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Wild

agulhas • swaziland’s big game parks • augrabies • richtersveld • hike in kruger • roan antelope • hibernation • action photography • best views

R34.95

RED ALERT

Roan

Triumph or tragedy?

Lonely Bull

Hike Kruger’s newest trail FAMILY Hot spot

Non-stop action at Agulhas

Adventure holiday

Swaziland Big Game Parks

ISSN 1993-7903 01018

9 771993 790001

9 771993 790001

01019

See wild dogs at Tembe | Sleep over in Camdeboo Climb Nagle’s Table Mountain | Bossy birds Off the beaten track in augrabies | big 5 views

WINTER 2012

19

CARD MAGAZINE

www.wildcard.co.za

members only


WINNERS

These are the pictures that came top in our photography competition. They showcase our incredible continent and remind us to toast another great day in Africa. Grand prize: Peter Chadwick

R15 000 Leica photographic equipment, R10 000 Cape Union Mart voucher and R2 000 Amarula hamper

1st runner-up: Les Crookes

R8 000 Leica photographic equipment, R5 000 Hi-Tec outdoor apparel and R1 000 Amarula hamper

Open round winners: Mariana Balt, Paul Bartho, Sonja de Lange, Daniel Dolpire, Candice Hydes, Rainer Mauthe, Sandy Paulsen and Dean Polley each win a R1 000 Amarula hamper.


2nd runner-up: Andries Janse van Rensburg R2 000 Leica photographic equipment, R2 500 Hi-Tec outdoor apparel and R1 000 Amarula hamper

People’s choice: Johan Marais R2 500 Hi-Tec outdoor apparel and R1 000 Amarula hamper

People’s choice: Johan Marais R2 500 Hi-Tec outdoor apparel and R1 000 Amarula hamper


Mkhaya ‘Mkhaya Game Reserve offers one of the most unique lodges on the continent… The game drive and bush walk I did became a National Geographic experience.’

Game Reserve

Michael Holthuysen, presenter of Awesome AfriCA

‘Mkhaya boasts that you’re more likely to meet big game here than anywhere else in Africa and, judging by our experience, this is true.’ kate armstrong, lonely planet author

STEPHEN CUNLIFFE

‘The birding at Mkhaya was exceptional. The best sightings of the numerous Narina Trogons were right in Stone Camp.’ John Davies, Lawson’s Birding, Wildlife & Custom Safaris

Swaziland’s Best-kept Safari Secret Revealed Discover why everyone’s raving about Mkhaya and enjoy an exclusive 20% Wild Card discount!* *Add your own memory to this list and receive 20% off an all-inclusive 2-night stay for 2 people at Mkhaya! This exclusive offer for Wild Card members can be obtained by simply quoting WILD12 and your Wild Card number when booking. Promotional period: 1 June 2012 – 30 September 2012. Terms and conditions apply. Contact specials@biggameparks.org for full details and to book.

www.biggameparks.org +268 2528 3943

20%

WILD CARD DISCOUNT


Contents

Wild

WINTER 2012

20

“Mountain bike excursions offer superb opportunities to connect with nature.” – Stephen Cunliffe

STEPHEN CUNLIFFE

SWAZILAND

“To swim in two oceans on the same day is matchless. This is the memory my son will take with him.” Bongani Mgayi page 12

Parks

WILDLIFE

WILD BITES

12 Family trip to Agulhas At the southernmost tip kids can run free

28 Saving roan The majestic antelope whose survival is at stake

4 Letters

20

Spectacular Swaziland 42 Breathtaking action photos Explore the bush on horseback, Animals battle for supremacy by mountain bike — or even 56 The pecking order on foot in search of rhino How birds determine who’s 50 Room with a view top of the pile We choose the most scenic settings 64 Polentswa waterhole 62 KZN’s Table Mountain Waiting for a kill Conquer a mountain in Nagle 76 An ode to owls The night-time hunters we’re Adventure lucky to see 34 Off-road in Augrabies Discover wide, open spaces flora framed by dramatic rocks 52 Take on the Lonely Bull Hike deep into the heart of Kruger’s wilderness

COVER IMAGE

73 In love with Tankwa Flowering bulbs transform the barren veld

74 Namaqua flowers 70 The Panorama Trail Extreme strategies to attract A magical world awaits in the visitors Jonkershoek Mountains

6

Inside track What to do this winter

40 Photo hot spot Capture striking landscapes in the Richtersveld 48 Shoot like a pro Get great action shots 65 Meet our WildStars 79 On the web 80 Win a holiday to Agulhas

Kids 60 Taking a winter nap Animals get ready to hibernate

people in parks 66 Citizen scientists Bird atlassing is a fun way to contribute to research

Sergio Pitamitz www.vmsimages.co.za

28

42

34 www.wildcard.co.za

66 WINTER 2012 WILD 3


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

ED’S LETTER

Whenever I visit one of our national parks and reserves, I am amazed to hear so many foreign languages. People travel

from around the world to enjoy what we take for granted. Further proof of the huge interest other nations and cultures take in our natural heritage are the thousands of overseas clicks each month on the wildcard.co.za website. Which prompts me to wonder: how many South Africans have visited a Wild Card property? Have you? The sheer variety of our parks includes unequalled scenery and wildlife, from desertscapes to stormy coasts and glorious bushveld. So too the range of accommodation on offer. There is truly something for everyone, from camping in your own tent or caravan to luxury safari tents, chalets, bungalows, lodges and guesthouses that become your own during the length of your stay. To whet your appetite for our magnificent destinations, we’ve compiled a roundup that will have you reaching for your road atlas. The highlights are undoubtedly Swaziland’s Big Game Parks, which are full of surprises. What’s more, they are such convenient destinations for Wild Card members in the northern parts of the country. For those in the south, our special treat is Agulhas National Park, which now has loads of great places to stay. Go take a look, the park literally teems with life. Have you compiled a bucket list for 2012? How are you doing so far? Now that we’ve reached the midyear mark, I have become jittery about my own resolutions and will soon be off in search of the one sighting that has eluded me so far; wild dogs. This year I’ve visited De Hoop Nature Reserve, Camdeboo National Park and Mountain Zebra National Park. Each of these provided an entirely different experience and they all exceeded my wildest expectations. Let’s hit the road!

WILD CARD PARTNERS

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

4 WILD WINTER 2012

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

WINNING

LETTER

Kruger’s tree-climbing lions On 22 March 2012, I was driving west on the H5, 3 km from the main Crocodile Bridge/Lower Sabie Road, when I came across a pride of 13 lions: one male, three females and nine cubs. Most were in the road, but five of the cubs were playing in a small tree. The amazing thing about this sighting was that I was alone with the lions for about 45 minutes before another vehicle arrived. The lions moved off the road only when a rather large male elephant came walking along. I visit the Kruger National Park regularly (two to five times a year) and this was definitely one of my best ever sightings. What a privilege. Simone Swiel, email It certainly looks as if the lions of Crocodile Bridge enjoy hanging out in trees. See our article in Wild Autumn 2012 (Monkey Business). – Ed.

iMfolozi’s lions also climb

We spotted these lionesses in a tree at iMfolozi Game Reserve in October last year. They spent most of the day perched in the tree and were still there when we returned to camp at 5.30pm. Neil and Gail Baxter, Boston KZN

Erratum: The image on page 38 of Wild Autumn 2012 (Trees of Life) showed Aloe dichotoma and not Aloe pillansii as implied.

MAGAZINE ENQUIRIES subs@tipafrica.co.za CONTRIBUTORS

Ilse Bigalke, Andre Botha, Emma Bryce, Julie Bryden, Peter Chadwick, Burger Cillié, Shem Compion, Stephen Cunliffe, Marinus de Jager, Allan and Tracy Eccles, Allan Ellis, Albert Froneman, Samantha Hartshorne, Phil Hockey, Hannes Lochner, Geoff Lockwood, Camilla Norgaard, Wayne Matthews, Patricia McCracken, Andreas Späth, Peter Steyn, Ron Swilling, Dianne Tipping-Woods, Rudi van Aarde, Albie Venter

PHOTOGRAPHY/ART

AFRICA MEDIA ONLINE, AFRIPICS.COM, africaimagery. com, ANIMAL DEMOGRAPHY UNIT (ADU) OF UCT, Johan and Bridgena Barnard, Romi Boom, Tony Camacho, Peter Chadwick, Niel Cilliers, Stephen Cunliffe, Roger de la Harpe, Allan Ellis, Morkel Erasmus, Albert and Marietjie Froneman, GREATSTOCK/ CORBIS, ISTOCKPHOTO.COM, Hannes Lochner, Bernard Jordaan, Patricia McCracken, Russell MacLaughlin,

Hougaard Malan, Dr Wayne Matthews, Mario Moreno, Dale Morris, PEACE PARKS FOUNDATION, Sergio Pitamitz, Michael Raimondo, Karin Schermbrucker, Melanie Adele Slabbert/ SPARXMEDIA, Ron Swilling, Dianne Tipping-Woods, Steve and Ann Toon, Heinrich van den Berg/ hph Publishing, Johannes van Niekerk, Ariadne van Zandbergen, VMS IMAGES

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

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


WINNERS

Mountain Zebra holiday (Wild Autumn 2012): Patty Bennet, Nicole Thomas. The Big Year double tickets (March e-newsletter): Adam Badge, Shirwell Kipps, Elena Rust. National Parks and Nature Reserves (April e-newsletter): Adrianus van den Bosch, Heather Terrapon, Anne Price.

This picture was taken on the road from Skukuza to Lower Sabie in the Kruger Park on 30 April between 7am and 8am. The leopard gazed at the cars for about eight to 10 minutes before it jumped down and walked into the veld. It was a great experience. Koos Mol, email

Storm clouds at sunset: a promise of late season showers.

Tydskrif beïndruk

Mokala needs late rains

Ek het pas die Wild tydskrif ontvang en wil julle gelukwens met ’n puik tydskrif. Dit is nie net ’n bemarkingstydskrif oor die Nasionale Parke nie, maar bevat ook inligting vir die gewone man. Hier verwys ek graag na die artikels oor die bome en paddas. Die fokus oor die luiperd was ook iets besonders.

The article in the Autumn 2012 issue of Wild (Deluxe Camping at Mokala National Park) arrived shortly before my first visit to the park. What a pleasure to visit a new park with friendly staff and fine representative Kalahari habitat. However, it was quite distressing to see empty dams as early in the year as mid-April. The dam at the new Motswedi campsite was bone dry, as was the larger dam at the bird hide. I watched a herd of a little over 48 buffalo with many newborn calves dashing from one dry dam to another, I think in frantic search of surface water. But hats off to SANParks as there was at least one drilling rig I saw in the central portion of this compact park, so no doubt the water provision issue is being addressed. Mokala’s sables seem to be unafraid of vehicles, making this park probably the prime SANParks destination for sable sightings. John Davison, Pinetown

Henk Swanepoel, e-pos

In love with kogelberg At the beginning of March we visited the Kogelberg eco-cabins. What a wonderful surprise! The surroundings were unbelievably stunning and the eco-cabins very well equipped. We enjoyed every minute of the stay. Kogelberg is so peaceful and quiet. There are several trails, some shorter than others, but every one of them leads you through the amazing unspoilt mountains and kloofs. This reserve is truly worth a visit, especially if you want to get in touch with yourself and nature again. We also visit Wilderness Ebb-and-Flow as often as possible and in flower season West Coast National Park. Elma Kuyler, Cape Town

Don’t miss our article on sable’s close cousin, the regal roan antelope, on page 28. – Ed.

*

WINNING LETTER Simone Swiel wins a Storm 3-in-1 jacket (R1 000) from Hi-Tec. Write to us and you could win a great prize. 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.

People behind the stories With her heart and home in Hoedspruit, Dianne Tipping-Woods travels the country for interesting stories about South African people and places. For this issue she writes about the joys of birding in one of Kruger’s most remote areas with a group of citizen scientists (page 66). “Birding is a wonderful way to really immerse yourself in your en­ vironment and atlassing gives birding a real sense of purpose,” she says.

Wildlife conservationist and photojour­ nalist Stephen Cunliffe returned to Cape Town after spending much of the last decade living in Uganda and Zambia. Having recently completed a masters in wildlife management, he was keen to get back into nature and a Wild assignment to Swaziland proved just the tonic. “My heart skipped a beat,” he says about coming face to face with rhino (page 20). WINTER 2012 WILD 5


INSIDE TRACK

Maputo

Cross Country Last year nyala were released into the Maputo Special Reserve.

Mozambique

Maputo Special Reserve

Peace Parks Foundation

Futi Corridor Thembe Elephant Park SOUTH-AFRICA

A biodiversity hotspot, Maputo Special Reserve supports an exceptionally high number of endemic plant species.

Michael Raimondo

The Futi Corridor will allow elephants more freedom.

Rangers greet the arrival of the relocated animals with signs that say: Welcome to your home. 6 WILD WINTER 2012

Michael Raimondo

Special Reserve

A step at a time, a new transfrontier park is being created to protect one of the Earth’s 25 biologically richest eco-regions. By Peace Parks Foundation

O

nly the international border fence now separates Tembe Elephant Park from Maputo Special Reserve, a spectacular area that combines lakes, wetlands, swamp forests, grasslands and mangrove forests with a pristine coastline. One of the main reasons for establishing the reserve was to reunite the last naturally occurring coastal plains elephants in Southern Africa. Historically the coastal plains elephants moved freely along the Futi River and Rio Maputo floodplains. Now they will be able to do so once more, thanks to the proclamation of the Futi Corridor as an extension of the reserve in June 2011. “The entire reserve will be completely fenced by the end of 2012 to increase the protection of wildlife, while drastically reducing human/wildlife conflict,” says Peter Scott, project co-ordinator for Peace Parks Foundation. Since 2010, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has been generously assisting the Mozambican Government with a wildlife restocking programme, funded by Virgin

Unite through Peace Parks Foundation. During 2010 and 2011, small core populations of zebra, nyala and warthog were introduced. All the animals were brought in with light 4x4s from KwaZuluNatal, a bit of a cumbersome process due to the extremely thick sand. There was great excitement among local Mozambicans, reserve management and government officials, which included Maria Jonas, the Maputo Provincial Governor. This year will see the introduction of 100 kudu, 50 warthog, 80 impala, 200 zebra and 10 giraffe. The fast recovery and subsequent increase of wildlife populations will help develop Maputo Special Reserve as a tourist destination. The reserve forms part of the Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation and Resource Area, an intergovernmental initiative between Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland, supported by Peace Parks Foundation (PPF). It has received financing from the World Bank, the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the Government of Mozambique and PPF.


WILD STUFF

EDITED BY KATE COLLINS Send your comments or questions to kate@tipafrica.co.za or Inside Track, PO Box 308, Woodstock, 7915.

hot dogs W

The reintroduction of wild dogs to Tembe Elephant Park is a success story of community involvement and co-operation of conservation authorities. The challenge now is to manage the wild dogs in relation to lion, suni, cattle and tourist satisfaction. By Dr Wayne Matthews species, the reintroduction was also aimed at attracting more visitors to the park, which would contribute to the local economy in the long term. Priority was given to gaining support from the neighbouring communities as wild dogs cover large home ranges, making breakouts from parks a real possibility. Such breakouts can potentially put both the wild dogs and livestock at risk if they come into contact. After an intensive community-education programme and liaison, led by Thulani Thusi, a local community member and previously a lion monitor for Tembe Elephant Park, full support was given by the Tembe

tribal authority and community members surrounding the reserve. Tembe Elephant Park has high levels of biodiversity and is part of an international centre of diversity, specifically as a result of the sand forest habitat. In this complex system, reserve management needs to be concerned about the inter-relationships between lions and wild dogs, as well as how wild dogs may influence the suni population in the long term. The lions are to be managed as far as possible to limit the overall impact on the wild dogs, but keeping in mind that lions are a major drawcard for tourists.

