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kruger’s far north • goukamma • cederberg heritage route • cape leopards • pel’s fishing owl • birdsong • nuweveld 4x4 trail • wildlife veterinarian

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WARDme CProgram

For the full Wild magazine, become a new member

A World lost in time

Come hike the

Cederberg Bushcamp in Goukamma

Nobody but you!

Discover paradise in Kruger’s far north

Cape leopard Underthe spell of the elusive

Saving rhino with a fearless vet | Birdsong decoded

Karoo hideaway: follow a 4x4 trail to solitude AUTUMN 2011



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the inside track to special places with Wild magazine as your guide

monthly e-newsletters full of stunning photography, travel stories, park news, special offers and competitions Wild Card members are passionate about our protected areas. To enjoy a year’s access to the Wild Card parks and reserves, plus receive your complimentary copies of Wild magazine, purchase your Wild Card now.

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Wild covers Which one did you get?

Parks 14 Limpopo to Luvuvhu Kruger’s north has game aplenty but pleasingly few visitors

Seyms Brugger

22 The secret Garden Route Discover Goukamma’s bushcamp, beaches and restful waters

The regal adult leopard adorns the cover of the 80-page bumper issue, mailed exclusively to members of the new Wild Card.

28 Hike the Cederberg Take a walk through time on the Heritage Route

Adventure 50 Nuweveld 4x4 Trail Engage tranquillity mode to reach this remote cottage

54 Hear my song Phil Hockey uncovers the meaning behind bird calls

YOUNG ONES 58 Camp creatures Wildlife you could spot from your rondavel

4 Letters 6

Inside track Tips for enjoying the natural wonders of the season, plus the chance to test your big cat knowledge

Gallo Images / Gerald Hinde


The adorable cub is on the cover of the 64-page promotional issue, produced to introduce you to the Wild Card.

42 Big game vet diaries The bush doctor who saves rhino and other animals



60 In pursuit of Pel’s Hiking in Nyalaland is your best chance to see this raptor – and so much more

36 Cape leopards An intimate look at the most elusive of cats



In the north of Kruger the bush becomes a lush landscape of fever trees and baobabs where myriad birds and rare antelope shelter.

“Leopards were everywhere but nowhere, behind every bush but always, frustratingly, just out of sight.” ANDREW BAXTER, page 36

Pel’s fishing owl hunts over quiet stretches of water.



paradise found


If this is the first time you get to read a Wild magazine, you will soon see why Wild Card members are so wild about it. To let you experience some of the thrilling aspects of the Wild Card parks (and there are more than 80 of them, countrywide) this special promotional issue contains a selection of stories from the currentWild magazine, which is sent free to all members of the new Wild Card. We always make an effort to explore out-of-the-way destinations and, with Wild as your guide, you too will discover stunning hideaways you’re likely to have all to yourself. In this issue we feature Embizweni Cottage for 4x4 enthusiasts in the Karoo National Park, the Cederberg Heritage Trail for hikers and Mvubu Bushcamp in Goukamma Nature Reserve for families. We also take you to the extreme north of Kruger, to Lanner Gorge. This gem gets my vote as the most dramatic vista in Kruger and took my breath away when I was up there researching the story. The canyon lookout is accessible only to guests of the two private lodges in the Makuleke contractual park, but anyone based at Punda Maria can enjoy the greater Pafuri region. Though birders have long known about its lush appeal, the forests along the river banks merit exploration by anyone who dares to go where the crowds don’t. Wild is all about our natural heritage. By purchasing a Wild Card, you make a contribution to conservation. You join a community of nature lovers who experience what others dream about and you get the pick of accommodation offers. Plus you get a year of free access to every Wild Card park (go to www.wildcard. for a complete list). Do enjoy this special issue of Wild. May autumn inspire you to travel off the beaten track and may we soon welcome you as a member of the Wild Card community!

Wouldn’t you love to read all the stories in every issue? Wild magazine is mailed free to members of the new Wild Card, four times a year! WILD CARD PARTNERS

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


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

SUBSCRIPTIONS Lynn Robinson, CONTRIBUTORS Andrew Baxter, Ilse Bigalke, Emma Bryce, Geoff Dalglish, Megan Emmett, Albert Froneman, Phil Hockey, Dale Morris, Peter Pickford, Scott Ramsay, Melissa Siebert, Ron Swilling PHOTOGRAPHY/ART

* Winning letter

Mother LOVE This has got to be my favourite picture of all times. I took this on a very hot and humid day last year at Addo. We were sitting at Hapoor waterhole and the ellies were cooling themselves down in the mud. I took around 200 photos but this one best defines the love of a mother elephant. I’m entering this in the hope I get a new card for my efforts. Rose Douglas, email What a touching picture! Unfortunately, our photo competition has drawn to a close but we are rewarding you with some CAPESTORM gear for your efforts. – Ed.

We brake for beetles Since signing up in December, my wife and I have used our Wild Card membership to visit Kruger National Park on six different occasions and to walk in Robberg for the first time since visiting the Plettenberg Bay area annually for 30 years! We have several parks firmly in our camera sights for this year. We were in the Pretoriuskop/Skukuza area this weekend and were concerned that vehicle drivers do not seem to be aware that dung on the road is full of activity, with industrious dung beetles working hard to prepare a suitable ‘nest’ for their eggs. We were saddened to see how many had been flattened unnecessarily and immediately felt we should let you know. Please spread the word that cars should dodge dung! Philip and Roz Wood, email

AFRIPICS, AFRICAMEDIAONLINE, Dana Allen, Wolf Avni, Adrian Bailey, Ilse Bigalke, Romi Boom, Peter Chadwick, Cape Leopard Trust, Marius Coetzee, Charissa de Lange, Roger de la Harpe -, Mark Dumbleton, Albert Froneman, Marietjie Froneman, Richard Gallon, GALLO IMAGES / GETTY IMAGES, Greatstock / Corbis, Alan Jones, Norman Larsen, Hannes Lochner, Mario Moreno, Dale Morris, Eric Nathan, Les Oats, Sappi tree spotting – Penny Noall & Joan van Gogh, Scott Ramsay, Eric Reisinger, Karin Schermbrucker, Warren Schmidt, Mike Meyers,

Chris Roche, Melanie Adele Slabbert, Ron Swilling, Warwick Tarboton, Vida van der Walt, VMS IMAGES, WILDERNESS ADVENTURES


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

BUSINESS Jaco Scholtz, C: 083-303-0453 ADVERTISING Danie Momberg, C: 084-511-8824 PUBLISHER Theo Pauw T: 082-558-5730

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

Reproduction Resolution Colour (Pty) Ltd. Printing Paarl Web

The FSC logo indentifies products which contain wood from well-managed forest certified in accordance with the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council.

Simply love this mag ... one can read [Wild] over and over and still find each article interesting. As for the Wild Card, it has saved us thousands of rands already. – Tina Joubert We are longing to get back into the bush and will be reading old and new articles to make some difficult choices! – Lee King

A view to a kill

Rippled rock

We were on our way to Satara when we spotted a huge herd of buffalo. We stopped where we anticipated they would cross the road and noticed six lionesses lying in wait. One launched herself at a female buffalo, hanging onto the neck and turning around like a carousel. At the same time we could hear a big fight behind some trees. Another group of lions was dragging an old buffalo onto the road. When the herd launched a counter attack, During a recent visit to Kruger, I noticed beautiful ripple marks on what looks like red sandstone used to pave the parking area of the tented camp at Punda Maria. Where was it quarried and to which geological group/formation and time does it belong? Ina Engelbrecht, Knysna I also noticed the rippled rock on my recent trip to Kruger’s north (see page 14). According to Christo Knox, camp manager at Punda Maria, the stone is in fact petrified riverbed. The ripples were formed when the river dried up. – Ed.

LETTER *RoseWINNING Douglas wins convertible pants and a Bio T-shirt from CAPESTORM. Write to us and you could also win a great prize from CAPESTORM.

the lionesses let the first buffalo go and joined the other group. Together they pulled the poor thing down. It took the whole pride 20 minutes before the victim stopped breathing. Then all 12 lions settled down to their meal and four cubs appeared out of the bush to join them. What an experience it was! Arthur Birrer, Switzerland Visit for more pictures. – Ed.

Addo Bonanza We wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed Addo Elephant National Park. We took two elderly friends who raved about the elephants we saw cavorting in the mud at the waterholes. We must have seen over 200 elephants in all. We go every month with our Wild Cards and have never seen quite so many. We must congratulate Addo on the marvellous job they have done on the new interpretive centre and lecture hall. John and Margaret Walker, P.E. The Bio T-shirt (R225), made from 100 per cent recycled material, is available in men’s and women’s styles. Its Wick-Dry fabric is durable and breathes effectively.

CAPESTORM Carry light. BIO T-SHIRT Move fast. & pants Keep dry.

People behind the stories Adrian Bailey has won numerous awards for his nature photography. Last year the film he and wife Robyn Keene-Young produced on the Okavango baboons, Swamp Troop, was nominated for an Emmy. But the chance to photograph Kruger’s north during the wet season (page 14) was reward in itself. “Everything is so vibrant and vital, with new vegetation and young animals,” Adrian says. “This is Kruger at its quietest; if you see five cars a day it’s a lot.”

For Andrew Baxter a rare encounter with a mountain leopard has led to a lifelong fascination with these elusive felines (page 36). When he’s not developing and testing outdoor gear (his day job), Andrew can be found hanging out in the hills, riding his mountain bike or casting a fly in a remote mountain stream. Andrew has a PhD in environmental science and is chairman of The Cape Leopard Trust. AUTUMN 2011 WILD 5


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

WILD stuff . . .

‘Whiskey Creek’s a great escape for the family or a fun-filled weekend with friends.’ – Dale Morris


GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM Little ones will enjoy a leisurely paddle along the Keurbooms River.

Whiskey Creek reopens It’s been nearly three years since floods closed the beautiful CapeNature Whiskey Creek Canoe Trail near Plettenberg Bay. Now work has been completed and once again it is open to the public. The trail starts near the Keurbooms River estuary, meanders for 7 km through a thickly forested valley, passing several idyllic riverside beaches, before winding up at a cottage which can sleep up to 10 people. The canoeing is easy and the trail takes about two hours if you push it. But it can be enjoyed in slow motion, making it quite feasible for those who

By Dale Morris

would perhaps not normally consider themselves fit enough for a ‘strenuous’ paddle. Providing you set out early enough, there is always plenty of time to enjoy the birds, take a dip, explore the beaches, and to have a lovely picnic while making your way to the cottage. The price of the trail includes the use of stable flat-bottomed canoes, paddles, life jackets, wood for the braai and a night’s accommodation at the Keurbooms River trail hut. Cost R320 person, minimum of four. Bookings: 0861-CAPENATURE (0861-2273-628-873)

game parks on the go SANParks has a new mobi site so you can now access the homepage from your WAP-enabled cellphone. Using your phone you can check availability at camps and even make bookings on the move. Log on to get the most vital information 6 WILD AUTUMN 2011

about parks, like directions on how to get there or the weather outlook. The mobi site is also ideal for keeping up with the forums and taking a look at the webcams. Type into your phone’s browser to visit.

The sound of the SEASON If you haven’t heard it before, you may be inclined to think the deep groans and roars that erupt out of the drying bush in autumn come from fierce predators disputing territory. The unnerving noises are territorial in nature, but the contenders are not even remotely predatory. Rather it is the rutting sounds of their most common prey, impala. With lips peeled back in a comical half-grin and tails held tightly horizontal, male impala chase each other around snorting and clashing horns as if there were no tomorrow. The truth is, for some there won’t be a tomorrow. They are so focused on the contest that predators easily snatch a participant away mid-dispute. Others die because they forget to eat or groom away ticks. The cycle is predictably repetitive, with each male becoming so exhausted that, at the peak of the rut, he can manage to hang onto his turf for about eight days only before he is replaced. But the prize is worth it: fathering the next generation of the bushveld’s most successful antelope. Being fastidiously hygienic, with an array of clever grooming techniques, helps impala to proliferate in such numbers. Add the ability to switch between browsing and grazing, plus

By Megan Emmett

excellent vigilance, and you have the formula to success. Their breeding strategy is also ingenious. Males will mate with as many females as they can for a few months but ewes will conceive only during a small window of opportunity in May/June, lasting three weeks. The result is a flood of babies all within a short time in the spring, which totally overwhelms predators. The autumn mating is brought about by a surge in testosterone associated with the shortening day lengths and actually begins in January, but at a low intensity. The bachelor groups, which usually provide safety in numbers for the rams, become progressively less amicable and break up steadily. Rams establish small territories demarcated by enormous dung middens. Then the battles begin. Once you are familiar with the sound, the snort of rutting impala becomes a wistful indicator of the onset of a fascinating season, when the fading grass takes on the same golden hue as the glossy coat of this remarkable antelope.

WIN Two lucky Wild Card members will win a copy of Game Ranger in Your Backpack. Q: When do impala ewes conceive? Send your answer and Wild Card number to competition@ (subject line ‘Impala’) before 10 May 2011.

Megan Emmett has a degree in nature conservation and is a qualified field guide. Along with photographer Sean Pattrick, she’s produced an interpretive guide to the bush, Game Ranger in Your Backpack (R299, Briza).


Male impala chase each other around snorting and clashing horns as if there were no tomorrow.

DUEL TO THE DEATH? Impala can become so focused on their clashes that they forget to eat.




Agulhas National Park Visit the iconic lighthouse, a national monument with its own museum.

The best time to visit Agulhas is when summer draws to a close and the tempestuous southeaster dies down. The new chalets nestled in the dunes at Agulhas Rest Camp have magnificent views of this rugged coast. You can even lie in bed and look out at the sea! A walk along the beach after high tide will reveal anemones, limpets and sea urchins in the rock pools. To find the ingenious fish traps used by the Khoikhoin, follow the 5,5 km Rasperpunt Trail from the Meisho Maru shipwreck. If it’s a fine day, make time for a swim at the little lagoon, warmed by the sun.

Look out FoR Lagoon House


The rocky-shore urchins you’ll find in rock pools are all grazers, feeding on a variety of algae and seaweeds that grow on the rocks. You might be amused to know their mouth is on the underside and the anus in the centre at the top!



