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Southern Section of Kruger
19 Dec 2013
 
     

Hello again. As promised more detail about the sections of the park. The south of the park is well known for its spectacular sightings, thanks to the well-developed road networks and volume of visitors. Sightings information is accurate and easily shared amongst people at rest camps and even on the roads. This area is characterised by its relatively vast open plains mixed with riverine bush and in areas the occasional granite outcrops. Species to be on the lookout for in the southern section are definitely the black rhinoceros, African Wild dog, cheetah and a small antelope species called a klipspringer that you might find at these rocky outcrops.

As far as birds go, there are hundreds, but the ones that jump to mind have to be the big 6 of birds (Lappet faced vulture, Martial eagle, Saddle billed stork, Kori Bustard, Ground Hornbill and the elusive Pel’s fishing owl), Narina trogon and crowned and trumpeter hornbills. The year round supply of water by the Crocodile, Sabie and Sand rivers as well as big dams like Transport, Mpondo and Mlondozi dams ensures for great general game viewing and bird watching. Big herds of elephant and buffalo frequent the south and are almost a guaranteed tick on the list. As for the predators, well where there is prey you will find the predators, and the H4-1 road between Skukuza and Lower Sabie is always productive when it comes to the big cats. The open plains are also ideal habitat for cheetah and wild dog and, though a rare sighting, east of Pretoriuskop and north of Lower Sabie are good areas to start the search.

In my next blog I’ll cover the central section. Until then

Conraad Loubser

Three sections of Kruger Park
11 Dec 2013
 
     

Hello again. Due to the size of the Kruger Park it is tricky to decide on where to stay on your visit. Hopefully these hints will make it easier to decide.

The southern section of the park from Malenane to Skukuza is well known for its game viewing and birding. The south has a few large dams and the Sabie River ensures for good game viewing, especially in winter. Lake Panic Hide just outside Skukuza is also a great spot for birders and photographers alike. Road networks are well developed and consist of asphalt and gravel roads. The south does get crowded though, at times. 

The central section from Skukuza north to Letaba tend to be less crowded and game viewing is good all round. It is a larger area and the road networks are not as well developed as the south. At Letaba rest camp you can also visit the elephant hall of fame.

From Letaba north to Pafuri is the northern section and one of my personal favourites. It is almost as big as south and central combined and has a considerable lack of roads, thus high profile sightings are few and far between, but this does not take away the sheer beauty of this region.

Stay tuned for my more in depth blogs on each section that will follow soon. Until then

Conraad Loubser

Kruger Park Diversity
5 Dec 2013
 
     

The fauna and flora of the park is the reason people visit. There are vast biodiversities within the park but here are the basics. There are 7 geological substructures that influence the flora of the park. This diversity of soil types and rainfall varying from 400-720mm per year plays a vital role in determining vegetation types. Due to these factors, the park has 20 ecozones. Visitors might notice that certain animals are found in particular ecozones, but there are also other factors like seasonal and climatic changes that influence what is seen on any particular game viewing trip. For these and other reasons, one hesitates to specify what animals or birds will be seen in any given area, but one thing is certain, and that is that a visit to this priceless heritage of South Africa will be deeply rewarding. 

The Kruger National Park is home to the big 5 as well as 142 other species of mammals, 517 species of birds including the big six of bird, 33 species of amphibians, 50 fish and a 114 species of reptiles. Amongst all these animals there are a few endangered species like the Black and White Rhinoceros, African Wild dog, Cheetah, Southern  Ground hornbills, Cape and White headed vultures and Pel’s fishing owls. There are many more species of interest - so get your checklists ready and start planning a trip!

Conraad Loubser

The Ins and Outs of Kruger Park
28 Nov 2013
 
     

Hello again. Now with the history of the Kruger Park taken care of, here is a bit more insight on the park in general. The Kruger National Park covers an area of ±20 000km², is 380km long and an average of 65km wide. It is slightly bigger than your average zoo or real-estate and thus game viewing is never guaranteed. Hopefully this series of blogs, will be helpful and increase your chances of getting good sightings.

As a visitor to the Kruger National Park there are many options on where to stay and what to do. It caters from the nature loving camper to the much more luxurious 5 star traveller. Kruger Park is a self-drive experience where you, the traveller, are in charge, only having to abide by the Park rules and regulations. There are 9 entrance gates into the park and these will give you access to 12 main rest camps, 12 other camps and the 15 designated private lodges. Booking in advance is always suggested as to avoid disappointment. Visit www.parks-sa.co.za or www.sanparks.org
Nature walks or game drives accompanied by qualified guides can also be booked at the rest camps.

The peak season is normally our summers (November – April), and the winters (May – October) are the off-peak season.

Next week we will cover the different sections of the park so stay tuned for more tips on game viewing success. 

