On foot in the Kruger National Park

One of our friends is a safari guide and his company, Dry Seasons Safari’s, among other trips, does guided walks in the Kruger National Park.  In order to lead a guided walk in the Kruger Park one has to be highly qualified. This last week our friend Ian had to undergo an assessment in order to be able to be “lead gun” on walking safari’s within the park.  He invited us along.

A question that is frequently asked is: “What do we do if we encounter one of the Big 5 while on foot?” It is a reasonable question and likely to come up on any bush walk.

The term “Big Five” was originally coined by hunters to refer to the five African game species which were quite likely to kill you if you made a mistake. They are the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. But the Big 5 aren’t the only dangerous animals you can encounter. Hippos are reputedly the most dangerous in  Africa killing more people than any other animal – well, besides mosquitoes! Crocodiles are also notorious and swimming in any pool or river in the bush is strongly not advised. Ostriches can deliver a nasty sweeping kick and during the breeding season the males are particularly aggressive to perceived threats.

Of course there is no definitive answer to “what to do” if you encounter a dangerous animal as every situation is different. However, there are a few basic rules to follow.

Unlike hunters, where the end result is the shooting of the animal (or the attack on the hunter!), tourists want the encounter to be non-confrontational. A sighting where the animal doesn’t even realise you are there is paramount.

It is not the best idea to sneak up too close to dangerous game. If they spot you from a distance they will merely keep an eye on you and may even continue with whatever they were doing. If, however, they only become aware of you when you are within their “flight or fight” zone you can rest assured that there will be a sticky situation. Each animal has its own flight radius and it also depends on the circumstances. If you do get too close and the animal is left with no option of flight, it may attack. It is therefore very important that your guide knows how to approach dangerous animals.

It was our aim on this day in the bush to approach as many dangerous animals as possible on foot.

Here Ian is giving us strict instructions on how to behave and respond to his hand signals.  It was a stinking hot day so this added to the ambiance 🙂

Serious discussion and concentration

A elephant, some zebras and impala getting some water under the unrelenting sun.  It must have reached 36 degrees Celsius in the shade by this stage.

Ellies

Kori Bustard – the heaviest living animal capable of flight.

African Wild Dogs – quite a rare sight.

Needless to say, Ian passed with flying colours.  His assessor was Sean Pattrick. He is the author of “Game Ranger in your Back Pack” and also a great wildlife photographer. It was super to meet him.

Speaking of great photographers, Ian himself is a brilliant photographer. You can see (and buy) some of his work here.

If you are interested in going on a walking tour in the Kruger National Park it is worth contacting Dry Season Safari’s to find out more. You won’t regret it!

Thanks Ian for a super day!

 

 

 

Hoedspruit takes action against rhino poaching

In a landmark move, a top-secret mission has been accomplished by game reserves in the Hoedspruit region. After an almost unanimous decision, all rhinos in our area around Hoedspruit have been dehorned to minimise rhino poaching.  The action was kept under wraps so that poaching was not increased before the task could be completed.

This is a temporary measure to ensure the safety of our rhinos while other actions are being put into place in the region.  A rhino action group has been formed and funds are being raised to increase the protection of this species.  In Hoedspruit we are lucky to have the support of our local air force base who assist with air surveillance, and Protrack which is a private anti-poaching unit operating in all the private game reserves.  Our local police department are also very active in anti-poaching and see this as a priority. Plans have also been put into place where each and every rhino in the area will have its own armed bodyguard keeping it under surveillance.

This last week two rhino poachers were shot and killed in the Kruger National Park. Lets hope that poachers will start getting the message and all this unnecessary killing and destruction can finally come to an end.

Personally, I am glad to see something being done to end poaching.  There has been a lot of hype, fund-raising and media attention – all of which is necessary, but it’s now time to see some action.  Well done Hoedspruit and the Rhino Action Group!

Rhino dehorning is a controversial topic, and many say that it is not the answer.  I agree – it’s not the final answer to our problems, but until such time, it will assist in slowing down poaching and protect the species from total annihilation. For those of you who do not know, rhino horns are made of hair and do regrow at a rate of 1 to 3 inches per year.

Another “good news” rhino story can be read here on the Notes from Africa blog.

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill

The Southern yellow-billed Hornbill is one of my favorite local birds.  They are noisy, cheeky and have so much character – great birds to watch for hours on end.  In our area, and especially in the Kruger National Park, they are very common and are often seen pinching food from unwary tourists.  We have one mating pair that live close to our cottages and although they don’t come too close, I hear them often.

The Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill (Tockus leucomelas) is a Hornbill found in Southern Africa. It is a medium sized bird, with length between 48 to 60 cm, characterized by a long yellow beak with a casque (casque reduced in the female). The skin around the eyes and in the malar stripe is pinkish. The related Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill from north-eastern Africa has blackish skin around the eyes.

They have a white belly, grey neck, and black back with abundant white spots and stripes. They feed mainly on the ground, where they forage for seeds, small insects, spiders and scorpions. Termites and ants are a preferred food source in the dry season.

Females lay 3 to 4 white eggs in their nest cavities and incubate them for about 25 days. While sitting on her eggs the female hornbill is closed into the nest by the male using mud to close the nest hole.  The male then brings food to the female and feeds her through a tiny slit that he leaves open. Juveniles take about 45 days to mature.

This hornbill is a common, widespread resident of the dry thorn fields and broad-leafed woodlands. Frequently they can be sighted along roads.

Last night at art group I decided to start a new painting and chose this bird to paint. I have started the background with acrylic and plan to finish off the finer details in oils.  Again you will be able to follow me step by step.

Lazy weekend and Oom Pauls’s birthday.

This weekend was spent lazing in the bush with the odd attempt at getting some housework done.  I have been waiting for the 10th of October for some time, firstly because it was the 10/10/10 ( I like numbers), and secondly because it was Oom Paul’s birthday.  The folk in this area wait patiently for his birthday every year.  Oom Paul is the pet name for President Paul Kruger – Oom meaning uncle.  (Afrikaans speaking people generally call everybody older than themselves uncle or aunt as a sign of respect – even if they aren’t related. This used to really freak me out but I am getting used to it now.)

Paul Kruger (Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger) was born on October 10 1825. He wasn’t a well-educated man and only had three months formal education. He became Commandant-General of the then South African Republic , later known as Transvaal. He became Vice-President in 1874. The first Anglo Boer war was 1880 and the British forces were defeated in a battle at Majuba in 1881. At this time Paul Kruger was instrumental in negotiations with the British, which later led to the restoration of Transvaal as an independent state under British rule. In 1882, the 57-year-old Paul Kruger was elected president of Transvaal. He died on 14 July 1904. ( You can read more about him if you click on his picture.) The Kruger National Park is named after him.

I am not a political animal (or a history buff) so why,  you may ask, was I patiently awaiting his birthday?  Well as stories go around these parts, if it rains before Oom Paul’s birthday we are in for a very dry summer, and if it rains on or after his birthday we will have a wet summer. And I want a wet summer. So now it can rain. Please.

Today it will be 44 deg C and it’s only spring (111 deg F).  Heaven help me!

At the suggestion of a friend I am trying to record all the bird species on my farm. I started yesterday and spent some time sitting in the shade of one of my Marula trees with my feet in the pool, ogling the bush with my binoculars.  I also want to learn more bird calls because it is sometimes difficult to see the birds once the bush turns green.

These are the ones that I heard.  There were many more calls but I have yet to identify them.

Green wood-hoopoe

African fish eagle

Bru bru

Orange-breasted bush-shrike

The following birds sat still long enough for me to identify them visually.

Southern black flycatcher

Bearded woodpecker

White-crested helmet shrike

Common scimitarbill

Blue waxbill

Laughing dove

Emerald-spotted dove

Yellow-fronted canary

Kurrichane thrush

There were so many more birds. It will take a long time to record them all (and get them to sit still so that I can identify them.) I look forward to the challenge.

Picture credits: Wikipedia

Our tiny airport

Just 8km outside of Hoedspruit, in the middle of the bush, lies the Eastgate Airport, the gateway to the heartland of the country’s abundant wildlife in private game reserves, the world-famous Kruger National Park, and the towns of Tzaneen and Phalaborwa.  It really looks tiny but the airport is probably the best airport I have been to in South Africa.  It is kept spotlessly clean, the furnishings are luxurious and the service is very good.  Below you can see all the vehicles waiting for the next load of tourists to take into the bush.  As you can see, parking is not a problem either.

A few interesting facts about this tiny airport:

  • Second longest runway in South Africa.
  • Earmarked for NASA shuttle landing in the 1980’s.
  • Being a CAT5/7 airport, Eastgate can accommodate any sized aircraft from an Antonov 124, to an Airbus, to a Papa Charlie.

(obviously not as tiny as it looks then!)