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Nov 2, 2011

VIVA SAFARIS NEWSLETTER OCTOBER 2011

October is the peak egg-laying season of the Red-crested Korhaan, Lophotis Ruficrista. The male of the species, not unlike many male humans, goes through an elaborate courtship in order to impress members of the opposite sex. The display is quite spectacular and some of Viva Safaris’ guides refer to the Red-crested Korhaan as the “ Suicide Bird ”. I think this is unwarranted hyperbole but perhaps understandable in terms of the way the male Red-crested Korhaan displays. He starts with a call culminating in acute crescendo prior to launching himself high in the air ( approx 25 metres ). At this point, he folds his wings and falls vertically downwards. At about 1,5 metres above the ground, he opens his wings and lands safely. Presumably in bird admiration terms, the later he leaves it before opening his wings, the more spectacular it looks. And all of this just to impress his prospective mate !

The Red-crested Korhaan is polygynous so the display is often for the benefit of multiple admiring hens, some of which he will mate with. One or two eggs are laid on the ground, usually in dense leaf-litter. The incubation is left entirely to the female(s) and after 22 days the chicks are born.

Red-crested Korhaan.

This October produced a first for me in that on the 3rd, we had an unbelievably violent hail storm. I personally saw stones of magnitude between that of a golf ball and tennis ball. I saw a monkey knocked out cold and later found a number of dead birds including francolins and guinea fowls.

Hailstones cover the area in front of the Tremisana waterhole.

There has also been fairly good rain this month so the bush is looking a lovely green. Grass and water are plentiful and the animals are dispersed across the veld.

Monthly report from Bongani
We have had rain twice already this month and the vegetation is becoming green and there is water in the natural water holes. With the good comes the not so good because with the denser vegetation it is now more difficult to spot the Big 5 and other smaller animals. In Kruger, the areas east of Satara have had little rain and are still dry so we are enjoying great animal viewing along the S100 and S90.

Nsemani Dam is still the home of the lion pride that specialises in killing buffalos. On the 5th of October we managed to see a pride of ten female lions : eight cubs and two males and sure enough they had a fresh Buffalo kill. As we were looking, the female lions left the cubs on the other side of the road whilst they went to feed on the kill. As they were feeding, a troop of baboons spotted the cubs and started making plenty noise. The females realized the cubs had been spotted so one of them decided to go back to them. As soon as the baboons saw her coming they all ran up a tree. The cubs were happy to see her and they all ran towards her.

Lion cubs at Nsemani Dam.

A few days later l went back to the Kruger and again l saw the Lions at Nsemani Dam and as expected they were eating another buffalo. There were vultures all over the trees waiting for the leftovers. There was not much left for the vultures to eat as the lions made a point of finishing everything.

On the 27th of October, east of Satara on the S100 two male Lions killed a buffalo. It was a beautiful sighting because at the same time as we were watching the lions, other animals were making their way down to drink water. The lions were not going to move away until a herd of 5 rhinos approached and managed to frighten them away. The rest of the animals were relieved because they now had a chance of drinking water without fear.

The 29th was another good day. We drove the whole morning without seeing anything really exciting. After lunch our luck improved and we managed to see a Black rhino, cheetahs and eight lions. The Lions and Cheetah were fairly close to each other, with the cheetah was trying to kill some impalas.

Monthly report from Wimpie This past October was truly a great month.

I am amazed at how quickly the bush and vegetation is recovering from an extreme winter. After a little rain and a huge hail storm everything turned green. I woke up one morning early to get ready for a walk. On my way out to my vehicle I saw that during the night some bright, pure white flowers had sprouted up overnight. What an amazing sight ! I later did some reading up and learned that it is “ pure lady spider bulbs” – truly beautiful flowers that only last for about 20 hours. During this time they are pollinated and die off after seed has germinated.

