Viva Safaris Newsletter May 2012
The water features at Tremisana Lodge provide an opportunity for an insight into an interesting small ecosystem. Many of our tourists spend time investigating the aquatic wildlife. We introduced a number of species of local fish such as Bream (Tilapia Mossambica), Catfish (Clarias Gariepinus) and even Brown Squeaker (Synodontis Zambezensis). These are not only very interesting to our guests but also serve a useful role in eating mosquito larvae.
Of course, water attracts all kinds of other aquatic life. We have Hinged Terrapins (Pelusios Sinuatus). There is a large concentration of Common Platanna (Xenopus Laevis). This is a most interesting frog species. It has a slimy skin over a streamlined body, with characteristic round pupils in eyes on the top of a flat head. In fact the word “plat” in Afrikaans means “flat”. The forelimbs are diminutive with small tapering fingers whereas the hind limbs are well developed with webbed feet and clawed toes. Hence the Platanna is known internationally also as the African Clawed Frog.
Platanna (African Clawed Frog)
The reason the African Platanna has found its way to other continents is most interesting : In the 1930s it was established that a female Platanna would spawn if injected with the urine of a pregnant woman. The active ingredient is the hormone chlorionic gonadotropin. In the 1940s many hospitals throughout the world bred the Platanna as this test was the only reliable pregnancy test at the time.
The Platanna remains almost permanently submerged and is seen out of the water only when it migrates to new breeding pools. It survives by digging itself into the mud of pools with diminishing water. It then hibernates in the mud until the next rains fall.
Talking about rainfall, we were pleasantly surprised to receive a fair shower during April. The effect has been to make the gardens at Tremisana really beautiful. It has also increased the level of water at Tremisana Dam. The hippo and crocodile are still there. We have decided to try to keep them happy and have invested in a solar-powered pump which delivers an average of 750 litres per hour from around 09h00 to 15h00. These pumps are far more effective than windmill-operated pumps. In Kruger Park, the dry season is in winter and the percentage of sunny days is well over 95% – so we are sure that the Tremisana Dam level will be maintained and the hippo and crocodile will not have to move as they have always done when the Dam dries up. Certainly the availability of year-round water at Tremisana Dam will improve the game viewing for Viva Safaris. From all accounts from our guides, April 2012 has been an excellent month for game viewing.
BONGANI reports as follows :
The waterhole at Tremisana is attracting many animals such as Elephants, Impalas, Blue Wildebeest and Giraffes. The Elephants sometimes feed on the Marula trees around the lodge.
On 10/04/2012 I conducted a walk and we had a very good sighting of five Zebras, two Giraffes and many Impalas. A short distance from this sighting we found lion spoor and we followed it for about half an hour. We were unsuccessful so we walked back to the vehicle. We then saw two Waterbuck running away frantically and we knew that the lions were very close. We moved silently and carefully towards the Waterbuck and before we got very close the lions started to warn us by vocalising so we stood still. I am always very careful in the presence of lions and although my group was highly excited, I at all times need to put their safety first. The bush was very thick with long grass and it took us a few minutes before we spotted them. There was one female and two cubs. The clients were absolutely stunned !
On the 15/04/2012 we had a travel agent doing an evaluation. We had a good safari and we saw the Big Five in Kruger Park. It was very good as all the animals were very close to the road.
Our first sighting was of three White Rhinos on the S106. We spent half an hour watching them, because Rhino sightings are rare these days. A few metres away from the Rhinos there was a big herd of Elephants crossing the road in front of our vehicle.We drove on and before we got to the breakfast spot we had already seen four of the big five as by the time we got to the Orpen gate main road we had found Lions following Buffalos. On our way back we found a Leopard walking along the road. It passed very close to the vehicle – a really beautiful sighting. The travel agent was ecstatic !
