Birding in the Pantanal, Brazil : 6 Birds to Spot
Sep04

Birding in the Pantanal, Brazil : 6 Birds to Spot

Birding in the Pantanal is exceptional. Abundant aquatic birds and diverse avifauna make up the estimated 800 species of bird found in the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland area. This unique region spans kilometres of waterways across Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay; and is one of the most attractive areas to enjoy a spot of birding. There are very few places in the world where you can view so many species of bird, so we recommend you head to the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where most of the Pantanal is located. The environment is pristine with crystal clear waters and lush emerald vegetation providing contrasting habitats for an array of unique birds. The below is our list of species to spot while birding in the Pantanal. Birding in the Pantanal : Scarlet Macaw The scarlet macaw is a bold and attractive South American parrot with a neatly arranged pattern of red, yellow and cobalt blue feathers. It’s an iconic species in both South and Central America, and is an absolute winner to see in the wild. It’s also very easy to spot and identify; and certainly doesn’t hold back when it comes to vocalising. You’ll probably hear the scarlet macaw squawking before you see it. This macaw is one of five species found in the area. Birding in the Pantanal : Hyacinth Macaw The hyacinth macaw is the largest and longest species of parrot, easily identifiable by its bright wintery blue plumage and yellow markings around the eyes. They’re one of the rare species of bird to spot in the Pantanal purely because of their rapidly declining numbers in the wold. Currently considered “Vulnerable” by the IUCN, the hyacinth unfortunately prized by exotic pet collectors. These macaws mate for life and are often seen in pairs, so if you do spot one, be sure to look around for its partner. Birding in the Pantanal : Toco Toucan The toco toucan is also just referred to as the toucan, and is probably one of the world’s most easily recognised birds ! It has a massive banana shaped and mango colour beak protruding proudly from its small black and white colour body, making it quite a striking bird to spot in the wild. Having graced cereal boxes and cartoon shows for years, the toucan is certainly the most famous bird to spot in the Pantanal.   Birding in the Pantanal : Jabiru The Jabiru is another iconic bird of the Pantanal and has a wide distribution across the Americas. This strange looking stork is the tallest flying bird in South America and boasts an impressive 2.3–2.8 m wingspan. This...

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Up for a Challenge? Try Spot the Little 5 on Safari
Sep02

Up for a Challenge? Try Spot the Little 5 on Safari

It goes without saying that first-time safari goers to Africa head to wildlife rich destinations in search of the big 5. The big 5 are probably the most well-marketed group of animals in Africa, and there really is nothing better than coming across these giants while traversing unfettered savannah landscapes. The big cats, bovids and pachyderms that make up the famous big 5 have 5 tiny “cousins” with the same name. We refer to these as the Little 5 because of physical attributes resembling the big five. So, when you’re not tracking the big five we encourage you to try spot the little 5 on safari (you’ll need to first find out if each of these species is endemic to your chosen safari region). Leopard Tortoise The leopard tortoise is a commonly spotted species of tortoise, and is rather attractively marked. Leopard’s have exquisite rosette patterned markings on their tawny fur, and the leopard tortoise has similar markings on its shell. Native to southern and east Africa, this reptile enjoys a range of habitat, which includes sandy coastal regions to grasslands and arid scrub. They typically enjoy a bushveld environment with easy access to nutritious grasses and a variety of plants and succulents. Like most hardy reptiles, the leopard tortoise is a solitary animal quite capable of enduring robust conditions. The single biggest threat to leopard tortoises is man, which is why these tortoises have reached “Vulnerable” status in certain bands of its natural range. Unlike its big 5 cousin, the leopard tortoise enjoys a rather lengthy lifespan akin to that of a human – up to 100 yrs of age. Rhino Beetle  The rhino beetle derives its name from the rhinoceros. This beetle has a massive horn-like protrusion on its face  that looks just like a rhino’s horn. Only thing is, the rhino beetle is not critically endangered ! Belonging to the scarab beetle family, the rhino beetle is a small armoured beetle always ready for battle. Beetles have two horns, one on the top of its head and the other set slightly backwards, but facing forwards. The horns are used to burrow into the ground to avoid predators, and males use their horns in battle to fight for mates. Rhino beetles are considered to possess one of the strongest head-weapons, just like its big 5 “cousin”. Antlion The ant lion really is one of nature’s most industrious little creatures, and is actually quite tricky to spot. You’ll need to spend plenty of time at ground-level in sandy areas. Antlions set traps in loose particles of sand and dig massive funnels that act as a trap – they...

