They used to be very common all over Africa, but their numbers are now shrinking (due to habitat loss mainly), but not yet to the level of them being threatened. They are certainly doing very well on our reserve, which is great news.
They are grazers mainly, with some behavior patterns that are, well, odd. They sleep with their mouth flat on the ground for instance, and the horns straight up in the air. That's not really seen with any other antelopes. Otherwise, they are territorial, with one dominant male (lucky him!) with 6-10 females in one herd (ok, maybe not so lucky after all ). Young male bachelors form their own male-only clubs (party all night!), while they wait to get stronger to the point of being able to challenge for a female herd. Survival of the fittest (and strongest!) that is.
Tsessebe are also very fast runners, with speeds of up to 80km/h, so once they get going, it's tough for a predator, as they have good stamina as well.
So, here Chad's photos:
... the Zebra!
Often it is an animal that not many of our guests thought about before getting here for their African safari, and yet it is an animal that literally everyone immediately recognises once they spot it. They are of course a sub-species of the equids (like horses), but they are the only equids that have never really been domesticated, unlike horses and donkeys. Well, not quite: there was a gentleman in London, in the 19th century, who had a zebra-"powered" carriage in London, and he would show it off frequently. I suppose the kind of "exotic" car of the times.
Their stripes is what makes them famous and highly recognisable. Every animal has a completely unique stripe pattern, like a human fingerprint. There are many theories as to what the purposes of these stripes is. Some thought that it "dazzles" predators, as most predators are color-blind, but it is now widely thought that it reduces the amount of insects that targets them (up to 85% actually), so that gives them a survival edge.
They are social animals, living in herds, often mingling with wildebeest, as their respective smell and hearing skills complement each other very well. An interesting kind of symbiosis actually. Zebras have great eyesight, and wildebeest a great sense of smell.
While several sub-species are extinct, and several on the brink, the Zebra is overall not in great danger, but they are under pressure, as they are hunted for their meat and also their fur. The herds we have on our reserve are doing well, and we see them very regularly. They are, in my opinion, one of the prettiest animals in Africa, I always enjoy seeing them, and so do our guests, especially the ones interested in all things equine.
Here a couple of photos Chad and Uyai took a couple of days ago.
Animals don't have a sense of shame (and why would they?), so they regularly allow us to look into their most private moments. And that's exactly what happened with our lions a couple of days ago. Our guests were visibly amused by this, hmmmm, "interesting" sighting, and there was a lot giggling. Well, it's obvious as to why.
Lions, when in heat (which can occur at any time during the year), are known to have a voracious sexual appetite, being "busy" up to forty (yes, that's 40) times per day, and often forgo eating and hunting during those days. And how else could they manage? No time left.
The gestation period is relatively short at 110 days, and a lioness gives birth to 1-4 cubs at a time. The early weeks are very dangerous for lion cubs, and so lionesses hide them in various dens, moving them around in order to avoid scent to build up around the den. It is known that buffaloes will try to trample lion cubs to death should they come across a den, and also Jackals, snakes, Hyenas and Martial Eagles amongst others mean grave danger to them.
We'll see in a few months how this lioness will manage!
We were struggling to see the elephants for about 3-4 days, and while we got close to the male bull a couple of times, he somehow managed to avoid us. That was a bit frustrating, but Chad and Uyai always get there in the end. They spotted the entire herd at the Nyala Road, not far from the MRL lodge. And the super cute elephant baby was with them too! I am looking forward to see the little one growing up over the next months and years. Our guests loved it, and this was an excellent close sighting too, well done!
Now that we have the warning out of the way, let's cut to the chase.
We went out this morning, and it all seemed like a quiet safari day: Zebras, Giraffes, Kudus, ... until the guys found a cheetah kill! We hadn't seen the cheetahs in 5 days (and cheetah sightings is one of the things that we are known for), so it was amazing to find them again. But then on a super fresh kill! Our guests were beyond excited, and understandably so.
The two brothers had managed to take down a young wildebeest. They were spotted on Leopards Bend cutline. We spent quite some time with them, observing the rather gruesome affair of eating up the kill, with all guts and stomach out of the poor wildebeest, what a mess. But that's nature, beautiful but then of course also pitiless and brutal.