Black harriers are often seen skimming the tops of the local shrubs as they hunt for small rodents on the ground. At rest these birds of prey appear completely black, it’s only in flight that the white feathers under wing can be seen. Ranger Samantha Schröder says they suspect black harriers are breeding in the park. Cape grysbok are usually active at night but are often spotted in the park in the early morning and late afternoon on cool and overcast days. They are solitary creatures, but autumn is the season for courtship, so you could very well see a ram and ewe stepping out.

The bietou or tick berry is an evergreen shrub that grows on coastal dunes. In autumn it’s covered in bright yellow flowers that look like daisies. These give way to glossy black berry-like fruit that is very popular with birds.

There’s a variety of accommodation at Agulhas, from the rest camp overlooking the sea to historic Strandveld cottages. The house on the lagoon is perfect for a group celebration. Contact: Park 028-4356078, bookings 012-428-9111 Don’t miss the Southern Tip Soeten­ dalsvlei relay race on 14 May 2011. Run, mountain bike and kayak through Agulhas National Park, either as a team or on your own. For more information, contact Giel de Kock on 028-435-6078 (weekdays 08h00 to 16h00).

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

Book your escape now! Accommodation from R325 per person sharing. Terms and conditions apply.

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

visit or

Msinsi Resorts and Game Reserves invites you to experience the African bush in KwaZulu-Natal. You will find tranquil settings for picnics and trails, peaceful boating and fishing, awesome rock climbing and game viewing. Our wide variety of comfortable accommodation ranges from lodges and hutted and tented camps to camping and caravanning, hosted by our friendly and experienced staff who will ensure that your stay becomes a happy memory. Take time to discover ... ALBERT FALLS DAM & GAME RESERVE Situated at one of the largest dams in KZN and only 30 minutes from Pietermaritzburg, Albert Falls Dam & Game Reserve offers water skiing, sailing, canoeing, nature trails, fishing, bird watching and game viewing. Take a break in fully equipped, self-catering rondavels and chalets set in the Notuli Game Park. Game drives reveal rhino, eland, blesbok, giraffe, warthog, zebra and a wide variety of birdlife. Contact details: 033-569-1202 BON ACCORDE Bon Accorde Resort is located on the eastern shores of Albert Falls Dam & Game Reserve. Set in cool, whispering tranquillity overlooking the Karkloof Valley, Bon Accorde exudes serenity. Ten fully equipped 6-sleeper selfcatering chalets front the water and afford commanding views of the dam and the distant Karkloof Hills. Contact details: 033-569-1643

HAZELMERE DAM & RESORT Hazelmere Dam & Resort is the water sport mecca of KZN. A day’s outing at shady picnic spots on the water’s edge will reward you with sightings of zebra, wildebeest and a variety of birds. Forest Lodge, set in secluded woodland overlooking the dam, sleeps six and is fully equipped. Lakeside Lodge, on the shores of the dam, is a 4-sleeper, fully equipped cottage. Contact details: 082-728-0920 SHONGWENI DAM & GAME RESERVE Shongweni Dam & Game Reserve is a piece of true Africa. From awe-inspiring cliffs and waterfalls to lush forests and open thorn trees, this game reserve is home to rhino, buffalo, giraffe, waterbuck, wildebeest, warthog, an abundance of birds and a host of nocturnal animals. Well-appointed tented camps, built on stilts and situated right on the water, offer a unique accommodation experience. Our luxury 8-sleeper Mkangoma Lodge offers a wilderness experience in the heart of the game reserve. Contact details: 031-769-1283

Head Office: 031-765-7724 • Visit us on Facebook: Msinsi Resorts & Reserves

NAGLE DAM & GAME RESERVE Deep in the heart of the Valley of a Thousand Hills, less than an hour’s drive from both Pietermaritzburg and Durban, lies an African jewel. At Nagle Dam & Game Reserve, nestling in the foothills of KZN’s very own ‘Table Mountain’, you will find tranquil picnic spots, excellent fishing, canoeing, nature trails and game viewing. Luxurious accommodation is available at the stately 12-sleeper Nagle Lodge and the exclusive 6-bed Msinsi Lodge. Contact details: 031-782-8085 INANDA DAM & RESORT Situated below Hillcrest in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, this resort offers all forms of recreational boating and is famous for bass fishing. Camping and picnic sites, set on the water’s edge, afford magnificent views of the surrounding hills and make this an ideal venue for water sport enthusiasts. Four furnished tents offer comfortable accommodation in a natural setting. Contact details: 031-766-9946


ICON of the mountains

Young birds have a mottled brown body and pale legs.

Verreaux’s eagle Aquila verreauxii with its unmistakable jet-black plumage and white markings on its back is at home in mountains throughout South Africa. During autumn they often perform spectacular display flights as they proclaim nesting territories and start reconstructing their huge nest structures. This is the best time to observe these impressive eagles because they fly around quite a bit, collecting branches as nesting material or driving away would-be intruders such as crows or ravens. Two eggs are laid in late autumn or early winter and hatch about 45 days later. The older chick kills its younger sibling in a phenomenon known as cainism after the Biblical brothers Cain and Abel. [The interesting phenomenon is known to occur in at least 27 eagle species and several other larger birds of prey, including the bearded vulture. It is also found in species of crane, penguin, cockatoo, gannet and pelican. – Ed.] Some 90 days later, the juvenile leaves the nest. Juveniles and sub-adults have a mottled brown plumage which they will lose only after about four or five years, when they start seeking a territory of their own.


This eagle has a wingspan of about two metres.

Competition: see page 20



During autumn they often perform spectacular display flights as they proclaim nesting territories.

Verreaux’s eagles are skilful hunters and prefer to prey on dassies, which in some areas make up more than 90 per cent of their diet. Pairs often hunt as a team. One bird circles high overhead to attract the attention of the prey while the other launches a surprise attack. Formerly known as the black eagle, this raptor was thought fairly safe from threats as it lives way up in the mountains. But preliminary results from the Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2 show quite an alarming distribution range reduction for Verreaux’s eagle. In order to better understand the situation, the project has set up a special watch for the species. Birdwatchers are encouraged to report sightings of Verreaux’s eagles on (click on ‘Special watch’).



R 1600.

From 00 per adult per night sharing

R 800.

From 00 per child (6-12 years ) per night sharing with an adult

This charming tented camp lies on a gentle bend along the northern bank of the Luvuvhu River, under the shade of enormous jackal-berry and nyala-berry trees, in the northernmost sector of the Kruger National Park Children 6 years and older welcome. Includes: Dinner, bed and brunch. Excludes: Drinks, lodge activities, laundry and park fees. Terms and conditions apply. Look out for our Pafuri Walking Trails: 01 April – 31 October 2011

Telephone: +2711 257 5111 SUMMER 2010/2011 WILD 9 L ive adventure. Love the wild


Black monkey-orange Strychnos madagascariensis The fruit of this evocatively named tree does look remarkably like an orange from the outside. Green for most of the year, the woody fruit ripens in autumn and turns a yellow-orange. The shells of the fruit are used as the sounding boxes of the musical instrument known as the marimba.

Two lucky Wild Card members can win a Sappi Tree Spotting guide. Tell us how many regions are covered in the Sappi Tree Spotting series. The answer can be found at under our Wild about Trees blog.

Big Cats Quiz


10. From how far away can the sound of a lion’s roar be heard?

1. Leopard.

5. Apart from lions, which other cats form a coalition to hunt?

9. Which big cat has spots, which one has rosettes?

2. Seven to eight metres.

4. Is it true that all lionesses in a pride are related?

8. How many toes does a lion have on its back paws?

3. The Eastern and Western Cape.

3. In which two regions of South Africa do you find Cape leopard?

7. Which of the female cats can give birth at any time of the year?

5. Male cheetahs.

2. How many metres can a cheetah cover in a single running stride?

6. Lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards roar. What sound does a cheetah make?

7. Female leopards.

1. Which of the big cats is the smallest of the panthera genus?

How much do you know about big cats? Try our quiz and find out.

4. Yes. A pride typically has between two and 18 females who are all related and remain in the pride for life.


6. Cheetahs chirp.


Send your answer and card number to (subject line ‘Trees’) before 10 May 2011 and tell us whether you’d prefer to win the Sappi Tree Spotting guide to the Cape or KwaZulu-Natal.

8. Four.


Blue guarri Euclea crispa The grape-like fruit of this tree grows in small bunches and turns dark green to black when ripe from April to December. This tree is found throughout South Africa. The fruits are enjoyed by birds and antelope and the smooth bark is often used to make stools and yokes.

9. Leopards have rosettes, cheetahs have spots.

Forest spoonwood Cassine peragua From March you’ll be able to identify the tree by its plum-like fleshy fruit. Look for it early in the season because fruit-eating birds favour the berries and the tree can be quickly denuded! The tree is found in forests along the southern and eastern coast.

10. Up to 8 km away.

SPOT this

As the season changes and trees lose their leaves, some species can become difficult to identify. Look for these trees by identifying their fruit that ripens in autumn. Remember to visit for more about flora in our Wild about Trees blog.

88 parks

With parks and reserves around South Africa and Swaziland, there’s sure to be a destination near you. All parks cluster All of the parks below SANParks cluster Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Addo Elephant National Park (NP), Agulhas NP, Augrabies Falls NP, Bontebok NP, Camdeboo NP, Garden Route NP (Knysna, Tsitsikamma & Wilderness sections), Golden Gate Highlands NP, Karoo NP, Kgala­gadi Transfrontier Park, Kruger NP, Mapungubwe NP, Marakele NP, Mokala NP, Mountain Zebra NP, Namaqua NP, Table Mountain NP, Tankwa Karoo NP, West Coast NP

Get your Wild Card now

Your Wild Card membership entitles you to one year’s UNLIMITED entry to the parks, reserves and resorts of your choice. Apply today – complete the application form and fax it to +27 12 426 5480 or go to Please complete in full and forward to us at: Email: Fax: +27 12-426-5480 Address: PO Box 787, Pretoria 0001 The onus of responsibility rests with the applicant to ensure the correct membership has been selected. No changes or refunds can be made once issued. *Couple: Any two persons. *Family: Up to two adults and their five children under the age of 18 years, both South Africans and international visitors. Proof of identity, nationality and residency will be required when entering any park, reserve or resort. Prices subject to change without notice.

CapeNature cluster Anysberg Nature Reserve (NR), Assegaaibosch NR, Bird Island NR, Boosmansbos Wilderness Area, Cederberg Wilderness Area, De Hoop NR, De Mond NR, Gamkaberg NR, Goukamma NR, Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area, Grootvadersbosch NR, Hottentots Holland NR, Jonkers­hoek NR, Keurbooms River NR, Kogelberg NR, Limiet­berg NR, Marloth NR, Outeniqua NR, Robberg NR, Rocherpan NR, Salmonsdam NR, Swartberg NR, Vrolijk­heid NR, Walker Bay NR Swaziland’s Big Game Parks cluster Hlane Royal National Park, Mkhaya Game Reserve, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary

Select the type of card • Prices valid until 31 October 2011 TYPE OF CARD





All Parks Cluster



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EKZNWildlife Cluster



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Msinsi cluster Albert Falls Dam, Bon Accorde, Hazelmere Dam, Inanda Dam, Nagle Dam, Shongweni Dam and Game Reserve EKZN Wildlife cluster Amatigulu Nature Reserve (NR), Chelmsford NR, Cobham NR, Garden Castle NR, Giant’s Castle NR, Harold Johnson NR, Highmoor NR, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, Injisuthi NR, Ithala Game Reserve, Kamberg NR, Lotheni NR, Midmar Dam, Monk’s Cowl NR, Mount Currie NR, Ndumo Game Reserve, Oribi Gorge NR, Phongolo NR, Royal Natal National Park, Spioenkop Game Reserve, Umlalazi NR, Vernon Crookes NR, Wagendrift NR, Weenen Game Reserve




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Terms and conditions of the Wild Card: In purchasing this Wild Card I acknowledge that its use is subject to all laws, regulations, rules and policies applicable to SANParks, CapeNature, Msinsi Holdings, Big Game Parks of Swaziland and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. I agree to abide by the terms and conditions of the Wild Card as published from time to time. I accept benefits may change. Log onto


Kruger’s Extreme North


Known as the birding mecca of South Africa, the Punda Maria-Pafuri region of Kruger is the jewel of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Romi Boom falls under the spell of its heart-rending beauty.

GRAND CANYON The spectacular Lanner Gorge borders the Makuleke contractual park.

to limpopo AUTUMN 2011 WILD 15

Kruger’s Extreme North


RIGHT The fever tree forest has an otherworldly atmosphere.

he LIFELESS impala lies hardly 20 metres from our safari vehicle. Crouching in a semi-upright position alongside her, the leopard. On the impala’s side of the kill scene, dozens of petrified impala and quite a few zebra snort, grunt and squeal. The sound travels far, it is not so much wailing as telling off. We are witness to a cacophony of bewildered, but angry impala. It is a stand-off with a leopard, and no doubt they are expressing collective abhorrence at the kill. They are not afraid the leopard will come for one of them. Once they have the big cat in their sights, they are relatively safe: leopard cannot outrun impala. After a while, the leo­pard slinks away, not quite gracefully. Hooray, we think, good riddance. What a pretty little ewe she was. Then behold! The impala stands up, shakes herself ever so slightly, and hobbles away on wonky legs. Shell-struck. My telephoto lens reveals she has a skin wound, a flap of tissue hanging from her jaw, but she seems okay. If only her heart will hold out. Almost exactly 12 hours later, in the early morning glow of the sandstone cliffs near Lanner Gorge, we see a smudge of tan and black. Or perhaps two smudges? Did it go left? Or right? Perplexed, we hold our breaths while Pafuri Camp’s Land Cruiser crawls forward. Then we spot it, beside the track, five metres to our right. A half-grown leopard, a cub no more, separated from its mother, who scampered the other way. An adolescent, old enough for mom to decide, you’re on your own now, handle the situation. With the aplomb of youth, it saunters into the undergrowth. We’re in the extreme north of Kruger National Park, and within a day we’ve tallied two leopard sightings. Not to mention the lion kill we saw en route to Pafuri, on the main road north of Sirheni, where the vegetation starts to change from flat, featureless mopaneveld to tree mopane savannah. Two lionesses on an early morning stroll with two cubs, cute as can be. Next thing, a tawny flash from the left across the tarmac.