On the 29/04/2012 we found most of the common animals. We also found a Cheetah up on the branch of a tree and it was looking at the Impalas from a distance. We only spent a few seconds at the sighting, because the Cheetah came down and disappeared in the tall grass. From there we drove to the S100 and we found lions mating.
RYAN has emailed the following :
Game Drives in Balule Game Reserve
The game drives in Balule have continued to produce interesting interactions between the lion pride and buffalo. The lions often follow the large herd of buffalo, about 150 animals, during this month resulting in greater movement of the buffalo between available water points and a kill. Viewing the buffalo has been great : many of the herd members walk in a column and clump together around water holes, such as Duke’s Pan and Chapel Dam, for fear of being surprised by the lions. I have also noticed that older bulls that may disassociate from the herd after the seasonal breeding period in March have chosen to stay with the herd for their own safety and the safety of the rest of the buffalo. These “Dagga Boys” seem unfazed to associate with the herd, and I have observed many sparring matches between males, and angry grunts and head-buts to get the younger herd members moving so that the lions don’t catch up onto a fresh buffalo trail.
The drier climatic conditions mean that the ground is softer, dustier and it is therefore easier to track animals. The soft tracks of the leopards are more visible and we are recording more movements into new parts of the reserve. With continued effort we hope to spot these cats more often as the winter months set in. This month, during one night drive along Sable Road, I spotted a female leopard and two young cubs, estimated to be three months old, in the river drainage line. They slunk away into the thick riverine vegetation after 30 seconds. Even with the spotlight, it was very difficult to make out the spotted cats, and unfortunately some guests were not quick enough to see them. The owl sightings have increased due to the sun setting around 17h30 and sightings include White-faced Scops Owl, Verreux’s Eagle Owl, and the Tremisana Pearl Spotted Owlets.
Bush Walks in Balule Game Reserve
One particular morning after very cold rainy weather we came across fresh porcupine tracks in the road. The porcupine had been walking during the evening in an area where I had previously come across porcupine diggings and dropped quills. I was able to interpret the signs for half an hour as we followed the tracks along the road. The porcupine defecated twice leaving behind distinct red-coloured droppings, indicating the presence of tannins contained in the bark of the trees and roots the porcupine had been feeding on. We also found seven undamaged quills that had fallen from this nocturnal rodent, and no sign of a struggle with lions and leopard could be seen in the tracks.
Kruger National Park
The Kruger Park has continued to improve with the cooler temperatures and drier conditions setting in this Autumn. The mammals are moving later into the morning and we have seen many good sightings of elephants mud-bathing at the side of drying water holes. The large herd of buffalo, about 800 animals, that tends to occupy the Satara area was regularly seen along S127 and H1-4.
Additionally, the Ostrich that live in the grasslands north of Satara have also given many memorable sightings around Ngotso Dam, along the H1-4.
One afternoon at Ngotso Dam a lion pride, numbering 15 members, was keeping a distant eye on the buffalo herd, looking to hunt them as night fell. This was not to unfold. Instead an inquisitive wet muddy elephant caught wind of the lion pride and after raising its trunk to pinpoint the pride’s location, it stormed into the centre of the pride sending the lions scattering in all directions. We then had a better view of all the pride members. The experienced lionesses were unperturbed, looking up in the direction of the sub-adults and juveniles that were in front of the elephant encouraging it to chase them further. The lion pride whose territory includes the S100 and S41 roads have been very active. A pair from the pride has been seen regularly mating on the S100 close to S41 and on the 30th of April we saw the pride with the mating pair feeding three metres from the road on a fully-grown zebra. From my interpretation, the kill had been made in the late hours of the previous evening and at 15h00 when we viewed the lions all ten of the lions had blown-up bellies full of zebra and bloodied faces. Many White-backed and Hooded vultures were already populating the riverine vegetation waiting to take over any remains left by the lions.
The Martial Eagle still remains my favourite along the Timbavati river, and this active hunter was observed near Satara Camp during the lunch break, using the top canopy tree foliage to screen its presence from its prey.