We have only a couple of of super rare Black Rhinos on our reserve, and we quasi never see them, as they are part of our conservation efforts, and are very protected. This is a truly rare species of Rhinos! All Rhinos are highly endangered, but this sub-species much more so than the White Rhino.
Now Black Rhinos are not called that because they are darker, but rather as opposed to White Rhinos (the term "white" was a wrong translation of "wyd", which means "wide"). White Rhinos have wide mouths, as they are grazers, and Black Rhinos eat leaves off trees and bush, so they have more pointy mouths. But color-wise, they are really the same. Black Rhinos are also a little smaller than White Rhinos.
The Black Rhino is one of the crassest examples of how humans have caused havoc on earth. Of the 7 known sub-species of Black Rhinos, 3-4 are now considered extinct, and 2 more are on the very brink. It is only due to stubborn conservation efforts on private game reserves, such as ours, that the population of some of them is kept secure for future generations (that will hopefully recognise that we humans should share).
So you can imagine the joy of our rangers to see one of our few Black Rhinos doing well on the reserve, and our guests were spoilt with one of the very rarest sightings you can possibly imagine when out on an African safari. If sightings were categorised as gems, then this would be the pink flawless 5 carat diamond. Period. What a joy.
Our guests (past, current and future!) must also be aware that their visits contribute to the ongoing funding and safekeeping of these highly endangered animals, so seeing these animals also means seeing the good that you guys are doing by traveling from far afield to see and witness the vast beauty of this world, and appreciating it. And that's something to be mindful of, and also to be proud of.
Here the beautiful photo that a guest of ours made of the Black Rhino we saw 2 days ago. Great shot!
... is the Wildebeest, also called "Gnu" (which is the sound these animals often make).
When you visit our reserve, you will see them 5-10 times on each game drive, if not more often.
Sometimes it is a lone male, in his "territory", trying to attract females, or it is large herds, sometimes up to 50-70 animals, and more, happily grazing away. We often think of them as lion food (and they certainly find them tasty), but they are interesting in their own right, and no safari would be complete without having seen this typical African animal.
So what are wildebeests: well, a bit surprisingly, they are actually antelopes.
There are two kinds of wildebeest, and the one you will see here is the "Blue wildebeest". In Eastern Africa, they are famous for the mass migrations which occur twice a year. But they don't do that here.
Wildebeest were first spotted at approximately 1700 by Dutch settlers while migrating to the interior of South Africa. Because of their resemblance to wild cattle they called them "wild ox" or, when translated: "wildebeest".
One of the things that we have observed here, and which is true, is that they are very far from being sharp tools in the box. Actually, they are quite dumb animals. They are known to run away from lions or other predators, and while running away, suddenly stop again ... because they forgot why they were running in the first place, to then suddenly start running again when they see the lions approach again. Stupid! Gilles has himself filmed wildebeest stubbornly refusing to run away from lions in time, despite their obvious presence, and in the end, believe it or not, two of them get killed. Totally unnecessarily, and totally, totally stupid.
We must have many hundreds of them on the reserve, if not well over a thousand, because we see them all the time.
Here some photos that Chad and Uyai took today.
And here a video that Gilles and I made about 2 months ago:
We have been seeing so much over the last 3 days: lions, cheetahs, rhinos, elephants, kudu, impala, the list goes on and on. So I have picked the two (well, this is a very personal opinion) "best of" sightings. As I said, this is just what I would have preferred having seen myself, had I been as lucky as our guests to be out on safari.
One is an amazing nocturnal leopard sighting. The most elusive of all cats, and enigmatic of all. We see them more and more often, but one still needs some luck to spot them as close as this. We saw this big male leopard last night on Impala road. He was pretty relaxed. He sat up and watched us for a while before turning and disappearing into the thicket. One of our guests succeeded with an amazing shot also, and we published that shot on Facebook, here the link to that:
Here our tracker's shot, not bad either (ok, it's pretty bad actually), it gives one nonetheless a good idea of what an exciting close-up sighting this really was.
My other personal favorite was a SUPER rare Saddled Billed Stork (actually two, as it is a couple). Some birders will pay an arm and a leg to get a sighting like this one. Only a very few breeding couples are known in South Africa, and we are lucky enough to have one of them on our reserve, breeding successfully. What a joy! This to me is one of the biggest conservation successes on our large reserve, along with our rhinos, wild dogs and cheetahs amongst others.