A few days ago one of my guests asked to go on a bush walk after breakfast. Earlier, during the morning safari we had seen a group of three buffalo bulls moving eastward close to Karula. Keith was very keen to learn some bush craft and so I saw an opportunity to show him how to track down big game.
Most people assume the Cape Buffalo to be a fairly placid and docile creature at first glance. But this is an animal which has built up a fearsome reputation over centuries of big-game hunting. As most of you will know, the “Big Five” are the most dangerous African animals to hunt on foot. What most people don’t know is that the Cape Buffalo is considered to be the worst of the bunch. We are talking about an animal which is 1 700lbs of pure muscle, charges at speeds of 35mph and has earned the nickname of “Black Death”. This all sounds very daunting but the situation was in our favour as we would be a small party and we would cover some fairly open terrain.
So, after a thorough briefing we headed out along a sandy road to pick up the tracks. Our eyes strained as the road was baked hard from the rain a few days before. Eventually a few scuff marks gave the buffalo away and we turned off in their direction. We followed the spoor for about ten minutes before we lost them. As we paused to search for any further signs I heard something – a group of Red-billed Oxpeckers. These are the birds which crawl over large mammals removing ticks, dead skin cells, ear wax, etc. They are usually an excellent early warning sign that danger is nearby.
After another briefing we set off in the direction of the bird calls. After only two hundred yards we came to a shady thicket where I was sure the Buffalo lay resting. I explained to Keith that to continue any further would be suicide. As we turned to move off we spotted one dark outline – “Buffalo!” We crouched down on our haunches and watched the great beasts milling around for a short while before deciding that discretion was the better part of valour. As we came out into a clearing we looked to our left and noticed that the Buffaloes had moved in the same direction as us! I then noticed that the wind had changed and was now taking our human scent directly towards them. They immediately picked it up and came in our direction at an alarming pace.
The only cover available was for us to head back into the thick bush and I told Keith in no uncertain terms to make it quick! After a further hundred yards of dodging Buffalo we made it up onto a termite mound. As we looked back we could see the Buffaloes snorting, stomping and still searching for the pesky humans, in the wrong place of course. At this stage we could afford to have a good chuckle and once we had returned safely to camp I’m sure Keith realized he had experienced something most people can only dream of!
Cameron Pearce – Kapama Karula Head Ranger
In the dry winter season all grasses send their nutrients down into their roots. This allows their leaves to die off and the grass goes into a form of “hibernation” or dormancy. By the end of the dry season the animals fight for survival because of this inadequate food supply. This can be seen in the Zebras in particular, as their manes start to droop while they use up the fat supply in their hair follicles.
But now the summer rains have finally revitalized the lush green grasses of Kapama. This in turn has started somewhat of a baby boom for us. As the food supply improves, mothers are able to use the new bounty to produce rich milk for their young. Some theories even suggest that the Impala antelope can put the birth of their young on hold for weeks while waiting for the rains! The rains have arrived a little later this year but now we seem to be overrun with bright-eyed, wobbly-legged youngsters of all shapes and sizes. Some notable new arrivals include Elephants, Buffaloes, Giraffes and Impala antelope.
Predators do not breed seasonally but even a resident female Leopard has recently delighted us with regular sightings of her two remaining cubs. These cubs are incredibly relaxed at such a young age due to the care we have taken not to disturb them and this bodes very well for future sightings.
One youngster in particular that we have watched with some interest is a tiny Giraffe born very close to camp. This little one was unfortunate enough to be attacked by a pride of four lionesses recently. He sustained a huge gash across his neck before his mother managed to fend the lions off. For a long time he looked as if he might not survive his injuries and was clearly in a lot of pain and discomfort. But mothers just seem to have this way of performing miracles. The female was often seen at his side, licking and attending to his wound. Animal saliva has phenomenal anti-bacterial properties and because of her care the baby seems to be well on his way to recovery!
Cameron Pearce – Kapama Karula Head Ranger
As the first of our summer rains have begun to pelt down, Karula has turned into a “birder’s paradise” overnight.
