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Wild

ts imen l p Com

HE OF TILD

WARDme CProgram

Plan the perfect trip

De Hoop Nature Reserve Insider tips to enjoy the wetlands

FEAR FACTOR Crocodiles The ultimate ambush predator

No fences No borders

Get intimate with the wildest Kgalagadi

Learn to love those monkeys

BUT cute

Msinsi dams: durban’s bush breakaway

birds AND their designer beaks | Hot spot: Hlane the flower power of bugs, birds AND bees | Namaqua 4x4

SPRING 2011

CARD MAGAZINE

www.wildcard.co.za

promotional


Three shots at winning

Round 1

The competition will have two qualifying rounds.

For Love of the Land Send in your landscape photos that best capture the Spirit of Africa. Closing date:

Round 2

25 October 2011 The Call of the Wild Send in your photos of wildlife (mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, etc) that best capture the Spirit of Africa. Closing date:

8 February 2012

OPEN ROUND

We’ll select 10 finalists from each round. From these 20 finalists an overall winner will be chosen.

My African Moment Send us your snapshot of a special African moment for entry into a lucky draw for great spot prizes. Closing date:

23 April 2012

Pictures must be taken in Africa.

Prizes worth R60 000 www.amarula.com

in photographic equipment, Amarula hampers and outdoor gear from Cape Union Mart.


invites you to send in your photos that capture the wild heart of Africa. Show us what makes our continent so special and stand the chance to win great prizes.

Capture

Africa THE SPIRIT OF

ILLUSTRATION ONLY | ISTOCKPHOTO

How to enter Go to www.wildcard.co.za/competitions.htm Follow the prompts to upload your photos. Competition rules Photos must be digital and accompanied by your name, contact details and where the picture was taken. The competition is open only to South African residents over the age of 18. For the full rules visit www.wildcard.co.za.


Over 20 years Nedbank has donated over R100 million to The Green Trust on behalf of our Green Affinity clients. When you opt for a Nedbank Green Affinity bank or investment account or insurance policy, Nedbank donates money on your behalf to The Green Trust to fund environmental and climate change projects, all at no cost to you. For the past 20 years we have donated over R100 million to The Green Trust to fund environmental projects such as saving endangered species like the rhino, conserving water, helping establish community gardens and implementing climate change initiatives. Because we know things don’t just happen, we’re committed to supporting the environment for many more years to come. To open your account and make a difference to the environment call us on 0860 DO GOOD (36 4663), visit www.nedbankgreen.co.za or go to any Nedbank branch.

Nedbank Limited Reg No 1951/000009/06, VAT Reg No 4320116074, 135 Rivonia Road, Sandown, Sandton, 2196, South Africa. We subscribe to the Code of Banking Practice of The Banking Association South Africa and, for unresolved disputes, support resolution through the Ombudsman for Banking Services. We are an authorised financial services provider. We are a registered credit provider in terms of the National Credit Act (NCR Reg No NCRCP16).

NET#WORK BBDO 8011850

For 20 years, together with our clients, we’ve saved many endangered species.


Wild

dale morris

Contents

SPRING 2011

HEINRICH VAN DEN BERG

Wild covers Which one did you get?

“The bloom and buzz of spring is like a vibrant market place.” Amida johns

42 Parks

PEOPLE IN PARKS

12 De Hoop’s secret shores Discover natural riches where few people set foot

48 Voices of nature Meet the guides who reveal the magic of the bush

20 Into the wilderness At the unfenced Kgalagadi camps you’ll get much closer to nature

YOUNG ONES

36 Water and wildlife Msinsi’s big game attractions are just a quick drive from Durban A lone vervet monkey peers from the cover of the 80-page bumper issue, mailed exclusively to members of the new Wild Card.

58 Joys of spring The veld bursts into new life

WILD BITES

Adventure

4 Letters

54 Caracal Eco Route Flowers and 4x4 challenges await in Namaqua National Park

6

WILDLIFE

64 Field notes Tawny eagles and a marabou stork face off

26 The perfect predator? Find out what gives crocodiles the edge

Inside track This season’s wild wonders

10 What your Wild Card offers

60

JOHANNES VAN NIEKERK

32 Vibrant vervets These monkeys prove life in technic­olour is more fun 60 Eat like a bird The clever beak designs that helped birds carve out their niche Mother and baby appear on the cover of the 64-page promotional issue, produced to introduce you to the Wild Card.

www.wildcard.co.za

Home of the popular Whale Trail, De Hoop is also a great getaway for birders, flower lovers and beach goers.

WILD CARD MEMBERS Bonus pages 65 More on the web 66 Family escapes 68 Oxpeckers

portfolio

72 Namaqua news

flora 42 Pollen power You won’t believe what creatures help flowers spread their seed

12

73 Shoot like a pro The flamingo’s bill is cleverly adapted to filter food.

74 Donkey Trail 78 Biodiversity 80 Special offer

SPRING 2011 WILD 3


INSIDE TRACK Send your letters to wilded@tipafrica.co.za or Wild, PO Box 308, Woodstock, 7915.

ED’S LETTER

Speedy steenbok

W

hen is a place wild? What makes a true wilderness experience? I was recently pondering these questions in one of the Earth’s few genuinely wild places, the wilderness camps of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Travelling the length of the South African section of the park, I stayed at Gharagab, Urikaruus and Kieliekrankie, as well as at the Kalahari Tented Camp. In each of these unforgettable camps, I was deeply moved by the power of the wilderness, the sense of freedom you experience. Being so close to nature, in an unfenced situation, is a great adventure, not least because it makes you feel like a true explorer. Mesmerising on an entirely different scale, are the flutters, trembles and flapping of wings in our pollinators portfolio (see page 42). These little critters are spring personified. Join us in De Hoop Nature Reserve (page 12) and the Namaqua National Park (page 54) to discover places where few people have set foot. If you yearn for the wilds but have little time to spare, envy the lucky folks in KwaZulu-Natal for whom the Msinsi resorts are just a hop, skip and jump away. Who can resist their happy allure? Wherever you live, your Wild Card is your ticket to exchange the mundane for the wild (see page 10). Get into a park and experience the magic for yourself.

WILD CARD PARTNERS

EDITORIAL BOARD sheraaz ismail, CapeNature gwynne howells, Ezemvelo KZN Ray NAGURAN, Msinsi Resorts GLENN PHILLIPS, SANParks MIKE RICHARDSON, Swazi Big Game Parks HEIN GROBLER, Wild Card

4 WILD spring 2011

EDITOR Romi Boom wilded@tipafrica.co.za DEPUTY EDITOR Magriet Kruger magriet@tipafrica.co.za ART DIRECTOR Riaan Vermeulen riaan@tipafrica.co.za JOURNALIST Kate Collins TEXT EDITOR Marion Boddy-Evans PROOFREADER Margy Beves-Gibson EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Joan Kruger CREATIVE DIRECTOR Petro du Toit

WINNING

LETTER

I must say how much we are enjoying Wild magazine. I was particularly interested in your article on small antelope in the latest issue. While on a trip some months ago we saw something I would never have believed: two steenbok outrunning two cheetahs! We were on a game drive when we came upon the cheetahs. In the background were two ostriches and two steenbok, all initially unaware of the stealthy cats. The ostriches were the first to notice and they took off at speed. The steenbok looked around and on seeing our vehicle carried on grazing. Presumably they thought that was what had spooked the ostriches. This allowed the cheetahs to sneak up on them — only when the cheetahs actually charged did the antelope notice. At that stage the steenbok both took off in different directions with a cheetah in pursuit of each. We all assumed that it was tickets for the poor steenbok but, much to our surprise, after ducking and diving both steenbok got away. We were left with two very embarrassed, irritated and still hungry cheetahs. Bessie Turner, Dwaleni Farm, Nottingham Road Conservationist Megan Emmett, who wrote the article, has this to say: “The law of nature is run or be outrun! It seems the steenbok outmanoeuvred these cheetahs. Cheetah catch rates are generally less than 50 per cent.”

Wild magazine is produced exclusively for the Wild Card and mailed free to members four times a year. To qualify for your copy, simply purchase Wild Card membership and tick the box to receive the magazine.

WINNERS

MAGAZINE ENQUIRIES Lynn Robinson, lynn@tipafrica.co.za CONTRIBUTORS Peter Chadwick, Debbie Cooper, Liryn de Jager, Jean du Plessis, Megan Emmett, Albert Froneman, Mark Gunn, Phil Hockey, Amida Johns, Patricia McCracken, Fiona McIntosh, Peter Pickford, Ann Reilly, Warren Schmidt, Rudi van Aarde, Santie van der Merwe, Ian Whyte PHOTOGRAPHY/ART Shaen Adey, AFRIPICS, AFRICAMEDIAONLINE, Africaimagery.com / Roger de la Harpe, Anthony Bannister, Johan Barnard, Peter Chadwick, Kate Collins, Xander Combrink, Debbie Cooper, Ulrich Doering, Jean du Plessis, Megan Emmett, Albert Froneman, Marietjie Froneman, GREATSTOCK/ CORBIS, James Hager, Martin Harvey, J. Hauke, Jelger Hedrer, ISTOCKPHOTO, Pius Koller, Hannes Lochner, Jacques Marais, Patricia McCracken, Dale Morris, Peter Pickford, F. Poelking, Kobus

Golden Gate competition (Wild Winter 2011): John Stegmann, Loueen Chittenden

Potgieter, Isak Pretorius, Andrew Procter, Scott Ramsay, Kerry Reilly, PG Ryan, Sappi Tree Spotting – Penny Noall and Joan Van Gogh, Karin Schermbrucker, Melanie Adele Slabbert, Geoff Spiby, Joep Stevens, Warwick Tarboton, Steve & Ann Toon, Rudi van Aarde, Heinrich van den Berg, Johannes van Niekerk, Vida van der Walt, Pete Walentin

PUBLISHED BY TiP Publishing

PO Box 13022, Woodstock, 7915 T: (+27) 021-447-6094 F: (+27) 021-447-0312 wilded@tipafrica.co.za Editorial queries 021-448-5425

BUSINESS Jaco Scholtz jaco@pitmedia.co.za, C: 083-303-0453 ADVERTISING Danie Momberg danie@tbjc.co.za, C: 084-511-8824 PUBLISHER Theo Pauw theo@tipafrica.co.za T: 082-558-5730

Opinions expressed in this magazine do not reflect those of the Wild Card or any of the Wild Card programme partners. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, but Wild magazine cannot be held liable for inadvertent mistakes.

Reproduction Resolution Colour (Pty) Ltd. Printing Paarl Web

The FSC logo indentifies products which contain wood from wellmanaged forests certified in accordance with the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council.


KRUGER SIGHTINGS

Curious roadside encounter Heading home from Mopani early in the morning, we came across five hyaena (four adults and one young pup) on the H14. When the car in front of us pulled away, we were amazed to see an enormous python in the road. The skin covering the middle of its body had been ripped off and there was a lot of blood around its mouth. One hyaena suddenly walked into the ditch along the side of the road, where there must be an opening to a culvert. She started howling in great distress and we thought she might be calling her pups. Meanwhile the other adults and the young one were sniffing the snake and pulling it across

the road. At one stage there was even a tug of war with the pup at one end of the snake and an adult at the other end. We then noticed three distinct bulges in the length of the snake’s body. Was it possible that the snake had crept into the culvert during the night and swallowed three small pups in their den? Did the hyaena then attack the snake and rip it open? Janine Patrick, email Amazing experiences such as this make visits to Kruger so very special. Did anyone see what happened before the Patricks arrived on the scene? Or what happened after they left? – Ed.

Baboon victim

While driving in the Kruger National Park, on the road between Satara and Tshokwane, I saw a commotion break out in the bushes next to the road. I wasn’t able to see what was happening due to the thick vegetation, but moments later this baboon ran onto the road with the dead bushbuck calf in his arms. He calmly proceeded to sit on the side of the road and eat his ‘prize’. Jock Coetzer, email

WINNING LETTER *Bessie Turner wins a Pasat 3-in-1

Kruger hotel debate

I found the Winter issue of Wild really good, with great presentation and some interesting copy. I was particularly interested in the interview with Willem van Riet and his justification for the new resort near Malelane Gate. This development has come under fire from a number of editors — the mistake that SANParks is making is calling it a ‘resort’ or ‘hotel’. Call it a ‘lodge’ and everyone will be happy. In any case, the architecture suggests a lodge rather than a hotel. Some great travel ideas in this issue, just not enough time. Alan Ramsay, email

Dodge spring showers in the Pasat 3-in-1 jacket (R1 899). Fully waterproof, the jacket has a soft-shell inner that you can remove when the weather grows warm.

jacket from Hi-Tec. Write to us and you could also win a great prize.

People behind the stories From the sun-baked Kalahari to Marion Island and its chilly climes, conservationist and wildlife photographer Peter Chadwick has travelled far and wide for his work. For this issue he writes about De Hoop Nature Reserve, where he was reserve manager for three years. Peter’s favourite spot in the reserve is Koppie Alleen. Discover some of the other special places on page 12. To see more of Peter’s work visit www.peterchadwick.co.za.

