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June 2021

In my opinion, there is no sound in the African bush more evocative than the eerie whoop of the Spotted Hyena, Crocuta Crocuta.

It begins with a low guttural “whooo” and rises to a falsetto quasi-scream ending with a high “ooop” – hence the word “whoop”.
 
At all 4 of our game lodges, once tourists and camp staff have all retired to their rooms, I find great pleasure in listening out for this unbelievably beautiful call that adds an almost mystical dimension to the night. Sometimes the call is far away and I struggle to ascertain whether the hyena is approaching or not. My family have been agitating for years for me to procure a hearing aid – they correctly guess that I have reason, on occasion, deliberately not to hear them – and, to date, I have resisted all their efforts. However I think it may be a good idea to get a hearing aid if only to better appreciate the hyena’s call.
 
My friend, Andy Dott, owner of Greenfire Lodges, also loves their call so much that he arranged many years ago to have some more hyena introduced to Olifants West Game Reserve which, at the time, had a small population. They have done well. Hyenas play an extremely important role in keeping disease in check. By eating all the leftovers of the lions’ kills, they effectively clean the veld. Any meat, no matter how putrid, is regarded as a good meal. They will eat every piece of an animal including bones, hooves, horns and hides. Even their prey’s teeth are digested as hyenas have highly acidic stomach juices. Of all African animals, the hyena has the strongest jaws by far. Strong and large back teeth in both upper and lower jaws allow them to slice their way through the toughest tendons and thickest hides. They break bones to extract the marrow and crush them to digestible-size pieces. Hyenas defecate only inorganic material, and, because of the high calcium content, their scats turn chalk-white within a few days. On our bush walks, our rangers can examine these scats and can identify what prey has been taken by checking the hairs of the hides of their prey in the faeces.
 
One of the reasons our Bush BBQ at our famous Marula Boma is an unforgettable experience is that, more often than not, hyenas arrive during the course of the dinner.

Hyenas have an exceptional sense of smell – some of the literature indicates that they can pick up a scent from 4 km away – and they are attracted by the mouth-watering fragrance of Jan Britz’s boerewors and chef Delina’s aromatic chicken. Our guests are usually quite scared at the sight of the hyenas, but are reassured by our rangers that the hyenas will enter the boma to look for scraps only once the guests are on their way back to Tremisana Lodge.

GAME VIEWING

June 21 has been an excellent month in terms of game viewing. The sightings on Olifants West Reserve, on which Tremisana Lodge and Marula Boma are located, have been terrific with regular sightings of elephant and lion. Occasionally we have had good luck with buffalo, rhino (both black and white) and leopard. We have had the occasional special including Wild Dogs.

The sightings in Kruger have been even better. The predators are congregating around water sources where their prey are obliged to go and quench their thirst. The reports of both Patrick and Victor clearly underscore this point and it is at times like this that the most dramatic animal interactions are seen. Once a lion pride realises that there will be an abundance of food coming to a particular waterhole, then they effectively move in on a permanent basis. Our guests have had some really unforgettable wildlife experiences ! 

 

GAME VIEWING REPORTS FROM OUR GUIDES

VICTOR has sent the following :

On 6 June, we entered Kruger and immediately saw wildebeest and zebra. On the H 7 we found a large herd of elephants crossing the road near Nwamantsatsa waterhole.

We took the S 39 to the Timbavati picnic spot and were lucky to get some close-up buffalos.

We then came across a pride of lions eating a hippo in the Timbavati riverbed.

After lunch at Satara, we drove the S 40 to Girivana waterhole where we had a brilliant sighting of a very relaxed leopard lying under a tree.

On the way out, we found 2 cheetah walking along the road.

In the past, Viva guides always were able to meet with other guides from other tour companies and exchange information about animal sightings.

On the 5 occasions I went into Kruger this month, Viva was the only OSV (open sided vehicle) operator that entered into the park at Orpen Gate. In the absence of other guides, I am grateful to the many local tourists who have given me tips about big five sightings.


PATRICK

On the 11th June I had a great day of game sightings in Kruger Park. Within 3 km of the first gate, we had a large herd of elephants on the road. At Orpen reception, there were more elephants. At Nwaswitsontso waterhole, we found a lion pride with cubs. Buffalos were seen in the Timbavati Riverbed and two large male lions at Girivana waterhole.

After lunch we saw a leopard crossing the S 100.There was a lot of general game on the Sweni road.
 
On the 15th June, I had another great day. Cheetah were seen really close near the S 36/S 39 junction, a pride of lions on the S 100 at Xibotwana waterhole and a big buffalo herd on the S 127. Elephants were seen all over but the biggest herd was encountered right at the Timbavati picnic spot – thoroughly entertaining the guests. We found a pack of hyenas on the H 7.
 
On the 16th June, we found elephants on the H 7 near Phelwana bridge, cheetah on the S 39, buffalos right on the road near the Nwanetsi bridge, a big pride of lions at Kumana Dam and plenty general game on the Sweni road. At Tifenheni a big male leopard crossed the road right in front of us. On the way out, we found a White Rhino and there were hyenas lying on the road. About 500 metres from the last gate a herd of elephants were blocking the road – making sure I arrived late at the exit but the security guards are my friends so there was no problem.


