Viva Safari August Newsletter
|VIVA SAFARIS NEWSLETTER AUGUST 2011 Dear Leon
It is one of life’s greatest blessings to have a job to which one looks forward to going every day. Enthusiasm and passion for the job will come naturally and, no doubt, a sense of fulfilment is a logically inevitable reward for genuine effort.
I was particularly impressed this month with the way in which all the Viva Safaris guides performed their duties. I made it my business to go on as many walks and game drives as my limited time permitted. One particular afternoon the guide decided to conduct an afternoon game drive on the Oxford section. We had seen some general game – nothing out of the ordinary – and we had stopped to watch a herd of impala. The guide heard a loud cracking of branches and immediately knew that there was an elephant around. He enquired from the guests whether it would be OK to walk closer to the origin of the sound. The guests knew that he had his rifle and were very keen as this was their first big game encounter. We disembarked from the Landcruiser and, after a very professional briefing by the guide, we were led to the elephant. The excitement of the clients was palpable from the moment they left the vehicle and the obvious pleasure that they experienced was impressive.
Later on we had a great sighting of buffalos. There must have been close to 200 of these bovine beasts and we parked the vehicle nearby, facing the oncoming herd. The herd was very relaxed and within a few minutes, we were literally surrounded. It was approaching dusk when, all of a sudden, a lioness appeared and moved towards the herd. We later established that there were three lionesses and a cub. What impressed me far more than the actual game experience we were enjoying was the unbridled excitement on the part of the guide. He was really and truly completely absorbed by this spectacle and I believe he was probably more excited than any of the guests. I think his enthusiasm was infectious as all the clients were going crazy. I too was affected. Despite having had hundreds of similar wildlife encounters over the past 45 years, I found myself texting my wife and children, keeping them updated as to proceedings. And once again, I thanked the Almighty for allowing me to live in Africa !
This month has also seen a marked improvement in relations between Viva Safaris and other stakeholders in Olifants West Game Reserve. We have agreed to allow researchers to occupy the Warden’s House, which was built on land donated by Tremisana Lodge. Research is being conducted on a number of fronts including elephant movements within the reserve. We also agreed to fence off a section of our land so as to facilitate comparative veld analyses on land where animals are not present. In addition, we thatched the waiting area at the main gate – a kind gesture welcomed by the many workers on all the lodges in Olifants West who now have a shaded area to utilise away from the sun.
As with every August, game viewing has been excellent. The dry conditions are forcing the animals to congregate around the watering points. Sightings of all Big Five in a single day were common. I was pleased to see rhino every time I went into Kruger. I wasn’t so pleased to see a dehorned live rhino near Marc’s Camp.
Apologies for the poor clarity, photo was taken with my mobile phone.
A decision has been made by all the private enclosed reserves in the Hoedspruit region to dehorn all the rhino. This decision was made to try to minimise the wanton murder of rhino by unscrupulous poachers. I hope it bears fruit. I am not convinced that the poachers will stop their nefarious activities. Even a little stump of horn may prove to be financially attractive. As the horn grows, the landowners will have to keep cutting it off – how often can this be done without doing some damage to the rhino ? It is so unfortunate that a mighty beast has to be managed in this intrusive manner – hornless rhino have no means of defending themselves. From a tourist point of view, I wonder how many tourists will want to take photos of hornless rhinos. It may serve a good purpose to show their friends and family such photos insofar as this will bring to their attention the enormity of the rhino poaching problem. However the rhino horn is probably the main diagnostic attraction of a rhino photo, so I remain unconvinced as to the wisdom of this venture. I shall keep you posted on future developments. Monthly report for Bongani
