Facts About the Bushveld’s Pretty Plains Game
Feb02

Facts About the Bushveld’s Pretty Plains Game

When we’re bumbling across the crunchy terrain in an open-topped game viewer in search of the famous big five, we have a game plan in mind that’s normally decided upon by expert trackers and guides. After all, they are the ones with the tracking skills and have monitored predator activity closely prior to our arrival at camp. If there’s no need to hurtle towards a rapidly disappearing elusive leopard, or a pack of wild dogs on the trot; we stop to observe the bushveld’s pretty plains game. Plains game is a term given to general game of the bushveld. These are the commonly spotted herbivorous species that add bulk to your wildlife sightings in the Kruger, and are generally incredibly photogenic. Plains game form a vital part of the ecology of a reserve, and provide a natural landscaping service to the ‘veld. In the Kruger, the most commonly spotted plains game include : zebra, giraffe, and impala. Of course, there are numerous other general game (bushback, nyala, kudu, waterbuck) that are also commonly spotted. But today we’re featuring the 3 species we deem to be the most popular. Herbivores are either grazers, browsers or both. Grazers graze on grasses, long and tall. Browsers feed off leaves, soft shoots, or fruits of high-growing plants/shrubs. Zebra A group of zebra is referred to as a “dazzle”. They are arguably the most photogenic species to photograph, and their monochromatic colours provide such stark subjects. Zebra live in herds dominated by one male. You’ll often find males and their harems grazing on short, sweet grasses. It is though that when predators approach zebra herds, the herds scatter in a haphazard direction making it tricky for predators to target a single individual. The patterns cause confusion. Giraffe Giraffe are browsers and favour acacia trees. Their height means that they’re at an advantage and can access untouched greenery at the tops of trees. You’ll spot them feeding on acacias, but they do tend to move off quite quickly. Neighbouring acacia trees tend to “talk” and activate other trees warn other trees of the presence of a herbivore. The trees emit tannins that make their leaves unpalatable. They do this when under threat. Giraffe will move off in search of another acacia tree when the tannins become too much to bare. This is why you’ll often see a journey of giraffe on the move. Impala Out of all the plains game, the impala is probably the most commonly spotted. Thousands roam the Greater Kruger, and they’re certainly the most elegant of all the plains game. Because they are in abundance, they also make for easy prey, but...

Read More
Get to Know Your 5 Kruger Vultures
Jan30

Get to Know Your 5 Kruger Vultures

When you approach the site of a recent predator kill, and the cat activity has subsided somewhat, the scavengers descend upon the area to clean-up and help the eco-system of the Kruger. A wake of vultures surround the feeding zone, and then the chaos begins. The vulture restaurant has a pecking order, and a species hierarchy when it comes to feasting. Each species has a specific role to play in at the site of the carcass, which we discuss below.  Get to Know Your 5 Kruger Vultures  : Lappet-faced Vulture This tough beast of a vulture has a meat-shredding beak that can rip apart a carcass in an instant. The old-world, prehistoric looking bird is Africa’s largest vulture and has a rather imposing presence. It’s an endangered raptor that is illegally poached for its parts which are used in traditional medicine. The role of a lappet-faced at a kill site is one of vital importance. They perform tasks that other others are incapable of doing because of their anatomy. If other species of vulture cannot access the flesh on a carcass because the hide is too substantial, in swoops the Lappet-faced SWAT team! That meat-hook of a beak can easily penetrate the most sinewy and rugged meat. Although not the first to arrive at a kill, and by no means the most comical, they are certainly the Kings of the carcass. White-backed Vultures These are our most entertaining and comical vultures. They catch wind of an abandoned kill and swoop into the kill site, providing a canopy of confusion hovering over the carrion. The bounce from foot-to-foot, flapping about and jostle around the carcass. They need the lappets to tear apart the flesh and cleave the hide before they can access the smaller fleshy bits, their favourite part of the carcass. The white-backed vulture is a typical vulture – one of the most commonly spotted scavenging raptors in the Kruger. White-headed Vultures The coy white-headed vultures are finicky scavengers. while the white-backs are indulging in the fleshy meat section of the carcass, the white-headed vultures are happy to eat any part of the animal. The trouble is, they cannot access their favourite bits without the help of the Kingpins. These introverted vultures are referred to as “clean feeders” and enjoy keeping their plumage clean. They wait until the mania of the massive wakes have subsided, and then move in to pick away quietly at the dry bones and other neglected parts of the carrion. Hooded vulture The hooded vulture is another small vulture – and like the white-headed vulture – is also a shy raptor. Their favourite cut of meat?...

