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mountain zebra • spioenkop • marakele 4X4 • kgalagadi Cheetah • leopards after dark • iconic trees • kruger birding • trail running • photo hot spot


24 - pag e

c e l e b r at i o n o f B I G C at s

Leopards in the dark of night


Kruger’s very own treeclimbing lions

INSIDE the hunt

How desert cheetahs survive “The sisters have thrilled us and many visitors to Kgalagadi with explosive chases and dust-clouded kills.” – Gus and Margie Mills

Track the fastest mammal yourself at




The truth about feathers

N AT I O N A L PA R K ISSN 1993-7903

ISSN 1993-7903 01018

9 771993 790001

9 771993 790001


KZN: Spioenkop reveals its wild side + top hides Trail running in 7 parks


Birding in rest camps

Test your 4x4 skills at Marakele AUTUMN 2012

members only

Round 2 finalists THE CALL OF THE WILD

These 10 pictures showcase the continent’s amazing wildlife, truly capturing the Spirit of Africa.

JOHAN MARAIS Tsavo East National Park, Kenya

the spirit of africa Amarula invites you to send in pictures of your favourite African moment. Show us what makes travelling across the continent so special and stand the chance to win great prizes.

WIN Prizes worth R60 000

Grand prize: R15 000 Leica photographic equipment, R10 000 Cape Union Mart voucher and R2 000 Amarula hamper. 1st runner-up: R8 000 Leica photographic equipment, R5 000 Hi-Tec outdoor apparel and R1 000 Amarula hamper. 2nd runner-up: R2 000 Leica photographic equipment, R2 500 Hi-Tec outdoor apparel and R1 000 Amarula hamper. People’s choice: R2 500 Hi-Tec outdoor apparel and R1 000 Amarula hamper.


ENTER NOW FOR the open round My African Moment What is your special African memory? Watching the sunset, joining friends around a campfire, having dinner under the stars ... Send us your snapshot of a special African moment for entry into a lucky draw. There are fabulous Amarula hampers up for grabs. Closing date:

23 April 2012

Open round prizes: Eight Amarula hampers to the value of R1 000 each. 1st round 10 finalists: R1 000 Cape Union Mart voucher each. 2nd round 10 finalists: R1 000 Cape Union Mart voucher each. Incentives for photographic societies: R7 000 in Amarula hampers and R2 000 Hi-Tec outdoor apparel. Overall winners and open round winners will be announced in Wild Winter 2012.

How to enter

Go to competitions.htm. Follow the prompts to upload your photos.

Pictures must be taken in Africa. 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 terms and conditions, visit

Matthew Schurch Kalahari

ROSS COuPER Kruger National Park


LES CROOKES Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

JAMES CAMPBELL Timbavati Nature Reserve

PIERRE BASSANI Lake Nakuru, Kenya

ANDRIES Janse van rensburg Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

TERESA NEL Giant’s Castle, Drakensberg

PETER CHADWICK Lake Nakuru, Kenya


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Individual R340 Couple* R560 Family* R700

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Individual R340 Couple* R560 Family* R700

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INTERNATIONAL VISITORS All parks cluster: Individual

R1 310 | Couple* R2 195 | Family* R2 620

*Couple: Any two persons. *Family: Up to two adults and their five children under the age of 18 years, both South Africans and international visitors. Proof of identity, nationality and residency will be required when entering any park, reserve or resort. Prices subject to change without notice.






“Below an overhang was one of the most brightly coloured rock paintings I had ever seen.” judy v.d. walt, page 14


“The Auob Riverbed is a spectacular place to watch cheetahs hunting.” – gus and margie mills

cheetahs WILD BITES


4 Letters


On foot in Mountain Zebra 24 Kgalagadi cheetahs Cheetah tracking is an exciting Survival in the desert calls new way to explore the rolling for special adaptations grasslands near Cradock 44 Lions in trees? 32 Escape to Spioenkop You won’t believe what A bush break that won’t cost Kruger’s cats are up to you the earth 46 Spots and fangs 58 Birding in Kruger Exclusive night-time images Why rest camps are the perfect of leopards place for bird-watching 52 SOS for frogs A rare discovery gives Adventure researchers new hope


10 World Wild Web Find out what’s happening online 13 Who’s your WildStar? New tablet up for grabs 72 Photo hot spot Visit Mkhuze’s Kumasinga Hide for wildlife shots

54 Marakele 4x4 68 Fabulous feathers The eco route into the heart of The nifty designs that enable the Waterberg birds to take flight 64 Trail running in parks The best places to run wild

Inside track Appealing autumn destinations


74 Shoot like a pro How to use perspective 80 Win an escape to Mountain Zebra National Park


78 The water’s calling 38 Trees of life Five top spots for paddling with Look for these iconic trees on family and friends your next trip

76 Creepy crawlies Come along on a bug safari

COVER IMAGE Greg du Toit

14 64


38 AUTUMN 2012 WILD 3

INSIDE TRACK Send your letters to or Wild, PO Box 308, Woodstock, 7915.


Big, lazy, lean and mean cats are on the radar in this issue of Wild. Who can resist their allure? Rosettes, pearl necklaces, golden manes – even the words we use to describe their obvious charms have a seductive appeal. What a thrill it is to bring you unique stories on the big cats. In this issue we have contributions from Gus and Margie Mills, world authorities on desert cheetahs, while National Geographic leopard photo­ grapher Greg du Toit shares his portfolio. Plus a Wild Card member reports on the tree-climbing lions he encountered in the Kruger National Park. I was mes­ merised and am sure you will be too. Did you know you can now go cheetah tracking at Mountain Zebra National Park? When writer Judy van der Walt starting sending us cryptic messages about really really close encounters, we waited with bated breath for her story. You can read her trip re­ port on page 14. Spioenkop is another destination which captivates. Battlefields abound in KwaZulu-Natal, but this one is spectacular. Patricia McCracken was accompanied on assignment by her historian husband Donal and together they weave a spellbinding story. Santi and Johannes van Niekerk were washed out by torrential rain on their first attempt to drive Marakele’s 4x4 Eco Route, but they returned and share their unforgettable time. Jacques Marais describes the adrenalin of trail running inside a park, while Albie Venter sets a more leisurely pace, highlighting birding opportunities in rest camps. Join these adventures and embrace the wonders with Wild. Enjoy!


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


EDITOR Romi Boom DEPUTY EDITOR Magriet Kruger ART DIRECTOR Riaan Vermeulen JOURNALIST Kate Collins TEXT EDITOR Marion Boddy-Evans PROOFREADER Margy Beves-Gibson EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Joan Kruger CREATIVE DIRECTOR Petro du Toit

Rhino battle it out



In November 2011, my wife and I were in Kruger. We were driving from Berg-en-Dal to Skukuza along the H3 and upon approaching the Kwaggaspan waterhole noticed that quite a few cars had stopped. Two rhinos had just started contesting the rights to the area. It looked like it was going to be a fight to the death. Both my wife and I were constantly wishing for the underdog to make a break for it and disappear, but there really was no opportunity for him to do so. Charles Johnson, Linden Charles captured the showdown between the two males on video. Go to and search ‘Rhino’ to see it. If you’d like to share your sighting with us, email

This year I’d like to spend my time in the wild by … Jen Bader: … wandering up and down roads without numbers or tar. Johanna Da Cruz: … not whispering a word to anyone where I sighted all the white and black rhinos. | Christa Rudd: … using my Wild Card more in all areas of the country where I can.

Congratulations to these winners from the previous issue of the magazine: Marie du Plooy, Denise Hartland, Haldane Howieson and Dirk van der Westhuizen each won a copy of Sasol Birds of Southern Africa.


Emma Bryce, Shem Compion, Lourens Durand, Greg du Toit, Marlon du Toit, Albert Froneman, Samantha Hartshorne, Phil Hockey, Hannes Lochner, Jacques Marais, Patricia McCracken, Gus and Margie Mills, Scott Ramsay, Roxanne Reid, Melissa Siebert, Fran Siebrits, Andreas Späth, Judy van der Walt, Santi van Niekerk, Albie Venter

Ramsay, Ruben Rommens, sappi tree spotting – Penny Noall and Joan van Gogh, Melanie Adele Slabbert, Megan Taplin / SANParks, Karin Schermbrucker, Koos van der Lende, Johannes van Niekerk, Judy van der Walt, Albie Venter, vms images


AFRICA MEDIA ONLINE,, Grant Atkinson, Johan Barnard, Lourens Botha, Gillian Condy, Matthew Covarr, Roger de la Harpe, Kate de Pinna, Cliff and Suretha Dorse, Lourens Durand, Marlon du Toit, Greg du Toit, Morkel Erasmus, Albert Froneman, Gallo Images / GETTY IMAGES, Gravity Adventure, ISTOCKPHOTO.COM, Hannes Lochner, Hougaard Malan, Jacques Marais, Patricia McCracken, Paul and Paveena Mckenzie, Gus Mills , Mario Moreno, Gerhard Oliver, William Perry, Scott

PUBLISHED BY TiP Publishing PO Box 13022, Woodstock, 7915 T: (+27) 021-447-6094 F: (+27) 021-447-0312 Editorial queries 021-448-5425

BUSINESS Jaco Scholtz, C: 083-303-0453 ADVERTISING Danie Momberg, C: 084-511-8824 PUBLISHER Theo Pauw 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 Paarlmedia Cape

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

Playful cats We are Wild Card members from Germany and visited the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park last year for the second time. One evening we stopped at Rooikop waterhole near Nossob and spotted some lions. One of them was looking at a part of the pump — the black ball known as the float. The next morning we met the lions again at the same waterhole. Somehow they had managed to get the float from the pump and were playing soccer with it. It was fun to watch them. At times they looked just like kittens playing with a ball of wool. The lions played for more than an hour before leaving on a hunt. While we were there some gemsbok came quite close but the lions didn’t show any interest in them. Stefan Sander, email

CURIOUS MONGOOSE Shane Saunders snapped yellow mongoose exploring rain-water pipes at Nossob rest camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Visitors to the Wild Card website commented on their cute antics. Liz Hardman: Inquisitive creatures! Great sequence of pix. Louise Taback: Very clever they are … Awesome pics. Heidi: This is one of the nicest photo sequences I’ve seen — so full of fun and nobody is in danger or gets killed in the end.

Visit to see more photographic sequences, from cheetah giving chase to birds fighting over prey.

WINNING LETTER *Charles Johnson wins a Storm 3-in-1

Shady spot for a snooze

We recently visited the Kruger National Park and stayed at Berg-en-Dal. While driving in the area we came across an adolescent hyaena that had apparently been left at the den, a drain water culvert. We sat and watched as the hyaena walked around the bakkie; at one point it seemed to nibble on the tyres. It then decided the shade offered by the bakkie was far too much to resist so it crept under the vehicle and fell asleep! Needless to say the occupants didn’t know where the hyaena was, so we had to stay there for quite some time until it woke and moved off. We must congratulate everyone involved with the magazine, it is a highlight for us and we look forward to receiving it. Rodney Willcox, email

The Storm 3-in-1 waterproof jacket is a must-have travelling companion. With a waterproof outer shell and removable fleece inner, it is the only jacket you’ll need — whatever the conditions.

jacket (R1 000) from Hi-Tec. Write to us and you could win a great prize.

People behind the stories Albie Venter can’t remember ever wanting to be anywhere but in the bush. He trained as a field guide and studied nature conservation, and over the years photography and writing have become extensions of his vocation. Albie also takes guests on specialised photographic safaris. After 15 years of running around in the bush he has yet to see a pangolin. On page 58 he reveals the fabulous birding opportunities in Kruger rest camps.

Photographer? Author? Athlete? Or regular family guy? Jacques Marais can’t really decide which of these describes him best, but he does know that he loves life as an adventure photojournalist. Three decades of world travel have seen him dog-sledding in Greenland and chasing adventure racers across Bolivia. He’s currently working on a guide to trail running in South Africa. Read his article on running in parks on page 64. AUTUMN 2012 WILD 5


WILD STUFF EDITED BY KATE COLLINS Send your comments or questions to or Inside Track, PO Box 308, Woodstock, 7915.

New Backpacking Trail in

Kruger RIVER BOUND The Lonely Bull Trail follows the Letaba River through a wilderness area.


There’s a new way to escape the Kruger crowds. Head out from Shimuwini Camp on the Lonely Bull Trail for a guided, four-day hike along the Letaba River, in the area between the Letaba low-water bridge and the Mingerhout Dam.


he riverine vegetation is great for birding, but what makes the Lonely Bull Trail even more exciting is that there’s no predetermined route. You’ll make your way through the spectacular terrain without the pressure of having to be at a certain campsite each night. Get back to basics with a tent, food, gas stove and sleeping bag. If lugging a backpack is not for you, then opt to overnight at the same campsite each night and head out with a daypack only. The trail leader will decide when and where to set up camp. Shutterbugs should keep their cameras ready — you never know what you will see. As the sun sets another side is revealed: the magic of the bush after dark.



Trails run every Wednesday and Sunday from 1 February to 31 October. Choose your trail time well. Rivers are full in summer, which makes collecting water an easy task. In winter, grasses are shorter and wildlife is easier to see. This trail allows you to forget the outside world, to immerse yourself in the wilderness. The terrain around Mingerhout Dam is rather rocky, giving you a good chance of seeing leopards and klipspringers. Kudu are common too but, of course, wildlife sightings do not come guaranteed.