PICTURES: DR WAYNE MATTHEWS

ild dogs are South Africa’s rarest carnivore, so new areas where they can roam freely, while being protected, contribute significantly to the future success of the species. Tembe Elephant Park, approximately 300 km² of mixed grassland and sand forest habitat, was identified as just such a place. Not only does it provide a strategic location for linkages, including the proposed Tembe-Futi Transfrontier Park, but it has the potential to host an important group within the greater KZN and national population. As well as the conservation of the

All lead dogs are to be radio collared and will be monitored on a daily basis, being tracked by means of radio telemetry every morning and most afternoons. Monitoring is carried out under the auspices of Wildlife ACT. www.wildcard.co.za

WINTER 2012 WILD 7


INSIDE TRACK

DR WAYNE MATTHEWS

The master diver

Tribal approval The park falls within the Tembe tribal ward and chief Msimba Tembe donated the land for the formation of the game reserve. The tribal authority approved the wild dog reintroduction on the following conditions: 1. A Tembe predator compensation fund for wild dogs as an introduced species would be in place. 2. The educational programme to all local communities neighbouring Tembe Elephant Park was to be continued. 3. There would be quick reaction and follow-ups to any breakouts, mitigating any potential threat to livestock. 4. A wild dog monitor would be employed from a neighbouring community, who would also carry out basic wild dog education and sighting-report follow-ups. 5. The wild dogs would be collared and competent monitors would undertake monitoring. 8 WILD WINTER 2012

Like a deadly torpedo, the Cape gannet plunges into the sea in search of its next meal. By Albert Froneman

T

he Cape gannet Morus capensis is an attractive, sleek seabird. In flight, the bird’s snow-white body with black tail and primary feathers make it easy to identify and very visible at sea. Up close it has a lovely golden crown and nape, vivid blue eyelids and interesting black facial markings. In contrast to the adults, juvenile birds have a dark grey-brown plumage. Gannets are very powerful fliers, using a flap-gliding technique. Typically they will forage in groups, often with other seabirds. They search for fish from the air and plunge dive with wings folded back. The momentum from the dive can carry the gannet to a depth of about eight metres into the water. Currently, gannets are known to nest on six islands along the coast of Namibia and South Africa, making it one of the birds with the most restricted breeding range. There’s a hide overlooking the colony near Lambert’s Bay along the West Coast from where you can observe these

Trip planner

Bird Island, situated off-shore of Lambert’s Bay, is managed by CapeNature. The hide is open from 7am until 5pm in winter and until 7pm in summer. As the island is reached across a breakwater, rough seas may prevent entrance. Wild Card members free, visitors without Wild Cards R30 adults, R15 children under-12.

magnificent birds at close range. Breeding pairs remain together for several seasons and perform elaborate greeting rituals at the nest, stretching their bills and necks skywards, gently tapping bills together. The nest is a mound of soil or other available material, with a shallow depression in which a single egg is laid during spring. Eggs hatch after 44 days and the young fledge after about 95 days. During the non-breeding, winter months large numbers of adults disperse from their breeding colonies. Many follow the sardine shoals up north along the KwaZulu-Natal coast. Some may remain away from their breeding colony for up to three months at a time. During the time away from their island homes they will roost at sea and never come ashore. The conservation status of the Cape gannet is regarded as vulnerable as the population has decreased by more than 20 per cent over three generations due to a depletion in their fish food supply. The hide on Bird Island looks out on the gannet colony.

ALBERT FRONEMAN

DR WAYNE MATTHEWS

As suni are a priority for the reserve and a Red Data species, how the wild dogs affect their numbers will determine how these predators are managed. The reintroduction has taken place without negative incident and has been a great boost for the reserve, opening up new opportunities and challenges to staff, local communities and tourists.

ALBERT FRONEMAN

An aerial view of sand forest showing how some of the trees lose their leaves in winter (deciduous trees). Sand forest contains both semi-deciduous and deciduous species, a feature unique for southern African forests.


INSIDE TRACK

Camp in the Cathedral

HO SPOTT

PICTURES: ROMI BOOM

Visitors can now overnight in Camdeboo National Park, at a new campsite and tented camp on the shore of Nqweba Dam. By Romi Boom

Camdeboo National Park

T

he sound of splashing interrupts the dusk silence. A buffalo, perhaps a kudu bull, come down to the water to drink. I am in a dense sweet thorn thicket and, because it will be full moon in two nights’ time, the long white thorns shimmer in the moonlight. Even more memorable is that I’m overnighting in Camdeboo for the very first time. The park now has a shaded campsite and tented camp on the dam shore.

Nqweba campsite has 15 caravan and tent sites set on gravel, each with a power point and braai unit, plus use of a communal kitchen. Lakeview tented camp has four safari tents, which have two single beds, camp chairs, table, braai unit and fridge. Each tent has its own locker in the well-equipped communal kitchen, as well as a cast-iron pot if you fancy making potjiekos. Camping R175 a night for two people. R58 for an additional adult and R29 a child, up to six. Lakeview tent R500 a night, sleeps two. Central Reservations 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.org/parks/camdeboo/ 10 WILD WINTER 2012

My favourite is tent number two, which has a view over the dam, somewhat obscured by reeds. Peter Burdett, park manager since 1990, explains that rising and falling dam levels cause the floodplain to encroach on the shore, to the extent that papyrus reeds reach up to the Khwalimanzi Hide from time to time. Once the soil dries out, a tractor is sent in to cut the reeds, which pose a fire hazard. With the view now hidden, it is astonishing to imagine that the

hide, which was initially constructed for game-viewing purposes, overlooked as many as 100 eland at a time. Peter says his favourite part of the park is the vleiland around the campsite, because it is so rich in birdlife. “But the best place to sit and read the papers on a Sunday morning is at the toposcope overlooking the Valley of Desolation,” he confides. “Just below the clifftop, on the left hand side, is a Verreaux’s eagle nest.”

Although there is good gameviewing on the gravel road to Winterhoek especially, I found both 4x4 trails in the park absolutely worthwhile. The Koedoeskloof 4x4 Trail, situated in the western side, turns into a stony track with some steep inclines, but rewards with aweinspiring vistas over the Sneeuberge and the great Karoo plains. The Driekoppe 2x4 or 4x4 route, in the eastern section of the park, is accessed from the Kroonvale gate, for which you get a key from reception. It passes the lush green basin of Kwaggakom to the turnaround point at Driekoppe, where there are facilities for a picnic or braai. The Driekoppe overnight hiking trail enables you to explore the park on foot. There are three route options of 5 km, 11 km and 14 km.

The park has ample game and the veld was in an excellent condition after nine consecutive days of rain, most unusual for the Karoo. Although I did not see buffalo, I ticked off almost everything else on the park’s list, including mountain reedbuck, leopard tortoise (above left) and Cape mountain zebra. At the Valley of Desolation, I spotted a pair of Verreaux’s eagles riding the thermals overhead.


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life

THE point of HOW SWEET! A Cape white-eye feeds on nectar.

PICTURES: PETER CHADWICK

Destination: Agulhas


Several ships have fallen prey to the rugged coastline. Stories about their wrecks will keep kids spellbound.

There’s far more to Agulhas National Park than its famous lighthouse. The new accommodation options make it ideal for a weekend exploring nature at the tip of the continent. Inspired by the wealth of wildlife that photojournalist Peter Chadwick found, Wild invited blogger Bongani Mgayi and his family to put the park to the test.

www.wildcard.co.za

WINTER 2012 WILD 13


DESTINATION: AGULHAS

Agulhas National Park lies at the southernmost tip of Africa. 14 WILD winter 2012

The red-and-white painted lighthouse towered above as my two daughters and I started along the short meandering path from the parking area to the sea. Flocks of pied starling flew up squawking. A pair of Cape bulbuls fluttered about while a Cape robin-chat hopped after a three-striped mouse scurrying in the large stand of aloes. We paused briefly to watch an angulate tortoise (below right) pull itself through the soft sand and plot its path between the mole-rat burrows. A robber fly sat in ambush, then pounced with lightning speed on a smaller and softer-bodied insect in a move to rival any of the kills by big predators in better-known game reserves. We had barely walked a 100 metres and were already entranced. It was the start of what was to be an amazing weekend at this southernmost tip of Africa. Most visitors consider the historic lighthouse, the plinth depicting the splitting of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and perhaps also the wreck of the Meisho Maru as all the Agulhas National Park has to offer. How wrong they are. There is now a range of accommodation scattered right across the 21 000 hectares that provides a gateway to endless opportunities for exploring this extremely diverse, historic and scenic landscape. Having booked into the rest camp with its thatched units cleverly spaced among indigenous fynbos and within a stone’s throw of the ocean, we decided to drive back a bit and wander a stretch of the Rasperpunt coastal trail. The change of the seasons had brought huge sea swells and a thick bank of ominous grey clouds to the horizon. But it was these swells that had thrown out an interesting array of debris onto the beach. We were soon probing among the dried skeletal branches of sea fans, sponges of

numerous shapes, sizes and species, as well as the scapula and rib bones of a seal. Cat shark and ray egg cases littered the beach and we found the carcass of a Cory’s shearwater that is usually seen only far out to sea. A sad encounter was a Cape fur seal pup whose life had been ended by a snaring ring of plastic around its neck. A strong reminder to be more aware of where we throw away our litter. In the rock pools, the girls found mullet, klipvis, sea urchins, cushion stars and anemones. An inquisitive octopus ventured out from its lair to wrap its tentacles gingerly around my foot and ankle. On recognising I was not a suitable meal, the octopus rapidly changed colour as if in embarrassment and shot off to another pool where it disappeared from sight. As we passed a fisherman, his line in the surf screamed and suddenly ran seaward. He leapt up and spent several frantic minutes trying to bring the fish to shore. The line, however, went slack again as the fish managed to free itself. The fisherman slumped onto the soft sand, ignoring the small waves lapping around him, sighing forlornly: “Ag, man. That was a really big fish that got away!” Out at sea, chokka boats and small trawlers bobbed between the white-horses of the swells indicating the richness of the Agulhas Banks for fishing. Heading back towards the rest camp, we rounded the corner to find a circular and sheltered lagoon where flocks of white-fronted plover and pairs of African black oystercatcher searched for food in the pebble piles. A real privilege for us was seeing a pod of bottlenose dolphins that surfed the waves not far from the tern roost. Further along, a large Khoikhoi shell-midden took us back to a time when the tidal rock pools

1. The Rasperpunt coastal trail leads past the Meisho Maru wreck. 2. A threestriped mouse feeds on fynbos blossoms. 3. Kids can play in the surf or search the beach for seashells.

PICTURES: PETER CHADWICK

Every day the drama of life plays out on the Agulhas plains and along these shores. By Peter Chadwick


An octopus shows itself briefly in one of the intertidal rock pools.

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DESTINATION: AGULHAS Capped wheatear with a large grub that it has pulled from the soil.

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1. A juvenile puff adder coiled in the early morning light. 2. Look for southern boubous around the milkwood trees of Rhenosterkop. 3. A Cape river frog on the water’s edge at Rietfontein. 4. A brightly coloured shell washed up on Pebble Beach. 5. The rest camp’s chalets lie nestled in the fynbos. 6. A lone fisherman throws a line into the sea at dusk along the Agulhas coastline. 7. A rock kestrel that is resident at the rest camp sits with a small bird that it has caught. 8. The bright scarlet flowers of Brunsvigia orientalis. 9. Yellow mongoose are often seen among the farmlands. 10. Sewejaartjies at Bergplaas. 11. A Cape thickknee crouches in the open on the edge of the Rhenosterkop farmhouses.

PICTURES: PETER CHADWICK

quartered low over the fields. around here must have been The Bergplaas Guest House teeming with shellfish that inoffers a relaxing country setting cluded huge limpets, alikreukel that provides endless vistas across and massive abalone. the Agulhas plains with SoetendDusk turned into full darkness als Vlei constantly shimmering and one of the best star-filled skies in the distance. Walking along I have seen in a long time had the track that runs behind the the family searching with craned farmstead up the mountain, I necks to identify the different found numerous examples of the reported constellations and see how many satellites 2 500 different plant species that occur in we could count. In the distance both spotted this amazing park. eagle-owl and barn owl were heard calling in Recovering from devastating fires a couple the night. of years earlier, the veld was now alive with Dawn rose with a clear sky and a rock kesprotea, cone bush, mimetes and restio seedtrel sitting on the railings of our deck with its lings. The flowers of pelargoniums, ericas, breakfast in the form of a small bird. It flew lobelias and many others added colour to the off a short distance where it fed further, unlandscape and attracted orange-breasted and perturbed by my presence as I stepped onto lesser double-collared sunthe deck. In the low shrubbery, Recovering from birds as well as the larger neddicky, grey-backed cisticola, Karoo prinia, Karoo scrub devastating fires, the Cape sugar­birds. veld was now alive My final destination for robin, yellow canary and a with protea, cone the day was the Rietfontein bokmakierie all made the most of the new day, either calling bush, mimetes and guest cottages that lie in the heart of the lowland fynbos, repeatedly or searching for restio seedlings. only 5 km from Rietfontein food. A small grey mongoose Bay, a popular angling destination. On my caused a moment of consternation for the arrival a herd of springbok that had been birds as it ran across an opening and this attracted a family of Cape spurfowl who quickly grazing the lawns wandered off at my approach. Black and yellow Cape widow­bird chased off the mongoose. males chased after drabber-coloured females and in the stream next to the cottages Cape Cottages and farmsteads river frogs and clicking stream frogs called A short drive had me at the entrance to the constantly. Rhenosterkop farmstead, originally built in A bright pink stand of Amaryllis caught 1742 and recently renovated into visitor accommodation. Around the cottages that form my attention and soon had me wandering into the veld in search of more floral depart of the original farmstead, brilliant red lights. I was not left disappointed with stands Brunsvigia orientalis flowers added colour to of Protea suzannae, gladiolas and Erica the historic landscape. Malachite sunbirds, plunkenetti. Thick-knee, black-shouldered Cape white-eyes and bully canaries fed kite, capped wheatear, familiar chat, speckled among the flowering leonotis and a female mousebird and Cape wagtail were some of rain spider guarded her nest well hidden in a the feathered diversity I added to my nowthicket of branches. extensive tick list. Driving on towards Bergplaas, which is Driving back from Rietfontein to the rest situated on the slopes of the Soetanysberg camp, I passed the lighthouse that was now and a 30-minute drive (36 km) from the Agulhas lighthouse, I passed fields with flocks throwing long beams of light into the night and wondered how many ships it had steered of sheep, newborn lambs in tow. Herds of towards safety past this rugged yet incredspringbok, steenbok, yellow mongoose and ible piece of coast so full of life. I made a large flocks of blue cranes are common. Denmental note that I needed to explore further, ham’s bustard, Cape clapper lark and Agulhas to breathe in more of the soul of this special long-billed lark were very worthwhile birdplace, the national park at Agulhas. ing sightings, as was a lone black harrier that


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DESTINATION: AGULHAS

PICTURES: BERNARD JORDAAN

When you mix five kids, two oceans and the tip of a continent, you get a weekend to remember! By Bongani Mgayi

trip planner

Being from Cape Town, my family is familiar with the ocean. We’re frequently on the beach near our home in Milnerton and regularly swim on the ‘other side’ at Muizenberg. But to swim in two oceans on the same day is matchless, a memory my children will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Much of our Saturday was spent inspecting the topography of Agulhas. My bigger kids, Lihle (11), Ntando (9), Unathi (6) and Cumi (4), had a hard time reconciling their minds to the fact that we were at the tip of Africa. Their mind-map had to be amended. At Agulhas you don’t have to try hard to find something for your kids to do.

GETTING THERE Agulhas is a two-anda-half-hour drive from Cape Town. Head along the N2 to Caledon, then follow the R316 to Napier and Bredasdorp. Signs clearly indicate the route to Agulhas. WEATHER Summers are warm and winters mild, with rain falling mainly in the winter months. Expect wind at any time of year and always be prepared for sudden changes in the weather. The best months to visit are April and September.

Above right: Bongani, Pam and their kids in front of Agulhas lighthouse. Above: Colourful boats at Struisbaai. Below: Family picture at Africa’s southernmost tip.

From the sandy beach and warm water at Struisbaai on the Indian Ocean, to the pebbled beach at Suiderstrand on the Atlantic Ocean, there’s lots. Mine particularly liked Pebble Beach, inspecting interesting pebbles and listening to the popping-popcorn sound as the waves crashed over the pebbles and retreated to the ocean. Even ‘Mr Bottle’, Lungi (2), enjoyed watching the waves from the safety of his mother’s lap. Wide open spaces and the freedom to explore are the kind of things that get children really excited, and there was plenty of freedom on the farmstead at our home-away-from-home, Bergplaas Guest House. We’ll be back!

