From the “Big 5” to the “Little 5”

Many people come to Africa to witness the infamous “Big 5” but what about the “Little 5”? We all know that the “Big5” are the Buffalo, Elephant, Rhino, Lion and Leopard. But then what are the “Little 5”?

The Elephant Shrew:

This is a small, mouse-like creature with a long nose resembling the trunk of an elephant. Just as elephants use their trunks to sniff out food, elephant shrews use their noses to sniff out insects. Again, similar to elephants, the shrews use their ‘trunk’ to put their food in their mouths.

The Buffalo Weaver:

We often see big, messy nests in trees or high up in the power lines and often get asked if they are eagle nests. On the contrary, they are buffalo weaver nests – even though they are small birds, they form these big communal nests with numerous entrances. They are very social and will bring food such as insects, fruits or seeds to the nests.

The Rhino Beetle:

This beetle is quite a big beetle with rhino-like armour on its body. Unlike rhinos, where both male and female have horns, the rhino beetle males are the only ones with the rhino-like horn. They will use their horns to fight and to dig out food. Rhino beetles are believed to be the strongest animal in the world in relation to their size.

The Leopard Tortoise:

The appearance of their shell is similar to the coat of a leopard; golden with black rosette-like spots. The leopard tortoise can live up to about 100 years, whereas the leopard (the longest living big cat) lives up to about 20 years. Tortoises are land living animals but the leopard tortoise is the only tortoise that can swim. However, in the dry winter months, it is important not to pick them up as they have a water sack in which they store water. If picked up, they release this sack as a defence mechanism; therefore, they could dehydrate very quickly.

The Antlion:

This is the smallest of the “Little 5”, however, they are probably one of the most vicious of all of them. They dig pits/traps that, if an ant falls into it, it will not be able to get out. The antlion will then grab its prey and shake it around until it cannot move and then suck them dry and leave the rest of the carcass. The name ‘antlion’ probably comes from their predatory nature.

Be sure to ask about the “Little 5” on your next visit. They are quite interesting creatures.

KC – Kapama River Lodge
23/06/2013

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The African Wild Cat

The African Wild Cat appears to be a domestic cat to many of our visitors. But what they do not know is that it is an extremely endangered species – surprisingly not due to poaching or loss of habitat, but instead due to interbreeding with domestic cats.

Domestic cats are originated from the wild cat but now, these domestic species are breeding with the wildcats, therefore, their species is slowly dwindling. The true African Wild Cat is extremely rare so when they are seen, it is a truly special sighting.

These small cats (although larger than the average domestic cat) are solitary animals unless they are mating or raising young. They weigh from about 3 to 6.5 kgs and eat mainly small rodents or birds.

Their mating season is generally from January to about June and young are born during the summer months (September to March) with a gestation of more or less 65 days and the average litter being 2 to 5 kittens. As with all wild cats, the young are extremely vulnerable but if they survive these unsafe months, they could live up to 15 years.

The coats of the wild cat depend on their environment in order to blend in to the appropriate surroundings.

So when you make a turn to Kapama, keep a lookout for this rare little cat – it is more special than it seems.

KC – Kapama River Lodge
13/06/2013

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The final five minutes

It’s a chilly day in the lowveld, more than what we are familiar with and the animals feel the same way. It is clear that our bush friends aren’t too fond of the cold weather and only get themselves out and about a lot later in the mornings. Luckily the lowveld sun heats up the African bush very quickly and most of the day turns out rather pleasant.

It is also at this point when after a quiet start to the drive one can start seeing the animals more in their element and behaving like we always love to see them do.

The breeding herd of elephants gave me my sighting of the day, after a few hours spent following the tracks and destruction these giants leave in the bush, we finally came across them hiding in a nice thick vegetation block, trying to find a bit of shelter before the cold air takes over for the night once again. It was round about 17:15 when we caught up with them and there was not really a lot of light left to work with. I was worried that this might have been a wasted effort as we won’t be able to get a nice sighting before the sun goes down completely….but as I have learnt before in my career, one never knows what will happen in the bush.

