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ENVIRONMENTAL MEDIA 2014
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THE NESTS YOU HAVE TO SEE WILL THE WATTLED CRANE SURVIVE? SHELTER IN A SHEPHERD’S TREE
ON FOOT IN LION COUNTRY
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“No night in the wilderness will ever be the same again.”
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MOST FAMOUS Lake Panic, Skukuza MOST EXCLUSIVE Fish Eagle, Letaba 09013
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WILD BITES Letters Goudveld Forest Win free renewal Birding Beat: wattled crane Get a Wild Card Competition
PHOTOGRAPHY 90 Starry, starry night Tips for photographing the Milky Way
PARKS 12 Hot spots for cold days This winter, warm up at these cosy fireplaces 20 Kruger hides: Lake Panic Find out why it’s a magnet for wildlife and visitors alike 32 Kruger hides: Fish Eagle The park’s most exclusive hide 40 Swaziland’s secret garden Fall for the charms of Reilly’s Rock Lodge
WILDLIFE & NATURE 48 Buffalo soldiers Dramatic pictures of wildlife meeting their match 77 Shepherd’s tree New research reveals the important role of this tree in the Kgalagadi 82 Master builders The clever supplies and strategies that birds use to build their nests
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Wild WINTER 2015
“We actively look for poachers before they can get near our rhinos.”
70 ADVENTURE 14 Want to be a field guide? Wild joins a course in Kruger 34 Bike the Overberg Cycle along back roads to explore Agulhas 62 Rim of Africa Epic hike in the Cape mountains KIDS 94 The Little Five Smaller than their namesakes but just as interesting
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PEOPLE IN PARKS 56 Young lifesaver An intern’s study in Bontebok sheds new light on grey rhebok 70 Air pressure How the ZAPWing pilots are taking on poaching
COVER IMAGE JEAN DU PLESSIS
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FROM THE EDITOR
EDITORIAL BOARD GLENN PHILLIPS, SANParks SHERAAZ ISMAIL, CapeNature GWYNNE HOWELLS, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife RAY NAGURAN, Msinsi Resorts ANN REILLY, Swazi Big Game Parks HEIN GROBLER, Wild Card
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firstname.lastname@example.org CONTRIBUTORS Emma Bryce, Susan Cunningham, Albert Froneman, Fiona McIntosh, Scott Ramsay, Liesl Ravenscroft, Mitch Reardon, Cheryl Samantha-Owen, Ron Swilling, Warwick Tarboton, Dianne Tipping-Woods, Albie Venter
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On the trail A
huge amount of footwork went into bringing you this inspirational issue of Wild, which I’m sure will soon get you in the mood for packing your bags, too. Three of our contributors laced up their boots and went hiking, whether under extreme conditions (Liesl Ravenscroft), with bated breath (Albie Venter) or in relative comfort (Ron Swilling). Others went riding, be it bicycles (Fiona McIntosh), horses (Sam Owen) or choppers (Scott Ramsay). Yet others drove to the wilds and stayed put, for hours, days and even nights. Their patience and perseverance paid off, as you can see from the wonderful photographs taken at Lake Panic in the Kruger National Park or the spectacular starscapes of the Milky Way. With winter upon us, deputy editor Magriet Kruger rounded up the cosiest cabins where red-hot fireplaces will keep you comfortable in the evenings. When the mercury drops, even I have considered swapping my beloved canvas for a snug chalet with a hearth. What everybody had in common was the exhilaration of being in the outdoors, surrounded by pristine nature. “It is an unpolished privilege to be so immersed in pure wilderness,” says Albie Venter, a qualified safari guide and professional photographer. Judging from reader letters and our Facebook fans, Wild Card members share his sentiments. In more blazing news, climate warming has altered bird behaviour in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. We reveal the latest research by the experts at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town (see page 77). When the going gets hot, even small birds have to make a plan. Whatever your midyear destination, follow us on Instagram (@wildcardmagazine) for the best in conservation, travel, wildlife and adventure photography. I’ve already packed!