The 3 days that I want to report on are as follows:

3/10/2011
This was a very cloudy day and I noticed that some rain had fallen during the night. It was still dark when I got up out of bed to prepare for the morning walk. After a good strong cup of coffee with my guests we set off towards the area where I wanted to conduct my walk. On my way there we came across some general game species such as impala and zebras. Upon arriving at Hamerkop dam I gave my guests a briefing on the do’s and don’ts of a walking safari. We started slowly at first just to get everyone warmed up and to loosen the muscles a bit. We stalked some zebras and had great fun with some very inquisitive giraffes that came very close to us. I guess they smelled something they liked on someone in the group. When the animals eventually moved away we pushed on. I thought that these were the only animals we would see for the rest of the walk. I was very wrong. About 15 minutes later we came across some steaming hot elephant dung. So from there we went off tracking. Everyone was very exited and logically so was I. After a short walk I heard branches breaking and red billed oxpeckers that flew over us gave away the exact location of the animals. The wind was perfect and so was the light and everything that goes along with it. I whispered to my guests just to remain calm and I reminded them of the safety briefing they had been given at the start of our walk.

The hunt was on! We crept ever so slowly closer to the elephant, and as the vegetation cleared we saw the big grey mass in front of us : the bull we call Kambaku. What a magnificent animal ! I made sure that everyone was OK and could see nicely before I gave the signal to start taking photos. Everyone had a turn to take some shots, and I moved us out of the sighting. “Never overstay your welcome” as I always say.

We left him in peace to do what they do best “eat and eat and eat”. Time flew by and before we knew it, we had to go back for breakfast. A great walk, thoroughly enjoyed by all, guide included !

13/10/2011 Life couldn’t get any better than this day:

Wesley our new trainee field guide joined me this morning for the walk. We started our walk from Hamerkop dam again. While walking and showing my guests a lot of different plants and trees and birds I started noticing some very distinct bird calls. It was oxpeckers and they usually give away the location of big animals. I kept my ears open as we moved through the bush. We had close-up sightings of some scorpions and some baboon spiders as we walked along, including a specific species of scorpion “Parabuthes Transvalicus” – the Transvaal thick tail – a real nasty piece of work in looks and venom. After a short break with some snacks and water we moved in the direct direction that I heard the birds calling from. And sure enough I came across some rhino tracks. After following up on the tracks we found him : a great big White Rhino bull. Stalking him slowly we got very close, actually about 20 metres close. This was a great experience for all of us. We took some great shots and followed him from a distance for a while. Later that day we did an afternoon game drive and I wanted to go look for him again. On our way to the location where we had found him in the morning we stumbled across a secretary bird – a great surprise for all of us. We watched this big bird fly away and moved on. Shortly after the bird sighting, we came across a very large monitor lizard. Amazed at the size of this animal, our guests took some great photos. On the Sunset Drive that afternoon we found 7 lions on the road taking a rest from the day’s heat. Even though it was overcast it was still very warm. We watched the pride for a while and decided to move on so that we can let the other people on game drives also see them. Not even 10 minutes away from the lions we finally found the rhino we had stalked that morning. Wesley and I were pleased to see him again. Rhinos are very special animals to me. We ended our drive with a great sighting of a hippo. As always with hippo bulls they love showing off their power and dominance with great big yawns. With very pleased guests and 2 satisfied rangers a group of people made its way to the lodge for a delicious dinner. Life does not get any better than this. I look forward to another great month in the bush and sharing lifetime experiences with my future guests.

Hippo yawning– almost frightened Wimpie but not quite!

