Recently, an American family of four were my guests at Kapama Karula. Their two daughters were aged six and 10 years old, and when I asked who had special interests, I was told that Chloe, the six-year-old, loved caterpillars. She loved them so much that whenever she found a worm or caterpillar, she would name it.
I told her about processionary worms, but that they were more active in summer and the rainy season. I promised I’d do my best to find some worms for her to see while we were out on game drive. It was a beautiful warm afternoon in the bush when I spotted a hairy chain on the ground. The worms were going, well, who knows where – but they were all going together, joined in a single line head to tail. It’s really an unusual sight.
Chloe couldn’t wait to get out of the vehicle to take a closer look at these interesting creatures. Before long, we were all on our hands and knees looking at the long line of worms and taking photos. Colly Mohlabine even had to pose next to the worms, so that Chloe could prove to her friends back home that this happened on a real safari. I think Chloe would definitely have chosen to see the caterpillars long before the Big Five, and I don’t think a line of caterpillars has ever been showered with so much attention.
These creatures are actually the caterpillars of the processionary moth, a very gregarious species that lives in community on food plants. Whenever they need to move to another tree, the worms join together head to tail and move in procession – like a thick silk thread. The procession can be metres long, and is thought to be a defence mechanism, because the line of worms looks more like a snake or stick. Predators such as birds are less keen to attack such an imposing line of caterpillars. So the principle of ‘safety in numbers’ works for caterpillars too, not only herds of wildlife.
Written and photographed by Collen Mokoena, Kapama Karula ranger
Edited by Keri Harvey
On an early morning game drive out of River Lodge, Lot Makhubele spotted the clear tracks of a male leopard imprinted in the sand road. He slowly climbed down from his high seat at the front of the vehicle and started explaining to guests the difference between male and female leopard tracks. The male leopard’s tracks are bigger and the shape is slightly rounder than that of the female. Male leopards are always solitary so there’s only one set of tracks, whereas there are often cub tracks close to the tracks of female leopards. Guests were amazed that Lot Makhubele could tell the sex of an animal just from its tracks, but he really can.
For about a half an hour we followed the leopard tracks, until he turned off the road and into the bush. It was inaccessible to us in a vehicle, and I was still explaining this to guests when Lot Makhubele spotted a female giraffe staring down at the ground. It may not sound significant at first, but giraffes usually stare fixedly at one place when they have seen a predator. So we were excited at the possibilities.
As we drew nearer, we found a clan of about 10 hyenas lying in the grass staring back at the female giraffe. Then, to our amazement, we saw a baby giraffe lying dead at its mother’s feet. It appeared the young giraffe had died during the previous night, and its mother was protecting its body from the encroaching hyenas. As the hyenas moved closer, the giraffe fended them off. They hung back for a few minutes and began slowing approaching again. And so it went on for at least an hour. The giraffe stood her ground and we eventually left the sighting.
On returning an hour later, the giraffe was still guarding the body of her baby from the hungry hyenas, and it’s possible she had stood there doing this all night before. However, when we returned the next morning, there was no sign of the event. Not a single bone of the baby giraffe or a shred of evidence remained.
Hyenas have a bad reputation, but are essential in the ecosystem and keep the bush clear of carrion. They are unusual and interesting animals, so it’s no surprise there are also plenty of myths and superstitions about them. It was previously thought that hyenas are hermaphrodites, but it turns out they are not. What is true is that female hyenas are heavier than males, more aggressive and socially dominant. Two pups are usually born to a litter and they are born ready for action – with their eyes open and canine teeth developed. So no time is wasted of keeping the bush clear of carcasses.
Story by Clement Kgatla – Ranger at River Lodge
Edited by Keri Harvey
Painted Wolf, Wild Dog, Cape Hunting Dog are all words describing one of the most successful predators you’ll get to witness on a safari anywhere in Africa. We at Kapama were lucky enough to view a pack of these incredible animals for the last week now, probably ( hopefully ) seeking new hunting grounds to include in their massive home ranges.
Unfortunately Wild dog numbers are on the decline and very few wildlife areas still exist where these animals can be seen in a natural environment doing what they are supposed to do. This mostly because they were invading cattle farms, and being as successful at hunting as they are, thousands of them got shot because of the threats they posed to livestock.
Rather than using stealth, cunning or brute power to bring down prey they hunt in packs and it takes a considerable amount of team effort for them to be successful With a 90% success rate this tactic obviously serves them very well as they employ cooperation and a good dose of stamina to run down prey and tire it out until such basically collapse out of pure exhaustion.
The pack we see at Kapama probably came through from the conservancy next door to our west, but in all indication it seems like this family is quite happy to be spending some time with us. Hopefully they will have a couple of successful hunts on the reserve and decide to include Kapama Game Reserve as a part of their home range, which would mean that we get to see them a whole lot more often than we used to.