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OUR YOUNGEST FAN? My two-year-old son Elijah has been exposed to all things bush since the age of about four months. His dad and I are slightly bush mad. He has travelled all over South Africa, paging through your magazine in his car seat, making animal noises and pointing out his favourite animals and birds to anyone who will listen. Unlike the other kids at playschool, who can say moo and point to the cow, my son does hippo and lion renditions, identifies the crested barbet in the garden and asks his teacher for the binos. Your amazing magazine is appreciated by everybody, great and small. Carey White
TRIPLE GOLD STAR We bought a Wild Card in March last year when we retired and since then, we’ve saved a whopping R1 770. We intend using it as much in the future for as long as we are healthy enough to travel and camp. Campers are the friendliest people and neighbours, so we are not sorry to be put into that category. I really want to tell you about Addo Elephant National Park. The ablutions at the campsite and everywhere in the reserve — the main complex, picnic site, you name it — get a triple gold star. The staff is friendly and competent. On a recent seven-night visit, we saw more than 300 elephants daily; two male lions on five different days; plus mom, dad and baby hyena for 15 minutes investigating our car. Then, of course, all the other ‘common’ animals. The bonus is that you don’t have to drive far. Melise Richter
SONG OF VICTORY We were recently in the Kruger National Park, staying at Letaba Rest Camp. On our way to Mopani we drove the Tsendze Loop (S48), where we came across an old giraffe bull with two red-billed oxpeckers. The birds were working their way up his neck and into his ears, much to his irritation. Despite head shaking and ear flapping, he could not get rid of them. As soon as one of the oxpeckers had done its work and cleaned the giraffe’s ear of ticks, it made its way to the top of the horns and happily chirruped a song of victory. These little incidents give as much pleasure as seeing one of the Big Five. Peter Cole
WINNING LETTER Carey White wins a Lady Leero 3-in-1 jacket valued at R1 599 from Hi-Tec. Send us your letter for the chance to win. With a removable fleece inner and hooded outer jacket, the Lady Leero is all the jacket you need to go from frosty early mornings to mild sun-baked afternoons. The waterproof membrane and adjustable cuffs will keep the weather out and ensure you stay perfectly comfortable. Available for men as the Deryl 3-in-1 jacket (R1 699).
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A giant Outeniqua yellowwood memorialises author Dalene Matthee.
A pebble with a dull sheen, a shimmering vein of yellow quartz and a mining folly — Wild ventures into the Goudveld and Millwood forests and discovers more than indigenous trees in the Garden Route National Park. By Ron Swilling
he car in front of me braked and two gangly teenagers leapt out. “Is something wrong?” I called to the group I had spent the last few hours with exploring the old gold mining town of Millwood. “We want to place a flower on the memorial,” they shouted back. I strolled over to the flower-bedecked memorial to Dalene Matthee, the famed author of Circles in a Forest. It was an auspicious day, being the tenth anniversary of her death. She had brought the story of the Knysna forest, its centuriesold Outeniqua yellowwood, the woodcutters and the decimation of the forest elephants into people’s living rooms and hearts. Kneeling in front of the memorial, the young woman placed her flower among the bright collection at its base. It was an emotional moment. We had crossed paths a few kilometres further into the Goudveld Forest on the Millwood mine tour. It was there that I also met Garth van Reenen who organises the mine tour and runs Mother Holly’s tea room and museum. Garth’s
roots run deep in this area, where his family has lived for the last century. His great-grandmother, Florence Eleanor van Reenen, opened the Rheenendal country store in 1922, a store which is still operating and moving with the times. Garth established the Rheenendal Ramble in 2014 to keep the history of the area alive and to benefit the whole community. It incorporates guesthouses, farm stalls, activities and craft shops. Amongs his ideas for the next few months is to initiate a series of cycling events to get youngsters in the area off the streets and onto bicycles in the great outdoors. I had to leave Garth and his many plans to involve and uplift the community as we squashed into the quaint Mother Holly’s tea room and museum, a building that dates back to the late 1800s. Initially built as a house, the structure was later used as a shop and office from which to issue prospecting licences. Surrounded by sepia photographs we listened to guide Julian Muhlhauser relate how the shortlived gold rush swept through the forest, how the small town sprang up, and how
