An Unforgettable Day in Africa

What an amazing day out in the African bush! I have been guiding for 5 years and can honestly say that today has been one of the most exiting days I have ever experienced.
It all started this morning when we headed out for our morning safari. After driving for about 30 minutes, we came across the tracks of 8 lions from the pride of thirteen. We followed the trail that they had left and after 10 minutes as we took a corner they were all laying in the road, fat and lazy. There was still blood on some of the youngsters’ faces, so it was quite clear that the lionesses were successful in hunting last night. After a while, they started to move around and we followed them through to one of the most picturesque dams on the reserve, where they flopped back down again after having a cool refreshing drink from the dam as the cold air was still rising from the water’s surface.
We continued the drive, and passed a huge number of general game from giraffe to the ever favourite warthogs. As we were taking some photos of vervet monkeys causing mischief in the tree canopies next to the Klaserie river, we heard the unmistakeable noise of a warthog being killed on the opposite side of the river. We made our way around to the other side and following the deathly squeals, we came across three lionesses still busy finalising the kill. Shortly after the commotion stopped, the reserve went quiet, with the silence being broken by the alarm calls of the vervet monkeys whom also picked up on what was happening. The two daughters of about two years old started eating and the mother quietly disappeared into the thickets, only to return a few minutes later with the newest addition to the little family, a strong willed and extremely adventurous little male cub of only a few months old. As the little one was being cleaned by mom, the two older sisters were having a five star meal with bones cracking and skin tearing.
As time for game drive came to an end, we started heading back to the lodge. This return was quickly interrupted with a colleague coming across a male leopard very close to the area we were driving in. With leopard being as elusive as they are, there was no other option but to take full advantage and we made our way over were we found him having a late morning siesta after a few failed attempts at impala.
With the excitement of the morning drive in the guests’ minds, we headed out again for the afternoon drive, and to be honest I had no idea how we were going to compete with the magical drive of this morning. We barely left the lodge when we found ourselves amongst the herd of elephant, casually feeding on all sorts of vegetation, with the little calves putting up a great show as they were roughing it up amongst each other. We spent about 30 minutes with these gentle giants before setting off for the rest of the drive. We went through a bit of a quiet spell and we took some time to focus on the smaller things out there, especially the little feathered friends one can so easily forget about with the huge diversity of life in the African bush.
We stopped for a relaxing sun downer as the sun was setting behind the Drakensberg mountains, painting the sky with a tapestry of colours from red to orange to purple. As everyone was standing around making small talk, soaking up the peaceful serenity of the moment, the same distinctive warthog call echoed over the grasslands. This time, even the guest recognised the sound and without needing to give any instruction, all of them where on the vehicle, ready to start the search for the culprit of another warthog killed. This time it took us a bit longer as the predator was obviously a lot more skilled in hunting than the young lioness of the morning. Seeing that the squeals only lasted a few brief seconds, followed by the silence, that can only be created when an animal has drawn its last breath. Finally we came across the warthog, tucked away in a dense thicket clump on top of a termite mound, but absolutely no sign of a predator… Suddenly, a movement in the thicket gives her position away. A young female leopard appeared from out behind the curtain of trees and shrubs, putting herself between us and her dinner for tonight… At least, that is what we all thought, until a small little ball of fur appeared next to her – she had a cub with her, still dark in colour due to the young age of the little one. It was unclear whether the little one was male or female, but it was quite obvious that it thought it was a fully grown leopard, staring us down from top to bottom, showing absolutely no fear for the huge metal animal staring back at it. After both mom and cub realised we are no threat to their dinner, they disappeared back behind the thickets as quick as they appeared earlier.
Being convinced there can be no more surprises as big as the ones we were fortunate enough to experience during the two drives, we made our way back to the lodge once again, only to bump into the most unexpected sighting for the day – a mere 100m away from the lodge entrance. My tracker stopped me as we approached the lodge and through the yellow grass we saw a rock making its way towards the vehicle. There was a moment of silence as everyone tried to keep their composure after seeing a moving rock when it suddenly appeared from the long grass into the road… A pangolin, one of Africa’s most unseen animals! People spend their whole lives looking for this strange creature, never to see it. Personally this has only been the second one I have ever seen my whole life. It swaggered across the road, pausing for a few seconds to glance at us and then moved into the grass once again on the other side of the road.

