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December 7, 2011

Viva Safaris Newslettter November 2011

The giraffe, Giraffa Camelopardalis, is perhaps the tourists’ favourite animal after lions and elephants. It is certainly seen far more often than lions and is one of the animals on the Viva Safaris’ “ Money-back Guaranteed Sighting ” list !

Its name has an interesting origin : I am told that the Bedouins referred to Al-Zirafah as the animal that travels a lot. It is interesting that the collective noun for giraffes is a JOURNEY so the idea of the Bedouins, themselves great nomads, is reinforced in the English language. The ‘ Camelopardalis ’ part comes from the Latin and encapsulates the physical similarity of the giraffe with Camels and links the patterned coat with that of the Leopard.

The Zulu word for the Giraffe is “ Dlulamithi ” which my Zulu mates tell me is literally translated as ‘ taller than the trees ’. In fact its height must surely be its main attraction to tourists. My granddaughter, Seanna ( aged 22 months) accompanied me and the rest of the family on a surprise birthday present organised by Sandra to Hluhluwe Game Reserve this month. Seanna was absolutely enthralled at the sight of the “ Raffees ” and I think all the children that I have seen on safari go through the same experience . Some adults , too, become quite child-like as they ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at giraffe sightings !

Rare photo of giraffe sitting down
Of course the height of a giraffe ( up to 5,5 metres) allows access to leaves on the highest trees that are inaccessible to other browsers. Another advantage of such height is the easier location of predators. The legs of a giraffe are as tall as the average man ( 1,8 metres).

Because of this height, the heart of the giraffe is very big so as to be able to pump the blood all the way up to its head. The jugular vein has a series of non-return valves ( operating like those in the household geyser ) which prevents excessive blood flow to the giraffe’s head as it bends down to drink . In fact the giraffe’s neck is too short to reach the ground while the giraffe stands normally, so when it does drink, the giraffe spread-eagles its legs.

If the genitalia are not visible, the giraffe may be sexed by looking at the knobs on its head. These are sometimes erroneously called horns – in fact they are properly known as ‘ossicones’. The females have tufted ossicones whereas the adult males lack the tufts. I am quite jealous as I have to contend with my family complaining about my lengthening eye-brows !

Monthly report from Bongani:


On one of our walks this month, we found fresh lion spoor. We followed the spoor for about two hours but were unable to find the lions. After concluding the walk, we then drove around the area and we found the lions on the road. There were four males and one female. The game viewing on Balule Plains has been very good for this time of the year. Most the time we see three of the big five and lots of general game.
The vegetation is getting thicker and the green leaves are in full growth. It makes our job of spotting game very difficult. Sometimes it is not easy even to find elephants, because of the rain. We have had good rains and it’s good news for the animals like the Impalas and Wildebeest. They start to give birth around this time. We even came across newborn ( like only hours old ) babies of Impala and Wildebeest.
In the Kruger Park my experience is that there was a lot of animal activity between Satara and Olifants. Around that area is it is common to see four of the big five. There was a pride of lions – six females and two males – operating every day in that area.

On the 7th November there were some Zebras grazing close to the road on S90 and lots of Vultures waiting for the lions to move. There was a group of Wild Dogs operating in the area between Satara and Orpen gate. They have had puppies. It is one of the rarer species in the park, estimated to be about 300 to 350 in number.

On the 17th November – our GM’s birthday – we went through Orpen gate and came out through Numbi gate. It was a very good day in terms of sighting. We saw all the big five and the other animals like the Wild dogs, Hyenas and Cheetah. Our first sighting was of lions eating a Blue Wildbeest on the Talamati road. A group of hyenas tried to take some meat from the lions, but there was no chance. After the lion sighting we came across a big male leopard walking along the road. We followed it for about half an hour. My guests really enjoyed that as we were the only vehicle there !

Monthly report from Isaac:

This was a really an amazing day. A short distance after Pelwana bridge, before S36, a White Rhino was rolling in the mud about 30 metres from the road. Two Elephants came towards the Rhino, but the Rhino was not intimidated by the presence of the Elephants.

