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May 2015

The African Civet, Civettictis Civetta, is a strikingly attractive animal. Generally but not strictly nocturnal, the Civet stands roughly 300mm at the shoulder and has a mass of around 4 kg. Civets are sometimes called “Civet Cats” but this is a misnomer as Civets display characteristics more akin to the Mongoose family than any cat species. The African Civet has facial markings that include a barred mask across the eyes that is remarkably similar to that of a racoon.

The Civet gets its name from a perineal gland called the civet that produces a liquid that has been used in the production of perfume. This liquid, called civetone, is used by Civets to mark territory and advertise their presence.

On our celebrated Bush Walks we sometimes come across a “civetry” – a latrine used by Civets. A tell-tale characteristic of a civetry in our area is the presence of a number of old Millipede exoskeleton segments. I am told that Millipedes are generally avoided by most animals as they contain a caustic fluid which leaves a bad aftertaste. Civets seem to relish the taste of Millipede. They are omnivorous and are not averse to the odd chicken bone. In fact chicken farmers complain that, somewhat like European foxes, Civets can run amok in a chicken coup killing wantonly.

Civet seen scavenging at Viva Safaris’ Marula Boma.

Civet seen scavenging at Viva Safaris’ Marula Boma.

GAME-VIEWING REPORTS FROM OUR GUIDES

MONTHLY REPORT BONGANI

This month was excellent for spotting animals around the lodge and the number of animals that are visiting Tremisana dam has increased significantly. At the dam we spotted many elephants taking a mud bath and playing in the water. We regularly see different species of water birds like Grey Heron, Blacksmith Plover and African Fish Eagle. At night we often hear monkeys making lots of noise continuously and I suspected a leopard is walking around the lodge. I have walked around the lodge looking for spoor and I have found this mainly at the parking area.

Bushwalk
As usual we left the lodge early before sunrise and along the way we spotted a few interesting animals like two Black Rhinos feeding along the road and as we drove further on we saw a White Rhino very close to the road as well.

White Rhino seen on Bush Walk.

White Rhino seen on Bush Walk.

We arrived at the walking spot and we walked fast to get to the top of the hill so we could see the sunrise. It was very quiet and the sunrise was beautiful, until the king of the bush decided to roar very close to us and remind us that he is the king. We were excited to hear the lion roar close by.

On the river side there were lots of hippos making noise and the baboons were going crazy after they heard the lion roaring. We tried to track the lion but the bush was dense and it was not easy to see spoor. Some of the guests got a glimpse of a male lion running away from us – we tried to follow but it was difficult to see him clearly again. During the bushwalk we found five giraffes and one big crocodile basking on the sand to help to control its body temperature. We continued walking along the river and we spotted two Saddle-billed Storks after they had killed a catfish.

Night drive
We drove for about an hour without seeing anything amazing – it was strange. On our way to the Marula Boma we were rewarded by a brilliant sighting of four lions eating a zebra right next to Olifants main road. There were two lionesses and two lions – they was very close and we enjoyed hearing them feeding and fighting among one another.

On our way back to the lodge it was a very busy sighting – we found ten hyenas and four jackal moving up and down trying to get something to eat. They hyenas keep on getting closer and closer until the lion got angry and attacked one of the hyenas. It ran towards us and it almost ran into our vehicle. We stayed at the sighting until it was quite late. It was like watching a National Geographic program on television. When we left the hyenas were still trying to get some meat but there was no chance. Jackals were showing respect by keeping a distance from the lions.

 

MONTHLY REPORT FOR LUKE

Our most amazing day in Kruger

We entered through the gates at Orpen, all eager to find as many of the big five as possible. The leopard as usual was one of my guests’ first requests. Unbeknown to us, today was going to be one of those days that just keep getting better. We headed along the tar toward Satara rest camp, ticking off the general game such as zebra, gnu, giraffe and of course impala. It took a little while before we came across the first of the big five.

I took a detour down toward a view point which looks over one of few remaining pools in the Timbavati River. At first all we could see was a big shape in the water – it was a hippopotamus of course, just resting in the water. We sat and watched only to be pleasantly surprised when a big set of ears came flapping through the thick riverine bush. It was the start of a breeding herd of elephants, coming down for a morning drink. The young calves came rushing down, with their floppy trunks flapping all over the place, always funny to watch. The herd all stood along the bank of the pool, and drank up their fill of water. The matriarch then signalled with a low stomach rumble that it’s time to go and off they went.