Warren Schmidt has a passion for the coldblooded creatures that give many people the chills. He has worked as curator of reptiles at the old Transvaal Snake Park and for this issue he writes about crocodiles (page 26). Warren says he can happily spend hours watching crocs, but he always keeps a safe distance. “I have a deep respect for their hunting abilities, and I don’t take chances with any animal that has more teeth than I do!” SPRING 2011 WILD 5


INSIDE TRACK

TABLE MOUNTAIN in NUMBERS

1 088 m The highest point on Table Mountain is Maclear’s Beacon, which was built by Sir Thomas Maclear, the Astronomer Royal, in 1844.

253 km

The distance of footpaths that crisscross the mountain.

50+

WILD stuff . . .

T

VOTE NOW!

Table Mountain A World Wonder

able Mountain is so iconic it’s often the first image that comes to mind when South Africa is mentioned. Flat-topped like a table, often covered in thick clouds that look like a tablecloth, the mountain invites climbers, hikers and cable car goers to enjoy unparalleled views of Cape Town. Table Mountain National Park preserves unique plants and wildlife within striking distance of the city. It’s Cape Town’s favourite natural monument and a great landmark should you ever get lost. You’re probably thinking you know this all

already. But did you know Table Mountain has been in the running to become one of the new natural wonders of the world? It’s up against the likes of Ayers Rock in Australia and the Grand Canyon in North America. The New7Wonders of Nature competition is a chance for everyone to give recognition to seven places of beauty and significance. It’s nearing the end of the competition and there’s not much time left till 11 November 2011 when the final seven are announced. Table Mountain is in the top 28 finalists and needs as many votes as possible to get international recognition.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is South Africa’s official New7Wonder nature ambassador but we also have the Springboks behind us. They’ve undertaken to bring back the World Cup but we’ve got to promise to vote. Vote online at www.new7wonders.com or SMS ‘table’ to 34874. Each SMS costs R2. The website lets you select your top seven choices out of the 28 chosen finalists and keeps you up-to-date with the latest news. You can also follow the voting trends to see how Table Mountain is faring. Let’s help South Africa’s tourism industry by voting and getting our mountain recognised around the world.

Follow our Table Mountain blogs at www.wildcard.co.za 6 WILD SPRING 2011

ISTOCKPHOTO

Number of butter­fly species that occur. The Pride of Table Mountain is a butterfly that pollinates red blooms exclusively.


THE NOSE KNOWS An aardvark can smell ant nests below ground.

is for Secretive by nature and rarely seen, the aardvark plays a surprising role in the survival of other animals. By Liryn de Jager and Mark Gunn

W

ith a pig-like snout and ears that would rival a donkey’s, the aardvark doesn’t exactly conjure up the image of an eco-warrior. Add to that a tongue of monumental length (up to 45 cm) and an ability to lick up more than 20 000 ants or termites in a night, and it’s no surprise this nocturnal creature seems more oddball than hero. But that would be to discount its speciality: the speed and prowess it displays in digging holes. The aardvark digs holes to gain access to food, breaking open termite and ant tunnels to get to the insects inside. They dig shallow scrapes to defecate in and then cover their scat. They dig to find water and they dig to construct shelter, which is where their expertise is appreciated by other animals. Aardvark build simple tunnels for shortterm use, but when they want to raise their young they excavate complex tunnels with more than one exit. When they are finished, they leave. These abandoned burrows then become valuable real estate: no fewer than 17 mammal species use them for their own shelter and protection. Because other animals depend on them for survival, aardvark are considered a key species. www.wildcard.co.za

A classic example: when warthog were reintroduced into one private nature reserve, the population simply would not increase. Those that were released had a hard time surviving. Once aardvark were also brought in, the warthog began to increase in numbers. Warthog are tiny and practically hairless at birth. Because they really feel the cold, piglets often succumb to hypothermia.

ISTOCKPHOTO

VMS IMAGES – ANTHONY BANNISTER

AARDVARK

Did you know? The aardvark Orycteropus afer is the sole species in its order. It is literally like no other animal on earth.

Abandoned aardvark burrows provide a readymade home for warthog babies, where they are protected from the elements and predators. The female warthog’s movements create a hollow in the burrow for her body and a shelf for the piglets where they are above any water that might flow into the hole. They are also less likely

to be squashed by her when she moves. The long list of animals that utilise aardvark holes includes aardwolf, black-backed jackal, side-striped jackal, bat-eared fox, honey badger, larger mongoose, porcupine, both hyena species, wild dog, leopard, caracal, serval, civet and pangolin. Even lions occasionally use the holes as refuge, as do tortoises, lizards and snakes. The female African rock python has a preference for aardvark holes when the time comes to incubate her eggs. Hormonal changes cause the snake’s skin to darken, which enables it to absorb more heat and then transmit this to the eggs back in the hole. Birds are also not above using aardvark burrows. The African shell duck habitually nests in these holes. Ant-eating chats, blue swallows, pearl-breasted swallows, redbreasted swallows, grey-hooded kingfishers, Bohm’s bee-eaters and little bee-eaters have all been known to use aardvark holes at one time or other. Although these animals are not totally reliant on the aardvark for holes, an abandoned burrow is a distinct advantage when it comes to setting up a nesting site or shelter from the elements and predators. A great debt is indeed owed to the burrow-digging abilities of this nocturnal snuffler. SPRING 2011 WILD 7


INSIDE TRACK

Hlane Royal National Park

VMS IMAGES / ULRICH DOERING

Mention the bushveld, and shades of dusty grey probably come to mind. For many of us, the ancient hardwoods are just thorny obstacles between us and the real stars: the birds and mammals. But in spring the bush does turn, and with a careful eye you’ll soon pick out the colour within the grey. There are many shades of green and different shapes of flower, a burst of life all over. The ideal way to look for signs of spring is on a mountain bike ride or game drive. The best way to see the many tiny flower species is on a guided walk. At this time of year the shoots are still new and game, including Hlane’s indomitable rhino, is easily spotted among the acacia. – Ann Reilly

HO SPOTT

The descriptively named fireball lily Scadoxis multiflorus saves its spectacular orange flower for later in spring, usually flowering from October to December. It’s a favourite snack of bushpig and antelope, so look for them in the vicinity.

Hlane has been rated as one of the best examples of knobthorn Acacia nigresens veld in Southern Africa, a sign of highly fertile soil. Outside the ‘sacrificial’ elephant area, where knobthorns have been reduced to mere skeletons, these trees still dominate and are one of the few winter bloomers, still blooming well into spring.

Within the park’s borders you’ll find the highest density of tree-nesting vultures in Southern Africa. Focus on twig nests on top of acacia trees to spot vultures nesting throughout spring, or catch them bathing in the Mbuluzi River. Research shows that white-backed vulture nesting sites are very specific to protected areas, literally ending along the fence line. ISTOCKPHOTO

ILLUSTRATIONS: SAPPI tree spotting – penny Noall and JOAN VAN GOGH

Knobthorn blossoms

Knobthorn

8 WILD SPRING 2011

kerry REILlY

spot this

The bright yellow variety of flame lily Gloriosa sp. does its bit to contribute to the spring feeling, flowering late in the season. But admire the gorgeous flower from a distance as this beauty is poisonous, although it is used in traditional medicine for intestinal worms and various skin ailments. Hlane’s Ndlovu Camp overlooks a waterhole where rhino, elephant and giraffe come to drink. The camp is open to smaller wildlife and birds abound. Accommodation is in thatched family rondavels and smaller cottages. The secluded Bhubesi Camp has six comfortable stone cottages in a riverine setting. From R290 a person a night. Bookings +268-2528-3943/4 reservations@biggameparks.org www.biggameparks.org


Talented Weavers

With their intricate homes, brightly coloured weavers are arguably the master builders of the birding world. By Albert Froneman

W

www.wildcard.co.za

A southern masked weaver Ploceus velatus cuts a dashing figure as it hangs onto its nest.

ALBERT FRONEMAN

eaver birds of the Ploceidae family attract a lot of attention in spring and early summer when they construct their complex nests and display around them. The build-up starts in late winter when males moult their dull winter dress into brightly coloured feathers. As spring arrives, they are hard at work weaving their neat little hanging nests. This instinctive ability to build a masterpiece of interweaving grass, twigs or reeds is truly remarkable and it is indeed worth your while to spend an hour or three this spring watching a male weaver at work. The males put on an elaborate show underneath their hanging nests and dance around with feathers all puffed out to attract interested females to their works of art. The female weaver birds will always do a thorough inspection of the carefully woven house and either accept or reject it. Rejected nests are quickly torn apart by the males and rebuilt in a day or two. Once the female accepts the nest she will often assist the male in narrowing and/or lengthening the entrance. This reduces the risk of snakes and other predators finding their way in. At this point the male will start building new nests to attract other females, leaving his mate to incubate the eggs and raise the chicks on her own. Nests are usually built at the tip of overhanging branches or at the ends of reeds. The males are known to continuously strip leaves off the branches around their nest collection. The bare branches make it even more difficult for snakes to reach the nests and increase the likelihood that the weavers will be able to dislodge an intruder by launching repeated aerial attacks. Certain species, such as the lesser masked weavers and the village weavers, are gregarious and nest in big colonies. Others like the southern masked weaver, often seen in suburban gardens, are more solitary. The red-headed weaver, which occurs in the sub-tropical northeast of the country, has a crimson red head and their untidy nests woven with thin twigs can be spotted hanging from baobab trees in the north of the Kruger National Park. Wherever your spring wanderings take you, scan the trees and reeds for signs of these clever little birds.

Rocktail Beach camp kwaZulu-Natal Miles of private beach to stroll Family fun Scuba diving Whale and dolphin watching Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles

T: +2711 257 5111 E: info@wilderness-adventures.com

www.wilderness-adventures.com


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park in the spotlight: DE HOOP

Coastline of MARVELS De Hoop’s protected waters and vast wetland draw whales and waterbirds from afar. It’s also the perfect natural habitat for wildlife fans and outdoor lovers. By Peter Chadwick

SECRET SHORES De Hoop is a hide­ away for whales and humans alike. 12 WILD SPRING 2011


TOP TO BOTTOM Limestone protea; blue Afrikaner; tidal pool; bokmakierie.

www.wildcard.co.za

SPRING 2011 WILD 13


DE HOOP

various species are common, large concentrations of great white sharks can also be viewed from the tops of the white dunes just to the west of Koppie Alleen. Rock pool wanders I could have watched the whales all day, but drew myself away from this amazing spectacle to wander down to the beach. I had timed my visit to coincide with the outgoing tide so I could access the rocky platforms that spread from the shoreline like huge tables, occasionally covered with a white table cloth as waves smashed over them. Thick beds of mussels interspersed with barnacles and reef worm awaited me and a closer look revealed three species of starfish, nudibranches, periwinkles, limpets and delicate flat-worms in the shallow pools where small klipvis darted for cover. The deeper rock pools showcased a kaleidoscope of colour where large orange anemones were accompanied by smaller plum and red versions. Purple, reddish and orange sea urchins bristled their spines and, in one pool, an octopus quickly changed colour to blend in with its surroundings. With all this bounty on the rocks, African black oystercatchers were plentiful and time spent watching these birds revealed how in tune with their environment they are. They fed on the edge of the tidal platforms where waves still smashed over their target food source, the mussels. The oystercatchers constantly kept a beady eye on the waves and timed their movements perfectly, knowing which wave-breaks they could stand into and which waves were going to be too big, forcing them to fly briefly above the break before settling down again to feed. Having walked all this distance, there was no way that I could not enter the water and I donned my wetsuit, mask and fins and entered the rather chilly sea at Koppie’s second beach. The bay is well sheltered Peace Parks Foundation GIS http://maps.ppf.org.za

The deeper rock pools showcased a kaleidoscope of colour.

S

eventy-two southern right whales seem an impossible number to be viewing from one point, even more so because I was not using binoculars! In front of me were whales breaching, tail slapping and swimming fast, while others were lying lazily on the surface, rocking with the swells as their calves swam next to them. If this were not enough, a pod of about 200 bottlenosed dolphins surfed the curling waves, weaving under and around their larger relatives. Amazingly this was not a dream nor in some farflung corner of the world, but a scene that takes place annually only a few hours from Cape Town, at De Hoop Nature Reserve and Marine Protected Area. The point where I was watching all this activity from was the visitor interpretative centre at Koppie Alleen, which gives expansive views of this rugged yet protective coastline. The whales arrive from their southern feeding grounds during May and June each year. Numbers peak around September and October. They choose the sheltered bays within the 48 km long marine protected area to calve and then mate again, with the bulls fighting hard to gain access to the receptive cows. When I was still the manager of the reserve for CapeNature, we undertook regular aerial patrols and on one occasion counted 334 southern right whales. The benefits of this protected coastline are truly seen from the air and, during patrols, I observed huge schools of shoaling fish, rays of various species, Mola Mola, rare humpback dolphins and, on occasion, Bryde’s and humpback whales. Early each year large schools of hammerhead shark pups pass through, together with the mega-pods of common dolphin and accompanying flocks of Cape gannets. In the summer months, when yellowtail, kob, elf, garrick and rays of

Potberg De Hoop Nature Reserve lies west of Cape Infanta, three hours’ drive from Cape Town.