Bookings The Lonely Bull Trail must be booked in advance. Minimum four people, maximum eight. Remember to take essential items only. Trail rangers will check your pack to make sure it is not too heavy. Cost R1 930 a person | Contact Bridget Bagley 012-426-5111 or 6 WILD AUTUMN 2012




We’ve all seen hundreds of ‘anthills’ on game drives, but what exactly are these strangely shaped towers and what goes on inside them? By Andreas Späth


hose curious piles of dirt that dot the savannah aren’t anthills at all, but termite mounds. Sculpted out of mud, chewed plant material, faeces, soil and saliva, and capable of surviving fires and floods, these termitaria represent above-ground extensions of substantially larger, underground structures. For millions of years, termites have been engaged in warfare with their distant relatives, the more predatory ants. Lacking hard exoskeleton body armour, termites rely on their near-impregnable fortresses to protect themselves from marauding ant armies. Battles have been known to last for days. Soldier termites, armed with enlarged jaws, quite literally lay their life on the line to defend their mound’s narrow entrance tunnels and to prevent larvae and eggs, the colony’s future, from being carried off by ant raiders. Termites share a common ancestor with cockroaches and praying mantises. More than 160 distinct species have been described in Southern Africa alone. They are important detritivores (eaters of detritus – Ed.), feeding on dead plant material, wood, leaf litter and animal dung. Nature’s recyclers, they fulfil crucial ecological functions such as improving the

fertility and water retention of soils. mary source of the pheromones which Some species use micro-organisms trigger the ‘swarm intelligence’ that hosted in their bodies to digest the makes the entire colony, comprising as tough cellulose in their food, while others many as several million individuals, act maintain remarkable fungal gardens to like a single organism. do the job for them. Worker termites To allow the fungal gardens and the chew organic detritus into a pulp and brood in their special nursery chambers use it to cultivate fungi. to flourish, the temThey also feed the other Lacking body armour, perature range within members of the colony, termites rely on near- the mound has to be including soldiers, juverestricted to within one impregnable fortresses or two degrees over the niles and reproductive for protection against course of a day. adults, with predigested food or nutritious mymarauding ant armies. This incredible feat celium, the vegetative is accomplished part of the fungi. through an ingenious network of While each mound is founded by a maze-like galleries and tunnels which queen and a king, a mature nest may provide air conditioning, control the contain several royal couples housed in CO₂-to-O₂ balance and allow water to dedicated chambers securely hidden be harvested by controlled condensain the deep recesses of the structure. tion. Several chimneys promote air Occupying the top rung of a hierarchicirculation through the mound, while cally organised social order, termite detachments of workers are constantly queens can live for as long as 50 years engaged in opening and closing a series and produce more than 2 000 eggs a day. of cooling and heating vents throughThey are widely believed to be the priout the day. Did you know? In a case of architecture mimicking nature, the largest shopping and office complex in Zimbabwe, the Eastgate Centre in Harare, uses energy-saving design elements inspired by termite mounds to regulate indoor temperatures without conventional air conditioning. AUTUMN 2012 WILD 7


deluxe Camping at

Mokala National Park



In a first for SANParks, this park now offers luxury camping with each site boasting its own ablutions and kitchen.

night. Each site has its own ablutions with solar geyser, a braai under shady trees, and its own cooking area with two-plate gas burner and gas fridge. There’s a low, solarpowered electric fence to keep buffalo and rhino out, but no power at the sites. Motswedi replaces the Haak-enSteek campsite, where sites can now be booked only along with the rustic cottage. – Roxanne Reid

The road between Mosu and Lilydale to the northeast has been opened, following SANParks’ purchase of the farm that previously separated the two sections. It makes a pleasant drive where the ve­ getation is less thick and the topography flatter. You might see gemsbok, wilde­ beest, hartebeest, tsessebe, roan, impala and Burchell’s zebra. At Lilydale there’s catch-and-release fly-fishing for yellow fish, barbel and carp in the river.


Look out for

Motswedi campsite offers individual facilities for each site.


Cost Camping at Motswedi R270 for one or two people, R86 an additional adult, R43 an additional child. Bookings 012-428-9111

A roan calf doesn’t have the adult’s black mask. 8 WILD AUTUMN 2012

You’re most likely to spot some of the park’s 78 roan and 29 sable antelope between the Doornlaagte Loop turnoff and the cattle grid on the way from Mosu to Lilydale. Roan are the second largest antelope after the eland.

Termite mounds dotting the park are a clue that you should go on a guided night drive to look for aardvark, which break open the mounds with their elongated snouts, probing with long sticky tongues for ants, termites, eggs and larvae. Or you may even spot an aardwolf. Be sure to tell your night drive guide what you hope to see so they can tailor the route to improve your chances. Visit the new bird hide at Stofdam, just before the Doornlaagte Loop, for a chance to get close to crimson-breasted shrike, malachite kingfisher, long-billed crombec, whitebacked and lappet-faced vulture, and swallow-tailed bee-eater. Rain-water fills the dam but when levels drop in the dry season a borehole tops it up.


Mokala, about 80 km southwest of Kimberley, is all about red sand and camelthorns. You can kick back at the floodlit waterhole at Mosu Lodge or go fly-fishing in the Riet River near Lilydale Rest Camp. Now the new Motswedi campsite brings the Kalahari thornveld to campers looking for a little comfort. Six sites are arranged in a semicircle around a waterhole, offering prime viewing day or



Africa’s Walking


Did yo know u Secret ? ary

The secretary bird hunts on the ground, stalking prey in long grass.


Prey consists of insects, small mammals, reptiles, birds and eggs. Occasionally they will also scavenge on animals killed during veld fires. Their preference for snakes has been over-emphasised, but they are certainly able to deal with venomous species such as cobras. The birds will strike their victims with the beak or stamp on them with the feet, then swallow them whole. Larger prey items are torn into smaller pieces using both the feet and beak. Secretary birds are fairly common residents across Southern Africa where suitably open grasslands exist. One of my favourite destinations for viewing and photographing secretary birds is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the


here is no mistaking this bird of prey in the field. With its large eagle-like body and long legs resembling those of a crane or stork, the secretary bird Sagittarius serpentarius stands about 1,3 metres tall. Its most prominent feature is the elaborate crest of quill-like black feathers. This also accounts for the bird’s name as it recalls a secretary with quill pens tucked behind the ear. (For the low-down on feathers, read our article on page 68  –  Ed.) In flight, the secretary bird has rounded wings and two long central tail feathers that extend beyond the feet. Males and females look similar. Their contrasting black and grey plumage is usually visible from afar as they stride through the grass. The bare facial skin is a pale yellow colour in youngsters, maturing to a bright orange in adults. Endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, these birds prefer open grasslands and dry savannas for their largely terrestrial nature of hunting on the ground. They typically walk at quite a pace, flushing prey as they stride along. You might also see a secretary bird running along the ground in hot pursuit of its meal, its wings spread out.

The bird looks like an oldfashioned secretary with quills tucked behind the ear.


The genus Sagittarius refers to the bird’s resemblance to an archer, and the species serpentarius refers to the fact that the bird preys on snakes.

comple birds are a lmost excep tely silent b irds, sound t for a rare c uttere d whe roaking n disp The s laying ecreta . ry bir nation d is th al em e blem and fe of Sud atur on the es promine an nt South Africa ly coat o Northern Cape. n f arm Barn s. Together with

other birds of prey, the secretary birds gather at drinking troughs to quench their thirst during the midday heat. I have on occasion seen as many as 35 gathered together at a water­ hole in the far north near the Grootkolk wilderness camp. Of course the best time to witness these gatherings is during the hot and dry summer. A new nest is constructed every year in a fairly small tree, typically an acacia with a flattish crown. Breeding usually takes place during the winter and early summer months in South Africa. The female lays one to three eggs, which hatch after about 45 days. Young leave the nest after about three months and are still dependent on the adults for a similar period thereafter. Secretary birds have by tradition been well regarded in Africa for their conspicuous looks and skill in dispatching pests and snakes. The bird is also known as the Devil’s Horse and as a result is usually left alone, although this is changing as traditional beliefs fall out of favour. They are not threatened but local populations are thought to have declined in South Africa.


on the web

Stay connected Share in the fun and excitement of the wild world by going online. Visit for travel blogs, wildlife stories and nature photography, plus special offers and competitions. Articles in Wild magazine are complemented by blogs on the website. Why not continue the conversation on Facebook?

What is the one animal that keeps eluding you on a game drive? wild dog

Fancy feathers


We’re amazed by the incredible variety of feathers. Read Phil Hockey’s article on page 68 of this issue to find out about the origin of plumage and browse through our online gallery of birds that dazzle with eye-catching hues.

Alan Crawford

Alan Crawford

Heidi Engelbrecht

Ken Saunders



12% 7% 5%


Louise Minnaar

Magda Farina

Howard St Quintin

Andrew Senior


How would you complete a wild experience? Magda Farina

Top of your list is spending the night in an unfenced campsite (46%), followed by exploring the park on foot (26%).

E-newsletter Get the latest on parks and nature in your electronic mailbox every month. Sign up for free at

Every time I receive your colourful newsletter I start dreaming of Africa again. MICHEL THURIN, SWITZERLAND


Jean Thurman Seeing two hyaena pups come up to our car in iMfolozi. Jan Steffen Three aardvark in one night at Mountain Zebra.

23 22


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Mariette Gertenbach

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Jeanette Gibbs

Magda Farina

Photography tips

Willem Gijzelaar

Brian Gough Palmer

The big cats are fierce, lithe, powerful and elegant; not to mention tricky to photograph. Find out how to capture their beauty.

Patricia Anne Greening The bateleur that stood and posed for me on the Nwanedzi Road, Kruger. June Louw A porcupine walking through our campsite at Addo. Hannes ErweePAGE # Watching a big elephant walking past right next to my bakkie, lowering its massive head and looking me straight in the eye, Addo National Park. PATR ICIA



Spioenkop back roads The journey is the destination they say. After taking the scenic route to Spioenkop (see the story on page 32), Patricia McCracken says there’s loads to enjoy along the way. Read her blogs on the Wild Card website.

Step into the WILD

Msinsi! with

A great day’s fishing is in the bag at Msinsi Resorts and Game Reserves. Autumn and winter beg you to head for our dams . . . Regulars at Inanda say large specimens of tilapia, barbel and carp are more likely to show themselves then. Bass fishermen enjoy the ever-popular Inanda Bass Classic Fishing Tournament over April’s final holiday weekend, gearing up for the prestigious Albert Falls Bass Classic towards the end of August. And don’t forget Nagle, Shongweni and Hazelmere as well, for some quiet fishing time among friends . . .

Book now at 2011 rates! Stay close to the action with Msinsi Resorts and Game Reserves! Our accommodation ranges from safari tents and campsites to chalets and bush lodges.

Visit Albert Falls Dam & Game Reserve Bon Accorde Park Hazelmere Dam & Resort Inanda Dam & Resort Shongweni Dam & Game Reserve Nagle Dam & Game Reserve

033 569 1202 033 569 1643 032 533 2315 / 082 728 0920 031 766 9946 031 769 1283 031 782 8085

THE TO DO LIST Fishing Boating Camping (electric & non-electric) Picnicking Braai facilities Game drives Accommodation Conference venues Wedding venue


Meet our winners from round one ...


n the first round of the WildStar competition, we asked you to nominate staff who helped you with your Wild Card, whether it involved explaining how the card works or helping you get the new-look card. We were delighted to get so many nominations. You singled the nominees out for being “friendly”, “professional” and “knowledgeable”. You said their efficient service and welcoming smiles got your holiday off to a great start. In fact, their willingness to go the extra mile is “one of the reasons we keep going back”. The parks and reserve staff do their job without thought of recognition. We’d like to hear from you so their special efforts don’t go unrewarded.

Congratulations to the winners from the first round! Staff Melisizwe Jali, Mountain Zebra National Park Nunu Jobe, Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park Lucy Khaka, Punda Maria Rest Camp, Kruger National Park Raymond Khosa, Berg-en-Dal Rest Camp, Kruger National Park Kathy La Grange, Table Mountain National Park Jacobeth Mntambo, Wild Card Call Centre Bettie Renoster, Mokala National Park



Lucy Jacobeth Melisizwe


Who’s your

WildStar ?

We are looking for the people who make your visit to our parks and reserves a pleasure. Nominate a staff member for excellent Wild Card service and we could reward you with a new Huawei S7 tablet.

Wild Card member Mandi Cramer, Noordhoek

The Huawei S7 is perfect for surfing the Internet, visiting and keeping up with us on the Wild Facebook page.

How to enter

Read more about our winners online. Go to and search ‘WildStar’. 12 WILD AUTUMN 2012

Go to and click on Competitions to enter online or send an SMS to 33642. SMS WildStar : your Wild Card number : nominee’s name : nominee’s park/camp/gate. An SMS costs R1.50. Competition runs until 31 October 2012. Second round closes 30 April 2012. FBA796

Protea Photograph Š Donovan Kirkwood


Mountain Zebra

“W TOP LEFT TO RIGHT: A red-listed blackstorm bush; a mountain zebra foal; the author enjoys a close-up of a cheetah; one of the overnight mountain huts. 14 WILD AUTUMN 2012

here is it?” That was the question most people asked when I told them I was going to Mountain Zebra. The park is in a quiet corner of the country, a long drive from most anywhere but very near Cradock in the Eastern Cape. I stood on a high plateau where the early morning sun streaked the grasslands golden. Around me a wilderness of some 30 000 hectares climbed, stretched and wrinkled

The cheetah diaries Mountain Zebra National Park is synonymous with the rare zebra, but these days another endangered animal steals the show. By Judy van der Walt


into mountains, narrow valleys threaded with morning mist, high cool-green plateaus and low stubby plains that already danced in a haze of heat. Beyond, the Great Karoo in all its eternity. The night before, a thunderstorm had cracked the sky with lightning and a full moon had risen between shards of windswept clouds. Today had dawned on a rain-fresh veld bursting with joy. A bachelor herd of mountain zebras bucked and

farted. A puddle of water screeched with the sound of a thousand tiny bubbling kassina and common caco frogs. Everywhere seemed to teem with life, from tiny African pygmy mice and dung beetles to 12 species of antelope, as well as foxes, jackals, hyena, hedgehogs, Cape buffalo, wildebeest and black rhino. But no lions, nor elephants. Something else is king of the bush here, six animals I was hoping to find somewhere in this wilderness.

Mountain Zebra National Park lies near Cradock in the Eastern Cape. AUTUMN 2012 WILD 15

Mountain Zebra

Day one

“It’s White Eyes! Somewhere over there.” His arm swept over the plains far below, a huge area. He shoved the 4x4 into low-range and we rattled over a rutted track on the Juriesdam Loop on the east side of the park. Near the dam he put the antenna up again. Beep. It was a faint signal. He swivelled the antenna. Beep, beep. “He’s close, let’s go.” He took the .375 rifle and loaded five rounds in the magazine. One by one he loaded 10 more bullets in a belt around his waist. “Let’s keep a look out for rhino or buffalo,” he said. My throat was dry. Michael walked and I followed, tense as a guitar string, scanning the dark shade. The bush crackled with insects whirring and a red-billed oxpecker called tzik tzik while it flew. He held the antenna up again. A four-bar signal. Very close. Now we crouched forward, whispering: “Let’s cut through the opening in the acacia over

Senior field ranger Michael Paxton uses a telemetry set (above) and leads tourists while tracking cheetah (right).

Day two


there.” The ground was carpeted with yellow acacia blossoms, their sweet scent hung in the air. Suddenly, a noise to the right. We froze. A duiker, his nose barely visible above tall grass, darted away. Beep, beep, beep. Now we had five bars, full signal. I saw him! A mottled shadow next to an acacia. No, that was a tree stump. “There he is,” whispered my guide. Below an acacia, 20 metres away, lay a creature the same colour as the earth, his pelt thick and golden brown with black spots, tail flicking. The cheetah turned his head. His yellow black-rimmed eyes stared straight at me and velvet-black tear lines carved his face into a thing of beauty. The side of the cheetah’s mouth was smeared with blood. “His stomach is not that full. He’s probably eaten something small, a duiker,” Michael said. Every sense alert, we went closer, 15 metres. White Eyes let us into his space, relaxed. I took a photograph. Click. He didn’t blink. The cheetah lay in dappled shade, golden sunlit grass behind him, breathing heavily in the heat. He rolled in the dirt and licked his paws. For more than 10 minutes we sat close to each other in that small scrap of bush somewhere in Africa. Two people and one cheetah. Then, to my surprise, he got up and started walking. His tail was a flat curve of fur and his legs long and elegant. He crossed a wide band of sunshine and headed for the deep shade in the thicket, his head just visible above the grass. We watched a cheetah disappear, swallowed by shade and grass. My guide looked at me: “Shall we let him be?” Yes. I turned around to look one last time, but he was gone.

