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March 2021

As with domesticated animals such as dogs and cats and even doves, wild animals display a range of emotions.

The African Elephant is probably the animal most likely to display visible emotions. These include joy, love, grief, fear and rage.

While we must guard against identifying and quantifying such emotions on a human scale, it is evident that elephants, like humans, have different characters and there is a range of intensity of emotions displayed by individual elephants.
The most impressive display of elephant emotion, in my opinion, occurs at the birth of a new baby. All the herd members gather around the newborn elephant and there is much vocalization. The display of joy is intense and lasts quite a while.

Another emotion is related to maternal love, where a mother elephant goes to great lengths to ensure the safety of her youngster.

Genuine grief is displayed at the death of a herd member. The other herd members try to assist the dying relative in various ways. These include physical efforts to resuscitate and to bring leaves and grass for the dying animal to consume. Elephants have great memories and there are numerous records of the herd returning to the place a relative died and caressing the bones.

Fear is openly shown. The examples I best remember occurred when elephants were culled. In the 1980s Kruger Park had a policy of eliminating entire herds. This was done as it was felt that there were no natural predators of elephants and that the increasing numbers of elephants would affect other species negatively. More recently, I have been horrified to learn that some private reserves engage the services of a professional hunter and rich overseas hunters to shoot an elephant to bolster the reserve’s finances. I noticed, on two occasions, that after the death of such a hunted elephant, the rest of the herds simply disappeared from the area for a while. I believe that on its death, an emotional subsonic death-cry is given and all elephants that hear this simply get as far away as possible. The lodges are not happy as they then cannot show guests any elephants for quite a while.

One of the most important lessons that must be leaned by our guides is to assess the mood of an elephant. Elephant bulls come into musth ( a period of high testosterone and consequent heightened sexual desire ) and may act aggressively. Elephants can do great damage to a game viewing vehicle and any guide that gets too close to any elephant is, in my opinion, looking for problems. On our bush walks, we are always aware of potential dangers posed by elephants, black rhino, lion and buffalo. It is so important to know how to ‘read the signs’ and ‘get the message’.

Musth elephant with torn branch

Rage is a real emotion in all these animals and our guides must avoid provoking any dangerous animal.

I think I provoked some readers of my newsletter last month. I unwittingly stirred up some emotions by drawing an analogy of Donald Trump’s reference to the “China Virus” and the reference to the “South African Variant“ of the virus. Indeed I did not judge Donald Trump – my intention was to highlight unintended consequences of labels. I believe that the overseas tourist numbers to S A were and will continue to be negatively affected by the liberal use of the term “South African Variant”. Our country has suffered serious reputational damage because of the 501Y.V2 variant being labelled the “South African Variant”. With the BBC leading the assault, South Africa has unfairly been targeted as a destination for all tourists to avoid. It is almost akin to tourists being advised to decline taking a city tour of Wuhan.

While I accept that this particular variant (and there are and will be many others internationally) was first discovered and immediately reported by scientists working in SA, it has been found to be spreading in over 50 other countries. By naming it as the “South African Variant”, a global impression has been given that South Africa is the source of the spread, when this is NOT the case. Subsequent flagging of SA as a risk to visit has put yet another nail into our tourism coffin!!!

Notwithstanding the above negative sentiments, Viva Safaris has experienced an increase in the number of enquiries this month. Most tourists ask a lot of questions that indicate to me their bona fides but are still reluctant to pay any deposit. I am sure that as more people are vaccinated, this trend of increasing enquiries will increase. We have had a few safaris this month and all our staff have tried their best to make the guests very happy. In fact, one guest was so impressed with the “spectacular personalized pampering” as she put it, that she extended her safari.

With so few tourists, our staff provide a more personalized service than before when we had many more guests. With 2 or 3 guests, the safaris essentially are private safaris and the guests get to call the shots. On one occasion this month a guest decided to shorten the Sundowner Drive and return early to camp to cool off in the pool. When we have a full vehicle, this is certainly not possible.


Generally, March has been a good month. Lion sightings have been excellent at Tremisana and the game viewing in Kruger has been exceptional. Of course, Patrick and Victor are veteran Kruger Park guides and both worked many years in Kruger before joining Viva Safaris. They make a formidable team and have decided to accompany each other whenever there is a safari in Kruger. The pampered guests are even more spoiled by having two exceptionally talented guides take them into Kruger Park. On all occasions they went to Kruger this month, they did not fail once to show the guests at least Four of the Big Five.

Patrick and guests

They are thoroughly enjoying the safaris and I noted a certain passion in their keenness to find animals – almost as if they were doing it to satisfy themselves !

Lion resting in shade during the heat of the day

My visit to the lodges

In mid- March, I decided to visit the lodges. I had to go to Hoedspruit to consult with our lawyer and was pleased to get there after an absence of some 13 months. I was pleasantly surprised : all the lodges were in better nick than I had expected – testimony to the hard work put in by Charl and the various camp supervisors : Caiphus, Mandla and Richard.