ACCOMMODATION A variety of accommodation options is now available within the park, from self-catering chalets at the rest camp (from R840 a night for two people) and the Lagoon House within a stone’s throw of the sea (from R2 365 a night, sleeps six) to the historical farmsteads (from R570 a night for two).

a permit, which can be obtained at a local post office.

ACTIVITIES Take a long walk along the coast to enjoy the biodiversity and the rich history of the area. Fishing requires

Contact Park 028-435-6222, Central Reservations 012-428-9111, www.sanparks.org/parks/agulhas/

BE PREPARED All accommodation units are self catering, so you will have to bring supplies with you. The nearby small towns of Struisbaai and L’Agulhas have a range of shops that can supply the basics.

Read what Bongani’s kids had to say about their adventure. Go to www.wildcard.co.za and search ‘Agulhas’ for his blog.

SPECIAL OFFER Save 20% on accommodation in June and July. 18 WILD WINTER 2012

school holidays excluded.


The Garden Route is calling Winter is the secret season in this corner of the Cape. The weather is mild and even on fine days you could have the beach to yourself. Along the coast whales play in the water and in the cool of the forest colourful birds fly about. Explore this natural garden on foot, by mountain bike or in a kayak, then return to a cosy cabin or pitch a tent under the trees. Go Wild.

40% off WILDERNESS NATIONAL PARK

HOUGAARD MALAN

Book your escape to the Garden Route now! Accommodation from R168 per person sharing • Camping from R90 per night Valid from 2 May to 30 November 2012 including weekends. Long weekends and public holidays are excluded. Terms and conditions apply.

Wilderness Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp • Knysna National Lake Area Nature’s Valley Rest Camp • Storms River Mouth Rest Camp | Reservations (012) 428 9111 or e-mail reservations@sanparks.org |

visit www.sanparks.org


Big game parks

Situated a short drive from Gauteng or Durban, the Kingdom of Swaziland’s Big Game Parks lie hidden in the shadow of other more illustrious Lowveld parks. Stephen Cunliffe set off to sample the game reserves of Mlilwane, Hlane and Mkhaya.

ON THE LOOKOUT Both black and white rhino are protected by Big Game Parks of Swaziland.

Swazi


Swaziland puts the mountain back into MTB trails. Here riders tackle a scenic route through Mlilwane.

sojourn “In the absence of dangerous game, the mountainous terrain makes Mlilwane a paradise for active outdoor enthusiasts.�

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The vociferous dawn chorus held me enraptured for the duration of our amble.

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Big game parks Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary

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1. Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge has a colonial feel. 2. You’re guaranteed sightings of blue duiker in the lodge’s garden. 3. Mlilwane’s plains are home to zebra. 4. The journey is as important as the destination. 5. On horseback you can ride alongside herds of game.

arrived at the luxurious Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge in Mlilwane as the heavens opened, unleashing a fearsome storm upon the grateful wildlife sanctuary. The jovial Stew Hlongwane was waiting for me as I emerged from my car after the hassle-free road trip. “Mlilwane means ‘little fire’ and it’s a reference to the numerous fires started by lightning in the area,” began the head guide as we shook hands, “but don’t worry, this grey weather will push off soon.” When the rain let up, we decided to risk a game drive up to the Nyonyane viewpoint in the heart of the reserve. The frolicking herds of waterbuck, zebra, blesbok and blue wilde­beest we encountered along the way certainly appeared to be enjoying themselves in the wet conditions. As Stew had predicted, the next morning dawned crisp and clear. With the sun nudging the horizon, I roused myself from the colonial comfort of one of the six exclusive rooms that comprise the hilltop lodge. Reilly’s is located inside a botanical garden of endangered cycads and rare aloes that is also home to a variety of threatened small antelope and a resident family of bush babies. Stew was waiting when I emerged with camera in hand, binoculars strung around the neck and a big grin on my face. Setting off on a sunrise walk, my amiable guide pointed out blue duiker, suni and klipspringer as we strolled along wellmaintained hillside trails, but it was the vociferous dawn chorus that held me truly enraptured for the duration of our amble around the hill. Upon returning to the lodge’s outdoor terrace for breakfast, I was surprised to see three hours had slipped by during our walking excursion. With the lodge’s hilltop setting, I found it exceedingly difficult to tear my eyes away from the view and prolific birdlife long enough to guzzle down a plate of bacon and eggs before they got cold. Mike Richardson,

tourism executive for Big Game Parks, joined me and shared a little of the park’s history: “At 4 560 hectares, the relatively small wildlife refuge of Mlilwane was established as a stronghold to save the last of Swaziland’s threatened wildlife (see box on page 25). Offspring from a diverse array of indigenous species is periodically translocated to restock our other parks, along with denuded wildlife areas throughout the country.” After breakfast Mike took me to meet Chubeka trails manager Vikki Crook and horseback safari guide Maja Tsabedze. From basic hour-long horseback trails for beginners to challenging rides up the notorious Nyonyane Mountain to the exposed granite peak known as Execution Rock, there is a horse-riding itinerary to suit all ages and abilities. Good news for someone like me who hadn’t sat atop a horse since I was a boy. But, undoubtedly, the most unique horseback safari option is the rustic overnight horse trail where riders sleep in a temporary camp set up inside a cave high on the mountainside before riding back down the next morning. Self-guided mountain bike excursions offer superb opportunities to connect with nature and get up close to the abundant herds of relaxed plains game that roam the open grasslands of the sanctuary. For energetic visitors wanting to go well off the beaten path, Mlilwane offers guided hiking trails into the pristine mountainous northern section of the park. There are no roads, so only the most adventurous and determined visitors get to see the Mantenga Waterfall and explore this seldom-visited wilderness region. In the absence of dangerous game, the scenic mountainous terrain of the Ezulwini Valley makes Mlilwane a paradise for active outdoor enthusiasts. Ezulwini translates as ‘Valley of Heaven’, an apt description for this fertile valley on the outskirts of Mbabane.

PICTURES: STEPHEN CUNLIFFE

Only the most adventurous visitors get to see the Mantenga Waterfall and explore this wilderness region. Swaziland is less than a five-hour drive from Gauteng. www.wildcard.co.za

The strikinglooking crested guineafowl is common. WINTER 2012 WILD 23


Big game parks At Hlane a trio of lionesses lie in wait as a regal-looking male tests the air.

Hlane Royal National Park

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fter thoroughly enjoying the attractions of Mlilwane, next on the agenda was Ndlovu Rest Camp at Hlane, which means ‘wilderness’. Without electric lights to distract you from the bush, I soon discovered how alive the rest camp comes at night. Nesting barn owls screeched in the wooden eaves of the restaurant, epauletted fruit bats squawked in the surrounding trees and a couple of white rhino sidled up to the camp’s low fence where they bedded down for the night. After dinner I moved to an outside bench and sat listening to their heavy breathing. Just three strands of electric fence separated us, as I watched them snooze by the light of a full moon. I was up before first light the next morning for a game drive. As the sun struggled to break through the early morning haze, a regal male lion appeared alongside the track. Guide Ndumiso Nkambule cut the engine and we sat spellbound in a surreal landscape of skeletal knob thorns. It wasn’t long before three lionesses materialised, as if by magic, from the thick early morning mist. One carried the limp body of a thick-tailed bush baby in its jaws but, losing interest, dropped the creature uneaten at the roadside. All the while deep rumbles betrayed the presence of elephants nearby,

although the soupy conditions kept them hidden from view. After stretching and yawning, the cats moved off. Like apparitions they melted back into the ghostly mist and the spell was broken. After our lion encounter, Ndumiso took me on a mountain-bike ride to the hide at Mahlindza Waterhole. As we sat munching our packed breakfasts in the company of crocodiles, white-faced ducks, woollynecked storks and spur-wing geese, a procession of nyala, wildebeest and warthogs came down to drink. The 22 000-hectare Hlane Royal National Park is Swaziland’s largest reserve and home to big herds of game as well as four of the Big Five. With only buffalo absent from this park, lovers of big beasties will feel at home. However, over and above the abundance of large wildlife, it is the multiday outdoor activities through the wide-open spaces of knob thorn and leadwood dominated bushveld that steal the show at Hlane. An extensive network of game-viewing tracks criss-crosses the national park, allowing visitors to explore the area on guided open-top game drives, in their own vehicles or, for the more energetic, by mountain bike or on foot. It was reassuring though to learn that these adventure activities are conducted in sectors of the park devoid of lions.

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ithout wanting to detract from the commendable work being done at Mkhaya to breed threatened wildlife species, if I were to choose one word to encapsulate what this park is all about, it would be ‘rhinos’. From the moment I arrived at the Phuzamoya ranger station on my way into the reserve, I was confronted by a shocking display of mutilated skulls from the last Rhino War that pushed Africa’s rhino populations right to the very brink. A poignant reminder as we

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find ourselves at the dawn of the second great war against our beleaguered rhinos. But far from being a place of doom and gloom, Mkhaya is the silver lining to the dark cloud that represents Southern Africa’s current rhino woes. Here amidst tight security and under the watchful eye of a worldclass anti-poaching unit, black and white rhinos are visibly thriving. “Mkhaya, named after the prolific knob thorns that dominate the reserve, owes its existence to a lowly cow,” began Ted Reilly,

PICTURES: STEPHEN CUNLIFFE

Mkhaya Game Reserve


The Protectors It would be fair to say that the Reilly family pioneered conservation in Swaziland. During the early ’60s, Ted Reilly embarked on a mission to conserve the rapidly vanishing natural heritage of Swaziland. With poaching rampant, he was locked in a race against time. Ted charged around the country in Jezebel, his trusty Land Rover, darting animals and hauling them back to the safety of the family farm, Mlilwane, which was proclaimed as the Kingdom’s first game reserve in 1960. Hlane and Mkhaya followed in subsequent years. It was from these humble beginnings that Big Game Parks evolved. With a conservation vision to preserve Swazi culture, natural heritage and wildlife diversity, today Mlilwane, Hlane and Mkhaya have become the Kingdom’s undisputed leading ecotourism destinations.

www.wildcard.co.za

TREAD SOFTLY The chance to track white rhino on foot is Mkhaya’s unique drawcard.


Big game parks

Conservationist Ted Reilly (in the green hat) shows visitors his beloved rhino.

Romping with rhinos “There are some seasonal pans hidden in the bush over here that are very popular rhino haunts at this time of year. Let’s go take a look,” said Ted Reilly, the founder of Big Game Parks and father of Swazi conservation. Despite being twice my age he hopped off the back of the Land Rover as if he wasn’t a day over 30! I hurried to catch up with him and safari guide Bongani Mbatha as they disappeared behind a grove of tamboti trees. I fell into step behind the two of them, while 1

they conversed in rapid-fire Swazi before reverting to sign language as we approached the first wallow. We heard them before we saw them. Five white rhinos romping and rolling in the mud. We approached slowly but with a nonchalance that made my heart skip a beat. We crouched mere metres from these sentient beings as they went about their business unperturbed by our presence. When the adults settled down in the cool 2

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mud, a young calf continued to cavort without a care in the world. It was incredibly moving. Later, when the rhinos eventually moved off, we followed a mother and subadult as they grazed their way towards some nearby clearings. Just before we emerged onto the grassy plains a snort drew our attention to a black rhino plodding through the bush. With my heart in my mouth, we ducked behind a big marula before beating a hasty retreat to the sanctuary of the Land Rover. 3


A rhino walk at Mkhaya stands on a par with a mountain gorilla encounter in Central Africa.

PICTURES BELOW 1. Guide Ndumiso Nkambule and author Stephen Cunliffe in a comfy chalet at Hlane’s Bhubesi Camp. 2. Guests staying at Stone Camp in Mkhaya dine under the stars. 3. Guided game drives are offered by all three parks.

1 PICTURES LEFT 1. Hlane is the top Swazi destination for big game sightings. 2. The 4-wheel drive Audi Q7 provided by Unitrans VW and Audi ensured an enjoyable road trip. 3. Guide Bongani Mbatha points out a leopard tortoise.

founder of Big Game Parks. “The Nguni Breeding Project we initiated in 1979 generated large sums of money, which we then used to fund the expansion of Mkhaya.” Having saved the pure breed of indigenous Nguni cattle from extinction, the successful project also financed the extension of breeding operations to include a wide variety of endangered Lowveld wildlife species, such as black and white rhino, sable and roan antelope, and tsessebe. Mkhaya differs from the other Big Game Parks in that it does not accommodate self-drive or self-catering visitors. A fully inclusive lodge package with guided bush walks and game drives provides visitors with probably their best chance of seeing both black and white rhino in the wild today. Picking up on my interest in the grey behemoths, Ted offered to take me into the bush for a close encounter of the rhino kind. After clarifying that on foot we would avoid the temperamental black rhinos and instead focus our energies on finding their more docile and accommodating brethren,

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Big Game Parks Trip Planner Getting there Swaziland is a fourand-a-half-hour drive from Gauteng. Don’t forget your passport, vehicle registration papers and R50 cash for Swaziland road tax.

PICTURES: STEPHEN CUNLIFFE

When to visit Prime game-viewing time is from June to early October, although birders will probably prefer summer when migrants are around. The heaviest rainfall is usually in October/ November and February/March.

Unitrans VW and Audi are donating R500 to the Unite Against Poaching Trust for every vehicle sold. An initiative of the SANParks Honorary Rangers, the trust funds counter poaching activities in national parks. www.uniteagainstpoaching.com www.wildcard.co.za

we spent the next two days tracking, approaching and walking with more rhinos than you could shake a stick at (see opposite page). The rhino walking safaris treated me to some seriously close-range encounters I’ll never forget, rating right up there with my greatest wildlife sightings to date. I would go so far as to say that a guided walking safari among Mkhaya’s rhinos stands on a par with a mountain gorilla encounter in Central Africa. It’s an intimate, heartpounding experience you certainly won’t forget in a hurry. Later, as I sipped an ice-cold Sibebe, the local brew, and soaked up the Swazi hospitality of Stone Camp with its resident nyala and nesting narina trogons, I replayed the numerous rhino encounters of the preceding days in my mind. It made me smile contentedly. Seated under a gigantic sausage tree in the very heart of Mkhaya, listening to the distant whoop of a hyena, I had to agree that the Big Game Parks of Swaziland are thoroughly deserving of their designation as top ecotourism destinations.

Accommodation and food At Mlilwane visitors can choose between staying at the luxurious fully catered Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge, the more budget-friendly Sondzela Backpackers or camping, while the comfortable beehive huts of Main Rest Camp offer traditional Swazi-style accommodation with en-suite facilities. Hlane has three camps. Ndlovu, which

overlooks a waterhole, has campsites, self-catering options and a restaurant. As there isn’t any electricity at Ndlovu, don’t forget to bring a torch. Bhubesi Camp is a riverside retreat comprising six electrified, four-bed, self-catering cottages. Rustic Lusoti Camp is for genuine wilderness lovers looking to lose themselves in nature. Stone Camp at Mkhaya must be prebooked. Entry and exit times are fixed at either 10 am or 4 pm. Packages include accommodation in one of 12 luxurious opensided stone-and-thatch chalets, all guided activities and delicious three-course meals in the camp’s open-air dining areas. entrance fee Wild Card members get free entry to Mlilwane, Hlane and Mkhaya. Reservations +268-2528-3943/4 www.biggameparks.org WINTER 2012 WILD 27


conservation

Royalty AT RISK

LONE ROAN Despite their fearsome horns, roan count among the continent’s most endangered antelope. XX WILD WINTER 2012


The total wild roan population amounts to hundreds only, so what are the prospects for its survival? By Andreas Späth

www.wildcard.co.za

STEPHEN CUNLIFFE

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oming across a group of roan in the wild can be even more excit­ ing than spotting one of the Big Five, not simply because they are so rare, but because their demean­ our makes it clear you are in the presence of bush aristocracy. Their beautiful colour­ ing, the profile of their back rising elegantly towards the shoulders and their headgear of gracefully curved horns gives these mag­ nificent antelopes a regal deportment. One person whose daily life literally revolves around roan Hippotragus equinus and their close relative, the sable Hippotragus niger, is Deon Joubert, park manager at Mokala National Park in the Northern Cape. He is passionate about these crea­ tures. “I have always had an interest in rare and valuable animals like roan,” says Deon, “and Mokala has been set aside specifically for the management of these rare species.” Indeed, the motto of the park is ‘Where endangered species roam’. Roan are valuable not only because they are so rare, but because they occupy a special position among antelopes in an ecological sense. As a keystone species particularly sensitive to the degradation of its natural habitat, the roan provides a mea­ sure of the health of an ecosystem. If roan start disappearing from an area, then all is not well with the environment. In recent decades this magnificent species has been declining everywhere, coming precariously close to extinction. Another roan aficionado, Lourens van Zyl, explains how his family scored ‘Kruger cricket’ when he was a boy. “When our parents took us to Kruger, my brothers and

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ARIADNE VAN ZANDBERGEN / AFRICAIMAGERY.com

I were awarded points for every animal we spotted. The points varied according to the species’ rarity. Staples such as kudu, wilde­ beest and zebra got you one point each. Elephants earned you three points. Rhino and carnivores scored five, but at 10 points each, eland, roan and sable were the real trophy animals. [An impala meant the end of your turn. – Ed.] At the end of the day the winner got an ice cream! I suppose this game made the rare animals special to me.” Today, Lourens is a cartographer col­ laborating on roan conservation studies in Kruger. “Using GPS collars, my research focuses on comparing animals released from breeding camps to free-roaming ani­ mals to try and ascertain why post-release mortality is high among roan.”