This morning we tracked Nixi with three German tourists. Her stomach had been hollow with hunger and we had followed her as she loped through the veld, back arched, head forward. But by late morning the Karoo heat pressed onto the plains like a thick blanket and Nixi headed for the shade. When she dropped her head and snoozed, the show was over for the day.


Michael assembled something that looked like a TV antenna and plugged it into a telemetry radio set. He held the antenna high in the air, searching for a signal of a cheetah within line of sight. The radio set hissed and crackled. Nothing. He pointed the antenna south. Shhhhh-grr-shrr, more static. Then north. Suddenly, beep. My heart skipped a beat.

Collars were fitted so that researchers could monitor the cheetah.


Six cheetahs named White Eyes, Lone Male, Angela, Samara, Nixi and Juba. The park is the first to introduce cheetah tracking as a visitor activity and finding them is what I would be doing for the next three days. When the cheetah were re-introduced here in 2007 after an absence of 100 years, they were fitted with radio collars for research and monitoring. That doesn’t mean you switch on your computer, find a GPS signal and walk up to a cheetah. It’s not that easy. The man who was going to help me find them was SANParks senior field guide Michael Paxton.

Michael assembled something that looked like a TV antenna.

ABOVE: The telemetry radio set beeps if it picks up a signal from the cheetah’s collar. Time to track!

BELOW: The cheetah in Mountain Zebra National Park regularly hunt springbok, mountain reedbuck and kudu.

RIGHT: Because the park has big game, hiking trails are guided. Field guides are skilled in bush lore.


A creature the same colour as the earth, his pelt golden brown with black spots.


Mountain Zebra

STARRY NIGHT The clear Karoo air is good for stargazing. You might even see a shooting star — and make a wish to secure return. XX WILDyour AUTUMN 2012


Night fell with a chorus of bubbling kassina frogs, croaking in puddles left by an afternoon rain shower.

Have you been lucky enough to see an aardvark? Send your image to wilded@ We’ll share the best pictures in our online gallery.

A night drive is your chance to see nocturnal creatures.


The mountain zebra is easily identified by its white belly.


The park was established to save the mountain zebra from extinction.

There are three 4x4 trails, ranging from grade 2 to 4 in difficulty.


The late afternoon turned dark in the thick shade of a line of acacias, where a troop of vervet monkeys chewed the sweet red-golden gum that dripped down the bark. I was with three German tourists, Marcus, Netta and Solveyg, on a night drive with our guide Michael Paxton. Excitement was in the air. Who knew what would happen tonight in the Mountain Zebra National Park? We crossed an old lucerne field that was slowly returning to its natural Nama-Karoo vegetation. Three blue cranes stood in the dusk like tall grey sculptures, their black tail plumes riffled by the breeze. Night fell with a chorus of bubbling kassina frogs, croaking in puddles left by an afternoon rain shower. “Did you know frogs’ legs were a Shangaan delicacy?” asked our guide. “They used a thorn branch to sweep through a puddle, impaling a dozen little frogs. Then they charred the toxic skins off over a hot fire and munched on the legs.” The spotlight carved a light beam through the darkness. A pair of eyes bounced. Springhare. The light swivelled and froze a caracal. Tail low, ear tufts silhouetted, it was after the springhare. It pounced, but too late, the springhare had already hopped away. The caracal sunk lower, slinking through the bushes. We watched it comb the hillside, stalking and sniffing, this way, that way. Then it disappeared into the night. We drove slowly, melting into the bush ourselves, the warm night air silky on our bare arms. The spotlight found another pair of eyes, 30 metres away, on a long, low bank of red ground. Aardvark! It stood in perfect profile, its body red like the ground, its long snout so stubby and strange in real life, like no other animal I had ever seen. Its ears seemed enormous and its back arched up in a curve of awkward grace. An almost mythical creature, rarely seen, yet it appears on the first page of every English dictionary. As we drove back to the camp, laughing and recalling our great sighting in every detail, a shooting star streaked silver through the sky. But my wish had already been granted. I’d seen an aardvark.


Big night out


Day three her prey, keeping watch. Twenty minutes later she dragged her springbok into the shade, its belly turned up like a limp white flag. We waited for her to start eating and slowly walked closer. Grrrtt, grrtt. She tore through the skin, gnawing, ripping, pulling. A flock of scaly feathered finches landed noisily in the tree above her, another planet. She hardly chewed, swallowing chunks of meat from the springbok’s haunches. Rested again, looked around, panted. The intestines spilled out and she worked like a surgeon, neatly cutting and tearing to get to the best cuts, leaving skin, stomach and intestines for the jackal and hyena. Crack, the ribs splintering as she ate the soft tips. For two-and-a-half hours the cheetah ate and ate, until the best third of the springbok was gone. Now her belly almost dragged on the ground and her eating slowed down. “She can take her time and eat more, that’s the luxury of being a top predator,” said Michael. Two red hartebeest sauntered past and a ground squirrel sat under his bushy tail in a patch of pink vygies. It was time to leave. We walked back to the 4x4 and the landscape folded back to where it was before we came.


It was a silver day, quiet and cool, with low clouds and no shadows. Ghost rain veiled the upper mountain valleys. “Shall we try to find Nixi? If we’re lucky she wouldn’t have hunted since yesterday and we may see her in action.” It was rare to see a cheetah kill, even Michael had never witnessed it. Near the place we had seen Nixi, he checked for a signal. Beep, beep, beep. “I think she’s moving.” A shape shifted between two bushes. He switched the radio on. Five bars, beep. “Nixi.” A kudu barked a warning, cheetah on the prowl. Nixi crouched low. About 300 metres away were two springbok, one under an acacia and one on a dirt bank. She stalked forward, ears flat and tail twitching. Then the world exploded. Her spots blurred into a golden-black ball of speed hurtling towards the springbok under the tree. Seconds later she was on top of him in a cloud of dust, her paw on his back raking him towards her. Cheetah and springbok rolled over, then she had him under her and his death squeal split the air. Within seconds two black-backed jackal came slinking over the veld and a few seconds later another jackal trotted over from the other side. Then two more jackal appeared. Nixi sat panting next to

Nixi spent two-and-ahalf hours devouring this springbok. She pulled out the intestines to get to the blood and digestive juices in the cavity.

Day four


Back home, and I kept thinking of a cheetah in the shade of a sweet-thorn tree and a springbok that would soon be only sun-baked bones and horns. The cruel yet truest edge of life. In the raw. I’ve changed my opinion on where the park is. Now, when people ask, I say: “It’s only about nine hours’ drive from Johannesburg or Cape Town. You really should go.”

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 zebras 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 |

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Mountain Zebra


Above us was the sentry, a booted eagle watching us from high on a rock.

At this spot (left), around 100 years ago, two Xhosa men fought each other in a traditional stick battle. One man died and was buried here.

The full moon hung like a big translucent soap bubble in the blue sky above Salpeterkop. Michael was going to march me to the top of this high koppie in the Mountain Zebra National Park, and down again. There was no trail. He simply lifted his arm, pointed to the top and said: “We’ll go that way.” Salpeterkop was named after the white sweat on a horse’s neck after a full gallop in the heat. It had just gone 07h00 and already I observed it on my own hot brow. After 10 minutes Michael came to a halt in front of a big black rock. “Look there!” he said. I looked, and saw nothing. He stood back and pointed again. Suddenly I could see the outline of a rhino, then more. Four animals emerged from the rock. A rhino, an eland, maybe a hartebeest, possibly a cheetah shone in the black oxidised sandstone, a San work of art created who knows when. It was a masterpiece of simplicity, contour and lines that captured the essence of an animal. A fresh breeze rose and an African rock pipit let out a cheerful trillll. We stopped to drink ice-water from our bottles in the shade of a shepherd’s tree, its white trunk gnarled like a ghost in the veld. The climb was steep. At the beacon on top of Salpeterkop was a flat piece The San captured the local game — rhino, eland, cheetah — in their rock paintings.


of granite scratched with squares to make a chessboard. British soldiers had played chess here at their lookout post towards the end of the 19th century, signalling their moves by mirror to the opposing team at the fort in Cradock, about 15 km away. The 5th Lancashire Fusiliers, the Coldstream Guards, Corporal Harvey and Corporal Hutchinson had written their names on the rock. I imagined them sitting here with their uniforms of heavy cloth sticking to their bodies, fair faces burnt by the sun, very far from home. We left the fusiliers and the guards to their chess and skirted the red rocky ridges below the peak like furtive soldiers. Above us was the sentry, a booted eagle watching us from high on a rock, not moving a feather. Down from the killer koppie, my guide said he wanted to show me more stories that had been captured on rocks. We drove to the western end of the park, where a stream trickled over a waterfall made by big flat stones and then dropped sharply into a narrow gorge. Below an overhang was one of the most brightly coloured rock paintings I had ever seen, only about 100 years old. Animals stretched into long elegant shapes, like party balloons. They were just recognisable as a rhino, a baboon, a cat. A tiny picture of a hyena looked down at them. There was also a group of people whose bodies had faded away, like them. They had sat here, like us, heard the water trickling, felt the breeze and touched the cool stone. You could almost hear their voices.

TRIP Planner GETTING THERE Situated near Cradock, the park can be reached from the N10 highway. The closest airport is Port Elizabeth. ACCOMMODATION Campsites R175 a night for one or two people, R58 an extra adult, R29 an extra child. Cottages R730 a night for one or two people, R172 an extra adult, R86 an extra child. Doornhoek Guest House R1 930 for one to four people, R290 an extra adult, R145 an extra child. CHEETAH TRACKING R250 per person, no under-16s. Book on 048-881-2427. RESERVATIONS 012-428-9111, reservations@


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Cheetahs have adapted to life in the arid Kalahari very well, with the Auob Riverbed almost guaranteeing a sighting. By Gus and Margie Mills

24 WILD SUMMER 2011/2012

l strategy

Kgalagadi Cheetahs

NOSE AHEAD Cheetahs have wide nasal passages to allow for the intake of enough oxygen when sprinting.

Perhaps the most important finding of our study is that female cheetahs are able to raise as many as four cubs on a predominantly steenbok diet.

Kalahari cheetah study The wide and open vista of the Kalahari dunes allows monitoring of both predator and prey without disturbing either, a feature that makes the area one of the best places in the world to study carnivores. The love affair Gus and Margie Mills have with this pristine ecosystem was sparked nearly 40 years ago when they started studying hyaenas, a project that was to last 12 years. In 2006, they began a study on Kalahari cheetahs with a view to gaining a better understanding of how they have adapted to this arid region, rather than more lush areas such as the Serengeti. Their work has been funded by the Tony and Lisette Lewis Foundation and the Howard G Buffet Foundation, and latterly by National Geographic, the Kanabo Conservation Link and the Comanis Foundation, supported by SANParks and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Botswana.

LOOK WHO’S STALKING NOW Regarded as daytime hunters, cheetahs in the Kgalagadi have been recorded killing prey at night too.

Kgalagadi Cheetahs


arwin, Wallace and Huxley, three large male cheetahs we were following, sat on top of a high dune gazing intently at a group of gemsbok 300 metres away, past the next dune. After a few minutes they moved off with purpose in the direction of the gemsbok. As they came to the crest of the next dune they slowed down, keeping low, careful not to be seen by the gemsbok now less than 100 metres away. The trio acted cooperatively. The most likely reason that cheetah males form coalitions is to improve reproductive success. By maintaining their territory, they increase their chances of acquiring food. We continued to follow the three males in our Land Cruiser, several hundred metres to their left, equally careful not to disturb the gemsbok. The study in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park comprises almost 100 cheetahs, 19 being collared. Using radio collars and the skills of San trackers, we are able to regularly find and follow the cats for several days at a time. Photo­graphs of cheetahs taken by visitors to the park are also vital to our study, and have been particularly helpful in estimating the density and number in the park. Preliminary analyses suggest about one adult cheetah for every 100 square kilometres, which equates to about 350 for the park. Slowly the three moved forward towards the eight gemsbok of the herd, including two six-month-old calves, the reason for their interest. At about 50 metres they were seen by the gemsbok, which immediately reacted. The cheetahs charged in response. After a chase of about 200 metres one caught up with a calf and pulled it down. The other two came running up to help him, while the gemsbok herd stopped and watched.

The kill was messy, as cheetahs in their evolutionary quest for speed have sacrificed robustness and strength. Their small heads and wide nasal passages, essential for taking in adequate amounts of oxygen when sprinting, mean that they do not have space for deep-rooted, large canines. They kill smaller prey such as steenbok and springbok comparatively easily by strangulation, but are unable to get their jaws around the throat of even a young gemsbok. So while one holds the prey down, the others attack the chest region, eating it alive until it finally succumbs. Of course this is not malicious; survival in nature, while sometimes cruel, is honest. Surprisingly, we have found that gemsbok calves, not the seemingly relatively abundant springbok, are the most important prey for Kalahari cheetah male coalitions, although they are off limits to single males and females. Not being swift and lacking stamina, gemsbok are easy to catch, but difficult to kill. On the few occasions we have observed single animals trying to catch even small gemsbok calves they have easily been repulsed by the adults. Strangely, gemsbok don’t usually try to defend their calves against male coalitions. A visitor to the South African side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park might be forgiven for thinking that most of the action takes place along the riverbeds. It is true that the Auob riverbed is a spectacular place to watch cheetahs hunting, as several times a week a springbok is killed in the Auob by a cheetah. Most are killed by female cheetahs with cubs. Over the last few years two sisters, Lisette and Elena, have thrilled us and many visitors with spectacular sightings of tension-filled stalks, explosive chases and dust-clouded kills. Our observations have shown that these two females cruise up and down the Auob riverbed between Samevloeiing and Mata Mata,

Gus mills

Gus mills

Male cheetahs form coalitions to hunt gemsbok calves. While one holds the prey down, the others attack the chest.


The average chase in a successful hunt is not quite 200 metres.

TARGET ACQUIRED Cheetahs aim to get within 40 metres or less before pouncing. Lambs and old adults make up the majority of springbok kills.

XX WILD SUMMER 2011/2012

Gus mills

TREES Kgalagadi Cheetahs

Gus mills

Like all cats, cheetahs are inquisitive. Here two of the felines investigate a tsamma melon in the Kalahari.

Gus mills

Cheetahs can accelerate from a standstill to close on 100 km/h in three seconds. The big cat’s top speed is believed to be 120 km/h.

Johan Barnard


Cheetah cubs have downy fur running down their back. It is thought the mohawk makes them resemble the feisty honey badger, thereby protecting them against the predation.