Monthly report from Pieter

It’s October and thank goodness for the rain. The bush was very dry and the chances for field fires were very high, but luckily we had rain and every bit helps. The bush is getting prettier and greener by the day and chances of finding game are slimmer, but nevertheless we do see a lot of buck, snakes and bugs. The bush is wet because of the rain, but the dams are still empty. I see they have stopped pumping some of the dams with water. I also see the ostriches have babies…congratulations! Oh yes, and the Hornbills are starting to close up their nests. Yes you have heard correctly…they’re closing up their nests. The male uses mud to close up the nest with the female inside. A long time ago daddy Hornbill brought mommy Hornbill food, but when daddy reached the nest, mommy was gone. In the nest were two small baby Hornbills. The one told daddy Hornbill that mommy left the nest with the next door neighbour and she’s not planning to return because this is not what she wanted from the beginning. Now the daddy Hornbill had to find food, do chores in and around the house, eg. cutting the grass, cleaning up after the babies, etc. It was a lot of work. As time passed daddy taught his two boys how to build a nest. And so today the males still use mud to close up a hole in a tree with the female inside, only leaving a small space open to feed the female. The female is not even allowed to BBM or Facebook!!!

Pieter’s emancipated female hornbill. ” A morning walk ”

The nights are getting shorter and the days are getting longer and hotter. We depart before sunrise for our walk on Oxford. I decide to stop under a tree, not far from where we normally see the rhinos. It’s already so hot that the rhinos would have been lying down, or at least that’s what I am thinking. I see tracks but that’s all. As we walk I talk about the trees and ecological system and other animal tracks. We hold a “bokdrol spoeg” competition – to see who of my guests can spit the giraffe droppings the furthest. One of my guests beats me which is not a good thing…ha ha ha. As we walk along we see Impalas and a lot of bird species. We stop for something to drink and to nibble on our specially packed snack pack. It’s extremely hot! After we finish our drinks and snacks we move back to the game vehicle. As we drive back to the camp we see two white rhinos lying in the shade of a tree – wow !!! I’m very happy now.

Kruger National Park

25/10/2011

We entered at the Orpen gate. At the gate someone told me there were lions at Nsemani dam. As we arrived at the dam there were a lot of cars. We had a great sighting of lion cubs ! We continued looking at the cubs when suddenly someone said that there was a lion just behind us. I turned the game vehicle around and saw that it was one of the mothers and she was calling her cubs. We then witnessed an amazing emotional interaction of mother and cubs – what a beautiful experience !

Balule sunset drive

11/10/2011

It was raining and I wasn’t too sure that we would see anything great. As we turned into the main road something caught my eyes on my right. It was lions ! Nobody could believe our luck. What was even better was that they seemed to be enjoying the rain. This was the first serious downpour since April. The two pride males of the Olifants West pride were really enjoying themselves. I thought to myself that the rain brings on the grass which fattens the plains game which then fatten the lions – that’s why they were looking so happy !

Monthly report from Isaac:

18/10/2011

It was a bit windy, but a good game-viewing day. We drove along Rabelais. 2km from the old rondawel, we had a great sighting of lions which had just killed a Buffalo some 50m away from the road. We could not see them clearly because they were dragging the carcass into the thick bush. One lioness stood up and we noticed she was limping – maybe it got the injuries while attacking the Buffalo. A few metres away we spotted a hyena waiting patiently. Maybe it thought the lions might leave it something to feed on.

Lion with Buffalo carcass.

As we drove another 3km on Rabelais, we had a good sighting of a small breeding herd of Elephants that were having a mud bath. The big cow was splashing the muddy water over its body so vigorously that the mud reached our car. About 2km before Nsemani Dam we saw something very unusual : a female Impala with horns. It was half the size of the male Impala. At around 11h00 as we were leaving Nsemani we found cars parked. There was one lion and three lionesses. Suddenly a big female lioness stood up and walked towards the cars, along the road for about 50 metres and then crossed to the other side into the bush. As we were watching it, two cubs appeared from the thick bush. The cubs started to suckle from their mother for about twenty minutes. The lioness then left its cubs and went to the dam to drink water. Two female lions were calling and the big lion joined the chorus. It really impressed the guests ! Around 15h30 along the Timbavati river near Ratelpan we saw a pair of young leopards mating. A warthog was grazing near the leopards – about 20 metres away. The male leopard chased away the warthog. It ran for its life and the leopard gave up the chase and returned to its mate.