The elephants spent the first 5 minutes of our sighting still hiding away and only the sound of breaking branches could be heard. Before we knew it two young bulls came bashing through the thicket, dust and branches flying everywhere. Just a simple everyday play fight for the two of them, but it did spark a reaction from the rest of the family members. Suddenly the four youngsters ranging from 4 months to 7 months also came out of the thicket mimicking the two young bulls, pushing each other around and pretending to be big strong elephants. The one little fellow even decided to give us a bit of a charge, too much amusement for the guests seeing that the little guy barely exceeded the height of the vehicles’ tyre.

The thicket suddenly opened up again and the matriarch came swaying out from behind the Acacia trees. Seeing that she is the one in charge everybody else were very quick to follow her lead and a sighting of breaking branches changed in a magical view of over 20 elephants interacting, playing and having a good time in front of us.

As the sun went over the horizon, the elephants disappeared in a beautiful red and orange setting with the last bit of dust settling back onto the canvas of the African bush.

It might be chilly these days but I’m always happy to go and see what nature has in store for us. Here is to magnificent sightings to come.

Bush Regards

Pieter Dunn – Kapama River Lodge
18/06/2013

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Interesting worms, elephants and civets

Our afternoon safari started with extreme excitement amongst the group of guests. As soon as we left the camp, we immediately came across an amazing natural event unfolding right in front of us; known as the processionary worms. The special event known as the procressionary worms is only seen when there is a need to transfer to a new tree. The worms will follow each other head to rear leaving a silk trail as they move extremely slowly. The main reason they follow each other head to rear is because the shape will resemble a snake or a stick which is ignored by their usual predators.

After many photos were taken of the worms, my tracker, Given, spotted some elephant tracks in the sand. We then followed the tracks until we came in contact with them. The guests sat in awe until the elephants decided to leave.

Weighing up to 6000 kg and measuring up to 3.3 m at the shoulder, the African elephant, also known as the Loxodonta Africana, is the world’s largest land mammal. It is characterized by its highly dexterous trunk, long curved tusks, and massive ears. Elephants are very sociable animals and today we were lucky enough to be entertained by one of the babies who tried to balance on her 2 feet; the guests were amazed by the elephant’s intelligence.

After ending the afternoon with some sundowners with the African sunset in the background, we came across the African Civet.

The African civet (civettictis civetta) is mainly found in dense woodlands with hiding places and a lot of water for drinking. They are omnivorous which means they eat both plants and meat. These animals are nocturnal and solitary. The presence of civets can be seen in the tracks and the middens they leave behind because of their shy existence.

The day started the same way it ended – with much excitement. The group of guests left satisfied and pleased with the new knowledge they received from myself and Given on animals such as the procressionary worms, elephants and the African civet, and many more.

FW – Kapama River Lodge
17/06/2013

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Double Leopard

It was the last morning drive with my 5 guests, and we’d been fortunate enough to have amazing sightings over the last couple days; including a lion killing a warthog!

All that was left, as usual, was the elusive leopard. It was quite late into our drive, and there hadn’t been so much as even a leopard track spotted the whole morning. We were making our way down to view the elephants, driving around the inflow to one of the dams while waiting for the other vehicles to finish with the elephant sighting. All of a sudden, our tracker, Michael, stands up on his chair looking into the distance – “ingwe” he tells me excitedly – Leopard! I make my way towards where he’d seen the leopard, and although we were all able to see it, he disappeared quite quickly into the thick bush.

Unable to follow, another vehicle and I that had come to try see it made our way into the muddy inflow of the dam where we thought the male leopard might pop out. We waited a few minutes with all our attention focused on the area to the right of our vehicle.

Close to giving up hope, none of us expected what happened next. Noticing some movement to the left of our car, we glanced over to see a female leopard casually walking towards the front of our car through the mud towards the direction of the male. While we were unfortunate not to see them together, the female leopard treated us with a spectacular sighting, even stopping to have a quick drink of water in the mud pan not far from our vehicle.

As everyone knows, it does not matter how skilled a ranger or tracker is; in the bush, you sometimes need a little bit of luck, and we were fortunate enough to have it in abundance that morning!

Kevin – Kapama River Lodge
14/06/2013

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