Raising a large family is physically demanding and females have been known to starve in the attempt.

a distance of 130 kilometres, seeking out any vulnerable springbok to feed them and their cubs. About 75 per cent of hunts are unsuccessful as prime-aged springbok are usually too alert and swift to be caught. Lambs and old adults, especially males, make up the majority of cheetah-killed springbok, with less than 10 per cent being prime-aged animals and most of these are females with a large foetus. We know this because we examine the teeth of the victims when the cheetahs have finished eating and in this way can age them. Notwithstanding our observations along the riverbeds, most of the Kalahari is covered by sand dunes and it is here that the majority of cheetahs are to be found. Springbok are all but absent from the dunes, but the diminutive (10 to 12 kilograms) steenbok are widespread and the keystone prey species for female cheetahs. Over the last six years we have spent many days in the dunes following these cats from dawn to dusk, overnighting in our roof tent. It is unforgettable to be so intimately acquainted with these wonderful animals and to be caught up with their struggle for survival. We have followed females and their cubs from birth to independence, recorded their successes and failures. Perhaps the most important finding of our study is that female cheetahs are able to raise as many as four cubs on a predominantly steenbok diet. Unlike the springbok in the riverbeds that are unevenly distributed in herds, steenbok are evenly spread singly or in pairs at a density of about 1,5 a square kilometre. Mother cheetahs spend hours atop dunes scanning the surroundings for steenbok. Their ability to find them is impressive. Most times they pick one out before we can, even with the aid of binoculars. Once a steenbok has been spotted the cheetah must endeavour to get within striking distance, ideally 20 metres or less, without being seen. Even if they manage to do this, their success rate after charging is less than 40 per cent. The distance of a chase varies from 70 to 400 metres, with the average distance chased in a successful hunt being just less than 200 metres. As with springbok, less than 10 per cent of steenbok kills are prime-aged animals. Lambs, subadults and old adults are the ones usually caught. Single cheetahs, both male and female, catch mainly steenbok, hares and springAUTUMN 2012 WILD 29

Kgalagadi Cheetahs

Except for the lion and some cheetah males, all 37 species of cat are solitary.

hares. The latter, being strictly nocturnal, can be caught at night only, dispelling the notion that cheetahs hunt only during the day. While females with cubs usually avoid moving during darkness, other adults certainly do not. We have recorded nocturnal cheetah kills as large as adult ostriches and gemsbok calves, even on nights with little moonlight. It is well known that cheetahs are susceptible to losing their kills and their cubs to other large carnivores. In the Serengeti, 15 per cent of kills are lost and only five per cent of cubs born reach maturity, the majority of them being killed by lions. In the arid Kalahari large predator densities are low. Consequently, kleptoparasitism [the loss of kills to other predators – Ed.] and cub predation are far lower. We have found that less than four per cent of kills are lost and nearly 30 per cent of cubs born reach independence. Although Kalahari cheetahs are not heavily impacted by the presence of lions, leopards and hyaenas, the issue of finding enough to eat, especially for a mother with cubs, is always present. Whereas a Serengeti female can quite easily kill again after losing a kill and, more importantly, quickly reproduce again after losing or raising cubs, Kalahari cheetahs need longer to recover condition before breeding again, so the production of cubs is a lot slower. One of our collared females, Charlize, drained herself so much in the effort to raise four cubs that she died of starvation as they became independent. Our research is proving how well cheetahs have adapted to arid regions. They can survive on small prey, are minimally disturbed by other large carnivores and even lactating females are independent of water. Ironically, where climate change may cause certain areas to become more arid, cheetahs may be a beneficiary.

See Kgalagadi cheetahs

Wilderness camps offer seclusion and a view of the riverbed. Urikaruus has stilted riverside cabins (R1 050 for 1–2 people) while Kalahari Tented Camp offers safari tents on a red dune (from R1 070 for 1–2 people). Contact Central Reservations 012-428-9111,



The best place to view desert-adapted cheetahs in action is the Auob Riverbed, which stretches between Mata-Mata and Twee Rivieren. You can camp or stay in chalets at either of these camps. Campsite R155 for 1–2 people, family chalet R1 040 for 1–4 people.

Looking forward Supremely adapted to the desert, cheetahs might benefit from global warming.

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Discovering a tranquil hide-out in kwazulu-natal’s hills



Patricia McCracken spies out a value-for-money, away-from-it-all bushveld destination full of history.

FAR AND AWAY The undulating landscape of Spioenkop offers beautiful views in every direction.


At iPhika Bushcamp you have a couple of thousand hectares of African bushveld to yourself.


unking my rusk in my morning tea and watching the glowing dawn highlight the dainty flares of the sweet-thorn’s glowing pom-poms, I couldn’t imagine leaving. This place is so calming, it’s the stuff of poetry. So legendary, it’s the stuff of history. And, whether by accident or design, so mysteriously secretive it’s the stuff of adventure stories. Neither Spioenkop battlefield nor the game reserve appears on my satnav, though the reserve has existed since the mid-1970s. There’s a vague “battlefields” indicator from the main N3 route, but northern KwaZulu-Natal has no shortage of those. Spioenkop, the legendary battle that’s even given its name to English soccer

stands, manages to keep a low profile in its own backyard. “Collect the key to reach your bushcamp by three from reception,” were the instructions. Maybe it’s the Spioenkop name, maybe it’s the unprepossessing, mostly disused buildings that conjure up a spy headquarters, like Bletchley Park in the film Enigma? Or something military? “No, it was a temporary, prefab village created in the early ’70s for people who came to build Spioenkop Dam and even included a clinic and a primary school,” explains Spioenkop conservation manager Gordon Smith. When the old Natal Parks Board began managing the land around the dam for the Department of Water Affairs, these formed 38 visitor chalets. Now closed, the heavy toll of




Zebra count among the plains game you can see in the reserve.


Conservation manager Gordon Smith.

Spioenkop is located off the N3 highway, just over 200 km from Durban.


wind and weather offers interesting texcomplete with a patch of that infamous tural photo opportunities. hill which has kept a low profile until now, Spioenkop. There’s another natural-born prefab wrecker too. “You might notice the paint’s This is the trip my historian husband worn off our signs,” says Gordon. “That’s couldn’t refuse. After researching the Anglo Boer War for 40 years, he’s not simthe rhino rubbing up against them or ply visiting the only game reserve in South spearing them with their horns. They’ve Africa to include a major battlefield within been known to drive holes in the buildits boundaries, but sleeping on Spioenkop. ings. Even hook drainpipes with their horns and pull them down!” Little did we guess, as we drove here disA truly historical ruin awaits on the cussing the confusing effect of the mistreserve’s self-guided Discovery Trail, where shrouded hills on the battlelines, that we’d blue waxbills dash from bushes and broad- see all sides of that changeable weather. tailed whydah flap iPhika was originally languidly over golden built as a hunting camp You can walk up grass. It’s the remains but, with Spioenkop Spioenkop, perhaps running only three or of a late Iron Age following the ridge four hunts a year and settlement, inhabited by ancestors of today’s up which the British hunters often preferring local Zulus. Comsoldiers struggled. to stay elsewhere, genpared to earlier Iron eral visitors can enjoy it Age settlements, archaeologists say later too. iPhika does not have electricity, only gas and paraffin lamps. You’re on your communities were smaller, that they’d moved up from valley bottoms to exploit own, trusted to use your bush sense to the grasslands. Probably the piet-my-vrou walk carefully through your private kingdom. Giraffes peer inquisitively over trees, were also calling then, and the steppe buzzards looking for lunch. seem to shrug and lumber on when they’re Back by the dam, Shaun Sweet and done browsing on the tasty thorn shoots. Tamara Stelma, up from Assagay outside On a branch nearby, a black cuckoo Durban, are sunbathing, spellbound by takes a break from hawking. Checking a Spioenkop. Part of that spell must come cascade of weaver nests arching over a pan, from the warm hospitality of Thembi we pinch ourselves when we realise that Mazibuko and Lindiwe Mazibuko (not not too far in the distance a white rhino related) at the camp office, who solicitously and her calf are quietly watching us. check I have everything including matches You can even walk up Spioenkop, perbefore I set off for my final destination. haps following the ridge up which the They’re also helping out some visiBritish soldiers struggled that moonless tors who refuse to be released from night. Worse, they were in their stockinged Spioenkop’s spell. Every year Wynand feet, having taken off their leather-soled and Samantha Venter come from Pieter­ hobnailed boots to deaden the noise. Many maritzburg with their son, Calvin, to went to their doom: 243 British soldiers spend a couple of weeks here camping by and 15 Boers are buried on Spioenkop’s the dam under a lofty paperbark acacia. summit, where only eland and zebra And every time, they extend their stay by now stand sentry. A grave marker notes a couple of days, then another a couple of with diplomatic nuance: “In memory of days, then another. an unknown burger sentry killed on this “Whenever we leave, we book for next spot” and “’n onbekende vryheidsheld hier year. You shouldn’t tell people about this gesneuwel terwyl op brandwag”. Deneys Reitz recorded Boer fighters place,” laughs Wynand. “Can’t we keep the secret a while longer?” being surrounded by the stink of blood I’m going somewhere even more seand the flies buzzing on their comrades’ cret though, down a side road to a gate dead bodies. Vultures frequented the afopened by that vital key. Poised at the end termath of Anglo Boer War battles and, of a kilometre-long gravel track, at iPhika to this day, they cruise in to take a closer Bushcamp you have a couple of thousand look if you take too long admiring the hectares of African bushveld to yourself, view on top of Spioenkop.

The Discovery Trail turned up strikingly coloured blue waxbills.



On horseback you can get to know the bushveld in a natural way and at a gentle pace.


It’s a haunting, windswept place, fitting for a battle miscarried on the vagaries of mist.

PICTURE PERFECT The dam is a scenic setting for water sports and has picnic sites on the water’s edge.

A dramatic thunderstorm leaves beautiful clouds in its wake.



There is a memorial to the soldiers who lost their lives in the Anglo Boer War.

British soldiers were buried in mass graves – 243 died in the battle.





During the Anglo Boer War antelope were targeted for the pot by both sides. Today this red hartebeest has a far safer existence.

“It was an untidy and unsatisfactory most brought a lump to their throats as he battle,” muses my husband Donal. “Nopleaded for help to save the Boer guns. body really knew what was going on at any “So, led by Major John MacBride, the Irish turned their horses. In the driving particular moment and both sides made mistakes. At the end of the day, nothing rain, with terrifying thunder crashes and was really achieved, save loss of life.” lightning bolts, they helped manhandle It’s a haunting, Long Tom slowly down Spioenkop is the only Lombard’s Kop to hitch windswept place, fitting for a battle game reserve in South it up to a great span of miscarried on the oxen. They crawled with Africa to include a vagaries of mist and it past Ladysmith, almost major battlefield. miscommunication. within earshot of the One battlefield guide British outposts, their way I know carries a hipflask of brandy to lit only by vivid lightning flashes.” Should Donal have spoken? Before warm guests after their tour, probably not used only in winter. long, rain’s streaming down around us and Fishing for your supper might seem a lightning crashing as close and ferocious suitably meditative activity after this eerie overhead as we’ve ever known it. Perhaps it was a warning. So apart from hinting that historical encounter. But the jumping fish snigger at us while we’re distracted watchthe horse-riding offered here is a great way to see the reserve and its wildlife, I shan’t ing a group of waterbuck sensibly seeking some shade. After the fiery sun, we raise a reveal exactly what we did. You’ll have to guess how we reached glass to the first drops of rain clearing the Spioenkop’s summit and how often we air, reminding Donal of the Irish brigade caught in the rain fighting alongside the visited, what our bird count was and how Boers around Ladysmith. many kilometres we walked. Because “Soon the brigaders could hardly mount Spioenkop’s secret aura soon hypnotises you. And anyway I’m risking wrath from their horses for the downpour,” he recalls. Wynand and Samantha, Shaun and “Retreating to their camp near Pepworth Hill, they met General Botha. They said his Tamara, and all the regulars saying what I already have. grim determination and sad sterness al36 WILD AUTUMN 2012

ACCOMMODATION iPhika bushcamp has a lounge, kitchen, shared ablutions and two bushtents for four adults (R203 a person a night, minimum unit charge R610). There are 30 campsites, each with plugpoints and access to good ablution blocks (R65 a person a night, minimum unit charge R128). Spioenkop Camp Office 076-622-1489, 036-488-1578 Central Reservations 033-845-1000, GETTING THERE Spioenkop is off the N3, signposted from the Ladysmith road and from Winterton (14 km away, the nearest town with petrol and food). OTHER ACTIVITIES Booklets for self-guided trails Discovery (3 km and 6 km loops) and Battlefield (3 km) R6 each at camp office. Horse rides R120 a person for an hour and a half. Boat or caravan storage R65 a month. Powerboating and skiing are allowed, but not jetskis. Fish for carp, tilapia and barbel in the dam. In early November, the Berg and Bush Cycle Race passes through the reserve: www. BACKGROUND READING Goodbye, Dolly Gray by Rayne Kruger Commando by Deneys Reitz MacBride’s Brigade by Donal P McCracken

Trees of life They offer shade on a scorching day and shelter from a storm, their fruit and leaves provide sustenance and their branches are home to many creatures. Meet the trees that shape our landscape.

38 WILD autumn 2012

nature defying the desert

By Scott Ramsay




arrived in the Richtersveld after a day of driving through a rock-strewn landscape, seemingly devoid of life. The few plants that survive here were small and reclusive, as if scared of the intense heat. Jagged peaks lined the horizon. There were few people besides a sprinkling of nomadic Nama shepherds with their goats. It was too hot, too dry, too rocky. Then a wondrous, weird silhouette caught my eye. It stood about 10 metres tall on top of a desert mountain, piercing the sky, defiant against the setting sun. Something I had never seen before: a giant quiver tree. I stopped my Landy and got out. I felt drawn to it, beckoned perhaps. As the sun sank below the horizon I walked up the steep incline, camera over my shoulder, my heart beating fast. I gazed up in awe at the papery bark. Pale in colour, it reflected the sun’s rays to keep the tree cool. A giant quiver tree Aloe pilansii grows only two or three centimetres every year. I was standing in front of a 400-year-old legend. While most other plants in the Richtersveld wither and die with every season, the incongruous quiver tree grows continuously, albeit slowly. For centuries this specimen had survived temperatures of over 50ºC, desiccating summer gales and years of less than 50 millimetres rainfall, or sometimes no rain at all. These succulents can store several hundred litres of water in their fibrous trunks. The leaves, decorated with thorns, have a waxy layer to retain their moisture. Until recently scientists believed these icons were dying out and climate change was mooted as a cause. But a meticulous study by botanist Elsabé Swart proved the giant quiver tree is thriving. It doesn’t mind the heat; in fact it may enjoy it. There are about 3 000 specimens in the Richtersveld and southern Namibia, but that’s all there is, they don’t grow anywhere else in the world. In a land of few trees it’s no surprise raptors perch in the branches, enjoying the vantage point. Namaqua sunbirds and pale-winged starlings seek the nectar from its bright yellow flowers in September and October. Meerkats, porcupines and baboons are known to gnaw at its trunk to find moisture during particularly dry spells. People rely on it too. The San once used the branches to make quivers for their arrows. Now it offered me company. I sat down next to it and shared the silence of dusk in the desert. See them for yourself |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape 027-831-1506

MADE FOR HEAT Giant quiver trees have developed a survival strategy for their desert habitat: they can store several hundred litres of water in their trunks.


