About 3 weeks ago, I went on a safari into Kruger with one of our newer guides, Lamby. Although I was well aware of his exceptional abilities while he was Head Guide at another safari company, it is part of my job to evaluate all our guides. Lamby was very good BUT the rhino sighting he predicted (not promised thankfully) did not materialise. We asked every other tour guide we met along the way and all had the same sad story – no rhinos that day!
It is sad because it was the very first time in decades that I have personally missed a rhino sighting on a day safari in Kruger. The ever-increasing demand for rhino horn is slowly but surely strangling the continued existence of these great animals to an unfortunate death.
Thinking about strangling, I recently came across a Strangler Fig, Ficus Natalensis.
It is so named because it actually strangles its host tree to death. The Strangler Fig initially grows as a creeper but soon enough grows into a tree. It has a vigorous root system and actively seeks water. It sucks the sap of its host tree which weakens rapidly. The strangulation prevents nutrients from reaching parts of the host tree which eventually dies.
GAME-VIEWING REPORTS FROM OUR GUIDES
The sudden news regarding HESC stopping its game drives on Kapama came as a surprise to Viva Safaris, with HESC no longer proving morning and evening game drives.
We were left with no choice but to move our sundowner drives for Katekani guests to the Motlala private game reserve.
I have been on several game drives on Motlala and have found the game viewing to be action-packed.
On almost all occasions we have managed to track down the rare black rhino, white rhino, buffalo, giraffe and a host of other general game.
The most exciting find so far has to be two lionesses that attempted to sneak behind the back of us but got caught out. The two females have been moving around the reserve together.
Their size was particularly impressive for lionesses, which explains why they have been able to take down big prey such as giraffe and buffalo.
We saw their tracks not far from the treehouses so all guests need to be well advised that there are lions around Marc’s treehouse Lodge !!!
Leopards have also been spotted, although only very quick glimpses. Evidence of leopards often seen on game drives shows a healthy population in the area.
I like to remind everyone that the bush always surprises you : maybe 20 minutes into the bush walk with Elias, something caught our attention : it turned out to be Wild Dogs. The 3 of them walked by in an open area allowing us to get a great visual before they headed off into the bushy thickets.
Driving down to the Olifants River on our way for the bush walk we found not 1 but 5 black rhinos all together busy feeding – it was our one bull Zulu and 2 cows as well as their 2 calves. It was an amazing experience as it is very rare to find as many as this altogether !
It happens from time to time that for children too young to go on the bushwalk ( under 12 ) we organise a long morning drive. On one such drive we encountered 3 lions and 1 lioness.
On another morning drive, as we passed in front of the main gate, the gate guard told us someone had reported lions lying down on the road a little further so we went in that direction and we found 8 of them. It was still dark as the sun wasn’t up yet.
I was showing Shannon the routes so I was sitting in the tracker seat when we spotted an elephant. It was a lonely bull busy feeding on some thicket vegetation and he allowed us to get pretty close – it was such a nice encounter and the light was going down so picture wise that golden colour made our day.
Going back in the lodge we viewed a male leopard that had killed an impala.
We tracked white rhinos for maybe one hour and a half so what a pleasure to finally encounter these beautiful creatures. The mother and her baby were communicating and we heard that squeaking noise so impressive for such a big animal.
We have found the lions a number of times this month. I had two absolutely amazing drives with elephants, lions, hyenas, civet, small spotted genet, spotted eagle owl and THE famous Leopards that everybody always talk about. What a surprise : 3 leopards in one month on Sunset drives – is my record this time. It is just always amazing how somehow you don’t expect to see them and Mother Nature blesses you with such nice presents.
My guests went crazy. It is all these moments that make our jobs so enjoyable, the fact that you never know what you are going to find next …..…
In Kruger the sightings have been getting easier due to the grass getting shorter. The herds of buffalo have returned to their regular winter spots and Elephants are plenty as always. We have been seeing more wild dog and cheetah these days which is a bonus on any game drive. Leopard sightings have been scarce but the few sightings we had were very good with the Leopards walking right past the open vehicle.
The lions have been around more towards the North of Kruger – S127 and S39. We have also been finding them on a regular basis on the S100. After all the Rhino poaching in Kruger, they seem to be very hard to find at the moment although we have found black rhinos at Marc’s Camp a few times.