Read More
Lions and Hyenas : The Ultimate Frenemies
Jan10

Lions and Hyenas : The Ultimate Frenemies

It is believed that hyenas steal up to 20% of kills from lions. A heartbreaking statistic for our rather robust and proficient predators! When you’ve identified your prey, made eye contact with your pride members, assumed your position in the takedown formation, stalked, pounced and put in the hard graft; it’s bound to raise your hackles when your meal is stolen. The hyena is the lion’s arch enemy, but lions actually need these loping scavengers to clean up after them. Lions and hyenas are most certainly the ultimate frenemies! The hyenas sneaky scavenging ways aggravate our menacing cats, and their brazen bravado knows no bounds. When a pride or coalition has completed the take down and the prey is ready to be devoured, you will hear the hyenas vocalising. The clans catch a whiff of blood in the air and summon the clan members to the area where the prey has fallen. The bone-crushing scavengers, although proficient and methodical hunters, will stop at nothing to steal a fresh kill. This makes them one of the most successful carnivores in the animal kingdom. Hyena will awkwardly gallop towards the lions, hoping for a gap to access the prey. Their shrill calls exhibit signs of anxiety and excitement. Hyena are quite successful at stealing parts of a kill and often walk away with a femur or two! Lions will defend their hard-earned meal and around the carcass site is where you’ll see the majority of lion vs hyena scuffles. Lions are messy eaters and leave a trail of meaty mess after gorging themselves. Hyenas are the janitors of the bushveld and hang out on the periphery of a kill site, just waiting for the an opportunity to help. Hyena remove bone fragments, entrails, hide and decaying flesh from a kill site. They are champions in thwarting the spread of disease within a reserve.  It’s been scientifically proven that hyena outperform chimps in problem solving tasks. Silently a friend to lions, but outwardly an enemy.  ...

Read More
What are the Big Five on Safari?
Jan09

What are the Big Five on Safari?

The big five is a term used to describe 5 of Africa’s most dangerous animals to encounter on foot, but it wasn’t initially coined as a “tourism” word until more modern times. Many years ago, when hunting was popular, hunters from a bygone era would head out on foot to capture their trophy. While conducting these hunts the skilled marksmen would carefully approach their prey in the hopes of walking away with a rare trophy from Africa. During their expeditions they came across a handful of big game and predators that proved extremely tricky to hunt. They dubbed these animals the big five – the ones to be wary of while on foot. it was only many years later that the term hit mainstream media, and filtered through to the tourism industry. It now has positive connotations and takes on a more gentler meaning. So, what are the big five on safari? The big five are : lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant. Hunters quickly realised that capturing one of these animals proved to be quite a feat. Lions are powerful and are exceptionally quiet. They attack in prides or coalitions and will surround you if under threat. Rhino will charge and throw you in the air, elephants never forget and stampede towards you, and leopards are elusive and ruthless. Buffalo bulls (dagga boys) are filled with revenge and will come back to find the being that wronged them! Fast forward to modern times, and we find that the big five takes on a more gentler meaning. It is now synonymous with a safari to Africa, and many visitors to southern Africa see their safari sojourn as incomplete without having tracked and spotted the big five. Let’s find out a bit about Africa’s big five. Leopards : Our leopards are elusive and solitary cats. They are opportunistic when comes to taking down prey, and stash their kills in the tops of trees out of the way of notorious scavengers. They’re nocturnal and move with grace and stealth. They relax in tree tops, in drainage lines and hide out beneath low lying shrubbery. They move back and forth from their prey, and are constantly on the move; making them the hardest of the big five to spot. Lions : Male lions tend to form coalitions and females with their young remain in prides. Males generally govern one or more prides, but they tend to spend a great deal of time patrolling territory and scent marking areas. They hunt together and create exquisite formations prior to a take down. Rhino : Rhino should be at the top of your safari bucket list....

Read More
3 Facts About the Prehistoric Crocodile
Dec06

3 Facts About the Prehistoric Crocodile

The prehistoric looking Nile crocodile is sneaky predator that uses the art of surprise to ambush its unsuspecting victims. It’s a ruthless and opportunistic predator that has no particular preference for prey – the ultimate “generalists”. The most popular source of prey is fish, found in abundance in the rivers of the Lowveld. Crocodiles are silent and deadly apex predators, and their docile behaviour is not to be taken lightly. They can move those bulky bodies fairly swiftly. Don’t stand too close to rivers and waterholes, you don’t know what lurks beneath! Crocodile Feet : This ectothermic reptile has a body that’s adapted to both land and water. Its feet are both webbed and clawed. The claws are on the front legs and used for digging and clambering about on land. The back feet are webbed which aids the swimming and gliding movements in water. Born Sexless : Hatchlings aren’t born with a particular sex. Their sex is determined by the soil temperature where they are incubated, with high temperatures producing males. Crocodiles have been known to reach the ripe old age of 100 – we’re not surprised they survived through the Mesozoic period of time when dinosaurs were in existence. These robust animals have outlived dinosaurs and have been around for over 200 million years. Their bodies have evolved somewhat, but they still have that unmistakeable prehistoric appearance. Crocodiles are Nocturnal : Crocs have eyes adapted to the dark, which means they have excellent night vision. The use the cover of darkness to hunt, but will relish any opportunity to snag prey during the daylight hours. Impala lambs bumbling on the water’s edge, calves splashing about in the shallows and herbivores coming to drink stand little to no chance against this primary predator. You’ve been warned – watch where you stand !        ...