The sable is a close relative of the roan, but males have a distinct black coat.

Roan can be found in lightly wooded savanna and open grassland areas with medium length grass and easy access to water throughout sub-Saharan Africa; whereas sable, distinguishable by the dom­ inantly black body colour of the male, are confined to a more restricted range in East and Southern Africa south of Kenya. In contrast to species such as wildebeest, zebra and impala, which are frequently

found grazing together, roan tend to stick to their own. They form harem groups, typically consisting of five to 15 females and young males with a single dominant bull. The alpha male is fiercely protective of his herd, warding off the attentions of strange bulls by clashing horns. Unlike many other antelope species, however, roan are not actually territorial. The lead bull defends his females rather than a par­ ticular piece of turf. A formidable defender At the age of about two-and-a-half years, young males are driven out of their herds by the dominant bull and they congregate in separate bachelor groups to bide their time until they are strong enough to win

STEVE and ANN TOON

Groups typically consist of five to 15 females and young males with a single dominant bull.

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conservation over a harem for themselves. Battles for dominance involve protracted and noisy clashes in which opponents brandish and lock horns while resting on their knees. Despite the vigour and force expended in these fights, they are ritualised conflicts that seldom result in serious injuries. The same cannot be said about confron­ tations with predators, which include lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and wild dogs. According to Lourens, the roan’s response when faced with danger is very unusual compared to other species. “Roan, instead of fleeing, stand their ground when there are predators nearby. Because of their size and horns, they can defend themselves.” When threatened, a roan will coura­ geously raise its body, bare its teeth, squeal

www.wildcard.co.za

and hiss in rage and chop at its attacker with flailing hooves. A cornered roan makes a formidable opponent even to a lion, brandishing its dangerous, pointed horns with great skill. Even human hunt­ ers have been known to sustain ugly wounds when getting too close to these awe-inspiring weapons. Perhaps surprisingly, considering their scarcity, roan have the highest reproduc­ tive rates among any of Africa’s large antelope and they go through remarkable efforts to protect their vulnerable calves from predators. They do not have a fixed breeding season and young are born throughout the year. Females reach sexual maturity at the age of two-and-a-half to three years and drop a single calf after a

40-week gestation period. Healthy roan cows are capable of bearing no fewer than six calves in every five-year cycle. A pregnant female will separate from the herd one or two weeks before giving birth to find a secluded corner where the newborn will not be spotted. She remains with her young for about five days before rejoining the harem. The calf, however, re­ mains hidden among high grass and thick brush for another five to six weeks during which it is visited by its mother once a day to feed. For all these precautions, the roan’s horse-like features can cause confu­ sion among their own offspring. Young calves have been observed to break cover, dashing after a passing horse they have mistaken for their mother.

TENDER CARE A roan calf remains hidden away until it is old enough to keep up with the herd.


STEVE and ANN TOON

CONSERVATION

The future looks brighter for roan thanks to dedicated breeding camps.

Mother roan go to incredible lengths to shield their calves from detection. While in hiding, the newborns lie motionless. They seem not to develop any functional external glands which would give off a revealing scent. In an act of astonishing dedication, the mother ingests all of her offspring’s excretions to stop any tell-tale smells from revealing the hiding place. When the calf eventually joins the mother’s herd, it becomes part of a crèche. Special-care species Despite their exceptional reproduction rates, bravery against predators and so­ phisticated child-protection measures, roan are now one of the most threatened antelope species on the continent and are listed as an endangered species in South Africa. With only several hundred surviv­ ing in the wild, the fluctuating population is in grave danger of extinction. In the Kruger National Park, for in­ stance, 452 individuals were counted in 1986, but by 2003 only about 25 remained. While a study using com­ puter simulation suggested predation represented the biggest threat, poaching has also been identified as a significant problem. But perhaps the greatest dan­ ger to roan is the result of a widespread loss and degradation of their preferred habitat. Deon points out that roan are

KARIN SCHERMBRUCKER

TRIP PLANNER 32 WILD winter 2012

habitat specific and very sensitive to bush encroachment and other environmental changes. “Over-utilisation of grasslands by other species will also make an area unsuitable for them,” he says. They are acutely dependent on easily accessible surface water. Unlike short grazers such as impala, roan eat only the top portions of mid-length grasses, not feeding lower than approximately 15 centimetres from the ground and rarely browsing on leaves. Their intricate strategy for hiding their newborn calves requires specific landscapes suitable for the purpose. All of these factors have con­ tributed to their vulnerable status.

In the Kruger National Park, for instance, 452 individuals were counted in 1986, but by 2003 only about 25 remained. Deon believes Mokala is the best place in South Africa to observe roan. Lourens says that in Kruger the best spots are around Babalala picnic site and the Nshawu wetland near the Mooiplaas pic­ nic site. The roan population at Mokala is healthy and numbers are increasing. None of their natural predators are found in the park and special care has been taken to protect them.

Hundreds of animals have been trans­ located to Mokala, starting in 2006. “We kept our roan and sable in a breeding camp of about 1 000 hectares to enable us to monitor how they were adapting to their new environment,” explains Deon. “The camp was big enough to allow the young males to stay out of the way of the dominant bull once they were pushed out of the herd. “I made sure they got supplemental feed,” he continues, “especially during the winter months, with a mixture of phosphate, salt and molasses. This boost helped the females to cope comfortably while they had calves. Both roan and sable did very well and we were soon able to remove the fence around the breeding camp to allow them to disperse through­ out the rest of the park.” Since then numbers have increased steadily and the animals have established their own little groups all over the park. At Mokala, the animals are managed in an open system and the groups are never “fiddled with” too much so as to not upset their natural social structure. According to Lourens, roan numbers in Kruger are also slowly increasing, mainly due to a successful breeding project. For the sake of this beautiful species of Afri­ can wildlife royalty, let’s hope that these positive trends continue.

Mokala National Park is in the Northern Cape, about 80 km southwest of Kimberley. Various accommodation options are available, including campsites. Mokala enquiries: 053-204-8000 Central Reservations: 012-428-9111 www.sanparks.org/parks/mokala


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4x4 AUGRABIES

THE BEST

4 x 4 x falls At Augrabies the gorge, waterfall, rockscapes and sandy flats of the Orange River combine to create a dramatic adventure playground. Pictures by Johan and Bridgena Barnard

34 WILD winter 2012


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o fully appreciate the arid AUGRABIES landscape shaped by volcanic activity millions of years ago, put aside a day for the Wilderness Road, a moderately easy 4x4 trail. You can even do it in a high-clearance 2x4 vehicle, says Johan Barnard, who drove the route with his wife, Bridgena, twice in three days. Both award-winning amateur photographers, the Barnards relished the scenery and remoteness. “It felt as though our long weekend lasted for 10 days,� Johan says.

www.wildcard.co.za

LIGHTS, ACTION! A thunderstorm lights up the stark landscape of the WINTER 2012 WILD XX Northern Cape.


4x4 AUGRABIES What you can expect The free trail is 94 km long and takes about six hours to complete. There are some sand traps as well as a few rugged ascents and dongas. Halfway is a scenic picnic spot with braai facilities. The route will take you to the foreboding Swartrante in the western section of the park. Trees are few and far between, but the quiver tree, a giant aloe, is a familiar sight. Undulating, rocky plains are covered in sparse grassland. While scrutinising the rugged, broken-rock country, spare a thought for the primeval river that eventually pours its waters into the Atlantic Ocean.

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216 Bird Species The Augrabies rest camp offers a strong complement of species adapted to the arid area. There are 10 lark species on the open grasslands. You should enjoy sightings of predatory birds such as lanner falcon and red-necked falcon throughout the park. At Echo Corner overlooking the Gariep River, you are likely to see Verreaux’s eagle hunting dassies along the gorge walls. Peregrine falcon nest on the cliffs, so too do pale-winged starling and speckled pigeon. African fish eagle are a common sighting along the river. Look out for large mixed flocks of swallows and swifts, hawking for insects. Read our blog on the Community Water Efficiency Project at Augrabies Falls National Park on www.wildcard.co.za

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Augrabies Falls National Park is situated right on the border with Namibia.

trip planneR Getting there Augrabies Falls National Park is about eight hours’ drive from Johannesburg and Cape Town, off the N14 highway. Accommodation Chalets and family cottages are fully equipped and have air-con. Base rate R700 for two people or R1 365 for four people. The campsite is set under shade trees. Base rate R165 for two people. R58 an additional adult, R29 an additional child. Contact Park 054-452-9200, Reservations 012-428-9111 36 WILD winter 2012

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8 1. The dark rocks are a result of ancient volcanic activity. 2. The landscape is dotted with large quiver trees. 3. The Wilderness Road is a relaxing drive. 4. Echo Corner is the furthest viewpoint from the rest camp. The road takes you through some of the park’s most stunning scenery. As the name implies, a longlasting echo can be produced. 5. A viewpoint over the Augrabies Falls. 6. Eland are at home in this landscape. 7. A pint-sized pygmy falcon takes to the air. 8. A rock agama suns itself. 9. Sandgrouse operate in family clusters. 10. Two laughing doves take off in lovely early morning light.

9 www.wildcard.co.za

10 WINTER 2012 WILD 37


4x4 AUGRABIES

Savage force By Samantha Hartshorne

Many a travel writer has expressed awe at the spectacle of the falls. The water bears down with such vigour that the San people called it Aukoe­ rebis, “place of great noise”. The river has fired up hydro-electric power plants and provides 455 million litres of drinking water for the country. Watching it plunge into a deep abyss and tumble through a collection of cascades, few realise that the wide, murky stream begins as a spring known as Senqu high in the Lesotho mountains. The water wends its way across the interior of South Africa, before tumbling 240 metres off a plateau at Augrabies Falls and into a pool said to be haunted by a ferocious water serpent. As it meanders between two national parks that offer startling landscapes to explore, the Orange River is a natural conveyor belt carrying precious gems to the Diamond Coast. It has been said the diamonds are near perfect as only the strongest rocks can survive the journey along the lower Orange. The river banks that create the border between South Africa and Namibia form a lush natural frontier that has attracted pastoral mi­ grants and modern-day adventure seekers alike. rock SOLID It is “incongruous that a river should be moving through this half-gnarled, half-polished lunar world, that it should track this band of granite to that point in the distance where it merges with jagged brown hills and the purple mountains be­ yond,” writes canoeist William Dicey in Borderline. The river emerges in the Richtersveld National Park. Here crispy domes that look like flambéed meringue contain the water course’s final great bends. Its path is dotted with thrill-seekers pad­ dling on rapids with names such as “Entry Exam” and “Terminator”. Where the waters slow between dark moun­ tains and the Orange converges with the Fish, it has eroded wide pebble beaches. After a final series of S-bends, the mighty Orange enters the sea at the sandy stretches of Oranjemund.

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1. Crusty igneous rock forms a natural ridge that sends the “Hundred Falls” toward the Atlantic Ocean. 2. Figurative art or not? This semblance of a human figure was created by nature. 3. The hot winds which swirl over the rugged mountains sometimes carry a strange moaning sound which is said to be the singing of some restless spirit who haunts the rugged area.

38 www.wildcard.co.za WILD winter 2012


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PHOTO HOT SPOT

|Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park

MARK DUMBLETON

Perfect elements TREAD LIGHTLY!

In the Richtersveld you have the freedom to walk around the wilderness to find the best images. With so many rock domes, trees and mountains, the photographic composition possibilities are limitless. By Shem Compion

Walking in unspoilt nature is a privilege. Make sure you leave no sign behind – remove all litter and don’t trample plants.

arge rock domes to balance a composition, an array of quiver trees to frame the shot, clear night skies for dramatic star-trails, the Richtersveld provides endless elements for landscape photographers. Much of the park with its rocky passes is very scenic and there are a number of great campsites, but the one that offers the best opportunities for photos is Kokerboomkloof. A visit to this valley is always remarkable and somewhat surreal. It lies at a shallow angle, in a northwest/southeast direction, overlooked by vast rock mountains on the east and west. On the plain is what seems like the densest concentration of quiver trees imaginable. As you first walk around, you may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of trees and myriad photographic opportunities on offer. Once you’ve established

Equipment In addition to a wideangle lens, a 70–200 mm lens is useful for more tightly framed landscapes where you want to compress the depth of field. A tripod is essential for stability and a lightweight one is advantageous as you will be walking around most of the time. A polariser filter adds contrast and colour to certain scenes, while neutral density

Quiver trees in the foreground give a sense of location to the picture.

yourself at the campsite, your best way to manage the photographic options is to set out and explore the area on foot. A large, prominent dome-shape rock acts as a useful landmark in the valley. Remain out during twilight and into the darkening night as

these offer great creative opportunities for the enthusiastic landscape photographer. The night skies in the Richtersveld are exceptionally clear, so you can enjoy some excellent star-trail and night-time photography.

graduated filters help balance bright skies with dark foregrounds in this exacting environment. Use a cable release to minimise camera shake and to take long exposures of star-trails with the camera in bulb mode.

moon is up, it’ll diminish the intensity of the stars but you do gain ambient light for the foreground. A head lamp is useful for finding your way in the dark.

Tips If there is no moon, you have a lot of time to photograph star-trails. If the

Trip Planner Kokerboomkloof is a rustic campsite with dry toilets and without water or power. You must be fully selfsufficient and a 4x4 is recommended.

Information from Insider’s Guide: Top Wildlife Photography Spots in South Africa by Shem Compion (Jacana, 2010). Contact: Park 027-831-1506, Central Reservations 012-428-9111 40 WILD WINTER 2012

MARK DUMBLETON

L


animal behaviour

FIGHT

FUN?

OR

HEINRICH VAN DEN BERG / HPH PUBLISHING

Confrontational postures such as the lowering of horns, showing of fangs and pulling of lips are often little more than showing off. By Rudi van Aarde and Camilla Norgaard

42 WILD WINTER 2012


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orns, fangs, manes and colourful feathers are more than mere ornaments. In the animal world they serve to display the strength and fitness of the owner. Such signals are often used to impress members of the opposite sex, to secure breeding grounds called leks, or territory where females may pass through while foraging. These ornaments are not always meant to cause bodily harm, as animals seldom fight to injure. Most conflicts in the animal world are settled by mutual threats that eventually lead to one of the contestants backing off. If fights occur, they are of short duration and usually end with one of the sparring partners giving way to the signal of the other.

At first glance, this wrestling match looks serious! A closer look reveals that the gemsbok bulls are merely threatening each other by lowering their horns, while turning the horn tips sideways. This indicates it is not a serious fight, rather a social display to feel each other out, or even display their dominance to others, especially nearby females. Ritualised sparring, often prevalent at places where animals gather to get food or water or to mate, is all about communicating social standing either to each other or immediate bystanders. It’s a kind of bragging parade. www.wildcard.co.za

WINTER 2012 WILD 43


Animal behaviour

JOHANNES VAN NIEKERK

Play-fighting is part and parcel of life for young animals. Such fighting helps with the development of motor skills, hones social skills, improves hunting skills, enhances predator avoidance and establishes social rank. Meerkats are highly social and live in large groups. To them playing and play-fighting is part of developing social and predatory skills. The two pictured here are definitely playing as their hair is not raised. Such bristling usually gives them a much bigger and dangerous appearance. Biting the tail of your enemy is not part of a serious fight!


