April is traditionally the month which heralds the arrival of Autumn. We certainly experienced a few chilly nights as a cold front entered the Lowveld towards the middle of the month. With the cold front came the last of the wet season’s showers and about 15 mm of widespread rain fell over the region. It is good that we had some rain as the dams were looking empty.
Empty is exactly the situation with Mahlangazane and Shiloweni dams in Southern Kruger. These two dams have had to be partially destroyed to allow water to escape. It sounds absurd that water was released at the beginning of the dry season, but Kruger authorities made this apparently ridiculous decision for good reason : a number of animals, mainly zebra, had been found dead along the edges of the dams. Initial research indicated that the levels of algae had grown so high as to contaminate the water. It is thought that the excessive number of hippo contributed to this dangerously high algal level. The number of hippo in Kruger has been increasing steadily as they have no natural enemies. Very few cases of predation have been recorded. So, instead of raising tempers by culling hippo, the Kruger authorities have intervened by releasing water which was absorbed into the ground. Once the algae have been flushed out of the dams by the next big rains, the dam walls will be rebuilt.
The above example again indicates how the natural environment has to be managed so as to try to protect animals. In May, culling of elephants gets under way and I am certain that there will be another public outcry. A reader has asked me to give an example of how elephants can destroy habitat and how this habitat destruction affects particular species. There are a number of examples but I choose the case of an endangered bird to illustrate my answer : the Ground Hornbill. This is a large bird, and, like all hornbills, nests in holes in trees. It is clear that the tree in which the hornbills may nest necessarily has to be large. Not all large trees have suitable holes. Elephants are powerful enough to knock down the majority of large trees in Kruger. So, if the elephant numbers increase so does the number of large trees that are knocked down. Therefore there are fewer nesting sites available to the Ground Hornbill which then results in its status deteriorating from endangered to critical.
One of the issues with which conservationists must grapple is the use of animal products in curios bought by tourists. At a lodge near Tremisana I saw a lamp which had porcupine quills as the shade. It looks really impressive and I am sure that the lodge owner, who is a friend of mine, used porcupine quills collected on game drives and walks. However some unscrupulous curio vendors are selling these lamps en masse. It is evident that there is a market for a porcupine quill lamp – I am sure that any overseas tourist who takes such a lamp back home will have a unique lamp to show his friends. The downside is that the number of porcupines will decrease dramatically if all our tourist’s mates also want a porcupine quill lamp !
It is essentially a matter of education. Just as a leopard skin looks better on a leopard than draped across some woman’s back, so the porcupine quills look better on a live porcupine that in someone’s lounge !
Education is a very key factor in conservation. Those of our guests who do our 5 day Tremisana or 6 day Marc’s Treehouse safaris visit the Moholohol Rehabilitation Centre. There they will see a “ vulture restaurant ” which is essentially a feeding spot for vultures. Some guests have complained that the vultures should not be fed and should be capable of flying around to find food. What these guests do not know is that vultures can fly very great distances – even as much as 500 km in a single day. This allows vultures to travel away from the game reserves in the Lowveld and reach livestock farms. Here a number of farmers put out poisoned carcasses to kill jackals and caracals that are killing the lambs and kids ( young goats, not humans !) Invariably the vultures get to the poisoned carcasses and literally drop dead after the first bite. So we need to educate farmers.
We also need to educate the local African people. It is a fact that some locals believe that they will be the recipients of great foresight if they eat parts of a vulture. The thinking is that they may inherit the vultures’ ability to see and may be able to choose the winning numbers in the Lotto or correctly predict the winner of a horse race ! They need to know this is not the case and that by killing vultures they are actually increasing the chances of contracting disease from rotting carcasses that have not been eaten by vultures.
I am reminded of another superstition : the erroneous belief that rhino horn has aphrodisiac qualities. Just because the rhino has marathon mating sessions, it doesn’t follow that anyone who eats powdered rhino horn will similarly be able to have marathon sex sessions ! It is absolutely shocking to read in the newspapers this month that the horn of a rhino donated by Cecil Rhodes to a Cape Town museum was removed from the rhino. The culprits had to smash thick glass to get to this rhino which has been in the museum for over a hundred years. Is there no limit to human madness ? When will people be sufficiently educated so as to desist from lunatic action ? We certainly need to up our education re these silly superstitions.
As the veld dries out, so the chances of seeing game around the water sources increases. Our guides are driving along watercourses and are visiting all the dams and waterholes. The concentration of animals has increased and it is always very rewarding to spend time parked at a waterhole watching the parade of animals coming to drink.
