Every so often, we witness something spectacular here on Kapama; something that we do not expect to experience. It is something that is not seen on a regular basis and, if seen, is an amazing and once-in-a-lifetime sighting. Something that deserves so much credit is a pack of wild dogs.
Very endangered and vigilant animals, wild dogs walk through reserves regardless of any kinds of obstacles and we have been lucky enough to have a pack of wild dogs on the Kapama property for the last couple of days.
Wild dogs are extremely endangered and regardless of the quality of the sighting, it is still a very special experience that we as rangers also cherish. Wild dogs are known to roam around extremely large areas do to their need to hunting almost every day. They live and hunt in packs therefore there are many mouths to feed. Even though the dogs can give birth to up to twelve pups, unfortunately, their survival rate is not high.
Many of our guests do not know anything about these amazing creatures. Needless to say that they are one of Africa’s most endangered species due to a loss of habitat. For those of you that are not aware of these canines, they are referred to as Africa’s painted dogs due to their unique patterned coats – different colours such as black, white, brown and ginger are visible.
The African wild dogs are extremely successful hunters. Working in packs, surrounding their prey, tiring their prey, and starting to eat while the animal is alive contribute to their success.
While out on our game drive, one of my guests actually asked about wild dogs. I explained that there is a pack that comes through the reserve every now and then but chances are not great of seeing them as they move for very far distances at a time.
That was the end of our conversation about wild dogs until this morning. One of the other rangers had spotted them in the area in which we were driving. So we decided to head that way. Before we got there they had lost visual. I thought to myself we’ll probably not see them again. When we got to a nearby dam, there they were drinking water and keeping their eyes on the hippo inside the water.
To our surprise, they starting antagonizing the hippo until it came out the water – probably to chase them away. However, the wild dogs decided to surround this hippo. The hippo was clearly confused – “what are these small creatures doing”. And then it realized that being in the middle of a pack of wild dogs was not a good place to be. He then quickly bolted back into the water for protection. The wild dogs then realized that he would not come out any time soon and moved off.
To be able to experience something like this is not even thought of in the life of a ranger. Seeing wild dogs on its own is a great experience but to see them taking on a fully grown hippo is definitely unheard of.
My guests and I could not comprehend what we just saw and it took sometime for us to soak it all up. What an amazing day it was.
Welcome to the wild dogs. May they decide to stick around in this area for a while.
KC – Kapama River Lodge
As winter approaches there are big changes happening on the reserve. The lush green scenery is being dominated by more and more colours of brown and gold and one can see further and further into the bush. This does have its advantages in the sense of being able to spot animals at greater distances into the bush, but also plays a huge role in the time changes of when the animals are active. Seeing that it gets darker a lot earlier these days, we do a great deal of the afternoon drives at night using the spot lights and head lights to show us where the animals are hiding. Because of this, there is also a big change in the type of sightings we have during the afternoon game drives as we get the opportunity to see the nocturnal animals in more of their natural behaviour patterns. A brilliant example of this happened tonight with the pride of thirteen lions.
There has been a lot of talk that the pride is taking on small game for their meals and that they will be struggling during the winter months seeing that a warthog is not really an efficient meal for thirteen big hungry cats, but this pride has proven everybody wrong tonight.
It was shortly after enjoying a nice sun downer stop with a beautiful sunset over the Drakensberg Mountains that a co-ranger picked up fresh tracks of the pride. They have been staying close to the lodge the last couple of days and followed the usual habit of hunting a couple of warthogs to keep most pride members happy and lazy, but tonight something was different. The pride was being taken into new territory, the territory of the pride’s dominant male’s father – the big boy on the reserve, but this might change pretty soon as we noticed the young male scent marking in the territory of his father; a sure sign of wanting to expand his own range. Not just did the young male start marking the area, but the females where out on a hunt in these unfamiliar grounds usually full of plains game such as wildebeest and zebras. As the twilight hour struck and the usual quietness at this time of the day took over, visual started to get very poor for most animals, but not for the lions; this is exactly what they were waiting for, they now had the upper hand with absolutely superb vision at night.