Conraad Loubser

Kruger Park: History
21 Nov 2013
 
     

For the traveller coming to South Africa the Kruger National Park is a must see destination, and so are the famous “big 5”, yet many travellers know little of the history of this world-renowned wildlife reserve. The region has yielded many cultural artefacts, as well as rock art and archaeological sites showing that prehistoric Stone Age man, Iron Age man and Bushman people were once present. Around 1845 the Italian born Joào Albasini became the first European settler, settling near the confluence of the Phabeni Creek and Sabie River, where ruins of his home can still be seen.

After the First Boer War, in 1883, Paul Kruger became president and earnestly endeavoured to bring about legislation to conserve wildlife. Due to his efforts the area between the Sabie and Crocodile rivers was proclaimed the Sabie Game Reserve in 1889. Others who played a significant role in the establishment of the Kruger Park as we know it today, were Major James Stevenson – Hamilton (officer of the 6th Inniskilling dragoon guards) and the first park warden appointed in 1902, Sir Godfrey Lagden, a keen naturalist and person in charge of the then Sabie Game Reserve, and Major A.A Frazer, a ranger in those early days. Combined efforts to consolidate areas to the north and enlarge the parks boundaries were made and in May 1926 the National Parks Act was passed and the Sabie and Shingwedzi Game Reserves were merged into the Kruger National Park.

Now with the formalities out the way don’t miss the follow up blogs on things to see, places to go and much much more.

Until next time!

Conraad Loubser

Scanning for Game
14 Nov 2013
 
     

How to spot game

Firstly, go to an area where game can be found! Secondly, open your eyes, it’s that simple! Okay, well maybe not. Spotting game is not as easy as your field guide makes it seem, so here are a few simple tricks I have picked up over the years to make you an expert at this, and with practice, it becomes second nature!

As humans we have grown accustomed to reading, and finding game is similar to read, just read the bush. We are used to reading from left to right, and when your eyes move from right to left, we automatically 'search' better, to see the next sentence. Hence, if scanning for animals, scanning the bush from right to left, is technically supposed to be more effective than simply scanning in all directions.

Another great tip is not to scan at the same distances, but vary it as much as possible, and these distances all depend on the area you are driving. When driving in very densely vegetated areas, SLOW DOWN, this will greatly improve your chances of seeing more. A rather unusual hint that works for me, in dense bush, scan past the bases of trees and look for the animal’s legs, seems strange, but it works!

Of course, the more sets of eyes you have in your vehicle, the better your chances of seeing more, so turn it into a family outing. Not everyone can be expert game spotters, but practice makes better, and the more you practise, the quicker you will find out what works best for you. Now that you know some of the basics, go out there, and spot some game!

How to photograph/view birds
7 Nov 2013
 
     

How to photograph/view birds

This blog isn’t about the technical specs of bird photography (which may I add, is one of the more difficult facets of nature photography), but more so on how to situate yourself around birds in order to view them and take a photo or four.

Many people wonder, how do I get close enough to that bird to get a good photo? Well in this case, that super zoom lens does make a big difference. As discussed in one of our previous blogs, each animal has a safe or comfort zone around them, and will move away if you intrude in their personal space – birds are no different. You can test this, but that comfort zone distance, is roughly the same distance away from you as with most other animals.

So why can’t we get photos of birds? Simple, look at the size difference between a blue waxbill, and an elephant, at 20m away! We can hardly make out the waxbill, never mind getting a photo of it. In short, getting close enough to a bird for a great photo, has a lot to do with pure luck, technical skill and pricey camera equipment - but often on colder days, birds will be a bit more lethargic, especially the bigger birds.

Rest camps, or established gardens in high traffic areas are also hugely useful in getting up close and personal with birds, as they are a lot more habituated to having people around. You almost trip over the crested barbets at Letaba rest camp in Kruger! If your super lens fails, you can always enjoy viewing the bird with a good pair of binoculars, and get a mental picture!

Game Walk vs. Game Drive
24 Oct 2013
 
     

For bulk game viewing purposes, drives are always better, as you can cross more ground in a very short period of time. However, if it’s a truly unforgettable experience you are after, then a walk is just the thing for you! As professional guides, we often offer the rare opportunity to leave the comfort of the vehicle, and head off into the bush on a walking trail.

Have you ever wondered how many special creatures you have driven past, without realising they are there? A bush walk removes the restrictions of a vehicle, and offers a well-rounded nature experience – away from diesel fumes and loud engine noises, we can start using all of our senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and even taste. Walking through the bush puts you in an ideal position to begin looking at all the smaller aspects of nature, such as trees, insects and tracks, to name just a few.

Walks are not just about the small things though, but also just appreciating the peace and quiet, and discovering all the beautiful spots reserves have to offer, which can’t always be reached by vehicle. Experienced guides might also track some of the big game species, giving you a glance at big animals with only the skill of your guide keeping you safe! A walking trail is one of the most amazing experiences any nature lover could ask for, so the next time you head off to the bush, remember to pack your boots, and explore on foot!