ROAD TO FORTUNE In 1876, Johannes Jacobus (Jack) Hooper was collecting small pebbles to aid the digestion of his prized ostriches when he picked up a stone that was heavier than the rest and revealed a dull sheen. When he was next in Knysna he took it to the local chemist, who was of the opinion that it was a gold nugget. Uncertain what to do with his find, he shared the information with a civil and mining engineer who was working on the old road between Knysna and George. Charles Frederick Osborne reported the discovery to the Colonial Office and was allowed to do rewww.wildcard.co.za
search in the area before he was transferred elsewhere. By the time he was able to return, further investigations had been undertaken and another promising report had been written up. The gold rush was on. People arrived from all over the world to try their luck, living in tents on the hillsides and near the rivers. A church, boarding houses, shops and a post office were built. Soon river rubble was being sifted through pans and a series of shafts was being dug in the soft earth to follow veins of quartz that glimmered like yellow brick roads to fortune, but ultimately weren’t.
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Millwood forest lies just outside Knysna and forms part of the Garden Route National Park.
RUSH 89.2 kg 1886–1891 5 years
THE GUIDED MILLWOOD MINE TOUR begins at Mother Holly’s and includes a walk through the Bendigo mine. The 5.6 km meander can also be walked as a self-guided trail, following the roads and yellow mine route markers. TWO SHORT TRAILS, the Circles in a Forest walks, begin at the memorial site and ancient yellowwood. One is a 3 km stroll that should take about 1.5 hours, the other a 9 km or three-hour walk for those with more time on their hands. Millwood Mine Tour: 074-228-4103 or 084-444-2113 Dalene Matthee Memorial and Circles in a Forest walks: Contact SANParks Goudveld kiosk 044-389-0252 Guided forest walks 073-363-6522
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men toiled in the mine shafts and spent long hours panning the Karatara and Homtini rivers. Just as quickly, they left, following the next wave of gold finds in the Witwatersrand when they realised that Millwood wasn’t the rich pot of gold they had been hoping for. After more than a century, the forest has crept in and reclaimed its land. Julian stopped the game vehicle next to dense forest to allow us a moment to imagine people cutting through the thick foliage. Most of the main paths originally used were animal tracks, particularly those frequented by ele phant, resulting in the many elephant encounters over the years. At the next stop we were slip-sliding down a muddy path to a mine shaft that ended after a few metres in puddles and a flap of bat wings. The Bendigo mine proved to be more of a walk as we made our way in our brightly coloured hard hats down its 250-metre length and into the ink-black
135 STANDS IN THE
shaft that had consumed the lives of the diggers for nearly two years. Hardly an ounce of gold was found and when the miners reached hard dolerite, the shaft was abandoned. A collection of century-old steam engines, jaw crushers and stamp batteries has since been found abandoned in the area and airlifted to the site as a type of outdoor museum. The equipment would have been shipped through the Knysna Heads and conveyed by ox wagon to Millwood. The history seems to hover in the cool air of the forest. This was when I discovered that I was among a school group who were reading Circles in a Forest. They had come to the forest for the weekend to read the final dramatic chapter in the place where it was inspired, now preserved and celebrated for its rich fauna and flora. Long may these pockets and slivers of indigenous emerald forest live on.
WE WANT TO KNOW Who’s read Circles in the Forest AND visited Knysna forest? Vote in our online survey (www.wildcard.co.za) and join the conversation on Facebook.
EXPLORE GOUDVELD FOREST • Picnic at popular and historic spots like Jubilee Creek. • Explore through mountain-biking trails, self-guided hikes and guided forest walks. • The Outeniqua Trail passes through Millwood. A slackpacking option is available for hikers not wanting to shoulder a heavy pack.