Leopard.

22/10/2011

It was very hot and the temperatures went up to over 40 degrees. There was not much movement of the animals. Most of them were under the shade. At about 11h00, as we were driving along Orpen road 4km before Nsemani Dam, we spotted a male leopard feeding on an Impala carcass. The leopard left the carcass and walked towards us and rested under the tree, but at the same time watching its meat. We got to Nsemani Dam, and, believe this or not, we saw four of the big five all simultaneously. It was a sighting of a lion, Buffalos, Elephants and Rhino. The lions were being chased away and they came close to our vehicles for protection. The Elephant went into the dam swimming and passed where the buffalos were resting. There were over two hundred Buffalos near three Rhinos that were rolling in the mud. The female lion led the pride into a nearby bush, passing right in front of us. My guests all lost their breath. The lioness started to call and suddenly five cubs appeared from the thick bush. The whole of October we have been experiencing these lions at Nsemani Dam. After lunch at around 14h00 we drove along the Sweni road. We saw twelve lions at the waterhole. All the other animals could not come to drink they were just watching from a distance warning the others that there was danger.

At around 16h30 a leopard and two cubs crossed the road. As we got close one cub returned to the road which made the mother become suspicious and she came back to the road to take it. The other cub climbed a tree for safety. The mother and two cubs went along a game-path and they were soon out of our sight.

Monthly Report Mayneth:

This is one of the months where the conditions are very hot, but we try our best to get something out of it.

On the 9th we drove to Timbavati in the afternoon where we saw two leopards mating. They were on the ground in the shade. When we arrived they were just sitting there but after a few minutes of waiting, they started mating and the most interesting part of it is that they were actually closer than we thought. After mating they moved away from the road.

On the 13th on the Sweni Road we found a few lions sitting under a Sausage Tree, while on the other side of the lions some elephants were moving along the river. The elephants made my day to be the best this month. They chased the lions under the tree and one lion came straight to the road and crossed between two open vehicles of Viva Safaris and hid next to Isaac’s car (the guide). Where it was hiding you could only see its head but it was less than a metre away from the road.

On the 24th on S90 we saw 2 lionesses with cubs under the tree. There were a few giraffes next to the lionesses. While they were looking at the lions, they didn’t consider themselves to be in any danger. The giraffes walked closer to the lions with the lionesses remaining flat down trying to stalk. It was a waste of energy because the lionesses cannot take a giraffe down in the absence of males. As the giraffe got closer the lioness tried to chase the giraffe but they looked like they were playing a silly game.

Balule Plains: On the 19th we found a leopard sitting in a tree. Though it was a bit far you could still see it. After a few minutes of waiting the leopard jumped down and started walking towards the car. As it was dark you could see it but only with a spotlight. Then it walked parallel with the road and came close to the car, and crossed the road in front of us.

On the 24th six lionesses were resting in an open space with two cubs. The cubs were playing a lot: they ran around, crossing in front of the vehicle and rolled onto their mother’s back. They kept on jumping up and down.

On the 25th one lioness with two cubs lay down where we had two open vehicles on the sighting. The lioness was not comfortable with our arrival and decided to move the cubs away. My vehicle was blocking her way because on the other side there were bushes and nowhere to pass. The lioness stood up, moved towards my car and the cubs passed underneath the vehicle but the mother was too big to pass through underneath so the lioness went back to sit down and the cubs came back again. First time I have had lions UNDER my vehicle – the clients were amazed !!!

Lioness with cub on Balule.

Tremisana Game Lodge is looking good after the rains and hail. The garden suffered a huge amount of damage – especially the cycads. The monkey troop is not as evident as it was in the dry times as there is now a lot of food outside the confines of the camp. The troop still returns at night to roost in the trees – probably because of the safety aspect.

