Some might think I may be a little bored in my office, posting blog stories every day. Not true! I am always busy bringing the beauty of our reserve, and the excitement of our safaris and lodge as close to our fans and future guests as only possible.
But sometimes when I get the daily sightings report, with all the photos, then I feel guilty not posting all of them. But I have to be selective, as there is just too much. We see lions now, for instance, on average at least 3 times each week, and, from what I estimate, cheetahs at least twice a week. That's a lot for rare animals (especially cheetahs), on a reserve of this sheer size (over 36,000 acres). By only having one pride of lions, we have allowed a lot of space for rare and endangered animals, such as hyena, leopards and cheetahs, and it comes as no surprise that their numbers have increased steadily over recent years. There were no cheetahs as recently as 3 years ago, while now we may have close to 10, and we know of one mother at least who is successfully breeding in the wild. We recently saw her with her newest cub who is doing very well. She's great!
But there is news: in due time 7-9 additional elephants will be introduced, as the reserve's fauna can carry a lot more of them, and in due time, we should have two massive herds. Great news! Also on the rhino front, there is movement, and we are hopeful to add to the number of super-rare black rhinos. All in all, on the conservation side of things (as well as many others), we are blessed with exciting success stories, and the continued support of our guests (by visiting us) means that the future of this highly endangered animals looks more and more sustainable and secure. So my personal thanks go out to our many guests. You are pivotal to the preservation of this area, which I consider as one of the prettiest in the world. A lot of good has been achieved here, and you should all feel proud of it. You made it possible, and you continue to make it possible.
Far from it!
We are lucky to be located in an area that boasts some of the world's most famous and stunning sceneries: the Kruger National Park, one of the oldest and largest nature parks in the world, the Panorama Route with canyon views, waterfalls and Graskop (for those who love to shop for African handcraft), and then of course the breathtaking Blyde River Canyon, the world's third largest, and only green canyon!
I never understand why other lodges never show these truly awsome sights to their guests. It is beyond me, as our guests are left in awe when they see the canyon on one of the river cruises we organise through the canyon. These are some of the most famous and compelling nature beauties to see not only in South Africa, but worldwide. And we offer this trip every day, so there are plenty of opportunities.
Kim went with guests on one of these boat trips, and she took some lovely pics to share with our fans and future guests.
Just looking at them made me realise again how blessed we are, and what a beautiful planet we live on.
... and sometimes that is a little too far, as Jesse demonstrated yesterday. He got totally stuck while crossing a riverbed. Due to heavy rainfalls over recent weeks, the sand was so loose that there was no hope, the wheels just dug themselves in, and our Landcruiser met with its limits. Kim and Rex had to go out and "rescue" the guests, who quite enjoyed the entire adventure. This doesn't happen often, and it is probably the first time most ever got so horribly stuck out in nature.
But it was all worth it! Jesse found the two young cheetah brothers hanging out in the river. They are so relaxed that, for poor little Savanna's hope, they won't decide to move into the lodge too. (we had a resident caracal for a long time that visited the lodge frequently, but she hasn't been seen in a long time, we fear the worst has happened to her. Poor Pixie, we loved her very much. Hopefully Savanna will be with us for longer. I think she is pregnant now, so soon-ish we will have lots of little Savannas at the lodge.)
So yes, it was worth it, definitely. Mike and Uyai had to work hard to dig out Jesse's game driver, but thank God we have three game drivers, so we can always get it sorted. Great adventure for our guests who got both an amazing sighting, and a feel for what off-road adventure really means, also the downside of it. It made for lots of laughs in the evening.
A couple of days ago we had a fantastic elephant sighting. Of course, bad luck would have it, I had skipped that drive, and so I missed it. But the photos that Uyai took compensated for that. It is always nice to see the elephant herd doing so well, and growing in size over time. The herd is now a third larger than it was 5 years ago, and seeing them is one of the most breathtaking experiences our guests can enjoy here. They are so much bigger than photos reflect. An elephant can measure over 5 meters in height, so they tower over the vehicles, and that is a deeply humbling experience for any human. A 7-ton elephant never fails to impress! It looks like we may introduce more elephants to the reserve, as the reserve has grown in size (over 36,000 acres now), and more land is expected to be added to it. But as it is, the reserve can easily handle over 30 elephants, so that's why it makes sense to introduce more. They are paramount in clearing over-grown portions of the reserve, but then again every animal plays a pivotal role in the whole eco-system. Personally, I just enjoy the sighting of a large and happy herd of elephants, going about their lives. They make the world a beautiful and wonderful place.