The upside-down tree

By Santi van Niekerk


hey dot the landscape with bare fingers pointing towards the pale blue sky. Are they asking for respite from the great thirst of the dry season? Adansonia digitata, commonly known as the baobab tree, is a dramatic sight of the African horizon. Found in the far northern region of South Africa, it is well represented in Kruger National Park, especially once you cross the Olifants River towards Letaba Camp. Shimuwini, a Shangaan word that means Place of the Baobab Tree, is also the name of a bush camp hidden on the banks of the Letaba River. A baobab tree, reputedly between 2 000 and 3 000 years old, can be found not too far from this camp. As baobabs are not really trees, but rather the largest succulents in the world, their age can be determined only by carbon dating. Another well-preserved specimen can be found inside Mopani Camp, allowing for a close encounter with a living fossil. It provides a mini-ecosystem 40 WILD autumn 2012

to a number of animals that live in its cavities and contorted branches. From October to December, the trees are festooned with large, sweet-smelling creamy-white flowers which attract the bats that pollinate them. Subsequently a capsule-like fruit with a hard outer shell is formed. Once cracked open, the fruit contains a white powder – tartaric acid – that covers the seeds. This powdery substance is a firm favourite of baboons and monkeys alike. In traditional medicine it is soaked in water for a refreshing drink that also alleviates fever. It is the Thulamela Ruins, encircled by magnificent baobabs, that underline the age of these trees. Did these early humans incorporate the trees into their sites knowing baobabs had a plethora of uses? What beliefs surrounded these upsidedown trees in Stone Age days? Were you then too regarded as cursed to be eaten by a lion if you picked a baobab flower? See them for yourself Kruger National Park: Shimuwini 013-735-6683, Mopani 013-735-6535

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

A baobab with a girth of 10 metres may be as old as 2 000 years.


Clusters of these parasol trees gather sociably, like perky umbrellas on a beach.


The camel thorn tree is resistant to frost and drought, but grows very slowly.

The picnic tree

By Samantha Hartshorne


hen travelling South Africa’s open roads, there is a welcome sign that invites families to rest, a dark green board with a simple but effective logo of the picnic-spot tree. It has an attractive, rounded crown and strong stem, much like the mokala or camel thorn tree from which the national park near Kimberley takes its name. With a map silhouette that resembles an early fighter jet, Mokala National Park embraces a unique biome in the Northern Cape where Kalahari flirts with savanna and it is here that I find this acacia flourishing. For centuries, the distinctive fluffy, yellow flowers have decorated a grocery store and medicine chest for Southern Africans. The seeds have been ground as a substitute for coffee and the gum used to treat headaches. Helena Boesakwa, of San origin on her mother’s

side, grew up in the Northern Kgalagadi, but has made Kimberley her home. Her grandmother taught her the |Nu||en dialect and fashioned jewellery out of the seeds while sitting in the shade of a mokala. Helena eyes the velvety, crescent-moonshaped capsules and tells how farmers crush the pods to feed to their goats. The curious name camel thorn developed out of a mistranslation of the Afrikaans kameelperddoring, as the tree reserves its delicious leaf almost exclusively for the tallest animal. Its Latin name Acacia erioloba is surprisingly easy to remember as the shape of the pods bear an uncanny resemblance to earlobes. Clusters of these parasol trees gather sociably on the southern slope of calcrete outcrops, like perky umbrellas on a beach. But the wise among them can be found on open grassland, lone institutions reaching up to 16 metres with thorns that, legend has it, slayed a lion. See them for yourself Mokala National Park, Northern Cape 053-204-0158 AUTUMN 2012 WILD 41



42 WILD autumn 2012

Old men of the mountains

By Melissa Siebert


he first cedar I ever knew made up the sides of antique chests used to store old clothes and linen in my great-grandfather’s attic in New England. It’s the smell that gets you. It’s like a breath of fresh, clean, cool air amidst the stuffiness of attics and trunks. I must have seen cedars as a child among the other evergreens dusted with snow, but I don’t recall. I definitely never saw a Clanwilliam cedar Widdringtonia cederbergensis, as this tree grows only in the Ceder­berg Wilderness Area and nowhere else. “Charismatic,” is how University of Cape Town botanist Edmund February describes them. He’s been studying their life and death for years, measuring tree rings and mortality rates. The trees can live up to 1 000 years and are named after British botanist Edward Widdrington. “The old men of the mountain,” says Patrick Lane, CapeNature’s conservation manager for the Cederberg. “Their size is phenomenal, they have wonderful shapes, gnarled and crooked. Standing

beneath them, you are in awe.” Cedar specimens have been known to grow as tall as 20 metres and as wide as 11, though more normal proportions are five to seven metres high and much skinnier. Up until the early 20th century, cedars were abundant in the Cederberg. But thousands were destroyed through fire and chopped down to make furniture and floorboards, windows, doors and ceilings. The wood was prized, Lane says, because it’s wood-borer resistant. The younger, straighter trees became telephone poles, more than 7 000 stretching from Piketberg to Calvinia. Among all the sandstone rock formations of the Cederberg, which bake with 40-degrees heat in summer, many species depend on these cedars for food and shelter. “They are a keystone species in the system, as they are the highest plant around,” February says. “Baboons will break off branches with the cones attached and eat what they can of the seed.” See them for yourself Cederberg Wilderness Area, Western Cape 0861-CAPENATURE

ILLUSTRATIONs: sappi tree spotting – penny Noall and JOAN VAN GOGH

Clanwilliam cedars grow only in the Cederberg Wilderness Area, about two-and-a-half hours’ drive north of Cape Town.


Traditionally the bark of fever trees treats eye infections and fevers. It is also a good-luck charm.

light in the bushveld

By Patricia McCracken


he dubious reputation of the fever tree is born from the old hunters’ misguided belief that these striking trees caused malaria. Hence, of course, their misnomer of a common name. In my family they cause quite a different fever. Physically undiagnosable, its emotional symptoms strike as we head north up the N2 for Zululand’s major reserves. At Mtubatuba, we enter the district of Umkhanyakude (light in the distance), also one of the isiZulu names for the fever tree. The apotheosis of fever trees, believes botanical expert Elsa Pooley, is around Nsumu pan at Mkhuze and Nyamithi pan at Ndumo. She’s known these trees a long time, having moved to Ndumo in the mid-1960s after marrying crocexpert husband Tony. There and later in Mkhuze she made major strides in studying the local flora. “The Nyamithi fever forest has maybe changed in detail but the overall landscape’s as breathtaking as ever,” she says.

Everything about fever trees seems to glow. Their feathery new season’s leaves sing out in fresh greens against the bright summer sky and their hundreds of small golden flowers are like baubles celebrating spring. Fully grown spines are a bony white. As is their wood, which is hard and can be used for furniture and carving, not to mention a local use in the Pongola floodplains to protect fields from hungry hippos, according to KwaZuluNatal environmentalist Richard Boon. Fever trees prettily fringe rivers and pans because they favour damp, swampy places and tolerate having wet feet for some time. So they often also become evocative backdrops for photo­ graphs of fish eagles eyeing the pan beyond. A fever forest is a closed fever-tree woodland, the trees’ smooth, powdery acid-yellow to green bark (hence the species name Acacia xanthophloea) creating a widespread, eerie glow, especially if a summer storm’s brewing. See them for yourself Ndumo, KwaZulu-Natal 033-845-1000 AUTUMN 2012 WILD 43


“They eventually dozed off, eyes pinched tight in quiet contentment.”

SITTING PRETTY This young lion was one of a group of three that clama tree.2012 XXbered WILDup AUTUMN

business Never heard of the tree-climbing lions of Crocodile Bridge? Neither had Lourens Durand, who shares this unusual sighting.

One theory for the tree-climbing behaviour is that it is cooler up among the branches.


ions are not supposed to climb trees, or at least that’s what I had believed until I came across three young lions up a tree early one summer morning, a few kilometres out of Crocodile Bridge camp in the Kruger National Park. They had clambered up, appearing clumsy and awkward, until each of them found a comfortable spot from which to survey their surroundings. They eventually dozed off, eyes pinched tight in quiet contentment, oblivious to the attention of humans attracted by their interesting behaviour. The silence was broken only as one of them lost his footing while trying to climb over another to find a more comfortable spot and tumbled through the foliage to the ground. Although rare, it is not unheard of that younger lions climb trees (fully grown ones have difficulty because of their mass). Legends have been built around the treeclimbing lions in Queen Elizabeth Park in Uganda and in Lake Manyara Park in Tanzania. Closer to home, there have been reports of isolated sightings in Botswana, at Thornybush and reserves in KwaZulu-Natal, as well as in the Kruger

Park many years ago. Tourists have spent small fortunes and travelled many kilometres on the off-chance of viewing this phenomenon. Most were, unfortunately, disappointed. Explanations for the unusual behaviour are diverse. Some maintain it is to escape biting flies and insects that are prevalent at ground level. Others speculate they may have discovered it is cooler high up among the branches and the leaves. Neels van Wyk, section ranger at Crocodile Bridge, says this particular pride is known for climbing trees and resting in the bigger branches. The question arises as to whether their behaviour is learned or innate. Playing is inborn for cubs, as

Climbing trees is child’s play — adult lions are too bulky to haul themselves up.

with all cats, but it also assists in learning social skills, co-ordination, control and strengthening of muscles. While hunting is innate, the techniques of stalking are learned from parents. “You often find prides that have learned unusual skills from an early age. One example is lions that have learned to attack porcupines in pairs, one from the front and one from behind, in order to escape the bristling quills,” Van Wyk explains. “They will also, given the chance, steal a leopard kill from a tree.” The lions I saw were probably not taught to climb trees, so how did they discover that it is in fact cooler up a tree, with a fresh breeze flowing through their manes, rather than on the ground in the shade of the same tree? Was it by chance, while playing? Whether the lions of Crocodile Bridge climb trees because of learning, instinct, environment or necessity, or a combination of these factors, their behaviour is certainly extraordinary. For all we know they might well have been chased up a tree once by grumpy elders, by pestering siblings or by a rampaging buffalo herd. But climb trees they certainly do. AUTUMN 2012 WILD 45


Spots &


The black of night is the preferred habitat of the leopard, so wildlife photographer Greg du Toit undertook an ambitious threeyear project to capture unusual night-time images of this shy cat.


AS NIGHT FALLS Although sometimes active by day, leopards are most comfortable roaming the wilderness at night. Wildlife photographer Greg du Toit spent a maximum of two hours a night with his subjects after dark.


“Leopards are for the most part invisible. Even if you live in the middle of a leopard’s territory, you would never see it unless it allowed you to. These cats define elusive!” says photographer Greg du Toit of the challenges he faced.


f people don’t see and appreciate something, then they don’t conserve it!” Greg du Toit exclaimed. “My goal for this project was to produce a fresh portfolio of one of the world’s most beautiful cats, to raise awareness of leopards and introduce them to a wider audience.” He’s certainly done that, as you can see for yourself here, and as thousands of visitors did when his photographs were exhibited in the National Geographic gallery in Singapore earlier this year. How exactly do you go about photographing such an elusive predator? “You do not see a leopard, but a leopard allows itself to be seen,” explained Greg. An old-school photographer, he does not use bait or camera traps, but instead he learnt each leopard’s personal territory, spending more than 640 hours in the field tracking leopards. Some of the highest leopard densities in the world exist in the Kruger National Park and the adjacent Sabi Sand Reserve, where Greg carried out his work. While these leopards live in one of Africa’s largest ecosystems, in excess of 34 000 square kilometres, in reality each leopard’s territory consists of only a few square kilometres. Male leopards have larger territories that encompass a few females, while female territories can be as small as four square kilometres.

Armed with this knowledge, Greg visited the same region repeatedly. By following tracks, he was able to locate at least one of the eight leopards that inhabited his project’s area on a night. After tracking an individual down, he would then follow his subject through the bush using a Land Rover. “Leopards in this part of Africa have been formally protected for many years and because they have never been hunted from a vehicle, they did not feel threatened,” he said. Documenting the nightly forays of these nocturnal cats was made possible by advances in digital technology, especially in ISO performance [film speed – Ed.]. Photo­ graphing leopards by day is hard enough and here was Greg, armed with nothing but a small spotlight hooked up to the car’s battery, aiming to photograph them in the black of the night. By following eight different leopards during the project and by spending only the first two hours of darkness with any one particular leopard, he made sure each cat’s natural hunting habits were not jeopardised. “It is very important that when an animal is hunting the spotlight is switched off, so as not to interfere in any way.” Shining the light does not affect the animal’s eyes because a leopard’s eyes are far superior to our own. “They can easily cope with the differing contrast levels created by my weak torch, in ways we are completely unable

Part of the challenge facing leopards in Africa is ignorance of their plight. Due to their nocturnal nature, they are very hard to perform a census on.

Wide habitat tolerance Leopard inhabit every conceivable habitat, including deserts and rainforests, from sea level to altitudes above 5 500 metres. In the Virunga volcanoes of West Africa, they have been seen drinking thermal water with a temperature in excess of 36 degrees Celsius. 48 WILD AUTUMN 2012



FAUX FUR African leopards (Panthera pardus) have already disappeared from a third of their original global range and their numbers continue to dwindle. With demand for leopard skins for ceremonial and traditional use increasing amongst all levels of society, an entrepreneurial conservationist has started a project to create a high-quality faux fur as sustainable alternative. Details on

2 3

4 1–2 Caching the Prey Leopards drag their prey up into a tree to keep their meal safe from scavenging predators. Glancing upwards, it takes them just a split second to plan their route up. These cats are able to haul more than twice their own body weight up a vertical trunk. A male leopard weighs 60—90 kg, females considerably less at 35—40 kg. 3 Lone Soul Nocturnal loners, leopards tantalise nature lovers with their rare appearances. 4 Descending Rosettes For Greg the main challenge was trying to capture the effortless way in which leopards run down trees. 5 simply leopard Every individual can be identified by their unique whisker pattern, as well as by a series of spots along the chest, affectionately known as the ‘pearl necklace’.


“Leopards are fiercely independent and it is rare to capture two individuals in the same frame.” – greg du toit

on the Move Being typical inquisitive cats, leopards often double back on themselves to investigate a sight, sound or smell. It is almost impossible to predict their erratic movements. While keeping up with them is difficult, capturing their speed and elegance is even harder. A slow shutter speed captures their graceful stealth. The top image shows a mother and her cub (in the background) out on the prowl. The cub is nine months old and beginning to join its mother on hunts. The young one has just three months to learn to hunt before it will be left to fend for itself.


to fathom. The density of rod cells that they possess makes their vision not more sensitive, it makes their vision superior!” He went on to explain: “I was a nature conservationist long before I was a photographer and it is my love for these creatures that drove this project. Not once have I seen a leopard mis-execute a leap of any kind.” Part of the challenge facing leopards in Africa is ignorance of their plight. Due to their nocturnal nature, they are very hard to perform a census on and, like all animals, habitat loss and fragmentation due to the increasing human population lie at the heart of the problem. Another major issue is the fact that farmers believe leopards to be the chief culprits when it comes to stock theft. In reality, leopards are such efficient hunters they seldom need to kill livestock. There’s also a problem unique to South Africa, Greg explained: “Traditionally, only the very elite of leaders in Africa adorned themselves with leopard skins, but the congregation of the Shembe church in Zululand have now all taken to wearing leopard skins.” With an estimated 4 000 leopards left in South Africa and a church membership of 4 000 000, this is obviously a major concern.