“Where else in Kruger can you sit with lion for 40 minutes without anyone else crowding your sighting?”


LOST KINGDOM The ruins at Thulamela tell the story of a civilisation that traded far and wide.

Seconds later, the apparition turns out to be a third lioness, who now has an impala dangling from her jaws. All of this still on the H1. What a sight to see the little ones make a beeline for the lioness and her quarry. The big girls didn’t look hungry, nor would the slight antelope have fed the lot. We imagine the hunt was for the benefit of the rookies. At Punda Maria we are welcomed by hospitality services manager Christo Knox, who has lived in Kruger for 30 years and attended the primary school at Skukuza. Christo has been at Punda for five years and relishes the peace and quiet, compared to some of the busier camps in the south. That said, the occupancy of the luxury tents at Punda is 95 per cent year round, and the popularity of the 25 km Mahonie loop

Insider Tips

• Travelling north from Sirheni, you will pass the Dzundzwini koppie and fountain, both very popular sights, just before the T-junction. The Dzundzwini view site, at 600 m, is one of the highest points in the northern park. At the foot of the hill is an enormous sausage tree where JJ Coetzer had his camp when he became ranger of the area in 1919. • You are likely to see eland and roan, even at the Babalala picnic site, the reason being the roan breeding camp, which is situated nearby. The wild roan obviously smell their kin and investigate. The thatched shelter at Babalala, constructed around a giant sycamore fig, is a good place to look far and wide over the surrounding grasslands. • I have spotted 16 sable just 2 km out of camp and regularly see wild dogs. Because we don’t have many roads, you have to drive a lot, and slowly, to see the animals. You will be rewarded with sightings of herds of elephant and buffalo. • At the Pafuri picnic site, you are likely to see crested guineafowl, which are very scarce. Here you see a pretty little bird around every turn, for example African finfoot and puffback. It teaches you to stop and take stock. Even the dung-beetles rolling their large balls across the road are fascinating. The picnic site on the banks of the Luvuvhu, surrounded by thick riverine bush, is ideal for birders. ADRIAN BAILEY

is legendary. That afternoon, we see a buffalo herd, hundreds strong. Impressive stuff. “This is a drive you can do at four in the afternoon,” says Christo. “You are likely to see nyala, buffalo, kudu, elephant, perhaps lion and leopard. Where else in Kruger can you sit with lion for 40 minutes without anyone else crowding your sighting?” Christo gets a faraway glance when he speaks of scarce antelope such as eland, roan, suni and Sharpe’s grysbok, of flowers such as yellow devil’s thorn, sjambok pod and impala lily, of birds such as pennant-winged nightjars and bronze-wing coursers which you see in December and January. It turns out it was a good decision after all to visit the Pafuri region in the off-season. The camp is surrounded by mixed sandveld woodlands

From Christo Knox, Punda maria hospitality services manager

Christo Knox

Dana Allen - Wilderness Adventures



From relative amateur, I have morphed into an avid twitcher.


1. Night falls over Punda Maria. 2. Look for raptors like this juvenile bateleur. 3. Woodland king­ fisher abounds from October to April. 4. Watch elephant from the deck at Pafuri Camp. 5. Pafuri Camp overlooks the Luvu­ vhu River. 6. Bennett’s wood­ pecker feeds on the ground. 7. Rooms at The Outpost are open to the bushveld. 8. Enos Mngome­ zulu is head guide at Pafuri Camp.

Alfred Nelukalo

and mountains, and when the temperatures drop in the evening, the climate is pleasant. [While hikers on the Nyalaland trail felt the heat with the mercury above 40 ºC, they were undeterred in their search for the Pel’s fishing owl. Read our story on page 60.] In the morning, en route to the Thulamela iron-age archeological site, we discover one of the most beautiful drives in the whole of Kruger. Guides Alfred Nelukalo and Jobe Shabangu explain that whether you go at sunset on a night drive, or on a morning walk, Nyala Drive is luminescent with dozens of shades of green. In January, in the rainy season, the most striking hue is lime-green, with the grass mirroring the trunks of the fever trees. Thulamela can be visited on a guided tour only, organised through Punda Maria. It is an easy 40minute hike through alluvial forest. The site dates from 1200 AD and has been restored following its discovery in 1991. There are signs of regular elephant visits and it is clear they knock over walls while grazing on the grass inside the fortress. Artefacts include pottery shards and whetting stones with deep grooves made by hand axes.

Jobe Shabangu


1 2 3 4

wilderness Safaris / chris roche


Kruger’s Extreme North

From Punda we drive across the Luvuvhu River bridge to Wilderness Safaris’ Pafuri Camp, one of two private safari lodges in the Makuleke contractual park. Following the Makuleke land claim, a deal was brokered with government that the clan would enter into a private-sector partnership to develop new tourism facilities in the north. The luxury tents of rustic Pafuri Camp are sprawled along the winding river bank and The Outpost, an ultramodern boutique lodge, is situated high above the Luvuvhu. Both will revert to the Makuleke community once the grant has run its course. At Pafuri Camp we meet head guide Enos Mngomezulu, 2008 Southern African Wildlife College bursary recipient, who has completed his studies in Natural Resource and Protected Area Management. One of the aims of the Makuleke community was to have someone from within the community trained to manage the resources of the contractual park. Enos realised he wanted to work in conservation in 1996, when the community was claiming the land between the two rivers and decided to keep the conservation status of the land. “The Makuleke decided to start planning ahead so they set about training people in conservation and business administration,” explains Enos. He was selected on merit, based on his matric results. He chose conservation, because one of his fa-


Mike Myers / Wilderness Adventures NEW OUTPOST


5 6 7 8

vourite subjects at school was biology, and completed access to the Limpopo Pans that teem with migrant the course through Unisa. water birds in summer is reserved for guests at Pafuri Camp and The Outpost, everyone can enjoy the Luvu“I had good biology teachers in standard nine and vhu River drives. No more mopane trees, instead we ten. For me it started way back as a boy, when I used to go out in the bush. When the teacher spoke about cross a flood plain of thornveld. The forest is a thick the skeleton of a bird, it was someriverine bush, populated by ghostly thing that interested me. Something We manage a glimpse jaundiced trunks, interspersed I touched every day.” copses of palm trees. Bushwilof the Mozambican with The Shangaan-speaking lows, silver cluster-leaf and white and Zimbabwean Makuleke community numbers syringa trees form a dense blanket. shores. This is a around 15 000 people who live just Game is abundant, plentiful nyala outside the park, distributed over place of legend and and a fair number of kudu and three villages. In the village where bushbuck graze peacefully in the adventure. Enos lives when he is off duty, life shadow of baobabs. Many of these characterful giants, some of which are 4 000 years old, is not that hard, he claims, even though not everyone has access to running water. People work hard to earn have been ravaged by elephant trunks. This confirms a living, some sell fruit and vegetables at the market, that we are deep in elephant territory, in a primeval African landscape with an ancient history. some cultivate the fields, others do odd maintenance We manage a glimpse of the Mozambican and jobs. Conditions have changed for the better since money is being paid over to the community trust as Zimbabwean shores where the two mighty rivers part of the rental for operating concessions here. Sixty meet. This is a place of legend and adventure, where per cent goes into the operational budget and the rest rough-and-ready big game hunters and gunrunners into development. At the high school a security fence lived as outlaws by hopping along the many bush was erected, for example, and the two primary schools paths from one country to the next. Theirs was an got more classrooms and photocopiers. ivory trail, a network of trade with precious cargo The Luvuvhu River drive to Crooks’ Corner (S63) destined for the interior and the Mozambican haris one of the most spectacular in all of Kruger. While bours, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Now

Enos Mngomezulu, head guide at Pafuri Camp, is one of the candidates for the future management of the Makuleke Concession, though he may have to quit guiding and work elsewhere to learn more about conservation management before coming back. His biggest ambition at the moment is to get more college education, especially in protected area management. Having been offered a scholarship this year, he intends to do some short courses at the Wildlife College at Hoedspruit. The father of six-year-old twins, he is happy his son is interested in nature, while his daughter loves camp food more than anything whenever they visit. He is hopeful that she, too, will follow in her father’s footsteps.

More on Makuleke Read more about the Makuleke large mammal reintroduction project, transboundary elephant movements and the Makuleke tourism initiative on AUTUMN 2011 WILD 19

Kruger’s Extreme North


Game is abundant, plentiful nyala and a fair number of kudu graze peacefully in the shadow of baobabs.

the bush is protected and the elephants are safe from ivory hunters. Because of heavy downpours the previous days we are denied access to Crooks’ Corner, nevertheless we penetrate the alluvial floodplains and persevere to the edge of the famous fever tree forest. An aficionado of lush, tropical, verdant landscapes, I am in seventh heaven. Starting with our big cat introduction to the supposedly game-poor far north of Kruger, our sightings have been incredible. Within 48 hours of arriving at Pafuri, I ticked 96 species of birds on my checklist * . From relative amateur, I have morphed into an avid twitcher, who has uploaded close on a thousand bird calls to my mobile. For me, the call of Kruger has become the call of the extreme north. See Romi’s 48-hour checklist on


The facts


of Kruger’s surface,

75% of Kruger’s biodiversity

km self-drive trails in the riverine forest between Nyala Drive and Crooks’ Corner


The biological importance of the area between the Luvuvhu and the Limpopo earns it Ramsar status.

Dickinson’s kestrel


More than 90 per cent of Kruger’s nyala can be found north of the Olifants River.

Rare raptors of the north

Far northern Kruger, which falls into the afrotropical zone, is a birder’s paradise. A special raptor to look out for is Verreaux’s eagle, which nests in the sandstone cliffs of the Luvuvhu River. Other raptors not seen elsewhere in South Africa are the aggressive little Dickinson’s kestrel and Ayres’ hawk-eagle.

WIN a stay in Pafuri

How would you like to win a weekend (2 nights) for two people at luxurious Pafuri Camp, valued at R12 000? To stand a chance, send your answer to the following question, along with your Wild Card number to (subject line ‘Kruger’). Q: What is the name of the iron-age archeological site in the north of Kruger? Competition closes 10 May 2011.





erene and secluded, Mvubu cottage is surrounded by milkwood trees festooned with old man’s beards. Here you get the distinct impression that the relentless march of time has



bypassed this bit of the Garden Route. A hidden jetty juts out into a pea green lake, aptly named Groenvlei, where a kayak has been tied up exclusively for use by Mvubu guests. During the winter months, an early morning mist gathers on the lake’s

1. Mvubu cottage has a private jetty and canoes on Goukamma’s beautiful Groenvlei. 2. The reserve is a great spot for a family holiday. 3. Goukamma’s coast is an important nesting ground for black oystercatchers. 4. Pretty pelargoniums dot the reserve.


Forgotten corner of the

Garden Route Goukamma is a surprising little nature reserve, a picturesque gem where you can escape from the rat race. It’s also a muchneeded hideaway for rare fish species. By Dale Morris

A SHORE THING Looking out at the seaside town of Buffalo Bay (Buffelsbaai) from the eastern end of Goukamma.

surface, turning orange before dissipating into a tall barricade of reeds. Mvubu is a well-kept secret in Goukamma Nature Reserve, which also features a meandering river, a pretty estuary, 16 kilometres of untouched and empty beaches, as well as a marine component. A protected slice of Indian Ocean where, despite the decimation of global fish stocks elsewhere, there are still plenty more fish in the sea. Goukamma is one of those places you could easily drive right past and never know it was there. In fact, the N2 runs parallel to the reserve, but a lack of prominent signs and perhaps an orchestrated hush-up by reserve staff and locals means

the majority of people simply drive on by. Living in Sedgefield as I do, my family and I are lucky enough to have this special little nature reserve right on our doorstep, which means we get to go there often. [Dale certainly makes good use of his Wild Card – Ed.] When the office work gives me a headache, or my little boy Sam starts to become antsy at home, we all hop in the car and within minutes we are a million miles away from people, pressure and stress. The Indian Ocean lapping onto the beaches, the serenity of a quick paddle on the reserve’s lake or a simple stroll amongst the aromatherapeutic fynbos always calms my nerves.

Goukamma Nature Reserve lies between Sedgefield and Buffalo Bay on the Garden Route.












1. Little beeeaters have recently been spotted in the reserve, which has a bird count of over 260 species. 2. The vegetated dunes are adorned with flowers, like this sage. Visit in September and October to see the fynbos bloom. 3. The river and lake are abuzz with dragonflies, a sign of good health. 4. Large schools of dolphins are often seen along the coast. 5. Flowering plants attract butterflies of all colours. 6. Lush ferns grow in the valleys and along the river banks. 7. The forest floor is dotted with mushrooms. 8. An Egyptian goose paddles on the lake. 9. A stray starfish fungus adds a splash of colour.