Tierhoek

De Hoop Nature reserve

Hamerkop

De Hoop Vlei Die Mond

Cupidoskraal

Vaalkrans

Noetsie

Koppie Alleen

Il er il ulluptat volorper ing ea feugiamet, summy niamcon

Whale Trail hiking route

ulputpat velis alit luptat nullaore venit wis niam duis aute velis nit Il er il ulluptat volorper ing 0 ea feugiamet, 2.5 5 summy10Km niamcon ulputpat velis alit luptat nullaore venit wis niam 14 WILD SPRING 2011


BIG MAMA Southern right whales come to calve in the pro­ tected waters.

We undertook regular aerial patrols and on one occasion counted 334 southern right whales. Sunrise over the coast at Koppie Alleen.

from the crashing waves but deep enough to allow the larger fish good feeding grounds. I was scarcely in the water when I was joined by a large spotted gully shark. This species is totally harmless and to have its company was indeed a privilege. In unprotected waters these sharks are often the first to be caught by fishermen, who usually toss them wastefully up onto the beach to die. Another surprise were the numerous galjoen feeding amongst the turbulent water, another species seldom seen out of protected areas. Under the rocky overhangs, yellow-belly rock cod drifted lazily and blacktail and zebra were huge in comparison to other areas I had dived. After a half hour’s diving, I had notched up over 20 species of fish, never mind the countless inverwww.wildcard.co.za

tebrates and seaweeds. It is only when seeing such abundance you really begin to realise the incredible value that no-take marine protected areas provide. We must do our utmost to ensure that these assets continue to be protected.

Starfish are more commonly seen in the rock pools.

A walk on the wild side The chilly water had me wishing for a large, hot cappuccino, so I headed back to my comfortable accommodation at the Opstal. After a quick shower, I walked across to the Fig Tree restaurant. Herds of grazing eland and bontebok scarcely took any notice of me as I passed within metres of them. Hadedas and flocks of helmeted guineafowl scratched and probed beneath the feet of the antelope and cattle egrets pecked at gorged ticks on the elands’ legs. SPRING 2011 WILD 15


DE HOOP

HIKING RETREAT With spectacular views, Noetsie is the second over­ night stop on the Whale Trail.

Guide Dalfrenzo Lang beams when describing his place of work, the pristine surrounds of De Hoop.

At the restaurant I met with Sebastian Jones, the assistant manager of the De Hoop Collection, a public-private partnership between CapeNature and experts in the hospitality field. He said the first priority had been to improve the reserve’s tourism facilities in a manner that would also bring benefits to the local communities. A full range of facilities are now available, from campsites tucked under ancient milkwood trees that lie adjacent to the 16 km De Hoop vlei, to the upmarket accommodation at Koppie Alleen and Melkkamer. Sebastian explained their newest venture, the threeday De Hoop Trail. Whereas the well-known Whale Trail largely runs along the coastline, the purpose of this new trail is to follow De Hoop vlei, an interna-

tionally recognised Ramsar wetland that attracts thousands of waterbirds. It’s also a chance to walk through the magnificent dune field and along the expansive beaches. Guests use one of the comfy cottages as a base and go for several daywalks in the company of an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. Dalfrenzo Lang, the resident guide on the trail, is one of those good news stories. He left school without any opportunities and took on the challenge of completing a rigorous marine guide course run by the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa. On completion, he was employed by De Hoop Collection and has been guiding at the reserve for two years, with high aspirations for the future. I was introduced to a broadly smiling Dalfrenzo


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and soon saw this was his normal composure: an enthusiastic guide, constantly bursting to impart his knowledge. We wandered along the edge of the vlei where he rattled off and pointed out long lists of birds. He was really keen to show me the Cape clawless otters he had been monitoring for some time. When he first mentioned them, I was convinced there was a little exaggeration added for good measure. But, sure enough, he pointed out nine otters lying together on a large rock, squabbling over a juicy crab. On seeing us the otters slipped away into the water and, without hesitation, Dalfrenzo was then pointing out herds of Cape mountain zebra, grey rhebok, more eland and bontebok. With each identification www.wildcard.co.za

he knowledgeably talked about the behaviour of each species, imparting interesting facts that could be gathered only through time in the field. After looking at all the ‘big stuff ’ we focused our attention on the other highlight of the reserve, the numerous plant species. De Hoop holds over 1 500 plant species of which at least 12 are found nowhere else in the world. Dalfrenzo also talked about the diminutive and rare southern adder and several other reptile species. He closed off with the fully justifiable comment that “De Hoop is one of those special places where there are rare species to be seen around every corner. You could spend years on the reserve and still not know it all.” I couldn’t have said it better.

1 An inquisitive yellow mongoose. 2. A juvenile Cape cobra. 3. Abundant fynbos means rich birdlife, like this malachite sunbird. 4. African black oystercatcher are plentiful along the shore. 5. Spotting a scrub hare requires patience. 6. Look for eland along the vlei. SPRING 2011 WILD 17


DE HOOP

TRIP PLANNER Getting there Three unhurried hours from Cape Town, De Hoop is reached by following the N2 to Caledon, then the signs to Napier and Bredasdorp. Drive through the main street of Bredasdorp, taking the R319 to Swellendam. After about 5 km, turn right at De Hoop/Infanta. Follow this dirt road for about 60 km. Accommodation Stylish and secluded: Melkkamer Foreman’s Cottage, Melkkamer Vlei Cottage and Koppie Alleen offer privacy and comfort for 6 to 8 people. Think plush couches, four-poster beds and romantic paraffin lights (no electricity). R825 a person a night. Family friendly: Self-catering cottages sleep 4 to 6 people and are a home away from home. Melkkamer Vlei Cottage has four comfortable bedrooms.

WATER WONDER De Hoop vlei is a wet­ land of international importance.

Between R440 and R550 a person a night. Simple and scenic: Next to De Hoop vlei are campsites for R295 a night for six people and rondavels sleeping two for R290 a person a night. The Opstal complex has a restaurant, deli, shop, tennis court and swimming pool. Activities Stretch those legs and enjoy the fresh air by walking the five-day Whale Trail (R1 350 per person) which wanders through fynbos then takes you along the rugged coastline. The rock pools, white beaches and scenery will be etched into your memory, bringing you back again and again to this special jewel of a reserve. Tie the knot and have your wedding under

SPOT THIS The attractive Lachenalia dehoopensis was first recorded here. the sprawling fig trees, alongside the birdfilled vlei or down on the white sands of Koppie Alleen with waves crashing in the background. Get a guide and learn more about the reserve. De Hoop Collection offers an interpretive marine walk, mountain bike trail and birding walk. Contact Accommodation 0861-De-Hoop (0861-334-667), www.dehoopcollection.co.za Reserve 0861-CapeNature (0861-227-362-8873), www.capenature.co.za

18 WILD SPRING 2011


1 1. This is one of the few protected areas where you can see the endangered Cape mountain zebra. | 2. Dazzling dunes await along the coast. | 3. The exquisite nerine is endemic to the Western Cape but popular around the world. | 4. A mottled ostrich chick blends into its surrounds. | 5. The great white pelican is at home on De Hoop vlei. | 6. The rare bontebok is easily spotted.

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WILDERNESS

In

nature’s lap

HANNES LOCHNER

In the unfenced wilderness camps in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, surrounded by space and silence, you become part of the veld. By Romi Boom

20 WILD SPRING 2011


T

he first night I was woken by the whoop whoop of the hyaenas. The second night, jackals wailed to make your heart ache, right outside the tent. The third night, it was a lion’s low, rumbling growl that roused me. I couldn’t be happier. I was in the Kalahari. To be inside a place is to identify with it and belong to it. It’s a special state of being, you are suspended in time and nature. It is all about Looking. And Listening. Driving from the very south to the remote north of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the habitat often proved more moving than the animal sightings. There is no guarantee looked-for species will be seen. Day after day, I remained hopeful a cheetah would cross my path. Everyone I spoke to had seen several, often cubs too. Such are the frustrating pleasures of wildlife tourism: intangible, based on a mere promise, often unfulfilled, but with unexpected compensations. For me this was the trip of the spotted hyaenas.

AAH, SPACE! Bitterpan’s reed cabins are built on stilts overlooking a waterhole and salt pan. It is on a one-way 4x4 route starting at Nossob. www.wildcard.co.za

SPRING 2011 WILD 21


wilderness

A lone hyaena approached our vehicle until eventually I could photograph the grains of sand on its nose.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park lies on the border with Namibia and Bo­ tswana. The main entry point is about 250 km from Upington, 900 km from Johannesburg. 22 WILD SPRING 2011

A nocturnal and a low-density species, I never expected to see one, let alone several hyaena, on various occasions. What a wonderful surprise to stumble upon a den, watch a mother suckling her still-black cubs. Even more thrilling to witness an altercation between two adults sunning themselves against a limestone ridge. One of the sunbathers rolled onto its back, half-asleep, and by doing so invaded the personal space of its mate. A moment later, hair was flying in all directions and another offspring, a fluffy juvenile, scrambled to get away from the scrap. Shortly after sunrise the next morning, a lone

hyaena approached my vehicle from the riverbed, coming steadily nearer and nearer, until eventually I could photograph the grains of sand on its nose and inside the rims of its eyes. Then I lowered the camera and saw the intense face barely three metres from mine. In a state of stunned shock, it was a huge relief to find I still had it in me to press the button that made the window screen me from a possible lurch.

Living in the wilderness

Such deeply felt involvement with a place becomes almost spiritual. No better way to experience


the Kalahari, one of Earth’s true wilderness places, than overnighting in the open, in the unfenced camps of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The setting in each instance is textbook perfect. Like all the most desirable habitats, the views are open and make for good game viewing. The veld supports a number of watchable and interesting species, big and small. Animal activities are concentrated at waterholes at specific times. Each tent and cabin in the wilderness camps, only four to a camp, provides cover which hides your presence from the animals. It is hardly possible to be in closer proximity to wildlife. At each of the five www.wildcard.co.za

Two spotted hyaena cubs, less than a month old, make a beeline for the den during a short altercation between adults.

HANNES LOCHNER ROMI BOOM

KALAHARI RED Kieliekrankie offers endless views of the red dunes. The camp is accessible by sedan.

SPRING 2011 WILD 23


wilderness shrike. It is rare, but Eric has seen it, and I am envious, the obvious charms of the crimsonbreasted form almost forgotten. “This is where people come to recharge their batteries,” said Eric, who has lived in all the wilderness camps. Although he is armed for protection, there is no vehicle and his days at Gharagab are solitary. “We are usually fully booked,” he admitted, “sometimes people stay as long as a week, and then I make good friends.” At night he switches on a spotlight over the waterhole, where two lionesses came to drink the morning of our arrival. Less remote, slightly less detached from civilisation, is the Kalahari Tented Camp, which has 15 units all made of natural materials. Like all the unfenced camps, it has no shopping facilities, but caters for creature comforts with power and hot water. The camp is regularly visited by lion, their tracks a familiar sight amongst the tents. The waterhole sees giraffe, brown and spotted hyaena and cheetahs. For tourism assistant Jan Neels, his home of six years is paradise. “They will have to drag me away in chains,” he said. “The tranquillity of nature, the silence of the night, the animal sounds are addictive.” The Kgalagadi is empty land yet home to an astonishing animal kingdom. One of the world’s great wilderness areas, the scale of its beauty reaches deep. When the sky lights up pink, gold and red, anything more would be too much.

unfenced camps, a tourism assistant is happy to share his knowledge. For Jacques Moss, who has been the assistant at Kieliekrankie, the most elevated of the wilderness camps, for the past three years, it is about the never-ending view, the sunsets, the stars. Jacques is from Welkom, a small farming community in the Mier area immediately south of the park, just like Pieter Kariseb, who mostly works at Urika­ruus, where we spent our last night. Situated in the Auob river bed, between Mata-Mata and Twee Rivieren, Urikaruus is the most recently built of the unfenced camps. It is surrounded by camel­thorn trees overlooking a waterhole and the split-level units are connected by a raised walkway, so humans can amble across to visit each other. This is big cat territory, and according to Pieter, the big raptors are also a familiar sight. But above all it was Gharagab that stole my heart. A long trek north led to Union’s End, where the road proper also ends. The 4x4 track takes you deeper and deeper into the duneveld, a vast savanna dotted with large camelthorns, their size a sign of the higher rainfall the area enjoys. It comes as a surprise when you eventually chance upon the hideaway camp. Eric Bezuidenhout, the camp’s tourism assistant for the past four years, strolled over from the 360-degree viewing platform to welcome me, having just put his binoculars to good use looking for the yellow morph of the crimsonbreasted

The word wilderness derives from the Old English wildeornes, meaning place of wild beasts (wild + deor = beast, deer).