Part of the guided mine tour is done in an open safari vehicle.
FREE RENEWAL RON SWILLING
Where did you go with your Wild Card? Send us a picture of your card in the parks and you could win free renewal of your membership.
Old mining equipment is displayed in an open-air museum (above). Look for the famous Knysna turaco.
Programme manager Hein Grobler visited Table Mountain National Park.
How would you like a yearâ€™s membership for free? Take a photo of your card on one of your trips to the Wild Card parks and reserves, then send it to us for the chance to win. One lucky winner will be drawn every quarter.
Knysna forest inspired author Dalene Matthee. A memorial marks her final resting place.
HOW TO ENTER Email your image to firstname.lastname@example.org (subject line: Card). Only digital submissions will be considered.
Visit www.wildcard.co.za for the full rules.
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MSINSI SPECIAL OFFER
stay 5 nights 50% off at Msinsi Resorts & Game Reserves at
VISIT WWW.MSINSI.CO.ZA OR FACEBOOK/MSINSI RESORTS & GAME RESERVES FOR FURTHER DETAILS
Offer applicable on camping and accommodation only and is valid from 3 May to 3 December 2015. Check in Sunday, check out Friday. Normal rates apply for Friday and Saturday nights. First come, first served. Full payment confirms your booking.
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033 569 1643
GHOST OF THE
WETLANDS This winter, spare a thought for the wattled crane and the slow journey to ensure survival of the species. By Albert Froneman
he early morning mist slowly drifts over the lush green hills of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. I have been listening to the distinctive ‘kaheee’ duet of two wattled cranes flying up the valley. At first it was a faint whisper in the distance, but now it is much louder. All of a sudden two ghostlike cranes appear out of the mist and glide to the wetland close to the hide where I am sitting. They immediately start foraging. A little later, as the first rays of the rising sun melt the mist away, they start an elaborate dance of head bowing, jumping and displaying with wings spread wide open. There is no mistaking this impressive bird. The wattled crane stands about 1.55 metres tall and has striking grey, white and black plumage with a red face. Both males and females have two long, white feathered wattles hanging down from under the throat. The wattles can be extended or shortened depending on the mood of the bird. The long bill is used to probe into the soft wetland soils
The wattled crane is one of nine critically endangered bird species in South Africa. Read more online at www.wildcard.co.za by searching “wattled crane” and “critically endangered bird species”.
in search of sedge rhizomes and other plant tubers. Wattled cranes will also eat insects, small mammals and seeds. Witnessing their display is a privilege, especially considering there are fewer than 250 of these birds left in South Africa. Their numbers have dwindled dramatically over the past few decades and they continue to face the threats of habitat loss, disturbance and collisions with power lines.
There is no mistaking this impressive bird. The wattled crane stands about 1.55 metres tall and has striking grey, white and black plumage with a red face. Sightings are possible if you are travelling to Oribi Gorge through the grasslands of KwaZulu-Natal. These areas and Mpumalanga preserve a small isolated population, potentially genetically distinct from the rest of the wattled crane population found further north across the wetlands and floodplains of Botswana, Zambia and central Africa. Unfortunately, even globally the wattled crane popula
tion is regarded as vulnerable due to a decline in numbers. Wattled crane nests consist of a large mound of vegetation surrounded by some open water to keep terrestrial predators well away. In South Africa these cranes breed in winter when they lay one or two eggs. The birds only ever rear one chick and the second egg is abandoned as soon as the first has hatched. An innovative programme by the Johannesburg Zoo and supported by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife collects abandoned eggs and rears chicks for release back into the wild. The chick is able to walk a few hours after hatching and within a day starts following the adults around in the wetland. Pairs with their chick will often return to the nest in the evenings to roost. Once the juvenile is able to fly, the family of three will join a non-breeding flock. When the youngster has been successfully integrated into the group, the parents will return to their territory prior to the next breeding season. It takes another four to eight years before the youngsters will breed. WINTER 2015 WILD 11
RED HOT In winter, we’re drawn to a log fire like moths to a flame. Beat the chilly weather with a blazing hearth at our pick of places.