TONY CAMACHO / IMAGES OF AFRICA

For these three zebras the moment is all about courtship and not about fighting. The mare is lashing out at the stallion with her hooves in response to his premature mounting attempt, although she may also kick at him even when she is ready for mating. As part of courtship the stallion sniffs, nips and chases a

mare in heat, while she does her best to fend him off. Most zebra stallions live in bachelor groups where they often display their rank through orderly fighting that includes displays of the canines by pulling back the lips, head butting, neck biting, tumbling and kicking.

AFRIPICS.com

By forming a coalition or a bond, related males (usually one to four brothers) improve their chances of breeding successfully.

These two fully grown male lions are clearly in a gentle and playful mood. This is not a rare sight as related males often form coalitions. The competition for females can be cumbersome for a single male. By forming a coalition or a bond, related males (usually one to four brothers) improve their chances of breeding www.wildcard.co.za

successfully and keeping unrelated males away from the pride. The males in a coalition are surprisingly gentle with one another. As equal partners, they hardly ever fight over mating rights or food. Losers of battles for supremacy against intruders are usually old and may die of wounds sustained during the fight. WINTER 2012 WILD 45


BRIDGENA BARNARD

animal behaviour

likely fighting over territory and there is no doubt that they intend to hurt when kicking. In the animal world, fierce fights usually ensue when the contestants are of similar strength or equally motivated to get their share of the resource for which they are competing.

Some dung beetle species are forever in search of fresh dung from which to drink. Certain species collect dung and shape these into dung balls that they bury in underground chambers

as food for their larvae. Competition for fresh wet dung can be fierce when hundreds of beetles are attracted to a single pad of dung.

JOHANNES VAN NIEKERK

The secretary bird is a large, long-legged ground eagle that preys on large insects, reptiles and small mammals. They have very robust nails on short, stubby toes which they use for killing prey and fighting. Secretary birds choose a partner for life and are territorial when breeding. These two males are most

To see what happens when two male rhinos contest the rights to a waterhole in the Kruger National Park, go to www.wildcard.co.za/blog.htm?action=view-post&id=3289 46 WILD winter 2012


the tail in various positions in order to avoid conflict. Even when they meet beyond the boundaries of their territories, fighting usually is avoided through posturing and social displays. A show of teeth or flick of the tail can be enough of a signal to sort out the conflict.

There is clearly more to fighting than meets the eye. To humans it is all about conflict, but to the rest of the animal world it is also part of social life. Hippos are gregarious and cows live in pods that are under the control of a territorial bull. From time to time

younger bulls leave their bachelor herds in search of mating opportunities in pods. Vicious fighting may ensue, sometimes bloody. Fights are avoided when intruders back off in response to the displays of territorial bulls.

BRIDGENA BARNARD

Jackals are monogamous and seldom fight. Males and females are of similar size and live in groups with their young. Older juveniles help to raise the youngest litter and social interaction is the order of the day. Ritualised communication involves the showing of teeth and holding of

MARIUS COETZEE

On rare occasions you may witness the killing of one contestant by another, or the breaking of a horn or a tusk. www.wildcard.co.za

winter 2012 WILD 47


shoot like a pro

When lions are testing the reproductive status of their mates, they employ the flehmen grimace to allow more scent particles to enter their Jacobson’s organ. This male was following a female in the beginning of her cycle. With split-second timing, it was possible to capture the dramatic facial expression.

Take better nature pictures

Split second

In wildlife photography, where the action often precedes the release of the shutter button, you need a few tricks up your sleeve. By Albie Venter

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ll of us have witnessed fantastic wild­ life sightings while trying frantically to aim the viewfinder at the action. Clipped heads, tails and wings, and blurry images are a sad testimony to the low success rate you can expect from action photog­ raphy. Aside from technical proficiency and fa­miliarity with your camera, there is one thing that will help you get the shot. Knowledge of your subject. Anyone can brush up on animal beha­ viour from a good field guide, though there is no substitute for time spent in the bush. The more you observe certain subjects, the more you will be able to predict whether a cheetah is seriously contemplating a chase or whether merely scanning the surround­ ings. This isn’t something tangible but an uncanny skill you as a wildlife enthusiast and photographer will develop. The best chances for action images in general are where certain behaviour repeats itself. Pups and cubs are often very playful around their dens and the action can last a good few minutes. Certain areas have their daily schedule of activities. A waterhole, for instance, will at­ tract certain birds at roughly the same time every day. Doves would come in early, fol­ 48 WILD WINTER 2012

Keep your camera on aperture priority, setting the f-stop to the largest aperture (lowest number) in the range of 2.8–5.6 depending on the lens. Your camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed to the available light, ensuring you have the fastest possible shutter speed under any given situation. Adjust the ISO setting to the highest tolerable setting in order to get the maximum shutter speed. Remember the higher your ISO, the more noise (or grain) you will see in your pictures. Set your camera to continuous focusing and continuous shooting modes. This ensures the subject will be in focus when the shutter button is released and allows you to keep the shutter firing throughout the action. Use the continuous focus setting so you can fire away when the action starts.

lowed by sandgrouse later in the morning. The apex activity of these areas is when the predictable falcons and other raptors come in to prey on the doves and sandgrouse. By finding these hot spots, photographers can increase their action image success rate. (Even so, it may take 60 days to get the shot! See page 64 – Ed.)

Remember to zoom out. Too often photographers, myself included, want to go too close. By aiming for a tight portrait of a perched bird, for instance, you end up with clipped wings when the bird takes off, missing a more striking shot. Wildlife photographer Albie Venter lives just outside Kruger and never goes anywhere without his camera. Trained as a field guide and in nature conservation, he regularly leads photographic safaris.


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Get your card now visit www.myplanet.co.za or call 0860 100 445 to join.


scenic spots

Room WITH A

VIEW 2

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Oudebosch Cabins, Kogelberg Nature Reserve

At Kogelberg it’s not so much a case of looking at a view as of finding yourself within it. Surrounded by vibrant fynbos and soaring mountain peaks, the new wooden cabins have large decks and windows on all sides so wherever you look your eye falls on a pretty scene. The eco-cabins are beautifully made from alien timber and feature green elements such as solar energy and a sod roof. Kogelberg is a hiker’s paradise and in winter the Palmiet River offers rafting. Rates From R1 300 for four people a night Contact 0861-CAPENATURE (0861-227-362-8873)

“Galjoen Lodge has the best river and ocean views in Goukamma.” – Goukamma conservation manager keith spencer

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Check into one of these Wild Card parks and wake up to glorious views.

Galjoen Lodge, Goukamma Nature Reserve

Situated on a ridge overlooking the tranquil Goukamma River and sparkling Indian Ocean, Galjoen Lodge has views you can get lost in. From the large deck you can scan for southern right whales and birds such as Knysna turaco and African marsh harrier. Accommodation in the reserve has recently been renovated and the comfortable interiors now complement the beauty of the panorama outside. The best way to see the reserve is by kayak, for hire from the office. Rates Off-peak base rate R800 for one to four people a night, peak rate R1 500 Contact 0861-CAPENATURE (0861-227-362-8873)

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PERFECT PANORAMA Make yourself comfortable on the deck at Galjoen Lodge.

Hilltop Camp, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

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Thendele Rest Camp, Royal Natal National Park

The 5 km wide rockface of the Amphi­ theatre is the eye-catching backdrop for the Drakensberg at its most picturesque. Within the mountain’s rugged embrace, clear streams twinkle in the sunlight while soft grasses adorn the foothills. Each chalet of Thendele Camp looks out onto the aweinspiring expanse of the mountains. There are several hiking routes for visitors keen on a closer view. Rates Two-bed chalet R745 for one person a night, R250 for second person Contact Central Reservations 033-845-1000

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Olifants Rest Camp, Kruger National Park

Looking out from among the trees, Hilltop’s chalets have a commanding view of the rolling hills and valleys of Zululand. As its name suggests, the camp is located high up on a steep slope; down below the Big Five roam the plains. Take a cup of coffee out onto your veranda to look for the birds that abound in the scarp forest. Afternoon tea on the deck outside the restaurant may reward you with sightings of elephants. For once, you could be looking down on them.

Perched like an eagle in its eyrie, this camp looks down on the broad ribbon of the Olifants River winding its way through the mopane below. Choose one of the river-view rondavels situated right on the peri­meter and you’ll be able to watch animal comings and goings from your stoep. Regular visitors say units nine to 12 are the best. Even if you can’t secure one of these, you can still drink in the view from the restaurant terrace.

Rates Two-bed chalet R960 for one person, R320 for an additional person Contact Central Reservations 033-845-1000

Rates R980 base rate for one or two people a night Contact Central Reservations 012-428-9111

MARIO MORENO

Enjoy the breathtaking vistas from these rest camps in our parks.


Namaqua flowers are calling Imagine waking amidst fields of flowers and stepping from your tent onto an untouched beach. At the luxury Flowers Beach Camp in Namaqua National Park you can enjoy elegant meals, coastal walks and 4x4 trips in splendid seclusion. Operated by SANParks and Chiefs Nomadic Camps, this exclusive camp will be open during the flower season only. Make a date to see nature’s most spectacular show. Go Wild.

exclusive to WILD CARD MEMBERS

10% discount at Flowers beach camp Flowers Beach Camp, Namaqua National Park Open from 15 August to 16 September 2012. All meals are catered. Terms and conditions apply. | Reservations (012) 428 9111 or e-mail reservations@sanparks.org |

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


Adventure

The Lonely Bull Trail is located in central Kruger.

52 WILD winter 2012

Kruger has a new backpack trail in the area between the Letaba low water bridge and Mingerhout dam. Kate Collins leapt at the chance to be one of the first participants on the Lonely Bull Backpack Trail.

A Walk in the Lonely Wild


The beaches and coastline of Agulhas National Park are a favorite playing place for children

PICTURES: RUSSELL MACLAUGHLIN

W

alking single file, my body froze as we rounded a corner and encountered a large elephant bull, mere metres away from us. The bull got as much of a fright and thundered off into the dense mopaneveld. This was not the first encounter we’d had with a lone bull. A few hours earlier we’d followed a buffalo for a kilometre or so as it made its way along a riverbed. It took quite some time before it saw our group www.wildcard.co.za

and when it did, it disappeared, a flash of black through the mopane tree landscape. Robert Bryden, regional activities coordinator of the Kruger National Park and our guide on the Lonely Bull Trail, said hippo, elephant and buffalo were often seen on their own in the vicinity, so the name fits the trail well. “Every step our forefathers took was thought through. Each step was taken with care. Like them, you need to think about

where you place your feet,” Robert said as he briefed us before the trail. He explained that the trail would teach us to appreciate things a lot more. “We don’t know when we’ll find our next water, for instance. Things like water should not be taken for granted.” In true wilderness style, we would dig for water, filter and purify it. Everything that was packed had to be a necessity. Our stop breaks were chosen well, under large shady trees where we could eat, chat WINTER 2012 WILD 53


ADVENTURE

and nap. On one break we had a surprise greeting as an African hawk eagle swooped down from the tree above and flew down close to our heads, scanning the scene as it passed. Walking in the late afternoon along the lush Letaba, the river was alive with activity. Hippos grunting, a buffalo walking in the reeds, a waterbuck on the other side of the river and the most gorgeous elephant herd sculpted by the late afternoon light, following one another in single file, much like our group. The elephants caught sight of something, possibly us, and charged up the side bank creating a huge dust cloud as they went. Robert explained that wildlife sightings differ greatly from trip to trip. “It’s like buying a lotto ticket. Each is a different experience that you can’t replicate.” His fellow guide Julie Bryden said you need to come with the right mental attitude. “Be ready to let nature give you what it thinks you need. Keep an open mind.” We camped under a large jackalberry tree, a good vantage point and the safest place to be if something did come wandering in. Such as one of the many hippos we’d seen out of the water earlier that day. “When there is little moonlight, hippos like to eat during the day to see better. They use their long whiskers to feel for food, much like a blind person reads Braille,” explained Robert. When we didn’t see animals we were

Trail guide Julie Bryden holds up a butterfly for a closer look.

54 WILD winter 2012

aware of their presence. Aardvark burrows, leopard spoor, a python track, the body of an Eastern tiger snake (sadly dead), buffalo dung, black and white rhino tracks and some munched up leaves from an elephant, clearly dissatisfied with their taste. The smaller creatures were fascinating. A nifty sand lizard, caterpillars, mopane worms and golden orb spiders, their webs adorning tree branches, causing us to reroute our pathway to avoid disrupting their intricately designed homes.

Wildlife sightings differ greatly from trip to trip. “It’s like buying a lotto ticket. Each is a different experience that you can’t replicate.” Even more than the animals, birds seemed to favour us. We saw a giant eagleowl, kingfishers, bee-eaters, a grey-headed parrot, bateleurs and river birds including black storks, spoonbills and Egyptian geese. The best part was trailing along after four ground hornbills for a few kilometres and listening to the distant call of a pearlspotted owlet. Looking up we were surrounded by many different trees, from riverine forest along the Letaba to red bush willow and mopane trees. Later the trees suddenly became lala palms and at another point appleleaf, jackalberry and leadwoods. As we all noticed, it didn’t take long

for us to adjust from city mode to early nights and long 12-hour sleeps. Most of our overnight sites, chosen as we went along, were close to a river for collecting water and bathing. Using a cup to pour water over your head is a superb way to cool off after a long day’s walk. We spent our last night on a helicopter pad with a fence surrounding us. While most nights are spent in a tent, the fence around us allowed us to sleep under the stars. We counted as many as 27 shooting stars before we shut our eyes and let the insects sing us to sleep. “This trail gives you absolute freedom,” said Julie. “Large, untouched wilderness with bush as far as the eye can see. It’s overwhelming.” Fellow hikers Shelly and Allard felt the same: “It’s nature at its best. There are not many places or trails like this where people can enjoy the wild.” Early the next morning, we were awoken by a light rain. We scrambled for cover and started up our stoves for a cup of tea to greet the day. Walking along the Letaba for the last time we spotted a pod of 28 hippos, all looking at us curiously. We decided to sit on rocks above the bank, the closest I have ever been to hippo. We did hear the vehicle coming to collect us, but no-one wanted to leave. Go online to watch our video taken on the trail at www.wildcard.co.za.

There’s no set route or time constraints, so you can enjoy sightings like these ground hornbills at your leisure.


A large pod of curious hippos kept pace with the hikers as they walked along the river bank. TAKE TO THE TRAIL After pitching camp for the day, you can go for a sunset walk with only your daypack.

Tiny frogs like this are plentiful in ponds and reedbeds near the Letaba River.

trip planner

PICTURES: RUSSELL MACLAUGHLIN

The Lonely Bull Trail stretches over four days, with departures from Shimuwini Camp every Wednesday and Sunday between 1 February and 31 October. The trail must be booked in advance and you have to provide your own camping equipment and food. A kitlist can be found at www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/tourism/ activities/lonely-bull-trail.php Cost R1 850 a person. Minimum four people, maximum eight. Minimum age is 12 years.