Wilderness

Camps

BOTSWANA

Sizatswe

NAMIBIA

Grootkolk Gharagab 4X4 KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER PARK Nossob

Mata-Mata KALAHARI TENTED CAMP

Mabuasehube

Bitterpan 4X4 Urikaruus

!Xaus Lodge SOUTH AFRICA

UNFENCED CAMPS

Kieliekrankie Twee Rivieren 4X4

WWW.TRACKS AFRICA.COM

Accessible to 4x4 vehicles only

TRACKS FOR AFRICA • Peace Parks Foundation GIS http://maps.ppf.org.za • http://www.peaceparks.org

24 WILD SPRING 2011

At five of the unfenced wilderness camps you’ll find four units with accommodation for two, fully equipped kitchen facilities and braai area. Solar panels provide light and gas geysers supply hot water. The sixth is Kalahari Tented Camp with 15 units sleeping two to four people, as well as a swimming pool. !Xaus Lodge is run by a private concessionaire. For more information, go to http://www.sanparks. org/docs/parks_kgalagadi/ tourism/New_Wilderness_ Camps_2004-11.pdf and download the brochure.

HANNES LOCHNER

Kaa


“The tranquillity of nature, the silence of the night, the animal sounds are addictive.”

WILD PLACES

46%

of the world’s land mass is wilderness. (Source: Wilderness: Earth’s Last Wild Places.) ‘Wilderness’ is defined as an area with 70 per cent or more of its original vegetation intact, covering at least 10 000 square kilometres, with fewer than five people per square kilometre.

26%

of the Earth’s land mass falls into the category of Last of the Wild. (Source: Wildlife Conservation Society.) This does not reflect the quality of remaining wilderness, part of which is barren areas with low biodiversity.

11% of the world’s land mass is protected, meaning it is relatively untouched by humans.

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DUE NORTH Tucked away in the dunes, Grootkolk is 20 km from Union’s End where South Africa, Botswana and Namibia meet.


Crocodiles

River

guardians Crocodilian ancestors outlived the dinosaurs, but can they survive human advances? Warren Schmidt delves below the surface to find out more.

26 WILD SPRING 2011


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WHAT LIES BENEATH With only their eyes sticking out, crocodiles are well concealed.

Creatstock / corbis / martin harvey

n the 240 million years or so since crocodiles rubbed shoulders with their dinosaur relatives, little has changed. With their streamlined body covered with protective scales, laterally flattened tail and webbed hind feet, they remain a supreme predator in lakes, rivers and swamps. Although classified as reptiles due to their ectothermic (cold-blooded) metabolism and body covered in scales, crocodiles are very different from lizards, snakes and tortoises in anatomy, physiology and behaviour. In fact, crocodilian social behaviour, parental care and some anatomical features are more in sync with birds than other reptiles. Highly efficient ambush predators, crocodiles’ colour and form render them near invisible in water.


Crocodiles

VMS IMAGES / J HAUKE

IMAGES OF AFRICA / MARTIN HARVEY

Once its embryonic development is complete, a young crocodile begins yelping inside its egg and uses a special egg-tooth, a tiny hard projection on the tip of the snout, to break the shell.

When crocodiles snap their jaws shut the sound can be heard over a long distance.

Hatchlings measure 250 to 370 mm.

Their eyes, nostrils and ears are strategically positioned high up on the head so that when the rest of the head and body are below the surface of the water, crocodiles can still see, hear and smell without giving away their position. In addition, their olive-green to greyish brown skin blends in superbly with the water.

her head in a submissive posture or submerges the head and tail, only exposing her back. As the male circles the female they rub against each other’s snouts and heads. The male often rubs the underside of his throat and jaws over her head and back. The male has musky glands under his jaw and throat, which may further stimulate the female. The mating game Copulation takes place completely in the water Crocodile reproduction is fascinating to watch. and the male twists his tail downwards and sideCourtship begins around May, extending into late ways allowing the base of his tail to align opposite winter and sometimes early spring. Dominant males the female’s cloaca. Mating lasts from 30 seconds patrol their territories by to several minutes. However, swimming prominently with Crocodiles evolved from it may take several days of much of the top section of courtship behaviour before an ancient lineage of their bodies raised above the female finally accepts a archosaurs, which also gave amale’s surface of the water. Sporadiadvances. rise to the dinosaurs as cally, the male will ‘shiver’, Gestation lasts only a few well as today’s spectacular weeks during which time sending ripples across the water and droplets bouncing the female will seek out a diversity of birds. across his back. He may also suitable nesting site, usually exhale under the water, creating a bubbling noise. a warm sandy section on the riverbank above the Jaw-clapping, whereby the male rears above the surhigh-water mark. Females may also test different face, opens his jaws and then snaps them shut as he sites by digging a small excavation, then moving falls back into the water, is another impressive disonto a more suitable spot. play and can be heard over a long distance. The egg-laying process mostly occurs in the early Females are attracted to the commotion and a evening. She will use her hind, webbed feet to excadominant male may mate with several residing vate a hole about half a metre deep and then deposit females. The female arches her back and raises between 20 and 95 eggs (average 30 to 50 eggs) into

ISTOCKPHOTO

Temperature determines gender in crocs All crocodilian species lack sex chromosomes and therefore temperature triggers the hormonal response leading to the development of male or female crocodiles. The incubation temperature experienced by the developing embryos inside their eggs determines the sex of the hatchlings. Females are produced at the lower end of the scale (between 28°C and 31°C). Males are produced between

the range of 31°C and 34°C, and females are again produced above 34°C. If the temperature gets too high for too long, above 37°C, the embryos will develop heat stress and may die. In any given population, the different nesting areas will experience different temperatures, resulting in a mixed group of sexes. Even within the nest, different levels may have slightly different temperatures.


Xander Combrink

Jelger Herder

Andrew Procter

the nest. The eggs are hard-shelled and white, around 750 x 550 mm in size. A jelly-like liquid is expelled along with the eggs, preventing them from cracking when they fall into the hole. Like marine turtles, nesting females go into a trancelike state during the egg-laying process. Once finished, she covers the nest with sand and gently pads it down using her hind feet and belly. The process can take between one and four hours. Female crocodiles are highly protective of their nests and will remain on or very near the nest over the 73 to 95-day incubation period. This is a vulnerable time for the eggs, as monitor lizards, mongoose and baboons are known to raid the nest when the female goes to cool off in the water. When embryonic development is complete, the young crocodiles begin yelping inside the eggs and use a special egg-tooth to break the shell. The sand or soil is often impacted quite hard at this stage, so the female digs the hatchlings out. For a long time people believed the female ate her young, but careful observation later proved that she gently places the hatchlings in her mouth and transports them to a safe haven in the water to be released. It’s incredible to watch those powerful bone-splintering jaws manoeuvre a delicate hatchling between her teeth and into her mouth. She can also break open unhatched eggs in her teeth with-

On the Menu A slow metabolism means crocodiles can go for long stretches without food. Here’s what they eat. ISTOCKPHOTO

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out injuring the hatchling. When the female takes a batch of hatchlings down to the water, the ones in the nest are again vulnerable to predators. The hatchlings will remain together in a nursery area along with the protective mother. This is usually a well-vegetated part of the lake or river which provides shelter and a hunting area for the young. They will remain in the safety of the nursery for several weeks after which they begin dispersing and fending for themselves. The female will also resume normal hunting and basking behaviour after a few weeks.

ABOVE: How do you capture a Nile crocodile? Very carefully. Xander Combrink (left) and Jonathan Warner (right) pull a crocodile from Lake St Lucia in order to fit a colour tag to the tail for mark resight analysis. Fitting a GPS transmitter to the crocodile’s back allows researchers to monitor its movements.

The crocodile’s

Hungry eyes

When impala or zebra come to drink from a river or dam, a hungry adult crocodile will submerge below the water and sneak up on its unsuspecting prey. Slowly, with only its eyes, nose and ears above the surface, the crocodile moves ever closer, submerging whenever it moves forward. Smaller antelope or zebra, such as calves or foals are usually preferred, but a large crocodile has no trouble taking down an adult zebra or wildebeest. With a sudden and powerful lunge, the crocodile will fasten its powerful jaws around the muzzle or throat of its victim and pull it deeper into the water, where it will drown. The conical teeth of a crocodile can exert a ton of force, easily puncturing the hide and crushing

Hatchling and juvenile crocodiles

Insects, spiders, frogs, small fish

Medium-sized crocodiles

Fish, including catfish, birds, small mammals

Adults, on average 2 m to 4 m in length

Impala, zebra, wildebeest, similar-sized prey

future

There are 23 species of crocodilians of which Africa has three: the widely distributed and better-known Nile crocodile Crocodylus niloticus, and two lesser-known tropical species, the slender-snouted crocodile Crocodylus cataphractus and the dwarf crocodile Osteolaemus tetraspis of the Central and West African forests. In South Africa, the Nile crocodile’s status seems uncertain and no current estimate is available for the total population. Twenty years ago, the South African crocodile population was estimated less than 8 500 wild crocodiles; recent surveys suggest that a number of populations are decreasing. Read more about the future of the Nile crocodile in Southern Africa on www.wildcard.co.za. SPRING 2011 WILD 29


Crocodiles

VMS IMAGES / F POELKING

TASTY MOUTHFUL A massive Nile crocodile polishes off an impala in one go.

bones. Even terrapin shells can be reduced to mash with a few crushing bites. Co-operative feeding between crocodiles occurs when several crocodiles feed on a large carcass. Each crocodile bites a section of flesh and they then spin in the water, tearing off a bite-sized section of flesh and swallowing it whole. Crocodiles are efficient scavengers and keep river systems clean by feeding on the remains of dead animals. They have been recorded feeding on hippo and elephant carcasses in or near rivers. They are also essential in keeping fish populations in check. In rivers where crocodiles no longer occur, catfish have increased dramatically, which in turn places pressure on other fish species as a result of competition and predation. Their gastric enzymes are very strong. Crocodiles have the lowest pH levels recorded for any vertebrate animal and can easily break down fur, hooves and bone. After a large meal, crocodiles will spend lengthy periods basking on the riverbank where their raised body temperature will help them digest their meal. Crocodiles can go for extended periods without feeding, especially during drought and cold weather, relying on their body fat reserves to tide them over. 30 WILD SPRING 2011

ISTOCKPHOTO

In rivers where crocodiles no longer occur, catfish have increased dramatically, which in turn places pressure on other fish species as a result of competition and predation.

Osteoderms are ossified or bony growths in the skin, most notably in the raised plate-like scales running along the crocodile’s back. These provide extra strength to the scales, giving the crocodile protective armour.

Spot Crocs Here Worldwide there are 23 living species of crocodilians (alligators, crocodiles, caimans and gharials) in the wild. In South Africa, crocodiles are found mainly in protected reserves including the rivers, dams, pans and lakes in Kruger National Park, Mapungubwe National Park, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, Mkhuze Game Reserve, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Ndumo Game Reserve. A good place to see all three African species up close is at the St Lucia Crocodile Centre.


MONKEYS Vervet monkeys are small, cheeky characters with big personalities, and special adaptations that let them have the run of the trees. By Megan Emmett.

Vivacious S

32 WILD SPRING 2011

MEGAN EMMETT

If you’re watching a dominant vervet perched up a tree, chances are his teeth are not what will catch your attention.

o profusely does nectar tion so much easier within the troop. The flow from the abundance of scarlet scrotum of a mature male vervet monkey is flowers on a weeping boerbean tree bright blue while the penis is bright red. (InSchotia brachypetala that pools of it cidentally, this is the reason for the species’ Afrikaans name blouaap or blue ape.) The form beneath the majestic boughs. Swarms of brightly coloured butterflies descend, as blue colour develops at puberty due to boosted well as troops of vervet monkeys Chlorocebus testosterone levels. High ranked males will pygerythrus. After a long, fruitless winter, the demonstrate their sexual maturity and social flowers are as irresistible to the monkeys as standing to other males by flashing their sweets are to children. genitals at any given opportunity. Because Find a flowering tree the dominant males always and, nine out of 10 times, sit with their legs apart, their the branches above will genitals conspicuously on be writhing with activity display, there is no mistaking as if a strong wind were who is the boss. shaking them. Watch a Not only males use the while and you’ll find little visual benefits of commublack faces, hemmed on nicating through colour. Any individual wishing to the sides with silver fur, peering back at you. intimidate another will raise Especially the sentinels its brow to reveal its white whose job it is to look eyelids, which contrast out for danger. These indisharply with the black face viduals perch higher up in and convey an unmistakable the branches where they message to the recipient: Mature males have brightlycoloured genitals designed have a good vantage point Back off! Maybe not quite to catch the eye. of the surrounds. They are what we’re used to as far as usually dominant males who have a vested ‘making eyes’ at someone is concerned. Colour vision is also necessary to discern reproductive interest in defending their troop, not to mention the biggest teeth. ripe fruit from unripe. Since fruit makes up a If you’re watching a dominant vervet large proportion of a vervet’s diet, it is imperperched up a tree, chances are his teeth are ative vervets are able to tell ripeness. Green not what will catch your attention. More fruit contains tannins and alkaloids that taste likely it’ll be the colour of his genitals. You bitter and are sometimes toxic. Once ripe, see, the same ability that allows the monkeys fruit loses its distastefulness and becomes to easily find red flowers in a boerbean tree rich in healthy sugars. makes them able to easily recognise a domiHaving colour vision means that vervets’ nant troop-member. It’s an ability we take for night-time vision is not great, much like granted: colour vision. humans. So before nightfall the monkeys Seeing in colour makes visual communica- will seek the shelter and safety of large trees


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THE POWER OF TOUCH A female comforts a baby. Notice the white face of the baby.