The view at Giant’s Castle may be frosty, but the fireplaces inside will keep you toasty.
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HOGGING THE FIRE At Mlilwane, meaning ‘Little Fire’ in siSwati, warthogs warm themselves by the eternal fire every night. If ever it went out, there would be many grumpy members of the pig family about.
Warm yourself by a fire at these Wild Card parks.
BUFFALO VALLEY NATURE RESERVE, near Knysna Ready to change the way you feel about winter? Along the Garden Route it’s known as the ‘secret season’. At this time of year there are far fewer tourists and the weather is still pleasingly mild. It’s just a shame the days aren’t quite as long because there’s loads to do at Buffalo Valley and the adjacent Goukamma Nature Reserve. Keep an eye out for whales as you hike along the beach, go paddling on the river, try your hand at fishing or saddle up for a coastal ride. Buffalo Valley has three timber lodges, each with a fireplace where you can settle in for the evening. The lodges are delightfully eco-friendly, with gas-powered kitchen equipment and solar lighting.
RATES From R750 for one to two people off-peak, R1 250 during peak times. BOOKINGS CapeNature 021-483-0190
RATES From R930 for one to two people, R210 an extra adult, R105 an extra child. BOOKINGS SANParks 012-428-9111
MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK, near Cradock Visitors to this charming park often come away thinking it deserves to be much better known, but pleased it’s a wellkept secret. The setting is spectacular, up on the plateau with open grassland stretching away into the distance. In winter, the mountains to the south may be dusted in white. Thanks to the uninterrupted views, wildlife sightings are good and you could see large herds of plains game, buffalo, lion and cheetah. An extra special experience is the chance to track the fastest land mammal on foot with rangers explaining more about the cheetah’s biology and behaviour. After an action-packed day, nothing beats unwinding in front of the roaring fire in your chalet.
GIANT’S CASTLE GAME RESERVE, near Estcourt If you’re dreaming of a wintry wonderland, head to uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. Giant’s Castle lies in the Central Berg and is one of the best places in South Africa for ice and snow climbing. Even if you’re not an Alpine adventurer, it’s an idyllic place to spend some time. The restaurant and many of the chalets have impressive views of the snow-capped mountain peaks, best admired from a toasty spot in front of the fireplace. Be sure to visit the Main Caves Museum to view rock art that dates back thousands of years. There’s something remarkable about seeing eland grazing on the slopes below and then seeing their likenesses captured on the cave wall. Another attraction worth visiting is the vulture hide, which draws birders and photographers looking for close encounters with bearded vultures. Be sure to book your place well in advance.
ROGER DE LA HARPE / AFRICAIMAGERY
RATES From R1 070 for two people, breakfast included. BOOKINGS Ezemvelo 033-845-1000
GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL PARK, near Clarens With its cosy log cabins and sweeping views of the surrounding peaks, the Highlands Mountain Retreat recalls scenes from Europe’s chilly north. The cabins are equipped to keep you snug even as the temperature drops outside. There’s double glazing on the windows, electric blankets on the beds, under-carpet heating and a large fireplace, with firewood delivered daily. The wrap-around deck makes the most of the vista and is where you’ll want to start your day with coffee and rusks. Chances are good you’ll be greeted by blesbok, black wildebeest, red hartebeest or grey rhebok. To get close to the kings of the sky, make your way to the hide at the vulture restaurant.
RATES From R1 200 for one to two people. BOOKINGS SANParks 012-428-9111
RATES Beehive huts from R390 a person sharing. BOOKINGS Big Game Parks +268-2528-3943
MLILWANE WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, Swaziland A campfire that never gets extinguished? At Swaziland’s pioneer conservation area you can always warm your hands in front of its flames. Mlilwane’s everlasting campfire has been burning since the park was established in 1964. Winter is traditionally the time for bush holidays and a great time to visit Mlilwane. Explore this beautiful area on foot, horseback or mountain bike, making it ideal for families with a sense of adventure. In camp itself you will get closer than you ever thought possible to warthog, nyala and impala. You can stay in self-catering chalets but for a more authentic Swazi holiday, Wild recommends the traditional beehive huts.