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5 Iconic Wildlife Scenes on Safari
Aug07

5 Iconic Wildlife Scenes on Safari

Nothing screams Africa like a terracotta sunset serving as the backdrop to a lone umbrella tree hovering over a silhouette of an elephant. And there’s nothing more “African” than the call of the African fish-eagle and the guttural roar of a lion. There are so many scenes and sounds used to depict the bushveld life in Africa, many of which have become synonymous with the continent.  So, we’re not going to delve into the depths of the big five here, but we’re going to list the 5 iconic wildlife scenes on safari. These are the scenes that you’ll stumble across in printed literature, and the ones that make their way onto banners on websites promoting safaris in Africa. The giraffe walking across a golden horizon This is quite a common scene while on safari, and certainly one that’s not hard to capture. Giraffe constantly journey through the bushveld in search of edible greens,  with the acacia tree being their favourite source of nutrition. Giraffe will never remain in one spot for very long while browsing on shoots and leaves. And there’s good reason for this… When a giraffe towers over the landscape and greedily feeds on the acacias, the trees release an excess of unpalatable tannins because they feel they are under threat. This forces the giraffe herds to move off in favour of alternate food sources. Acacia trees “warn” neighbouring trees of the imminent threat, so giraffe are often seen cruising across the skyline to a batch of trees far removed from their original eating place! When they’re on the move they walk silently, slowly and carefully. Because of their innate curiosity, giraffe will stop and stare at their onlookers, which provides perfect moments for photography.  Their height means that your image is largely uninterrupted by crowds of trees. The sky in Africa is always on fire with reds, oranges and yellows; which inevitably means that you’re going to come away smiling with that giraffe sunset image. Elephants in front of your lodge This kind of sighting happens at most lodges that have an open camp with a swimming pool and/or a waterhole in front of camp. Yes, it’s common practice for elephants to descend upon lodge grounds; but it’s still considered a “lucky” sighting. It’s not quite as common as the giraffe on the horizon sighting, but it happens often enough. Especially during the dry winter season. And there’s a perfectly good explanation for this… Elephants are purveyors of good quality water and they’re creatures of habit. These giant pachyderms will cover plenty of ground in search of the perfect source of water, and during the winter...

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Look Out for the Ugly 5 While on Safari
Jul17