Monkeys at pool

As of April, Viva will be employing Aron, our master handyman, to start the process of checking every chalet, treehouse and tent at our various lodges. This is a total of over 90 units, so Aron certainly has plenty work. As explained to the Union representative, as we get more clients coming on safari, so shall we engage more staff on a fulltime basis. I expect that we shall be at around 20% of our previous pre-Covid levels by August this year and hopefully up to 33% by November. We do not expect to reach 67% until mid-2022.
I thoroughly enjoyed the game viewing and saw all Big Five as well as Wild Dog. On the return journey I passed Pumusa Bush Camp in Hluhluwe, where we host guests doing the 7 day Kruger and Northern KZN( KwaZulu Natal ) safari package. I had the most incredible luck with White Rhino sightings in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Park.

Inquisitive White Rhino calf near my vehicle

Arrivederci Charl Victor

It is with sadness that we said goodbye to Charl. I recall speaking to Janine Dixon, the placements officer at the Durban International Hotel School, some 10 years ago in connection with possible student work experience for office assistants. She told me that she had a very bright prospect who had no interest in hotels but loved the bush. And so started our relationship with Charl who spent all his work experience as a student at Viva Safaris.  Charl was like a very dry sponge and absorbed information and skills from all of us. Once qualified, of course there was only one place where he wanted to work. At a young age, I entrusted him with the managerial position at Marcs Treehouse Lodge.

Charl with guests on 7 Day Kruger and KZN safari at Cape Vidal picnic spot in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

His ability was so very noticeable in all he did. He has gone into agriculture with his future father-in-law. They have bought a fancy chipper machine that will be used in the strong citrus industry around Hoedspruit. I have a sneaky suspicion that once he makes a lot of money, he will return to the game lodge hospitality industry and make his mark there. We wish him well. Until we meet again – arrivederci !

Chipping away at orange trees


Nyarai sent the following :


There is an old African proverb that says ‘’the eye never forgets what the heart has seen”. The pandemic may have bought so many changes with it but the way the African bush makes one feel lasts for a lifetime. The beautiful sunsets, the fresh air, the wild and free animals, the smell of the rain. One experience will leave permanent footprints in your heart and soul.

We have had our fair share of quiet days here at Tremisana since we reopened but we are very grateful that the month of March has seen an increase in the number of guests coming to the lodge. I must say it’s a much welcome change having guests more frequently and being able to go out on game drives searching for animals. The distinct sound of the evening drum beat summoning the guests to dinner gives hope of the return to some form of normalcy.

It has been raining a lot and the bush is very thick and the animals have a lot more watering holes to drink from and the animal sightings have been fantastic. Sightings have ranged from lions, a herd of elephants, buffaloes, rhinos to general game including impalas, giraffes, kudus, and my all-time favorite the zebras also in the mix.

Photo taken by Nyarai

After a long day nothing surpasses eating dinner underneath the African sky looking at the stars in the middle of the bush at Marula Boma. We have the occasional visit from a female hyena. She simply cannot resist the pleasant aroma that comes from the delicious braai served on the first night of arrival to our guests.

We are doing all we can to ensure that our guests are safe during the pandemic including wearing masks, sanitizing etc. We encourage all our guests to follow the Covid 19 protocols as well.

Stay safe and remember the bush awaits and we cannot wait as well to welcome you and help you create beautiful memories that last forever underneath our African heavens


When you are in the bush, we call a “traffic jam” a herd of buffalo crossing the road, like we had on 31 March. We were on our way to the bush braai and we were pleasantly held up by this herd.

And this happened just after we saw a pride of lions

But you won’t believe me we had a fantastic interaction with elephants earlier that afternoon.

I didn’t realize that it was just the beginning of a wonderful next two days’ safari. We had the most delicious dinner in the bush with the sounds of hyena in the background calling.

After dinner, on our way back to the lodge, we had a quick leopard sighting that ran across the road. I didn’t get a photo of it but my guest did and I’ll put it in my next month’s report when he has sent it to me.

Waking up to an African sunrise we were heading off for a full day in Kruger National Park. Needless to say, it was just awesome! We saw 3 of the Big Five in just an hour. After lunch, we saw a male lion and on our way home, a buffalo bull to tick off the Big Five in one day… and trust me this doesn’t happen often.

But the Big Five is not everything and we saw so many other beautiful and wonderful animals.

Ending it off with an African sunset

The next morning we had a fun and educational bush walk before breakfast and the departure of the guests, with sad goodbyes and memories forever.


We are reasonably confident that we shall be resuming regular operations, sooner rather than later. It has been encouraging to note an increase in the number of enquiries. As more folks receive the big V, they will feel confident in travelling abroad. Our vaccination program in SA has had a slow start but the signs are that things are moving at last.

We have decided to reintroduce a Sunset Drive and Bush BBQ on the 3 day Tent, 3 day Treehouse and 3 day Best Value Masango Camp safari packages.

We used to have them about 2 years ago and then, for logistical reasons mainly, decided to have guests spend both nights at one venue. The trouble was that when guests returning to JNB swapped stories and compared adventures, the highlight for many was the Big Five Sunset Drive and Bush BBQ. This was not experienced by clients who had done the 3 day safaris staying in tents and treehouses at Marcs and chalets at Masango Camp. I had numerous requests to reintroduce the Bush BBQ for these packages.