Self-Guided Bush Walks
10 Oct 2013
 
     

Self-Guided Bush Walks 

You want to be close to nature, so you pack your camping gear and head for the nearest nature reserve. Whether it’s a big 5 reserve or a general game property, animals can still surprise you on a lazy walk through the bush, or at your campsite. The big 5 generally shouldn’t be a problem, as most dangerous game reserves won’t allow you to head off on your own on foot beyond the confines of the camp. Still, bumping into a 2m tall Kudu bull can give you a pretty big fright. Being up close and personal with those spiralling horns, makes you realise how sharp they actually are. Relax though, 9 times out of 10, the animal will get even more of a surprise than you do, and will dash off in the opposite direction, while you try regaining your composure. If it doesn’t, just stop, back up a bit and go around the animal. Remember, it’s highly unlikely that general game will ‘charge you’ on purpose. 

If you do happen to find a leopard on a walk or at your campsite, it gets a bit more serious. Stand still, don’t look directly in its eyes and back away calmly, facing the animal at all times. Calmly is the operative word – you don’t want to resemble fleeting prey, with your back towards the animal. This is again, a very unlikely situation, and you must keep in mind, if you don’t corner a leopard, it will most likely disappear before you have even seen it.

Nature’s Garbage Men
3 Oct 2013
 
     

When asked which animals are nature’s garbage men, one might automatically think vultures. We often forget about the smaller, yet more powerful animals. Dung beetles come in many forms, some tiny, and some really big, some form dung balls, and some don’t. Dung beetles, compared to their weight, are regarded as one of the strongest creatures on earth! Very iconic to Africa, these beetles are known and loved throughout the world. They play a crucial role in the environment and eco-system by relocating dung and depositing nutrients into the soil, as well as reducing the spread of disease and assisting with ‘pest control’. Important to note is that they don’t all roll dung balls, some will tunnel underneath the dung piles, and some will freely lay their eggs in it. The main point of it all for the dung beetle, is to lay eggs and provide a safe environment for their young to hatch. Some dung beetle species are critically endangered (e.g. the Addo Dung Beetle), so it is important to try avoid driving through dung piles. How vital are they? Well, in previous years they have been exported to Australia as a successful tool in controlling fly populations - not the typical product one would expect to see exported, and certainly a vital part of the eco-system which we do not want to lose! Keep an eye out for these guys on your next game drive, when the Big 5 may not be around.

- Charles Delport
Photo: Shirell Lynch

Dwarf Mongoose
26 Sep 2013
 
     

Taking the prize for the smallest African carnivore, Dwarf Mongoose have an interesting social structure, with one dominant pair the breeding pair, and the rest look after the young. The dominant female determines the sleeping sites (often in termite mounds) and foraging routes. Weighing in at no more than 400 grams, these little mammals can be very difficult to spot and will often be over looked when game viewing. Most animals are relatively skittish, but not these brave little creatures. When coming across a business of dwarf mongoose, you might think they have given you the slip, but patience pays off. Switch off your engine (as you should in animal sightings), get your camera ready, and wait. Before long, you will hear their characteristic chirps, and heads will appear from behind all possible cover. Travelling in small groups up to about 10 on average, they are probably one of the most curious animals in South Africa. Before you know, you might see the entire family coming out, running from bush to bush, regrouping and having a good look at you! You can’t help to admire their curiosity (and bravery at times), and soon will be forgetting about wanting to see that elephant. Keep your eyes open when you do see them, as they will often spend their days following hornbills around, taking advantage of any food items they might drop.

What to look for
19 Sep 2013
 
     

What to do when the ‘big 5’ are hiding

Most people enjoy weekends and holidays to game reserves and national parks for the so-called big, hairy and scary animals. What do you do if these animals are not out and about? As discussed previously, most mammals will seek out shade during the heat of the day, so what else can we look at? Well for starters, the big mammals form a very small part of the total ecosystem, so there is always something else, most often more exciting to look at than the big ones! Examples of this might include everybody’s favourite, dwarf mongoose, various reptiles (they thrive during the warmer parts of the day), insects as well as birds, such as the powerful Martial Eagle. Most parks will also have sites of archaeological value, which are very interesting if one takes a few minutes to learn more about them. Trees can also be very interesting, with their own cultural beliefs, medicinal uses and more. So many well-known rest camps and picnic spots have smaller animals in the camps themselves, and can often be seen and photographed during the midday period when not much else is happening. Keep your eyes on future blogs, where some of these things will be discussed in greater detail.