VMS IMAGES / JAMES HAGER

VERVETS


MONKEYS

By not raising a noisy alarm, the troop can escape the attentions of predators who may not yet have noticed them.

where they will huddle together for the night, usually in their rank groups. In the case of a flowering boerbean, they needn’t abandon their feeding site at nightfall as it serves both functions. They can sleep in its broad boughs and, in the morning, they’ll be exactly where they want to be, ready to begin feeding on the delicious blooms once again. Sentinels use colour as a passive alarm system for the troop while they feed. By occupying a conspicuous perch, a sentinel’s white belly is obvious to members of the troop and his presence assures the foragers that the coast is clear. Should the sentinel abandon his post, the entire troop will notice and quietly slip into the cover of the leafy branches. By not raising a noisy alarm, the troop can escape the attentions of predators who may not yet have noticed them. When serious danger threatens, though, noise works best to raise the alarm quickly, a talent well developed in vervet monkeys. To the casual observer, the pandemonium

that erupts at the sentinel’s alarm may seem a racket. The reality is that vervets have an impressive 36 calls in their vocal repertoire, with each sound signalling a specific message. At least six different alarm signals have been identified. Used to indicate the presence of different types of predators, for example an aerial threat or a prowling leopard, each call elicits a different response from the troop. In the case of a bird of prey, the troop will take to the densest part of the tree canopy to hide. In the case of a snake, they may rise up on their hind legs and chatter agitatedly. When distressed, vervets will alarm call constantly and stare in the direction of the source of disturbance making it possible for each other, and consequently even people, to locate predators by following their gaze. I’m not sure whether it was the lack of flowering boerbeans in the camp in iSimangaliso Wetland Park or simply the opportunistic and downright mischievous nature of the

34 WILD SPRING 2011

HEADS OR TAILS? The long tail helps with balance during leaps and when the monkey’s running along branches.

VMS IMAGES / PETE WALENTIN

DALE MORRIS

AT FACE VALUE The vervet’s dark little face is ringed with white fur so that facial expressions stand out.


HANDS ON Vervet monkeys have deft fingers and opposable thumbs.

VMS IMAGES / PIUS KOLLER

Tents aren’t monkey-proof so lock your food in a car or cooler box.

MEGAN EMMETT

Which monkey? South Africa has two species of monkey. Here’s how to tell them apart.

Boerbean flowers are rich in nectar and irresistible to monkeys.

vervet monkey, but a particular troop on the look-out for a good breakfast stands out in my memory. I was eleven. The Easter holidays meant school had been left behind in Johannesburg for two weeks. After zipping our tents tightly, we’d gone off to explore the lagoon and mangroves. When we returned an hour or so later, there were shiny cartons strewn around our site. The monkeys had found our store of hot cross buns and managed to take a bite from every single bun out of two dozen. The buns still sat side-by-side neatly in their trays, each one was now simply missing a less-thanneatly cropped mouthful. Remarkably, the tent remained undisturbed: they’d entered and exited under the seam of the zip and upset nothing else. Cheeky they may be, but at least they’re considerate. www.wildcard.co.za

Vervet

Samango

Common throughout South Africa where there are trees and water

Found in evergreen forests around St Lucia and in Mpumalanga

Silver-grey coat

Dark grey coat

Prominent white stripe above eyes

No noticeable stripe above eyes

Males weigh around 6 kg

Males are bigger and weigh in at 7 to 9 kg

Don’t feed the monkeys No matter how cute those little faces and big eyes may be, don’t give in as feeding monkeys is not an act of kindness. It teaches them that they can easily get food from humans, and leads to them becoming dependent on people for their next meal. When it’s not forthcoming, they become aggressive and, long after the holidaymakers have gone home, this still has to be controlled in some way. Don’t leave food out where monkeys can access it and make sure doors are left closed. Tents aren’t monkey-proof so lock your food in a car or cooler box. If an item is stolen, it’s not a good idea to try and retrieve it. Nor is it fair to throw things at the animals, they’re only doing what is natural to them. SPRING 2011 WILD 35


MSINSI When city life in Durban and Pietermaritzburg leaves you desperate for a wildlife recharge, the Msinsi reserves are right next door. By Patricia McCracken

Water & T

he gymnogene flew low and direct across six lanes of freeway, only a couple of wingspans ahead of the car, settling in a tall gum tree on Durban’s Field’s Hill. Wearied by five intense days in darkened conference halls, my heart lifted at this sign of wildlife joys to come. The city fell away, greenery arched above and that sustaining dream appeared, hidden deep in a valley below billowing sugarcane.

36 WILD SPRING 2011

In the verdant countryside that surrounds Durban and Pietermaritzburg lie five dams managed by Msinsi Holdings, a subsidiary of Umgeni Water. Albert Falls, Hazelmere, Inanda, Nagle and Shongweni form the heart of the Msinsi Resorts and Game Reserves, and I would be exploring three of these destinations.

Place of refuge

The area of Shongweni Dam and Game Reserve has been a haven for many, many


wildlife generations. “The first Iron Age people stayed around there from about 300AD,” says archaeobotanist Christine Sievers, currently researching a coastal cave with a Wits University team. “And there’s surprising evidence of the first caltigens, or domesticated plants, from about 400BC.” From the ancients to our pressured world, walking Shongweni’s trails and family picnics are part of many Durbanites’ memory bank. They’ve shared that pride with overseas visitors, thrilled

to see rhino, buffalo and giraffe within 40 km of central Durban. “During 1998’s International Ornithological Conference, delegates really enjoyed Shongweni,” says Birdlife Port Natal member Jenny Norman. She rates it her favourite Durban reserve, having ticked 263 bird species there, also recommending trying to spot Temminck’s hairy bat with the Durban Bat Interest Group. Shongweni’s accessibility makes it a

useful eco-resource for schools, even highlighting alien plants that invade from surrounding farmlands and gardens, and rehabilitating former gum plantations. At Shongweni, the kloof towers up, its sandstone walls clad with valley bush. Reserve manager Sandile Mkhize draws my attention to how it’s studded with prime euphorbia species. Ian Player describes such awesome sights in his 1964 memoir Men, Rivers and Canoes, and it

SCENIC SETTING Inanda Dam is located in the pic­ turesque Valley of a Thousand HIlls. www.wildcard.co.za


MSINSI Shongweni is a good place to fish for tila­ pia, bass and barbel.

Shongweni offers an authentic bush experience with game viewing in safari vehicles. Sign us up for the Champagne Breakfast Safari.

The five Msinsi Dams lie in the lush countryside around Durban and Pieter­ maritzburg.

38 WILD SPRING 2011

was to honour the area’s natural beauty as well as tackle the athletic challenge that he founded the Duzi Canoe Marathon. About 20 years ago, after playing a key role in saving Zululand’s white rhino and founding the Wilderness Leadership School, Player saw that the biodiversity of the land around the dams built to supply Durban needed managing. Shongweni was the first Msinsi reserve, still welcoming Player’s beloved canoeists as well as being a haven for fishers. “We have our favourite spots,” grin fishermen Damon Friis and David Goble, not giving much away. “We move round the dam according to the sun and the season.” Durban’s first dam, Shongweni was opened in 1927 where the uMlazi, Sterk­ fontein and Ugede Rivers flow together. After about 65 years, it was pensioned off, but with light playing on its swooping arches and soaring buttresses, you can see why photographers are intrigued by this fantastical industrialmeets-eco subject. Many family legends come from holidays at the Ugede tented camp on stilts, fishing camp and Bheka campsite. But

the big news is Mkangoma Camp, revamped from an eight-person lodge to an upmarket, fully catered tented camp in the heart of the game reserve. Sandile leads me to a jaw-dropping view, eyeball to glaring eyeball with a crowned eagle on its higgledy-piggledy nest. Later, he points out where you’d sit on the camp deck during the breeding season to watch the crowned eagle fly in with a duiker between its talons to feed its brood. Talk about nature, red in tooth and claw. Shongweni is very much Sandile’s second home and, indeed, where he’s bringing up his two teenaged children. Like plenty of visitors, he’s a keen fisher­ man, catching tilapia, bass and barbel here. “But never carp, though I’ve tried very hard!” He first came here as a wildlife management student intern and was so keen that he was asked to stay on. He’s Reserve manager Sandile Mkhize loves being surrounded by wild animals at Shongweni.

Patricia McCracken

The Msinsi reserves are so well placed for business travellers, you can drop in for a couple of hours’ recharging and the chance to boost your personal lifelist. Or even hold a small conference right there.


Sectetueros dolor sequisl exerosto dionsenim zzrit ad et nos nulput adionse magnit

LUXURY LIVING Mkangoma Bush Lodge at Shongweni Dam is straight out of the Jungle Book.

Place of hope

Further west, in the lea of KwaZuluNatal’s Table Mountain and cupped by hills where monster snakes legendarily lurk, you’ll be greeted by broadly smiling Thanda Zulu, manager of the Nagle Dam and Game Reserve. Like Sandile, she’s a striking example of how Msinsi’s small but strategically important reserves have been built on hopes and dreams. “I matriculated in 1997, but I didn’t know about financial aid for studying till 2002,” Thanda explains. “I chose an environmental management diploma because the environment’s always been important to me. I volunteered at Opathe Reserve outside my home in Ulundi. It was two years’ studying, so I was straight into my career with the year’s work experience.” Thanda has since progressed to a www.wildcard.co.za

BTech and is studying for her master’s. She’s also discovered her entrepreneurial flair, strategising and overseeing the new tented-camp development at Nagle that’s got visitors queuing and should boost income healthily. “It was already booked out for two months in 2012 before it was even built,” Thanda reports proudly.

Some people fall so in love with Nagle they want to make it part of their history. Getting married at the gazebo overlooking Nagle dam means couples can celebrate both their love and this glorious landscape. We also meet up with visiting local chief, Skhosiphi Mdluli, who looks after pretty much all the land he can see from here and quite a lot beyond. “When there’s a problem in the area, we come here to discuss it and get good advice,” he says. “Our relationship’s really made a difference and Msinsi helps us in many ways.” The broad expanse of glittering water, where red-and-white marker buoys bob invitingly, is an obvious lure for canoeists. But Nagle is more than watersports and

blissful braai spots under KZN’s Table Mountain. Ray Naguran, now Msinsi marketing manager, recommends from his boyhood wonderful hikes into those surrounding hills. Or for quieter moments, you could bump into one of the local birding and botanical fundis who regularly drop in. For R&R, there’s truly characterful accommodation. At Nagle Lodge, a pretty old farmhouse, you can nurse your mug of coffee under the broekie-lace and meditate on the far blue-green hills, or test your binos on the LBJs fluttering around. Birding from the private swimming pool at the Thanda Zulu, the manager of Nagle Dam and Game Reserve, is excited about the new tented camp at Nagle.

Patricia McCracken

worked his way up and round all the Msinsi reserves since. “Growing up in Ma­hlabatini in northern KwaZulu-Natal, I always loved animals. Like many children, I dreamed of elephants,” says Sandile. His cellphone ringtone of an elephant trumpeting honours that memory and the day he saw his first elephant in the Pilanesberg.

Nagle Dam’s Msinsi Lodge offers seclusion for six.


MSINSI

MARIETJIE FRONEMAN

more luxurious, sandstone Msinsi Lodge on your own 40 hectare peninsula of African bush is undoubtedly cool.

Place of dreams

A lovelorn zebra is hovering by the fence at Albert Falls Dam and Game Reserve. “Every day he ends up here,” smiles reserve manager Denise Govender. “He’s crazy about a zebra next door.” Denise is another version of Msinsi’s career success stories, starting as head office bookkeeper in 1997 and extending her organisational skills to reserve management in 2009. She’d never anticipated the challenge of a lovesick zebra though. Tucked away beyond Pietermaritzburg, people in the know have a bolthole at Albert Falls. It might be a mobile home with everything from a fleet of fishing-rods to a satellite dish or a clever stopover on a long holiday road at a comfortable chalet shaded by one of the reserve’s trademark sausage trees, or perhaps luxuriating at Kar­ kloof Lodge high over the dam where fish eagles fly and cry. Beneath wide, open skies reflecting on wide, inviting waters, distantly ringed by the Karkloof Hills, Msinsi founder Ian Player still lives. Here generations have been coming to picnic, explore the nature reserve and enjoy the dam’s watery world. Those lazy summer afternoons and sharp winter mornings are woven into the warp and weft of family fabric in KwaZulu-Natal and beyond. And with the spirit of spring and love in the air, as at Nagle, many couples make a beautiful start to their dreams together at next-door Bon Accorde. “Our thatched boma at the water’s edge is stunning for any function,” Denise says. “But it really seems to bless a wedding.”

TRIP PLANNER For a detailed trip planner, go to www.wildcard.co.za and search ‘Msinsi’.

40 WILD SPRING 2011

HEAR MY SONG Listen out for Levaillant’s cisticola in the reedbeds by the dams.

SKYSCRAPER You’ll find giraffes – and other game – less than an hour from Durban’s CBD.