Despite its modest size, only 2 500 hectares, Gouotherwise suffering from rampant development.” Kayaking is another activity the reserve seems kamma is one of those places where you can walk for hours and even days and not see another human ready made for and you don’t even have to bring being. You will meet up with touracos and tortoises, your own boat. Sit-in canoes are available to hire of course, and those of us who are really lucky may and on a high water day, it is possible to paddle encounter caracals, genets and eagle owls, too. I have for nearly 10 kilometres up the Goukamma River seen them  all  on many different occasions. But as for alongside towering fossilised dunes and verdant meeting people? Well, fortunately they’re still pretty riparian vegetation. rare in Goukamma. When we paddled this route, Mark pointed out During the colder months, I find Goukamma’s a pair of nesting eagle owls who peered out of the many kilometres of beach and dune trails (most of riverside foliage at us with angry looking eyes. which have been recently upgraded) extremely re“They’re always here,” he told me as we gently warding. Not only for the sense of isolation, but also paddled by. “They seem to like the peace of this place because I never fail to spot southern right whales every bit as much as you or I do.” cavorting off shore. Sometimes there are literally The lucky people, those with wide eyes and zipped dozens of them. Common dolphins are as plentiful mouths, may also catch a glimpse of a Cape clawas their name would suggest and oystercatchers are less otter as it paddles around the shallows intent on catching crabs. I haven’t seen one yet, but Mark’s not nearly as scarce as they tend to be elsewhere. During the warmth of summer, low-tide rock been lucky a number of times. Groenvlei is also a great place to go boating, sailpools, brimming with weird and wonderful lifeforms, beckon the stroller to strip off, don a snoring or paddling, especially for those who like a spot kelling mask and jump on in. Octopuses are my of fishing, most notably because the lake is teeming with bass, an introduced foreigner. You are encourfavourite thing to encounter here due to their, dare I say it, friendly and inquisitive nature. They will aged by the reserve’s management to go get a fishing interact with you, touching you gently with their permit at the post office and try your hand at ridding tentacles, assessing if you are a risk or not before the lake of this pesky but tasty invasive alien species. But fishing isn’t for me, I prefer to float around the settling down in the palm of your hand. Bait-collecting along Goukammargins and search for birds with ma’s rugged 16-kilometre shoreline camera in hand and guide book at Goukamma’s was banned in the early 90s. A wise the ready. On my last visit, I was intertidal life zone lucky enough to see not only a but controversial move by conseris one of the most small flock of European bee-eaters vation authorities. Now, thanks to this protection, Goukamma’s inin the reeds, a rare sight indeed, exuberant and tertidal life zone is one of the most also a pair of little bee-eaters, healthy anywhere in but exuberant and healthy anywhere in something unheard of until now. the country. Once upon a time, hippo and the country. buffalo occupied the Groenvlei One of the nicest and certainly most enlightening ways to explore the reserve is to lake shores, but alas, those days have long since join local guide, Mark Dixon, on one of his regular passed. When I asked the reserve manager, Keith Garden Route Trail slack-packing excursions. An Spencer, if there were any plans to reintroduce them official CapeNature partner, Mark is a qualified natu- in the future, he huffed a sigh of resignation. “It’s highly unlikely,” he told me from behind his ralist, a scientist and extremely knowledgeable when desk. “Most notably because Goukamma is a small it comes to wildlife and geography. What’s more, he knows just about every inch of Goukamma like the reserve, slap bang in the middle of a region of very high development. With so many residential areas back of his hand. and the very busy N2 so close to our unfenced bor“I never get bored of walking the beach here,” Mark told me when last I bumped into him in the ders, we would be asking for serious trouble if we reserve. “There’s always something going on, whether were to reintroduce some of the missing mega fauna.” it’s a washed-up jellyfish being devoured by ploughThat being said, should a sufficient budget become footed snails or a pair of nesting oystercatchers who available in the future, then the issue of restocking come back to the same spot every year. It’s a magical Goukamma may well be back on the table. place. A little slice of pristine wilderness in an area Who knows. We can but hope. AUTUMN 2011 WILD 25

The Goukamma River estuary is a very important aspect of the marine protected area.

A pretty sight, but pretty wet – picnic shades and braai sites along the Goukamma River after a flood.

Marine protected area Little known to most people, Goukamma protects an exceptionally important breeding area for rare sub-tropical reef fishes such as the red roman, mussel cracker and spotted grunter. No bait collecting, net or spear fishing, and absolutely no boat fishing activities are allowed within an 1,8 km deep exclusion zone running the entire length of Goukamma’s 16 km coast line. Shore-based rod and line fishing is allowed, but it’s permitted primarily because in 1981 local fishermen put pressure on authorities to overturn a complete fishing ban. Legally, you are within your rights to go catch a fish anywhere along Goukamma’s coast as long as you use a rod and have a permit, but that doesn’t mean that you should. Without protected areas where rare fish can breed, take zones adjacent to these protected regions will never have their denuded stocks replenished. If that happens, fishing access to South Africa’s marine protected areas will be a moot topic. Simply put, there won’t be any fish left to argue over. The Goukamma River estuary is also a very important aspect of the marine protected area as it is an open and closed system which usually flows into the ocean for about six months of the year. Baby fish, representing quite a few rare and endangered species, make their way en masse from the north of the country and move into the estuary system when it is open. As such, keeping the estuary in a healthy state is not only important to Goukamma, but also to fish populations up and down the South African coast.

TRIP PLANNER • Getting there Goukamma is located off the N2, about 40 km east of George and 20 km west of Knysna.

Tour guide Mark Dixon and a hiker stop to investigate a giant washed-up jellyfish. A view over Groenvlei from the deck of Mvubu cottage.

• Accommodation Tucked-away cottages and thatched rondavels all have commanding views over the sea, river or lake. Mvubu (sleeps four): R670 a night weekdays, R840 weekends, R1 200 peak season. Three double, thatched rondavels (sleep 4 to 5 people, base rate 1 or 2 people): R280 a night weekdays, R380 weekends. Additional person R130 a night weekdays, R180 weekends. Peak season (1 to 5 people) R1 000. There isn’t any camping in Goukamma, but there are excellent campsites at Lake Pleasant (www.lake-pleasant. on the western side of the park and Buffalo Bay ( on the eastern border. • Activities Six well-maintained hiking trails offer spectacular views, great bird spotting and a sense of peaceful isolation. Get a free hiking permit from the reserve office. To explore the park on foot with Mark Dixon, visit or call 082-213-5931. Hire a single canoe (R60) or double (R100) to explore the river. The reserve office also sells freshwater angling licences (R45). • Contact CapeNature 0861-227-362-8873


Gamkaberg Nature Reserve

y Famil



Gamkaberg is an isolated mountain range in the Little Karoo, lying between the Swartberg and Outeniqua Mountains. The name Gamka is derived from the khoi-khoi (‘Hottentot’) word gami, meaning lion. The reserve was established in 1974 in order to conserve a local population of endangered Cape mountain zebra and their natural habitat. The terrain is rugged, with mountainous plateaus incised by deep ravines.

Eco Lodges

One of three luxury accommodation options (Tierkloof, Sweet thorn or Fossil Ridge Eco-Lodges) built from thatch & reed and Safari style comfortable tents could be your hideaway. Each one of the eco lodges has a lapa braai area and splash pool. You could also decide to stay in the Stables. This is the ideal spot if you don’t want the hassle of pitching your own tent.There is electricity and water on tap but remember to bring your torches. A sheltered lapa/braai area is situated just in front of the Stables. Tents may be pitched in the dedicated areas by the shelter if you prefer. Ou Kraal is a remote campsite located at the top of the mountain plateau and is ideal for 4x4 and hiking enthusiasts.It consist of a basic but quaint stone shelter and a hearth, the location provides spectucalar views over the Quteniqua and Swartberg mountains.The campsite is only booked out to one group at a time thus ensuring complete privacy.Guest going up by 4x4 must please arrive no later than 15h00. Keep your eyes open for the elusive and endangered Cape Mountain – zebra’s Nearest town: Oudtshoorn – 33km South-west; Calitzdorp – 32km South-east. Region: Klein Karoo

Bush Camps

Come and soak up the peace and experience it !

RESERVATIONS: Tel: 0861 CAPENATURE(227 362 8873) 7h30 - 16h30 Pensioner rate - 30% T&C apply.

Conserve. Explore. Experience.

CEDERBERG heritage route

ROCK OF AGES The stunning Pakhuis Pass, a giant warehouse of startling rock formations.

a hike through time

If you follow the footpaths over the Cederberg, you’ll find a landscape of stories, written in the rock and the hearts of the people.



igh up in the rocky crags of the Ceder­ berg, in a tiny village cradled by a teagrowing valley, the show is about to start. Past the white thatched cottages tumbling down the slopes, past the rooibos plantations and the donkeys milling in the dirt road, to the small Moravian church. Hymns float in the chill evening air. Inside the plain church hall most of Heuningvlei’s 85 people are assembled. Tannies and ooms, babies and toddlers. Teenagers, home for the holidays and running the festivities. Most seated expectantly, though not the scampering toddlers nor the teenagers slipping in and out of the stage curtain. The curtain finally opens with Die Nuus van Heuningvlei, delivered by a girl behind a desk, in tie and stiff white shirt, a female Riaan Cruywagen. Beulin and Maxon have been arrested for stealing R2’s worth of goods from Auntie Ounooi’s house … Village youth are fundraising for a new pair of velskoene for Kobus, who lost both his shoes and donkeys in the mountains … Uncle Hennie is searching for his missing tortoise. Reward: one sunhat. AUTUMN 2011 WILD 29


The hall roars with laughter as the villagers, young and old, take the stage for a story, skit or dance. When one old man, grizzled with a bad eye, tells a story in the vernacular and then starts dancing, flinging his legs all over the place and joined by a little boy clapping, we ask ourselves: “How on earth did we get here?” The simple answer, confirmed by aches from the feet up: we walked.

our journey. Michelle drives us up the winding road north of Clanwilliam into the mountains, in the near-dark. At the top we disembark: three ‘tourists’ (myself, my 13-year-old son Rafe and photographer Karin), Michelle, and guide John Mbulelo Mountain (an apt name if there ever was one). The light of the full moon bathes the giant sandstone amphitheatre, full of enormous rocks sculpted by a wild imagination. A huge silence. You feel very small up here. “Another tourist who came here,” Michelle says in response to The people’s route our awe, “said ‘no, it can’t be true God made the world in seven Heuningvlei is the flagship village of the Cederberg Heritage Route (CHR), an ecotourism project started in October 2007 to days. Surely he needed more time to stack all these rocks on top uplift local communities. The brainchild of veteran hikers Denis of each other!’” Le Jeune and Peter Hart, both from Cape Town, the CHR has so John points to three peaks in the distance. “Faith, Hope and far hosted nearly 300 hikers on four trails. A fifth trail, the four- Charity,” he says. “Named by the poet Louis Leipoldt, whose night Gabriel Trail, opens in March this year. The trails wind grave lies not far away.” through the Cederberg Wilderness Area, which is managed by Michelle reluctantly departs, headed back to the office. John CapeNature (a CHR partner and Wild Card partner), with local leads the way on the white sand track, fringed by mountain fynpeople acting as guides. Accommodation, including tasty boere­ bos, as the rising sun shades the rock walls pink and ochre. Soon kos, is in locals’ own homes or guesthouses. the cicadas are chirping, growing louder. “It’s not a hiking trail,” says Le Jeune, the CHR’s honorary “I love the mountains,” John confides as we walk, mostly not treasurer. “You’re working with and being talking. “They are quiet, though you hear a helped by the local community. The only lot of sounds: baboons, for instance, instead “It’s not a hiking thing like it that I’ve ever seen are the tea cars. I usually fast before going into nature, trail. The only thing of houses serving trekkers in Nepal.” to get the feelings of nature better. When you like it that I’ve It’s called slackpacking, Le Jeune explains. respect nature you can respect yourself.” You carry only a light daypack; your luggage John’s been trained as a guide through the ever seen are the Clanwilliam Living Landscape Project (angets transported by bakkie or donkey cart, tea houses serving the area’s traditional transport. Every step other CHR partner), including learning about trekkers in Nepal.” rock art from the renowned John Parkington, you take on the CHR is not only lighter, it’s a professor of archeology at the University of step towards helping local people, a step into Cape Town. As he taps ahead with his walking stick, he’s in his their lives, history and culture. Let it be said: the three-night Pakhuis Trail, which we did, is not element, kept his ability to be awestruck. One of his favourite for couch-potatoes. Roughly 34 kilometres, mostly hiked over two words is “wow”. days, it’s rated 3B by Cedarberg African Travel (CAT), one of the “Will we see any animals?” Rafe asks. Maybe baboons, dasCHR partners. “Steeper walking/hiking and/or a longer distance …” sies, antelope, a leopard if we’re lucky, John says. He’s seen two “I’m sending you on this one because it’s the most beautileopards in the past two years, as well as, of course, many of the ful, especially from Pakhuis Pass to Krakadouw,” says Michelle other Cederberg species: African wildcat, lynx, bat-eared and Truter, CAT’s helpful point person for the heritage route. Hikers Cape foxes, aardvark, grey mongoose, a puffadder and a black spitting cobra. We probably won’t see many of them, though from the minimum age of nine to 70-something have made it, she says. But in December, with 37-degree heat? “If you want John points out porcupine tracks and where an aardvark has a bit of coolness, sit under a rock,” Michelle grins. There are ravaged a termite mound. Nor will we see the carpet of flowers that blooms here every plenty of those. spring, though stray wildflowers, pink, purple, white or yellow, A rugged landscape add a splash of colour. We will see a lot of rocks. John says: “You can spend the The next day we’re up at 04h30 to beat the heat and to catch the sunrise over Pakhuis Pass, 900 metres high and the start of whole day staring at the rocks and using your imagination.”

1. There are more than 3 000 known rock art sites in the Cederberg. Highly knowledgeable guide David van der Westhuizen will open your eyes to their beauty and meaning. 2. You can hike for days on end. This troop of scouts was into its 120th kilometre. 3. The moon sets over the Pakhuis Pass. 30 WILD AUTUMN 2011

4. Guide John Mountain has been walking these peaks for years yet he’s still blown away by the natural beauty. 5. Stray wildflowers add a splash of colour. In spring the Cederberg is blanketed in fields of flowers. 6. The rocky landscape is heaven for Southern rock agama. When threatened their bright colours fade and they blend into the rock.

Try to see the art through the eyes of the painter.




What does that rock look like? An aeroplane, a rhinoceros, Pinocchio?




The Moravian mission station of Heuningvlei, population 85, is a highlight of the trail.

Villagers still travel largely by donkey cart or on foot.

Henit, vel eril etue do diamconsequi bla commy nos alit aliquis moleseq uamcoreetum venim.

RIGHT: The engine behind ecotourism in Heuningvlei, Abraham Ockhuis. The village land used to belong to his family.

He skips the standard lecture on the Cederberg, about the 100-kilometre long mountain chain being part of the Cape Floral Kingdom and a World Heritage Site. One of the four best places in Africa to see rock art and home to the San for thousands of years. Named after the Clanwilliam cedars Widdringtonia cedarbergensis, once plentiful on the upper slopes but decimated in the 19th century for furniture and telephone poles. Rather he leads us on and into a game: What does that rock look like? A clipper ship, John says. An aeroplane, says Rafe. I think it looks like a rhinoceros. The game continues as we walk through the pass, built between 1874 and 1877 by the famous Thomas Bain to link Clanwilliam and Calvinia and open a stretch of road to Heuningvlei. Pakhuis literally means warehouse, and at first it all looks like oversized storage of rocky goods. But then we see horses, eagles, Asian dancers, Pinocchio. And just rocks again, mammoth boulders perched precariously. Rocks above us, around us, and beneath us where we have to watch our step. Roughly 15 kilometres later we reach the edge of a cliff. Down below in a farmer’s green field lies a welcome sight: the little white cottages of Krakadouw, our day’s destination. Way down below. “We’re almost there, not far now,” John says, trying to console us as we wind slowly down the snaky, steep path of loose stones. The others are coping but I, quite frankly, am ready to die. My joints are screaming. 00 WILD AUTUMN 2011 32

ABOVE: Tannie Noss, one of Heuningvlei’s charming hosts and a great storyteller.

