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
I have had many interesting questions on drive from guests – some quite thought-provoking, and some that are just down right difficult to answer (and sometimes, not because they are intelligent questions!) One of the most common questions, however, is what hippos eat, and ultimately, how do they live in harmony with the other dam dwelling animals, especially crocodiles. The easiest way to answer this, I find, is by telling them an old African Folktale:
“When God was giving each animal a place in the world, the pair of hippos begged to be allowed to live in the cool water which they so dearly loved.
God looked at them, and was doubtful about letting them live in the water: their mouths were so large, their teeth so long and sharp, and their size and appetites were so big, He was afraid that they would eat up all the fish. Besides, He had already granted the place to another predator – the crocodile. He couldn’t have two kinds of large, hungry animals living in the rivers. So God refused the hippos’ request, and told them that they could live out on the open plains.
At this news, the two hippos began to weep and wail, making the most awful noise. They pleaded and pleaded with God, who finally gave in. But He made the hippos promise that if they lived in the rivers, they must never harm a single fish. They were to eat grass instead. God said that they were to show Him every night, that they were only eating grass. The Hippos promised solemnly, and rushed to the river, grunting with delight.
And to this day, hippos always scatter their dung on the river bank, so God can see that it contains no fish bones. And you can still hear them laughing with joy that they were allowed to live in the rivers after all”. (From: When the Hippos were Hairy and Other Tales from Africa: Nick Greaves)
People are always amused with this story, and children roar with laughter. Sometimes, though, this is the only way to explain things. It makes the drive more fun, and it often has a hidden meaning that people can think about. There are many African Folktale stories out there and usually only just about every animal you can think about.
Story by Angie (River Lodge)
As summer arrives, we have many new visitors in the form of feathers. With their beautiful colours and impressive flying skills, we have quite a few keen birders coming through the lodge. I enjoy watching all our summer migrants, but one of my favourite to photograph is the Lilac Breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus). I have sat for some time watching, and waiting for them to fly away to get the perfect action shot.
They usually prefer open woodland and savanna, sometimes alone or in pairs, it perches conspicuously at the tops of trees, poles or other high vantage points from where it can spot insects, lizards, scorpions, snails, small birds and rodents moving about at ground level.
They have quite a distinguishable lilac colour on their breast, and a unique set of tail feathers which separate out into two distinct ends, quite different (but often confused with) to the other roller in their family, the European Roller.
If you enjoy your birds, whether looking at to appreciate or to take photos of, summer is a good time for birds, especially all the colourful ones we don’t see during the winter months.
Story by Kevin (River Lodge)