Read More
Relationship Between Wildlife and Trees in the Greater Kruger
Dec05

Relationship Between Wildlife and Trees in the Greater Kruger

The Kruger savannah comprises scrubveld, sweet grasses and mixed woodlands that, together with our wildlife, makes up a fascinating biome. The diverse habitat is home to an array of small mammals, giant herbivores, rodents, big game, predators, and birds. Many of these species share a special relationship with the indigenous flora of the area, proof that the delicate eco-system works is a well-oiled harmonious machine. Today we look at a few dependent relationships between trees and wildlife in the Greater Kruger; and pair trees to species. The next time you’re observing wildlife congregated around a specific type of tree, ask your if there is some sort of mutualism between tree and animal. Let’s talk about the relationship between wildlife and trees in the Greater Kruger.  Mopane and Elephants The mopane tree is covered in flat leaves that are high in protein. This is a herbivores’ favourite nutritious snack and the majority of plains game consume vast quantities of the leaves. Although high in tannins, mopane is actually a favourite meal of elephants. Pachyderms will digest vast amounts of the leaves and  bark during the rainy season when the tannins decrease, and the leaves become more palatable. The butterfly shaped leaf of the mopane is believed to relieve a number of digestive ailments if you make tea from the leaves. Jackal-berry and Jackals The omnivorous and fruit loving black-backed jackal is a connoisseur of the jackal-berry fruit, and tends to devour excessive quantities of the fallen grape-shaped fruit from this tree. The trees are impressive in size and provide massive shady canopies over areas. The tree is also known as the ebony tree because of its dark bark speckled with white patches. The ripened fruit can be used in a variety of condiments, and for brewing beer and brandy. Acacia and Giraffe Giraffe have a very special relationship with acacia trees, and in particular the knob thorn acacia. Giraffe are the mammal pollinators of the knob thorn, an unusual role for an animal. When the knob thorn produces flowers, giraffe devour the small flowers in a gluttonous  feast. The pollen from the flowers attaches to the giraffe’s hide and as they journey along, the pollen is deposited. Fever trees have pods which provide sustenance to an array of herbivores, including the giraffe. Interestingly enough, acacia trees “talk”. When giraffe feed excessively on one tree in produces an excess of tannins, in conjunction with other chemicals released that warns other trees in the area. Leadwood and Vultures The wood from the leadwood tree is incredibly heavy and can actually sink in large bodies of water. It remains standing long after the tree has died...

Read More
5 Small Animals to Spot on Safari in the Kruger
Dec05

5 Small Animals to Spot on Safari in the Kruger

It was hard selection and quite tough to narrow down our top 5 small animals to spot on safari in the Kruger, but we managed to filter through the forgotten bundles of fluffs to deliver a small assortment of animals. The big five are most certainly the most sought after animals to spot in the bushveld, but it’s always rewarding when you find the Kruger’s smallest carnivore flushing out grubs and grooming their coarse hair to impress a potential mate. The ‘veld is alive with activity from the smaller creatures that are sidelined in favour of big game. Seek out your primary list of wildlife to see, but think about adding these small animals to your safari tick list.   Dwarf Mongoose The somewhat petite dwarf mongoose is a fascinating species. Typically, they live in disused termite mounds in communities of up to 30 individuals. The community is led by a rather dominant and bossy alpha female that generally has a male sidekick. The duo is responsible for the well-being and success of the community. There are various duties to perform within the cohesive community, with the sentry duty being of great importance. Sentry duty involves one or more mongooses occasionally bolting up from the ground to scan their surrounds for imminent danger. They keep guard while others forage.  They are the smallest carnivore in Africa and thrive on a diet of grubs, insects, snakes and rodents. They forage in the low lying shrubbery and between fallen trees, and are often seen together with southern yellow-billed hornbills. Dwarf mongoose are constantly in search of food during the day, which makes them fairly easy to spot. They do tend to scurry around at a lightning pace, so if there’s an opportunity to take a photo then please do!  Lesser Bushbaby The lesser bushbaby is a minuscule nocturnal critter with alarmingly large eyes. It’s disc shaped eyes are a dead giveaway to its species. These tree-dwelling primates actually have tiny hands resembling miniature human hands. They’re loners with a nervous disposition; and if startled they will leap a whopping 3m between branches. Their diet comprises mainly gum and small insects; and they have an incredible ability to catch insects mid-air. Look out for this small acrobat during your night game drive.  Genet This tiny mammal hides away deep within hollow trees and dense thickets, and is nocturnal. It’s a solitary creature belonging to the civet family and they certainly aren’t afraid of encroaching on areas where there are humans. Genets have tiny pointy faces and slender bodies scattered with black dots – look up to the trees and you’ll spot them hiding...

Read More