When we left the lodge for the morning game drive on 2 June 2014, elephants were top of mind. We wanted to see the giants of the African bush, and just five minutes into the drive my hopes were raised. I saw a disc-shaped print in the sand. It was the size of a dinner plate. Right next to it lay a pile of dung, still steaming it was so fresh.
I immediately stopped the vehicle, got out and pointed out the footprint to the guests on the game drive. “Do you know what this is?” I asked them with a knowing smile. Answers of “giraffe” and “rhino” came firing back at me, and then finally one guest said it: “Elephants.”
“Yes, yes,” I answered animatedly, “and the dung is so fresh, we can definitely follow the tracks.” A soft cheer came from the back of the vehicle as guests couldn’t contain their excitement. They knew an adventure had just begun.
I thought it wouldn’t take long before we found the elephant herd, but I was very wrong. The elephants were on a mission of their own, searching for another elephant herd in the area. Two-and-a-half hours later and a strong cup of coffee to modify my search plan, and then suddenly we heard a trumpet from deep in the bush.
“What was that?” a guest asked curiously. Tracker Cazwell Mmola answered back: “Elephants. And they are close.” We quickly packed up the coffee picnic and rushed in their direction. An open patch appeared in the bush and there they were: a herd of majestic African elephants, quietly drinking water from a small mud pan. Some guests sighed in relief, others in wonder, and cameras clicked in the excitement of the sighting. We stayed for 20 minutes, soaking up the experience and then left the herd to continue their daily routine.
The American gentleman sitting behind me, tapped me gently on my shoulder and said: “This truly was a morning dedicated to following Africa’s giants.”
Written by Rassie Jacobs, ranger: Kapama River Lodge
Edited by Keri Harvey
We knew they were around. For a week or two, we’d seen their tracks on a couple of occasions, but at such a young age their mothers are extremely protective and like to keep their bouncing newborns secreted away in areas of cover. Rhino calves are something very special to see in the wild.
Now, between two and three months old, the little rhino calves are gaining confidence and becoming inquisitive – much like any other toddler. While still keeping a very close eye on their youngsters, their moms, too, are starting to let them explore more of their new world.
On game drives, we rangers always keep a good distance from young calves and any newborns in the bush. This allows them to comfortably habituate with our presence, rather than feel harassed or threatened by humans on a vehicle being near them.
With silent awe, I – along with my guests – watch as the curious young rhinos start edging away from the safety of their mother, and slowly move closer to our game viewing vehicle. Then suddenly the young ones realise how far they have ventured from mom, quickly bounce around and bound back to her for protection. It is a memorable sighting for everyone.
With the continued threat to South Africa’s rhino populations, I always try to impress upon my guests how fortunate we are to have any rhino sightings at all, and that I often fear that my future children may not be able to enjoy this privileged experience in the wild – unless some drastic changes occur.
In 2013, South Africa lost 1 004 rhinos through poaching, and by the end of May 2014 over 400 rhinos have already been killed for their horns. In the face of such alarming tragedy, it is particularly special to witness the miracle of two hopeful little rhinos curiously exploring and navigating the challenges of the first phase of their lives. With their continued drive to survive, and with the ongoing protection of their vigilant mothers and the countless people who fight on their behalf, maybe there is still some hope for the future of these prehistoric animals. Rhinos have walked the earth for over 60 million years.
Story by Kevin Samuels, ranger: Kapama River Lodge
Edited by Keri Harvey
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)
On a pleasant night safari the other day my guests and I were coming towards the end of the safari drive, when out of the blue we happen upon one of the rarest sightings I have ever experienced. It all started earlier during the drive when we found the young Southern Male lion fast asleep at Sunset dam. This male normally likes to associate with the youngsters and lionesses of the Moria pride (named after one of the areas on the reserve). Later that evening on the way to the lodge I thought I would go past Sunset dam again and sure enough found the same magnificent Male lion heading towards us in the middle of the road.