I have also done more drives on Motlala and they are really nice. We have seen Black Rhino, Buffalo, Leopard and Lions on the Reserve. My favourite sighting of the month was definitely when we found a Southern Ground Hornbill with a fully grown Puff Adder in its mouth! Really something special.
In the first month of working at Viva Safaris I took part as Tracker and as a Guide where I shadowed some of the older Guides in order to familiarize myself with the roads and surrounding area. As I became more comfortable with the area I conducted my own drives.
My best highlight of my morning drives was finding a pride of 8 lions walking on the Olifants road and making their way towards the Campfire property as well as coming across a Bachelor herd of elephant and a tower of Giraffes with a beautiful pink and orange Sunrise.
Some of my highlights of this month included an encounter with a bachelor herd of elephants where one of the bulls decided to feed right next to the vehicle – showing complete comfort with our presence on the Campfire property near the dam; another highlight on the Campfire property was an encounter with a female leopard resting underneath a Red Bush willow tree completely relaxed about 10 metres away from the vehicle as well as viewing two Bull elephants play fighting in the dam. My guests were very excited and enjoyed the sightings of the animals.
I took part as spotter on these drives and came across amazing sightings of a Male lion and 2 female lions walking along the eastern cutline road as well as multiple encounters with elephants, buffalo and other antelope species on the Barnard Property. A highlight of one of my sunset drives was spotting a hippo feeding on nearby grass patches at the Ingwenya dam.
5 June: Balule
It started off this like every other morning : coffee with rusks. As we headed out after my safety debriefing, Eva called in about a pride of lions on the Olifants road. On arrival they were already on the move : just walking, lying down and playing around with one another. It‘s so interesting how you can relate their behavior to that of a normal domestic cat. We were entertained for almost 45minutes.
Lighting was amazing as the sun just came over the horizon, as I would say the Golden Hour of the day:). I contuined going over to Barnards past 3 dams where we found Hippo and Zebra. At the first dam I spotted a water monitor sunbathing on the dam wall in the road. He saw us and ran into thick overhanging vegetation next to the dam wall .
26 June: Balule
I was on tracker duty and our new work colleague Shannon was the Guide for the afternoon.We left 10 min earlier to spend some time tracking down a pride of lions. Later we got a call re elephants drinking water at the dam.
In total there was 4 male Elephants.One big male made his way slowly down an animal path towards the dam and started challenging another one drinking water to a match of play fighting wow what good behavior.This is only the start of my best Elephant sighting of my career as a guide so far.:) So we thought they were going to play fight and move off together. We watched them for a good 20min where they rolled around on the ground and socially interacted with each other. The big Elephant decided to go sit down on his butt exactly like a dog throwing his trunk over his face now by this time I was really impressed with this elephant. Suddenly he started streching exactly like a yoga instructor – I was blown away. The guests were so very impressed to see this 5 ton mammal throwing his body around like that !
14 June: Kruger
I am beginning to believe you can never get enough off Kruger! At the start we saw buffalo crossing the road. At Satara we had a great lunch and Elephants coming close to the fence feeding off some of the trees. After lunch we went north to S127 where we saw loads of elephants, estimated 500 in total and plenty general game.
We found Ostrich male and female standing together. We went to the Timbavati picnic spot as the guests needed a bathroom break.The attendant told us there were lions in the riverbed and, sure enough, there they were! We continued on the S39 where we viewed Hippos, Verreaux eagle-owl and crocodiles.
When we reached the H7 another guide told me about 10 Wild Dogs. When we arrived, they we interacting with one another. We had the opportunity to view them for 10 min when they moved off into the bush.Near Orpen we found 6 white rhinos.. This is a day I will never forget!
On the 1st June we found 4 Lions on the Olifants Road 1km from Tremisana Lodge next to the road lying down.
On the 2st June we found the pride of 7 at Olifants road next to Tremisana Lodge mobile towards the lodge.
On the 17th June at Girivana Dam S12 we found a Cheetah drinking water.
On the 24th on walk we found 2 Bull Elephant. We approached them to get good pictures.
On the 25th June we found 2 male Lion eating a Giraffe at Ezulwini Lodge.
Nature can always surprise you! We were driving along the Olifants road and I we saw vultures on top of the trees others were flying around Campfire. When we get close we couldn’t see anything that had been killed so I decided to stop the open Cruiser and went into the bush on foot because I wanted to see if there’s was any predators. I saw 7 female lions and 1 male busy eating then I moved back slowly and I took my guests to the place where the lions were. The guests really loved the experience!!!! The lions were feeding on a Buffalo – the guests were very excited about it.