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APPETITE FOR With ever more people wanting to explore the bush on foot, field guide training has become hugely popular. Wild joins a course near Pafuri in Kruger’s far north. By Albie Venter
“We try to remove all unnecessary barriers between our students and the wilderness.” 14 WILD WINTER 2015
WALKING WILD Trailists set off at the crack of dawn for a morning walk.
alking among large animals is a huge drawcard for both guides and guests. Being able to get within a reasonable distance from an elephant herd and viewing them without disturbance on foot is a great rush. Intense training is involved to make a potentially problematic situation seem effortless. The Field Guides Association of South Africa (FGASA) stipulates that students wanting to qualify as a trail guide back-up need a minimum of 50 hours on foot in dangerous game territory, while lead trail guides have to rack up at least 300 hours. On the day I arrived on my field-guide course I was expertly led past a few dozen buffalo, through a wonderful riparian landscape of ana trees and isolated baobabs, their clawing branches gloved in dense deep green, mid-summer foliage. Leading the walk was a young woman by the name of Kelsey Cleland, from the United States, who had started her training only a few weeks before. As with all learning activities, the initial curve is steep, yet within a few weeks students are taking their own walks. Except for obvious features such as terrain
and wind direction, numerous aspects need to be checked by a guide prior to approaching a sighting on foot. Not to mention seeing the animal before anyone else in the first place. The social make-up of the herd, even the mood of individual animals are all subtle clues that need to be observed and evaluated by a trail guide before deciding whether an approach is possible. These things cannot be taught in a classroom nor by someone without a vast reservoir of personal experience. To get young and old comfortable around Africa’s giants, each encounter is used as a learning opportunity until it becomes second nature. Each instructor has years, often decades, of experience. Take Bruce and Dee Lawson who head up EcoTraining at Makuleke, the contractual park in the north of Kruger. With more than 12 500 hours logged leading walking safaris alone, Bruce is one of South Africa’s most experienced wildlife guides. Walking is a way of life for him. Totally attuned to nature, he misses nothing and effortlessly points out green-capped eremomelas in the tree canopy or a Böhm’s spinetail in flight. And if a 10 cm bird in flight cannot
THE LIE OF THE LAND Pafuri is the furthest flung, northernmost corner of the Kruger National Park, wedged between the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers and tapering to the point in the east where South Africa meets Zimbabwe and Mozambique at a place called Crooks’ Corner. The area got its name from an era when traders, hunters, poachers, gun runners and other shady characters made this spot their home. A strategic spot, as anyone running from the law could jump the border and evade whichever country’s authorities came knocking. The most famous of these, Bvekenya Barnard, was immortalised in TV Bulpin’s The Ivory Trail. Even Kipling added flair to the region by coining the much-quoted “great grey-green greasy Limpopo” of “The Elephant’s Child” in his Just So Stories. Pafuri is well-known as a birding hot spot. The who’s who of the birding world make Pafuri their home, whether permanently or during the summer months when hundreds of migrants arrive for the season. Think Pel’s fishing-owl, eastern nicator, grey-headed parrots, racket-tailed and broadbilled rollers, black-throated wattle-eye, three-banded courser, pennant-winged nightjar. A host of courses are aimed at birders of all levels. A lesser-known fact is that the area is the most bio diverse section of the entire Kruger. More species of plants are compacted here than in any other part of the park. Why? The more plants, both biomass and species, the more primary consumers as well as secondary consumers occur.