I pulled off the road and allowed this massive cat to pass mere meters away from the vehicle. The guests loved the thrill and exhilaration to have such an powerful animal go past this close, and also the fact that he trusted us enough to actually come this close, without paying us any notice. We followed him down the road and he then suddenly veered off his direction clearly showing signs of having picked up on a smell needing closer investigation.
At first we thought he might have picked up a females’ scent and as he moved closer to a bush pandemonium broke loose. He suddenly launched himself into the air behind the bush with a massive African Rock Python biting him on the muzzle. With enormous power he flung the python of his nose and darted back into the road. You could see that this was quite an unpleasant surprise for him and after a few rubs he continued down the road. African Rock Pythons can reach a length of about 6-8 meters and grow up to about 50 – 70 Kg in weight. This is pure muscle and they are extremely powerful snakes.
Obviously this would be quite a hearty meal for a Lion but I am sure this male would think twice before taking on such a powerful reptile again. We couldn’t help but smile when it struck us that this is probably the best example of the age old saying ” don’t bite off more than you can chew…”
Ranger Mike Powell
This is a question we as rangers get on a regular basis from our guests. As we drive out into the bush on safari we drive past many triangular shaped heaps of soil. “What is this?” This is a termite mound; the worker termites will build this architectural masterpiece by combining their saliva and the soil around them to form and shape this strange creation.
All of the termites will live and feed inside this mound, and this is where the animal that makes the holes on the side of the mound come into the picture. This animal is called an Aardvark, also known as an Antbear. An Aardvark feeds almost exclusively on termites, using its sharp sense of smell to locate his food. He then makes use of very long and sharp claws to dig open the termite mounds. An average Aardvark can consume up to 50 000 termites in an evening, and will leave a big hole in the mound after doing so.
These holes will later be utilized and form homes for many other animals such as Warthogs, Porcupines, different species of snakes and reptiles, just to name a few.
Wayne – Kapama River Lodge
A good sighting of a snake in the wild can be quite a rare event, and as it is so difficult to spot snakes in the wild it is somehow always an exhilarating experience for guides and guest alike.
Most of our snake “sightings” are mostly met with a scream from someone, and soon afterwards the excitement will set in. This morning we were driving along in search of animals when we spotted a snake sailing across the road ahead of us. We pulled up alongside the spot the snake went of the road and entered the bush. A bit disappointed we thought our changes of spotting him were spoiled, but in true style my tracker spotted it again a short distance from the roads’ edge. Having the opportunity to identify the snake was very cool, and me and my tracker immediately new this was one of those you do not want to mess with… a Mozambique Spitting Cobra.
The snake rose up above the grass and spreaded it’s hood in true cobra style with the distinct black bands on it’s throat clearly visible! The rest of the body is a lighter brown colour and it is quite difficult to miss-id this snake with its aggressive demeanor.
It kept it’s defensive pose for longer than I would have expected, making us understand clearly to stay away from him, before disappearing into the bushes.
Mozambique Spitting Cobras are fairly widespread in our region and because of their aggressiveness and bad temper they have quite a bad reputation amongst most people here and in local villages. Luckily their warning signs are loud and clear and only a fool would dare to not take heed… If not you would probably be met with a stream of venom from the fangs aimed directly at your eyes. This in itself would be a very uncomfortable and painful experience. Most people however understand their behaviour and they are suprisingly enough responsible for very little snakebite incidences around the area!
Should you get bitten, a deadly cocktail of cyto- and nuero-toxic venom would be injected through hypodermic needle like fangs and cause you severe pain, discomfort and gradual collapse of your whole neurological system. Luckily it is quite a “slow working” venom and you should have ample time getting to a doctor who should be able to reverse the effect of the bite. You should make a full recovery unless you develop a massive allergic reaction to the proteins in the venom, in which case death might be a very real possibility…
As always it is normally a VERY good idea to stay away from snakes you encounter, even more so if you don’t’ know which type they are. If you understand the warning signs, do not ever ignore them as they are there for a reason, and these will save you a very unpleasant trip to the emergency room.
Westley Lombard – Senior Ranger
Kapama Southern Camp