After lunch we took H6 to Nwanetsi. About 100 metres after the Sonop Waterhole, two big male lions had killed a Buffalo very close to the road, about four metres away. All the intestines were eaten and there was a bad smell coming from the carcass due to the heat.
Everyone was talking about not having seen the leopard, which was all we had to see to complete the sighting of the Big Five. They were pressurising me big time ! Just about 5km before the Orpen gate we had a sighting of a leopard. It appeared from the bush walking slowly, then, when it saw us, it took off in the opposite direction. I knew that not all the clients had taken a photo as the sighting was very quick. I asked them to remain dead still. We waited for some 6 minutes in absolute silence and then the Leopard came back to the road. It walked for about 100m along the road during which time everyone got a great sighting and great photos before it disappeared into the bush.

We were fortunate to see the Big Five in one day as the past week had been very hot. We expected heavy rains, but we only had some showers. The veld is green and all the animals are having shelter and are not that easily seen.

At around 09h30 we met a private vehicle as we were driving along the Rabalais road. I am so glad that all the private tourists tell Viva Safaris when they see something good ! This group told us that there were a pack of Wild Dogs at the windmill. When we got there they were chasing each other. Some of them walked into the deep trench and came out again. We just thought there was something inside like a kill. We could not see anything.

We drove to Sweni where we saw one lioness resting under a tree watching the Impala which were grazing alongside the road on the other side. It stood up to check, but the Impala were not concerned about the lioness. As we got to Nsemani Dam there was a large herd of Elephants drinking water. They later passed in front of our vehicle running and trumpeting.

Elephants drinking
Along Olifants road before S90 there was a huge herd of Buffalos crossing the road. There was a big traffic jam as they were taking their time to cross the road. After lunch we took the Skukuza road and before H6 on the right, we saw four cubs and five lions. One lioness stood up and walked along the river bank. We were not sure what it saw while walking, suddenly it crossed the road and looked all over and returned back to where the pride was.
On Sweni road around 15h30 we came across three big White Rhinos and one calf walking on the road. The Rhinos did not hear the sound of the car until we got close.

On our way back 4km before Orpen gate at 17h30 we saw two private cars stopped. I told my clients that this should be a leopard and I was correct ! The clients could not believe what had happened. They thereafter regarded me with extreme suspicion and awe ! The leopard was walking along the road. On the other side a warthog was walking towards the road from the bush. The leopard crossed the road and lay in the grass. The warthog almost bumped into the leopard, then it quickly made a turn. The leopard went under the bridge and came out with a baby warthog which was half eaten and walked into the nearby bush.

Monthly report from Wimpie:

I can’t believe it’s already that time of the year. It seems like only yesterday when it was the first of January!!!! The month blew past me like a rocket bound for outer space. But if I have to look back on this month of November – it has been very good.

I enjoyed the first good rain that we had and also seeing the bush and vegetation explode back to life filled me with a renewed energy that you can only find in nature. Game viewing became a bit more challenging because of the dense nature of the trees and shrubs around. Also the availability of water that is all over the bush and veld, makes the game move around into areas not so accessible from a game drive perspective. But the walking safari always gives you the opportunity to get out and go investigate all these other natural water areas. And the Impalas finally started giving birth!
One of my highlight days that I chose to write about is the 13th of November.

I woke up at 4h00, and noticed that it was very overcast and looked like rain was on its way. While getting myself ready for the walk the morning my, thoughts were in the direction of how to go about the walk and the area I want to walk in. At 04h30 I went to the kitchen to start preparing some coffee for my guests before we depart. I found one gentlemen sitting in the reception area already. We sat and talked about the bush and animals in the bush for a while until the rest of my guests arrived. We all had some nice coffee and tea with some rusks before we departed.