A snort from a wildebeest breaks the silence of the night, tension fills the air and the wildebeest starts to stomp around uneasily. Something is not right, they are not alone. A quick growl confirms their worst nightmare and in a confused scramble they realise they have already been surrounded. The three big lionesses of the pride had circled them perfectly and everyone was in the exact spot they were supposed to be. A massive thump could be heard as the first two females drove the wildebeest into the ground as it ran down the riverbed embankment… success…..but wait, only seconds after there is another thump as the third female had plans of her own and took a second wildebeest by surprise, bringing it down in the middle of the road in a cloud of dust and confusion.
It doesn’t take long for the rest of the pride to respond, with half of the cubs and the male making a run for the first wildebeest to join the feast. The three sub adults decided to rather join their mom and share in her success with the wildebeest still kicking dust in the road with some cubs not far behind them.
Two grown wildebeest kill in a matter of seconds by the three hunters of the group. I think it is safe to say that there is nothing to worry about when it comes to their capabilities to hunt and take down prey that will feed the whole pride to the full. We are all looking forward to seeing what these machines will be doing this season as it is also getting closer to the time of the sub-adults assisting the lionesses in the hunt and with the day/night change happening earlier these days, we will hopefully be able to witness more of these magnificent sights.
Piet – Kapama River Lodge
Every guide out there has had this question before “what do giraffes eat”?
This seems to be a straight forward question and very easy to answer.
Have you ever explained to your guests that giraffes feed almost exclusively on the succulent green leaves of the trees found on the savanna plains and having observed them doing so, you or your guests might notice a giraffe chewing on a bone?
Giraffe are herbivorous and have been recorded to feed on more than 100 species of plants with a staple diet of acacia leaves. Giraffe have been seen chewing on dried bones for their calcium content. While leaves are preferred, a giraffe will browse on many other kinds of vegetation, especially in the dry season.
Giraffe food preferences change according to seasons: in the dry season, they seem to be fine with pine like needles. They feed by browsing, which typically means they eat continuously throughout the day. A male is able to eat 75 pounds of food in a single day.
Giraffe use their sense of smell to locate the leaves they want. They ingest everything on the branch when eating, including insects, bark, and thorns. The giraffe uses its massive tongue (up to eighteen inches long) to scrape off the leaf and have very tough lips to guard against scratching. Reticulated giraffe are ruminants, just like cows and other ungulates. Their stomach has four parts, with food passing through the first and water going directly to the second. The first stomach partially digests the twigs, leaves, and whatever else the giraffe has ingested whole.
During the day, when the animal is not feeding, parts of this fermented mixture are brought back up from the stomach in hard lumps. Giraffe chew on these lumps, called cud, throughout the day, helping to further break the food down. Once they are done chewing on the piece of cud, it is sent to the third stomach, and finally the fourth stomach to be digested fully.
Giraffe are very good at conserving water in the hot African climate. They are able to conserve and maintain their body temperature in part because of their shape – their long thin legs allow heat to release quickly. The leaves they eat are actually a good source of water, and can allow them to go days without a drink.
Giraffe have a difficult time lowering their massive heads to the ground to drink, and this also leaves them vulnerable to predators. They are able to reach water by spreading their front legs and stretching their neck down.
Wayne – Kapama River Lodge
It is that time of year when there is no peace in the impala world. The males are running around all over and are engaged into a series of battle with one another hoping to gain dominance and females. While these males are fighting, however, other males are sneakily mating with the females.
The young males are unfortunately kicked out of the herd and separated from their mothers; therefore, they are more exposed to danger. Females are also more confused as they are grouped together with different males day after day. The reason for this is that when the male wins and joins up with the females, he forgets to eat and thereby loses a lot of energy. Thereafter, another male will take over the role of dominance.
Unfortunately, predators are also taking advantage of this situation. The males are too pre-occupied with fighting and mating that they are not aware of their surroundings, therefore making it easier for predators to catch their meal.
This is now the reality of the impala family for the next couple of months.
Nelson – Kapama River Lodge