“Only an hour to get there,” John adds. An interminable hour. All I can hear is Michelle’s voice: “We’ve had only one rescue mission so far. A group of ladies were training to hike Mount Kilimanjaro and got caught between two rivers. We had to send in a helicopter to get them.” We, I, make it at last. Without a helicopter.

A village of stories

It’s much cooler the next day, with rain spitting. Rafe and Karin take off from the Krakadouw cottages with guide Barend Ockhuis, to climb up and over Krakadouw Nek (1 745 m) and descend to Heuningvlei. I catch a lift with the baggage transfer, the old bakkie that is Heuning­vlei’s only vehicle, driven by the amiable David Engelbrecht. Nearly two hours later, through the Biedouw Valley, past plantations of feathery green rooibos, ringed by jagged mountains, I reach the village. Once a farm belonging to the Ockhuis family, Heuningvlei is now home to 28 families. Mostly subsistence farmers growing rooibos, sugar beans and pota­toes. Children play in the gravel road; women do their washing in colourful buckets outside; the ubiquitous donkeys find a patch of grass for themselves. At the top of the village, in a cottage set over glacial rock, lives Tannie Noss, Maria Solomon, whose Nossie’s Place is one of the three CHR accommodations in town. “People like to come here,” Tannie says, settling down at the small kitchen table to share a cup





CAPTIVATING Once seen, the lithe and powerful beauty of the leopard is seldom forgotten.



Enigmatic and elusive, the leopards of the Cape are ever present, yet seldom seen. Andrew Baxter calls on journals, camera traps and GPS to pick up their trail.

here are few wilderness areas in Southern Africa where natural populations of large predators still roam free. One of the last vestiges of unproclaimed wilderness is the network of mountains that extends in a continuous arc for 1 600 km from the Cederberg in the west to Baviaanskloof in the east. Encompassing both private and public land, the Cape Fold Belt mountains support a diversity of plants and animals and form a natural corridor for species migration. These remote refuges also provide safe havens for small numbers of beautiful and secretive felines known colloquially as Cape leopards. Until recently, not much was known about the ecology and social dynamics of these solitary and largely nocturnal predators. Notoriously invisible in the rugged mountain landscape, their elusive nature and the complex terrain in which they occur has made the task of studying them especially difficult. To put the story of Cape leopards into some sort of biogeographical perspective, it’s worth looking back to the late 1950s when an adventurous young man from the Strand decided to walk along the spine of the Cape mountains from the coast near Betty’s Bay to the Cederberg, a distance of some 300 km. His mission, which took more than a year to complete, involved piecing together an epic route over unexplored tracts of State and private land during weekends and holidays. He and some long-suffering companions found their way through the Boland Mountains to Fransch­ hoek and on to Bainskloof via the Wemmershoek and Du Toitskloof massifs. Having climbed the imposing Winterhoek Mountains near Tulbagh they faced their biggest challenge in the rugged Skurweberge wilderness that lay beyond. Finally, they traversed the length of the Cederberg from the Koue Bokkeveld in the south to the Pakhuis Pass in the north. Reading through the mountaineering journals of RW Baxter more than half a century later, I realise several things. This epic adventure represents a truly notable accomplishment at the time, full of hardships involving precipitous cliffs, impenetrable fynbos and, in places, the total absence of water. What really struck me was the frequent reference to the presence of leopards. Panthera pardus, it seems, was an ethereal presence in the mountain landscape. Leopards were everywhere but nowhere, omnipresent yet imperceptible, behind every bush but always, frustratingly, just out of sight. RW’s observations describe the regular sighting of fresh spoor and desiccated scats but also more tantalising signs such as claw-scoured trees oozing with sap, the pungent smell of urine used to AUTUMN 2011 WILD 37

A series of camera trap pictures showing leopards that occur in the Cederberg.

demark territorial boundaries and occasionally at night, the signature rasping cough of this mysterious prowling predator. As their journey progressed, the intrepid explorers traversed a variety of biomes ranging from the verdant fynbos slopes of the mist-shrouded Overberg in the south to the hyper-arid karroid fringes of the Tanqua Karoo in the north. They also experienced strikingly different climatic conditions during their long odyssey. On one occasion their efforts to progress through the Winterhoek were thwarted by bitter cold and waist-deep snow and they were forced to bivouac in the aptly named Sneeugat cave. On another occasion, in the region of Hondverbrand, temperatures well in excess of 40o C left them parched and in desperate need of water. Despite the extremes and the divergent habitats in the mountains, leopard signs were prevalent in kloofs and ravines and along rocky slopes.

An undeserved reputation

BELOW LEFT: Elizabeth Martins of The Cape Leopard Trust using VHF radio tracking equipment to locate female leopard F10, also known as Spot. BELOW RIGHT: One of the magnificent Cape leopards snapped by the camera trap.

Leopards of course are well known for their ability to survive in diverse and ‘hostile’ environments. Leopards occur in the tropical jungles of Africa and Asia, in the arid mountains of North Africa and along the Arabian Peninsula and, in the case of the snow leopard P unica at altitudes up to 6 000 m in the high mountains of central Asia. Cape leopards have been saddled with an undeserved reputation for ferocity, despite their shy and retiring habits. Farmers near Op-die-Berg and in the Koue Bokkeveld warned the young men they risked

being eaten by “tigers”. On one occasion, deep in the recesses of the Skurweberge, an elderly farmer offered them numerous tots of home-made brandy to fortify themselves against the “marauding” predators. Once sufficiently lubricated, the old man regaled them with countless stories of leopard depredations and produced several skins and a stuffed animal to prove his point. Unsettled perhaps, but undeterred, the men pushed on. By the time they reached the Cederberg they had become well versed in leopard lore, both fact and fiction. While there has never been a recorded incident of an unprovoked leopard attack on a person in the Cape, stock farmers regarded leopards, caracal and jackal as vermin and believed vehemently the only good leopard was a dead leopard. This viewpoint, which has become deeply embedded in the farming community, dates back more than 300 years. Filling the role of apex predator in the Cape, leo­pards are often considered the first suspects in relation to stock mortality and they have been persecuted ruthlessly. It is estimated that only a couple of hundred leopards remain in the vast mountain chain of the Western Cape. Trapping (cage traps or leghold traps) and poisoning are common methods of predator ‘control’, but they can be highly unselective, resulting in the death and mutilation not only of predators, but also of non-target species such as Cape fox, honey badgers, porcupine and baboon. Although leopards are internationally listed as a threatened species under Cites and as a vulnerable species under South African legislation


Despite their shy and retiring habits, Cape leopards have been saddled with an undeserved reputation for ferocity.


(TOPS), the statutory authorities still regard them as damage-causing predators and issue permits for their extermination. Even though RW Baxter failed to see a leopard during his exploration of the Cape mountains, he was sufficiently inspired by the wilderness to embark on a career in conservation.

Unlocking the mysteries

GET INVOLVED The Cape Leo­pard Trust works to conserve the Cape’s predators and educate youth from disadvantaged communities. For more information, visit www.capeleopard. or call 027482-9923.

Our story now turns to another young man whose innate passion for leopards has motivated him to study and conserve these elusive cats. Dr Quinton Martins is the co-founder and project manager of The Cape Leopard Trust and, for the past seven years, he and his team of researchers have studied leopards in the mountainous regions of the Cederberg, Boland, Na­ maqualand and the Klein Karoo. Quinton’s doctoral research is concerned specifically with the ecology of leopards in the Cederberg region and the results of his work have been ground-breaking. Building on the pioneering work of Peter Norton in the 1970s and 80s, and using an array of high-tech equipment that includes GPS radio-collars for animal tracking and remote infra-red camera traps, Quinton has been able to unlock some of the mysteries of Cape leopard ecology in remarkable detail. Some of the interesting data to emerge from his research relates to the physical and behavioural differences between Cape leopards and those that one might typically encounter in places such as Kruger, Etosha, the Kalahari or northern KwaZulu-Natal. Firstly, in the Cape region it seems that size really

does matter. In these rugged, mountainous and generally treeless environments leopards are significantly smaller than their hefty bushveld counterparts. Male Cape leopards average 35 kg in weight compared with the 60 kg of their northern cousins. The largest male leopards in the bushveld, for example, can reach 90 kg whereas the largest leopard recorded in the Karoo part of the Cederberg is 48 kg. Females weigh a mere 20 kg. The reason for this profound difference in size and weight is probably due to the very few naturally occurring large prey species in the fynbos mountains. Here leopards tend to prey on smaller species, mainly klipspringer and dassies, which together constitute almost 80 per cent of the diet of leopards in the Cederberg. The near absence of large prey species combined with relatively low prey densities of mostly smaller species implies greater relative energy expenditure versus energy income for Cape leopards, a factor which strongly influences body size. In order to be successful in catching their prey, Cape leopards need to be extremely agile and capable of covering large distances across difficult terrain, traits which also favour a more compact morphology. GPS radio-collars on leopards have revealed that home ranges of Cape leopards are significantly larger than those of bushveld leopards. In Kruger, for example, the average home range of a territorial male leopard may vary from 25 to 50 km2. In the Cederberg the average home range of a territorial male leopard is on average 300 km2 but it can be as much as 1 000 km2. This profound difference in the size of home ranges goes a long way towards dispelling the myth that leo­

LEFT: Quinton Martins of The Cape Leopard Trust investigates spoor. Leopards often follow the line of least resistance such as a jeep track. TOP RIGHT: Willem and Quinton fit a leopard with a GPS collar. On such an occasion they also measure the leopard and gather genetic material. BOTTOM RIGHT: Cape leopards are found in the Cape Fold Belt mountains.


In the Cederberg the average home range of a territorial male is 300 km². SECRETIVE The leopard’s spotted coat and stealthy way make it hard to see.

In order to be successful in catching their prey, Cape leopards need to be extremely agile and capable of covering large distances across difficult terrain.

pards are abundant in the Cape mountains. Because Cape leopards, both males and females, range considerable distances each day in search of prey, a solitary leopard is easily capable of crossing several properties in a single night. Because leopards often follow the line of least resistance such as a jeep track or fence line, their easily identifiable spoor are often misconstrued as a sign of leopard abundance within the landscape.


DNA differences

The Cape Leopard Trust has been trying to discover whether there is any significant genetic variability between Cape leopards and those from elsewhere in the country. A comprehensive DNA study, in collaboration with the University of Stellenbosch, is currently trying to determine the degree of genetic variability and genetic relatedness among South African leopard populations. A key objective of this study is to establish whether or not the Cape leopards should be regarded as a unique ‘genetic unit’ or, in more practical terms, a ‘separate management unit’. Although the results of the genetic study have not yet been released, it would seem there is sufficient evidence to support the notion that there has been a significant geographical and temporal separation of Cape leopards from leopards in other parts of the country. In this regard any translocations of leopards out of, and into, the Western Cape region may have profound ramifications for the genetic integrity of Cape leo­ pards. On this basis, and the fact that relocations are considered ecologically unsound for solitary predators, the Cape Leopard Trust has issued a statement that there should be a moratorium on any leopard translocations and introductions in the region. Perhaps the most important aspect of Quinton Martins’ work on leopards has been the manner in which he has tackled the thorny issue of farmerpredator relations. To put this matter into perspective, it is worth noting that up until 2004, approximately eight leopards were killed on average each year in the Cederberg. Since the inception of the Cape Leopard Trust, only two leopards have died in the intervening years as a result of human-predator conflict. With the realisation that a stable population of leopards can contribute to the natural regulation of secondary predators, farmers are beginning to appreciate the important function that leopards have in achieving ecological balance. This positive trend has

much to do with the proactive manner in which the Cederberg farmers have embraced the importance of biodiversity by adopting a more holistic, responsible and precautionary approach to stock management. Credit must go to members of the 170 000 ha Cederberg conservancy who have voluntarily imposed a ban on gin-trapping and killing of leopards within their conservancy, the first initiative of this kind anywhere in the country by such a large group of landowners. As our story about Cape leopards draws to a conclusion, it is worth pondering the following incident: In November 2010, Quinton was leading a group of grade 10 boys as they cautiously tracked a female leo­ pard known affectionately as Spot. Having spent years hiking more than 10 000 km through this rugged terrain, Quinton was acutely aware of just how unlikely it was that the boys would see a leopard. Then suddenly, as if ordained, Spot emerged from behind a rock and gracefully turned to observe her followers before slowly melting away into the fynbos to attend to her cubs. For the boys the experience was both profound and palpable. Perhaps in some inexplicable way, Spot was imparting the spiritual essence of what it means to be free and to be a leopard. Whatever the case, Spot is sure to have left an indelible impression in the minds of eight young men, one of whom may just be inspired enough to become the next custodian of the remarkable and enigmatic ‘Cape’ leopard. Andrew Baxter is chairman of The Cape Leopard Trust. His father, RW Baxter, died in 1969 at the age of 29 in what was then South West Africa, shortly after having established the Namib-Naukluft park. His son was too young to know him, but treasures his journals.

Reader event

Wild magazine and Cape Union Mart invite you to a talk and slideshow by The Cape Leopard Trust. Cape Town: Thursday 26 May at 18:30, Cape Union Mart Adventure Centre, Canal Walk. Johannesburg: Thursday 9 June at 18:30, Cape Union Mart Adventure Centre, Eastgate. Wild Card members can enjoy 10% discount on shopping at the event. The talk is FREE but seats are limited so please RSVP to events@capeunionmart. by 20 May.



The good doctor The battle against poaching of rhino and other big game continues. Scott Ramsay spent a frenetic week with the vet at the centre of it all, Dave Cooper.


& his wild patients

THE TEAM Dr Dave Cooper (right) and Dumisane Zwane of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife discuss tactics before rescuing an orphaned baby rhino. PRICELESS An old rhino in iSimangaliso Wetland Park ... now more valuable than ever.


