Playing Leopards

The past few nights, my guests and I have had amazing sightings with male and female lions roaring next to the car while the moon shone full across the open plains. Elephants and their young played in the middle of the road for us, and rhinos lazily grazed in and out of the bushes. We also had a fantastic sighting of Hippo out of the water.

On the last night of Stephan Schael and Christine Bubeck’s stay here with us at River Lodge, we were lucky enough to enjoy a sighting with two Leopard cubs playing while their mother ate off a recent kill. Thank you Stephan for sharing the above picture for our Blog!

By: Noelle DiLorenzo – River Lodge Ranger

Leopard action on Video

These elusive cats are regularly seen but it’s not always that you have time or have a camera with you. Being nocturnal they are normally spotted when the sun have set and leaves us with great sightings and the guest with 100’s of photographs. On this specific day I was lucky enough to have my video camera with me and with my amateur video graphic skills I managed the capture these fun moments between a female and her cubs.

Click on the link below to watch this video

Leopard cub playing with mom

With the rain we had the last couple of months, all the dams are full and most of the rivers and streams are flowing making it difficult for some of us to cross and get to the other side. I managed to capture a female and her two cubs trying to cross a low water bridge outside Karula. It was only a meter drop and the cub have met the mother safely on the other side.

Click on the link below to watch this video

Leopard cub trying to cross a low water bridge

Mike Kirkman-Senior Ranger, Kapama Karula

Track and Sign Assessment and Trailing

 

(Above: Old pot shards. You can still see the rim of the pot.)

Day Three and Four of our Tracking Course was spent doing the Track and Sign Assessment. We completed 50 Tracks and Signs by the end. One Ranger and four Trackers received Level 2 Track and Sign Certificates and three Rangers received Level 1 Track and Sign Certificates. The Tracks and Signs are rated as a level 1, 2, or 3 on a difficulty scale. If you get a level 1 question correct, for instance a Giraffe track, then you receive 1 point, but if you get it wrong you are deducted 3 points. A level 2 track is two points if correct and 2 points deducted if incorrect; an example being Kudu or Nyala. A level three track  is rewarded with three points but only one point deducted if you answer wrong. However, if a level 1 or 2  track is very old, or incomplete, or difficult due to substrate it can be considered a hard, or level 3 question.

Examples of Tracks and Signs questions asked us where the remains of an old pot that had been burned into the ground. These pots are usually found near termite mounds. They were filled half way with water and put into a hole or indent where the termites, or winged alletes would fall, and then be collected the next day as a source of food. We were also asked Honey Badger in the mud, mud splattering on a bush and leaves from an Elephant having a mud bath, Lion spoor and Leopard, as well as Tree Squirrel, Warthog Dung, and much much more.

(Above: To the right of the red Buck Tool you can see the trackof a Honey Badger.)

The final day, Day Five, was spent Trailing. One person would find the tracks of a Rhino, or Lion and then follow them through the bush until either the animal was  found, or the assessor had gathered enough input to make a decision. While following the tracks, the assessee had to preform within certain criteria. Five Trackers and one Ranger completed the Trailing assessment, with the other three Rangers slotted to go another day as we ran out of daylight. Four Trackers received a Level 3 Trailing and one received a Level 1. (As of the time of this Blog the tally score for the Ranger was not in yet.) One Tracker, Given, received a 97% on his Trailing assessment! CONGRATS GIVEN!

By the end we were all tired and dirty, but full of new knowledge and had had an experience of a lifetime. All nine of us cannot wait until our next oportunity to do it again!

By: Noelle DiLorenzo – River Lodge Ranger

Day Two of Tracking and Trailing

Day two of our Tracks and Sign course saw us discussing what tracks can be confused with others. In this case it was an Aardvark, a Warthog, and in some instances a Nyala, but especially with the Aardvark and the Warthog. An Aardvark has three strong claws, truly five, but three that register. If looked at quickly or in the wrong direction, the track looks like a Warthog that has stepped with it’s front foot and then put it’s back foot half way onto the front track. The giveaway is that when it’s an Aardvark track there will be two dots, or circular indents, on either side of the track, and the direction will be towards the sharp end, not the blunt end.

Later in the day we practiced Trailing by following each other. We split into two groups. One group went and laid a trail for two minutes. Then four minutes later the second group would follow. While doing this the person in front must go through a series of procedures so that the assessor knows that the tracker is seeing what they need to see. You must mark certain tracks, show that you can see the “Shinning Path”, (where an animal, or person in this case, has walked through grass), and follow the spoor without to much start and stop.

Although we were rained out early, it was an enjoyable day full of new learning and fun. Day Three will see us starting with the actual Track and Sign Assessment, so wish us all luck!

By: Noelle DiLorenzo – River Lodge Ranger

Extra Curricular Guiding

Guiding involves much more than just driving our wonderful guests around. Much of what we do is behind the scenes. Many of us have gone through a Ranger Course, usually a year long process with six months theory and six months practical. Others have gone and gotten a Nature Conservation Degree. But no matter how you started Guiding, your learning continues as long as you are working in the bush.

 Today, four guides and five trackers started a week long Track and Sign Course. Everyday for a few hours we go out with an assessor and are evaluated on tracks. The assessor will circle tracks and signs throughout the day. One by one we go up and have a look, then we whisper to the assessor what we thought it was. He then goes over each track and sign in minute detail, explaining why and how we were right or wrong.

 Today, Day One, our tracks included: Monitor Lizard in the mud, Rhino territorial marking, Guinea Fowl, Lion lying on it’s haunches, Chameleon, Hippo, Hornbill, Warthog, what the sand looks like after ant’s are done, Porcupine diggings, Dwarf Mongoose droppings, and many more. The difficulty of the track is rated by the type of substrate, the freshness of it, etc.

 All though we ended the day with our brains maxed out and our knees raw, all nine of us had learned at least one new aspect of the bush that we can now share with our guests and fellow rangers. Who knows what will happen tomorrow.

By: Noelle DiLorenzo – River Lodge Ranger