It is truly a big privilege to have them here as their dwelling numbers everywhere throughout sub- Saharan Africa is a cause of great concern. For now we will just enjoy every single sighting of these amazing predators and hope they will decide to make this a part of their permanent home…
It is often that adjectives like “awesome”, “wonderful” & “incredible” find their way onto this blog because of all that nature’s got to offer. Not always though does it describe the truly “UNBELIEVABLE” occurrences that sometimes happen…
Two days ago me and Westley were standing just outside the Kapama Lodge main entrance door when we suddenly heard the herd of Impala going ballistic were they were grazing happily just minutes ago. We immediately knew something was up, as you could hear by their alarm snorts that they were deeply distressed. We were aware of a female Cheetah in the vicinity of the lodge, and we had some idea that they might just have spotted her…. Nothing however could prepare us for what happened next…
As we tried to figure out which direction the Impala were looking, they suddenly just scattered in all directions in full flight. Me and Westley stood there not knowing if we should maybe also run amids all the chaos. It was then when we spotted the cheetah coming from the bushes towards the door and immediately she targeted a young impala lamb that managed to make it’s way toward the lodge onto our driveway. The cheetah did not stop her charge because of our presence and got a hold of the poor impala lamb who desperately tried to free it self from the firm strangle hold in which the cheetah had it.
In true cheetah style the impala lamb was dismissed quickly and efficiently and she immediately started dragging the carcass away to the bushes just opposite the lodge where they found her later on drive, thoroughly enjoying her “not so hard earned” meal.
This whole incident lasted mere seconds but it took us almost half an hour getting over the hysterical laughs and total dis- believe at what we just witnessed. As luck would have it, Suzette had been playing around with a video camera that day and above all odd’s happen to be at the right time and the right place to capture the last moments of this truly amazing incident…
Just shows again that you never know what is going to happen next in the African bush.
Yesterday morning my guests and I witnessed an incredible sighting. We heard audio of our large male Lion and went to investigate. As we got visual of the male and our largest Lioness we noticed a large male Leopard up a tree. Lions and Leopard do NOT get along. Lions will kill Leopard and Leopard cubs and Leopard will kill Lion cubs.
The two Lions were under the tree harassing and roaring at the Leopard. About three minutes later a Crash of three Rhino wandered into our sighting, a male and two female, and started chasing the Lions away. The Leopard jumped down out of the tree and tried to jump into another tree but missed. As the Leopard missed the Lioness grabbed the Leopard by the rump and the Rhino came and chased the Lion off again.
The Leopard ran off, perused by the Lions the whole while. He climbed another tree trying to escape but only reached a small branch where he was very uncomfortable. The Lions started roaring again and the Leopard jumped down and there was nowhere to run, being caught between both Lions. The male Lion caught the Leopard but the Leopard fought back. Then again the Rhinos chased the Lions and the Leopard managed to escape and run off into the bush!
An incredible, once in a lifetime sighting at Kapama that my guests and I will never forget! (Thank you Sebastian for the FANTASTIC photos to add to our story!)
(Above: My VERY happy and excited guests.)
By: Michael Mabuye – River Lodge Ranger
When the first real rain fell about two weeks ago it brought such relief to the dry dusty ground of Kapama. Within a few days the new green shoots of grass were starting to appear. My guests who were in-house for four nights also commented on the change in the grass colour and foliage from the day they arrived compared with the day they left. The animals were really starting to graze like they had not seen food for months. To me this change is most noticeable in the impala. Where ever I look, I see impala grazing furiously. These antelope are total mixed feeders. Depending on the time of the year, the amount and type of food available to them and the impala’s geographical location; they will adapt their feeding strategy to include either more graze or browse.
Impala are common antelope and for the most part form the base diet of most predators, especially during this time of year. It is the season where the impala are giving birth. This process renders the females in particular more vulnerable to predators, and endangers the whole herd in general. Impala have an average recruitment rate of approximately 33% per year; hence forming the base diet for most predators. The lambs being taken mostly by Black Backed Jackal, Baboon, Leopard, Cheetah and Lion.
The first impala lambs have been born and within the next few weeks the whole reserve should be booming with impala lambs. Nature is both beautiful and cruel at these times. A few days ago while on an evening drive, I found Mother Nature had dealt a cruel hand. I noticed a small new face staring out at us from under a Tamboti tree. On closer inspection, I saw a new born impala lying curled up alongside its motionless mother. What had happened? The female had obviously died shortly after giving birth from excessive blood loss. She hadn’t even had the chance to clean her young one. Sadness filled me inside; I felt the urge to interfere. I wanted to go and fetch the baby and take it back to the camp and try my best to give the baby a chance at survival. The one thing that stopped me was the realisation that this was Mother Nature’s way of ensuring the survival of only the strongest genetic material. As sad as it was, I knew deep inside me that this would have been a purely selfish act, involving myself where I shouldn’t be. Fetching the lamb would have taken the food from the predators and thereby upsetting the natural balance. I explained this to my guests and they were in agreement with me. With mixed emotions we continued toward the camp for a hearty dinner.
What became of the young impala I can only imagine. The next morning when we drove past the same area, there was no sign of the young impala or its mother. I humbled myself in the thought that nature’s cycle was not interrupted, and that the cycle is the important part of nature. The words of my Trainer from ten years ago echoed in my mind… “Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints”.
Paul Daniel – Kapama Karula, Senior Ranger