It is well known that elephants are extremely loving and kind to their offspring, and with a gestation period of well over a year, the birth of a new baby elephant is big news in the herd. All females take interest in the event, and support the mother and new-born. These moments are very touching, and it shows that the differences between humans and animals do not really exist. Raising her child is an utmostly important and enjoyable task for any elephant mother, and this bond remains way beyond the childhood age. They will always recognise each other, and share tender moments when they meet later in life, or stay together in the same herd if it is a female elephant baby.
Here some of the lovely photos that Uyai has taken. What a great moment.
Caroline and George stayed with us very recently (in fact they checked out last Friday), for 5 nights. They had a great time here, and, to judge by the photos they took, an amazing safari experience as well.
In fact I would say their photos are most definitely some of the best I have seen in months! We should start a yearly Vuyani price for best picture taken, because some of these photos are true gems.
It is easy enough to take a photo, but it is much harder to capture a special moment or something peculiar in an animal's life, just at the right time. It is hard to catch the aggressive nature of a lion, the placidity of a rhino, or the curiosity of an elephant. The rest is composition. lighting, setting of course. But Caroline and George nailed it on each one of these photos. Amazing! Many thanks for sharing these with us, and allowing us to share them with all our fans and future guests.
So, without any further ado, here they are! Enjoy!
Some days are just off the chart here at the lodge!
The guys went out with all our guests yesterday, and they found the entire elephant herd. They were not too far from the lodge, and they were crossing the dirt road in front of them, in a very relaxed manner. Amazing photo opportunity!
That alone would already make this safari outing a great success. But this was nothing compared to what was to come!
The lions had made a kill near the staff village (a zebra and fowl at the same time), so the guys headed down there, and, fair enough, the lions were to be found. They are hanging around the lodge these days, and we see them very regularly.
So far, it was a great day, no doubt about it. But there is always potential for more excitement: during the afternoon safari, Mike and Uyai found a fresh cheetah kill, ironically very near the morning's lion kill. It seems to be the perfect spot indeed. They were found in the "Jackal's Plain", having taken down a young wildebeest. Both brothers were enjoying some truly tender meat. Bon appetit.
And, true to its name (Jackal's Plain), soon there was keen interest to be observed by a local jackal, intent to make for the remains of the carcass. Nothing goes for waste in nature!
Speaking of which: the vultures were out en masse, as they are the ones who clean up the very last bits that carcasses leave behind.
Wow, what a safari day that was! Hard to match, and amongst the hundreds of photos taken, I chose some at random but I could have posted any, they were all great. I will try to go out myself on safari later this week, and I will attempt to capture some footage (and film footage) of my own.
I'll keep you posted!
We had a great day yesterday, between our reserve and the Kruger Park, all Big 5 were seen in one single day, and dozens of other species. This does happen regularly, of course, but it is still amazing when it does occur especially as we offer a very exclusive and traditional way of going on safari. There is no zoo-like ticking off the boxes here! With us it is all old-fashioned high-skilled tracking. And that's what our guests love us for. The excitement rises steadily as you get closer to an animal, and the reward when it is finally spotted is many-fold compared to a cheap and quick sighting, shared with 3-4 another game drivers. That's the sort of Formula 1-safari that we avoid here at any cost, and that's what gives the experience here that very special touch.
Uyai didn't get to take a photo of all sightings, as he was busy tracking and also entertaining our guests, but see below some really cool shots. The leopard is out of focus (and only half in the frame), I guess Uyai was a little over-excited. all too understandable!
We do see cheetahs unusually often, for sure, but then we see the lion pride even more regularly. Last week though was an exception in the sense that we saw them quasi every day. The increased safari volume, as well as increased knowledge about their movement patterns helps a lot. And they never fail to impress our guests!