On one of my bushwalks we were surrounded by elephants – it was amazing to see that my guests were actually vibrating with adrenaline but on the other hand they were so happy. We also saw a good sized crocodile.
On a sunset drive I was surprise we saw only impalas, steenbok and jackal and then we reached Marula Boma. Just as we were busy eating, a Honey badger arrived and a Civet so it was good to see them and then we heard the lions roaring really close. It was amazing and my guests were very excited.
29/06/2017 at 06:00: I did a Sunrise drive and I used Marula road and we saw impalas, steenbok and we also saw baboons. My guests were complaining because they hadn’t seen much and I told them that the Bush will always surprise you – just before the airstrip of Barnard there was a leopard walking along the road and I reminded them about what I had just told them !
The month of June has been so great in many ways, looking at activities such as bushwalks doing village tours and game drives both Balule Nature Reserve and Kruger Park, with the vegetation which is dry or experiencing a dry season recently we get to see the game very well because it’s not very thick, you are able to see far in.
We had visitors from the Archbishop Minty College that spent time doing village activities which included:
· Orphanage home, interacting with the orphans and donation of few items including toys and clothes and we got to present a computer and a printer which was donated by Santa Monica College.
· Funjwa Primary School (Acornhoek village), attending class lessons and interacting with the kids during lunch break.
· Arthurseat Church – this was a village tour where we went in with the students and they got the chance to paint the church.
Kruger Park has been good : 2 big male lions took down a male buffalo near Orpen, 16 hyenas came in to try and intimidate but they were not successful as these were very big males.
Later, a pride of 4 lionesses with cubs downed a baby giraffe near Satara next to the road with so many vulture landing down to get a piece it was a very exciting sighting as the lions kept running around chasing the vultures.
Along the Timbavati River we found a leopard with its kill up a tree.
Balule: We’ve been getting so many lions sight in Balule with the morning drives and sunset drives. On bushwalks we mainly get to see elephant and hippos and some of the general game.
Four lions killed a giraffe near Ezulwini lodge – they spent 4 days in in that area. We found a male leopard near Campfire dam.
I was on long leave this month – so shorter report.
4th June: Kruger, sightings good, Lions at Nsemani dam, elephants Girivana waterhole, buffaloes Rockvale, lots of general game Orpen road and hyena near Rabelais on the road.
6th: Lions on S100, buffalos Mudzandzeni, elephants all over, general game Orpen road, cheetahs before Tamboti camp junction.
8th: Lions on Sweni road, hyenas Sweni road, elephants all over, buffalos crossing the road between Orpen reception and boom gate.
30th: Elephants before Bobbejaankrans, general games before Nsemani dam, lions on H7 road.
I was on long leave for 3 weeks this month, so pardon the short report.
We always see hippo & crocodile in water – sometimes out. On a number of Sunset Drives I have found Lions at Shugamba Dam and 6 bull elephants on Marula Road.
One day, on the way back from the bushwalk, we saw 4 Wild Dogs on Marula road.
There has been a herd of Elephants at Tremisana Lodge fairly regularly. From time to time our guests have to have belated showers while our ground staff locate the break in the pipes that deliver water from our boreholes to our tank !!! I think the fresh borehole water tastes a lot better than the muddy water at Tremisana Dam or at the waterholes in front of the Lapa.
Photos from our camera traps
NEWS FROM OUR LODGES
TREMISANA GAME LODGE
Pieter, our former mechanic, was employed to lay paving bricks. We now have a new path from unit 15 to the staff accommodation. This has created a circuit which Sandra can walk on when she gets the urge. We used to walk around the lodge on the other side of the fence but the increased presence of lions and elephants has put paid to that.
We have repainted the swimming pool and are pleased that it will be fully operational in July for some of our tourists (mainly Dutch and German) who appear to have an uncontrollable penchant for hypothermia.
MARCS TREEHOUSE LODGE
The annual quiet-season general maintenance of the treehouses has been done. Wherever necessary, reeds are replaced, thatch roofs combed and poles and balustrades are creosoted.
We have added another staff room in anticipation of yet another bumper tourist season.
KATEKANI TENTED LODGE
All 8 units are fully functional. An Italian coffee machine has been installed and Victor advises that he can make a Cappuccino that tastes as good as anything Starbucks can !!!