We had now ventured onto a dirt road, which followed the Timbavati River. It had been quiet except for a few close giraffe sightings – this was all about to change. In the distance I could see a vehicle stopped at an angle, looking not too far into the bush.

At first all we could see was a lone male impala standing dead still looking into the distance. We didn’t expect to see any predators. It was after a closer inspection that we saw a set of ears in the long grass, not more than two metres from the impala.

Leopard seen near impala.

Leopard seen near impala.

We were looking at a leopard, attempting to ambush this lone impala; we could not believe our fantastic luck. We spent the next forty minutes watching this leopard attempt to sneak up on the impala. The impala, much to our surprise, managed to outsmart the leopard – an amazing sighting.

It was now time to head for lunch, but why not another member of the big five, along the way. This time it wasn’t a cat but rather a crash of rhino, at a distance but still a good sighting.

Still in search of the buffalo and lion, we set off after a super lunch at Satara with a nice tip about a pride of lions. The first clue as to the lions location was a traffic jam of vehicles, the passengers all looking over towards a water hole. We found ourselves a great spot in the front row of the action – we had a view of six lionesses and a coalition of three male lions.

It was getting later in the day and the temperature was beginning to cool, which meant the lions were beginning to wake up, giving my guests an opportunity to take some great pictures of the male lions drinking water.

To make my job a little easier a small herd of buffalo had been resting on the far side of the dam. Keeping a constant look out for the lions, they stood up and nervously moved towards the water for a drink. The lions were still too lazy to attempt a kill, only willing to use a little energy to sit up and look towards the buffalo, and then collapsing once again in the shade.

We had done it, the big five in one day but this wasn’t the end of the day for us. On the way towards Orpen gate we came across a cheetah, standing alongside the road looking towards a herd of impala.

It all happened in a flash – the cheetah headed flat out towards the impala, separated an individual from the herd and bam it took it down in seconds. A real kill – something my clients and I will never forget ! It was an incredible way to end the day, not so great for the impala though.

 

MONTHLY REPORT FOR MAYNETH

The month of May was very exciting with its numerous sightings, with the grass dry and water so scarce in the Kruger National Park. Only permanent water points have water but some are getting dry for the first time I can remember.

Girivana water hole has been amazing – we found a pride of ten lions busy keeping the antelope from drinking water as it was very, very hot – there were wildebeest, impala and zebras waiting to quench their thirst but hesitant because of the pride of lions.

The lions sat there, very relaxed, waiting for their time to pounce on the other animals but unfortunately they never did. The elephants came close to drink and started chasing the lions off the water hole. They all came out and crossed the road and sat on the open area next to our open vehicle. There were 8 fully grown lions and two cubs. Two members of the pride were mating. We drove on towards Nsemani dam and‎ we viewed the hippos, crocodiles, giraffe and a rhino nearby doing its mud wallow. We sat at the dam for a long time because it was so amazing with the amount of animals there – no need to find the animals as they were all finding us!

To our surprise we saw the same pride of lions we had seen earlier coming to the dam. What I’ve discovered with this pride is that they move from Nsemani dam to Girivana every now and then because these are the only watering places for a massive amount of game.

The cubs tried to stalk impalas but inexperience counted against them and they were seen easily before they were close enough to launch any attack.

North of Satara we found an impala carcass hanging in a tree but the leopard was not there for us to see. As we drove past we found six rhinos taking a mud bath. There were White rhinos and Black rhinos together but only the white ones where bathing. On our way back two male lions killed a buffalo calf next to the road and they were breaking ‎the carcass into pieces as we watched them on the road.

Lion with bloodied face on the tar road right next to our open vehicle.

Lion with bloodied face on the tar road right next to our open vehicle.

After finishing their kill they all moved together on for a couple of miles.

During the dry winter months we are most likely to get see animals around the water holes. Nsemani dam has been amazing. While sitting near the dam viewing buffalo, a male lion approached and sat next to the water. It didn’t draw any attention to my spoiled for lions guests and they were never really excited about it. They focussed all their attention on two honey badgers that were chasing each other near the water hole. These are usually nocturnal animals but happen to move around sometime during the day. The male lion stood up and started following two buffalos which were moving to the water hole.