Every day the guides identify a new place to set up camp. www.wildcard.co.za

Contact Bridget Bagley 012-426-5111 or bridget.bagley@sanparks.org Hesther van den Berg 012-426-5117 or hesther.vandenberg@sanparks.org WINTER 2012 WILD 55


BIRDING

TOP BiRD Some birds spend their lives on the lookout for their larger, bullying cousins. What determines pecking order among birds and is it possible for them to change their status? By Phil Hockey

MAKE WAY FOR ME The shy albatross is the largest of the common albatrosses in South African waters, dominating its smaller cousins.


greatstock / corbis

N

www.wildcard.co.za

If some individuals are doing really well, then the flipside of that same coin is that others must be doing relatively badly.

o-one had really figured out dominance among birds until some 90 years ago when a Norwegian zoologist, Thorleif Schjelderub-Ebbe, demonstrated it doesn’t take groups of chickens long to figure out who rules the roost. Once that hierarchy is established, anyone who steps out of line is swiftly dealt with. You can do this simple experiment for yourself: put two chickens into a pen and, in very short order, one will be Robert de Niro, the other Ben Stiller. Back in 1922, however, this discovery was considered quite seminal and was published in a leading Swiss journal of psychology. The scientific term ‘dominance hierarchy’ translates into layman’s terminology as a pecking order, itself implying that some form of physical aggression is involved in its establishment, as indeed it mostly is. Most dominance hierarchies, such as Schjelderub-Ebbe’s chickens, form within the same species. Typically, individuals interact more frequently with members of their own species than with other species. If you, as an individual, are after the same resources as other members of your species, anything you can do to gain preferential access to those resources should be to your advantage. This could include access to the best feeding areas, the best territories or the best mates. If this in turn influences reproductive success and survival, then the top dogs are also the ones that achieve the greatest Darwinian fitness. If some individuals are doing really well, then the flipside of that same coin is that others must be doing relatively badly. And that’s exactly what happens. But what determines whether an individual will become a winner or a loser? This was a research hot potato in the latter half of the last century and, perhaps unsurprisingly, age, sex and size were repeatedly identified as strong correlates of dominance. In young North American song sparrows Melospiza melodia, for example, early hatching birds dominate later-hatched birds, and males tend to dominate females. The same pattern emerges in Andean condors Vultur gryphus, with old dominating young and males dominating females. But it’s not always males that rule the roost. In broods of American kestrels Falco sparverius, females, the larger sex, dominate males. This is especially true when the parents are bringing small food items to the nest, most of which can be swallowed whole. Under such conditions, male nestlings are the most likely to die from starvation. Interestingly, if parents bring large prey to the nest, this dominance hierarchy breaks down because the female chicks are unable to monopolise access to the food. Dominance hierarchies are likely to be most pronounced and most stable among species that spend much time in groups containing the same individuals. Extreme among such species are co-operative breeders, birds that live in fairly stable flocks, usually made up of related individuals, but within which only the dominant pair breeds. Two local examples WINTER 2012 WILD 57


BIRDING five or more years old, so why look like an of such birds are southern pied babblers Turdoides bicolor and green wood-hoopoes adult any sooner and take the risk of being beaten up by older birds because you are Phoeniculus purpureus. Even though every sending out a dishonest signal? subdominant male and female would like Some species, it seems, can establish to produce their own young instead of helping to raise someone else’s, the rules of dominance hierarchies by using sound alone. One example is the American this particular game are clearly laid down brown-headed cowbird Molothrus ater. and difficult to break. In an experiment which today’s ethics Within the group there are two separate committees would almost certainly veto, dominance hierarchies, one for males and cowbird groups were allowed to establish one for females. These are maintained internal dominance hierarchies, which by ritualised behaviours and, in most they do by singing. cases, the only way When the dom­ of jumping the queue Sometimes would-be males were is to take the risk of defectors return home with inant then ‘vocally neudispersing to another their tails between their tralised’, they still group to try to establish yourself higher in legs, only to be punished. retained their dominant positions. If, the pecking order of however, males were rendered silent before the new group. This does not always work a new group was put together with males and sometimes would-be defectors return who could still sing, the latter were by far home with their tails between their legs, the most likely to become dominant. running the risk of being physically punished for their familial infidelity. Food bonanzas If you are a dominant individual, how­ ever, you don’t want to have to spend your Because many of the dominance hierarchies in group-living birds are maintained life fighting to prove it. Fighting is costly by ritualised behaviour or familiarity, they in terms of time and energy, with a real risk of injury or death. How do you prove are difficult to observe in action, often going unnoticed. The same, however, cannot dominance without having to fight? In be said of gatherings where many species the case of birds, this is largely achieved come together to exploit a short-lived food through visual (badges and displays) and bonanza, such as a carcass. In the bigger audial (song) signals. Badges are widespread in the bird world. The black bibs of scheme of things, such gatherings are fairly rare, but they do make for unique specsparrows and the breast bands of apalises tacles of behaviour. Each individual has to are well-known examples. Generally, the larger or more intensely coloured the make the most of the short-lived gathering, badge, the stronger the dominance signal getting the maximum amount of food as it sends and the greater the respect its quickly as possible. In many cases, the owner demands. Individuals with the best scavengers that gather at such food bonanbadges are likely to garner both the best zas do not know one another; they have territories and the best mates and, as a been drawn to the same spot by sight or result, leave the largest genetic footprints smell and what ensues appears like chaos in subsequent generations. on a grand scale. There are also examples of going to the This type of situation leads to what is other extreme. If you are undeniably close termed ‘scramble competition’ and in to the bottom of the pecking order, there these situations being big helps. That is little point in trying to fool anyone that chaotic mêlée of African vultures around you are anything else. This is thought to a carcass is a classic example of such. In explain why large gulls, such as kelp gulls the scramble for food, the massive lappetLarus dominicanus, take so long to attain faced vultures Torgos tracheliotus dominate full adult plumage. Large gulls such as this the smaller white-backed vultures Gyps may be sexually mature only when they are africanus, while the much smaller hooded

vultures Necrosyrtes monarchus can do little more than sit, watch and hope something is left for them at the end. Exactly the same pattern can be observed at carcasses in South America, where condors dominate large vultures, who dominate small vultures, who in turn dominate the hawksized caracaras. Off the west coast of South Africa, trawlers fulfil the same ecological role. Instead of a single carcass, however, they dispense thousands of food items, ranging in size from whole, large fish to the guts of small fish. If you watch the cloud of seabirds behind a working trawler, it soon becomes obvious that the big birds are close to the ship and the small birds, who have little hope in a one-on-one fight for food, are further away. Even among the big birds, hierarchies develop. Among the common albatrosses, the largest species, the shy albatross Thalassarche cauta, dominates the slightly smaller but more abundant black-browed albatross T. melanophris, which in turn dominates the smaller yellow-nosed albatrosses T. chlororhynchus and T. carteri. The lowly status of the latter may explain why they are most common off the coasts of Namibia, the Eastern Cape and KwaZuluNatal where the larger albatrosses are much less common. It is true there is much less food where the yellow-nosed albatrosses are most common, but they do not have to spend their lives on the lookout for their larger, bullying cousins. Similar patterns of size-related dominance have been documented among the fruit-eaters of the central African rain­ forests, and not just among birds. One of the features characterising tropical forests is that often only a few trees are fruiting at any time. When a tree, especially a fig tree, is laden, large numbers and a large diversity of frugivores gather to enjoy the feast. These are not only birds, but also mammals such as monkeys. Some frugivorous mammals are smaller than some of the frugivorous birds, and vice versa. In terms of the overall dominance hierarchy at the tree, it is not whether you are a mammal or bird that is of overriding importance, it’s simply how big you are. Size counts.

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. 58 WILD WINTER 2012


A e m o c l e w r e t n i w warm PHOTO: SCOTT

RAMSAY

% ering a 20 g We are off a elf-c terin s ll a n o t e discoun kings mad o o b n io t a d 2012. accommo 31 August – y a M 1 between CapeNature welcomes winter back! Though a warm snuggle in the comfort of your home seems tempting, CapeNature wants to change the way you think about winter. When was the last time you experienced spectacular views and enjoyed the wide open skies and the wonderful tranquillity on a CapeNature reserve? We offer an array of activities, wildlife and natural beauty for every age and interest. And when you really have to go indoors, many of our accommodation units have cosy fireplaces – to relax, unwind and keep warm. And there is more! Make your booking before 31 August 2012 and your name will also be entered into a LUCKY DRAW WITH A MAIN PRIZE VALUED AT R10 000! The prize includes a three-night getaway to CapeNature’s Rocherpan Nature Reserve, outdoor gear from AfriTrail, wine from Van Loveren and much more! Come put your feet up, experience the fresh crisp winter air and let CapeNature change the way you think about winter.

For more information visit www.capenature.co.za or call us on 021 483 0190 Standard accommodation terms and conditions apply. Offer valid until 31 August 2012.


KIDS In winter, hot chocolate and cosy fireplaces keep us warm. But outdoors, many creatures have come up with a different solution. They get a little shuteye and wait for the weather to turn warm again.

Shhhhhhh . . .

TakinG a WINTER NAP By Emma Bryce lllustration by Melanie Adele Slabbert

This ball of fluff loads up on food before the winter sets in to build up the body fat that keeps it warm. The woodland dormouse is the only African dormouse that actually hibernates (enjoys a winter sleep). To trap as much warmth as possible, it tucks in its tail and curls into a ball.

60 WILD WINTER 2012


When food is scarce, some animals power down to save energy. Their heart rate slows and they use less oxygen. This puts them in a sleepy state called hibernation.

Crevices and caves are the best places for bats trying hard to keep cosy.

Even though the Angolan freetailed bat has a coat of brown fur, it sometimes isn’t enough to keep it warm. So the bat becomes inactive. At the end of their upside-down sleep, some bat species shiver violently to warm their muscles and wake themselves up.

The African bullfrog survives dry, cold winters by living in a hole it digs with its strong back legs. Underground, the bullfrog dozes away, coming out only months later when the summer rains start to fall. Ever seen a reptile sunning itself? That’s because they rely on outer warmth to keep their body temperature up. Without warm summer sun, the puff adder soon grows cold and has little energy.

www.wildcard.co.za

The painted lady butterfly overwinters as a chrysalis. When the weather warms up in spring, the young butterfly emerges, having been cosily cocooned all winter inside its protective shell. In really cold places, this butterfly simply dodges the problem by migrating to another part of the world.

Did you know? South Africa isn’t usually cold enough for animals to hibernate. Instead they grow sluggish for a few hours when it’s very chilly.

If food becomes scarce and the temperature drops, hedgehogs turn in for a nap, waking every once in a while to top up their energy supplies by sniffing out earthworms and other insects. This mammal curls up to conserve body heat and it nests in holes or under bushes to keep extra warm.

WINTER 2012 WILD 61


HIKING

MAGIC

Mountain

KZN’s Table Mountain towers above the landscape outside Pietermaritzburg. Hiking the Table from Nagle Game Reserve reveals the centuries of legends that linger in its mists. By Patricia McCracken Msinsi marketing manager Ray Naguran (far left) and the Nagle rangers prepare to introduce their favourite mountain to Msinsi MD Jeff Dlamini (second left).

This was the first time Ray had wriggled through the earthern passage into a cave under a fig tree, only to be chased out by a porcupine.

Nagle Game Reserve lies within an hour’s drive from Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

62 WILD WINTER 2012

A

ring of hills, draped in subtle blue-green vegetation, peacefully cups Nagle Dam and Game Reserve. Prime among them is today’s goal, KwaZulu-Natal’s Table Mountain. It’s an appropriate challenge for a teambuilding exercise among Nagle rangers, Msinsi Holdings’ managing director Jeff Dlamini, originally from Zululand and keen to get to know more of his territory, and marketing manager Ray Naguran, who’s making his tenth ascent. Many of the rangers are locals who’ve graduated from Msinsi’s nature conservation and tourism guide learnerships, and are making their third ascent. Ray’s devotion to the mountain dates back to childhood, when he was enthralled by this nearly 1 000-metre-high landmark on the Pietermaritzburg to Durban road. “I sensed it was something special,” he recalls. “Later, when I was

in matric, my father brought home a wonderful book that made me long to explore it.” In Land Of Beauty And Splendour, by South Africa’s master travel-writer TV Bulpin, Ray read of the mountain’s hidden waterfall, its witches’ cave and its fern-clad gorges like “veritable fairy glens”. The book was later lost to Ray, but its stories stayed in his heart. During his first year at varsity, he at last explored the mountain he’d learned to call emKhambathini, ‘place of the giraffe acacia trees’, the dominant tree on its slopes. Historically, the mountain was a good refuge for the Debe people retreating from the valley below, escaping not only Shaka’s impi during the mfecane but also, according to Bulpin, the ama­ Zimzim, cannibals who hunted with dogs. While the mountain’s precipitous and often rocky flanks once made it a


The Table Mountain near Nagle Dam recalls its Big Brother in Cape Town.

PICTURES: PATRICIA MCCRACKEN

good fortress, today the knowing smiles from local residents Margaret and Octavia Dlamini seem to say, “Now we’ll see what you’re made of ...” This city girl scrambled hand over hand up the ancient stones. Cowpats scattered over them rubbed in the humbling irony that cattle are more sure-footed than I am. Jeff, the other firsttimer, proved no slouch up the slope, though. He and the fleet, fit Nagle rangers calmly stretched out a hand to haul my short legs over the steepest inclines, even offering to carry my camera bag. Sneaky breaks to pause and photograph were allowed. The views over the graceful folds of the Valley of a Thousand Hills proved breathtaking in all senses. On a clear day, they claim, you can even see the ocean. Looking westwards, the Umsinduzi and the Umgeni Rivers curve through the landscape, the towers of Natalia dominate Pietermaritzburg and far beyond appear the crests of the Drakensberg. After the slope, the undulating summit, complete with a fascinating sandstone pavement scored by the debris of an ancient glacier, can seem deceptively welcoming. But not if you’re lost on its 3 km expanse in the mist and storms, which can strike quickly here. Worse, legend claims, you might encounter the

GETTING THERE It’s about 60 km from Durban, 45 km from Pietermaritzburg, 20 km beyond Mpumalanga/Hammarsdale/Inchanga exit. THE TRAIL There are two options on the Nagle/Table Mountain Adventure Trail. Morning only: drive part-way up the mountain, then walk. Full day: walk from Nagle camp, climbing the opposite side www.wildcard.co.za

monster snake, which devours whole the home of anyone bold enough to build where special wild flowers such as the rare orchid Disa hircicornis and the white blooms on the low-growing Protea welwitschia stud the glorious grassland in summer. Foundations of homes have

serve. “They’ve come back twice since, always insisting they do the mountain hike, and sent a group of their friends to do it too.” Each hike has its own adventures. This was the first time Ray had wriggled through the earthern passage into a cave under a fig tree, only to be chased out by a porcupine. We also got close enough at Scrambling over the waterfall to inspect graffiti, rocks is a sure way perhaps from sentries posted to build group spirit. nearly 100 years ago. Though I had to be caught by Themba Zulu before doing a HumptyDumpty down the gorge! The red-winged starlings flew past, calling out their amusement, and the ravens cackled. In this special place, far above our everyday world, a new camaraderie emerges. Bosses indeed been found, though the scientifiand rangers swap advice and experically minded believe tornados destroyed ences. Patrick Buthelezi tells how he was and carried off the homes. brought up in the village at the mounNot everybody dismisses the super­ tain’s foot, Jeff of his youth in Nkandla. natural possibilities entirely, though. Ray plans with Kfa Ngidi, another local, There’s a stream running along the to conquer the neighbouring mountain middle of the summit and plenty of the iMposane, because there’s always anworld’s myths feature devouring waterother mountain somewhere. The sense creatures. Whatever the mountain’s magic, of having buddies around you, as well as the burning muscles in your legs it wins your heart the way it ensnared next day, brings to mind the spirit of Ray all those years ago. Comrades, that great race which winds “One group of Gauteng visitors aralong in the mountain’s shadow. Nagle’s rived by chance in early 2010 wanting intriguing hike is also an adventure that adventure activities, so we took them up makes us all feel heroes of a kind, just the mountain,” recalled Thanda Zulu, for one day. manager of Nagle Dam and Game Re-

trip planner of the mountain. As both the mountain and the routes lie on community land, hikes must be booked through the Nagle office so Chief Mdluli and Chief Maphumulo can be notified. Cost: R120 a person, minimum R720 (as groups of six are preferred). Includes canoeing on Nagle Dam. ACCOMMODATION Msinsi Lodge offers

either fully catered or self-catering, sleeping six in thatched luxury (R1 450 flat rate a night). Nagle Lodge comfortably sleeps 12 (R1 750 flat rate a night). Camping is R80 in your own tent or R150 in a hired tent. Six furnished, en-suite tents sleeping four will be available soon. CONTACT 031-782-8085 nagle@msinsi.co.za WINTER 2012 WILD 63


Wildlife Encounters

Stealth

ATTACK If you’ve set your heart on a specific wildlife sighting, be prepared to be patient. It took wildlife photographer Hannes Lochner 60 days to get this shot.

D

uring my latest photographic project in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, I set myself a very specific task: two particular sightings I wanted to photograph at a specific waterhole. The one was a blackbacked jackal catching Namaqua sandgrouse, the other a lanner falcon catching either a dove or Namaqua sandgrouse. “The lanner is such a high-speed raptor it’s an achievement to get it looking good in your frame at all, never mind with a kill. The action is lightning fast. You have to be very familiar with your equipment and extremely quick.

“The location was Polentswa waterhole in the north of the park, where you can get really close to the action. As a rule, the Namaqua sandgrouse arrive in their hordes early to drink alongside Namaqua and Cape turtle doves, and remain until late in the morning. I spent two months there, watching and waiting. “Long hours and scorching days made my selfimposed assignment wearisome. Needing to be constantly geared up because things happen so quickly, yet also constantly patient. Sixty days at the same spot, hot and bothered, frustration levels sky high, then suddenly it all falls into place. The shot is captured. The waiting is over. Patience is the only way.”