MAYNETH sent the following report :
We are now entering the winter months and the vegetation is getting a little lower. We had lots of good sightings on the 6th : on the S100 we got a mating pair of lions. When we got there, they were still asleep at the edge of the road. Our patience paid off as after 10min of waiting they both woke up and moved onto the road and mated there. When they were finished the male went back under the tree next to the road to take a nap. The lioness moved out while the male was sleeping. When he woke up, he was very confused as to where the lioness had gone. It was looking around and the presence of cars added to the confusion.
On the 20th we had a great day. About 7km from Orpen gate we found a pack of 11 Wild Dogs lying next to the road. These dogs kept on moving up and down and suddenly an impala came close by. They started to position themselves for a kill but the impala saw them and ran away. We then moved off towards the S40 where one of my clients shouted loudly “ Cheetah ! ”. I stopped and to my surprise we had a fantastic sighting of a leopard stalking an impala. It was just 10m away from the impala and the impala was grazing the edge of the road. As the leopard came closer, the impala moved off the road as it may have smelt danger. The impala went into an open space where the leopard became visible and the impala ran away. After failing to kill, the leopard walked parallel to the road for 200m and then faded away into the bush.
On the 22nd we got two hyenas running towards the Orpen gate as we were still making our way in. They ran for about 300m on the road before moving off the road. We went to the S39 where we saw a leopard walking on the road. It moved off next to the road towards a herd of impalas that were grazing. We saw it stalking them up until they cross the road and that’s where the leopard backed off. On the 26th we found 2 Wild Dogs sniffing the road and walking on the road.
Two km further we found another 9 dogs lying down. It is good to have sightings of Wild Dog as these are very rare !
This month my guests have been very lucky and very happy. I am grateful for their generosity.
ISAAC reports :
On the 6th April we drove to Nsemani Dam and there were Elephants swimming. The calves were in the shallow water under the careful supervision of the dominant cow. The Hippos were looking uncomfortable in the presence of the big herd of Elephants. They were showing their anxiety by opening their huge mouths. Some of the hippos that were outside the water sun tanning decided to go back into the water. All Elephants left the water and went to the mud pond to cool down. After some minutes they walked towards S140. You could see dust rising in the air when they all crossed the road. As we drove towards the S140 there were hundreds of Zebras and Wildebeest walking to the dam to drink water. All were moving in a single file for about 200m.
We drove in between the Zebras to get closer to the Elephants that were now only 20m away. One big Elephant stopped in the middle of the road and checked both sides and it pushed the calf to move in front. After about half an hour we drove to S100. Near the junction of S41 we came across lions mating. At first they were resting along the road only 3m away. After a long wait they stood up and walked along the road and started mating. The male lion sat under a shrub on the side of the road while the female was rolling on its back and then stood up and walked through the cars to the other side. After a while, the male lion started looking for the lioness because it had not seen her moving to the other side of the road. He started roaring so that he could be heard. The female never appeared from the bush. The male started running all over the place angrily and it went through the bushes were the female had gone. We then left for lunch, leaving behind a very frustrated and angry lion.
On the 28/04/2012 as we drove from the Orpen gate about 200m we came across a pair of leopards mating along the road. The female leopard then disappeared into the bush. The male remained on the road walking towards the Orpen gate. We followed it slowly as it was walking right next to our Open Vehicle. The guests went wild ! After a few metres it disappeared into the bush.
After lunch we took the S100 and drove for about 16km and we found mating lions next to the road. This was a wonderful day for my clients. From there we saw a big herd of Buffalos coming to drink at Nwanetsi . The lions did not bother themselves. The male lion walked close to the car and sat under the shade of my vehicle. Once again the guests went wild ! The female went to the river to drink water.
As we were driving towards the gate we can across yet another leopard. This was a good ending to a fantastic day of game viewing.
