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)

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Python vs Lion

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

Southern Camp


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Why are there holes on the side of termite mounds?

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

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Stay Away!!

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



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Battle of the Super-Predators – and Rhinos to the Rescue!

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

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Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints…

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

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