A group of Black Rhino has been released in the Olifants West section of Balule Game Reserve. These originate from the Eastern Cape. I believe they may be a different subspecies to the Black Rhino in Kruger. I stand to be corrected but the imported rhino are Diceros Bicornis Bicornis while the local subspecies is Diceros Bicornis Minor. The Warden tells me that the decision-makers are happy with the potential mixing of the subspecies. We are all very pleased to have them on our reserve.

Marc’s Treehouse Lodge has also had a lot of rain. A number of new-born Nyala lambs have been observed. The security on the Motlala reserve has been beefed up and includes 24 h armed patrols on quad bikes. It is such a pity that avarice for money from rhino horn has led to so many additional measures being put in place so as to ensure the safety of the White Rhino on Motlala.

As indicated in last month’s newsletter, November 2011 marks the 20th year of Viva Safaris’ existence. We have decided to share our celebration with our guests by offering a 10% discount on drinks.

Cheetah Inn is now in the very capable hands of Mandy and Jonathan Polling.

We have undertaken to reintroduce 4 day and 5 day safaris staying at Cheetah Inn as of December 2011. We shall be updating our website accordingly.

There appears to be some confusion regarding Marc’s Camp. Mufasa Backpackers have taken over only the Adventure Camp and the Treehouse Lodge still is and will always remain a cornerstone of Viva Safaris. Alice Ndebele, who was Manager at Cheetah Inn, has joined the staff of Marc’s Treehouse Lodge where she will assist the Camp Manager, Ronald Masango, in the day to day running of the Lodge. With two such competent leaders, we are 100% certain that Marc’s Treehouse Lodge will grow from strength to strength !

Emails and Reviews

I was very humbled to receive the email below from Cosimo Brescia, Managing Director of Sandown Travel. Cosimo was instrumental in getting Viva Safaris going 20 years ago. It was through him that I personally was tourist guide to various Italian ministers and dignitaries over the years as well as Oprah Winfrey. I thank Cosimo for his kind words :

Dear Piero, I read always with pleasure and interest your news letters, confirming you have not lost the enthusiasm and curiosity for nature and wildlife. And also thanks to your academic preparation you write as the most professional reporter. Just back from a couple of months overseas, reading your newsletter was a nice welcome home in this beautiful country.

So I learned about the Aardvark behaviour, and saw that also the puffadders take time for sex and reproduction.

You remind us of 20 years of activity for Viva safari, and I remember your first visit asking for support. And you got some. Along the years maybe all this was diluted , but I never stopped to consider you and your family very fine people, and really your genuine enthusiasm for the nature is a source of inspiration for me.

As you will notice I am sending a copy of your message to some of our professional people involved in selling and promoting. Your property are not 5 star, but especially in the tough time we live, it can offer to people in South Africa and visitors from overseas an enjoyable experience at affordable price.

So carry on in sending nice news from the wilderness, and congratulation for the 20 the anniversary.

Warmest regards to you and all your family Cosimo
________________________________________
Dear Piero and all the wonderful staff at Tremisana,

Thank you for a wonderful trip. I had a fabulous time and even got to see the wild dogs that I was so hoping for! I know that some of the guides were keen to see the photos especially of the little lion cubs we saw in Balule. I have uploaded them to Flickr so please pass on the link to your colleagues.
All the best Jo

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to say I had a thoroughly enjoyable experience whilst on Safari with yourselves. From the moment of pick up to the moment I was dropped off I found the staff polite, friendly and always willing to help.

It is one staff member I wish to single out in particular, and his name is Tambo. I am sure I have spelt his name wrong, but he was a driver for the Johannesburg area, and I would just like to say that he went above and beyond the call of duty when I experienced unforseen problems. I would like to state that he is indeed a credit to your company and would like to go on record as expressing this. It is because of this experience and his helpfulness, that should I return to South Africa again for safari, your company will me my first and only choice.