T Giraffes are tricky to dart as they’re very sensitive and can die because of the trauma. This one lived.

1 Capturing a giraffe to remove a snare. 2 Dumisane Zwane watches Dr Cooper take off in a helicopter to dart a baby rhino ahead of rescue. 3 The capture team move the baby rhino to the safety of a boma. 4 The mother of the calf, shot dead by poachers.

he giraffe had been limping badly for several days. A wire snare had cut deeply into the flesh of its right hind leg, just above the ankle. “Poachers probably set that snare for an antelope,” veterinarian Dave Cooper said. “Then they would have come back a few days later to see what had been caught.” When any animal steps into a snare, usually tied to a tree trunk, the noose tightens as the creature tries to pull itself free. An antelope may not have the strength, but an adult giraffe would be strong enough to rip the snare from the tree, eventually. The noose, however, remains embedded in the raw flesh, tightly bound around the limb. A team of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife rangers isolated the giraffe from its herd in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Dave darted it with a drug that made it very dozy. Restrained with ropes by the rangers, the intoxicated animal toppled over onto its side. “Please, whatever you do, do not let the giraffe raise its head off the ground!” Dave implored the team of rangers. He said it again as he walked up to the prostrate giraffe: “You must keep downward pressure on its head!” Giraffes are peculiar in many ways, possessing the longest legs, longest tail, longest neck and biggest hearts of land mammals. But one of the stranger things about them is that if their head is held down firmly on the ground, it’s impossible for them to get up, even if no other part of the body is restrained. The key word is firmly. Despite their undoubted elegance, giraffes are powerful animals and without sufficient downward force on the head, things can go wrong quickly. As the two rangers assigned to holding down this giraffe’s head were about to find out. As Dave reached to cut the snare off its leg, the animal stirred from its drug-induced dreams and shook

Giraffes are powerful animals and things can go wrong quickly.



its head free of the rangers’ grip. It raised its head like a huge periscope. Alarmed, everyone backed off, dodging the flailing legs. A well-aimed kick could crack a man’s skull. It seemed the giraffe might get away, the snare still on its ankle. But the experienced veterinarian had other ideas. Like a Springbok rugby flank, he ran and dive-tackled the giraffe’s neck as the six-metre giant was getting to its feet. The giraffe swayed in the air with Dave hanging on desperately, his arms and legs wrapped tightly around the animal’s neck. Bizarre and courageous in equal measure. After several interminable seconds, the giraffe crashed again to the ground. The rest of the team came running back to help. This time the contrite rangers made sure the giraffe’s head stayed down. Dave finally managed to cut the stout snare with wire cutters. It had torn into the animal’s leg for so long the skin had started to grow over the noose. Antibiotic ointment was applied and an antidote to the darting drug injected. Everyone backed off again. The hungover giraffe stood up, walked a few paces and turned to gaze at us with its big eyes and long eyelashes. “He’ll be fine from here,” Dave said, sweat trickling from his forehead. “But I could do with a cold beer right now!” Although bruised and lacerated from his altercation with Earth’s tallest animal, the vet still smiled from ear to ear. “Phew! It’s nice to be able to work on a live animal for once. I’ve seen too many dead rhinos this week.” Dave had just endured one of the busier weeks of his 16-year career at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Four postmortems on white rhino killed by poachers, one baby rhino rescued and now a giraffe desnared. “And I was supposed to be on holiday at the moment!” he laughed. Dr Dave Cooper is the sole veterinarian in a conservation organisation which manages wildlife areas

guardians Rhino


whose total size exceeds that of some small countries. Besides giraffe and all the other iconic wildlife species, these game reserves are also home to the world’s second-largest population of rhino, the most commercially valuable land mammal on the planet. Last year was the worst for rhino poaching in the organisation’s history, with more than 30 rhino killed by poachers for their horns. Dave performed postmortems on most of them.

because everything else in Africa has been wiped out.” “It may be the most valuable commodity in the world at the moment,” Dave emphasised. “More than gold, diamonds or platinum. There’s just too much money involved for some people.” We met up with a group of local rangers and police officers at the side of Opathe’s main internal road. The carcass was located several kilometres from there. Dave grabbed his kit and the group set off on foot. There’s a good reason why the Zulu kings are buried near here. It’s a beguiling landscape of mist-belt A killing in heaven grasslands, valley bushveld and riparian forest. Rocky A dark cold front had pushed up over Zululand from the Indian Ocean, thick cloud casting a gloom over outcrops, umbrella thorn trees and sandy river beds what is usually South Africa’s most tropical province. decorate the canvas, befitting of the meaning of the Dave got a call that the carcass of Zulu word: ‘heaven’. The aroma of busha white rhino had been found at veld and symphonic chorus of cicadas Baby rhinos Opathe game reserve outside seemed to lull the conversation of the sometimes stay walking men. But the men were soon Ulundi, the capital of Zululand. near their dead Opathe is a relatively small, knocked from their reverie by the sickly 8 000-hectare reserve on the edge mothers for several stench of death. of eMakhosini, The Valley of the weeks, refusing to The female white rhino lay on its side. Legs stiff, the face hacked apart to reKings where seven Zulu chiefs leave their side. are buried. It’s also near iMfolozi move the horns. No-one said anything. Instead, the men stood and gazed as if at a funeral. game reserve, once the exclusive hunting grounds What came next was a shock to Dave. “She had a calf,” of King Shaka. While antelope, buffalo and even one of the rangers said. “Probably nine-months old.” elephant were hunted, the ancient Zulus left black and white rhinoceroses alone. It was an unspoken The rangers had seen the calf lying near its dead decree, and transgressors were severely beaten. mother the previous day, but now it was nowhere to Times have changed. These days Opathe and iMfolo- be seen. Baby rhinos sometimes stay near their dead zi have seen a big increase in the poaching of these mothers for several weeks, refusing to leave their side. Some even try to suckle milk from the carcass. prehistoric giants. “You’ll probably find that while the poachers were “I’ve lost track of how many rhino have been killed,” Dave said as we drove the hundred-odd butchering its mother, they had thrown stones at the baby to chase it away,” Dave said, his frustration thinly kilometres to the reserve. “We thought 2009 was veiled. “Once we’ve done the postmortem, we’ve got bad but 2010 has been way worse. The Chinese and Vietnamese syndicates control the rhino horn market to do everything to find that calf, otherwise it will die through cartels. I think their stock is starting to run out here.” After the police had done a quick inspection of the low, so they’re looking for more supply, and where do surrounding area, Dave set about the postmortem. you find it? Mostly south of the Limpopo River, 3

2000 –2007 Average 15 per year


83 cases


122 cases


315 cases According to the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa.




Chantal Dickson feeds the rescued rhino before its release into the boma, where it will be nursed until it’s old enough to survive on its own in the wild.

Dr Ian Player on rhino poaching

The conservation authorities are doing their absolute best. I believe that it’s very important that the public become aware of what is happening, that they report anything that is suspicious.

Read more about Dr Player’s views on

“Two bullets. Look, here’s the first hole.” Dave pointed to a bullet wound just behind the jaw bone, where maggots were starting their decomposition work. “It would have caused massive concussion, but it wouldn’t have killed the rhino.” The first shot having stunned the animal, the poachers had enough time to walk up to it and shoot it a second time at close range. “Here’s the second bullet wound,” Dave said, pointing to a hole midway between the ear and the eye. The rangers cut the head from the body so the postmortem team could dig out the bullets from the back of the skull. Dave quickly found the first bullet, which had been flattened on impact with the bone. After half an hour of looking, Dave couldn’t find the second bullet: “It’s deep in the brain cavity.” So two rangers put a pole through the decapitated head and carried it back to the truck. Every head from every rhino killed by poachers is boiled and cleaned, then tagged and the DNA is taken. It’s all stored as future evidence. “I think I’ve become hardened to these killings,” Dave said despondently, walking back to the cars, clearly worried where it would all end. Despite plenty of rhino killings in KwaZulu-Natal, there have been no convictions of rhino poachers yet.

Police inconsistency and budget deficits make effective prosecution difficult, while a litany of social ills such as murder, rape and child abuse has placed dead rhinos well down the list of the national law enforcement’s priorities. “Now we have to find that baby, that’s the only positive thing that can happen now. But we need a helicopter. We won’t find it on foot at this stage.”

Tracking down baby

For the next two days Dave was flown over the reserve in a private helicopter, courtesy of World Wildlife Fund. The rest of the iMfolozi game capture team waited on the ground with trucks, ropes and a big dose of concern for the baby rhino. Several highly trained and dedicated rangers are at the heart of this elite group. Dumisane Zwane is Dave’s right-hand man and runs the ground crew while the vet is airborne. Chantal Dickson looks after all the animals at the iMfolozi bomas, keeping them fed and happy. The first day yielded no results. The umbrella thorn trees had grown thick with the summer rains, and the baby rhino was probably hiding from the noisy helicopter. The second day the Opathe rangers spotted the calf, but by the time the helicopter had arrived from Richard’s Bay, they had lost sight of it.

Plant Poachers It’s not only antelope and rhinos getting poached in KwaZulu-Natal’s parks. More than 800 plant species are used for medicinal and muti purposes. Steve McKean has been the resource ecologist for the Drakensberg for 19 years, studying the illegal harvesting of plants. He calculates 7 500 tonnes of plants are collected from the wild every year in KZN. “That’s 7 500 bakkies piled high with plants!” High up on the endangered list are species such as wild ginger Siphonochilus aethiopicus which is now extinct in the wild. “The ginger is actually very effective at treating colds,” Steve said, “but most of the plants don’t have much medicinal value. “Our rangers caught some poachers at Garden Castle with 70 mealie sacks full of plants. Yet the


magistrates throw cases out of court because the victims claim they didn’t know it was illegal. “The plant poaching is much bigger than a conservation issue,” Steve added. “People are doing this because they have no choice. There’s no employment for them. It’s an economic issue, a job creation issue and healthcare issue.” Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is starting to propagate threatened plant species to reintroduce these into the wild. Plans are afoot to supply seed to the market. “But we’re not going to let people go into our parks and dig up plants,” Steve stated emphatically. If you see evidence of the poaching of plants in any of the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife parks, email Steve McKean

Gamkaberg Nature Reserve

y Famil



Gamkaberg is an isolated mountain range in the Little Karoo, lying between the Swartberg and Outeniqua Mountains. The name Gamka is derived from the khoi-khoi (‘Hottentot’) word gami, meaning lion. The reserve was established in 1974 in order to conserve a local population of endangered Cape mountain zebra and their natural habitat. The terrain is rugged, with mountainous plateaus incised by deep ravines.

Eco Lodges

One of three luxury accommodation options (Tierkloof, Sweet thorn or Fossil Ridge Eco-Lodges) built from thatch & reed and Safari style comfortable tents could be your hideaway. Each one of the eco lodges has a lapa braai area and splash pool. You could also decide to stay in the Stables. This is the ideal spot if you don’t want the hassle of pitching your own tent.There is electricity and water on tap but remember to bring your torches. A sheltered lapa/braai area is situated just in front of the Stables. Tents may be pitched in the dedicated areas by the shelter if you prefer. Ou Kraal is a remote campsite located at the top of the mountain plateau and is ideal for 4x4 and hiking enthusiasts.It consist of a basic but quaint stone shelter and a hearth, the location provides spectucalar views over the Quteniqua and Swartberg mountains.The campsite is only booked out to one group at a time thus ensuring complete privacy.Guest going up by 4x4 must please arrive no later than 15h00. Keep your eyes open for the elusive and endangered Cape Mountain – zebra’s Nearest town: Oudtshoorn – 33km South-west; Calitzdorp – 32km South-east. Region: Klein Karoo

Bush Camps

Come and soak up the peace and experience it !

RESERVATIONS: Tel: 0861 CAPENATURE(227 362 8873) 7h30 - 16h30 Pensioner rate - 30% T&C apply.

Conserve. Explore. Experience.



Rhino caretaker Vusumuzi Simelane and guard Sibusiso Mthwethwa comfort a rhino.

A guard watches over iMfolozi’s rhino bomas at night.


Dumisane reluctantly gave it a few mild shocks with Eventually the patrolling rangers saw it again and Dave flew overhead to dart it, while the game capture the cattle prod, and it moved into the crate, which was unit drove off-road through the bush to the hovering then raised onto the back of the truck. chopper. The big truck with the rhino crate followed The truck arrived back at the bomas late in the slowly behind. evening. The fatigued calf was placed in a boma with But a deep donga blocked the plenty of food, formulated milk and 4x4s from driving closer. “Run, Rhino horn may be a goat. “A little rhino will get lonely,” Dave run, run!” came the call over the the most valuable two-way radios from Dave, amid said, “just like a human. The goat will commodity in the the thwump, thwump, thwump of keep him company.” world at the mothe helicopter’s blades. Adrenalin The game capture team headed surged and heart rates rocketed. home, but Chantal stayed for a while, ment. More than The crew sprinted several hundred gold, diamonds or still concerned. Then security took metres over rocky terrain. “Come over the night-shift, keeping watch at platinum. on!” Dumisane urged the rest of the boma until Chantal returned to the team. “Let’s move it!” monitor the baby. The first ranger saw it: the rhino calf! No higher Over the next few days, three more white rhino were found dead in iMfolozi. Unlike at Opathe, where than a man’s waist, yet still weighing several hundred kilograms. Blind in one eye, “from a rock that the amateurs had hacked the horns off, these poachers poachers threw at it”, Dave confirmed later. It was were experts. shaking, leaning against a tree. A ranger looped a “You can see they’ve done it a few times before,” Dave said. The lower horns had been cut off at their rope around the back leg, then placed a blindfold over its eyes to calm it down. Then ropes were tied base with minimum of damage, and the upper horn around its horn. was neatly cut from the flesh. The rest of the carcass Dave jumped out of the chopper and ran to adhad been devoured by hyenas and vultures, even minister the antidote to the darting drug. “He probthough Dave estimated the kill was only two to three days old. At iMfolozi there are plenty of scavengers to ably hasn’t eaten for several days,” he said. “But he’s not dehydrated fortunately. He looks like he’s been do the clean-up work. drinking.” The bullets were found and photos taken. There wasn’t much more to do, except take DNA samples in Then came the hard part: jogging the rhino back to the crate. Convincing a recalcitrant rhino to move case the police find the horns and can match them to requires two things: a powerful electric cattle prod to the carcass. get it moving and a lot of muscle to keep it moving. “That giraffe and baby rhino we saved, that’s what And so five people pulled and four people pushed the makes my job rewarding. I couldn’t do anything else.” calf back down the donga, and up again, its short legs Dave looked away, then said, “But we have to stop the sometimes stumbling on the rocky terrain. rhino poaching. There’s so much to do.” Quietly he added, “I think I’m ready for my holiday.” “Come on boy,” Chantal urged. “Come on, almost It had been a long week, at the end of a long year. there.” The calf collapsed near the truck, exhausted.