Many species found on the reserve are insectivorous and this food source causes them to migrate as it’s availability fluctuates. Obviously as the rains arrive the insect activity levels increase and especially the termites seems to be everywhere. Some species such as the Steppe Eagle and Steppe Buzzard make an epic journey all the way from Russia to take advantage of this smorgasbord – a total flight time of around 60 hours! Possibly the most anticipated summer arrival is the spectacular turquoise Woodland’s Kingfisher. Their unmistakeble “chip- chirrrrrrr’ call is the surest sign that we are well and truly into the swing of summer.
Situated along the perennial Klaserie River, Karula creates the perfect habitat for the most reclusive species found on the reserve. Many of these are attracted by the multitude of fruit-bearing trees and their flowers, another product of the summer rains. The most vocal of these is the Purple-Crested Turaco. Their distinctive “kok- kok- kok- kok- kok” calls can be heard throughout the day. If you follow the sound you will often be rewarded with a brief glimpse of the bright scarlet feathers which only Zulu royalty may wear in their crowns. The diminutive, yet spectacular Collared Sunbirds have also become regular breakfast visitors as they dance with their reflections in the windows of the lodge. They must be trying to establish who these brilliant little green and gold intruders are!
Some exceptionally rare water birds have been making appearances as well. The likes of the Half-Collared Kingfisher and African Finfoot to name but a few. But perhaps the most prized sighting of all would have to be the Pel’s Fishing Owl, seen from the new bridge close to camp on at least two or three different occasions – INCREDIBLE!
Cameron Pearce – Kapama Karula Head Ranger
With an average of 80mm to date across Kapama Game Reserve, some of the previously dry mud pans and water holes are slowly filling with water. Almost overnight the foam nest frogs set to work and there are now nests of varying shapes and sizes at all of the dams and watering holes. The grey tree frog – more commonly referred to as the foam nest frog – is the largest of our tree frogs. The common name comes from the whitish clumps of foam that they construct as ‘nests’ in which they lay their eggs. The nests are always constructed on some branch or object over, and often many metres above, water. The females excrete a sticky liquid which they kick into a froth with their back legs. Into this foam they lay up to 1000 eggs which are fertilised by, often many, attendant males. The foam protects the eggs and keeps the eggs and small tadpoles out of the water avoiding predation. About five days after hatching the small tadpoles wriggle out of the foam and drop directly into the water, where they continue to grow and complete their metamorphosis. This morning we were lucky enough to actually witness 2 foam nest frogs busy constructing their nest which was fascinating.
We also had a hilarious sighting of a female warthog and her three youngsters. They must have been only 1-2 weeks old. As we came around the corner the three youngsters were standing in a row in the middle of the road blocking our path. As we stopped to take photos they cautiously and courageously approached us. This was a surprise to us as they are usually very nervous and run away with their tails in the air. They continued towards us and then stopped, froze and ran away from us at high speed. All this time the mother was busy feeding by the side of the road, not really paying much attention to the cheeky behaviour of her youngsters! Once they had composed themselves they approached us once more, this time coming even closer to investigate the strange large green object on wheels in front of them. We couldn’t help but laugh which once again sent them running in circles at high speed. It was a hilarious and entertaining sighting – I think if we had seen nothing else after that we would have been happy!
It is always fascinating to see the emergence of the Alates (flying termites) and to witness the hive of activity that results from that. Birds, small mammals and frogs all come out to feast on the termites who soon after their “nuptial flight” loose their wings and can be seen crawling around on the ground in their thousands. These alates are the reproductives (future Kings and Queens) and if successful in finding a mate, will start a new colony of their own.
While watching all these creatures feasting an the termites we also noticed a red lipped herald snake (earlier described on this blog) hoping to catch one of the “unwary” frogs around.
One might say it’s only termites, but it is a facinating moment in nature to witness the alates taking to the air.
Westley Lombard – Kapama Lodge Ranger