Last year a skinner in the same province as the church was found with 150 leopard skins and was released on a technicality without conviction. As the legislation stands now, a first-time ‘leopard offender’ is awarded a suspended sentence and community service. In addition to tighter legislation, Greg supports efforts to replace real skins with synthetic skins (see box on previous page). Greg believes wildlife photographers have a critical role to play, especially in raising awareness about conservation issues that are not necessarily public knowledge. “While everyone is aware of the rhino crisis,” he pointed out, “not many people are aware that leopard numbers are dwindling. While I do not, in any way, want to downplay the tragic plight of the rhino, I hope that in some small way, my collection of leopard images helps raise awareness for leopards too.” Wanting to end on a light note, the photo­ grapher shared this last, intriguing fact: “Leopards mark their territories regularly with their urine. This is important so that neighbouring leopards can avoid each other, because if they fight, they risk injury. But did you know that their urine smells exactly like lightly buttered popcorn?”

Equipment Nikon D3s camera, 200-400mm F4 lens, bean bag, torch, flash and a Land Rover account for the sum total of the equipment used during this project.


“Photographers deal in things which are continuously vanishing and when they have vanished there is nothing on Earth which can make them come back again.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

a twist in the tale Leopards are often in trees and maintaining balance is important. A long, thick and kinked tail helps when leaping from one tree limb to the next.



amphibian species on SA Red Data List

48% endemic


The Amatola toad is olivebrown with dark markings and a thin yellow line on its back. It belongs to the family Bufonidae.

15% threatened


SOS from frogs

The plight of amphibians doesn’t often make the headlines, not even the discovery that the Amatola toad is not extinct after all. By Fran Siebrits


ndemic to the Amathole region in the Eastern Cape, the Amatola toad Vandijkophrynus amatolicus had last been sighted in 1988 and was believed to be extinct. Then, in September last year, near a wetland outside Hogsback, amphibian researchers Jeanne Tarrant and Michael Cunningham found another one. The site had been unsuccessfully explored many times before, but on this 52 WILD AUTUMN 2012

particular evening tadpoles and egg strings were found, clear signs of breeding. Further intensive investigation in cold and windy conditions led to a single female under a pine log. That the Amatola toad was rediscovered at all is a sign of an increased focus on frog conservation. Frog expert John Measey told Wild that since the first Global Amphibian Assessment, a worldwide survey completed in 2004, amphibian research has skyrocketed.


As of the end of 2011, the total global amphibian species count was 6 897, an increase of roughly one-third described species in only 17 years. South African scientists have been an important part of this, compiling the SA Frog Atlas (SA-FRoG). This five-year research project saw dozens of passionate volunteers join herpetologists in the field looking for frogs. Because frogs are cryptic in colouring, they can be hard to find and harder still to identify due to variations in skin colour, markings and size. The solution? Recording the calls of frogs in the field. Calls are specific to species and a reliable way to identify frogs. Using the data, researchers hoped to determine whether reality reflected the Red Data List for South Africa. Unfortunately it does. “Frogs are worse off than ever,” said herpetologist Marius Burger, one of SA-FRoG’s passionate project co-ordinators. Staring out over his innovative backyard-cum-wetland where he has created a space for his amphibious friends, Marius explained that habitat loss and invasive animal species are the main

global amphibian species count

threats facing frogs. These creatures are some of the most environmentally sensitive on the planet, vulnerable to pollution on land and in water. Populations worldwide are declining rapidly. There are only 14 professional amphibian researchers in South Africa. This small capacity, combined with a lack of funds, means public involvement is essential. iSpot is one such initiative, run by the South African National Biodiversity Institute, where the public can submit photographs of amphibians online. The idea behind this virtual museum is to increase data and distribution records, which experts oversee. The beauty of iSpot is that people collaborate to identify species, so you can join in even if you can’t identify a particular frog. Interestingly, research by SANParks Scien­ tific Services to determine the impact of elephants on biodiversity is making use of frogs. Their number is an important indicator of how destructive feeding habits affect smaller creatures along the food chain. Frogs were selected for the survey because when an ecosystem is not healthy, they are often absent or occur in reduced numbers.

Calls are specific to species and a reliable way to identify frogs.

Start ticking off species on your frog list by looking out for these beauties:

Kruger NP grey tree frog Chiromantis xerampelina

West Coast NP Namaqua rain frog Breviceps namaquensis

Table Mountain NP Table Mountain ghost frog Heleophryne rosei

Get Involved Amphibian conservation in South Africa needs your help. The more eyes on the lookout, the more solid information on which to base conservation strategies. Unless we all help out, the cheerful chorus that heralds the rain will be gone.

Avoid using insecticide sprays around frogs as their skins are sensitive. Learn to recognise the calls of different frog species. Start monitoring the breeding patterns of the frogs near you. Join a local conservation group or teach others what you know. Train to be an amphibian specialist, many more are needed. Join iSpot, run by the South African National Biodiversity Institute, where you can post photos of frogs you’ve

seen and request help with identification. Photos should be taken from more than one angle if possible, and the size and habitat of the frog noted. Get started by visiting uk/amphibians-and-reptiles Support WWF-funded frog research by helping researcher Jeanne Tarrant, Subscribe to Frog Log, a free publication on frogs worldwide from the Amphibian Specialist Group. Go to publications/froglog/

Addo Elephant NP common platanna Xenopus laevis

Bontebok NP clicking stream frog Strongylopus grayii

IMAGES: Cliff & Suretha Dorse

Gently remove frogs if they happen to pay your home a visit. Close windows and doors before the onset of cold weather to stop frogs coming in.

Visit the frog exhibition at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town for a close-up view. Pay heed to road signs warning motorists to be on the lookout for frogs.

Mountain Zebra NP painted reed frog Hyperolius marmoratus AUTUMN 2012 WILD 53










For a weekend of adventurous wilderness 4x4ing, head to Marakele and into the depths of the Waterberg. By Santi van Niekerk • Pictures: Johannes van Niekerk

“R Marakele lies in the Waterberg, in a transitional zone between the dry west and moist east.


emote, primitive, wilderness.” The brochure’s description of the Marakele 4x4 Eco Trail thrilled me before I even looked at the route which, over three days, takes you deep into the heart of the Waterberg biosphere. The brochure put the trail’s challenge rate between three and five. In 4x4 circles, a three is a demanding trail, while a five is for extreme four-wheelers only. I was up for that, after all this was an opportunity to explore a part of Marakele National Park not seen by many tourists.

My companions and I joined trail guide Sidney Mikosi just before noon. We’d had a number of phone conversations with him to ensure we were properly equipped for the trip, and his ready smile and helpfulness continued to impress us over the following days. The trail departed from the main park entrance after a briefing and test of the two-way radios that would keep us in touch with the guide vehicle. Not quite 60 kilometres on an easy dirt road brings you to the entrance gate of the park’s eastern section where the 4x4ing starts.

HIGH RANGE On the Marakele 4x4 Eco Trail you’ll encounter breathtaking views and challenging tracks.

Day one I’d rate as between two and three, loosening you up for what will follow. After setting up camp, Sidney took us for a walk to interpret the surrounding landscape. A walking, talking encyclopaedia of the Waterberg’s fauna and flora, he showed us many things, including how to get soap from a plant, what leaves to boil for stomach ailments and where the leo­ pard that roams the area sharpens his nails prior to hunting. At the outset of day two, Sidney explained that although certain management

Many of the trail tracks were specially designed to provide a range of 4x4 challenges. roads linked to the trail, many of the tracks used on the trail were specially designed to give 4x4 enthusiasts a broad spectrum of challenges as well as providing access to varied ecosystems. We ascended our first ridge, leaving the placid valley and gentle fern-laced stream behind us. The challenge rating shot up from three to five as we descended a slope with loose rocks. The

terrain changed from bushveld to rugged mountain peaks stretching as far as the eye could see. Two hours later, after a slow and careful drive over three more challenging ridges, we stopped on a plateau that afforded a spectacular vista. At an altitude of almost 1 400 metres above sea level, the air was cool and fresh and we enjoyed a wellearned breakfast. From up there, the pulse of the Waterberg’s heart almost tangible. The route for day two is approximately 30 kilometres. It took us almost 14 hours! AUTUMN 2012 WILD 55


The terrain varies from bushveld to rugged peaks.

We arrived at the overnight camp, a beautiful wooded spot, somewhat dusty and very tired. Although the trail had provided some challenging driving, a sense of achievement welled deep inside of us as we sat beside the fire and looked up to a canopy of a thousand stars. Well, that was before Sidney told us the farmer who owned the land previously regularly ran up the mountain pass with his little Toyota Conquest. Day three had us return on the same route for a short while, after which the vegetation changed to typical Waterberg moist bushveld with a number of flat, grassy areas that can turn into treacherous marshes during rainy summer months. It was clear from some of the crossings at streams why this trail can be accessed during the drier winter months only. After about 15 kilometres of average 4x4 challenges, we scaled the last ridge and stopped to look back at the imposing Waterberg massif. Behind us lay a magical trail combining breathtaking scenery with adrenaline-pumping 4x4ing. In the basin below, the elusive elephants showed themselves to us as if they wanted to present us with one final pleasure. Above us, a pair of Verreaux’s eagles circled a last goodbye.

Make It Happen The Marakele 4x4 Eco Trail departs twice weekly, every Tuesday and Friday. The trail runs from April to October. R3 480 a vehicle, maximum of four people. No more than five 4x4s on a trail, plus the guide. Book directly with the park on 014-777-6929 or through

Exploring where few tourists ever set foot.

A bird


kruger BIRDING

in hand . . . Kruger’s rest camps provide the perfect platform to spot a lifer, observe interesting behaviour or introduce your children to the feathered wonders of nature at close range. By Albie Venter

RIGHT ON YOUR DOORSTEP At Satara you just have to step out of your chalet to view grey go-away birds and Natal spurfowl.

Kruger birding

When to visit


hile most famous for its animals, the Kruger National Park is also one of the continent’s best birding destinations, with over 500 bird species recorded within the park’s boundaries. This is more than half of all the species


recorded within Southern Africa. The settings of the rest camps, along with their mature trees, create ideal habitats for birds. An added bonus is that over the years, contact with visitors has habituated many of the birds to the presence of people, so you can observe behaviour such as nesting and feeding at close range without fear of causing any disturbance.

By December most of the summer visitors, such the cuckoo species, woodland kingfisher and European rollers, have arrived. Not only will this boost your species count, but the breeding cycle is in full swing too. Birds will be calling profusely to mark out their territory, and those who change colour will be in technicolour breeding plumage.



7 | Punda Maria

6 | Shingwedzi




5 | Letaba


4 | Olifants







2 | Skukuza 1 | Berg-en-Dal



Observing birds within the camp is a great way to introduce children to the fun of twitching.

1 BERG-EN-DAL Location The camp is set amidst rugged hills overlooking the Matjulu spring, with spectacular views towards the east. A variety of eagles and other large raptors can be seen soaring overhead throughout the day. Look out for Scarlet-chested sunbird 60 WILD AUTUMN 2012

Migrants have gone, which eases identification of difficult groups such as brown eagles because it immediately eliminates some possibilities. Many trees and shrubs have lost their leaves, making the location and observation of birds so much easier. A more subtle bonus is a slight peak in the campsite bird numbers as the seasonal food shortage pushes birds into the verdant gardens. Temperatures are also very tolerable.

and white-throated robin-chats frequent the camp. Night drives can be rewarding for the variety of nocturnal birds. Drive The scenic Matjulu Dam attracts a wide variety of waterbirds and African fish eagles can often be viewed at close range.

Load recordings of birdcalls onto your cellphone or music player to help identification and to attract skulking species for a better look. Be sensitive how you use such calls though, because it undoubtedly creates a disturbance and stops the natural behaviour of the birds as they come to seek the ‘intruder’. I generally find the use of playback brings in a somewhat flustered bird only for a brief moment and prefer photographing natural behaviour. Of course, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t put out food to attract birds either. Common rest camp residents • Green wood-hoopoes (pictured right) • Grey-headed bush-shrikes • Golden-tailed woodpeckers • Brown-headed parrots

2 Skukuza Best feature The walkway along the banks of the Sabie River with its wellplaced benches affords you the opportunity to observe the comings and goings from the top of the sycamore figs right into the reedbeds of the river.

Violet-backed starling

Look out for Numerous frugivores such as purple-crested turacos, violet-backed starlings, yellow-fronted tinkerbirds, Cape white-eyes and a variety of barbets visit the sycamore figs. Also flycatchers and batisses, which feed on the insects among the fruit. Amongst the reeds look for black crakes, green-backed herons and Burchell’s coucals. In camp look out for skulkers such as green-backed camaropteras, sombre greenbuls, orange-breasted and grey-headed bush shrikes. Drive South along the Sabie River to get closer to the river’s edge and to riparian woodland habitat.

3 Satara Best feature One of the few camps not built around a main feature but rather an oasis in the surrounding savanna. Listen to night-time calls of owls and other birds accompanied by a distant roar of a lion. Look out for African scops owl, Verreaux’s eagle-owl and barn owl as well as pearlspotted owlet can be detected by their calls at night, so remember to take a flashlight if you would like to view them. A scan of the trees during the day may reveal their roost as well as little sparrowhawk and Gabar goshawk. Ideal spot for introducing children to bird-watching as friendly visitors to your chalet include Natal spurfowl, grey go-away birds, Burchell’s starling and African mourning dove. Drive The S90, S41 and S100 loops through great and open savanna, then follow the Gudzani River as well as the Lebombo foothills.

Pearl-spotted owlet


“Outside my chalet at Olifants camp, a Retz’s helmetshrike feeds from branches in the canopy.” –Albie Retz’s helmetshrike

4 Olifants

5 Letaba

Best feature Situated on a rocky promontory overlooking the Olifants River, the viewing deck in front of the restaurant affords magnificent vistas over the landscape.

Best feature Overlooking an enormous bend in the river, Letaba offers the most expansive river vista in the park. The walkway leads you along the camp boundary with the river and brings you close enough to the sandbanks and reedbeds to study the various waders and reedbed inhabitants.