BONGANI reports that on 2nd April, he and his elated guests watched two cheetah at Ngirivane waterhole, waiting for a herd of impala to come to drink. They chased the impala into the bush and were out of sight. A few minutes later they heard strange noises from the bush and think that the cheetah caught the impala. On the 14th April , Bongani and clients came across a new-born elephant on the Timbavati road. It had just been born and the mother was assisting the calf to stand. Later that afternoon, on the Nwanedzi road, Bongani came across a pride of 14 lions walking along the road and then attempting to stalk a buffalo herd.
On the 27th April, Bongani took a past student of mine, Vincent Gore, MP, accompanied by his family, on a late morning drive to Kruger. Impressively they not only found the Big Five, including a leopard on the road two metres from the vehicle, but also saw two cheetah. Bongani really turned it on by finding lions with two cubs eating a wildebeest. I hope Vincent goes back to Parliament and convinces the rest of the ruling party to also come and enjoy the wonders of Kruger !
CHARLES has made my last newsletter, in which I suggest we can use “pair” as the collective noun for leopards, a bit of a joke. He reports that on 2nd April, he and his unbelievably lucky guests saw four leopards near Ngotso Dam ! If anybody on his safari has photos of this incredible sighting, please send same to me.
Also at Ngotso Dam, Charles saw elephants mating and a White Rhino taking a mud bath .
On the 4th April, his guests were entertained by lions chasing a hyena from a wildebeest kill.
Charles reports a sighting of about 300 elephants drinking and swimming at Nsemane Dam. A pride of lions were watching the elephants from a distance. One of the elephant bulls realized that there were lions around and chased the whole pride into the bush.
Another interesting sight was a herd of Sable Antelope.
Charles reports seeing a herd of five White Rhino on a bushwalk at Marc’s. It is the first time we have encountered so many rhino on foot. They were calm and posed no threat to the group.
NELLY has had 100% success rate with lions, buffalos and elephants on every drive in Kruger this month. He and his guests saw lions on a buffalo kill at Ngotso Dam and then found two rhino at Ngotso Pan nearby. 10 km further he spotted a leopard in a Marula tree about 60 metres from the road. The group spent 40 minutes watching the leopard. Later that afternoon, the group came across two lionesses hunting buffalo. The following day Nelly saw a pair of lionesses with cubs at a pool in the Nwanedzi near Satara. This pride has been seen at this pool most of the month. With small cubs they generally do not move far and given that there is a pool of water, they can be assured that game will come to drink, thus providing a ready supply of food.
STEVE, our new field guide at Tremisana, reports some exciting bush walks on Balule Plains. On the 18th April, while he was walking with guests from Peter’s Rock towards Bushbuck Dam, he came across a jackal carrying a fresh impala leg in its mouth. Steve reckoned there was a kill in the area. He searched for and successfully found fresh lion spoor. The spoor indicated an adult lioness and cubs. Steve carefully approached Bushbuck Dam from the downwind direction and was rewarded for his tracking skills when the group of excited tourists saw a large lioness drinking at the dam. The tourists was very well behaved and kept totally quiet and were thrilled a few minutes later when two young cubs came bounding out of the surrounding bush to join their mother at the water’s edge.
On another walk , on 20th April, Steve came across a large White Rhino bull literally 30 metres from the group. The rhino was very calm, and, although clearly aware of the presence of humans, continued grazing contentedly.
The Bush Walks yield other exciting sightings: on the 17th April, his guests saw a spider-hunting wasp carrying a trap-door spider much larger than the wasp across the road and into its hole. This is an incredible display of the wasp’s strength.
CHANTELLE, Steve’s partner, also had some really unusual sightings this month.
On an afternoon game drive on Balule Plains on 2nd April her group of tourists were lucky to see a Caracal crossing the road in front of the vehicle and a Wild Cat sitting in an open clearing. She really has had good luck with small cats as she also found a Serval crossing the road on the 6th April. On the 15th her group spotted a Honey Badger digging in a termite mound on Balule Plains and on the 28th her guests saw a Jackal catch a large lizard, run along the road for a kilometre and disappear into its den, where she believes it must have pups.
Other unusual sightings included watching a Brown Snake Eagle ripping the bark from a Marula tree and, while hanging upside down eventually pull out a medium-sized snake and flying off with it. On the 26th April her guests watched a Gymnogene use its double-jointed legs to pull, from a hole in a tree, what looked like a young Squirrel.