WESLEY has sent ( very timeously this month ) the following report :
As usual with the bush I had my ups and downs but thankfully once again more ups than downs, but I must say for me this really has been the month of the rhino and lion…which in my opinion is perfectly fine by me!! This month I had my first sighting of Black Rhino which was honestly the highlight of my month and could not have come at a better time but I will explain all the of the stories below :
Highlight sightings of this month– Black Rhino running at full speed
– 4 female lions with 1 young male
– White Rhino
– Elephant in the broken dam
Black rhino running at full speed
I was doing an afternoon drive and it was a fairly nice day – there was a little cloud cover so it wasn’t too hot which made the game drive a very pleasant one. We had been driving around for a while with seeing no more than the general things like giraffe and impala. I had however been following up on some lion tracks from that morning and was hoping I would find the lions. However what I found was even better – it made my day ! We had just taken the one road to loop back to find the lions, that’s when my one guest saw something running and asked me what it was. I thought I knew straight away what it was and immediately sped up to try catch up to it. To my surprise I was fast enough to keep up with but lucky for me it had seen my Landcruiser coming and decided to promptly turn around and go the other direction. We all had a good look at it through binoculars and to my surprise (once again) it was a Black Rhino!!!! We were told that a herd of 20 had been released in Balule in December last year in an effort to expand the Black Rhino’s distribution in S A. We all made our way back to camp with a good story to tell and smiles on our faces !
4 female lions 1 young male + elephant in the broken dam.
This has to be my best lion sighting this month and I and my guests thoroughly enjoyed it. I had come back from an Afternoon Drive on which I had found lion tracks all over the place and was thankful to be going out again on a Sunset Drive. We went to the place where I had found the freshest lion tracks and where I thought they would most likely be, but, as with all things in the bush, we slowly took our time getting to the area stopping off to view the general game. When we eventually got to the area, there they were – lying right in the open no trees in the way just 5 lazy lions. We had seen the 4 females but had not seen the male yet. About 10 minutes into the sighting this male stands up right at the back and gives us a nice yawn and slowly made his way to the females. When he got to them he just flopped down and carried on sleeping but he had fallen on one or two of the females which was not to their liking so they all got up and slowly moved away giving us perfect shots of them and also allowing us to get a good look at them.
While at the lion sighting I had heard on the radio of reports of 2 elephants but unfortunately there wasn’t a good visual of them so I had decided to stay at the lions. After about 20 minutes at the lions, I slowly made my way to the elephants, hoping I’d catch them at the one broken dam on Balule Plains – and I was right – we came around the corner and there he was : this great big elephant with a younger one next to him. The big male had a massive set of tusks and was tolerable to us being around which made it even better. I had seen which way he was moving and decided to go far forward and wait for him – the place where I had parked the vehicle was the perfect spot. We were facing him head on – nothing in our way. We were slightly elevated which was good because we got to look down on him as he slowly crept forward…all in all I call this evening a successful one both sightings the animals were relaxed and didn’t really care about the vehicle being around them at all.
As I said to you this month has been the month of the rhino with about 10 or so sightings of White Rhino. Obviously I just want to share the best one with you…so as usual I was on a Sunset Drive and had just come from a lion sighting and was just roaming around looking for any tracks I could follow up on. There had been reports of a rhino bull but only brief sightings of him as he was moving rather fast. I know this rhino and had an idea of where he would come out, so I went to the spot there I thought he could be and with a flash of grey he ran across the road. I quickly turned around and followed him but every time I would get within viewing distance he would quickly turn and run but I eventually saw which way he was going and quickly headed towards an area he visited regularly, and waited there. After about 5 minutes of waiting he emerged from the bushes heading straight to the area I thought he would but he was not in a very good mood that night he kept turning to face us, stomping the ground with his feet and snorting warning us to back off…so I gave him about 50m of space and slowly but surely he let me get closer and closer allowing for an amazing sighting of a huge male rhino. We got really good sightings of him from the side being able to see his massive horn.
