The Private Lives of Hyena

In one of our quieter times, not too long ago, we decided to drive towards the den where the hyenas keep their young. Because it was a quiet time for most of the lodges, there were no other safari vehicles in the area and we had the sighting to ourselves for more than an hour. Normally the traffic of vehicles entering and leaving will disturb the movement and behavior of the animals. This did not seem to be the case today. They did look at us for a while when we arrived there, but afterwards, they seemed to be relaxed with us and just went about their daily business. Mother grooming the youngsters, youngsters playing and bullying each other – all behavior which one would not normally see with these very secretive animals. Even the older juveniles took part in a bit of the play. This, once again, proves that they are not the vicious animals they are believed to be. Even though they are dangerous animals with an immense bite force, they can control how they use those jaws.

Some of the other myths about hyenas that are not true are: –
? They do not eat everything they see – even though they do eat carrion, it still needs to be quite fresh;
? They do not only scavenge off lion and leopard kills. Hyenas are very successful hunters and are very capable of catching and killing their own prey if they need to;
? They will not go mad and eat themselves from the back just because they smell blood. They will however try to lick the wound the same way dogs do to keep it clean and stop infection;
? They are not dogs; and neither are they cats, for that matter. They are biologically closer related to cats than to dogs, but they are in a complete different family. The hyena family only has three members in Southern Africa – the spotted hyena, the striped hyena (also known as the aardwolf) and the brown hyena.

Story by Jacques (River Lodge)
2013/12/07

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The Stories Behind Chameleons in African Culture and Folk Tales

This is the best time of a year where we see a lot of chameleons. They are found throughout almost all of southern and central Africa, with the northern limits of its range extending from Nigeria and Cameroon in the west, to Somalia and Ethiopia in the east. They are also common in Kapama. Some chameleons are known to grow up to 35cm, with their colouring ranges through various shades of green, yellow, and brown. On some of them, there is usually a pale stripe on the lower flanks and one to three pale patches higher on the flanks. They mainly eat grasshoppers, butterflies and flies. Their short mating season is the only time when females will allow males to approach them without conflict. After mating, the female will once again become aggressive towards the males, turning black and butting heads with any male that approaches. After a gestation period of around one month, she will lay between 25 to 50 eggs in a hole that she has dug in soil, which is covered over again by the female.
They are known to be related to witchcraft in many cultures around Africa. In this particular case, let’s look at the Swazi speaking people. They believe it is being used by the witch doctors to send bad spirits to families because it changes the colour. People say that it could transform good luck to bad luck, or if it bites you, it can transform you from being a man to woman or the other way around. Zulu people believe that if it bites someone, they will have a wound that will never heal until they die. Some people also believe if it bites you, you will immediately start laughing to death. The Tsonga people say that if it bites you, you will automatically become infertile and it is also believed that if a chameleon dies, the bones will produce baby chameleons which is quite a funny concept because when you read scientific books, they have found that they lay up to 50 eggs that will hatch. Try telling that to my grandmother and she will think that you’re crazy!

Story by Nelson (River Lodge)
2013/12/10

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Rain Frogs (Breviceps sp.)

One of the most wonderful sounds after a good rain in the African bush is the sound of all the amphibians, singing their songs, and trying to attract a mate. There are notes that are high pitched, ones that are a low rumble, ones that sound like the frog has a bit of a cold and ones that croak in acapella. My favourite of all the frogs calls, is made by a very unique species, called a rain frog.
There are 15 species of rain frogs, 14 of which occur within southern Africa. To me, these frogs look quite grumpy as they have distinctive flattened faces, with narrow, downturned mouths. They have a globose body, making them look like little balloons if they are startled or as they hop out of your way. Their limbs are shortened, and they don’t have the usual webbing, like their fellow amphibians. Rain frogs occur in both summer and winter rainfall areas, but are more seen in our reserve in the summertime.
These frogs are so called as they seem to respond to the changes in the atmospheric pressure. Males are usually the ones to call, releasing a sound that emanates from the mouth of a burrow or under a pile of leaves. They prefer to remain hidden as they are quite shy and don’t like the limelight too much.
Copulation usually occurs right at the beginning of the rainy season, and once the female is ready to lay her eggs, the breeding pair with construct a chamber where the female will lay her eggs. Each clutch can contain between 20 to 50 eggs, each encased in a jelly capsule for protection. Either of the pair shall remain near the nest until the clutch has hatched.
Within Kapama, we have 3 distinct species: the Bushveld Rain Frog (Breviceps adspersus), Mozambique Rain Frog (Breviceps mossambicus), and the very rare, Plaintive Rain Frog (Breviceps verrucosus).
As the nights are shortened through summer, the sounds are more prominent, and more vocal. In my opinion, some of the most amazing sounds are made by these precious creatures. Next time you need a pick me up, Google the YouTube video entitled, “Desert Rain Frog” and smile!

Story by Angie (River Lodge)
2013/12/02

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Appreciating the Smaller Things

This afternoon, we had one of those drives that some people would consider being very quiet as we didn’t see any of the big 5 animals. This was fine, however, as we had already seen them the day before. This drive turned out to be a whole new experience all together.
We saw quite a number of different raptors – including the tawny eagle, wahlberg’s eagle, steppe buzzard and black shouldered kite. We also came across a tree that housed 2 breeding pairs of grey heron, both pairs with a chick in the nest.
Before you think this was a birding drive, we also saw a number of insects. There was a female spider-hunting wasp, zooming around us as we talked about her; bark spiders building their nests, and all other kinds of creepy crawlies making Kapama their residence. We talked about animal tracks and traditional uses for trees and other plants, really paying attention to the smaller things around us. The African bush can be even more exciting when we pay attention to everything surrounding us.
It was a very enjoyable drive and for sure one that I will easily repeat again.

Story by Jacques (River Lodge)
2013/11/20

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How the Zebra Got His Stripes

Long ago, when animals were still new on earth, the weather was very hot, and there was little water that remained in pools and pans. One of these pools of little water was guarded by a boisterous baboon, who claimed that he was the ‘lord of the water’ and forbade anyone from drinking at his pool.
When a zebra and his son came down to have a drink, the baboon, who was sitting by his fire, jumped up. ‘Go away, intruders,’ he barked. ‘This is my pool and I am the Lord of the water.’
‘The water is for everyone, not just for you, monkey-face,’ shouted back the zebra’s son.
‘If you want it, you must fight for it,’ returned the baboon in a fine fury, and in a moment, the two were locked in combat. Back and forth they went, until with a mighty kick, the zebra sent the baboon flying high up among the rocks of the cliff behind them. The baboon landed with a smack on his rump, and to this day he carries the bare patch where he landed.
The zebra staggered back through the baboon’s fire, which scorched him, leaving stripes across his white fur. The shock sent the zebra galloping away to the plains, where he has stayed ever since. The baboon and his family, however, remain high up among the rocks where they bark defiance at all strangers, and hold up their tails to ease the smarting of their bald patches.

Story by Rassie (River Lodge)
2013/12/01

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