The Kruger is unfortunately faced with a huge continuous problem of poaching of the rhino species. Two white rhinos were killed in the central section between Satara and the Olifants river .One was about 10 metres away from the road . On the 2nd day of the month we saw lions, vultures and hyenas eating the carcass of the rhino which was close to the road. There was a lot of animal activity around the area. Lions took full advantage of the rhino carcass next to the road. This is a fantastic season for spotting animals as the small animals like impalas, wildebeest and zebras are doing a lot of grazing and in some parts overgrazing because of their preference to drink water twice a day. Lions are well pleased with the grazing as they are able to ambush the animals at the dams and water holes. On the 27th on the Orpen road towards Satara we came across six male lions trying to attack buffalos – it was a fantastic sighting but the lions were distracted by cars and they decided to abort. We tried waiting to see if anything would happen for about an hour. The lions tried again to get to close to the buffalos but unfortunately the second time around the buffalos were prepared to take on the lions and they became aggressive towards them. On the 28th we saw one rhino which was shot in the head by poachers the previous night near the Ngotso dam. The rhino was still alive in the morning and the National parks rangers had to come and put it down and they cut off the horns to prevent poachers from resurfacing. I am sick……………….. TREMISANA LODGE WATERHOLE AND BALULE DRIVES We have seen some of most brilliant and uncommon sightings of the different species coming through to the water at Tremisana Lodge : the white tailed mongoose, civet, caracal, aardvark and a Mozambique Spitting cobra fighting with a dwarf mongoose. The other animals that we also witnessed mainly during breakfast at the Tremisana Lodge are giraffes, buffalos , kudus , impalas and elephants . These are some of the highlights which our guests enjoy right in front of the lodge while eating breakfast not more than 25 metres away. This month I also had some great bush walks with exceptional close-up sightings of lions, elephants and buffalos. Until next month, ALL THE BEST
Monthly Report for Isaac Ncube
The 1st of August 2011 brought a slight change of weather as we are heading away from the cold winter. As we entered the Orpen gate we travelled about two kilometres and found a dead hippo near the dam. At the Hippo sighting we found hyenas and vultures busy feeding. The stench was bad but that’s what makes the bush exciting.
We continued through the main gate and l drove about seven kilometres where we spotted one male lion and two lionesses feeding on the carcass of a blue wildebeest about 50 meters away from the road. The male lion put on a show for us : he stood up and started walking towards us and decided to lie down again under a tree halfway through his walk. Vultures and jackals were roaming around while the lions were keeping an eye on the scavengers.
30 minutes later after leaving the sighting, while still on the Orpen road we came across a breeding herd of Elephants. They crossed the road right in front of us. A private car also stopped in front of them and they were helpful in giving us information on the lions they had just seen near Nsemani dam. We arrived at the dam and there we saw eight lions and lionesses feeding on a buffalo – it was a really good day for lion sightings. The carcass was almost finished and there were just ribs and a skull left. As we watched, the lions all decided to leave the food and walked towards and settled under a tree to cover themselves from heat as midday was approaching and the sun was becoming a little too hot. As they were lying there vultures descended to feed on the remains but the two male lions got up to protect their food.
At around 12 midday as we drove past Nsemani and there were hippos, elephant, buffalos and zebras. A few buffalos were moving away from the water. As we were approaching Satara, heading for lunch, about a kilometre from the camp by the bridge, a leopard was lying on the branch of a tree. Quite amazingly impalas and waterbuck that were down below were calling out warning the rest of the animals of the danger that they could smell but could not see as it was directly above them. The leopard could easily have jumped on one of them but clearly was not that hungry. What a fantastic day !!
The 13th of August started again in a really great manner as we watched two of the Big 5 family together at one spot .The sighting was at Nsemani dam around 1030am.Two lionesses were trying to catch the impalas that were on their way to the dam for a drink of water. Fortunately for the impalas they were alert enough to run away and also managed to warn the others. As we watched, a herd of elephants came from behind the bushes also on their way to drink and they were moving in the direction of the lions. As they approached the lions stood up and began moving away.
We left Nsemani dam on our way to Satara. About 300m before the junction 20m away from the road we saw a mating couple of lions. They were lying in the open space although it was a hot day. After 10 minutes of watching them they decided to get up and walk under a tree and lay down again. After our lunch at Satara I drove through Timbavati and came across a big herd of Elephants and a herd of bull buffalos. At Ngirivani Dam at around 1500hrs we found more elephants as well as white rhino. The elephants were drinking water from a tank and the rhinos were lying under a tree. As we drove again via Nsemani dam we saw two lionesses and one white Rhino. The white Rhino was across the dam away from the lionesses which were close to the road. A few minutes later, more elephants appeared from another direction and we felt privileged and humbled at the same time. It was a sight to behold – three of the big five all in one sighting and all to ourselves as there were no other vehicles at this sighting.