PATRICK reports :
On the 02/04/2012 we were doing the morning walk along the mighty Olifants River and we came across Giraffe, Waterbucks, Impalas and and two Hippo bulls that were fighting in the water. It was so exciting and the one male ended up running away because it had entered the territory of the other male. From there we followed some fresh tracks of a lion along the banks of the Olifants river. They had drunk water and left only minutes earlier, but we did not manage to find them..
04/04/2012 We drove a few km from Orpen gate and came across Wild Dogs that seemed to be hunting for food and were running all over the place.
As we drove towards S41 we found 11 lions which were resting about 50m from the road. There were two males, three females and the rest were cubs that could not keep lying down. They kept on jumping and playing with the male lions. It was so exciting. The one male stood up and walked towards a nearby bush as if it was hunting for food, but it quickly disappeared in the thick bush. We waited for a while and then they all followed the lion and they were out of our sight. We drove to S100 and we found two lions mating and a few km from that site there were six rhinos grazing. This was very exciting as we do not often get such a big herd of rhino. On our way back there was one big Elephant which was on its on and it stood on the road looking at us. We waited for it to give us the right of way. It started breaking the trees along the road and so we waited for about half an hour until the angry bull disappeared into the bush.
On the 28/04/2012 it was a beautiful sunny day and about 40km from the Orpen gate there were lions mating. We drove towards S100 and there was a big breeding herd of Buffalos crossing the road. It took them 20 mins to cross as there were so many. As we got to Nwanetsi road there were 6 hyenas with cubs. The Rhinos were about 100m from the road. On our way back we got plenty Elephants with calves crossing the road. This was a very good day for us and my clients were so happy!
TREMISANA LODGE is looking great after some late April rains. As mentioned elsewhere in this newsletter, we have invested in a solar panel powered borehole that delivers water to Tremisana Dam. In the past ( since 1994 that we know of ) the dam has always dried up in winter. We anticipate that the game viewing this winter will be exceptionally good as a result of the year-round water supply.
We have started building the parking bays for our staff vehicles, of which there are presently seven. I was told by a close friend that the back of the Lodge was starting to look like a vehicle sales depot. The carports are neatly located just outside the back gate near the staff quarters.
MARC’S CAMP is a hive of building activity. We have received the first part of the insurance claim payment and are busy with reconstruction. Treehouses 4 and 8 will be rebuilt but this time on higher ground. The tents have been replaced and we plan to erect an additional tent.
I spent an afternoon with my son Marc and his mates fishing in the large pool in front of treehouse 9. We had an excellent day and caught a number of Tilapia, Catfish and Squeakers. These were released into the Breakfast Dam at Marc’s Treehouse Lodge.
We look forward to seeing you at Indaba next weekend. Trevor and Anthony are raring to go. I shall be punting our new product discussed in last month’s newsletter : the 5 day safari at 5 star lodges.
I had the good fortune to spend a day in Kruger. I had meetings with SanParks staff at Orpen and Satara. I note that only one of the guides’ reports( Bongani’s) mention any sightings of Cheetah – no doubt these happened but were not deemed to be in the same league as sightings of Wild Dogs, Lions, Leopards etc. Anyway below is my humble highlight of the day in Kruger : a Cheetah only two metres away on the road between Orpen and Satara.
FEEDBACK FROM OUR CLIENTS
I received the following email from Chuck Stirm who gladly sent some photos. They are really good and I shall be using them in this and in future newsletters. Thanks Chuck !
Hi Piero, Trevor, Anthony and Sandy
I had an absolute wonderful time at your resort. I have 1000 pictures – some classics for you. This is Big Boy probably as close as you may get to him in the next year. Maybe I’ll make you a photo or would you like me to send more pictures ?
