The huntress

The first two weeks that I have worked at Kapama have been filled with some amazing sightings and experiences, ranging from Lion kills to Pangolins. One of the highlights was when we found our large male lion and female dozing lazily in the road close to River lodge; we stopped the game viewer and watched as the loins enjoyed the last rays of the afternoon sun. After about five minutes the female began to stir as she yawned displaying her massive canines that can range from 6 to 10 cm’s, we could see that she was focused on something about 50 meters away. Before we could see what she was looking at, she sprang into action and headed straight for a termite mound and in an explosion of dust; we soon realized what she had killed a juvenile warthog. She had just proved again that lions don’t need to limber up before attempting a chase. The irony of it all was when the male just walked over, took the warthog from her and devoured the entire thing without leaving her anything for her hard work; she just lay down and started grooming herself, accepting her role as the huntress.

Story By: Tuhan Steyn- Kapama River Lodge Ranger

Karula Earth Hour

Earth Hour started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia when 2.2 million individuals and more than 2,000 businesses turned their lights off for one hour to take a stand against climate change. Only a year later and Earth Hour had become a global sustainability movement with more than 50 million people across 35 countries/territories participating. Global landmarks such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, CN Tower in Toronto, Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and Rome’s Colosseum, all stood in darkness, as symbols of hope for a cause that grows more urgent by the hour.

In March 2009, hundreds of millions of people took part in the third Earth Hour. Over 4000 cities in 88 countries/territories officially switched off to pledge their support for the planet, making Earth Hour 2009 the world’s largest global climate change initiative.

On Saturday 27 March, Earth Hour 2010 became the biggest Earth Hour ever. A record 128 countries and territories joined the global display of climate action. Iconic buildings and landmarks from Asia Pacific to Europe and Africa to the Americas switched off. People across the world from all walks of life turned off their lights and came together in celebration and contemplation of the one thing we all have in common – our planet.

Earth Hour 2011 took place on Saturday 26 March at 8:30PM (local time).  At Karula, being a contemporary, unique and innovative lodge, we decided that to pledge our support against climate change we would go one step further. From the time the guests returned from safari (7:00PM), throughout dinner and until they went to bed (8:00PM) there was not one single light burning in the lodge. This doubled the standard blackout to two hours. So as not to inconvenience our guests, we lined the pathways and dining area with twinkling lanterns which bathed the scene with wonderfully romantic flickering lights. Each one of our guests commented on what a wonderful idea it was and on what a statement it made for the environment. This was exactly our aim and even if only a few people were impacted by this gesture they will create a ripple effect reaching hundreds, thousands and eventually millions of people… Together we can make a difference.

Cameron Pearce – Head Ranger, Kapama Karula

The Art of Tracking

It has been said that tracking is an unusual combination of disciplines.  How many other fields do you know of that combine science and the arts?  These are two fields which activate two completely different sides of the brain!  With such a challenging nature, more and more guides and trackers are becoming passionate about tracking and trying to broaden their knowledge of the subject.

You may question how tracking involves science and what its importance is.  The answer would be that people have been using tracking to find animals to hunt for millennia.  In those times it was a matter of survival for those people but in today’s modern times it has very relevant uses as well.  In terms of conservation, tracking can help conservationists to identify the numbers and activity of rare and seldom seen species.  Often, in what appears to be a completely lifeless landscape the ground will tell the tale of the previous night and day’s events.  The real benefit is that tracking is a completely unobtrusive way of obtaining information about animal behaviour where it is not affected by human presence.

Over the last few decades Louis Liebenberg (an authority on the subject) has developed a system for evaluating trackers based on different facets.  The first consists of track & sign identification.  Tracks and signs are circled by the evaluator and the trackers are asked to identify them.  Difficulty varies from level 1 (“Big 5”, hippo, giraffe, zebra etc) to level 2 (antelope, jackal etc) to level 3 (insects and birds).  Not only must the tracks be correctly identified but dung, scent markings, rubbing posts, etc will also be tested.  The second facet is a trailing component where the tracker must follow an animal’s trail over different substrates and use all of their senses and intuition to find the animal.

