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Right time, right place

Just when you think it couldn’t get any better!

Written by: Liesa Becker

“So, Richard and I might have a little surprise for you”, I told my guests as Richard, my tracker, and I shared a hopeful smile.

It was the last day of March and we had spent our afternoon drive quietly watching impala, zebra and giraffe and discussing interesting trees and their uses. We could have driven to a more productive area, but as we were setting off I heard that Kapama’s latest additions had been spotted: brand new lion cubs! Knowing what a treat this sighting would be for our guests (and ourselves!), Richard and I had opted for the chance to spend some time with them, even if it meant a quiet start to our drive.

As we approached the western side of Mongoose Dam we spotted two lions, part of the Guernsey pride, then as we got closer, two tiny young cubs emerged from behind a termite mound, chasing one another around under the watchful gaze of their mother and sub-adult big brother.

The dynamics of a lion pride are fascinating and the interaction between its members is always entertaining, especially when there are little ones. These playful, three-month-old cubs were more boistrous than ever; endless bundles of energy stalking and pouncing on one another and their unbelievably tolerant big brother. Despite the difference in age and size, he indulged their antics, and even seemed to enjoy the attention. Their mother lay off to one side watching over her offspring and emanating self-satisfaction.

It wasn’t necessary to explain to our guests how fortunate we were and how special this sighting was. It certainly made my personal list of top lion sightings, and as we left to allow other guests a chance to share the experience, I knew that even if we saw nothing all the way home, this would be a most memorable drive.

The smile that that thought generated had barely formed when one of my fellow rangers, Christo, called in a pangolin sighting close by. A pangolin, for those who haven’t heard of them, looks like what you might get if you crossed an armadillo with an anteater, and spotting one is at the top of every ‘bush junkie’s’ wish list. Pulling in beside Christo’s vehicle, I invited the guests to jump off to get a closer look at this shy and elusive creature.

The young pangolin curled up in the road took my breath away. I am pretty sure our guests thought I was close to crazy when they witnessed my reaction, but I couldn’t help but get emotional. Calmly and carefully, I picked it up and he slowly uncurled himself, giving us an oh-so-slight peak. Many who live and work in the bush all their lives have never seen one – I certainly hadn’t – but to hold one was a dream, one I’d never thought to have, come true.

We stopped for drinks a little later, accompanied by a stunner of a sunset, and the thought of how lucky I am to be able to have this amazing job, to see these incredible things and share them with others, brought me close to tears.

I always say and will always continue to say, a game drive ultimately boils down to being in the right place at the right time and for us, this had been a day full of both.

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Curious creatures

…that make the trees weep.

Written by: Joe Van Rensburg – Buffalo Camp

Spittle bug (Ptyelus grossus)

Spittle bug (Ptyelus grossus)

Chances are, if you’ve spent any time under certain trees on safari, you’ve felt a fine drizzle on your skin. It’s not the sort of thing that demands immediate attention, but the next time it happens you may want to take a closer look. Somebody’s spitting on you!

The spittle bug (Ptyelus grossus), also known as the rain-tree bug, occurs in bushveld areas right across the southern half of the African continent. They are gregarious in their larval and nymph stages, and at certain times of the year you might find hundreds congregating on a variety of trees and shrubs. They huddle closely together, using their drill-like mouthparts to feed on the cambium layer of their host plant and excreting a protective nest from a combination of the plant’s sap and oxygen. This foamy, processed sap insulates the nest against excessive heat and cold, prevents the larvae from drying out, and resembles spit, hence the name ‘spittle bug’. It accumulates and falls constantly, causing the ‘rain-tree’ phenomenon.

The African wattle and the apple leaf trees are favoured hosts, but spittle bugs may also be found feeding on Acacia trees and many varieties of shrub. So next time you’re under a tree in the bush and you feel a little rain on your skin, it’s more than likely a nest of spittle bugs doing what they do best. But don’t take it personally, they spit on everyone!

Written by: Joe Van Rensburg – Buffalo Camp

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A Bushbaby’s Worst Nightmare

Living and working in the heart of the African bush is a privilege shared by only a few. It’s been my privilege for 14 years – 9 as a field guide before becoming Southern Camp’s lodge manager – long enough to occasionally feel as though I’ve seen it all. There are times, however, when Mother Nature stops me in my tracks with something so amazing that I can’t help but wonder, in all my years of living out here, how much of the magic happening all around me I’ve actually seen.

One of these halting moments happened just two evenings ago, right on my doorstep.

Very distraught lesser bushbaby

Very distraught lesser bushbaby

I was spending the evening relaxing at home when an annoying squeaking sound had me frowning up at the ceiling fan spinning over my head.  To my relief, I realised that the noise was actually coming from the big old knob thorn tree just outside my front door. Naturally, I grabbed a flashlight and my camera and went to investigate.

Shining up into the branches, I was amazed to see that the odd screeching sound was coming from a very distraught lesser bushbaby. These little, wide-eyed primates are long-time residents in the trees around camp, so it surprised me to hear this particular, unrecognisable distress call.  I decided to hang around and keep searching for whatever was causing him so much discomfort.

African rock python

African rock python

It took me a while to find the troublemaker, but when I did I immediately understood the bushbaby’s distress. High up in the tree lay an African rock python, waiting for the bushbaby to move into striking range. I couldn’t see its head, but its distinctive markings made it easy to identify. It’s not at all strange to find pythons in trees, and younger ones often venture up in search of nesting birds and bats – and bushbabies, apparently. Although clearly a juvenile, at almost 2 metres long it was no small threat to the tiny bushbaby. I had never witnessed a lesser bushbaby interacting with a snake before, but now I know that strange, whining distress call that brings to mind dodgy ceiling fans translates to a very particular fear.