I just wanted to let you know that my stay at your lodge was the most incredible time of my life! You definitely fulfilled all my expectations and then some. I could not believe how wonderful your dinners and breakfasts were. It was an incredible experience to be next to the fire every night. I enjoyed the fact that your staff would mingle and carry on conversations with your customers. Bongani (correct my spelling) was an absolutely incredible Ranger. And for the brief time that I got to spend time with Ryan – he was an outstanding tracker. Chantal was so very helpful in getting me an electronic data adapter and making sure we were all happy campers!
Chuck Stirm – Las Vegas, NV 89119
Many thanks for your latest newsletter, a most enjoyable read especially as quite a bit of it was related to me, as I was on some of the game drives Ryan and Wes mentioned!
I have to confess though, although I impressed Ryan with some of my spotting skills (I used to be a game keeper in the UK) it was actually Konstantin Kafer, who spotted the Lion with his binoculars, while I was looking at the Hippo and Elephant with mine! an easy mistake to make, as we were both sat at the rear of the LR.
It was an awesome day for sure, only let down (very slightly) for me by the lack of a Leopard sighting, something that has eluded me on several trips to Africa, so am very jealous of Wesley’s sighting of a pair of these wonderful creatures!
I whole-heartedly agree with you on all counts about the Rhino problem, I did a 5 week spell as a Wildlife Conservation Volunteer on the Eastern Cape before coming to Kruger, and it is hard to not get totally wrapped up in their plight.
Legalizing Rhino horn sales would instantly sign a death warrant for the species, not because they would be slaughtered, but because overnight the worlds population would be dehorned and no matter how delicately horns are removed from their owner, a Rhino without its horn has lost its identity, and females would be less inclined to mate!
A very serious time for this amazing animal, that is why I am seriously considering coming back to do a Ranger course and help out however I can!
Please give my very best of thanks to Chantal, Ryan, Wes, Isaac and Bongani for making my short trip to Kruger a most enjoyable one, hope to come back one day!
Regards, David Harper
PS. Some photos and short story about an eventful bush walk with Ryan; http://davestravelblog.tumblr.com
Posted on Tripadvisor :
I include a contribution by Danielle who posted two reviews on 19 April 2012.
“Fantastic experience in a fantastic setting”
My boyfriend and I stayed at the Marc’s Treehouse Lodge two nights. We wish we could have stayed longer as we never got to use the pool and felt like it was a rushed holiday. That was all on our part though and should we do a safari again, not only would I recommend Marc’s treehouse, but I’d like to stay longer. I had read reviews about the troublesome monkeys and though they were present and we did hear them early one morning, we stuck by the “house rules” and experienced nothing but a good time! We met some wonderful people there and the staff are great. The food also was better than we had expected and the set up, I found to be amazing. Nothing like a morning walk with wild animals at your door. We were lucky enough to have a couple of tours where we were the only two people on them. This itself was amazing as I felt we experienced more than we would have had it have been a bigger group. Bongani was our guide for most of the tours we had and what an amazing guy. He is keen, informative and you can just tell that he loves his job (And who wouldn’t!)
“Wow, an awesome place…can’t recommend it enough!”
My boyfriend and I stayed at Tremisana Lodge only 1 night on our safari and we can only wish we had more time. This place is a little gem and the staff are so nice. The food is great and what I liked most was that there are little monkeys free to roam (well, all the animals are free to roam!). It is a magical setting and I really feel that if we Safari again, here will be high on the agenda. It is warm and welcoming and the staff are friendly and informative. We booked through Viva safaris and had 1 night here and 2 at Marc’s treehouse. Out of the two places, this is more of a luxury than the Marc’s trehouse, but both are amazing emperiences. To wander out of your front door and have nature on your doorstep. Incredible! Our guides here were Wes and Bongani and I can’t thank them both enough for their time. We were lucky enough to have tours where we were the only couple and my favorite from this lodge was the early morning bush walk. Going out when it’s still dark, with an armed ranger into the animal teritory is really something else. A bit of a thrill, if you may!
Until next time