Monthly Report For Mayneth Sondlane
This month’s sightings were very clear – with the dry vegetation one was able to see very well into the bush. Business as usual on the H7 : between Orpen and Satara near a bridge we found a Leopard hiding. We were initially not able to see it, but with the advantage of our cars ( open vehicle ) which are high, one of my guest shouted very loudly “ Stop, A leopard !!! ”. It was now moving out of the bushes into the open space. It then started climbing up a tree and it decided upon reaching the top to take a nap.
On the H7, a pride of 16 lions killed a buffalo just next to the tarred road (about 15m in). There was still plenty of meat left when we got there. 3 big male lions were busy breaking the rib-bones while the females were just watching from close range. They looked full – they had eaten a lot of meat because after 10 minutes of watching they all lay down with the males sleeping while on the other hand guarding their kill against the jackal.
The central part of the park is very exciting and without any doubt the best game-viewing area in all of Kruger Park. With its high volumes of animals and predators around Nsemani Dam, we saw another pride of 9 lions with a Buffalo kill. Eight lions went and lay next to the dam after drinking water. One lioness was left alone with the meat – guarding it from the vultures & jackals.
On the 5th of August we were driving on the H1-4 North of Satara with another of our Viva guides, Bongani, ahead of me. He spotted a leopard lying on the branch of a tree, very relaxed. The Leopard took some time to stand up & stretch on the branch & after that it went to down very slowly and disappeared into the bushes below.
On the 16th of August on H1-4 near Ngotso Dam, a Rhino was killed by poachers. There were about 20 lions with 10 cubs playing near the road. The lions were trying very hard to break down the tough skin of the rhino, hyena were moving up & down but because the lions outnumbered them there was no chance for them, as they were only in two.
On the 17th of August while driving towards Nsemani Dam we came across a Leopard walking on the road. It was a big male. It walked past my car very close and moved out of the road. Next to the road there was a big hole that looks like a warthog’s den. The leopard tried its luck – it went in with its half of its body & come out very quickly with an empty mouth. Then it came back to the road and started walking.
On the 19th of August two big male lions killed a Kudu on the Rabelais road, about 30m into the bushes. One was feeding when we got there with other one sleeping. On our way back, 7 km before the Orpen gate a leopard was sleeping on a rock. We sat there for about l0 minutes without any movement. It then stood up & stretched then sat facing the road. I was left with the rhino to complete my big 5 list for the day. To my surprise two rhinos passed behind the Leopard – a mother with a calf. My list was done and the month’s sightings were great.
Monthly report from Wimpie Redelinghuys.
The month was very hard weather wise. There were great changes in weather, from sweaty hot days to very cold, rainy days.
All of us were taken off guard with the weather pattern and so were the animals. We had some very good sightings, even though we had some very quiet days.
The best 3 days I had this August were the following :
02/08/2011 Balule morning walk.
We started our day on a very nice and mild morning on the Nonwane air strip with a very beautiful sunrise. After we watched the sun come up, we drove on towards the area I chose to walk in. On our way I noticed some fresh lion tracks from the night before. I followed the tracks and noticed that they were heading to the area I wanted to walk in that morning. So I stopped at Impala dam and briefed my guests on safety and what they can expect and how to react. We walked in the general direction of the tracks until I picked them up again. And so the walk and challenge of tracking got going. It was so nice to explain to my guests how tracking works, and that it’s not only looking at footprints, but signs and a lot of other aspects to the art of tracking. I picked up the pace a bit, and soon enough I got to a track that was so fresh that the small bits of grass inside the track was still lifting up and moving back into position from the massive lion paw that flattened it. My words were barely out of my mouth when I saw them. The one young male noticed us and gave us a bit of a short charge followed by a very nice growl. My guests were speechless. They remained silent until they returned to the vehicle. They broke out in laughter and the drive back was all about the how they felt and experienced the whole walk. It took up most of our time in the bush but the reward of walking into the lions was well worth the sweat and anticipation.
That night I went out on a night drive with my guests, and we got to see the whole pride by spotlight.