Look Out for the Ugly 5 While on Safari

The big 5 are the most documented and famous of all the wildlife to spot on safari. They’re pretty, powerful, emotive and have a regal atmosphere about them. But behind the scenes there are ample other species of wildlife vying for a position of favourite sighting, and some of them aren’t the best looking! We refer to these “uglier” animals as the ugly 5.  These species have a vital role to play in the wild and their less than pretty looks ensure they have a build and structure adapted to the wild. Below are the species toe look out for the ugly 5 while on safari.  Hyena Hated by Hemingway, feared by many, but loved by us. We’re referring to the uneven, dishevelled hyena that lopes and skulks its way through the bushveld. Their half-run half-walk makes them appear constantly ashamed and embarrassed, but looks can be deceiving. They’re far from embarrassed. They’re a confident species that will quite eagerly approach a pride of lions during meal time, just to get a free pass to a meal. Truth be told, the hyena is not only a fantastic scavenger but also a rather proficient hunter. Overall, they are successful carnivores and certainly deserve their place in the wild. The spotted hyena is actually one of the most useful species within a wilderness region, and – together with vultures and marabou storks – form part of the “clean-up crew” of the wild. These are the creatures that remove debris from predator kill sites. Their massive, bone-crushing skulls can grind down bone very quickly and their strong constitution means that any diseased meat is digested easily. Not only are hyena physically capable of holding their own in the wild, but their social structure is nothing short of fascinating. Clans are dominated by an alpha female and individuals live in a very female dominated society. Clans utilise up to 14 vocalisations to express emotions, with the two most common sounds being the whooping and the laughing. So yes, NOT the most attractive of species but certainly useful and fascinating. Marabou Stork The marabou stork has a piercing long bill, balding head and a large black trench coat of feathers covering its body. This species is often mistaken for being a vulture, but it’s actually a stork. However, they have a lot in common with vultures in that they are also meat-loving scavengers. In fact, both marabous and vultures are often seen hovering around a kill site; earning it the nickname the “grim reaper” or even “undertaker”. Their’s is a diet of scraps and carrion and much like their fellow clean-up members, the marabou...

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3 Interesting Facts About Cheetahs
Jun05

3 Interesting Facts About Cheetahs

The streamlined and sleek cheetah is one of the elusive cats to spot while on an African safari. According to their genus, they’re not actually part of the Panthera genus, and are technically NOT big cats. Interestingly enough, they are actually the last remaining species of the genus Acinonyx. An interesting fact given that we lump them together with other cats in the big cat family category. The Panthera genus is a category assigned to big cats that emit a guttural and throaty roaring/barking sound. A cheetah doesn’t roar, it emits a high-pitched chirp and thus isn’t a Panthera. However, they are still part of the Felidae family and still very much a cat! These delicate, elite cats are wonderful to watch when they’re at full speed. Found throughout southern Africa, cheetah have a wide distribution but do favour open savannahs with little obstacles. If you found the above information interesting, then we’re pretty sure you’ll find these further facts about our aerodynamic cats rather enlightening.  3 Interesting Facts About Cheetahs They are diurnal hunters because they have poor night vision. Cheetah have excellent vision and can see clarity on an object for up to 5 km. Coupled with their ability to assimilate detail on an object kilometres away, they also have a 210 degree peripheral vision. During the day a cheetah’s eyesight is equivalent to a powerfully expensive zoom lens! The black hairs absorb light from the sun and allow cheetahs to run straight towards the sun and still be able to see. Unfortunately this precision eyesight doesn’t fare well during the nocturnal hours. Cheetah hunt at dawn and dusk, when it’s still light outside and the air cool enough to hunt. Big cats generally prowl under the cover of darkness, which means cheetah have naturally eliminated the competition for prey by hunting outside of predator rush hour. Speed is their secret weapon, not strength. Cheetah are the fastest terrestrial animals and can easily reach speeds of up to 120 km per hour. Their twisty elongated tail acts like a rudder and helps them balance when reaching top speeds. The cheetah’s body is so finely tuned for speed, that it lacks other skills to protect itself in the wild. These cats don’t have much strength and cannot afford to fight off any form of predatory competition. This is why, when they take down prey, they will eat  quickly and with finesse. They cannot afford to come face-to-face with bone crushing scavengers. Their kill tactics are swift and little blood is shed. Cheetah are solitary animals, but males and females are seen together when its time to mate. Cheetah...

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Hyena Hatred : Why Do People Detest Hyenas?
May05

Hyena Hatred : Why Do People Detest Hyenas?