Look out for African fish eagles, saddlebilled and black storks are regular visitors to the river, while other raptors such as white-backed vultures and kites often soar past offering you an eyelevel perspective of these remarkable birds. In November I saw brown-headed parrots feeding on dry aloe flowers in camp. A somewhat unusual campsite bird for Kruger, a mocking cliff-chat, hopped around my chalet and a pair of comical Retz’s helmetshrikes put in an appearance. Drive The camp is a long way from the river, so you’ll need to drive to get close enough to scan the riparian vegetation for the mega-tick Pel’s fishing owl. Also look out for white crowned lapwings. 62 WILD AUTUMN 2012

Look out for Sandpipers, stilts and plovers are found on the sandbanks and black crakes, Burchell’s coucals and greater painted snipe in the reeds. Saddle-billed storks are seen on the expansive sandbanks. African barred owlet and greencapped eremomela occur in the gardens. In a hollow in a mopane I observed a pair of nesting yellow-throated petronias.

Saddle-billed stork

Drive The banks of the Letaba River offer great river views, interspersed with exposed sandbanks where one should look out for collared pratincoles, storks and waders.

Kruger Birding

Pygmy kingfisher

6 Shingwedzi Best feature This well-wooded site along the banks of the Shingwedzi River is full of birds. Spend a few minutes in the riparian woodland immediately west of the restaurant veranda; if you remain motionless, you will undoubtedly be surprised. Look out for This is a camp for serious bird sightings. In the wooded gardens look out for African goshawk, broad-billed roller, mourning dove, pygmy kingfisher and Bennett’s woodpecker. Woolly-necked storks and others parade regularly in front of camp in the river below. In summer look for Eurasian hobby falcons and bat hawks, which can sometimes be seen hunting in the river at dusk. Until a few years ago, collared palm-thrush and European nightjar were regular visitors, but have since disappeared. I predict they will be sighted again in future, so keep a lookout for them. Drive Follow the Shingwedzi River south east through spectacular riverine bush.

7 Punda Maria

European roller

Best feature The who’s who in the birding zoo all call the northern parts of Kruger home and birding, even in camp, is excellent. Look out for Yellow-bellied greenbul, terrestrial brownbul and bearded scrub-robin can be found within camp, while others such as broad-billed rollers and African golden oriole can be seen in the area. Drive Head north to the Pafuri picnic site where crested guineafowl and blackthroated wattle-eye can be found within the riparian forests. Look out for greyheaded parrots, which can be located by their squawks and screeches in the large boababs, and keep an eye open for African yellow white-eye and lemon-breasted canary. If you have time, drive towards the Pafuri gate and look for Arnot’s chats in the mopane forests next to the road.





NO walk in the PARK Running rather than walking a trail combines soulrefreshing natural beauty with an intense physical challenge. It’s exhilarating, but tough. By Jacques Marais


s a nation which revels in getting outside, we also have a knack of finding new reasons to go off in search of fresh air. Trail running in our national parks and reserves is one of the latest. It’s quite literally breathtaking, but also rates as one of the most affordable ways of hitting the trail.

SURE BEATS THE GYM The dramatic scenery of the Otter Trail makes for a memorable run.


Megan Taplin / SANParks

AH, FRESH AIR! Runners on the Otter Trail enjoy pristine nature at its best.

Michael Hendricks, the 2008 winner, on the Addo 50-mile Trail Run.

Trail running is an activity for all ages.


All you need is a sturdy pair of shoes der-hopping, sand-sucking, river-wading, – no complicated equipment required. calf-crunching terrain. More and more trail runners are ditching Trail runners are allowed on only two their shoes and exploring the concept of days of the year, through a specially negoing barefoot. Exercise does not come gotiated agreement between organisers more natural than that. Magnetic South and SANParks manageApparently we human beings were Born ment. They pay the full fee a hiker would, to Run, as the title of Chris McDougal’s but speed along the trail in a fraction of the best-seller on trail runtime. The current record ning states, and the stands at an incredible Start off slowly, origins of bare-footing revelling in a late- four hours and 40 mincan be traced to running but slower runners afternoon jog, or utes, rites of ancient peoples have up to 11 hours to kick-start your day complete the race. such as the Maasai of East Africa and TarahuRunning the Otter is with a dawn run. mara Indians of Mexico. no walk in the park, so The art of trail running unlocks a myriad expect moments of ecstasy to come packspiritual and health benefits, but it’s not aged with a fair amount of agony. Plunge for wimps. through the foamy rooibos-brown waters of Geelhoutsbos, Lottering and Elands Run the Otter Trail rivers, and feel the burn in your calves and For runners who take on the challenge of thighs as you slog onto the near vertical the Otter African Trail Run (www.theotter. climbs from sea level. Pause to stare in in the Garden Route National Park wide-eyed wonder across the panorama every year, jagged sea cliffs and pebble unfolding from upon high over this specbeaches lie in wait. They get to slug it out tacular national park. Once you’re on good with Mother Nature on this 42-kilometre terms with your lungs again, synch back trail in what must surely rate as one of into the rhythm of your run as you breathe the world’s most gorgeous outdoor playin the fragrance of fynbos tinged with the grounds. Thousands of hikers travel from salty aroma of pure, ocean air. around the world to hike this spectacular route along the coastline from Storms Run in Addo River Mouth to Nature’s Valley, taking five The Otter route run pales into insignifidays to navigate the ankle-snapping, boulcance when it comes to an event such as


The Outeniqua Traverse Trail Run leads from cool forests to rugged mountain tops.

the Addo Elephant Trail Run. Although the terrain and altitude gain are way easier, it is a monster 82-kilometre tramp through the Eastern Cape’s flagship national park. With only 400 places on offer, this is not a race many people will experience. The lucky runners who get their names on the list start off amidst the citrus orchards of Kirkwood, from where they progress into dense riverine forest and sub-alpine ridges characteristic of Addo’s Zuurberg section. Single-track trail and gravel roads wind through the thick indigenous bush of the valleys. Glimpses of duiker, kudu, warthog and eland sustain you as you soak up the beautiful ache that exemplifies long-distance running. Completing the Addo Trail Run is something that will stay with you for a lifetime, a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in this part of the Eastern Cape. Trail running allows you to escape the daily rat race, to set your mind and body to the natural rhythms of our beautiful, blue planet. Start off slowly, revelling in a half-hour, late-afternoon jog, or beat the sun out of bed and kick-start your day with a dawn beach run. There’s no need for hydration packs and wick-dry apparel or anti-pronation footwear until much later. Even then, all the kit money can buy won’t beat a barefoot beach run. What are you waiting for … let’s get outside!

Where to Run wild As with any activity, remember to consider other trail users. Certain trails are reserved for hikers only, so if in doubt check with the park’s office. Here’s our pick of protected areas where you can make tracks.

1 Trails in the forest

2 A view to a thrill

Where Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, near Heidelberg in the Western Cape. Reasons to run A network of trails through indigenous forest surrounded by fynbos ridges and rugged ravines. Routes From a 4 km loop to 100 km-plus of trail winding into the adjacent Boosmansbos Conservancy. Grading Predominantly single-track, some jeep-track. Longer routes rated strenuous. More info or

Where Outeniqua Nature Reserve, near George. Reasons to run Undulating forest runs, technical, flowing single-track, magnificent ridgeline traverses and breathtaking views of the Garden Route peaks. Routes You choose: a 10 km forest jeeptrack meander; a 25 km mountain plus forest combo or a 38 km mountainous run through the rugged Outeniqua mountains. Event The three-day Outeniqua Traverse. Grading From easy to strenuous. More info

Trail runners enjoying Salmonsdam.

3 The runner’s high Where Salmonsdam Nature Reserve, near Hermanus. Reasons to run A fresh-air feast of running fun along three day trails (3 km, 4 km and 7 km), plus a steep 4x4 route winding into the pristine Overberg. Trail Routes 14 km of hiking trails, plus 8 km along the 4x4 route. Grading A combination of technical and steep single-track and gravel road. Short distances keep it manageable. More info

4 A sterling circuit

5 On top of the world

Where Golden Gate Highlands National Park, near Clarens. Reasons to run ‘Roof of Africa’ views from high Maloti ridges. Routes Scenic tarmac runs for the not-sowild at heart and multiple off-road options. Event The Golden Gate Challenge is a spectacular 70 km race over three days. Grading Full event route is on single-track and jeep-track, but be warned the terrain is not flat. More info or

Where Garden Castle Reserve in uKhahlam­ ba Drakensberg, near Underberg. Reasons to run At 3 056 m, Rhino Peak is the southern Berg’s most prominent. Reaching the top comes packaged with raw, on-top-of-the-world bliss. Routes This 18 km return trail is graded severe to extreme. Staff will tell you it’s impossible to run. Go prove them wrong! Grading Vertiginous, technical single-track as well as serious scrambling. More info




fledged Birds are the only creatures on the planet adorned with feathers. How and why did their plumes evolve into intricate masterpieces? By Phil Hockey


on which they evolved were at least partly warm-blooded, as many dinosaurs were. Among the benefits of having feathers, you could count surviving the ‘Big Jurassic Bang’. This cataclysmic event wiped out all dinosaurs, apart from one group: birds survived the mass extinction. The reason for this may simply have been the mobility birds had by virtue of owning feathers; landbound dinosaurs could simply not move fast enough to get out of trouble. Flight is more than the mere ability to stay airborne. The ways in which birds fly largely define their lifestyles. Hawks and falcons, for example, are both birds of prey and occur in a fairly similar size spectrum. Their whole lifestyles are defined by having differently shaped feathers, which allows them to do different things. The wings of hawks are broad and rounded, whereas those of falcons are narrow and pointed. Hawks can soar for long periods and fly through complex habitats such as forests. Falcons, by comparison, are the masters of direct, highspeed pursuit, often catching their prey in the air. If you have ever experienced a falcon flying close by at high speed, you will have heard the thrumming sound made as the air passes over its wings. Hardly the stealth bomber approach, but does it matter if you can fly faster than your prey? Geese are also noisy fliers, and so are pigeons, but neither catch their food in the air. But what if you

Fast fact Feathers are all composed of the same substance, a protein called ß-keratin. Our fingernails are also made of keratin, but of a different type. The only other place in the animal world where ß-keratin is found is in the skin of lizards. William Perry /


or the last 65 million years, birds have been the only feathered creatures on the planet, a uniqueness they have exploited in a diversity of ways. Birds have made their way to every land mass and can traverse oceans. Some albatrosses have perfected the art of low-energy flight to the point where they can afford to travel thousands of kilometres to bring a single meal to their growing chicks. All of this because of feathers. About 15 years ago we learnt that feathers are (or at least were) not unique to birds, when feathered dinosaurs were discovered in western Liaoning in China. These dinosaurs walked the Earth at the same time as some birds, but did not themselves evolve to become birds. This discovery, coupled with some extraordinarily well-preserved feathers in French amber, has given unprecedented insight into the evolution of feathers, from simple, pencil-like barbs, through loose, shaggy structures, to the intricate masterpieces we see on modern birds. While scientists are fitting together the jigsaw of how feathers evolved, some significant questions remain as to why they evolved. They certainly did not evolve to allow dinosaurs to fly, as evolution does not forward plan in that way. Flight was simply a by-product. It is possible, indeed likely, that feathers evolved to provide insulation. This, of course, would only work if the animals

Crown of glory The grey crowned crane Balearica regulorum has a halo of stiff golden feathers on top of the head.

BIRDING do have to fly to hunt, and you are hunting prey with acute hearing? That is the challenge faced by many of the world’s owls, how to master silent flight. This is achieved, as it is in nocturnal nightjars, by modifications to the feathers. Their feathers are particularly soft and the leading edges of the flight feathers have a soft, comb-like structure.

them all simultaneously, rendering them flightless. This means that before they moult, they have to find somewhere safe to do so, usually a large, freshwater lake. This allows them to escape from terrestrial predators, but at the same time can leave them stranded for several weeks in a place where the food supply is not that good. Penguins have a rather similar strategy to Changing old for new ducks. They rely on finding their food in the During the breeding season some males use water, usually very cold water. When they bright colours and elaborate feather shapes shed their contour feathers (they don’t have to attract females. Loflight feathers), this recally, good examples duces their insulation Owls and nightjars have of such ornamentation and waterproofing, as mastered silent flight include the massively well as slowing them because their feathers are down underwater, long tail feathers of the male long-tailed which would make particularly soft. widow bird Euplectes hunting both uncomprogne and elongated inner primary or flight fortable and unproductive. To get around feathers of the pennant-winged nightjar this problem, penguins fatten up before they Macrodipteryx vexillarius. In both cases, as moult, in the same way that migratory birds soon as the important business of mating is do before they set out on their journeys. Once they have built up enough fat reserves, over, these extravagant feathers are dropped and the males closely resemble females. The they come ashore and will remain there unfact that the males don’t retain these fancy til they have undergone a full moult. feathers for any longer than necessary indiFemale hornbills have come up with an cates there is a cost to carrying them. These ingenious solution to moult that involves include increased conspicuousness and multi-tasking. When incubating and cardecreased manoeuvrability, both of which ing for young chicks, female hornbills are could cost them their lives when faced by sealed into a nest chamber, where they and a predator. the small chicks are fed by their mates. The Although birds spend a lot of time tendfemale uses this set of circumstances to complete her moult. By the time her chicks ing to their plumage, they cannot keep it forever. With wear and tear, feather edges are partly grown, the moult is complete and become ragged as the hooked barbules she can emerge to help her mate feed the erode away. Parasites also take their toll. growing brood. There is only one way in which birds can Feather moult, you would think, is unique to birds. Today it is, because only solve this problem, and that is by moulting, changing old feathers for new. This is one birds have feathers, but it may not always have been like this. Careful scrutiny of two more activity that must be fitted into the fossils of young dinosaurs from China have annual cycle, along with breeding and, for some species, migration. provided compelling evidence that feathNot surprisingly, birds have evolved a ered dinosaurs underwent moult, just like wealth of moulting strategies. Some big modern birds. So it would seem feathers did indeed start birds, such as albatrosses and storks, can with the dinosaurs. Some of the birds that afford to be without only one or two flight feathers at a time. These species can take survive today are remarkably dinosauryears to replace all their flight feathers, but like in appearance, such as the seriemas of South America. Even when you see rather by doing so ensure they are never flightless. Ducks have gone to the other extreme, with drab prinias or sparrows in your garden, it’s most species replacing their flight feathers always worth remembering they are little once a year. When they do so, they shed feathered dinosaurs.

From scales to quills In 1861, a feathered fossil some 150 million years old was discovered in Germany. It had enamelled teeth in a bony jaw and a long, bony tail, which are features of reptiles, as well as feathers like those of a modern bird. Archaeopteryx was heralded as the link between reptiles and birds. The previous year Darwin had admitted, in On the Origin of Species, that feathers were an evolutionary enigma. If they had indeed evolved from reptilian scales, where were the intermediary stages, where were ‘primitive feathers’? As it turns out, the first Archaeopteryx skeleton had in fact been discovered six years earlier, but had been misidentified as a pterodactyl. It remained misclassified until 1970.

The makings of a feather There are six different types of feathers on a bird, but we really only see three:

Contour feathers which cover the body.

Flight feathers which include the tail feathers.

Bristles which are spiky feathers, mostly around the head and neck, that serve various functions, including protection, helping in prey capture and as ornaments, for instance on the grey crowned crane. Contour and flight feathers have the same structure. There is a central shaft which is oval in cross-section. From this protrude lateral barbs, which fan out to form the feather vane. The barbs themselves are held together by little, hooked barbules, which impart rigidity to the structure. The flight feathers are larger and more rigid than contour feathers and are anchored to bones with connective tissue.