Last week two of our trackers, Vusi Nkosi, Collen Mokoena and I embarked on one of these assessments to attain some formal qualifications and perhaps learn some tricks from our very experienced evaluator, Colin Patrick.  As I had already attained track & sign level 3 before, Vusi and Collen spent these few days alone with Colin.  50 questions were asked and the lads only missed a handful of them.  At the end of the track & sign both Collen and Vusi came away with level 3, a fantastic effort!  The next few days were spent tracking white rhino as they leave a visible trail and are a good benchmark to assess all levels of trackers.  The trail must often be followed for hours before the evaluator is satisfied and all signs must be pointed out including resting spots, dung piles, rubbing posts.  The tracker’s senses and concentration must not waver throughout the exercise and he must also be aware of other animals in the vicinity and any sounds which might lead them to the animal.  Collen and I did fairly well on difficult trails and both attained high level 2’s (a few percent short of level 3).  Vusi put in a phenomenal performance and actually went all the way to an overall tracker level 3 qualification!

With the Karula safari team showing so much passion and talent for tracking the rest of our team cannot wait to attend the next assessment in April and show what they are capable of! Good luck to them in the next few weeks!

Cameron Pearce, Head Ranger – Kapama Karula

Leopards for January

Leopard Sightings for January 2011




This month really has been a great month @ Kapama for seeing Leopard. The vast majority of these sightings (18 out of 43) were of a young female Imbilo and her two cubs. They were seen nearly every day and the cubs are now getting older and much more active. The months of patience and the careful approach to these cubs now means that they are far more relaxed than their mother. This makes them much easier to find and to follow. The only drawback is that both the remaining cubs are male so are unlikely to stay past 18 to 24 months of age. Hopefully though the value of this same patience will pay off when Imbali, Dzongeni and Dzongeni’s daughter have their own cubs, as well as Imbilo’s next litter. With luck Dzongeni’s daughter will settle somewhere on the reserve.

There were a number of other leopard sightings around the reserve, which considering the no off road policy for the summer is still an amazing number. Some of these sightings were unfortunately brief though many sightings were stable and a number of vehicles were able to pass through.

Here are some of the leopard photo’s that one of our guests, Rob Overy took.


Mike Kirkman-Senior Ranger, Kapama Karula

Boxing Day Bloodlust

Thuli (my tracker) and I set off early on Boxing Day with one goal – to track down the Lions which had evaded us on our last two safaris.  We had hoped it would be a belated Christmas gift to our guests, who were dying to see them. 

We had not even covered half a kilometre before picking up the tracks.  They stood proud in the mud as it had poured with rain the night before.  We followed the trail easily but moved slowly while we read the story told by the soil.  We could see that the Lions were hungry.  They had paced back and forth, split up repeatedly and charged after many different antelope. Some of the antelope had slipped and fallen but there was no sign of a kill and still no Lions!  We kept working the trail for the next hour but eventually it headed into a thicket which cut us our chase.  By this stage I could tell that our guests thought we would never see anything and so we moved off to view a large herd of Buffalo grazing nearby before heading back to Karula.

On our way back, as we were turning into the Karula entrance, Thuli looked to his left and saw the three tawny figures moving off down the road – a hundred yards from where we had started that morning!  Everyone was ecstatic as we followed the three Lionesses closely.  Almost immediately they crouched down in the road and in the distance we could see a huge kudu bull.  The excitement was palpable while the lions waiting for the Kudu to move into thick bush.  Eventually he did and they began to encircle him and set their trap.  Fortunately for him there were more Kudu in the bush that spotted the cats and they all ran off giving their alarmed barks.

The Lionesses had begun to settle down again when one spotted a flicker in the bush and charged around the thicket.  The other two quickly realised what was happening and charged around the other side.  The only thing we could hear was the thundering hoof beats.   By the time the Kudu saw them it was too late.  She slipped in the mud and they overwhelmed her.  She managed to get to her feet at one stage but the Lions showed their strength and smashed her to the ground once again.  With two last groans she was gone.  It was over as quickly as it had begun. 

While the Lionesses were feeding they pulled out what appeared to be the liver (which is surprisingly large) but on closer inspection it had white stripes all over.  It was in actual fact a foetus, ready to be born a month or two later!  Very sad and tragic, but interesting nonetheless.

One of my guests, Mr Alan Silver from the United States, managed to keep his composure and get some fantastic action shots.  Thank you for these Alan!  The story would be nothing without them.

Cameron Pearce – Head Ranger, Kapama Karula