Story by Piet (River Lodge)
2013/08/14

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Dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvula)

The dwarf mongoose looks like a normal mongoose, short legs, small ears, long tail and a big head. It is the smallest of the mongoose family (18 – 28 cm, 210 – 350 grams). They are also known as the smallest carnivore in Africa. The colours can range from yellowish red to dark brown.
These tiny, but cute animals are diurnal animals. They are very social and live in extended family groups of anything from 2 – 30 individuals. The whole group will help to guard the family and also help with rearing the young, headed by the dominant pair (normally the oldest group members).
Young mongooses reach sexual maturity at round about 1 year of age. Males will leave the groups at 2 – 3 years, normally with some brothers, looking for others groups to join or to take over. The females will mostly stay with the group their whole lives and only really leave if they have lost their rank.

Mongoose is territorial and their territory is approximately 30 – 60 hectares, depending on the type of habitat. They will sleep at night in abandoned termite mounds but will also use hollow trees, piles of stone, etc. Their territories are marked with latrines and gland secretions. They may overlap with another group’s territory, but this can lead to fights between the 2 groups.

They can have up to 3 litters a year, but tend to breed only during the raining season. Only the dominant female will breed, but if conditions are good other females can also become pregnant. Normally, 4 – 6 pups are born after a 53 day gestation period and will stay under ground for the first 2 – 3 weeks of their lives. In that time at least one of the group members will stay behind to babysit the pups. After about 4 weeks, pups will start to join the adults when foraging. The whole group will help to feed the pups with prey animals up to about 10 weeks of age.

Their diet consists mostly of insects, spiders, scorpions, small lizards, snakes, etc, and every now and then – some berries. These mongoose is often seen foraging with hornbills (a mutualistic relationship), where both animals will look out for predators.

Story by Stefan (River Lodge)
2013/08/10

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New born on Kapama

This morning we went out on a relaxed game drive. We saw many plains game, roaming around and interacting with one another. We went to the river where there are some hippo and lots of birds to see. We stopped there for a few minutes just to enjoy the view when we then heard the elephants a few hundred meters away from us. We decided to try finding them and to our astonishment, there was a new born baby elephant! He was still quite weak while he was walking, falling over his own two feet. The mother pushed the baby forward with her trunk to help him find the way. This was a very special moment as well an incredible sighting.

Story by Janco (River Lodge)
2013/08/13

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The years first

Today was a wonderful day! Before we left the lodge, we had a slight drizzle starting. All of my guests put on the ponchos I offered them and we set off for game drive. Not long after we started, the drizzle stopped and the sun came out. Our first sighting was of two of our female lionesses. We followed them through the dry riverbed but unfortunately lost visual, so we then left to see if we could find some rhinos. We managed to find some tracks and tracked them for a while but came up with nothing. Suddenly, we noticed that the sky was turning dark again when we looked up – it looked like the heavens were about to open up and pour down on us… But we were still on the search for our rhino. I then heard on the radio that three rhinos had been found, so I made my way to the sighting. When we got there, however, the lighting started its grand performance so we couldn’t stay long with them. Shortly after getting there, we had to turn around as it was time to go back to the lodge due to the thunderstorm that had just started. Just as we got back, the years first rain came down to bring new life into the bush!

Story by Bryan (River Lodge)
2013/08/10

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Handling her babies gently

For some reason, everyone likes to see new born babies – lions, elephants, zebra, giraffes, etc. However, some species are not that easy to find when there are babies around.
This morning, we were lucky enough to see baby hyena pups. We went to the den where we would usually find the adults, but unfortunately, we didn’t see any of them around. We couldn’t track them either so we went on with our normal morning game drive, looking for some of other animals.
After about an hour, one of my fellow rangers called in a sighting where there were new born babies at the den we had just come from. I was very excited to hear about this and we went straight back to the hyena den to have a look.
As we arrived there, we could only see one female. She was still half way inside the entrance, facing towards our vehicle. We decided to wait a few minutes, when suddenly, one of the females picked up one of the pups ever so gently with her big mouth.
It’s amazing to see that such a big animal can be so gentle with her little babies. As she put the baby down, we could see that the pup’s eyes were barely open and I estimated that the baby was around 10 to 12 days old.
After a little while, there were two more babies that appeared and they started playing with each other. The mother was just observing and making sure that it was safe to play outside of the den.

Story by Janco (River Lodge)
2013/08/09

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