Later while making our way back we had an exceptional sighting of a hyena feeding on an impala leg, breaking it into pieces. The spotted hyena took off with its meal and vanished into the bush. Great day all round!

 

MONTHLY REPORT FOR REXON

We started our Bush Walk by coming across an elephant on Marula road. During the afternoon there were five male elephants that came to Tremisana Lodge. They were in the parking lot for a few minutes before going to the watering hole close to the guesthouse. The elephants delayed the start of the afternoon game drive but all the guests were really excited and managed to take a lot of pictures. We also saw a pride of lions close to our Marula Boma.

During the bushwalk we saw hippos and some crocodiles that were out of the water as we arrived at the Olifants River. During the afternoon drive we managed to see a leopard with two cubs at Shingamba dam. At a nearby dam we saw two White Rhinos moving west and one buffalo bull sleeping in the water. On Mhuti road we saw a large herd of breeding elephants.

While driving at Campfire we managed to see two White Rhinos. The rhinos were very close by and the guests were very happy and managed to take some exceptionally good pictures. Campfire has really been good for sightings this month.

On the 14th of May while doing an afternoon drive we saw a herd of buffalos on Barnards, close to the airstrip. We came across two bull elephants on Nonwana property and a white rhino near Ngwenya Dam.

On the 17th of May while driving to the walking spot we came across a small pride of lions that had just killed a waterbuck. The kill was approximately eighty metres away from us. We walked closer to them and the guests were a little nervous. On our way back from the walk we came across a herd of buffalos on Olifants road. To complete the tour there was a herd of elephants at Tremisana dam.

A few days later we saw two buffaloes at Tremisana Dam and a hippo that was outside of the water with its little calf.

Buffalo near Tremisana Dam.

Buffalo near Tremisana Dam.

During the sunset drive we came across a pride of lions on a zebra kill busy feeding. A pack of hyenas came to scavenge and the lions chased them away.

 

MONTHLY REPORT FOR SHARON

Winter is probably the best time of the year to view animals. The bush is less dense, and most of the animals will be at the waterholes so you don’t have to drive far to get them all.

Even the bushwalks got more exciting. On the 17th we had a brilliant Bush Walk with an unusual sighting of a pride of lions eating after a successful hunt. It was a cold overcast day, and we had nine people for the walk. Rexon and I took a route along the Olifants River. We stopped to identify some giraffe tracks and that’s when we heard this loud noise. For this was my first time ever to hear these sounds – sounds that literally sounded like thunder. So my first reaction was to look into the sky. That’s when Rexon stopped talking and ordered us to hide behind a tree and so we all rushed around a tree. We walked closer and closer, so close you could almost hear the lions chewing. We managed to come really close to see them all. I was a little scared.There were three females and one big male fighting for the bigger pieces of the Waterbuck. Eventually one of the females saw us, so we had to move on for our personal safety. All of us were a bit rattled afterwards. When we got back to the Landcruiser, we couldn’t stop talking about it – and for the rest of the day.

The elephants this month were a bit more difficult to find as they seem to have moved to the northern and eastern side. The water supply is better there, and more vegetation available. I was very happy when we saw a small herd of elephants close to Olifants main road. The elephants were busy feeding.

Elephant stretching to get leaves.

Elephant stretching to get leaves.

Even the hippos moved down river for more shallow waters. Winter is definitely here. And with the cold winter waters coming down and past Balule, you find most early mornings the hippos sleeping outside the water for some heat from the sun.

Every day the sunsets are more and more beautiful to look at. With the blood red skies and the starry nights, it is brighter and better than ever before.

The monkeys at Tremisana Lodge are still naughty though – that’s one thing that won’t change. Every morning they make this huge effort to grab food at the breakfast area. All the staff must stand guard, protecting the bread, muffins and fruit yogurt. Nevertheless we love it that they come and entertain us. Keeping us literally on our feet but I guess this is what makes Tremisana worth visiting.

NEWS FROM OUR LODGES

TREMISANA LODGE has had a new covered walkway added to the Lapa. This serves also as a shaded area where we display the annual “Best photos of the year” displays, going back to 2009. These consist of the best 12 photos submitted by guests or guides. Luke is adamant that he, and not Bongani, submitted the photo of lions at a giraffe kill.