Albert Falls Dam

HOWICK Hazelmere Dam

Nagle Dam

PIETERMARITZBURG

Inanda Dam

INANDA N3

Shongweni Dam

With their combination of water and wildlife, all reserves have self-guided walks or trails for game viewing and birding. At Shongweni, Nagle and Albert Falls, you can also book guided walks and game drives. All host a range of watersports, boating, canoeing and fishing. Contact 031-765-7724 or www.msinsi.co.za. No need for fisherman’s tales — the fish really are that big at Msinsi.

N2

DURBAN


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What would our world be like without rhinos? Poaching is threatening the very survival of this iconic species – but you can help preserve rhinos with the swipe of a MyPlanet card. By Braam Malherbe In the past two years rhino poaching has reached epidemic proportions: on average a rhino is senselessly killed every 20 hours. Traditional Chinese Medicine and other cultural uses continue to drive the trade, even though there is no scientific evidence that rhino horn holds any medicinal value. Education to the Asian market is necessary but stricter sentencing of poachers and syndicate operators is equally important. Funding is vital to ensure that rangers receive adequate training and that orphaned calves can be correctly reared, essential equipment purchased, educational programmes

implemented ... and more. As home to almost 95 per cent of the world’s rhinos, South Africa is one of the last strongholds. If each of us makes a small contribution to preserving these iconic animals, our collective effort will have a dramatic impact. My DOT initiative is all about doing one thing to make a difference to the environment. The MyPlanet card is an easy way to support rhino conservation and anti-poaching efforts – and it won’t even cost you a cent. Simply get a MyPlanet card at any Woolworths store or online at www.myplanet.co.za and nominate the

Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Rhino Fund as your beneficiary. Every time you shop at Woolworths, or any other of the registered merchants, swipe your card. A percentage of your spend will go to the EWT Rhino Fund and you’ll get a monthly statement showing how much money has been raised. Every few months we’ll tell you how the funds have been spent. In this way you can actually see the difference you are making. Go to www.facebook.com/ WoolworthsSA and sign the petition to save our rhinos while getting your MyPlanet card.

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flora

PollEn

POWER The bloom and buzz of spring is like a vibrant market place, where insects and birds come to taste the floral wares in exchange for their pollination services. By Amida Johns

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DALE MORRIS

culptural disas with delicate petals. Eye-catching watsonias in electric colours. Pastel-coloured freesias that perfume the air. This great variation we see among plants is made possible by pollination. With the rising sunlight, flowers make use of extravagant colour, scent and form to attract a myriad eager animals. During the pollination process, male pollen is transferred to the female egg cells of another flower of the same species and seed is set. The transportation of pollen from flower to flower occurs by various means, ranging from something as haphazard as the wind to an exclusive plant and animal species interaction. It is the structure and function of flowers more than anything else that reflect the means of pollination adopted by a plant. Flowers which set their pollen on the breeze produce large clouds of fine dust that is caught

1. Ladybird beetles are known preda­ tors that feed on aphids found on flowering plants. They may inadvert­ ently pick up pollen as they move about, transporting it to another plant of the same species and so facilitating the process of pollination. 2. Butterflies, such as this white specimen, are active pollinators. Butterflies see best in the red range, a colour not seen as an attraction by other insects. Typically ‘butterfly flowers’ are thus red and often tubu­ lar, although a variety of other types are visited. 3. Some wasps feed on nectar during the adult phase of their life cycle. Pollen wasps, on the other hand, use a pollen and nectar mix to build their nests. Both types act as pollinators

in passing by the receiving partner. The structure of the female other, the stigma, is suitably adapted for this, often being wide with a flat tip protruding far beyond the petals. These flowers are usually many, small, scentless and dull coloured, having no need to attract a courier. Typical are the grasses. The use of creatures to distribute pollen is a more precise and sometimes more complex process. Flowers that use pollinators are the ones we are most aware of in spring. They are brightly coloured, heavily scented or may have an intriguing design. The plants must above all motivate and reward the carrier for visits with either nectar or a part share of the pollen. The majority of plants are insect pollinated and their dominant service providers are beetles, bees, moths, butterflies and flies. But the most conspicuous pollinators are birds, as they fly to and from their chosen flowers.

during their comings and goings. 4. Butterflies and moths spend their adult lives feeding on the nectar offered by flowers and as such are important pollinators. While butter­ flies find flowers thanks to their keen vision, moths rely on their sense of smell. 5. Locusts, like this milkweed plant specialist, are herbivores and only accidentally operate as couriers of pollen when they put down on a flowerhead. 6. The lesser double collared sun­ bird is a conspicuous visitor to its favoured feeding plant. The bird will poke its slender beak deep into the flowerhead and lap up the sweet nec­ tar, at the same time rubbing pollen onto its forehead or chest.

7. Pollination is not without its risks. Insects drawn to the blossoms on a tree may fall prey to a chameleon hidden among the leaves. When a suitably sized victim comes within reach, the chameleon strikes. 8. The hawk moth is a very powerful and accurate flier. In their ability to hover they are similar to humming­ birds, allowing nectar to be taken on-the-wing. They are attracted to flowers that emit their scent in the early hours of the evening. 9. The comic-looking monkey beetle loves bright colours. They may be seen packed on a single flower in a state of frenzied courtship and feeding activity. The males have long back legs, which they use in battle for the flower and the mate. SPRING 2011 WILD 43


VIDA VAN DER WALT

Many insects are variously covered with hair. Apart from its function to the insect itself, a body swathed in hair is ideal for trapping pollen grains. As the insect feeds on the flowers, the grains adhere to the hairs and are so transported to the next flower.

44 WILD SPRING 2011


flora

DALE MORRIS

The distinctive irregular arrangement of the stamens (male flower parts) of this Cyanella earns it the common names of five fingers or lady’s hand. Cyanella flowers are buzz pollinated, which means the pollen is released when the bee vibrates the flowerhead.

www.wildcard.co.za

SPRING 2011 WILD 45


KOBUS POTGIETER

VIDA VAN DER WALT

Bees are very effective pollinators because they undertake collection rounds on one type of flower at a time. They satisfy their energy needs with nectar and feed their young on a mix of nectar and pollen. Most bee-pollinated flowers are of the open form, but legumes or pea plants have complex flowers that need to be forced open.

XX WILD SPRING 2011

Flies, apart from being pests, are important pollinators of many flowers. There are various species of fly, from carrion flies that are attracted to rotten smelling flowers like Orbea, to special足 ist flies with long, sucking tongues designed for the long-tubed spring flowers of Namaqualand.


flora

DALE MORRIS

The showy flowers of the water lily, Nymphaea, have a deep blue to mauve colour and an effusive sweet smell. The flower opens only in bright sunlight and is eagerly visited by insects.

Colour me Beautiful The colour and form of flowers are not haphazard, but serve to attract and guide the pollinator. While it is often the colour of flow足 ers that first attracts us, pollinators vary in the way they perceive colour. Birds and butterflies best locate flowers that are red, often forming all-important relationships. One example is the mountain www.wildcard.co.za

pride butterfly, which is the only known visitor of 16 different red flowering plants. Most other insects seem to prefer the cooler end of the spectrum, while yellow is favoured by all. White flowers, as the sum of all visible wavelengths, may seem a bit plain to us, but to insects they are attractively coloured. Scientists say that ultraviolet light, which

is invisible to humans, reveals colours and patterns on flowers to insects. What looks like a drab flower to us, may to a bee appear much brighter and with an eye-catching design around the stamen in the centre. Although we cannot really know what insects see, one thing is certain; insects see flowers, quite literally, in a different light. SPRING 2011 WILD 47


Guides and tourism officers translate the language of our favourite wild places, helping us enjoy nature more by sharing their knowledge. By Santi van Niekerk and Debbie Cooper

Frank has learned to live with all the animals, instinctively knowing when to back up and when to sit quietly and watch them passing through.

48 WILD SPRING 2011

johannes van niekerk

A BIRDER’S BEST FRIEND Twitchers know to ask for Frank Mabasa’s help in finding specials.


Voices of

People in parks

nature Frank Mabasa

johannes van niekerk

Frank Mabasa has spotted 257 bird species at the Pafuri picnic site.

Pafuri magic

A biological hotspot and a wetland of international importance, Pafuri boasts lush greenery and large herds of animals as well as a colourful past. The mysterious Thulamela Ruins, meaning ‘Place of Birth’, is the site of one of the earliest African civilisations. Then there is Crooks’ Corner on the border between South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, where wanted men would hide from the law on an island in the river.

www.wildcard.co.za

lmost at the end of the Luvuvhu River’s journey lies a serene landscape in the dappled shade of giant trees. The Pafuri area has been described as one of the wildest places in the Kruger National Park. On the meandering S63 road, on the banks of the Luvuvhu, you will find the Pafuri picnic spot, a small piece of heaven managed by tourism officer Frank Mabasa. Frank has 23 years’ service at SANParks, 14 of which have been spent at the Pafuri picnic spot. Frank knows the whispers of the trees, the ways of vervet monkeys and the gurgling of the river’s water that passes by like an old friend. In short, Frank has become the voice that translates the emotions of nature around the Pafuri area. When Frank first arrived at Pafuri he noticed the birds that frequented the lush riverine forest around his place of work. Often during quiet days, he would rehearse some of the calls and, to his great surprise and ultimate pleasure, the birds would reply. Sometimes even perch close by to inspect the rival. It was on one of those quiet days that two men arrived at the picnic spot and started chatting to Frank about birds, asking him whether he had seen this bird and that bird. At that stage Frank did not know much about bird names, so out came a bird book and to the utter surprise of the two visitors, Frank pointed out a number of birds in the book that would turn any bird watcher green. They left the book and a challenge: Frank had to list as many birds as possible. The visitors never returned to check his bird list, but opened a window for Frank that would change his life. Frank completed a couple of birding courses, then in 2006 qualified as a bird guide through Birdlife South Africa. His personal birding list of 257 species found at the picnic site will inspire any aspirant birder to

Kruger National Park

spend much more time picnicking. His favourite places to seek out special birds are the picnic site, the Luvuvhu River bridge, Nyala loop and Crooks’ Corner. In the book Best Birding in Kruger by Brett Hilton-Barber and Lou Arthur, Frank is hailed as the “Pafuri birding expert” and with good reason. Often Frank will go to the picnic site soon after daybreak to start his daily chores. This time of day affords him the opportunity to listen to bird calls and have his silent moments. It was on one such morning that he noticed an elderly couple unloading their picnic things just as a group of lions entered the site from another direction. He gave a mighty warning shout and ran for the ablutions. Luckily the couple jumped right back into their vehicle and out of harm’s way. Eventually, the lions left and peace was restored. Frank has learned to live with all the animals, instinctively knowing when to back up and when to sit quietly and watch them pass through. It is perhaps this lesson, taught by nature, that gives him the wonderful wisdom to deal with humans. There are those who come to his picnic spot with heavy hearts, those seeking to chat and those who request his help in seeking the elusive Pel’s fishing owl or the muchcoveted narina trogon. Frank manages his site with an eagle eye. Not only is it well kept and spotless, but his pride in his work and his passion for birding and nature are a wonderful bonus for all visitors. People who spend time at Pafuri picnic spot seldom leave without a smile in their hearts, as Frank radiates a welcoming aura to all who seek respite underneath the ample shade of gnarled Ana trees. Once you start asking, his eyes start searching. It is perhaps then that he will tell you, in his unassuming way, that dreams come true if you keep your eyes raised to the tree tops. – SvN

SPRING 2011 WILD 49

Frank Mabasa

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Birder’s delight


JAN KRIEL

PEOPLE in parks

In the unforgiving landscape of the Kgalagadi, Jan Kriel has found his niche.