The male is now approaching fully grown status, but still 1-2 years of slight growth in him. He is a true giant now already, a real sight to be seen! And he is here to stay, as the master of the only pride on the reserve. Lucky lion indeed! Most lions get more competition than that. But because of the lack of infighting, he has no scars, which makes him all the prettier. Many male lions have injury scares all over because of the constant fighting against other males, a detail little known to many. Also interesting detail: the male lions' manes are actually there to protect them against injuries sustained in infighting, not because they are lazy hippies. OK, they are that too, very often, by the looks of it, as they hunt very little, but eat lots (mostly what the lionesses have killed for him), and think that's ok. So yes, it is true, a lot of males are a bunch of mooching machos, for the most part of their lives, and doing very little in the domain of rearing cubs either. But the females don't seem to mind. Go figure. hmmmm
Jesse took some nice footage of the lions, on various days. Enjoy!
... goes to this!
This is maybe even the cutest sighting in years. Mike and Uyai found this cheetah mother, with her super-adorable cub. We believe she also raised the other two males that are being seen very regularly. She is totally relaxed around the vehicles, and she is passing on this behavior to her offspring, and it shows. The cub and mother were totally chilled, giving our over-joyed guests a lot of time to enjoy this rare sighting and to take lots of photos. A cheetah sighting in itself is the cherry on top - type of event, but to see this ... that's incredible stuff. Lucky guests indeed!
Cheetah cubs are very vulnerable, as they are being hunted by other predators, such as lions, and so as such their survival rates are quite low. Fingers crossed for this one! Cheetahs usually have 2-3 cubs, so she may already have lost one or two others. We will never know. But she is a very good mother, having reared successfully her previous offspring. Amazing job!
Here some more photos, I cannot really decide which one is cuter, they are all lovely. Enjoy!
Speaking of motherhood ... we also saw this young zebra and her mum. It seems to be that time ...
... also seen was this resting wildebeest herd. It is rare to be able to spot them (and photograph them) in this relaxed state.
Mike and Uyai have sent in so many photos of so many amazing sightings, I didn't have enough time to post them all. So here a collection of the week's most beautiful and striking sightings. There were many more, and the week's blog posts show them as well. Consider these photos the "week's best of".
Hats off to Uyai, he has managed to capture some real gems!
First off, 4 days ago, our guests wished to see rhinos, and Mike performed! Here they are. Our guests got close up to these giants of the bush. They were very relaxed, and we had plenty of time to capture some amazing footage of them. You can see that most of their horn is de-horned, which has been done to protect them from poaching. They are about to be de-horned again, so as to keep their black market value as low as only possible.
We then also had yet another beautiful lion sighting 2 days ago. The entire pride was resting in an area we call the "cotton field". I am amazed, I haven't seen the male myself in quite a while, and I am astonished by how much his mane has grown. And he is really, really big now! Mind that lions can weigh up to 500 pounds, so you can imagine. This cat is a lot bigger than it looks on the photos. Seeing them up-close, in wild nature, is a once in a lifetime experience, and it should really be on absolutely everyone's bucket list.
And then, again, the piece de resistance, two male cheetahs (they are brothers)! We see cheetahs more often here than pretty much any reserve, so this is becoming increasingly something we are famous for. We now see cheetahs on a quasi weekly basis, and often more frequently, and given that only a few hundred of them still live in the wild in South Africa (a country twice the size of France!), that is something to be very proud of. The two cheetahs are used to seeing game drivers, so it was amazing for our guests to observe these immensely rare and beautiful animals in their natural habitat. This is the dream sighting of any African safari!
Uyai and Mike have very keen eyes for the small things in nature, that only the very well trained eye can spot. Chameleons! Here is one we saw this week, much to the amusement of our guests. When we find one of them, our guests have the opportunity to hold one on their hand and see them from very close. Unique!
This concludes this week's review, it has been an excellent one indeed. I am looking forward to all the things that our rangers and tracker will find for our guests next week. There is always something special going on.