I recall that both of them saw the fantastic sighting and that both sent me a photo but I cannot recall which one I chose – so we shall split the point and the score is two and a half all. Not bad if one considers that 5 of the 12 photos for 2014 were submitted by Bongani and Luke!

With the drought, we have had excellent sightings around the Tremisana waterhole and Tremisana Dam. I spent a night this month from 21h00 to 24h00 looking to see what animals came to visit our illuminated waterhole. What excellent viewing I enjoyed ! I saw Civet, Genet, Porcupine, Honey Badger and, unbelievably, Bushpig and Side-Striped Jackal. Viva Safaris has owned Tremisana Game Lodge for well over 20 years and this is the very first time I have seen Bushpigs. There were 3 of them – a large boar and two sows. I called Luke who was still awake and he too was thrilled to see Bushpigs – it is the very first time he has seen them in the wild ! We have a sounder of around 7 Bushpigs that I have seen fairly regularly at Marc’s Treehouse Lodge but this is the very first record at Tremisana. Shows you that just when you think you’ve seen it all, something happens to prove that you actually haven’t!

We have installed a TrapCam at the Tremisana waterhole that will take photos of our nocturnal visitors. We shall post these and other pics on the Facebook Pages newly created for Tremisana Lodge and Marcs Treehouse Lodge

Our Viva Safaris Facebook Page has reached almost 10000 likes !

The Tremisana Dam is attracting numerous animals and birds and our very keen guests are using the hide at the Tremisana Dam. We built a flush toilet attached to the hide so some guests spend a comfortable 3 or 4 hours between brunch and afternoon drive safely waiting to see what comes to drink.

Nyarai has sent the following :

TREMISANA LODGE

The winter has come and we have started experiencing very low temperatures in the mornings. The day usually starts off very cold and then as the day progresses a bit of sunshine to warm one up. As we get ready for the evening game drives it becomes cold again. You usually get the guest that believes it is always warm and sunny in Africa and comes dressed up for summer. It is always best to be prepared for the winter cold. To prepare for the cold nights we have put in extra bedding for our guests to ensure that their stay is comfortable and as warm as possible. We also make sure that there are warm blankets for guests on the Sunset and Sunrise game drives.

Thankfully the cold seems to have driven my Python friend into hibernation – long may he remain there!

I was away on long leave for the greater part of the month and the thing I missed the most were the elephants that come by the lodge. The day before I left there was a large herd of elephants at the watering hole in front of the guest house. They were there for quite some time and the guests were really happy.

Elephant spraying everything around him at Tremisana waterhole.

Elephant spraying everything around him at Tremisana waterhole.

When I came back at the end of the month I was welcomed by a herd of buffalos around the lodge. A great reminder of how awesome the bush is. I trust that with the cooler temperatures we will have many more great sightings at Tremisana.

MARCS TREEHOUSE LODGE

Now that we are renting our Adventure Camp to house the Manager and guides of Peak Adventures, we have employed a full time gate guard. We have also employed an armed security guard who patrols the area around the tents and treehouses. We have had reports of increased leopard activity in the area which is a favourite sleeping spot for the Nyala herds. The presence of an armed guard will also be a deterrent to any thief!

Ronald reports that the morning walks at Marcs have been very productive in terms of animal sightings. With the shortage of water in the veld, more and more animals are found near the river.

The Nyala are desperate for green shoots of our lawn and are exceptionally tame.

Nyala herd close to us while eating from our garden.

Nyala herd close to us while eating from our garden.

Ronald says that with the extra cold nights, our guests love congregating around the fire. In fact we have moved the tables and chairs around the fire so that our dinners are enjoyed warmly ! Ronald says the guides then entertain the guests with bush stories and other adventures. “The wailing hyenas add an element of scariness and the guests huddle ever closer to each other and to the fire. Some guests warm up with a glass or two of the red vino and the atmosphere is quite festive.” Sounds like a whole lot of fun ! Good job we now have an armed guard to escort this lot back to their tents and treehouses!

NEWS FOR OUR TRAVEL PARTNERS

We are pleased that May saw a reversal of the significant drops in tourist numbers we experienced over the first 4 months of 2015. June and July are looking good as well. Thank you for your greatly appreciated support!