Blyde Dam Boat Trip
12 Sep 2013
 
     

Blyde River Canyon

Limpopo has many hidden treasures, tucked away off the beaten track. Blyde Canyon is one of them.  I had been to the Blyde River Canyon many times, visiting the Tourist centre overlooking the dam, stopping at the viewpoints along the way, even doing some of the trails to the waterfalls. At R10 per vehicle entrance fee, it’s a very cheap way to spend a few hours in tranquil settings with lovely views of mountains and water.

Recently I discovered the Blyde Dam boat trip – run by the Blyde Canyon Adventure Centre (http://www.blydecanyon.co.za/boattrips.htm ). For a fee of R120 per person, I jumped on the 3pm boat with my bino’s,  slightly sceptical by the basic boat facilities (think plastic chairs) and not having great hopes of seeing anything amazing. A lesson learnt in assumptions – I was completely blown away by the beauty that surrounded me. The plant life around the dam itself is amazing – with varying colours of red and green, trees seem to be growing out of nothing – bare rock face! The wildlife was pretty impressive too, with a pod of Hippo making an appearance, a large Nile Croc, an African Finfoot swimming by, Malachite kingfishers, Darters and Trumpeter Hornbills in numbers I have never seen before (easily over 30). You are taken into areas where it is not accessible by foot or by car – within meters of waterfalls, with unspoilt views of caves and the 3 Rondawels. All this in 2 hours. Certainly worth the visit!  

- Photo and Text by Shirell Lynch
Snake encounter
5 Sep 2013
 
     

With hiking becoming more and more popular, a question often asked is what to do if you come across a snake. The answer might seem simple, but to those of you who are not too keen at the thought of a snake, standing still is quite often a difficult task. Firstly, there are lots of myths about snakes, most of which are exactly that, myths. Snakes feed on smaller animals such as mice and rats, and will not see you as a possible food source. So contrary to popular belief, they will not hunt you! 

Looking at the average human from a snake’s point of view, is like one of us facing up against Godzilla, and if it can, the snake will most certainly move out of your way - unless of course you are really small and dressed like a mouse. Bumping into snakes along your average hiking trail is highly unlikely in the first place, but if you do, simply stop, back up a bit, and look for a way around the snake. Remember, it’s more scared of you! If by any chance you do come into close contact with one, don’t panic, as only a small percentage of the snakes in SA are venomous. If bitten, you do NOT have to kill the snake, or even worse, try to catch it for identification purposes, which will most definitely result in you being bitten again. Keep calm, try your best to remember the description of the snake, and seek medical advice as soon as possible.

- Charles Delport

Impala Lily
29 Aug 2013
 
     

If you are in the Lowveld in winter, keep an eye out for the impressive white and pink flowers of the Impala Lily (also known as Sabi Star or Desert Rose). They are in full bloom at the moment, providing bright bursts of colour amongst an otherwise dry and colourless winter veld. Impala Lilies are deciduous succulent shrubs, which can grow up to 2m in height and in South Africa, are naturally found mainly in and around Kruger National Park. They lose their leaves to produce flowers in winter (May to Sept). Not to be confused with the SUMMER IMPALA LILY, which is much smaller (up to 300 mm) and is critically endangered, with plain pink flowers, appearing with leaves (Jan-May).

Not actually part of the true Lily family at all, these shrubs are thought to have toxic properties and can be fatal to domestic livestock. However, some herbivores will in fact eat the leaves and the flowers - although this doesn't happen too often – with its flowers being prime examples of aposematic colouration (natures ‘warning colours’).

Approaching Wildlife for the novice
22 Aug 2013
 
     

Approaching Wildlife for the novice

National Parks are very popular destination for animal & nature lovers. Peak seasons can often lead to traffic jams resembling mid-city Joburg traffic. As we have all seen, in the excitement, people often forget to give animals the right of way or to give them a bit of breathing space. This can sometimes lead to aggressive outbursts from the animals. So, how can you avoid getting yourself into such a situation? It’s actually quite simple, just like us, animals have comfort zones.

First is the ‘comfort’ zone, which simply means that the animal is continuing its daily routine, without any disturbance. Second is what is referred to as the ‘alert’  zone, where the animal becomes aware to possible danger, and will typically stop their natural behaviour (such as feeding) to establish whether there is a threat or not. The third zone is called the ‘warning’ zone, in which the animal begins to show signs of irritation towards the threat, much like our domestic animals do. These signs often emulate as “mock-charges”. The last and most crucial zone is called the ‘critical/attack’ zone - this is where the animal becomes completely uncomfortable with the threat being there, feels like it has been backed into a corner & is left with only 2 options, run away, or in the case of the much bigger game, fight back. At the end of the day, if you respect each animal’s comfort zone, you should never have to see sign 3 and 4! 

Sometimes, you may stumble upon an animal which is already in an agitated state, due to other vehicles in their comfort zone or external factors, such as a nearby predator or dominance display – just remember to keep your distance until the animal is relaxed again. 

 - Charles Delport

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