Reptiles in winter

As winter disappears and the sun blesses us with warmer days, we tend to see more and more tracks of snakes and other reptiles across the roads. Often we get the question in winter whether we will be seeing some snakes. Mostly because most people are terrified of snakes and the thought of seeing one on safari could ruin a perfect day. But why do we not see snakes and tortoises in the winter?

Everybody has heard of hibernation. But what exactly is it? Quite simply it is the slowing down or even complete standstill of development and growth in any organism. It seems to be difficult to understand how an animal can just completely stop developing over an extended period of time. Although, plants “hibernate” every year. It seems like the tree is dead, but in actual fact it has just stopped developing because of conditions not being favorable. This could induce a lack of sufficient water, cold climates or lack of sunshine.

In a way, reptiles do the same. They are dependant on outside temperatures to regulate their body temperature. Hence they are called ectothermic and not cold blooded as we used to describe them. This enables them to survive in much greater temperature differences than any mammal or bird.

When conditions become unfavorable, they simply go into a state known as Brumination. This is different from hibernation. When an animal hibernates, it goes into a very deep sleep and does not eat or drink during that whole cycle. Thus for that period, development stops; a lot like a plant in winter. However, when a reptile bruminates, it also goes into a resting stage, but development does not stop completely. They may cease to eat for that period as their metabolic rate drops and they do not need to eat that often. Although they still need to consume water in that time to prevent dehydration. That means that reptiles simply sleep and do not go into a coma-like state. As this is an area with quite warm winters, it means the period of brumination is less than usual and lasts only for 3 to 4 months, compared to 8 months in other parts of the world.

To answer the question in short, yes it is possible to see snakes, but highly unlikely. If it happens it will most likely be on a road or on a rock where they will be trying to heat up their bodies.

Jacques Beukes – Kapama River Lodge
23/092012

A protected family

This morning on game drive we stopped at a beautiful watering hole where we had a family (called a pod) of hippos. The family of four hippos was on the one side of the watering hole with another big male hippo on the other side.

Things soon became a bit messy as the big male hippo approached the mother and her youngsters. Hippo males are known to attack and often kill younger hippo males, so the mother’s first instinct was to defend her youngsters against this approaching male.

Luckily for the family and young hippos the male just had a look at them and was very quickly driven off by a very determined and protective mother.

All ended well as we got to enjoy a beautiful sighting of these majestic animals.

Wayne – Kapama River Lodge
22/09/2012

An Adventure

After setting out on my guests’ first game drive ever, we came across some buffalo tracks. We followed them for about half an hour and found a big herd in the middle of the road heading straight towards us. It was a really special sighting; the whole herd, young, females and fully grown male bulls walked right passed us, giving my guests a chance to get some really good photos.

We watched two bulls fighting and the rest of the heard moving off for about half an hour. We decided to make our way out of the area and try and find some lion tracks. We looked for a long time and unfortunately were unable to find any.

We carried on searching and eventually had some luck. It was already after dark and tracking was nearly impossible but a big male lion started calling relatively close by. It is an amazing sound to hear (a real sound of Africa), and we made our way to where it was coming from.

When we arrived we found a massive male lion and a female. The male was calling in an attempt to get the female to mate. We stayed in the sighting for a while and had the chance to hear him calling from about 10 metres making the ground vibrate. Unfortunately the female was not quite ready and ignored his approaches.

We started making our way back to the lodge since we were already about 30 minutes late, and to our amazement, a massive male leopard walked across the road about 5 metres from the vehicle. We followed him in to the bush and watched how he was stalking and trying to catch an impala, then a warthog. His efforts were unsuccessful but it was amazing to be let in on the hunt.

It was an amazing drive something I hope my guests will remember as long as I will.

Michael – Kapama River Lodge
18/09/2012

The Art of Tracking

Tracking may be among the oldest of the sciences. It is also one of the most revealing: trackers gain a detailed understanding of animal behavior through the interpretation of their tracks and other signs, accumulating information – especially on rare or nocturnal species – which might otherwise remain unknown.

Tracking is thus a less invasive process than visual study; it is a method of information gathering in which the amount of stress inflicted on an animal is minimized.

Tracking involves each and every indication of an animal’s presence, including ground spoor, vegetation spoor, scent, feeding, scat, urine, pellets, territorial signs, paths and shelters, vocal and other auditory signs visual signs, incidental signs, circumstantial signs as well as skeletal signs.

Footprints provide the most detailed information on the identity, movement and activities of the animals in the wild. While species may be recognized by general characteristics, each animal’s track has its subtle distinctions, differences dictated by age, mass, sex, physical condition, the local terrain and the wider region (the nature of which gives rise to functional and environmental adaptation).

Most importantly, the tracks and signs of nature help us as rangers and trackers to find the animals for our guests. In addition, finding an animal after tracking it for an hour or two hours is probably one of the most rewarding experiences, not only for us, but for the guests as well.

Johan – Kapama River Lodge
14/09/2012

The night without a camera

It all started one afternoon when I was running a bit late, so I forgot to bring my camera along.

I always have my camera on me because you never know when you will have an experience of a lifetime. We were driving around, not knowing what to look for, when I heard there was a herd of elephants about 1 km away from where I was. When we got there they were all in the water, playing so we sat there for about 20 minutes.

After we left the elephants, I heard the lionesses – they were about 3km away so we decided to make our way there. We found them and followed them off-road for a while. Unfortunately, we slowly lost visual of them.

But then surprisingly, I heard the cry off a warthog; I knew the lions had caught it for dinner. So we tried to find them again, driving up and down towards the direction of the warthog’s painful screams. Finally, we found them on the warthog kill.

An amazing way to end off a safari.
Bryan – Kapama River Lodge
12/09/2012