The lesser bushbaby kept his eyes on the python

The lesser bushbaby kept his eyes on the python

In the manner of so many prey animals, the lesser bushbaby kept his eyes on the python while shouting out his agitated warning into the night. For almost an hour, I stood outside in the dark watching him leap back and forth between the branches, just out of reach of a killing strike, wondering if it could be a clever tactic to loosen the snake’s grip on the branches so it might fall.

Another 30 minutes or so later, the bushbaby gave up and moved off somewhere safer, and not long after, the hungry python wound its way further up into the tree in search of an easier dinner.

The evening’s entertainment over, I went back inside and thanked my lucky stars for the wonders of the African bush that, even after 14 years, still manage to astound me.

And for the fact that I’m not a bushbaby.

Johan Esterhuizen,
Lodge Manager – Southern Camp

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Eternal Enemies

We have all seen the breath taking events that unfold on TV when we watch channels like Discovery and National Geographic.  Inevitably we come into the industry of Guiding and every day you wake hoping to see something similar to show your guests.  It takes the film makers that produce these documentaries years and years of time and money to eventually get that perfect shot or perfect opportunity for some awesome footage.

My four guests Bob, Janet, Georgine and Kevin spent three nights with us, we had our share of big 5 sightings and we were having a blast.  On our second night out we decided to go and have a look around the Hyena den at Rooibok Dam to see if they were out.  We sat there for about fifteen minutes and two cubs popped their heads out of the den. The adults were not visible but we could hear them vocalising in the bushes not too far away from the den. I radioed the lodge to let them know we were going to be late for dinner as we had quite some activity around the den when the parents eventually emerged from the thickets. Spending twenty to twenty five minutes with the whole clan interacting and vocalizing, going through different greeting rituals and all sorts of behaviour you don’t get to see very often, had my guests stunned.

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We eventually left the den at about 7:45 PM which is quite late considering we were all the way in the North Western corner of the property.  Driving over the Dam wall still talking to my guests about how lucky we were seeing all that interaction, my tracker Raezert  Mthambini indicated to me that he can see eyes in the road up ahead.  Four sub-adult male lions ranging from 1 year to 2 and a half years old came walking down the road straight toward the Hyena den. The oldest one of the four was on a mission and nothing was going to stand in his way of getting to those Hyenas.

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People spend their lives trying to get their timing right to see what was about to unfold right in front of our eyes, on the dam wall of Rooibok Dam stood 11 adult Hyenas and the four Lions were walking straight toward them. The oldest Lion was intent on showing these Hyenas who was boss. He started scraping himself on a thorn bush trying to get his scent in the air and also urinated on the ground scraping his back paws through the urine to as if to tell the Hyenas that this area belongs to him. The Hyenas had their tails in the air and the most amazing sounds were coming from them again trying to intimidate the Lions. We were right in the midst of a full on standoff.  I told my guests that our dinner will be very late, as we were not going anywhere.  Three of the lions went down to the water to have a drink but the oldest of the four had his sights on the Hyenas and was adamant on teaching them a lesson.

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After their drink the other three realised it was getting serious as the other male started growling and showing a lot of aggression toward the Hyenas.  Everything went silent at exactly the right time, the oldest male Lion charged toward the Hyenas and they all scattered in different directions over the dam wall. We approached the dam wall slowly and stood on it waiting patiently to see what happened next. The Lion came back onto the dam wall and continued his territorial “marking” giving soft growls in between.  It took the Hyenas about  5 minutes to regain courage and step back out onto the dam wall and this time the Lion wasted no time and gave another full on charge scattering  the Hyenas again.

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This happened about four times and we lost sight of the Lions and Hyenas. My guests asked me if that was that and I told them that I thought it was the end, and all of a sudden a loud growl came from the thick bush right next to the vehicle, the Hyenas had got hold of the youngest of the four lions, words cannot describe the noise that either the lion or the hyenas were making but to say the least it was very unpleasant.

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Hearing this noise obviously the older males responded and a big fight occurred in the bush next to us, unfortunately it was too thick and dark so all we could do was sit and listen, not that we were complaining. Everything went silent again and all four Lions came out of the thickets, one was a bit injured but it didn’t look serious, they all lay on the dam wall looking back at us and putting the battle to an end with the Lions winning this round.

In my life I have never thought I would have the privilege to see a sighting like that unfold in front of my eyes… I am BLESSED to say the least!

Jacques Jordaan
Head Ranger Southern Camp

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Recent Comments
  • Andrew chamberlain: I was on this game drive! Amazing sighting and absolutely br...
  • Karsten Kemp: These impressive and majestic birds I saw first time in Keny...
  • Krish: Fascinating read! Thanks for sharing. Cheers, Krish...
  • Karsten Kemp: Yes, that was rather unusual animal to meet. And you have be...
  • Paul: Awesome! Great reading about the experiences and thanks for ...
  • Marty Dover: What time of year are they in this larval stage?...
  • Karsten Kemp: Both the story about the bushbaby and the lion versus hyenas...
  • Jenny Alphandary: Lovely read Johan. Our group from Australia enjoyed River Lo...
  • Marty Dover: How very fortunate you are! I wonder why the bush baby did n...
  • Chris Cartwright: ALWAYS WILL REMEMBER OUR STAY AT CAMP IN 2010. Fantastic ...
  • Marty Dover: Jacques, I'm so glad you had that experience and envious tha...
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