I drove in the direction of Oxford, and just before we reached the Olifants river I noticed a lot of hippo tracks on the road. They had moved a lot during the night. Just as we started our walk my attention was shifted to new tracks. Very clear and as bright as day I noticed a set of Leopard tracks. I didn’t expect to see the Leopard, as they are very shy and almost never seen on foot. I also didn’t want to get my guests hopes up for nothing, but I described the tracks to them anyway. To my great surprise just a short distance further we saw the Leopard just as it turned away from us and ran into the hill above us. It disappeared like a ghost into thin air. It was as quick as it was breathtaking. Not too far from this sighting, we came across a pod of Hippo about 16 in number. We took a short break to rest on the rocks with some nice snacks while watching the Hippos moving around in the river. We spent the rest of the morning walk concentrating on birds and some very interesting plants and herbs that grow along the ridge that lines the river. We sadly ran out of time and I didn’t want to hold up the ladies that work so hard to prepare very nice breakfast for us when we return, so we made our way to the vehicle and drove towards the lodge.

10th of November

I was allocated to do the Sunset game drive for the new guests arriving from Johannesburg. We had many people and my colleague Mayneth joined us using another vehicle. Once we got everyone on the Landcruisers and ready for the drive we departed and from the word go we saw some amazing general game species. We took some time looking at a black-backed jackal that was trying his best to catch some Guinefowl right there at Tremisana Lodge. I think he was too young to realise that the open plain and short grass will make it impossible to catch them. Funnily enough it looked like the birds were toying with him. While watching the jackal running and turning, my radio suddenly cracked to life with a report from another vehicle from another lodge. They reported sighting some lions, and, as we were very close to the sighting. I responded to the call and shortly afterwards Mayneth also pulled into the sighting. We moved together keeping track of the lions as they moved and we positioned ourselves so that our guests could see them very clearly. The lions were very relaxed and came very close to our vehicles – lying down and relaxing as only cats can do. This presented me with the opportunity to take some very nice photos of Mayneth and his guests with the lions lying in between our 2 vehicles. This was truly a breathtaking sighting, finished off by an equally breathtaking sunset. We drove until well after dark and got to see some nice nocturnal animals like Scops owl and Genets.

Really close and personal
On our way back to the lodge I couldn’t help to think about the lions we saw and how privileged we are to have seen them so relaxed. At the lodge we were greeted by the sound of beating drums announcing that dinner was about to start – a great way to end a very successful day.

I want to talk about our latest arrivals. Black rhinos have been released in Balule. And all of the guides here are very excited to see these beautiful animals.

16th November: on the 14h00 game drive

It was a very hot day, and I didn’t expect to see much. With heat like this, mammals have the tendency to move into dense cover and hide away until the heat is broken before they start to move around again. I departed on the game drive with my guests, and decided to go towards the York area. On my way there I drove past a dam that has no water, but with the rain we had it was nice and muddy. We usually find some warthogs wallowing in the mud. What a great surprise when I saw one of the Black Rhinos having a nice cooling mud bath. He was very alert to our presence and moved closer to us. They have very poor eyesight, and I didn’t want to put too much pressure on the animal, and decided to move on. They usually charge as soon as they figure out what the shape is, and are very quick. I didn’t want to take the risk of allowing him to get close enough to do so. The rest of our game drive was quiet as I expected. But the rhino was rewarding enough and made bearing the heat all worth it.

Monthly report from Mayneth:

This is one of the months we have to really work very hard for our sightings. The vegetation is recovering very well after the good rains.

We stated the month with a brilliant sighting of leopard on the river bank on H7. It was busy stalking a Bushbuck. With the noise of another car coming in on the sighting, the Leopard became very nervous and walked away. It walked along the river and it sat under a big tree for a long time until we left.

Leopard near vehicle
On S12 a Leopard was resting next to the road, on a termite mount. We came closer and it stood up then came towards us then passed right in front of the vehicle and then sat on top of a dead tree. It spent about 20 minutes on the tree and then went down to start hunting. My guests were absolutely ecstatic !!!
After Sweni bridge we found a mating pair of lions in action. After they finished mating they climbed on a rock that was nearby and slept.