Guests having a great time in the African bush at Marula Boma

I include the following reviews posted on Tripadvisor :

If you do one thing for yourself following the fallout of 2020, book this right now!

If you do one thing for yourself following the fallout of 2020, book this right now!
I don’t even know where to start expressing my thanks to the wonderful people of Viva Safaris. I booked last minute whilst on a trip in Botswana that went a little pear shaped (but that’s a different story entirely). This is a trip that caters for everyone, whether you are travelling solo, with family or for a romantic getaway!

Firstly, the organisation is first rate. I didn’t have to think of a thing. Communication was quick to the point and everything ran like a well oiled machine. There was structure but you didn’t feel rushed or boxed in. Everything moved smoothly and I didn’t have to think about a thing. From the moment we were picked up in Joberg we were met with friendly smiles, told exactly what was going on and the plan for the day. The journey was comfortable with plenty of stops and it did not feel like too long of a drive despite the whole journey being around 7 hours. Views are beautiful, but maybe bring a book to entertain you or take the time to snooze. You’ll have a couple of action filled days ahead and an early start or two but everything is totally worth it.

Which brings me nicely to the activities. Every single day was filled with something new, I won’t say too much about what you get up to because the pleasant surprises along the way just added to our experience. I will just say that I felt that our time was filled perfectly with a healthy balance of knowledgable friendly and thoughtful guides/staff, activities, downtime (wine time), exciting animals and learning opportunities all with a beautiful Africa backdrop.

The accommodation is beautiful. I love Katenkani and I would say it is my favourite place I have stay in. I will definitely come back to this little sanctuary and not just to my gorgeous tented lodge but for the people there. Thoughtful, welcoming with big hearts and smiles is how I can describe the people of viva we shared out time with. Tiger’s food is exceptional. He is a young, bright lad with a raw talent in the kitchen. I spoken to him for no more than a couple minutes about dietary requirements and preferences on the journey up the first day and thought no more of it. The excited and passion just beam from him. Food is normally an afterthought on organised trip and here it definitely wasn’t. It was a highlight even after seeing the big 5!!! The only little thing I would say is that I would have appreciated a little more choice for drinks, but given that I told myself I should be detoxing this was probably in my best interests.

The trip has been a retreat for me, it ticks all the boxes and I will most certainly come back to this incredible bunch of people that feel like a family. Thank you all so very much, I feel so privileged to be one of your first visitors since COVID-19. This has been more than a home away from home. I feel utterly spoilt. Sending lots of big love from Tara and Charlotte! We will be back 🙂

10/10 Experience!
Mav M

I stayed here for 4 days of my 6 day Safari.

We were greeted and given a run down of the place. It was a welcoming and thorough briefing. We were then guided to our rooms, it was a hike but completely worth it with the local animals walking around with us.
The Treehouse we stayed in was actually a lodge on stilts. Waking up to sunlight coming up through the floor boards, walls and ceiling was an absolutely beautiful way to begin the day! The beds were very comfortable and the shower pressure and hot water was fantastic! At night listening to the animals and birds was a surreal experience I will never wish to part with. Bugs stayed away due to the nets provided and sleeping deeply was very easy.
The first full day of Safari was amazing. Staff advised you get snacks and water because you are out the whole day. The lunch location is great for food and shopping too! Raymond was our tour guide and he was interesting and great at his job and we saw baby elephants and zebras plus a young male lion stalking food.

The next day was Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and a night drive. The centre was amazing and a highlight for me. I did not know what to expect and our tour guide Oscar was brilliant and made it unforgettable! The night drive was amazing and I will never forget the glowing eyes of the Hyenas and the fireflies.

Next day was another all day Safari. Patrick took care of us and the experience was a different kind of wonderful. We saw a lot of animal behaviour this time round. Lioness stalking, giraffes fighting and elephants crossing through water.

Our last day was a morning bush walk. It went for an hour and it was amazing. The tour guides were very funny. I ate a termite and had a great laugh!

The drive back was long but comfortable and stopping at the Blyde River Canyon was great.

We were so lucky with the weather and the staff had a briefing every evening to keep us up to date on what was happening.

The staff were so accommodating to any query/request we had. They were professional, organised and hilarious. Our younger family members were looked after really well and so were we. The food was a fantastic variety of delicious buffet style food. I saw staff accommodate another guest with dietary restrictions as soon as it was brought to their attention brilliantly.

If you are not from a tipping culture, please follow their guide or ask their staff. I accidentally forgot to tip Raymond on the day but thankfully Patrick kindly passed on the tip for me.

They did have power outages for parts of the day and/or night. If you are an avid photographer maybe bring a external power source. Or do what I did and take it as an opportunity to truly switch off and enjoy an atmosphere you won’t experience elsewhere.

I really enjoyed my time and was sad to leave. It was an experience of adventure, charm and an atmosphere I will never forget and was happy to embrace!

I wish you all a belated Happy Easter.

Until next month,

With kind regards,
General Manager
Viva Safaris