We have seen a Pangolin (Scaly Anteater) regularly. I know of some guides that have been operating in Kruger for decades that have never seen this extremely elusive animal.
We have almost completed the store room and additional staff rooms.
Aron, Dan and Given and their crew advise it will all be done by the end of July. We are also going to create a bush barbeque dinner spot near the dam which we will keep filled by borehole. In the past, we have had buffalo use the dam for wallowing.
We are also seeing a young female Black Rhino regularly – perhaps she feels protected by the presence of our full time gate guard, Richard, and Reynek who is our security guard whose room is near the gate.
NEWS FOR OUR TRAVEL PARTNERS
After the decision by Kapama HESC to discontinue safari drives and replace them with tours of endangered species, we have been happily surprised by the quality of game drives at Motlala.
Our rangers report that there has to date not been a single drive on which at least one of the Big Five is seen. Motlala has a thriving buffalo population, both Black and White Rhino (the guides report that they are seeing Black Rhino more often than White – a similar situation to Tremisana guides on Balule), several resident leopards and a new lion pride.
The only member of the Big Five not present is elephant. I personally opposed the introduction of elephant into Motlala when it was first mooted some 10 years ago as I have a very vivid nightmare of a huge bull elephant pushing tree with treehouse and tourist and all into the Klaserie River !!!!
We are not too concerned about not seeing elephant on Motlala as Viva Safaris clients (tens of thousands) have not missed seeing elephants in Kruger since February 1996 – on a day when there was sheet rain all day long !
Thanks for your fantastic support – June 2017 set a new June record for numbers of tourists going on our safaris!
I include some reviews posted in June 2017 :
Great lodge and AMAZING staff
Southfloridagal, Miami, Florida
We did the 4-day safari. I wish we had booked to be here longer. The lodge is perfect, it’s out in the bush with nothing around and the grounds are pretty with beautiful green trees and flowers and a sparkling pool. The rooms are cosy and impeccably clean although you don’t really have much time in them except to sleep and shower.
They keep you quite busy with game drives. Our guide, Elias was so so AMAZING!!! Big thanks to him. Elias is professional but still very friendly and he is a people person so he made our trip unforgettable with his vast knowledge of the bush and his passion for the animals. If you can ask for him to be your guide, you will have the best time ever!!
I must also mention the food. So so delicious!! The braai at the Marula Boma is such a fun experience and the food so yummy. To sum it up, you can’t go wrong with Tremisana, the people who work here are passionate and good people. It sort of feels like you are staying with friends. Thank you to the staff of Tremisana, especially Elias, for making my dream of an African Safari come true.
Marcs Treehouse Lodge
Sleep out Safari
Helene G, Victoria, Canada
My sleeping area was around the Campfire, it was amazing sleeping under the stars, a mattress and sleeping bag, amenities close by, at no time did I feel unsafe. The staff were incredible…WOW! Great experience!
Katekani Tented Lodge
Can’t wait to go back!
Mfalvarezsaracco, Lima, Peru
We stayed at Katekani for four days and absolutely loved everything from the moment we arrived. The rooms were nothing we expected for a “tent”: very private, with both an inside and outside shower, a private pool, a Jacuzzi. I loved how they used the trunk of the trees as part of the night stands.
From the moment we arrived Mira and Jochen made us feel at home, explaining us our itineraries every day or being such great conversationalists during every meal, we all quickly became friends. Zanelle was our guide for Kruger, she was very patient, making sure we all saw everything we wanted and we could tell she loved her job and thus was great at it.
The food during our stay was definitely the best we had during our 2 weeks in South Africa, Pierre and all the staff always gave us something different yet delicious to try. Everything during our stay was perfect. We loved every moment we had at Katekani and would recommend it to anyone. The hosts are such lovely people, overall all around there is such a good vibe that you can’t help but be happy.
Even though we were very far away from Peru, the great company from all the staff made us never want to leave, thank you for everything.
Ultimate experience and Birthday ever!
Viva Safaris Katekani Tented Lodge left nothing more to desire as this facility is first class. From rooms to indoor or outdoor shower, Tub and outdoor personal pool and the amazing sounds of Africa at night heard through the tented end of the suite along with prepared, sit down and served meals.
All tours on time, Luke and his staff are the very best, what more can I say, will be my personal choice always.
PS: My birthday party was awesome in South Africa………….there is so much more but…..Always and Thanks!
For more reviews, visit us at SafariBookings.
Until next month…
With kind regards,