Hyenas are misunderstood and have a bad reputation in the wild. Spotted hyenas are the anti-thesis of gorgeous, regal and graceful African wildlife. Visitors certainly don’t flock to Africa to see hyenas. We do understand the possible reasons for hyena hatred, but personally we love these coarse-haired wonders of nature. This animal needs a rebrand and definitely needs more positive reinforcement in literature. Here’s why we love these strange looking half-dog, half-cat creatures :  They are supremely successful carnivores that are proficient hunters and scavengers Hyena clean up meaty debris and prevent the spread of disease The hyena cubs are adorable! Their repertoire of vocalisations is fascinating, and their nocturnal whoop is always wonderful to hear when you’re falling asleep in the wild. Below are a few of the most documented reasons as to why people hate hyenas : Literature Hemingway was a notable playwright and lover of all things Africa – except hyena. In 1935 in  ‘The Green Hills of Africa” he wrote, “The hyena, hermaphroditic self-eating devourer of the dead, trailer of calving cows, ham-stringer, potential biter-off of your face at night while you slept, sad yowler, camp-follower, stinking, foul, with jaws that crack the bones the lion leaves, belly dragging, loping away on the brown plain.” He didn’t exactly paint a flattering picture of hyena. Being a prominent figure in literature meant that his word was gospel and many authors penned their opinions about hyenas, without actually knowing the role of the hyena in the wild. There’s plenty of literature claiming that hyenas are the undead and reincarnation of the devil. And it’s not only literature that has created unnecessary fear around hyena. Movies have also cast hyena as the evil villain, with the Lion King being the box-office hit that reinforces the stereotype! The Female’s Fake Penis Female hyena have a pseudo-penis that makes it hard to distinguish between male and females when you see them in the wild. Hyenas are often referred to as evil hermaphrodites, a myth that needs immediate dispelling. The female appendage is a strange concept to get your head around, but there’s a perfectly natural biological reason for this. Female hyena are the dominant leaders within clans. They are larger in size and more aggressive than their male counterparts. Females have a sort of pseudo-penis, which has a multi-functional purpose. This appendage is actually the birth canal, and they also urinate through this canal. Females normally give birth to 2 – 4 cubs, but tragically the first born cub often suffocates on the way out. So, there you go. A perfectly valid reason as to why the female has a...

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Uncovering a Few Facts About the Impressive Impala
May05

Uncovering a Few Facts About the Impressive Impala

The impala is the most commonly spotted species of plains game in the Lowveld region, and their presence is widespread throughout the Greater Kruger. These agile, athletic and elegant antelope fulfil many roles in the wild. A few of these roles include : being a vital food source for predators (in particular wild dogs), providing a natural landscaping service and being one of the moving predator-alarm systems for other wildlife.  It’s always a treat to see impala browsing on the succulent greens of the bushveld. In fact, impala are so prolific that on day 2 or 3 of your safari you’re overlooking the herds in favour of finding other wildlife. You might even hear fellow guests muttering “not impala again”! The fact is, we need impala. And they really are wonderfully graceful creatures. Currently we are in the peak of the 3 week impala rutting season – a time of year where the testosterone filled males fight for ownership over females and land. It seems fitting that we find out a few facts about this species.  The Rams in Rutting Season Impala start establishing and fighting for territories prior to the 3 week rutting period. Individuals within bachelor herds want to find a prime section of territory that will lure in females. They will clash horns and fight other males for land ownership. The rut begins when the dominant ram has found and settled into his turf. He will then begin the process of luring in herds of females to graze on his fertile grounds. The male will emit a series of barks and vocalisations to advertise their kingdom, and will chase other males out from their section of land. The impala rut is a noisy time of year! During the rut the ram’s testosterone levels skyrocket and he will attempt to mate with ALL available females. The more forceful young males will come in and lock horns with the victor in an attempt to take over the land and females. The unsuccessful rams are ousted and forced to live in bachelor herds.  Impala Cows Give Birth at a Similar Time  Pregnant ewes will leave the herd to give birth after a gestation period of six to seven months. The calf is introduced to the herd after a couple of days – the ewe and calf cannot be without the protection of the herd for long periods of time. Females within the herd generally give birth within a week of one another, and tend to only birth one calf. Impala are synchronous breeders that all breed at a similar time of year within the rutting season, so it makes...

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