ELIAS

I left Tremisana and travelled to the Oxford/Cambridge areas. It was quiet and we managed to see impalas only. After dark, along the Olifants road, I spotted a lioness at a distance. We stopped and watched her. She kept moving towards the road and then we realised she was not alone as more and more lion heads appeared. The entire pride of 7 made its way to the road and walked right past our vehicle. The guests were stunned – nobody spoke for about 3 minutes and then they celebrated. They thanked me so so much – I have seldom seen such happiness. All through the BBQ at Marula Boma they kept on talking about the unbelievable experience they had just had. Even when the hyenas arrived at the Boma, the guests were happy but could not get the lion sighting out of their minds. I thank God for such appreciative guests !

On the return journey to Tremisana, we drove into a large herd of elephants.

The next morning, on our bush walk, we saw hippos, crocodiles and impalas and the guests were still talking about lions – the one says he had lion dreams !

On another occasion, I took guests on a Sunset Drive and we found lions and elephants. The hyena arrived at Marula Boma as we were packing up to leave so we were quite fortunate. The next morning we were even more fortunate : we saw elephants, hippo and crocodile all along the Olifants River. About 5 km from Tremisana we came across 7 Wild Dogs on Marula Road. They were hunting and gave chase once but did not complete the kill. Our GM informed me that this is a never-before-seen pack of Wild Dogs that must have entered from Kruger Park.

PIERO’s report

I had a number of emails from readers of this newsletter asking where the fifth cheetah cub was on the photo I posted on last month’s newsletter. If one looks behind the mother cheetah just behind her rump, then two little ears and part of the head are visible.

I was asked to post another shot of the rhino cow with extremely long horn :

 

NEWS FROM OUR LODGES

Nyarai’s Monthly Report for Tremisana June 2021
 
We are right in the middle of winter now and the temperatures are very low at night and early morning. During the day the sun has become a very welcome warm friend these days. After breakfast, when the sun is out, we find most of our guests either basking in the sun by the pool or reading a book seated on the swing at the Lapa. A good dose of the African sun not only warms up your body in the midst of winter’s grip but also warms up your soul. Of course it also adds vitamin D, so there is good reason to bask in the sun.

Despite the cold, the animal sightings this June have been great. We have had a number of lion sightings in Balule and some of the sightings have been at close range. There is something so graceful and yet powerful about a lioness. I always get excited when I see them. Most nights we get a visit from a hyena at the Boma as usual trying to get some food from the braai. We also saw a herd of elephants with young ones on our way from the Marula Boma. We also had a black rhino sighting during the sunset drive. Special mention goes the warthog family that has made Tremisana their permanent home.

With the third wave of Covid 19 coming through I have hope that this will not set back the recovery and progress made in the tourism industry. I feel that the challenges that not only the tourism industry but everyone has faced in the recent months have made everyone look at things from a different perspective. We now appreciate the things that we used to take for granted. Like the poet Anne Bradstreet said “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” 

Aron has finished work at Katekani Lodge and is busy at the Treehouse Lodge.

He sent this shot of nyala ewes near the BBQ pit overlooking Breakfast Dam :

A Nyala bull was seen in the reeds in front of treehouse 4 :

I am pleased to share this lovely shot of Katekani :

STAFF NEWS
 
We have appointed Yuri van Riel as Camp Manager at Tremisana Lodge.

Yuri ran his own safari operation in the Serengeti for many years, but unfortunately had to close the operation because of Covid.

He has worked as Manager at Hluhluwe River Lodge, directly opposite Pumusa Bush Camp where Viva Safaris takes tourists on the 7 day Kruger and Northern Natal safari package.  Yuri is a seasoned bush person and his vast experience and knowledge will enhance Viva’s reputation.

As a result of sustained bookings, we shall be employing Given, master carpenter, from July.

Given is missing the bush

 

NEWS FOR OUR TRAVEL PARTNERS

The continued increase in cases of Covid, both in SA and Europe, has resulted in most guests enquiring for safari packages only in 2022.

As expected, June was a quiet time in terms of tourists but we soldier on. Indications are that, as more people worldwide are vaccinated, there will be an increase in bookings.

I am sorry to hear that some well-established tour operators have closed down this month. I derive no pleasure in the demise of any competitor – in fact it may have a detrimental effect on Viva Safaris insofar as tourists often paint the entire tour operator industry with the same brush. I assure you that Viva Safaris will survive. We have no intention of seeing 30 years of hard work go up in smoke.

Gauteng province experienced a huge increase in the number of cases of the delta variant of Covid. Our president has attempted to control this by instituting a level 4 restriction package. Fortunately, Viva Safaris will not be affected insofar as any international tourist coming into SA at O R Tambo airport in Johannesburg will be allowed to proceed to Kruger Park whether by connecting flight or overland transfer. As Viva offers only scheduled packaged safaris and has not opened our accommodation establishments to self-drive guests, the effect of no local interprovincial travel will not affect us.
 
I include the following review posted in June on Tripadvisor :

 

Great Value Safari
Kralahome, Florida USA

Great value for money when compared with the overpriced luxury lodges. The staff was friendly and knowledgeable. The food was delicious, and beer cost only $2 USD. The highlight was the full day in Kruger Park. We encountered a plethora of animals on the game drives.

 

Until next month,

With kind regards,
Piero
General Manager
Viva Safaris