December 2020 / January 2021
The Paradise Flycatcher, Terpsiphone viridis, is unmistakeably colourful: chestnut upperparts, dark head, bluish eye-ring and beak allow it to join the Paradise Whydah as worthy of a heavenly title !
During the breeding season, the male develops impressively long central tail feathers.
The Paradise Flycatcher is common at all our camps but is especially fond of riparian woodland and is seen most regularly at Marcs Camp.
Tolli, Viva Safaris guide, took the following sequence of a hatchling over a 20 day period :
Tolli, along with all our other guides, has had a few safaris to conduct but, by and large, is free to do other things as the number of safaris remains limited. He clearly used his photographic skills to good effect.
GAME VIEWING REPORTS FROM OUR GUIDES
All our guides have had a few opportunities to take tourists on game activities. They were excited to get back into the business of showing animals to tourists.
What we noticed was that on game drives and game walks in Olifants West Reserve ( Tremisana Lodge ) and Motlala Reserve ( Marcs, Masango and Katekani) the animals seemed a lot calmer.
For example, on OIifants West, Viva was the only operator on a property we traverse on : Barnards. The amazing thing was that Lions and Black Rhino seemed to have camped there – we hardly ever missed them. I think that, in the past, every sighting was called in and, with the coming and going of multiple game viewers, the animals were hassled and were quite happy to move away from the madding crowds.
On Motlala, Viva was the only safari operator taking tourists on game drives. The unfortunate consequence of not having other vehicles around is that no other sightings can be called in by other operators. What we lose in number of sightings, we more than made up for in terms of the quality of sightings. Charl showed Wild Dog, Leopard and both Rhino species to lucky guests staying at Katekani. These guests had already seen lions at Tremisana and Kruger as well as Buffalo, Elephant and Cheetah. So much for the belief that summer game viewing is poor !!!
What was especially pleasing is how close our guides got to the animals, thus affording our guests brilliant photographic opportunities.
I include some brilliant photos below :
One very interesting sighting on Barnards was of a pride of Lions attempting to catch a young Black Rhino. Elias reports that the Lions managed to separate the baby from its mother and were moving in for the kill when older brother came to the rescue and chased them off, thereby saving its younger sister’s life. The Lions then went after a Giraffe which they successfully brought down right on a tourist road.
In Kruger, Patrick, Charl and Victor had excellent sightings despite the abundance of water, thick vegetation and the effects of Cyclone Eloise.
They all complained that no other operators had entered the Park on the days Viva travelled so the exchange of game sightings info could not take place.
There was previously always a ritual exchange of info among the guides over lunch at Satara.
What has really pleased me is the number of White Rhino sightings they had in Kruger – at one stage at the beginning of last year we went for 20 days without seeing a single Rhino in Kruger. What was of particular interest to me was Victor’s sighting of a dehorned White Rhino bull near Gudzane – about 5 km from the Mozambique border. As Kruger Park authorities have refused to dehorn their Rhino, this specimen must have moved from an APNR ( Association of Private Nature Reserves ) reserve and travelled at least 60 km.
NEWS FROM OUR LODGES
All four of our lodges were operational in December and January. This was good insofar as all chefs, supervisors, cleaners etc were afforded an opportunity to earn some desperately needed cash. It was also good in that our maintenance staff were able to have a good look at all units and do the necessary maintenance. Ditto re the vehicles the mechanic had a look at.
Tremisana is very green and Caiphus is keeping the gardens and pool in good shape. Caiphus also assisted Raymond, Elias and Rex on Bush Walks and transferred guests to Moholoholo and Tshukudu. Elephants are common and are feeding on the Marula fruits. One unfortunate consequence of the heavy rains caused by cyclone Eloise is that the elephants are able to push over large Marula trees as their roots are not as fixed as before in the drenched soil. Charl reports that they “have done some landscaping on the trees in the carpark area”.
At Marcs and Masango, Richard, our gateman, assisted Charl and Luca in maintaining pathways and keeping the garden and pool clean.