08/08/2011 Sunset drive in Bulule
I had the privilege to have the General Manager with me on game drive this day. And I also had a few very enthusiastic guests who gave me great energy for the drive. After my introduction to my guests, we started our drive. Barely out of the lodge the GM noticed something on the road. And to our great surprise there was a male and female leopard walking down the road. That’s unheard of in the sense that you don’t get to see leopard as the very first sighting of the day, and then both sexes together. Logically everyone including myself was totally amazed. We followed the male for a little while. The drive got even better. We saw lions later a bit far away and by using a spotlight everyone saw them clearly. On the way back to the lodge I thought about what we saw and how lucky we were to get to see the two big cat species in the bush. I got another surprise on the way back by seeing another cat species, a small spotted genet – a great way to round off a game drive. From the largest to the smallest, this was truly a day for cats in the bush.
22/08/2011 Afternoon Game Drive in Balule.
My first duty of the day was the 14h00 game drive in Balule. This is a 2 hour drive, and I usually do it on Oxford. It is a very beautiful area to do a game drive and even though there is not a lot of game there, the scenery is breathtaking. I never thought that what I was about to see this day would ever happen in Oxford. I had barely driven into the area when we came across a big herd of buffalo – about 200 in number. Not even 50 metres from them were 3 white rhinos. We couldn’t figure out which species to look at. It was like a tennis match – trying to see as much as possible on the left and right side of the game viewer. After all that excitement we drive for maybe 300 metres and saw some elephants. This truly blew my mind. And before we knew it our time was up and I had to go back to the lodge to prepare for the sunset game drive with my new guests. At 17h00 when all my new guests were ready for the game drive I decided to do another drive in the area. We looked for the rhinos, but they had moved out of sight and I pushed on. We found the elephant bull we had seen earlier, but not clearly enough to take nice photos. So I got all my guests off my vehicle, and explained to them that we are about to walk the elephant on foot. We stalked to about 50 metres away from him, and he gave us a great display of dominance by flaring the ears and lifting his head to make him look bigger than what he already is.
When we got back to the car I heard the buffalo not far away, and we went to take a look. When we found them it was in such a position that I was able to get in the centre of all these massive animals. Enjoying these amazing animals all around us gave us the opportunity to take some amazing photos, and also gave me a good chance to explain to everyone on my drive as much as there is to know about them. As the sun started to set, I noticed that these buffalos were very nervous. And for a good reason! They started acting totally nervous, and shortly after that a lioness made her appearance. The buffalo chased her off, and we followed trying to keep up and track of her.
To our great surprise she was joined by 2 other females and a very young cub – most probably the nicest sighting I have had in a very long time. The two older females tried to hunt the buffalo in vain, while the cub and its mother watched. The cub is still way too young to join a hunt, but not too young to try and copy the females in the stalk. It’s amazing to see and explain to my guests how this works and how all this works and come together. On our way back to the lodge we saw the rhinos that I was looking for earlier on. This was truly a great game drive full of surprises. And if I may add the GM was again with me on the specific game drive. My friend Dee was with us too and took some great photos.
I’m looking forward to a great new month. If summer starts like this, it’s bound to be a great game-viewing season.
Monthly report from Pieter Janse van Rensburg
As winter is coming to an end, the August winds are still blowing in a lot of cold air. This winter was one of the coldest winters we have had in a very long time, yet there are animals that had babies after this very cold and dry season.
On the 16/08/2011
We left the lodge to start our daily walk. We drove to Nonwane air strip to watch the sun rise. While watching the sun coming up one of my guests asked me a lot of questions about Honey Badgers. I explained to him everything I know about this fearless and dangerous animal, and its behaviour. Also that it is my and Wimpie’s favourite animal. After a while one of the guests shouted that he is seeing a Honey Badger. We drove around towards it and came across its den. We couldn’t spend too much time as we had to start our walk. We drove to York for the actual walk. On our way there I asked him what he want to see next, to which he replied ‘Lions’. We came close to the area I wanted to walk and there I saw some lion tracks. That was a bit weird – he talked about Honey Badger and we saw it then lions and here we had fresh tracks. “Any one with more requests ? ” I asked as I parked the Landcruiser and started our walk. I informed the other guides by portable radio about these tracks and they said they’ll follow up on it and keep me updated. After 2 hours of walking one of the other guides out on game drive informed me that one of the lions was sleeping next to my parked vehicle. He was happy to hear my voice and joked that the lion might have eaten us all up ! The only choice now was to start the 2 hour walk back. One of the guides offered us a ride to our vehicle. On our way there the rest of the pride crossed the road in front of us en route to the one sleeping at my vehicle. I realized that if we had walked back we might have not seen the lions. Getting back to my car we went on and enjoyed the sighting with the other guides from York. The lions disappeared into the bush and everyone left the sighting.