SUPER STRIKER In the Kgalagadi lanner falcons often hunt Namaqua sandgrouse.

In total, Hannes Lochner spent 800 days in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park observing and photographing wildlife. The results are assembled in Colours of the Kalahari, a photo safari of this amazing park. Equipment: Nikon D3s with Nikon 600mm f4 lens

64 WILD WINTER 2012


WILD CARD news

stars

KARIN SCHERMBRUCKER

our brightest

The WildStar competition recognises the staff members who make your trip to our parks and reserves a pleasure. Nominate an employee for excellent Wild Card service and you could win a Nokia Asha 201 smartphone.

T

he second round of our WildStar competition has shown that a memorable park experience isn’t just about big game sightings and birding ticks. It’s about friendly service at the gate, a welcoming smile when you check in and prompt assistance with your Wild Card queries. Our winners know that the secret to great service is to help each visitor make the most of their time in the wild. After all, it’s time in nature that’s the biggest prize of all.

Stay in touch on the go. With the Nokia Asha 201 you can SMS, email, chat and visit Facebook.

Juliana de Vries

Tankwa Karoo National Park

Donna Laloux

Princess Makhaye

Hottentots Albert Falls Holland Nature Dam, Msinsi Reserve, Resorts and CapeNature Game Reserves

Aullinah Mathonsi Punda Maria gate, Kruger National Park

Eric Mienies

Urikaruus, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Primrose Mpangane

Phabeni gate, Kruger National Park

Marietjie SmitH Wild Card, Groenkloof National Park

Wild Card member: Peter Lees, Pietermaritzburg

Vote for your WildStar

Read more about our winners online. Go to www.wildcard.co.za and search ‘WildStar’.

Tell us about a staff member who provided excellent Wild Card service. Go to www.wildcard.co.za 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. Third round closes 31 July 2012.

www.wildcard.co.za

WINTER 2012 WILD 65


Citizen Scientists

An extraordinary Kruger activity became even more special for a group of birders, who were field workers for science while hiking the Mphongolo Backpack Trail. By Dianne Tipping-Woods

66 WILD winter 2012


Erum voluptibus rerum qui omnis qui nis ea evene delit quae quod que nulparumquis que

PICTURES: DIANNE TIPPING-WOODS

Threebanded courser

It was binos to the sky for keen birders on the Mphongolo Backpack Trail as they collected data of sightings for the Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2. www.wildcard.co.za

There it finally was, a three-banded courser! For four days Mphongolo Backpack Trail guide Brenden Pienaar had tantalised us with the possibility of seeing this special bird in this remote part of the Kruger National Park. There were soft high-fives all around.

While all citizen scientists will piously our first birds. Common avian species such declare that recording crested barbets and as fork-tailed drongo and brown-hooded crowned lapwings is equally important, kingfisher quickly made their way onto our finding a beautiful, rare bird like this is a first list. One of us heard a distant coqui highlight for any birder into ‘atlassing’, as francolin, confirmed by a quiet nod of the contributors refer to the process of colhead from the other birders. At dusk we dug lecting data for the Southern African Bird for water and set up camp in the dry PhugAtlas Project 2 (SABAP2). wane riverbed. After we made fire using We were on the Mphongolo Backpack corkwood, elephant dung and an old waxbill Trail in Kruger to compile bird lists for nest, we planned our birding strategy for the SABAP2. Over the last few years, this next few days, then fell asleep to the sound of a pearl-spotted owlet, about as far from exemplary project, co-ordinated by the civilisation as it’s possible to be in Kruger. University of Cape Town’s Animal Demo­ graphy Unit (ADU), has turned hundreds The next morning a curious hyena of casual birders into field workers for walked up to our camp, but the aroma of science. The project is a partinstant coffee didn’t impress nership between the ADU, the animal and it wandered off. BirdLife South Africa and the The day’s hike took us towards South African National Biothe Mooigesig Dam, with diversity Institute (SANBI). regular stops to listen for birds. Analysts now receive large Brenden, a birding enthusiast amounts of free data on bird himself, said birders are enjoydistribution, submitted by enable to guide. “They are often The dry bed of the thusiastic listers from all over very in tune with the environPhugwane River was the country, confirms project ment, always listening and the trail campsite. co-ordinator Les Underhill. watching and observing. That’s At the same time the project gives birdwhen you can best experience the magic watching a sense of purpose that appeals to of this place.” many birders. Two hours later we found ourselves While the beauty of the project is that standing quietly in the riverine bush, trying you can collect data wherever you are to work out the direction of a buffalo herd birding, we had chosen Kruger’s Mphonfrom the throaty screams of their resident golo Backpack Trail because we wanted oxpecker contingent. There were plenty of something more. The trail is the only way yellow-billed oxpeckers too, one of the few to explore a remote section of the park species on the increase in Kruger. Its southnear Shingwedzi, so we would survey an ward range expansion is also being mapped area where no SABAP2 records exist. Acwith the help of citizen scientists. cording to experienced contributor Leon There are many other ways the data subThere’s farultimate more to AgulhasAsNational than its famous lighthouse. Spies this is the in atlassing. mittedPark by citizen scientists can be used to weThe left the game-drive vehicle after options a long, better birdamovements in the new accommodation makeunderstand it ideal for family weekend bumpy ride down a fire-break, the only park, as well as the rest of South Africa. exploring nature atWilderness the tip of the For continent. By on Peter Chadwick route into the Mphongolo example, data vulture populations Area, he gestured at the landscape around could be useful to scientists wanting to us. “I want to do something to help prebetter understand the dynamics of their serve this. Knowing our records are the declining populations. It can also help first in the area and could contribute to establish when migratory birds arrive in conservation adds a whole new dimenand leave an area. sion to what we’re doing.” Towards noon, we flopped down under Our heavy backpacks on, we set off into a jackalberry tree overlooking a dry dam, the mopane, at the same time recording to while away the hottest hours of the day. WINTER 2012 WILD 67


Citizen Scientists “I love to be able to do an area in depth. I see those blank spots on the SABAP2 map and want to fill them in. The Mphongolo Wilderness Area has a lot of blank spots,” says Johan van Rensburg, who co-ordinated the expedition.

Johan van Rensburg and Brenden Pienaar make plans for the day ahead.

“The SABAP2 project is the largest in scope and scale since SABAP1 was run two decades ago. Today, there are over 3.5 million records in the project’s database and this grows by several thousand records every day,” says Prof Les Underhill.

Fewer birds were active, but we still picked up a surprising number of calls. “Most of my birding is done by listening,” confirmed Brenden. “You can begin to make associations between smaller habitats in the area, specific vegetation types and the birds that frequent them.” He paused to aim his binoculars at some movement in a dead leadwood. “Yellowbellied eremomela,” he grinned and the atlasser-on-duty noted it down. The area we were birding in consists of 150 000 hectares of untouched wilderness. Brenden had selected an 8x7,6 km pentad characterised by tall mopane trees, similar to an area near Punda Maria known to produce some special birds. It looked like good habitat for Arnot’s chat and the nearby Swartpiek waterhole is named after the bird, suggesting it has been seen in the area in the past. We failed to find it. Luckily, even not seeing something contributes valuable information, or so we tell ourselves when the hoped-for Dickinson’s kestrel and racket-tailed roller eluded us. The next morning, Brenden picked up a call he’d heard before only in and near the Lebombo Mountains. “I’ll drink your beer,” cried Shelley’s francolin, mocking our craving for a cold one after two days on the trail. It’s also important to atlas areas that have already been surveyed, including most of the pentads along Kruger’s tourist roads. The more data, the more accurately

On record

it can be analysed. Retired Kruger scientist and birding guru Ian Whyte emphasised the need to scrutinise the bird data collected by amateurs. “Sometimes people get things wrong when recording data so it’s vital that there is a good vetting process in place,” he said. With this in mind, SABAP2 has a builtin system of checks and balances whereby out-of-range sightings, such as our threebanded courser, will be accepted only if a number of questions are answered to the satisfaction of a local expert. Luckily one of us, Tobie Pretorius, managed some good photos of the elusive ‘driebanddrawwertjie’. According to Tobie, completing the trail was one of the hardest and most enjoyable experiences he and his wife, Cecilia, have ever had. The low booming of southern groundhornbills and the screeching of a brown-hooded kingfisher provided the soundtrack to the last morning of the trail. The autumn chill in the air was confirmed by the sudden absence of cuckoo calls as much as by the amber hues of the mopane. We compared birding notes and tallied our sightings, 109 birds for the trail. An African monarch butterfly fluttered by. We watched it quietly, our lists temporarily forgotten as familiar friends, kurrichane thrush, natal spurfowl and brown-hooded parrot, built up to a crescendo. How lucky we were to be here to hear it.

Even deep in the wilderness birding software is useful.

The Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2 maps the distribution of birds in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland using the efforts (and petrol!) of keen civil society volunteers. The countries have been divided into areas called pentads of roughly 8x7,6 kilometres each. The aim of the project is to have them all surveyed by bird-watchers who collect and submit data according to well-defined project criteria. Observers have to spend at least two hours recording species in a pentad’s various habitats. For more information on how to register as an observer, go to http://sabap2.adu.org.za.

Les Underhill is head of the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town. 68 WILD winter 2012

The Mphongolo Backpack Trail is a backpack trail through the large wilderness area between the Shingwedzi and Mphongolo Rivers. The trail takes four days, with departures every Wednesday and Sunday between 1 February and 30 November. Accompanied by experienced guides, participants explore this wilderness area without having to follow a prescribed route, as the trail guides decide where to camp and which route to follow. Cost: R1 930 a person. Book with Bridget Bagley on 012-426-5111 or bridget.bagley@sanparks.org or Hesther van den Berg on 012-426-5117 or hesther.vandenberg@sanparks.org

PICTURES: DIANNE TIPPING-WOODS

Hike the Mphongolo


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1. Trail participants set off on one of the daily hikes. 2. Trail guides Julie Bryden and Brenden Pienaar scan the area for the elusive Arnot’s chat. 3. Citizen science is hard work and requires regular breaks. 4. Julie and Brenden investigate the vegetation found along route. 5. There are more than just birds in the Mphongolo Wilderness Area. Big game such as rhino can also be seen. 6. Listening for a call of the red-capped robin-chat.

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HIKING

Peaks of over a thousand metres and deep leafy kloofs form a secluded, otherwordly enclave in the Jonkershoek mountains near Stellenbosch. Ron Swilling tackles the trail.

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Stairw ay TO

HEAVEN S Jonkershoek lies on the outskirts of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. 70 WILD WINTER 2012

team rose off the dams along the R310 as I drove past well-known wine estates in the crisp early morning, en route to Jonkershoek Nature Reserve. I caught my first view of the mountains through the dappled light of the fresh green leaves on the old oaks that line the atmospheric Stellenbosch streets. The glimpse

didn’t prepare me for the striking beauty of the mountainous amphitheatre circling the bubbling, honey-coloured water of the Eerste River. Green, smooth and sensuous slopes were crested with craggy sandstone crowns. Two waterfalls tumbled down from the majestic heights into the valley below. I had entered a paradise right on my doorstep.


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TRAIL TO FOREVER The view from the Panorama Trail stretches as far as the eye can see.

“Why,” I wondered, “had it taken me over a decade to get here?” The Jonkershoek mountains form part of the Boland mountain range and are in the Greater Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. The Eerste, Berg, Lourens and Riviersonderend rivers all have their sources in these impressive peaks. The Panorama Trail circles the mountain www.wildcard.co.za

amphitheatre, leading back to the car park after a vigorous day of walking. It’s not for sissies however. The 13 km hike begins with a 4 km gradual ascent, or “stairway to heaven” as a fellow hiker put it, to reach a contour path below the craggy crests that in turn leads over the Dwarsberg plateau. Just when you think you are happily

walking in heaven, the route begins to climb again, to the Berg River neck from which there is a rewarding view of the valley. Skeletal protea heads, remnants from the 2009 fire, were still visible through the regenerating mountain fynbos. I felt as if I’d entered mountains from a Lord of the Rings realm, possibly hiding WINTER 2012 WILD 71


a dragon’s lair or two. The mountain’s shadow kept the uphill path cool, while an orange-breasted sunbird seemed to sing of the promise of sunshine ahead. After a quick photo shoot at the neck, strong gusts of icy wind pushed me to find cover behind rocks. Protected and finally in sunshine, I had brunch before continuing along the mountain top. The winding path eventually led out of the wind to the notorious Kurktrekkernek (corkscrew neck). This steep, zigzag descent over loose rock and streams is best avoided by those with troublesome knees. A slow pace and cautionary step are recommended until you get to the valley floor and into the attractive wooded area fringing the river. I tried to enjoy the superb mountain views without looking away from the treacherous path beneath my feet for too long, and to ignore the cries from my usually strong knees. Finally I reached a grove of trees and made a welcome stop. Leaning against a rock and curled into the peace of the valley, I was lulled into a stupor and nearly to sleep. Before levelling out for the final stretch back to the car park, the path climbs and drops again, taking you past the two waterfalls. If time and energy allow, take a detour to the second waterfall where there’s cool shade. When you’re finally back where you started, I recommend sealing the day’s enjoyment with a slice of the delicious lemon meringue pie at the tea room and planning when you’ll visit again.

Wherever you decide to stop for lunch, you’re guaranteed great views. 72 WILD WINTER 2012

A steep ascent leads to the contour path.

Crossing the Eerste River near the end.

trip planner Getting there Stellenbosch is less than an hour away from Cape Town, making CapeNature’s Jonkershoek Nature Reserve easily accessible for city dwellers. Weather The weather on the mountains varies considerably from lower down in the valley and conditions may change rapidly. In winter, snow is not unusual on the higher peaks. Hikers should be suitably equipped for all weather. Activities Other hikes within the reserve: The Swartboskloof Trail, a slightly longer and steeper alternative. The 8 km Waterfall Trail, a delightfully scenic option for trailists who

prefer a more leisurely walk. Start on the Panorama Trail but go on to Victoria Peak at just under 1 600 m, with magnificent views of the surrounding peaks. The reserve gates close before sunset, so set out early and take care not to underestimate the distance or effort required for this hike. Kurktrekker’s revenge will likely be felt in thighs the following morning. Mountain biking is permitted in the forestry area outside the reserve. Bring your picnic favourites for a relaxed lunch in the smaller Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve down the road. Contact 021-866-1560 www.capenature.co.za

PICTURES: RON SWILLING

HIKING


BOTANICAL ENCOUNTERS

BULBS in abundance Moraea speciosa

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When the succulent Karoo bursts into a dazzling display of flowering bulbs, the Tankwa is the perfect place to be. By Ilse Bigalke

ankwa Karoo National Park is situated in one of the most arid regions of South Africa, about midway between Ceres and Calvinia, on the southern boundary of the Northern Cape. It is a place of solitude, beauty and remoteness. A destination for those seeking perhaps nothing more than a silence that reaches deep into the soul. After the occasional shower, the park bursts into a dazzling display of flowering succulent bulbs. One regular visitor is a medical doctor who practices in Ireland for a few months every year, returning to South Africa to pursue his other passion in life, indigenous bulbs. Alan Horstmann is chairman of the Indigenous Bulb Association of South Africa, which dedicates itself to conserving our unique bulb heritage for future generations. The last time Alan and friends headed

out to recharge their batteries, they again overnighted in the Tankwa Karoo National Park. They were treated to many unexpected delights, among them a field of bright yellow tritonias. These tiny little plants have vibrant, glowing flowers just above ground level. “We prostrated ourselves on the ground to obtain the best angles for photographs, but it was well worth the effort,” Alan smiled. They later discovered this was the scarce Tritonia florentiae, the earliest flowering Tritonia in South Africa’s winter rainfall area. It grows on dry stony flats in the Tankwa Karoo and blooms from the end of May to early September. However, the plant which really blew them away was a little yellow annual succulent, called Eurystigma clavatum. The large sheets of flowers created an incredible display, with carpets of the woolly yellow flowers with their sweet,

lingering scent stretching for kilometres. Close to Gannaga Pass they came across Lachenalia zebrina. The base of the leaves of these plants is intricately striped, resembling a zebra pattern; it is, therefore, aptly named. A striking species, it has one pale arching green leaf that is banded with purple-and-cream flowers, fading to red, on long stems. “We normally think of the Tankwa Karoo as an arid landscape, but it can be lush, in Karoo terms. It’s unforgettable to enrich your spirit with the natural splendour of the area,” Alan enthused. “Clear nights in Tankwa are always special. If you look at the stars you get the irrepressible feeling that they are so close you might be able to pluck them from the sky. The night sky makes you think about the Earth and how small we are. Tankwa is the one place where you can really go nowhere very slowly.”