JAN KRIEL

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Knowing when to intervene

omething woke him in the small hours of the night. Jan Kriel lay still for a while, listening. Then the smell that had permeated his rooftop tent hit him full blast in the face. Gingerly he reached for the little bundles next to his hiking boots, but his socks smelled like daisies. Slowly he undid the tent’s zip, shone his torch to the bottom of the ladder, then smiled. Five male lions lay sleeping underneath the tent, filling the air with their carnivorous breath. The rest of the group on the Nossob 4x4 Eco Trail were sound asleep, so he lay there, watching the lions. His thoughts went back to his childhood, his parents who were active in nature conservation, seeing his first lions in cruel captivity and his dream to always work in places where animals roam wild and free. After 18 years’ field guiding, Jan still gets a passionate glimmer in his eyes when a guest tells him about their sighting, be it a meerkat, a Marico flycatcher or a cheetah. As manager of activities for SANParks on the South African section of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, you might imagine Jan to have hung up his hiking boots and be managing a team, but his sunburnt face tells a different story. He is actively involved in day walks, game drives, the 4x4 Eco Trail and also the !Xerry Wilderness Trail, a two-night hike that allows participants to gain deeper understanding of the Kgalagadi’s intricate environment. Jan recounts how he once watched as a newborn springbok buckled and weaved on clumsy legs, its mother nudging it to move. Finally, after a number of mishaps, the little fawn-coloured gazelle found its feet and gave its first steps. After taking its first drink from 50 WILD SPRING 2011

johannes van niekerk

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

its mother’s udder, it lay down tiredly underneath the scrub, blending into the shade. The ewe moved away instinctively to protect her lamb but, exhausted from birth, did not notice a nearing cheetah. After the ewe was dragged away by the cheetah, the lamb lay quietly, its little heart pounding against its ribs. Jan swallowed a lump of tears, his instinct telling him to take the lamb and care for it, yet he knew what he had witnessed was not malice, merely nature taking its course. He turned away, knowing that in the truly wild places of this Earth, there is little or no room for man’s meddling. But sometimes a man must meddle. It was late one afternoon when Jan arrived at Witgat camp, an overnight stop on the Eco Route. He immediately noticed fresh lion tracks and cautioned guests who were setting up camp. A young male lion started approaching rapidly from the waterhole. After Jan had the guests secured in their vehicles, he started reasoning with the lion, telling him there was no place for him at the camp that night. He slowly moved to the back of his own vehicle, all the while having a discussion with the lion about camping space and so forth. At the 10-metre mark, Jan readied his rifle to shoot a warning shot, but also leaned back to grab something from his supply crate to throw at the lion in a last effort to chase him away. A well-aimed can of sweet corn hit the beast on the ribs, sending him off on a fast trot to the dunes with an indignant roar. Later that night beside the campfire, the still-smiling guests asked Jan whether he had been scared. He replied that he had been merely cautious, but felt that reprimanding the seemingly deaf lion with a can of corn would work much better than a warning shot. – SvN

kalahari feast and famine The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park stretches over a vast area: 3,6 million hectares of arid landscape filled with stark contrasts between red sand dunes and infinite blue skies. When the dry winds of winter strip away the grass cover of summer, it leaves the bare bones of life behind. Here you see how every drop of rain brings forth a fragile flower and the joy of new life when the Auob and Nossob Rivers fill with pools of water. It is home to magnificent black-maned lions, enigmatic leopards that hide in camel thorn trees, cheetahs that hunt their prey in heartstopping, adrenalinepumping chases and ever-graceful herds of gemsbok.


PROMISE Mdletshe

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

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avigating the waters glare. I used to do the guiding of the world-famous and provide information as St Lucia Estuary within well, but now I steer while another the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, guide does the talking. These Promise Mdletshe is proud to be at days there are three of us taking the helm of the area’s most popular shifts and it’s a lot easier.” and enduring tourist attraction. It’s With deft skill, he guides the no wonder Promise is a favourite great barge into coves and chanof countless guests on the Santa nels, and up close to pods of Lucia boat: his is a face that smiles slumbering hippos. Occasionally without prompting. A lifetime of one takes umbrage at the intrulaughter and pleasure has left its sion and bares its impressive mark on this skipper’s visage and a incisors. Crocodiles bask on the permanent twinkle in his eyes. banks like wax models, until With skill and a welcoming smile, A local lad who attended school a powerful flick of their tails Promise Mdletshe steers guests on the Santa Lucia. right there on the ‘Island’, Promise launches them into the shallows. has never strayed far from his “Hi Promise, so good to see roots. He began his career at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife you again,” calls a returning passenger. Promise beams by working on a much smaller boat, progressing to a a welcoming grin. “The best part of this job is that I 35-seater and finally to the grand 80-passenger Santa meet hundreds of people from all over the world,” he Lucia. In total, he’s given 22 years’ service, the last 10 says. “They are mostly here for a holiday, relaxed and on this vessel. That’s plenty of visitors in his care. happy, and thrilled with the hippos, crocodiles, birds Many changes have taken place during his seasons and other wildlife that they encounter. Many passenon the water. From gers come back after around 1987, Promise a few years to revisit recalls that the poputhis lovely place. It’s larity of this cruise wonderful to work in began to grow and this environment.” more visitors arrived Still many years as the region became better known. “In the beginning, away from hanging up his captain’s hat, Promise looks for about two years, I was the only skipper, doing every enviably content with his lot, and he’s in no mind to boat trip without a break, day after day. In winter there change direction now. Passing the day on boats in one are three trips a day, in summer we do five. It’s enjoyof the most beautiful and pristine corners of the world, able but also a long day on the water, in the wind and who wouldn’t be happy with that? – DC

Crocodiles bask on the banks like wax models, until a powerful flick of their tails launches them into the shallows.

www.wildcard.co.za

Into coves & channels Wetland wonder world A hippo pads past flamingos as countless other water birds forage against a backdrop of dunes and mangrove forests. In 1999, a landmark decision saw Lake St Lucia and surrounding areas incorporated into one consolidated park and inscribed by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, South Africa’s first. Renamed iSimangaliso in November 1997, the park continues to change and prosper: the western shores of the lake show remarkable signs of regeneration after decades of forestry.

SPRING 2011 WILD 51

PROMISE MDLETSHE

AFRIPICS

The St Lucia Estuary is a waterworld best explored by boat.


PEOPLE in parks

Nothing beats the sense of complete integration into nature, along with the encyclopaedic knowledge of a competent guide.

Bheki NJOKO

Bheki Njoko

T

debbie cooper

From years of research and guiding trips, Bheki Njoko is completely at home in the bush.

On foot in the veld

he bush has many secrets to share and stories to tell. Bheki Njoko, bush camp manager at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, is a most eloquent translator. Vastly knowledgeable about his ‘back yard’, his repertoire of Zulu culture, history, botany, animal behaviour and folklore makes for a thoroughly entertaining and riveting lesson. It’s no exaggeration to claim that he has covered much of the 96 000-hectare reserve on foot during his quarter century with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. From early days in the research department, collating data and walking transects, he shifted gear to enter the field of guiding visitors 14 years ago. It was a canny move that has brought him some fame and acclaim. Now overseeing several exclusive camps in KZN’s flagship Big Five reserve, he trains and mentors others. His popularity and reputation is such that he is frequently asked for by name, and I soon learn why on our twohour trot in the cool winter sun. Slightly built and quite dapper in his neat bush apparel, he sets about enlightening me as we head out into the crisp morning. “Here is the site of an old homestead,” he says, pointing out the still-evident clearings where hardened earth marks the floors and cooking hearths of former rondavels. “The people who lived here were told to leave so that the area could be sprayed for the tsetse flies that transmit the disease nagana. But then a fence was put up and they could not return. Now, they have successfully resolved land claims and while they cannot live here anymore, they are partners in community tourism and receive benefits.” Further along, he spots a buffalo thorn tree and 52 WILD SPRING 2011

Hluhluwe-imfolozi Park

embarks on a detailed explanation of its importance in Zulu culture in bringing ancestor spirits home to rest. A small branch is taken by a family member to the grave or scene of passing and a ritual performed to invite the spirit to return home. This branch is then carried to the homestead and given a place of honour, signifying that the deceased is once more amongst its kin. A rhino midden forms the next lesson, of rivalry centred around the communal loo and the specifics of toilet etiquette. I now know a whole lot more about what goes into herbivores’ digestive systems and what it looks like on the other end. While we hadn’t spotted much more than a few birds and a troop of baboons, we had identified spoor of a dozen species. By the time we reach a spectacular ridge on the edge of the Black Umfolozi River, I’ve accumulated a heap of fascinating facts. Punctuating the tranquil scene, Bheki excitedly points out five lions crossing the shallow river in the far distance. Night-time brings out a different range of skills as he conducts organised night drives for camp guests, spotting nocturnal creatures from the confines of a vehicle. But it’s the bush walks that crown the experience for most visitors, as nothing beats the sense of complete integration into nature, along with the encyclopaedic knowledge of their competent guide. Bheki’s star is set to rise as he appears in a new television series featuring snippets of his experiences on trail. He’s been given a video camera to record the highlights and dramas of life on foot in the veld. He’ll be showing the world his domain, sharing his knowledge and passion with a new audience and continuing the tales of the wild. – DC

His reputation is such that he is frequently asked for by name.

Historic Hluhluwe-

iMfolozi KZN’s flagship park is also the oldest game reserve in Africa. Proclaimed in 1895, the park today extends to some 96 000 hectares with an immense diversity of fauna and flora. The home of the white rhino, the park’s wooded grassland is also a haven for large herds of antelope, buffalo and predators such as lion, cheetah and hyaena. Wilderness trails along mighty rivers and through thorn savanna are the only way to see the untouched wild heart of the park.


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“Eco route really is an appropriate description of this 4x4 trail. It’s more about exploring the wilderness and enjoying the great diversity of landscape than doing technical driving.”

Use low-range to chug up the Wildeperdehoek Pass. From the top you can see for miles.

Make tracks to

tranquillity Photographers Bridgena and Johan Barnard love their 4x4 not for the thrill of driving through dongas and up dunes, but because it gets them way out in the veld where the best picture opportunities are. They tell us about the Caracal Eco Route in Namaqua National Park. 54 WILD SPRING 2011


4x4 Where do you pick up the trail? The route starts at the Skilpad Rest Camp and crosses grass plains and mountain passes before heading to the Namaqua flatlands and, ultimately, the West Coast. At the park’s reception you’ll get a booklet that describes the route and provides numbered grid reference points. Along the way there are signs with a caracal on them to confirm you’re on the right track. Some of these signs are numbered, so you can drive from one to the next, almost like a game of connect the dots. Can you complete the Caracal eco route in a day? We’re sure it’s possible, but we wouldn’t want to try. While the distance isn’t that great, about 200 km in total, there’s just so much to see. We stopped and got out again and again to look at flowers, photograph wildlife and explore the ruins of abandoned farmsteads. We completed the route over two days and stayed the night at the remote Luiperdskloof Cottage, which is an experience in itself. Eco route really is an appropriate description of this 4x4 trail. It’s more about exploring the wilderness and enjoying the great diversity of landscape than doing technical driving. It’s certainly not aimed at hard-core offroaders. The route is graded easy to moderate, though you do need a 4x4 as there are some steep sections with dongas. Which section put your 4x4 to the challenge? About 15 km before Luiperdskloof Cottage you start climbing the Wildeperdehoek Pass, built in the late 1800s. We engaged low-range gear to ease us over the loose gravel and prevent the wheels from losing traction. The next day we encountered a lot of soft, loose sand near Hondeklipbaai, but lowering the tyre pressure was enough to ensure a comfortable ride.

More than 1 000 of Namaqualand’s estimated 3 500 plant species occur nowhere else.

An unusual sighting of a kori bustard, a vagrant to the area. Ludwig’s bustard is resident.

What’s the scenery like? It’s really varied. The route starts in what used to be the Skilpad Wildflower Reserve, which is carpeted in colourful wildflowers in spring. The next section takes you through game-rich grassy plains where we saw red hartebeest, gemsbok, springbok and blackbacked jackal. You’ll drive past quiver trees and huge rocky boulders, arid fynbos and sandy secluded bays. The Spoeg River Mouth is a magnet for waders and there are impressive dunes along the way. We liked the mountain pass the best, but families may want to spend more time on the coast so the kids can play on the beach. Where is the best viewpoint? We loved the view from the top of Wildeperdehoek Pass. You look down into the valley and across to a range of mountains in the distance. You’re surrounded by massive boulders where klipspringers and dassies hang out. It’s a very photogenic spot. Quiver trees make a sculptural statement.

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Even outside of flower season, the veld is adorned with wildflowers. Look for klipspringers on the huge boulders along the way.


4x4

STARRY NIGHT Luiperdskloof is deep in the mountains, perfect for stargazing.

Trip planner

Where would you stop to have lunch? Kookfontein is the perfect place for a relaxing picnic. When we drove up to it we thought we were seeing a mirage as the natural spring surrounded by palm trees looks just like an oasis in the desert. The pool’s not very deep, which the kids will just love.

Getting there Namaqua National Park is about five hours’ drive from Cape Town on the N7. The closest town is Kamieskroon (22 km). Weather Summer is hot, but the rest of the year is mild. Most rainfall is between June and August. Heavy rain may cause the Caracal Eco Route to be closed or changed in parts, so check with the park in advance.

What is Luiperdskloof Cottage like? The cottage is really lovely, very atmospheric. There is no electricity, but dozens of candles and lanterns, a massive fireplace and an outside braai with benches so you can sit and stare into the fire. The silence and the myriad stars are remarkable. The cottage is tucked away in the mountains and there are no other lights to detract from the night sky. After a few days here you’ll feel completely revitalised.

Accommodation The secluded Luiperds­ kloof Cottage sleeps six in comfort. There is no electricity or fridge. Gas is used for cooking and hot showers. R1 000 base rate (1 to 6 people). The chalets at Skilpad Rest Camp are fully equipped and have beautiful views. R605 base rate (1 or 2 people), R160 additional adult, R80 additional child. Prices valid until 31 October 2011.

Is there one thing you didn’t pack, but should have? A flower guide! Our trip took place before flower season, but the veld was still dotted with blooms, some of which were really striking. Next time we’ll also pack camping chairs. The beauty of the trail is that you can get out anywhere and we can imagine nothing better than setting up our chairs in the middle of nowhere and soaking up the scenery, preferably with a cup of coffee in hand. Along the coastal stretch, you can see pretty bays and flower-dotted dunes.