Our 2016 tariffs are being worked on. Despite my mathematical background, it is quite a challenge to factor in all the unknown variables such as predicted electricity rates hikes; petrol increases; food increases as well as the annual salary increases for our hard-working staff. We want to live up to our claim to offer the “best value for money safaris to Kruger Park” so I request that you please give me a little more time. I promise to have the 2016 tariffs ready on or before 1 July 2016.

I cannot emphasise strongly enough how highly we rate our Big Five Bush Walks. I spent 5 days this month asking numerous clients at the end of their safaris what they regarded as the highlight of their safari, and over 75% told me it was the Bush Walk with armed ranger. These Bush walks are not some silly “Nature walk” but are serious Big Five experiences – witness the tracking of lions on a kill as described in the reports this month of Rex and Sharon. I therefore encourage you to sell the 4, 5 and 6 day safari experiences instead of the 3 day one which is, in any case, far too rushed. We have deliberately kept the price differential for the extra day very affordable – for example the 4 day Lodge/Tent sharing safari costs only R 500 more than the 3 day Lodge/Tent sharing safari and for that our guests get the Bush walk, an afternoon game drive , dinner, bed, light lunch and breakfast! It’s the essential no-brainer!

Bongani leads a focussed group on a walk along the banks of the mighty Olifants River.

Bongani leads a focussed group on a walk along the banks of the mighty Olifants River.

I include 2 reviews posted on Tripadvisor this month :

Tremisana Game Lodge

“Perfect Safari”
Tiffanie W

Being from a tiny village in Belize, it is quite rare for a person to travel to South Africa and do a Safari. I will forever be happy that my first experience in doing this was with Viva Safaris. I spent 4 days at Tremisana and it was absolutely perfect!

From the moment I arrived, I felt quite comfortable and at home. I instantly knew that 4 days would never be enough. The friendly staff immediately stole my heart along with the lovely setting of the Lodge. My room was spotless and more than I’ve imagined it would be.

On our first sunset drive we saw a Lion along with countless other animals. I was in awe when we arrived at the area where we had our braai, it was such a lovely setting in the what seemed like the middle of nowhere. And the food was delicious as well.

The next morning we went for a 4 hr bush walk with Rex, he’s such a nice person. We saw hippos, large crocodiles, elephants, giraffes and I witnessed my first African sunrise.

I spent my third day with Bongani in Kruger. Before we started out, I told him I wanted to see a Leopard and we both laughed. He delivered. I saw 2 leopards that day but the most exciting part was seeing a leopard and an elephant crossing the road at the same time. I got more than I’ve asked for and a perfect photo! Bongani was so nice and knew so much about the area and the animals. I was completely happy!

Leaving Tremisana was heart wrenching for me. I loved chatting with everyone there. Pretty, Delina, Sharon, Rex, Bongani… you all made my Safari perfect! I can’t stop talking about you all and I can’t wait to come back!! See you soon!!

Marc’s Treehouse Lodge

“Excellent camping experience in the middle of South Africa’s amazing nature”
Sally G, Havant, United Kingdom

Me and my two sisters stayed in here in July 2014. It was organised through Africa’s Budget Safaris and we had three nights in a tent. The campsite staff were incredibly friendly and accommodating. Our tent slept 4 adults, and was provided with plenty of warm bedding and electricity.

The campsite was spread out over a nature reserve with buffalo, antelope, and ostrich around, but the whole time we felt really safe. The animals added extra excitement and a real sense of wildness to the trip: spotting prints in the morning and watching the antelope drink whilst having breakfast. The food was excellent.

Each evening we were provided with a different homemade soup, to eat around the camp fire, followed by a delicious range of South African main dishes and puddings. Breakfast included cooked food as well as toast, cereals and fruit and yoghurts. Our trip also included day trips to kruger, an animal rehabilitation centre and bush walks. The staff were there and waiting for us each morning and nothing was too much trouble for them. Their knowledge of the local environment and wildlife was brilliant. Although it was winter when we were there it was still warm during the daytime and there is a small swimming pool for those hotter days for guests to use.

There is also plenty of bathroom facilities nearby the tents and treehouses. It was a really nice atmosphere the whole time and each day we met different people from all over the world who were staying there, which was fab. We would definitely stay here again and recommend to everyone who wants a really wild experience but with the comforts of warm beds!

Until next month…

With kind regards,
Piero
General Manager
Viva Safaris

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