We drove on S12 to Girivana Water hole where we found plenty of Elephants coming to drink water. When we got there they were still about 500m away from the water. They all gathered around and drank. A few minutes later a Rhino bull came out of the mud next to the Elephants where it was cooling itself and went and drank water. The Rhino was very aggressive and some of the young bull elephants wanted to challenge it, but they ran away, because it was coming towards them.

The day started with some rain, and the weather was not too good. We all thought we were not going to see anything. A few km from the Orpen gate we saw 8 young teenage lions running around the road, pushing and bumping one another and rolling over the road. When they saw our vehicle they all came walking towards us as if they were going to attack us. Everyone stayed quiet in the car. One lady later told me she was praying very hard. The lions went past the car. About 500 metres further, there were Zebras and Giraffes. The Giraffes noticed the lions coming towards them and they all ran away.

Wild Dogs were sitting next to the road at H17. They kept on changing their positions looking for shade. They were 15 in total with some cubs.

Monthly report from Pieter:

November in the bush represents for me the beginning of new life. Our rains are a little bit early, and you can see that the bush is turning green and the Impalas can’t wait any more to drop their young.

It’s amazing to see how new life can jump up and down running around his mom with gladness. It takes the baby Impala about thirty minutes to be able to run just as fast as its mom. Everywhere you look you can see new lives that are trying to stay alive.
So just keep in mind when you’re driving or walking in the bush to be aware of the lovely little creatures out there.

Newborn impala lamb with its mother
Kruger National Park

Like most mornings going to Kruger the guests’ expectation is quite high.
The guests asked me that morning what animals we are expecting to see, so I told them that Kruger Park is not a Zoo and the animals are not chained up. I also gave them a short briefing about how Kruger got its name.

We entered Orpen Gate and we drove to S106 (Rabelais) where we stopped at Rabelais Hut. We then had a discussion about Kruger National Park, and about the people that work in Kruger. It was very nice to see a photo of a very well known person, Van Reeden Van Vuuren,who is a legend in Hoedspruit. I had the privilege to know him personally (his son and I went to school together and I spent most of my holidays and weekends on their farm). We left Rabelais Hut and carried on along the S106 where we spotted a pack of Wild Dogs. The last time I saw Wild Dogs on this road was in 2001. One of the Wild Dogs was injured pretty badly so I reported it. The Warden responded very quickly and confirmed the injury was from a natural cause. Because of that they cannot interfere. I just hope that he/she will survive.

That afternoon we enjoyed three different sightings of lions, big herds of elephants and a lot of buffaloes.
These were the highlights of the day and my guests now understand that these animals are wild and still move around freely.

Balule Sunset Drive

Guests have arrived and so have the heavy black clouds so we are prepared for the worst. I quickly collected the rain coats we supply the guests.
As we took off, it started to rain and everything cooled down quite quickly. We went to Balule Plains and saw a lot of general game. Although they were happy about the rain, I could see that some of the animals were trying to hide from the rain.

The game drive was quiet and wet and most of the other drivers were busy making their way back to their camps. I also started making my way back and wished that I could just get out of these wet clothes. On our way back to the lodge, it stopped raining. When I got very close to Tremisana Lodge, I noticed fresh leopard tracks. I realised from the very clear definition of the spoor, that these tracks were made after the rain, and that they were going in the opposite direction, so the Leopard must be very close ! I backed up and saw tracks going into the bush so I decided to take a chance and see if I could find the Leopard. As I came around the corner, I spotted a female leopard. She wasn’t very happy with us being there and disappeared into the thick bush, back towards the main road. I quickly turned around and went to the main road – nothing – she must have turned back. So I turned around again and went to the place where I saw her the first time and WOW!!! – she’s got bigger ! Oh no that’s not the same leopard I saw a few minutes ago. It’s not just one leopard but two, male and female !!! The male was quite relaxed but the female did not like us interfering with their honeymoon, so after a few minutes sitting with them we left them to carry on – maybe we can see their babies hopefully quite soon.