JOHANNES VAN NIEKERK

4x4 trail The Caracal Eco Route can be done in sections or in its entirety. You can get out of your vehicle at any point, but keep an eye out for snakes and leopards (seldom seen). It costs R100 but is free for guests staying at Skilpad Rest Camp or Luiperdskloof Cottage. Unless you plan to stay the night, there is no need to book in advance. Contact Park 027-672-1948 for Luiperds­ kloof and Skilpad Rest Camp bookings.


Take a journey through history to a time when animals had the run of the plains and an ancient civilisation lived on Mapungubwe Hill. You’ll find stately giant baobabs and weathered sandstone cliffs — a timeless backdrop to the great variety of big game. Follow the tree-top trail through the riverine forest or join a heritage tour that delves into the culture of the Golden Rhino. This is a place for all time. Go Wild.

Mapungubwe is calling. Book your escape now! Leokwe Camp • Limpopo Forest Tented Camp • Mazhou Camping Site • Tshugulu Lodge • Vhembe Wilderness Camp Game drives • Guided walks • Heritage tours • Tree-top walk | Reservations (012) 428 9111 or e-mail reservations@sanparks.org |

visit www.sanparks.org or www.sanparks.mobi


KIDS

The joys of

spring

Springtime brings a theatrical change: flowers burst into bloom, creatures put on their colourful best and new life begins.

By Emma Bryce | lllustration by Melanie Adele Slabbert

Did you

know?

Spring is all about the codes that creatures use to attract attention. Animals, birds, insects, flowers and trees use new colours, patterns, shapes, scents and sounds as a way to say “Notice me!” When the signals work, this becomes nature’s way of making new life.

Like many creatures, flower crab spiders — named for their sideways scurry and because they can be spotted decorating flower petals — depend on spring for life. They build their homes on flower heads, lay their eggs and raise their young there, and rely on flowers for food. Their mystical ability to turn petal-pink, yellow or white allows them to blend in with the blooms and prey unseen upon visiting insects.

58 WILD SPRING 2011

Come springtime, nature unrolls a magic carpet ride of colour: pink, purple, orange, yellow and red stars bloom wildly. These are vygie flowers, which hibernate underground during winter but explode in the warmth, using their glowing colours, large numbers and sweet scent to attract insects for pollination.


The Halfmens (half man), a desert tree shaped like a person stooped in the heat, spends winter looking dull, but bursts into a head of red-yellow flowers in spring. These are tube-shaped to match the best pollinators. The chosen ones are ants and bees, which can crawl in, and sunbirds, which use their long curved beaks to reach inside for nectar.

Usually drab coloured, the southern red bishop puts on fancy dress for spring, wearing a dashing red and black combo — new feathers that tell females he is ready to breed. This little bird has other springtime strategies too, like the ability to fluff up his new feathers to make him seem larger, a low buzzing song that alerts females, and a talent for building cosy nests to attract the ladies.

The beetle-daisy uses the patterns on its petals to get attention. When the male bee-fly, the flower’s most important pollinator, sees the raised spots, it swoops down, thinking it has found a mate. Instead it gets showered with orange pollen and is left feeling a little confused. Thanks to its beetle pattern, the flower attracts lots of visitors that then distribute its pollen far and wide.

After winter the landscape is alive with ostrich chicks, an easy time for predators to catch young prey. Ostrich males are hands-on dads and will vigorously defend young. They have even been reported to kill lion with a well-aimed kick. Butterflies bring news that spring is in the air. Bampton’s opal is a blue and rust-coloured beauty that carries signals in its wings. The colours, patterns and flirty fluttering are designed to attract a mate — like a love letter written across the sky. And if you see a group in spring, remember this: you’re watching a kaleidoscope of butterflies. www.wildcard.co.za


12

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When birds lost their teeth, evolution opened up weird and wonderful possibilities. By Phil Hockey

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irds are more mobile They also have hugely long and narrow tongues, than any other crea- allowing them to probe for grubs deep into cracks tures on the planet in trees or, in some cases, holes in the ground. Many nectar-feeding birds have long, thin tongues and able to exploit almost all the world’s habitats. However, which, often coupled with long bills, allow them when birds first took to the to probe deep into flowers in search of their air and committed their foresugary reward. Some nectar-feeding parrots, which limbs to flight, they were no feed from much more open flowers, have special, longer able to use their arms and hands to capture brush-like structures on the ends of their tongues and handle food. Even those birds that have subse- which allow them to lap up nectar. Most birds’ bills are hollow, and this allows for quently abandoned the skies and become flightless are faced with the same dilemma. Aerial speed and the evolution of specialised structures within them. agility allowed birds to chase food items not availFlamingos, for example, are filter-feeders, straining able to their dinosaur ancestors, such as aerial intheir food from the water. To do this effectively, sects and even other birds, but they had to make an they have hair-like ‘lamellae’ attached to the bill. alternative plan to capture and handle their prey. This allows them to sift water through a series of In the transition from their dinosaur past, birds combs, in much the same way as the great baleen also lost their teeth. No longer constrained by the whales filter small crustaceans from the ocean. Most penguins and cormorants have backwardneed for heavy, inflexible jaws in which to mount teeth, their new mouthparts [bills or beaks, the pointing spines on the roofs of their mouths. words are interchangeable – Ed.] represented an These assist with the passage of slippery fish backextraordinary blank canvas on which evolution wards into the throat, helped along by a second set painted a mind-boggling array of possibilities. of mirror-image spines on the upper surface of the These structures range from tongue. The massive, swampthe massive, net-like bills of dwelling shoebill Balaeniceps From wrybills to pelicans and the flesh-tearing too has complex structures shoebills, and curlews to rex bills of raptors all the way in its boot-sized bill. These cisticolas, variations in are believed to be adaptations through to the delicate, nectar-sipping bills of sunbill structure define the to help it handle its favoured birds and hummingbirds prey – hard, but slippery lifestyles birds lead. lungfish. Clearly, however, and the tiny, conical bills of penduline-tits. these structures do not restrict Given the flexibility in bill design, it is unsurshoebills to a diet of lungfish, because in some prising that some birds have evolved bizarre adapparts of their range they are much more varied in tations. Skimmers are a good example, with lower their choice of food. mandibles (jaws) much longer than the upper. With the bill held slightly open, the birds fly low Tough nuts over the water with the lower mandible ‘trawling’, Some birds tackle food items tougher than fish. Many parrots, for example, eat hard-shelled nuts. searching for fish. When a fish is encountered, a special mechanism in the jaw snaps the bill closed, Were they to swallow these whole, they would too fast for the fish to escape. waste a lot of time and energy processing the hard, Woodpeckers too have bills with no compariouter husks that would provide them with little son elsewhere in the animal world. Their bills are nutrition. To overcome this hurdle, they have sharp and sturdy, allowing them to excavate holes immensely strong, hooked bills with which they by hammering into trees – both in search of prey can effectively destroy and remove the husks. In and for making nests. If they did not have special Europe, hawfinches Coccothraustes coccothraustes adaptations associated with their bills, they would have solid, ridged structures inside the bill that at best end up with severe headaches. But they do allow them to crush cherry stones. Try crushing a indeed have such adaptations, a system of shock cherry stone between your teeth to see how much absorbers in the skull. strength is required to do this (bearing in mind the

BIRDING

Long-billed curlew

Lengthy matters Subtle differences in bill structure allow several species to coexist instead of competing for food. Shorebirds are a good example of this. Most have fairly similar bills, straight or decurved, but the length of the bill differs between species. Eurasian curlews Numenius arquata can search for prey deeper in the mud than can common whimbrels N. phaeopus, and curlew sandpipers Calidris ferruginea can probe deeper than little stints C. minuta. Even within species, length of bill can reduce competition between the sexes, for instance by females having longer bills than males.

1. Toucan | 2. Hornbill | 3. Bateleur | 4. Flamingo | 5. Arctic penguin | 6. Egret | 7. Cormorant 8. Martial eagle | 9. Kingfisher | 10. Spoonbill | 11. Great blue heron | 12. Pileated woodpecker

www.wildcard.co.za

SPRING 2011 WILD 61


BIRDING Wrybill Anarhynchus frontalis

Short, wide bills

ALbert FRoneman

PG RYAN

Nightjars, swallows and swifts trawl the skies to hunt aerial insects. Bills that curve downwards

ALbert FRoneman

Hornbills and toucans eat from fruiting trees. Hooked bills

ALbert FRoneman

bird in question is slightly pebbles in fast-flowing smaller than a bulbul). streams, where the stones Shorebirds also have a are mostly rounded. To trick up their sleeves. Emreach its prey, the wrybill bedded in the tips of their has a bill that curves sidebills are sensitive structures ways (almost always to the called Herbst corpuscles right). With the advent of the cold New Zealand that allow them to locate buried prey by smell. Inwinter, these birds move terestingly, night-foraging, to coastal mudflats to feed. Despite their clear adaptaearth-probing kiwis possess the same structures. tion to life on the breeding Staying with shorebirds, grounds, it seems that they the bills of red-necked are at no disadvantage phalaropes Phalaropus at the coast, where they lobatus also have a clever Perhaps the most unique forage alongside other, accessory. These birds spin straight-billed relatives. bill of all belongs to a in the water to pull small But theory doesn’t small and otherwise prey towards the surface in always hold true. Based unspectacular shorebird, on bill structure alone, the vortex they create. But these prey are tiny and the woodpeckers could hunt the wrybill. birds do not catch them in for prey on coastal mudtheir bill tips. Rather, they have narrow grooves flats, but they don’t. And most raptors don’t on the sides of the bill that pull prey upwards catch prey with their bills, despite those bills towards the mouth in the same way that water appearing to be formidable weapons. The rearises in a capillary tube (using surface tension). son is linked to another aspect of their anatomy Perhaps the most unique bill of all belongs to – their legs and feet. Diversification in the hind a small and otherwise unspectacular shorebird, limbs of birds is another key reason why birds the wrybill Anarhynchus frontalis, which breeds have been able to populate the entire planet and on the banks of New Zealand mountain streams. to evolve into so many different species. But This bird searches for invertebrate prey under that is another story for another time.

EAT LIKE A BIRD

Penguins, cormorants and albatrosses handle slippery prey. Sharp, pointed bills

Transition to life in the air was not confined to birds. Many millions of years after dinosaurs gave rise to their airborne descendants, one other group of vertebrates also laid a claim to the skies: bats. Their ability to fly undoubtedly helped them diversify into some 1 200 bat species, accounting for about one fifth of all mammals. The immediate ancestors of bats were not dinosaurs but mammals, possibly forestdwelling, shrew-like creatures. Like birds, bats modified their forelimbs for flight. But, unlike birds, the hands of bats retained separate fingers, joined by a thin membrane (the finger bones of birds are fused for rigidity). Leaving the fingers free gave bats far more manual dexterity than birds. Many bat species use their forelimbs in both the capture and handling of prey, a skill lost to birds. Bats also retained another ancestral, mammalian feature: rigid skulls and enamelled teeth. Bats lack the crops many birds use to pre-process bulk food. As a result, they have to chew their food before swallowing it, which requires teeth. While this could be construed as an advantage over birds, the retention of teeth and rigid jaws may also have constrained the bats, limiting what they could do and where.

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ALbert FRoneman

When Bats Took Wing Darters and herons stab their prey underwater. GURU Professor Phil Hockey is director of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town. He has written and edited several field guides, including Roberts Birds of Southern Africa.


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field notes

Food FIGHT

O

Sometimes the bush resembles a school playground where the biggest kid steals the little ones’ treats. By Jean du Plessis

ne April morning I came upon a trio of tawny eagles ripping into a dead hare. It’s not uncommon for these solitary hunters to gather in groups at a kill and the three eagles seemed to be sharing the spoils quite amicably. As I was watching, a marabou stork wandered closer. I always think of these impressive birds with their black-and-white plumage and stately gait as the undertakers of the bush: you inevitably spot them standing stock-still next to a carcass looking perfectly composed. One eagle hunches protectively over the kill while the others flap at the stork to chase it off.

Once the stork snatches up the carcass, the eagles can only watch as their meal disappears.

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But the raptors didn’t seem nearly as impressed with the newcomer. Although they had been content to split the hare amongst themselves, they clearly had no intention of sharing their prey with the stork. The eagles tried to chase the gatecrasher off, but with its razor sharp bill and massive size, the marabou is a formidable opponent. Suddenly the stork snatched up whatever was left of the hare and within seconds had swallowed the remnants whole. The tawny eagles seemed put out, but there was nothing they could do except fly off to hunt for their next meal.


Shake off life’s stresses with a safari to South Africa’s flagship national park. Every turn in the road brings a new delight: a leopard that melts into the bush, warthog piglets trotting behind their mother, a whole herd of ele­ phants at a waterhole. Wake in the early hours to see the bush stir to life and listen to the buzz of activity that accompanies sunset. Who can resist the call of the wild? Go Wild.

Kruger is calling. Book your escape! From camping and cottages to luxury lodges and safari tents. 4x4 eco trails • Backpacking trails • Bush braais • Game drives Guided walks • Mountain bike trails • Wilderness trails | Reservations (012) 428 9111 or e-mail reservations@sanparks.org |

visit www.sanparks.org or www.sanparks.mobi



WILD16_SPRING2011