4x4 adventure

The Rough Road to the


An exclusive cottage accessible only along a rugged 4x4 trail is a passport to the splendid isolation of a hidden corner of Karoo National Park. By Geoff Dalglish

The scrublands of Karoo National Park invite 4x4 adventurers – and big game like eland and rhino.



itting on the stoep of Embizweni cottage, which stands proudly alone in a remote section of Karoo National Park, it’s easy to daydream and to dream big. How could it be otherwise if you are inspired by vast landscapes beneath even bigger skies? Exhilarated by a total isolation from the sights and sounds of civilisation? The renovated farmhouse is one of the park’s well-

kept secrets, tucked far away from the main tourism routes and more than 30 km from the busy N1 highway linking Gauteng and Cape Town. Embizweni (which means ‘where people gather’ in Xhosa) sits on an elevated rise offering views deep into the soul of the Nama Karoo. South Africa’s largest biome is renowned for its aridity and harshness, seeming to be a vast emptiness until you take time to explore it slowly. It is a place to be a pilgrim rather than a mere tourist, recog-


nising the divine in all around you as you drink in the sense of space and timelessness. If you were able to step back in time a couple of centuries, you’d witness the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of springbok congregating in preparation for their regular migration to the Kalahari Desert, following a route imprinted in their DNA aeons before. Those vast herds have long since disappeared, although their descendants remain, sharing the plains

beneath the wind-sculpted koppies and peaks of the Nuweveld Mountains with no fewer than 60 other mammal species. Among them gemsbok, kudu, eland, klipspringer, black rhino, the boldly striped Cape mountain zebra and the more familiar Burchell’s zebra. Cast your eyes heavenwards and you could also be richly rewarded. The park boasts one of the highest densities of Verreaux’s eagles in Africa, with around 20 breeding pairs making this their home. And now, for AUTUMN 2011 WILD 51


4x4 adventure

Since lions were released into the park at the end of last year, visitors can get out of their vehicles at view points and picnic sites only.


the first time in nearly 170 years, you have a chance of with successful hunts and a number of good sightings. spotting lion or hearing the roars and calls that are one For the moment Embizweni is beyond their territoof the most evocative sounds of the wilds. ry although it is possible their domain will eventually In November last year, two magnificent black-maned extend to all of Karoo National Park’s nearly 90 000 hectares. By 2012, it is hoped cheetah will also be remales, two females and four of their young offspring were released after being translocated from Addo introduced, with these legendary speedsters likely to Elephant National Park. Originally of Kgalagadi stock, be at home in the vast, open plains. A bonus with the arrival of the lions is that free they were chosen for their disease-free status and genetic similarity to the lions that would have occurred guided walks are offered three times daily through a in the Cape. landscape littered with ancient reminders of how it For staff such as senior section ranger Johan de was, fossilised remains of plants and creatures dating to around 250-million years ago. Of Klerk, it is the realisation of a long-cherished dream to see the you don’t have to be an ecologist, Although off-roading course, return of a species that naturally geologist or historian to appreciate the is a passion for many, recently opened Nuweveld Eco Trail or the occurred in the area and to reestablish a healthy predator-prey it is quiet time at wonderful vastness it is an entry to. balance. “We felt proud that an Use of the 4x4-only trail is free and the cottage that normally it is a two-day, 100 km excursion important target had been met will probably be after a time of intense activthat starts and ends at the main rest camp. ity, which included erecting a cherished the most. The 4x4 section totals 56 km, with 20 km the first day and 36 km on the return trip. 170 km cordon of electrified, Of course, if you are so driven, you could do it all in a predator-proof fencing around the park’s perimeter and visitor areas.” day but then you’d be missing out on the main event: Park manager Mzwandile Mjadu recalls mixed the overnight cottage. emotions: “It was a glorious moment when they were The main bedroom boasts a double bed and glass released. I got goosebumps as they crossed the line to doors that open onto big views, while there are bunk freedom, becoming the first wild, free-ranging lions in beds for four in the second bedroom. There’s also a the Great Karoo since the last one was shot at the near- bed in the lounge area which doubles as seating durby settlement of Leeu-Gamka in 1842. It was a thrill ing the day. Add solar lighting, a gas-heated bath but I reminded myself that this would get us out of our and shower, a well-appointed kitchen, fireplace in comfort zones. We now need to be more careful.” the lounge, braai area on the stoep and you have the All four adult lions are wearing tracking collars comforts of home without the intrusion of television which provide a fix on their positions every four hours. or traffic noise. For now the two females and four cubs have been Although off-roading is a passion for many, it is enjoying the vicinity of the main rest camp, while the quiet time at the cottage that will probably be cherished the most. Traditionally Karoo National Park has males have been establishing their territory and roaming up to 16 km away. At the park’s headquarters there’s been an overnight destination, but two nights in the a buzz of excitement that wasn’t there before as staff cottage, followed by a stay in the rest camp, would be a perfect tonic for Big City refugees. and visitors eagerly follow the progress of the lions,


LEFT Dropping the tyre pressure will make for a more cushioning ride. RIGHT Secluded Embiz­ weni Cottage can be reached by 4x4 only.


Trip planner River crossings require a vehicle with high clearance.

The 4x4 Route Nuweveld Eco Trail The route consists mostly of management tracks and former farm roads that have fallen into disrepair. The challenge comes from negotiating some rocky outcrops and threading your vehicle between thorn bushes and over riverbeds. High clearance and low range gears are a definite advantage. Normally the river crossings are dry, but visitors need to be alert to the danger of brief flash floods in summer, when it might be necessary to wait a few hours for the waters to subside or to detour. Much of the first day’s 20 km section lulls you into thinking you could drive the route in a 4x2 bakkie or a 4x4 without low range, but some of the rocky and sandy parts of the 36 km second day made me really appreciate my rugged Hilux 3.0 D-4D. I’d dropped my tyre pressures to 1.5 kPa and would suggest running on 75 per cent of the recommended road pressures, or a little lower. Watch for protruding rocks that could damage a sidewall and remember to increase the pressures again at the res tcamp where a compressor pump is available. Because there is little or no cell signal away from the main camp, it is safest to travel with two vehicles and to pack extra food and water.

GETTING THERE The rest camp of Karoo National Park is 12 km from the town of Beaufort West in the Western Cape, and 6 km from the N1. Cape Town is around 500 km south, and Gauteng nearly 1 000 km to the north. It also easily accessible from George (260 km), Port Elizabeth (480 km), Bloemfontein and Kimberley. WEATHER The climate is typically that of the arid Nama Karoo with high summer daytime temperatures and cold winter nights when the mercury can drop below zero. It is a low rainfall area characterised by clear skies and starry nights. ACCOMMODATION Cosy comfort The rest camp offers fully equipped Cape Dutch-style chalets and cottages for between two and six people. Prices, including breakfast, range from R810 for two people to R1 225 for four people. Additional adults pay R220 each and children (under 12 years old) R110. A site under the stars A camp site for two costs R165 a night. It’s R54 for each additional adult and R27 for each child.

Seclusion at Embizweni R700 a night for the first four people. R175 for each additional adult and R88 for each child (maximum seven people). Book through the park’s reception. ACTIVITIES Wildlife viewing options include scenic drives on Lammertjies­ leegte, the Klipspringer Pass and Potlekkertjie Loop, while a bird hide near reception overlooks a small wetland and reed bed. The 300-metre Fossil Trail offers a chance to see fossils found entombed in the Great Karoo landscape. New are free guided walking trails, organised three times daily. They range from the 800-metre Bossie Trail, which focuses on learning about the medicinal and cultural use of plants, to the Pointer Trail which features two route options, one of 4,9 km and the other of 11,4 km. For 4x4 enthusiasts, the Nuweveld Eco Trail is a 100 km round trip with the possibility to overnight at the self-catering Embizweni Cottage. CONTACTS Bookings: Park 023-415-2828, karooreservations@sanparks. org, karoo AUTUMN 2011 WILD 53


Singing From the dawn chorus that wakes us to birdsong ringing in the evening, Phil Hockey looks at the meaning of bird sounds.




he bush is alive with twitters, chirps, trills and warbles of birds. Collectively, these can sound like a natural orchestra in full swing – yet each performer has picked its tune for a special purpose. Bird sound ranges from simple calls to complex songs and all of it carries important information. Calls often comprise only a single note yet they can convey a variety of meanings. One of the risks that many birds face on a daily basis is that of being eaten – by hawks, snakes, small mammals and others. If you are the individual bird who spots approaching danger, it is in your best interest to warn your mate or offspring so they can take evasive action. In doing so, however, you don’t want to give your own position away to the predator. For this reason, the physical structure of alarm calls is such that it is very difficult to pinpoint from where they are coming. Some species, such as our local, group-


FALSE ALARM The fork-tailed drongo mimics alarm calls of Southern pied babblers, causing them to drop food which the drongo then steals.

living southern pied babbler Turdoides bicolor, even have different types of alarm calls for different types of predators. It is much more informative to know whether you should be on the lookout for a hawk or for a snake than just on the general lookout for trouble. As in many aspects of nature, however, the alarm call has been exploited by some very clever ‘cheats’. Southern pied babblers living on predator-rich Kalahari sands give alarm calls quite often. When the alarm is given, group members literally drop what they are doing and head for cover. Alongside the babblers live fork-tailed drongos  Dicrurus admilis, which are very clever birds indeed. They have learned to mimic the alarm calls of the babblers. When a babbler has found a particularly juicy food item, a nearby drongo will often mimic the babbler alarm call, with the result that the food item is dropped – good news for the drongo. Drongos are so smart it’s not only babblers they target. They are just as good at mimicking the alarm calls of meerkats Suricata suricatta with the same outcome! We tend to think of calls as being unique to a species, for instance the call of a Cape robin-chat Cossypha caffra is different to that of a chorister AUTUMN 2011 WILD 55


 More Bird Calls for Beginners  by Doug Newman (Struik Nature, R90) is a book and CD combo that features 99 common calls. We have five copies up for grabs. Send an email with your name and Wild Card number, plus the answer, to competition@ Question: Which bird mimics the alarm calls of meerkats?

African hoopoe Upupa africana, named for its ‘hoop-hoop’ call

Justin Bieber loses). Darwin figured this one out more than 150 years ago, but it proved remarkably difficult to demonstrate experimentally. One of the experiments that really nailed this one was done with a true proponent of male drabness, the sedge warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus. These birds spend the northern summer breeding in Europe and then migrate to spend the northern winter as far south as South Africa. On their breeding grounds, the males sing songs of varied complexity. Some can be very complex indeed, seemingly ‘composed’ as the bird goes along. Field observations showed males with complex songs were the first to get mates, but this could have been because they were defending high-quality territories and it was the territories to which the females were responding. To test whether it was the song or the territory, females were taken into captivity and played songs of differing complexity, all composed from subsets of the song of a single male. Bingo, it was the song to which they were responding.

Genetically wired for sound

How do birds learn to sing in the first place? Think about us humans, it takes months before we can get a message across and much longer than that before we can sing. (Some of us never get it right!) Maybe birds inherit this ability in the same way they inherit information about when and where to migrate. Until the 1950s, this is what scientists thought, but then some pioneering work on chaffinches Fringilla coelebs by British zoologist William Thorpe changed this thinking for ever. Young chaffinches reared in sound-proof chambers never developed ‘proper’ song, which led

Pearl-spotted owlet Glaucidium perlatum, ascending then descending notes ‘tee-tee-tee, tuui-tuui-tuui’ WARWICK TARBOTON

Learn to identify calls



robin-chat C dichroa. But as we can often hears the song of an existing territory identify the caller on the other end of a holder and judges that holder to be more telephone line by their voice, so there is powerful than he is, it is in the interests strong evidence bird calls can be used to of the searcher to quietly slink away and signal individual identity. For example, look for a fight he has a greater chance youngsters respond only to the calls of of winning. their parents. An extraordinary example The flipside of this coin is that males of how effective this individual recognimust also use their songs to attract females. It seems as though the very mestion is can be gained by paying a visit to a swift tern Sterna sages that drive bergii colony. males away Southern pied babblers weaker These colonies ofare those that athave different alarm calls tract females who ten number hundreds of pairs and, are on the search for different types of when the chicks for ‘strong’ males predators. are large enough, holding high-quality territories. We they gather into crèches containing a seething mass of can see examples of this use of song all identical-looking youngsters. However, around us. Since early spring, a male when a parent returns to the colony with pin-tailed whydah Vidua macroura has lived in my garden. Every day, literally food, it circles briefly over the noisy from dawn to dusk, I can watch him crèche, then plunges down to feed just one youngster! displaying either in the air, bouncing like Songs are more complex than calls and a puppet, or from a perch, shaking like may last for prolonged periods. Amongst a wet dog. Why is he doing this, singing incessantly and driving us mad? Because most birds, songs are very much a male domain and they serve two primary funche has three lady visitors. tions. One involves driving off birds of the In the case of the whydah, he has two same sex, while the other involves attractstrings to his ‘wooing bow’: song and elaborate plumage. But not all birds have ing birds of the opposite sex. Many male birds defend territories against other males the benefit of the latter. I don’t have to go all that far away from my wittering why­ of the same species to ensure they enjoy exclusive access to its resources. Somedah to listen to singing Knysna warblers times, territorial conflicts result in physical Bradypterus sylvaticus. This is a popular fights, which use a lot of energy and can bird with twitchers, because it’s rare, occasionally prove fatal. How­ever, by singendemic and difficult to see. But it’s not ing from a conspicuous perch, males can about to win any beauty pageants, so it signal not only that a territory is occupied, has to rely on its song to attract attention. How do girls react to males that don’t but also their own status, hopefully as a dominant individual. have the stage presence of Michael In a way, these are rather like a shoutJackson? They can only listen to mesing contest and the songs carry inforsages carried in the songs themselves: mation about the likely strength of the the more interesting the message, the singer. If a male looking for a territory more interesting the singer (Bono wins,

Don’t play recorded bird calls excessively. While playback may lure a bird closer, it can also cause stress and even scare males away from their territories.