We stopped at Satara around 13h00 for lunch. I started getting worried because it was getting late and nobody has seen any cats for the day. One of the guides from another company told me there were lions at Sweni waterhole. (Thank you for the great information!) So after lunch went to Sweni waterhole. Once we got there, there were buffalos and didn’t see any lions. I spoke to someone there and they said the lions were behind the cement dam. As I was about to leave the buffalos started getting restless and charged the lions. All the lions fled and we could see all the lions clearly. That turned out to be a successful day.
Starting from Orpen gate I got information of cheetahs 5,5km from the gate. We then rushed to get there. We then saw a cheetah 3km from the gate. The cheetah was stalking impala but lost interest very quickly, probably from all the traffic. Then we moved on to the 5,5km point. Upon arrival there were no other cars and no cheetahs either and that just shows you how nature operates.
TREMISANA We have added a levelled area next to the swimming pool for the pool loungers. The thatcher is busy recombing all the roofs – it is quite a job as no sooner does he finish a roof than the monkeys decide that they want to test the new frictionless slides and rip out all the grass again. It looks like we will have to add chicken wire to all the roofs. We have had great sightings of animals coming to drink at the waterhole in front of the Lapa. Lions, elephants and buffalos come fairly regularly and we have also picked up the occasional leopard spoor.
We welcome Elsabe Scholtz as our new Hostess. She has had extensive experience in the Hospitality industry and already has introduced very effective administrational changes.
The nyala have welcomed her by moving around her room on a daily basis. The monkeys also did their thing – they got into her room and got away with her lipstick – so if you see any strange-looking monkeys around the camp, please know the reason.
We have covered our refuse pit once and for all along with that at Cheetah Inn. We shall be taking all refuse to a municipal dump in future.
The tourism industry is going through a challenging period. This month I was invited to an auction of a well-known Game Lodge in northern kwa Zulu Natal. I enquired about the reserve price, and, once I knew it was R 10 Million, I immediately and politely declined the invite. I later found out from the auctioneer that a major advertising campaign was effected but guess how many bidders turned up – not one !!!
We have been requested by our travel partners to try to maintain our tariffs and have minimal increases for 2012. With the increase in staff salaries, food prices and electricity tariffs, this is a big ask. We have acceded to your request and the challenge now is to try to cut down on unnecessary expenditure. Our staff has been requested to switch off all appliances and lights when they are not in their rooms so as to save electricity. Similarly all trips to buy goods in Hoedspruit will be controlled so as to reduce expenditure on petrol. In addition we are going to have to shop around for the best prices for foodstuffs and hardware items.
Good news re Cheetah Inn : we have signed a long-term lease with a tenant who we believe will not only maintain the good name of the hotel, but will also make a great success of the venture. We assure the tenant of our support.
We still have Marc’s Adventure Camp for lease. It is ideal for budget tourists. We have had three serious enquiries from existing Backpacker establishments and are reasonably sure that, like Cheetah Inn, a tenant can be found who will make a success of this venture.
Not having to worry about Cheetah Inn and Marc’s Adventure Camp will free us to concentrate on Tremisana Lodge and Marc’s Treehouse Lodge, both of which are doing extremely well. In fact, on Monday, 22 August, I had to find alternative accommodation for myself as every single unit at Tremisana was occupied ! Thanks to Andy Dott !