PICTURES: ALAN HORSTMAN

TRIP PLANNER The park is about 4½ hours’ drive from Cape Town, heading through Ceres and along the R355 towards Calvinia. From the signpost off the R355, it’s a dirt road for about 80 km before the check-in point. Accommodation includes camping (from R90 a night for two people), cottages (from R875 a night for four) and restored farmhouses (from R505 a night for two). Entry is free for Wild Card members. Contact: Park 027-341-1927, Central Reservations 012-428-9111 or www.sanparks.org

Lachenalia zebrina www.wildcard.co.za

Tritonia florentiae

The succulent Eurystigma clavatum WINTER 2012 WILD 73


flora

Every spring South Africa’s arid west is transformed into a landscape of dazzling colour. Allan Ellis and Marinus de Jager explain what happens.

Cracking the

Colour Code Why do the plants in Namaqualand all flower at once? The short answer is that they don’t. The longer answer is that although most do flower during spring, every species has a slightly different seasonal flowering pattern. Namaqualand is a desert and plant growth is largely confined to the winter rainy season. By spring, plants have accumulated enough reserves to splash out on producing flowers, which is an expensive business. It’s also warm enough for the essential pollinating insects to be active. Annual plants, which are largely responsible for the swathes of colour in Namaqualand, grow every year from seed and live long enough to flower and set seed once only. They are therefore much more dependent on the short rainy season and are programmed to flower during spring, before the dry summer returns. Species that disobey the spring-flowering rule, such as Brunsvigias (Maartlelies) and Argyrodermas (bababoudjies), will likely have large 74 WILD WINTER 2012

underground bulbs or fat succulent leaves in which to store the reserves they need for flowering, and so are less tied to the seasonal cycle. Why are some flower patches multicoloured and others dominated by orange or yellow? The iconic, uniformly coloured flower patches of Namaqualand in spring are invariably found on disturbed areas such Monkey-beetles mate on an Ursinia flower, one of the typical Namaqua daisies that can be seen during the wildflower display.

as old agricultural land, mined areas or heavily overgrazed veld. Opportunistic species that can handle these conditions are the typical Namaqua daisies Dimorphotheca sinuata, Ursinia cakilefolia and Osteospermum pinnatum. The real treasures are in the less disturbed areas, which support a diverse multicoloured display of perennial shrubs, annuals, succulents and bulbs. These species vary in their nutrient, water, sunlight and pollinator requirements, so each has a species niche and they avoid direct competition. Since the various insect pollinators often differ in their preferences or ability to perceive certain colours, flowering plants have responded by producing a multitude of floral colours, each suited to their own specific pollinators. Why do the beetle-daisies have such prominent black spots on their petals? The spots do look a little bit like the monkey-beetles commonly seen feeding


Viewed from behind, the long spurs of Diascia namaquensis are prominent. The spurs contain an oil used by bees.

By spring, plants have accumulated enough reserves to splash out on producing flowers, which is an expensive business.

The spots on the beetle-daisy actually mimic female flies, luring male flies close enough to act as pollinators.

in Namaqualand flowers, which is why early botanists named Gorteria diffusa the beetle-daisy. But this is a misnomer, because the spots are in fact mimicking a small black fly that is Gorteria’s main pollinator. Across Namaqualand Gorteria occurs in many different floral forms, some of which have elaborate spots so effective at mimicking female flies the male flies can’t resist. In the process of attempting to mate with the spots they pick up pollen that they then deliver to the next spotted Gorteria they visit in the hope its spots might be a true female.

PICTURES: ALlAN ELLIS

It’s worth getting down on your hands and knees to closely inspect flowers. Do most of the flowers close at night? Anyone who has been to Namaqualand will know it really isn’t worth flower spotting early in the morning, because the vast majority of flowers are still tightly shut. Flowers open only when temperatures are higher than a specific threshold, which varies between species and areas. This is a unique, intriguing aspect of Namaqualand’s floral displays and we don’t really know why most of the plants do it. One idea is that closing at night and during cold fronts protects their pollen from moisture, which can damage it. Another is that closed flowers are less visible and thus less likely to become a meal for a hungry herbivore during the morning hours. Many pollinating insects also use closed flowers as bedrooms and may pay www.wildcard.co.za

The long floral tubes of Pelargonium incrassatum are silhouetted against the sun. Flies with extra long tongues visit these flowers.

for their beds by delivering a pollination service when checking in or out. Why do the hot-pink flowers in the Kamiesberg have such long floral tubes? If you sit patiently watching a patch of bright pink Pelargonium incrassatum or Laperousia silenoides you might be lucky enough to see one of Namaqualand’s most spectacular animals, the longtongued fly. They’re at least 10 times bigger than a house fly and have ridiculously long mouthparts, up to 10 cm long. They insert their mouthparts into the long tubes of flowers to drink nectar and in

the process get dusted with pollen, which they then transfer to another flower. Their long tongues can’t fold, so inserting them into the narrow flower tubes while in flight can be quite tricky. The flowers have evolved characteristic guidemarks to assist the flies in getting their aim right. There are a few species of long-tongued flies in Namaqualand and each visit a group of plant species with a different colour, so look out for white, cream, purple and pink flowers with long floral tubes. What are the long protruberances at the back of dark purple Diascia flowers? Unlike the long tubes of the long-tongued fly flowers, the twin spurs of Diascia namaquensis (bokhorinkies) don’t produce sugary nectar. Instead they produce oil which is collected by Rediviva bees who use it to feed their brood. When these bees insert their long, thin front legs into the Diascia spurs to scrape out the oil, the flower deposits a load of pollen onto their thorax. All Diascia flowers produce oil, but many of them don’t have long spurs. This is because there are several species of oil-collecting Rediviva bees, all with different leg lengths which match the spur lengths of their favourite oil plants.

See it for yourself To see beautiful spring blooms, visit one of these parks between July and September: Namaqua National Park, including the Skilpad Wildflower Reserve; Richtersveld Transfrontier Park; West Coast National Park, especially the Postberg section; and Tankwa Karoo National Park. For more information, go to www.sanparks.org GURUS Dr Allan Ellis and PhD student Marinus de Jager are at the botany and zoology department of Stellenbosch University. They study the evolution and ecology of Cape plants and insects.

WINTER 2012 WILD 75


OWLS

On Whispered 1

Owls are hunters of the night, often heard but rarely seen. Leading owl researchers and conservationists reveal their favourite species.

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Wings

3. African wood-owl

Burger Cillié, wildlife photographer and co-author of The Raptor Guide of Southern Africa “The African wood-owl Strix woodfordii is a very attractive owl, relatively uncommon and found in a specific habitat. Every sighting is memorable because it’s a surprise every time. Just like with a leopard, it doesn’t help to go in search of an African wood-owl, even if you’ve heard it or find yourself in habitat you know must conceal a few individuals. When you least expect it the owl will pop up, sometimes on a perch quite close to you. “I recently spent a fruitless evening scouring the bush for this shy owl. It was only late at night, when I was making my way to the bathroom, that I spotted the little fellow on a low branch, about three metres away, seemingly unaware of my presence.”

1. Pearl-spotted owlet

Peter Steyn, author of A Delight of Owls “Whenever I hear the crescendo whistling call of the diminutive pearl-spotted owlet Glaucidium perlatum I know I am back in the Bushveld, which has always been my spiritual home. I vividly recall my first sighting of this little owl one morning as it was pursued by several small birds before alighting on a branch. As I focused my binoculars on it, I was puzzled because it appeared to be looking at me yet suddenly turned its head to reveal a further two piercing yellow eyes. I had initially been looking at its false eyes, large black spots on the back of its head so that, like the Roman god Janus, it appears to have two faces. “For its size the pearl-spotted owlet is remarkably rapacious and has very large feet. There is even a record of one killing a dove much heavier than itself. It is by no means strictly nocturnal and will make opportunistic kills during the day. Some indication of its small size is that it uses the vacated nests of woodpeckers and barbets in which to breed, laying two to four round white eggs on debris at the bottom of the hole.”

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WIN

We have three copies of A Delight of Owls up for grabs. Send your answer and Wild Card number to competition@tipafrica. co.za (subject: Owls). Competition closes 30 July 2012. Q: Who wrote A Delight of Owls?

Julie Bryden, freelance trails guide in the Kruger National Park “I used to have an African scops-owl Otus sene­galensis living above my tent in Satara. I was reminded about it on my wedding day when another scops was seen sitting above the bathrooms in the Tsendze rustic campsite where I got married. After the ceremony, many of my friends commented on the owl’s presence during the service. It’s been unforgettable to me ever since. “I love the sound of its call. I often hear it on the backpack trails that I do, mostly on the Mphongolo Wilderness Trail, a little north of Shingwedzi camp, where it lives in the mopaneveld. It sounds so at peace with the rest of the world. “The African scops is the smallest owl in Southern Africa, smaller in size than a dove. It’s phenomenally camouflaged and can sit on a perch without anyone knowing it’s there. If you know where to look, you may just be lucky enough to spot one.” www.wildcard.co.za

ROGER DE LA HARPE / AFRICAIMAGERY.com

Pearl spotted owlet: ALBERT FRONEMAN / African Scops OWL: MARIETJIE FRONEMAN

2. African scops-owl

WINTER 2012 WILD XX


OWLS

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6 Geoff Lockwood, Grass Owl Task Group of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) “My first encounter with grass owls Tyto capensis was at Emmarentia Dam in the heart of suburban Johannesburg. I stumbled upon a roost and thereafter looked out for the birds whenever I visited the dam. At this point I was merely a casual observer, but I remember being impressed when I realised the owls take down sizable water birds. “The next pair I encountered was at Johannesburg’s Delta Park, hunting Cape serotine bats, which got me really excited. It raised so many questions about the bird’s feeding behaviour and showed how little we know. “These days I work with the Grass Owl Task Group to learn more about the owl and how it’s coping with environmental pressure. Grass owls nest in moist grasslands, which are ideally suited to agriculture. While the owls can still hunt over croplands, they can’t roost or nest there. Their habitat is also being swallowed by urban sprawl and they are at risk from veld fires and predators like mongoose.”

5. Spotted eagle-owl

Allan and Tracy Eccles, photographers and authors of Pot Plant Owl www.potplantowl.co.za “On the night we moved into our home, a pair of spotted eagle-owls Bubo Africanus landed on our roof and we fell asleep to their haunting calls. We were lucky to see the owls on several occasions, but couldn’t dream how privileged we would become. “One day we opened our bedroom curtains to find a spotted eagle-owl staring at us from a pot plant on our balcony. The owl had laid an egg in the pot, the first of three. Over the next few months we watched as the chicks hatched and the doting parents set about raising them. “Pot Plant Owl, as we named the female we saw that first day, has since nested with us for four years in a row. She remains wild and we do not feed her or the rest of the owl family. We have even set up a hide in our bedroom so we can watch over the birds without disturbing them. “Our owl feeds each chick equally and waits until the youngest and smallest chick is ready to leave the nest before they all fly away.”

6. Pel’s fishing owl

André Botha, manager of the Birds of Prey programme for EWT “My favourite is without a doubt Pel’s fishing owl Scotopelia peli, mainly because it took me so long to get a first look at the species. After many years of searching, I made a trip to the Okavango, travelling all the way to Shakawe by road for a night-time boat trip in the hope of seeing a Pel’s. “The eventual sighting was almost an anti-climax. At last light I made my way to the area where the boats were moored and there, on a dead tree right next to the boat, was a pair of these magnificent creatures! I spent the next 35 minutes admiring them. “Pel’s fishing owl is different to all the other owls found in Southern Africa in that it is specifically adapted to hunt aquatic creatures. For this reason it has bare lower legs and heavily scaled feet with extra-long talons to grip its slippery prey. “I am now in the fortunate position to conduct surveys for this species along the Kruger National Park’s major river systems every year, so opportunities to see them are more frequent.”

African scops-owl

15–18 cm Pearl-spotted owlet

17– 21 cm 78 WILD WINTER 2012

African wood owl

30–36 cm

African grass owl

34–40 cm

Spotted eagle-owl

43–50 cm

Pel’s fishing owl

61–63 cm

AFRICAN GRASS OWL: NIEL CILLIERS / SPOTTED EAGLE OWL: VMS IMAGES / Pel’s Fishing OWL: Albert froneman

4. African grass owl


on the web

Wild comes alive

online

Member events Wild magazine and Cape Union Mart invite you to exclusive Wild talks. Wild Card members will enjoy 10% discount on shopping at the events. Go to www.wildcard. co.za to see our calendar of events.

For the best in outdoor travel, visit www.wildcard.co.za. Each month we feature an unmissable photo sequence and there are daily blogs on nature, the parks, adventure activities and conservation. Check out our special offers and competitions, and share your thoughts on Facebook. Do you receive our hugely popular monthly e-newsletter? Go to www.wildcard.co.za to subscribe now!

BLOGS

A leopard in my window Doreen Hansen and her family got the thrill of a lifetime when a leopard took an interest in their car. READ MORE ...

Snakes

by reptile expert Warren Schmidt

Doreen Hansen

www.wildcard.co.za

Date: Wednesday 4 July 2012 Time:PAGE 11:00 XX Venue: Cape Union Mart Adventure Centre, Eastgate

A raptor jackpot

Camdeboo in pictures

Large telescopes and knowledgeable guides unlock the mysteries of the night sky. READ MORE ...

Conservationist Gerhard Verdoorn describes his most memorable sighting. READ MORE ...

Visit our gallery to see more of this special park and the new accommodation. READ MORE ...

ON FACEBOOK

Andrey Vrey

Describe in three words the mood this image invokes: Val Baker: Milk, two sugar

Magda Willemse: Rus en stilte

Dianne Wichman: Soothing, warm, rejuvenation

Davide Bishop: This is Africa

Brigitte Schrauwen: Gotta go camping

Johan Jacobsz: Wil daar wees!

Poll results How do you cook your meals in the parks?

76%

on a BRAAI

9% on a camping stove

www.wildcard.co.za

Which of these irresponsible park behaviours do you find most annoying? 19% playing loud music 16% speeding littering 15% hogging a sighting

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%

Date: Wednesday 18 July 2012 Time: 18:30 Venue: Cape Union Mart Adventure Centre, Eastgate

The talk is free but seats are limited so please RSVP to wildevents@ sanparks.org by 13 July 2012. Forest Cobra Naja melanoleuca

WINTER 2012 WILD 79

WARREN SCHMID T

Go stargazing at Anysberg

The talk is free Just for but seats are kids! limited so please RSVP to wildevents@ sanparks.org by 29 June 2012.

ROMI BOOM

KATE COLLINS

Follow the Wild Card on Facebook and Twitter


Exclusive deal for wild card members

WIN

PETER CHADWICK KARIN SCHERMBRUCKER

KARIN SCHERMBRUCKER

Competition

a family stay at Agulhas National Park

PETER CHADWICK

Discover all there is to do and see at the southernmost tip.

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his park at the tip of Africa is a place of dramatic skies, vast fields of fynbos and a coastline rich in marine treasures. The rest camp’s chalets sit on a gentle rise above the ocean and from your deck you can watch the white

breakers come rolling in. With a fireplace for stormy winter nights, the chalets invite you to unwind and enjoy the beauty of your surroundings. A hike along the coast will reveal shipwrecks and Khoi middens, and in winter this is a prime whale viewing spot.

How to enter Two adults and two children will enjoy a two-night stay at Agulhas National Park. To stand a chance to win, email the answer to the question along with your name and valid Wild Card number to competition@tipafrica.co.za (subject line: Agulhas). Question: Which two oceans meet at Agulhas? Competition rules The competition is open to current Wild Card members only. The prize is valid until 31 January 2013, excluding school holidays and public holidays. SANParks reserves the right to accept and award a booking at its sole discretion. Competition closes 31 July 2012. 80 WILD WINTER 2012



WILD Winter2012 ISSUE 19