Calls of note • As might be expected given its name, the chorister robin-chat has a beautiful mellow song. It includes imitations of other bird calls. • Male Cape sugarbirds sing from a conspicuous perch during their breeding season in winter. They have a complex, jangled call, impossible for humans to mimic. • The pearl spotted owlet’s loud whistle is often heard by day and smaller birds respond to a whistled imitation. • Characteristic of the savannah, the gorgeous bush-shrike’s call is belllike and captured by its Afrikaans name, konkoit. • Other well-known birds named for their calls are the bokmakierie, pietmy-vrou (red-chested cuckoo), hoopoe and the go-away-bird (kwêvoël).

Cape robin-chat Cossypha caffra, the Afrikaans name janfrederik is onomatopoeic and describes the song WARWICK TARBOTON

Cape sugarbird Promerops cafer, look for males singing from perches in late winter and spring

Marietjie FRONEMAN

Take note

songs – these may make the song more complex and perhaps more attractive to potential mates. Until recently it was thought this mimicry was also learned from their parents, but research published in 2010 suggests they learn these sounds by listening to other birds or other, mechanical sounds. This would explain how a well-known Albert’s lyrebird Menura alberti in eastern Australia accurately mimics camera shutters and, more worryingly, chain saws and falling trees. [Search for ‘lyrebird’ on YouTube to see and hear it in action – Ed.] Common mynas Acridotheres tristis in Durban mimic telephones, while pet parrots and mynas can be taught to mimic all sorts of embarrassing nonsense. Hopefully my pin-tailed whydah never learns how to mimic the front-door bell!


Thorpe to conclude that song in birds, just as in humans, was learned. More than 50 years later, this is still an ongoing research field, with Australian zebra finches Taenyopygia guttata at its centre. Within the last year it has been shown that zebra finches learn to sing in very much the same way human babies learn to speak and that they use the same parts of the brain in doing so. There are other parallels too: the brains of infants and young finches are active while they sleep. In the case of the finches, the more they have learned of their father’s song the day before (which they store in a part of the brain involved in hearing), the more active their brains are when they are next sleeping. The following day, however, the songs of the young birds are not as accomplished as they were the preceding afternoon, but as the day wears on they gradually improve. It’s progressive learning. In April 2010, the first complete songbird genome sequence (all the genes that make the bird what it is) was published. And guess what, it was the genome of the zebra finch. This tiny bird receives information from almost 20 000 genes, more than half of which provide information to the brain. For the more technically inclined, the zebra finch genome has about one billion DNA base pairs, about one-third the size of the human genome. Having this genome to hand opens up all sorts of new possibilities for researchers. We already know, for example, that more than 800 different genes play a role in song learning by young male zebra finches. One of these is the FOXP2 gene: interestingly, mutations in the very same gene in humans result in hereditary speech defects! Some birds incorporate snatches of mimicry of other species into their

Bokmakierie Telophorus zeylonus

Call of the wild Get your bird call ringtone from According to our online poll, Wild Card members think the African fish eagle’s call makes the best ringtone. Which bird call lifts your spirits? Let us know on Twitter@WildMag and post your photos on the Wild Card Magazine Facebook page.



Drakensberg malachite (Chlorolestes draconicus)


creatures By Emma Bryce Illustration by Melanie Adele Slabbert

In the wilds of our parks and reserves, you don’t have to stray far to do your game viewing. In and around the camp, keep your eyes peeled for these signs of life. Bushbuck Tragelaphus scriptus

You’ll know the bushbuck by the white spots on its sides. This shy creature comes out to feed mostly at night when the camp is quiet. So in the evenings, listen for a rustle in the bushes and enjoy the sight of our very own Bambi.

Vervet monkey Cercopithecus pygerythrus


You’re sure to spot this crafty fur ball around camp. Vervet monkeys move in big groups – if you spot one, it means there are others about. They spend a lot of their day looking for food on the ground, but if they hear the group alarm call warning of danger, the monkeys scurry to the tree tops, using their long, specially designed tails to swing them up there quickly.

Bats are active at night so during the day they need somewhere dark to sleep – what better place than the thatched roof of a chalet? But bats do make a mess, so the clever scientists at Kruger came up with bat houses: wooden boxes on tall poles. Once the sun has set, look for bats leaving their skyscraper homes to go hunting.

Yellow-billed hornbill Tockus leucomelas


Banded mongoose Mungos mungo

Some call these birds flying bananas! Yellow-billed hornbills nest in tree trunk holes and if you watch them during breeding season (September-March), you’ll catch some interesting behaviour. The female lays her eggs and closes herself into the nest-hole by building a wall out of her own droppings, leaving only a slit open. While she stays inside to raise the chicks, the male feeds her through the open slit for many weeks. Now that’s dedication!

The world at your feet is of great interest to a banded mongoose, which hunts for beetles and other insects in earth and dung. Some of their snacks are tricky to eat but the mongoose has found ways around it. It will first roll a hairy cater­pillar on the ground so it doesn’t get a mouthful of hair with each bite.

BE AWARE Animals are often attracted to camps by our food. Who doesn’t like a braai chop or potato salad? But if wild animals are fed scraps, they start to expect food and can become dangerous. Never give food to wild animals and keep your padkos packed away safely.


mission (nearly)


A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT A hike through the untouched Luvuvhu Gorge is for the privileged few.

Wilderness trail

Pel’s fishing owls are very scarce and spend most of their day hiding away in deep shadows. But Ilse Bigalke and friends weren’t going home from the Nyalaland Wilderness Trail without seeing one.




aybe tomorrow. We’ll fishing owl is now vulnerable, with only 65 to 75 make a plan. I’ll show you pairs left in South Africa. After driving a few hours from Punda Maria a plastic one!” was the manrest camp northwards to the beautiful Nyalaland tra of one of the rangers in response to constant nagging base camp, we settled down in our rustic but by the group of twitchers hiking the Nyalaland comfortable A-frame huts for our three-night stay. Wilderness Trail in Kruger National Park. This The camp is situated on the banks of the Mad(eventually rhetoric) response by the unflappable zaringwe stream, with the towering cliffs of the David Nemukula wasn’t in reaction to a simple Soutpansberg visible in the background. On our first night, sitting around the camp fire request such as a viewing of a scops, a pearlspotted or an African barred owlet. No, we were next to the huge baobab tree guarding the camp, asking, pleading and even demanding the Pel’s David started discussing a few hiking options with us. This included Baobab Hill and the late iron age fishing owl, no less. Pel’s fishing owl Scotopelia peli has gained an archeological site at Thulamela, but we were clear about our goals and opted for the Pafuri area and almost mythical status amongst bird-watchers the Lanner and Luvuvhu gorges. Pafuri because because of its dwindling numbers and Scarlet Pimpernel tendencies. Therefore, when a group of the magical fever tree forest and the possibilof friends and I completed our indemnity forms ity of spotting the beautiful narina trogon, the at Punda Maria rest camp, Pel’s was indicated as trumpeter hornbill, the crested guineafowl and the viewing priority number one by all of us. black-throated wattle-eye. The gorges so we could Not batting an eyelid, our guides read our research for the ever elusive Pel’s. quests, even though according During our mornRanger David Nemukula to the Kruger Park Times only ing hike on the second and Anel Skriba train their four of these owls were spotday, the barometer rose binoculars – but is it a Pel’s ted during the last survey in ominously and eventually fishing owl they’ve spotted? the northern Pafuri area. That clung obstinately to forty involved seven people searchplus degrees, forcing us ing for them from sunup to to call a halt to cool down in the waters of the Lusundown for three days. During the first survey in the early vuvhu. This led to a few 1990s, 13 Pel’s owls had been exhilarated members of spotted, but that was before our group executing their the floods of 2000 had altered long forgotten waterthe vegetation of the Pafuri ballet moves, with the only section considerably. The nagging fear the possible conservation status of the Pel’s presence of crocodiles.

Pel’s fishing owl has gained an almost mythical status because of its dwindling numbers and Scarlet Pimpernel tendencies.

The Nyalaland Wilder­ ness Trail is based near Punda Maria in the north of Kruger National Park. AUTUMN 2011 WILD 61

Wilderness trail


But by now we were used say, like so many times to David’s other mantra before: “It’s gone. Maybe and didn’t worry too much: tomorrow. I’ll show you a “We have vegetarian crocs. plastic one.” But wait! Our hearts They like cabbage and missed a beat. Binoculars tomatoes only.” Of course two vigilant rangers armed hugging the eyes, the to the teeth helped a lot ... group rejoiced, arms wavThe heat never subsided ing and fingers pointing. Walking barefoot on the sand and through the A Pel’s fishing owl was and, when we were in the waters of the Luvuvhu, watching nature narrate its story, is an experience to treasure. camp, the only way to cool watching us with its huge black eyes. After a while it down was to take fully clothed showers every hour or so, and undertake flew to another tree and we got a second, closer look. We didn’t want to disturb it, so nobody went closer to frequent trips to the single cooler filled with ice. This ran empty on the second evening! On the third day, photograph it for the benefit of family, friends, posterity or some photographic competition. [Pictures of a at exactly half-past three in the morning, we were Pel’s fishing owl won the 2010 50/50 Veldfokus compeawakened unceremoniously by our wonderful cook, Thomas Hlungwani. He’s been the cook at the Nyalatition. Go to and search for ‘Pel’s’ to see them. – Ed.] land base camp for years and his wheelbarrow meals are legendary. All the evening dishes are served from That evening around the camp fire, while gorging this wheelbarrow, and vary from barbecues to stews, ourselves on the delicious meal proffered by Thomas’ supplemented by a feast of veggies and salads. wheelbarrow, David reminded us that now, at last, We left the base camp in the pitch dark for a road there would be no more need for a plastic version of the real thing. We stared into the flames, nobody trip of a few hours, reaching our destination just after opting for the usual “Aghhh, David” response, but sunrise. That day we didn’t nag David about the Pel’s. We walked quietly on bare feet on river sand and reflecting quietly on a magical trip. through water in the spectacular Luvuvhu gorge. We We realised that during our hikes we had become watched the surrounding nature narrate a story by one with our environment by involving all our senses means of tracks, nests in trees and in the river bank, – seeing, hearing, touching, feeling and sometimes dung and ‘dem bones’. tasting the fauna and flora of our surroundings. It A goliath heron led the way, settling in rufous and hadn’t been about Pel’s fishing owls, after all. black on a huge rock in the river bed ahead of us. On It had been about how to identify rhinoceros tracks, middens and rubbing posts. About the faeces of the the bank a magnificent nyala bull and two ewes were grazing peacefully. Hippos disappeared into deep civet cat with the tell-tale presence of the exoskeletons pools as soon as we came within earshot. of millipedes and the regurgitation of the spotted The next moment we noticed David gesturing qui- hyena with its characteristic hair and bone. About how baobab trees store up to 120 000 litres of water in their etly but urgently to a cluster fig tree on the far bank. We expected him to make a defeatist gesture and trunks to endure harsh drought conditions and how ILSE BIGALKE

The area around the Luvuvhu River is one of the best places to spot Pel’s fishing owl.

Ranger Michael Paxton interpret­ ing the signs of the wild.



elephants rip apart the bark with their tusks to eat the moist wood. About the pulp of baobab pods that is sour enough to serve as a substitute for cream of tartar (hence the Afrikaans name kremetartboom). About the small egg of the African nightjar we found in a nest on the bare ground in the middle of nowhere. The sighting of the Pel’s had just been the crowning glory.

Nyalaland is where you’ll find a large concen­ tration of giant baobab trees.

Ranger Michael Paxton points out the Pel’s to the excited hikers.

Make it happen Kruger’s three-night wilderness trails run from rustic base camps situated well into the wild. Guided walks take you away from tourist areas and at night you’re alone in the bush. There are seven trails, each focused on a different part of the park, departing Sundays and Wednesdays. You need to be reasonably fit and between the ages of 12 and 65. Cost R3 430 a person, maximum eight people on a trail. Bookings 012-428-9111,,

This young elephant bull illustrated his dis­ pleasure at our presence during his mud bath with a mock charge.

You’ll know it if you see it: a large ginger-coloured owl with dark eyes.


Although the Nyalaland trail is more renowned for its birding opportunities and the baobab forests than for big game, encounters of the scary kind with elephants do happen as the base camp is surrounded by lots of elephant foot paths. During our first sundowner hike we were mock charged by a young elephant bull who did not appreciate our presence during his dirt bath. We sat very quietly, and eventually he moved off. We were full of confidence that we could now handle being charged by elephants! On the evening of the third day we encountered a herd of elephant bulls crossing a river. They were frolicking in the river bed, enjoying their dirt baths and grazing peacefully. But when the dominant bull reached the river bank where we were sitting quietly on tree trunks and saw our vehicle, parked some twenty metres from us, he was furious. Trumpeting loudly, he gave the nearest tree a good whack and stormed off with the whole herd on his tail, fortunately back in the direction from which they had come. Watching from the bank, we were transfixed and trembling. We were extremely fortunate our scent was not picked up by the herd, since we were very vulnerable. This time we made our way back to the vehicle on wobbly legs, our confidence shattered.


Close Encounters

Wilderness trail


Pel’s fishing owl


The largest of Africa’s three fishing owls, the Pel’s is a much sought-after owl found in wetlands and water bodies such as lakes, dams and streams, riverine forests and moist grasslands. The species is listed as vulnerable in South Africa, probably due to the pollution of rivers and human encroachment. Like osprey, they have sharp scales on the soles of their feet to ensure they get a firm grip on their slippery fish prey. Their specially adapted bill is used to hunt for fish, crabs, shrimps and other aquatic

animals. They attack prey aerially and feed on the wing or take their prey to a secluded venue where it is killed, torn into small pieces and eaten. Nests are built in tree cavities a few metres above the ground and used again in future nesting seasons. The owls are monogamous and breed with only one partner. They lay one or two eggs, but if there are two, only one of the chicks survive. The last born Pel’s chick dies because it cannot compete with its older sibling for food.

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