Luca has since returned to Italy and has advised by whatsapp that he cannot wait to renew his visa and get back. He was great – his cooking skills improved while he was at Viva and I am told his Amatriciana sauce rivals that of Fiamma Sandri, who volunteered with us a couple of years ago.
The Klaserie River has risen remarkably after the heavy rains and is looking very impressive.
At Masango Camp, a pack of Wild Dogs has been seen often. One morning Charl woke up to unusual noises and found the pack on his front doorstep ! Apparently they were seeking shelter from the pelting rain.
At Katekani, Mandla is looking after the property and keeping the 8 splash pools in good working order. He is also keeping an eye out for a 3 metre Python that frequents the area near the Boma.
NEWS FOR OUR TRAVEL PARTNERS
We are stunned to learn of the sad demise of some excellent tour operators who owned their own lodges. Reports of other game lodges and travel agents about to throw in the towel are common and the situation is extremely bleak. We thought that we had turned the corner in December but since then the massive increases in Covid cases throughout the world and especially our main feeder countries such as USA, UK and Europe have resulted in a drop in enquiries and bookings.
I can assure ALL our guests that have paid a deposit that there is ZERO chance that Viva will go under. Not only will we honour your future booking and allow you to extend it past 2021 to another year, but we shall maintain the original tariff we charged. So, if you have paid the 50% deposit on a 2020 safari tariff, we shall expect payment of the balance in the SAME AMOUNT when you do choose to come on safari – we will not charge you the balance in terms of the new 2021 or 2022 tariffs.
The reason we are so confident of survival is that we own all our lodges and can guarantee accommodation. Other operators that rely on accommodation at lodges owned by other persons may not be sure in what financial condition these lodges are. I understand that some operators that book accommodation in Kruger are very upset that some camps have been closed.
As indicated in previous newsletters, I personally am very conservative with money. I have upset my children by asking them to switch off electrical appliances when they leave their rooms in my house and I have upset my grandchildren by telling them to serve themselves only enough spaghetti on their plates that they are sure to consume.
I was taught to AVOID WASTING.
I was brought up in Hillbrow, a concrete jungle within walking distance of the Johannesburg CBD.
One day, when I was very little, my mother, an exceptionally intelligent woman, taught me a great life lesson : the WALK FOR AN EXTRA SAUSAGE LESSON. In those days, butchers used scale pans to weigh meat. With 10 shillings (this was at the time our country still used pound sterling as currency) we could buy 3 sausages. We then walked a fair distance to the next butcher and, once again, for 10 shillings, the scale pan weights were overcome by the weight of 3 sausages. The next time we went to buy sausages my mother ordered a pound’s ( two ten shillings ) worth and this time we only got 5 sausages. I only learnt about probable percentage error applicable to scale pans many years later in high school. But far more important than Statistics and Physics was the lesson I learnt in Values.
I applied this value of non-wastage at all our lodges.
For example, at Tremisana, once the guests leave their chalets to go on their Bush Walk, I have engaged the manager and/or the hostess to walk around to the now unoccupied units and switch off the air conditioners. We thereby save about 3 hours of otherwise wasted electricity. Upon the guests’ return they are most welcome to switch the air conditioner on again and the room will be cooled within 60 seconds.
I have made the decision to remain open and Viva Safaris will accept bookings, even for one guest.
Our finances have taken a knock and we have just about made ends meet in December 20 and January 21. The most valuable result is that our staff have received some small amounts of money. Good news (for a change) is that the UIF paid all our staff their outstanding dues.
February bookings are looking bad – we need to be careful. I sent all our agents an email indicating that for 1 or 2 guests, it is more cost effective for us to use a transfer company to drive the tourists from and back to JNB. Nyarai, our secretary (some of you may remember her – she worked for Viva about 4 years ago) and I will see how the bookings go and will treat each enquiry individually. I am told that Viva is the only overland operator still accepting bookings for 1 or 2 guests and we pledge to continue doing so. Of course, for groups of 3 or more, we shall use our own overland transfer vehicles.
I hope that next month’s newsletter will be a little cheerier.
Until next month,
With kind regards,