Bush Walk

We left the camp to go down to the river for the morning walk. We stopped for a few minutes to view a really beautiful sunrise. After a while we continued down to the river. On our way we saw some baby jackal and they looked very healthy. I just hope that these babies will survive (last year’s babies did not make it because of the bad season). They ran into the den and everybody was pleased to have seen them. Not far from them we spotted an African Rock Python crossing the road. He was very big – well to give you an idea his head was on the one side of the road and his tail was on the other side of the road in the bush !!!

He slowly made his way over the road and we left him in peace. Moving down to the river we got two lionesses with one cub. I saw the cub when she was one day old and now she almost as big as her mom. It was good to see them again as I haven’t seen them for quite a while. Eventually when we got down to the river we could start with the bush walk. On our walk we saw sixteen hippos lying in the water close to the bridge. The walk was very nice but the only thing the guests could talk about was the African Rock Python and the lions.

Tremisana has had a fair amount of rain and the camp gardens are looking good.

Luxuriant vegetation around chalet at Tremisana
We have a number of snake and scorpion sightings but thankfully these are the rear ends of the snakes and the safely distant views of scorpions.

We have added overhead fans to all the rooms in addition to the air-conditioning. This is as a result of a client complaining that the air-conditioning gave him a sore throat. We have also added lights above the mirrors in the bathrooms.

Marc’s Treehouse Lodge also has had good rains. The nyala have produced a new lot of young. One particular nyala ewe always gives birth around the pool. I took this photo of Sandra really close to the youngster :

Sandra with 36 hour old Nyala lamb
Sandra made sure she did not touch the newborn lamb as the mother might reject her baby if there is a strange smell.

We are pleased to confirm that all our overland safari sharing tariffs will remain unchanged. So the 2012 rates are now even better value for money than our 2011 rates !!!
There has been minimal increase in the single rates.

I assure you that the standards of our products will be maintained at the very high levels they presently occupy.

We will be looking into a possible extended walking safari program as this has proved to be extremely popular.

Our plan is to also offer 4 day safari packages at Cheetah Inn and Marc’s Adventure Camp.

Reviews on Trip Advisor
“Tremisana Lodge & Viva Safaris 1st rate”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed November 11, 2011
By: WoodysNz, New Zealand

We did the 4 day safari with Viva Safaris staying 3 nights at Tremisana Lodge. We were picked up from our B&B in Nelspruit on day 1 and dropped off at Johannesburg Airport on day 4, a service we really appreciated.

Everything to do with the safari, including the two 5.30am starts! was fantastic – the sunset drives in the Balule and Tshukudu Game Reserves, the bush walk in the Balule and the full day drive in the Kruger. The main guides we had, Mayneth, Wimpie and Wesley, were all incredibly knowledgeable and went out of their way to give us a memorable experience.

Tremisana Lodge was very comfortable, the food was excellent and the staff were extremely friendly and accommodating.

If we are lucky enough to visit South Africa again we would definitely consider doing another safari with Viva and would look to stay at Tremisana Lodge. However, we also heard great reports about Viva’s other lodge at the Treetops, so would possibly look to split our time between Tremisana and the Treetops.

“Big 5 Safari 2011”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed November 6, 2011
By: Maire B, Kilkenny, Ireland

We stayed for two nights in Marc’s tree house Lodge. It was fantastic. the tree houses were lovely, you felt so close to nature. Our tree house was so comfortable and with the mosquito net over the bed I slept peacefully. The highlight of the trip was the full day safari in Kruger, we left the lodge at 8am and didn’t leave Kruger until 6pm. We got to see all the big 5 plus loads of other animals and birds. The highlight of our safari was to see the Leopard, on our way back to the gate a leopard cub ran across the road in front of our jeep, our guide pulled up and we were amazed to see the mother was sitting there waiting for her cubs, we got the most amazing photos and video footage. Well done to our Guide. We will never forget this trip. I would highly recommend this location and would return in a heartbeat.

Category: Blog

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