Once again, many thanks for a good time. Jeremy Cedenio Photographer

Ever since I was a child I dreamed of a safari in Africa. “Viva Safari” the mother company for the Tremisana Lodge and organized photo safaris fulfilled that dream.

It was affordable, extremely comfortable, and unpretentious. The lodge is situated in the middle of a private game reserve where many of the animals I came to see in Africa came to the fence of the lodge. All of the staff members were incredible as they were all there to meet my needs, but more importantly, they taught me about the beauty and the spirit of the African bush. I learned so much about the country, as well as about myself and “the artificial world” that I live in. For me, it was a life changing experience.

The 5-day tour that I signed up for included early morning and night drives, walking tours, drives through Kruger proper, and an animal rehabilitation center. Thanks to the expert guides I saw everything such as the Big 5 (elephants, lions, buffalos, rhinoceros, and leopard) as well as everything else that lives in this beautiful country. I will never go to a zoo again since I have seen the majesty of these animals in the wild, and have learned a great respect for the balance of nature.

The guests who stayed at Tremisana or engaged in the Viva Safari tours were also great. They were down to earth, warm, not demanding, and very easy to connect with. On one of our tours we joined up a higher end lodge, and the guests were clearly much more aloof than those from Tremisana.

Florence, Bongabi, Peter, Wimpy, Isaac, Tabo, the cooking staff (sorry I don’t remember your names, but remember your great food), and all the other staff, thank you so much for making my childhood dream come true.

Room Tip: Try to get a room facing the fence. “The oasis of calm and relaxation I was hoping for…”5 of 5 stars Reviewed September 12, 2011

Marc’s Treehouse lodge is a fantastic place to stay while on safari. The days are long and busy so in the evenings the calm of the treehouse camp is perfect. The evening entertainment is what you make it, with dinner, and then drinks and a chat around the campfire. It would have been nice to spend a whole day just hanging around the camp, watching for animals, wandering around, sitting on the viewing decks that each cabin or treehouse has and generally absorbing the relaxing atmosphere. The welcome is warm and personal, great for solo travellers.

The main area is effectively outside – some of the communal areas are covered, but you are 100% in the fresh air. The cabins and treehouses are scattered around the place with rough tracks connecting them to the rest of the camp (lit at night). The accommodation exceeded my expectations – don’t think luxury or lots of gadgets, think space, calm, comfort and privacy. Go to Marc’s camp if you genuinely like the outdoors, want to feel you’ve got away from it all and like peace and quiet. It’s far from camping but you need to be prepared to be in the fresh air.

Special Appeal

Over the years Viva Safaris has sponsored safari prizes for various charities including Reach for a Dream and Reach for Recovery, both of which are very close to the good heart of my wife, Sandra. Unbeknown to most of the other landowners on Olifants West, Tremisana Lodge has 3 chalets that are designated for the prizewinners.

The loves of my life : Sandra and wildlife.

We have been approached by an acquaintance of Anthony, Gert, who has a blind grandson in need of expensive medical attention. I have met Gert and Riaan at Tremisana where I took them on a game drive.

Riaan is in need of your loving support

Gert sent us the following: Riaan was born prematurely, as a result of this he was diagnosed with ROP Stage 5.

ROP occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow and spread throughout the retina, the tissue that lines the back of the eye. These abnormal blood vessels are fragile and can leak, scarring the retina and pulling it out of position. This causes a retina detachmen Retina detachment is the main cause of visual impairment an blindness in ROP.

To be able to continue in his developing future a trust has be established in his name to raise money for his medical condi and future development.

Through a very generous donation you can stand a chance to win a magnificent trip for 2, to TREMISANA LODGE, next to Kruger National Park, to the value of R14-000.00

The prize includes transfers by shuttle to and from your doorstep.
4 Days Safari, Breakfast & dinner and 3 nights accommodation included.

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