Below are some reviews on Tremisana posted on Tripadvisor :
“This is the place for you if you want to be part of something really special” 5 of 5 stars Reviewed August 24, 2011 Sara T – London Staying at Tremisana with Viva safari was everything and more that I hoped for. Such value for money; there are no hidden extras and all is included except a few lunches, drinks and tips. I did the six day tour which I’d highly recommend as it includes an invaluable trip to a rehabilitation clinic which also offers education for local children about their local wildlife and protecting it from very real threats of poachers. Travelling on my own, I had new international friends every day, a real sense of community and family. By the time I left I had seen all the ‘Big Five’ & had delicious meals but I also felt like I was leaving old friends in the staff, the rangers (especially Pieter, Mayneth and Bongani) but also the ever smiling ladies who cooked and took care of me. The icing on the cake is the host/manageress Florence whose enthusiasm, charm and natural good humour is infectious. Every morning I woke up excited for the individually tailored programme and learnt so much about the Bush, the wildlife and also why South Africans have so much to be proud of in their land and in their people. Don’t think about it go, book and enjoy-you won’t regret it. “Great spot to start your safari!” 5 of 5 stars Reviewed August 22, 2011 Caljogger – California Beautiful grounds throughout, but one of the high points here is the water hole just across the fence from the dining area – it was just like going to the movies, as giraffes, wart hogs, and other animals wandered over for a drink of water while we just sat in our lounge chairs and sipped wine! (Check the attached photos.) This lodge, within the Balule Nature Preserve, has rooms that are very nice, reasonably priced and well cared for. Associated with Viva Safari, this place provided a wonderful lodging and dining experience. Rooms were nice, very quiet, great bedding, plenty of hot water, potable water. But the best? Viva Safari!!! The guides were all phenominal. Do NOT pass up the sunrise tour, night tour or the (armed) bush hike! Where else could you find out all the details about Zebra poo,experience the elements of the “toothbrush tree”, analyze how a porcupine slept in the sand the night before, see a hippopotamus defending its water hole against a herd of Cape Buffalo, and watch the elephants decimate a small stand of trees? A HUGE array of wildlife was seen here! The vehicles are clean and well-maintained and perfect for good views all around. This was winter, so plenty of blankets were available for drives in cool mornings or evenings. One of the highlights for me was on the sunrise tour when the guide pulled out his I-phone and played a call of the pearl-crested owlet at full volume. What followed was an immense cacophany of pearl-crested owlets throughout the bush, all singing back and forth in response and we were in the dead center. Wayyyyyy cool! “The people and guides were outstanding” 4 of 5 stars Reviewed August 7, 2011 Christine – Exton, Pennsylvania Had a great time at Tremesana! We were on a strict budget and I believe we received a decent value for our money. Florence, the maitre d’; was a perfect “cruise director” (if there is such a thing on safari). She was dressed to the nines as she gave each of us a glass of freshly squeezed OJ after the six hour drive up to Kruger. The spider monkeys were a hoot and the guides were really good, especial, “Vimpy” (probably misspelled his name but for all you Americans out there, he is definitely NOT “wimpy.”) We saw the Big Five under his watch and an added twist-the largest elephant in the area picked our last evening to show up and start dismembering the trees from the warden’s garden (right next door to Tremesana) A tip for those of you embarking upon Kruger from Jo’Burg: Stay at MoAfrica; it’s a sister resort to Tremesana and the people there are also lovely. “Relaxing and enjoyable lodge without frills” 5 of 5 stars Reviewed August 5, 2011 Alwaysund – Hong Kong I would recommend this lodge where I stayed one night as part of a safari trip. The staff were friendly and very attentive. The atmosphere was very nice and relaxed. The pool area is pleasant and you can see some animals from the lodge area. The food was nice and the room was adequate and clean. I think the beds could be improved a bit! It is not a fancy lodge like some of the ones in the park, but it is perfectly adequate and pleasant and the service was really nice. We had a not-so-good review on Marc’s Treehouse Lodge in July ( before Elsabe arrived ). We reiterate that this camp is not for the feeble-hearted and it is very likely that you may walk into a buffalo herd or find that hungry monkeys have broken through the reed walls of your treehouse to find the food that they can smell. In addition frogs, geckos, ants and other animals can easily find their way into the treehouses as the walls are made of reeds – not brick and mortar. I advise all future tourists to read the comparison of lodge venues, Tremisana and Marc’s Treehouses, on the Home Page of www.vivasafaris.com. We really want all our tourists at Marc’s Treehouse Lodge to be happy. Those who are scared of being in a relatively wild and bushy place should either book in at Tremisana or ask to be accommodated in the two Guesthouses we have. These are conventional brick and mortar buildings.