All these sightings are exceptionally good and are probably, in my opinion anyway, far better than watching some half asleep lions lying under a tree.
NEWS AT TREMISANA GAME LODGE
We have upgraded the Bush Shower and are busy adding chicken wire to the thatch roof of the main lodge. The monkey troop is really making a nuisance of itself and is pulling out the thatch from the roofs.
Tremisana Dam is empty and the watering point in front of the Lapa is attracting a fair amount of game. There is a regular giraffe bull that comes around very punctually at lunch time. The problem we have is that the cement trough can hold about 600 litres so when we had a herd of over 70 buffalos on 30th April, they polished off every last drop. Similarly a week earlier a herd of 5 thirsty elephants finished every last drop. We shall have to build another trough.
A small-spotted genet has made Tremisana its permanent home and is seen at nights looking for scraps.
We have added proper railings to two of the chalets which are now perfectly suitable for physically-challenged tourists.
NEWS AT MARC’S TREEHOUSE LODGE
A second guest toilet has been added to the existing ablutions.
As with Tremisana, the shortage of food in the veld has led to the monkeys foraging for food in the camp. It is absolutely inadvisable to leave any food in the treehouses as the monkeys smell it and in their hungry state will make every effort to get inside the treehouse. We have added additional lats across the top of the treehouses and have now been forced to add chicken wire to close the gaps between the thatch roofs and the tops of the reeds.
Game viewing is good and our bush walks are yielding regular sightings of nyala, buffalo, impala, waterbuck and warthog. The rhino bull that is marking his territory on the main road between the camp and the front gate is providing the dung beetles with plenty of work.
Marc’s Treehouse Lodge is becoming so popular with the Backpacker fraternity that we are now in Lonely Planet, a publication favoured internationally by backpackers.
NEWS AT THE CHEETAH INN
We have held a number of conferences as well as private functions. We shall be marketing the Cheetah Inn at the forthcoming Indaba and already have a number of interested coach tour operators that have made appointments to see us.
Wynand Uys of Otters Den is using our landing strip for his popular hot air balloon safaris.
The spacious gardens and pretty courtyard have been very popular with the locals and we even had a bridal party come to have photos taken at the Cheetah Inn.
NEWS FOR OUR TRAVEL PARTNERS
I mentioned in last month’s newsletter that you are welcome to enjoy a cappuccino with me at Indaba. As I told Garth McFarlane of McFarlane Safaris in Hoedspruit last week, this is no ordinary cappuccino. The machine is imported from Italy and has the blessing of Cosimo Brescia, MD of Sandown Travel. He has personally supplied the imported coffee sachets and tells me they are the very best from Italy !
We hope to make new contacts at Indaba. It is the first time we have our own stand and are certain that the exposure we shall obtain will be worth the efforts made.
I have asked Delina, manageress at Tremisana, to submit some of the remarkably good comments we received in April. Pearl has managed to let our tourists really feel at home.
Rey Taylor firstname.lastname@example.org “ Excellent hostess, hospitality, food and tourist guides . Loved it here for my nine days ”
Glenn Moyle email@example.com “ An amazing stay. Definitely an unforgettable experience with the safari, food, hospitality and guides. Hope to be back very soon ”
Diane Pare firstname.lastname@example.org “ Thanks for such a wonderful stay ! Everything was super : abundant food, marvelous guides and a wonderful South Africa ! I’m in love and will come back ! ”
Massimo Dal Corso email@example.com “ One of the best times of my life ! The hospitality was great, the food excellent and the guides kind and knowledgeable. Great family feeling and rooms always clean. All excellent ”
Tom and Margaret Crockford “ A fantastic time – more than we could ever have asked for ! Pearl and the staff made us feel part of the family ! Great food and excellent safaris. Steve and Chantelle were great and their enthusiasm has no bounds. Thanks to everyone.”
Ronald has sent the following comments from the April 08 entries in the Guestbook at Marc’s :
Barbara.firstname.lastname@example.org “ Absolutely amazing place ! Spending several nights in a Treehouse high above the ground – could it get any better ?? Great safaris, good guides and very nice staff as well. Thanks for everything ”
C.Mendes@hlao.com Brazil “ Foi realment um grande prazer ter estado aqui com voces. Ate breve e obrigado ”
Whitethorne@adam.com.au “ Excellent stay, great tour and friendly staff ”
Thanks to our great staff for eliciting such outstanding comments.
Regards and best wishes,