GURU Professor Phil Hockey is director of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at UCT. He has written and collaborated on several bird books, including Roberts Birds of Southern Africa and Sasol Birds of Southern Africa. 70 WILD AUTUMN 2012

Thought uMkhuze was mainly for birders? Kumasinga Hide offers fabulous animal viewing, particularly during the dry season. By Shem Compion

A view to a thrill


best for a morning photo session. The hide is most productive mid-morning, before the sunlight gets too harsh. You may want to stay longer simply to watch each species of animal take their turn to drink. White rhino enjoy coming to the hide in the late afternoon, just before dusk. Terrapins



uch of uMkhuze Game Reserve near St Lucia is dense acacia thickets, which wouldn’t seem to provide good photo­ graphic opportunities. Yet among the thickets lies Kumasinga Bird Hide, one of the best hides for wildlife photography in South Africa. Many famous ‘wildlife drinking at the waterhole scenes’ have been captured over the years from uMkhuze’s hides, especially Kumasinga. The hide, situated in dense sand forest, lies a few kilometres south of Mantuma Camp. The pathway leads for about 70 metres before you get to the hide door. Opening it, the first thing you see is that the hide is built in the middle of the waterhole. The walkway leads over the water and the hide has open window ports on all sides. The banks of the water­ hole lie between five and 10 metres from the windows. Proximity to animals is very, very close. It is a privilege to be so near to secretive animals such as nyala, as they stalk quietly down to the water. The waterhole is west facing and thus

The hide also allows for excellent bird photography. You should see purplecrested turaco, black-collared barbet, crested guineafowl, bush-shrikes, pinkthroated twinspots, and barn swallows that sometimes perch on the branches right above the water. If you are lucky, eastern nicators may be found around

the car park area. Also keep an eye out for the terrapins in the water below the hide. As the day warms up, they sur­ face and sun themselves on the various stones and stumps in the water. Don’t miss Kubhubhe is the smaller sister of the famous Kumasinga hide, also situated next to a waterhole. It caters equally well for photographers in that lenses fit nicely through the viewing ports. At times the waterhole gets really busy, so your angle of view and proximity to the animals make for excellent photography. Nsumu Pan is a birder’s paradise with pelicans, ducks, stilts, egrets, storks, herons and fish eagles. Situated in the southern central part of the reserve, the meandering pan is fed by the Mkhuze River. The drive along the lakeshore is spectacular, with large fever trees domi­ nating the water’s edge. Walk from the picnic spot to the shoreline and set up in a concealed spot. It’s a great location to capture images of pink-backed pelicans flying so close to the water that you get lovely reflections.

HIDE TO SEEK Kumasinga is ideal for taking wildlife photos. Remember to keep quiet so you don’t scare the game away.

Your trip in focus


Mammals Impala, kudu, wildebeest, nyala, giraffe, zebra, bushbuck, warthog, chacma baboon, vervet monkey, black and white rhino, elephant, leopard and hyena

Purple-crested turaco

Equipment 70–200/300 mm for full animal and group images. 300–500 mm lens for tight portraits of animals at the water’s edge. 500–600 mm lens and a fast-frame rate camera for bird photography at Nsumo Pan, with a sturdy tripod and fluid panning head because waterbirds tend to fly quite fast and direct, parallel to the shoreline.


Birding The bird count for uMkhuze is 420 species, almost half the total number found in Southern Africa. Book an outing along the Fig-tree Walk with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for landscape photography in and among the giant fig trees. Mantuma main camp is an excellent base with many uMkhuze specials flitting around the flowering plants in camp. Purple-crested turacos and Neergaard’s sunbirds are commonly seen in the high canopy.

KZN game route

Water monitor

Beanbag for hides.

Visit Northern KwaZulu-Natal’s wildlife parks for a safari experience among umbrella thorn trees and vast stretches of savanna. Ithala Game Reserve Dramatic sandstone cliffs form a backdrop for plains game. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park From waterholes to hilltops, the Big Five are at home in Africa’s oldest game reserve. Ndumo Game Reserve Rivers and pans draw antelope, hippo and rhino. Contact Ezemvelo Central Reservations 033-845-1000 AUTUMN 2012 WILD 73


Photography Hot spot

shoot like a pro

“Everything in nature has purpose and reason. Find and photograph the story.” – Marlon du Toit

By using a wide-angle to show the surroundings, this image of a leopard climbing a tree becomes more poignant.

Take better nature pictures

New perspective Anyone can take a photo, but very few engage our senses. Get more interesting results, photos that evoke emotions, by using perspective. By Marlon du Toit


he sound of the wind, the smell of an approaching rainstorm, the warmth of the sun, these all add dimensions to our perception of the world around us. Our senses awaken us to the reality of our surroundings. Quite possibly the strongest of our senses is sight, but a photo comes alive only as more senses are engaged. To accurately capture and portray a scene, you need to extract emotion-provoking aspects from it. With a close-up shot of a leopard growling or two male lions fighting, the animals are already doing the job for you. The action is more than enough to evoke a “wow” response from the viewer. For an imposing landscape shot though, you have to work a lot harder. The key to a successful image is simple: plan the shot and think it through. Before lifting the camera to your eye, first identify what you want to fill the frame. If you bring the story in front of you to life, you will capture the emotions of the viewer. 74 WILD AUTUMN 2012

By getting low to the ground, your subject appears tall and impressive. Low-angle shots work very well with elephant and giraffe, giving the viewer a real perspective of the animal’s size and height.

Take your eye away from the viewfinder and think about what you want to capture. Perhaps you need to reposition your vehicle slightly to get more depth of field. Sometimes having a series of structures, such as trees at different distances, helps to give the image a three-dimensional feel. Get to know your subject in order to predict possible movements that may add to the dynamic of the shot. When shooting from an elevated position, take advantage of your height to bring shadows into play. The reflection of clouds in a waterhole gives a sense of a larger space, similar to a room filled with mirrors. Marlon du Toit is a field guide at Singita in the Kruger National Park. A keen photographer and blogger, he also writes for the Kruger Park Herald.

Agulhas is calling

Make your way to the southernmost tip of Africa for a seaside holiday in a wildly beautiful setting. You’ll find clear rock pools to explore, beaches where you can walk for miles and a sheltered lagoon perfect for swimming. The iconic lighthouse has a fascinating museum and along the coast shipwrecks draw the eye. Stay in an original Strandveld farmstead or the newly opened rest camp overlooking the sea. At night let the sound of the waves lull you to sleep. Go Wild.

Book your escape now! Accommodation from R285 per person sharing. Terms and conditions apply.

Agulhas Rest Camp • Lagoon House Rhenosterkop Guest Cottages • Rietfontein Guest Cottages Bergplaas Guest House | Reservations (012) 428 9111 or e-mail |

visit or

Look closer

KIDS t ll u s By E m m a B r yc e l

ra t

Zoom in on some of the Kruger National Park’s creepy crawlies. You’ll find there’s more to them than meets the eye.

ion by M




Ant lions are known for their ferocious attacks from inside the funnelshaped death traps that they build in soft sand. They catch prey by waiting at the bottom and pelting ants with sand grains so that they lose their footing and tumble inside. Then the ant lion pierces the prey, sucks out the insides, and tosses out the empty carcasses. Impressive work if you think that they are just the larvae of the lacewing.







With its front legs pressed together like hands, this insect looks just as if it is praying. The green mantis sways like a leaf to camouflage itself, and unsuspecting insects that come close are snatched up with the spiky front legs. If you’re unconvinced about its fierceness, consider this: the female eats the male right after they mate.

The millipede is also called the shongololo from the Zulu word ukushonga, which means to roll up. This is how shongololos protect themselves, with the help of their tough exterior skeletons. Look out for the empty bleached skeletons, a sign that a shongololo has shed its old armour in exchange for new.


The stick insect confuses predators by appearing to be a twig. But this long-legged king of camouflage has another surprising trick up its sleeve. If a predator grabs its legs, the stick insect can release them and get away, simply growing new ones later. However, it can only regrow limbs, so if the stick insect loses a feeler, a leg will sprout out of its head!


• Look for strange shapes and markings in the sand: dots, lines, holes and mounds are telltale signs of bug activity. • Insects often come out when the ground is wet, so keep an eye out after rainfall. • Search carefully for camouflaged insects on bark, leaves and twigs. • If you have one handy, a magnifying glass is useful for examining little critters.

This insect is the rhino of the bug world, with what appear to be long horns. The male rhino beetle uses its horns as weapons during mating battles. They are some of the largest beetles in Southern Africa, and with superbug strength too: rhino beetles can carry things hundreds of times their own weight.

Spiky mopane worms turn into beautiful emperor moths after they pupate, which they do by burrowing underground for several months. To prepare, they feed on mopane tree leaves, which they like best. Unfortunately for them, mopane worms are also a favourite snack of many South Africans. If their insides are squeezed out, the leftover protein-rich skins can be enjoyed fried or dried.


“The Palmiet offers a fast-flowing, somewhat bouncy ride through terrific scenery.”

MOUNTAIN STREAM Once the winter rains start, the placid Palmiet turns into a white-water challenge.



water sports


Orange River near Noordoewer

Messing about in boats is fun for all the family.

Leave your worries behind as you take on a four- or six-day trip down the mighty Orange. This trip is open to anyone, with neither fitness nor experience essential. Gaze at curious rock formations and take in the beauty of the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park’s magnificent scenery and birdlife. At night, settle back and stargaze from your perch on the riverbank. Guides prepare all meals and are trained to help you get through each rapid safely. Popular with friends and families, this adventure can be just as much fun when you join another group. If you feel the heat, simply slip off your raft into the river.

5 4 3 2

Paddle out 2

Palmiet River near Kleinmond

The Palmiet is an easy-going paddle in summer that, with the arrival of winter rains, becomes a white-water adventure, so choose your season carefully. An hour from Cape Town, the river runs through the scenic Kogelberg Nature Reserve where fynbos-covered mountains form a backdrop. Take on the rapids in the company of guides who provide equipment, food and safety support for your trip. As you’ll find out, you don’t need to be particularly fit or skilled to enjoy a sunny day on the water. After your paddle, get comfortable in one of the reserve’s brand new eco-cabins. You’ll have earned a good night’s rest. Rates R650 a person including permits, guides, equipment and snacks/meals. Accommodation from R1 300 a night for four persons. Contact Gravity Adventures 021-683-3698 for paddling. Book acccommodation on 0861-CAPENATURE (0861-227-362-8873).

4 DID YOU KNOW? The Wild Card parks offer a variety of activities, from kayaking to mountain biking. Find a new way to get close to nature.

Great Usutu River Swaziland

Paddle along the largest river in Swaziland on a twoperson inflatable raft. The Bulunga Gorge on the Usutu River invites white-water enthusiasts for adrenalin fun on half- or full-day rafting excursions. Transport, equipment and lunch are included. The river is challenging but you don’t need to have prior experience to attempt the rapids (grade two to four). Later, visit the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and stay in one of the traditional beehive huts. The huts are dome shaped and arranged in a circle, traditional Swazi style. When you are not paddling, try a game drive or go on a walking safari for a chance to explore the bush on foot. Rates Full-day rafting (8 hours) R850 a person. Half-day rafting (5 hours) R750 a person. Accommodation at Mlilwane in beehive huts, R350 a person sharing, bed and breakfast. Contact Book paddling tours online at or phone +268-2528-3943/4 for accommodation.


Gravity Adventure

Rates Depends on the company you book with. Gravity Adventures, Felix Unite, Wild Thing and Amanzi Trails River Adventures all offer guided trips. The standard rate for a four-day trip with Felix Unite is R2 995 a person. Look out for seasonal specials.

Try one of these paddling adventures for quality time with friends and family.

Inanda Dam near Durban

While Inanda Dam is well known for its popular annual bass fishing tournament and as a hectic stop-over point on the Dusi Canoe Marathon, it’s also a place to escape Durban’s heat, to relax and feel completely at ease. Hire a canoe and take to the dam’s calm waters, or bring your own. Better still, bring your tent and stay overnight. If camping is not for you, the dam boasts lovely safari tents right on the water’s edge. Rates R150 a day for a canoe. Four-sleeper tent R1 000 a night. Electrical campsite R120 a person for one night, R90 a night thereafter; non-electrical site R90 a person for one night, R70 a night thereafter. Contact Msinsi Reservations 031-766-9946


Keurbooms River near Plettenberg Bay

The real charm of the Keurbooms Nature Reserve lies in the winding river that cuts through indigenous forest. The Whiskey Creek Canoe Trail is the best way to explore the reserve. The area boasts beautiful birdlife and the Knysna turaco, malachite kingfisher and giant kingfisher are among the beauties to spot. Paddling is easy going, so the trail is a good option for families. The Whiskey Creek Cottage is your destination for the night. It’s a scenic 7 km paddle upstream and you can look forward to a meal on an open-air deck under the stars. The cottage sleeps up to 10 people and is booked exclusively for each group. Rates R1 160 a night (1 to 4 people) and R290 an additional person a night. Cost of the trail includes double canoes, safety gear, a cushion and accommodation. Take your own bedding. Day visitors can hire canoes for R120 per day — no bookings required. Contact Central Reservations 0861-CAPENATURE (0861-227-362-8873) or 021-483-1090 AUTUMN 2012 WILD 79

Competition Exclusive deal for wild card members


A stay at Mountain Zebra National Park



Two lucky Wild Card members and their partners will get to explore the park and track cheetah on foot.

his corner of the Eastern Cape is worth a visit for the beauty of the scenery alone, from the gentle contours of the grasslands to the craggy peaks sometimes dusted in snow. The rest camp has spacious family cottages and caters for hot days and relaxing evenings with a swimming pool and a restaurant. Game

drives depart morning and evening, and there are guided walks to some of the park’s more remote areas. There’s even a chance to see rock paintings. But what could be more thrilling than searching for cheetah? Led by an armed field guide, you will venture out into the veld and, if you’re lucky, see cheetah up close.

How to enter

TwoWild Card members will win a two-night midweek stay at Mountain Zebra National Park, plus the opportunity to go cheetah tracking. To stand a chance to win, email the answer to the question along with your name and valid Wild Card number to (subject line: Mountain Zebra). Question: How many collared cheetahs are found in Mountain Zebra National Park? Competition rules The competition is open to current Wild Card members only. Competition closes 30 April 2012. The prize must be taken within six months of issue, outside school holidays and peak times. SANParks reserves the right to accept and award a booking at their sole discretion. There are two stays to be won. 80 WILD AUTUMN 2012

Profile for TiP Publishing

Wild 18 Autumn 2012  

Wild Card's wildlife environment and travel magazine containing top wildlife, park and reserve stories; illustrated with world-class photogr...

Wild 18 Autumn 2012  

Wild Card's wildlife environment and travel magazine containing top wildlife, park and reserve stories; illustrated with world-class photogr...

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