1 Guides-in-training learn the correct approach for viewing buffalo on foot. 2 Students take part in an evening game drive, another opportunity to learn about the bush. 3 Days start well before sunrise and include daily walks and game drives. 16 WILD WINTER 2015
With EcoTraining, each student wanting to qualify as a trail guide back-up does at least 75 hours on foot in dangerous game territory. Bruce and Dee Lawson
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FIELD GUIDES elude him, much less so a six-ton ele phant, of which there are large herds at Pafuri. The Limpopo floodplain is also home to buffalo, enormous baobabs and Ramsar wetlands with rare and soughtafter birds. Plus there is the freedom to access hidden spots on foot. In 1998, the Makuleke people, who were forcibly removed from the area in 1969, successfully lodged the first land claim within the Kruger National Park, sending shivers of fear through many as the future of this beloved park seemed to hang in the balance. Those initial fears were soon put to rest though when the claimants, who now own the section between the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers known as the Makuleke Contract Park, approached some of Africa’s leading ecotourism companies and granted them concession rights while SANParks continued to manage the ecosystem. One of the companies was EcoTraining, Africa’s first dedicated field-guide training provider. The Wilderness Trails Guide course gives guides an opportunity to gain more
hours on foot in dangerous game areas. Five nights are spent in the Makuleke wilderness, with nothing more than whatever they can fit into their backpack and a healthy appetite for adventure. Should participants have a ‘trail guide’ back-up qualification, the guide can act as official back-up, thereby gaining trail experience. The good news is that this course is not limited to aspirant guides, but is available to anyone willing to do a nightwatch shift in lion territory. On my last night, as the moonlight carved mottled shadows on the mesh window of my tent, I listened to the call of an African wood owl and the distant boom of a lone lion. My mind wandered to something Anton Lategan, owner of EcoTraining, had said me: “We try to remove all unnecessary, glamorous barriers between our students and the wilderness.” I hope that when the students finish their course and start their careers in the tourism industry, they will share the magic they were privy to with their guests. It is an unpolished privilege to be so immersed in pure wilderness.
IS IT FOR YOU? The Makuleke Contract Park is where EcoTraining hosts a variety of courses aimed at both aspirant guides who want to make nature guiding a career and anyone else with a keen interest in nature. You don’t have to sit through all the detailed lectures, rigorous exams and stressful practical assessments that are necessary for today’s professional field guide. You can join a practical course where you will be introduced to all the wonders of nature in one of South Africa’s most remarkable wildernesses, without the stress of exams. The EcoQuest course of either one or two weeks, for example, is aimed at people with a keen interest in wildlife and the ecology surrounding it. If you want to learn only about big game, this course is not for you. If, however, you want to learn about mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, fish, the plants they feed on, the soils in which these plants grow as well as the rocks which give rise to the soils, then this is the course for you. Even the stars that pierce the Lowveld night will become old friends when your instructor picks a way through the sprinkled expanse, identifying and explaining the constellations. No night in the wilderness will ever be the same again. Rates Seven-day EcoQuest course R7 200 for South Africans, 14-day course R15 600. If you’ve got plenty of time, there’s a 28-day option. For birding enthusiasts, there is a seven-day Birding in the Bush course (R6 900). Training as a FGASA-certified field guide takes 55 days, while a year-long course prepares students to work as trail guides. Contact 013-752-2532 or www.ecotraining.co.za
1 A Swainson’s francolin poses on a branch. Trainee guides must be able to identify birds by their calls and on sight. 2 A lion kill is a dream sighting and a chance for participants to learn about animal behaviour. 3 Trails in the Makuleke Contract Park meander through a landscape fringed with lala palms. 4 The art of interpreting tracks is developed through practice. 5 The sundowner stop is a lesson in hosting. 6 Students stay in comfortable safari tents. 18 WILD WINTER 2015
1 2 3 4
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HUNGRY HIPPOS If you don’t see them from the hide, you’re likely to hear them.
Krugerâ€™s hides put you at the heart of the action as birds and wildlife seek out water and do their best to avoid becoming prey. Wild explores the most popular hide, Lake Panic, as well as the most exclusive one.
JAN VAN WYK
WINTER 2015 WILD 21
KRUGER HIDES LAKE PANIC HIDE
CO-ORDINATES: 24°58’52”S, 31°33’58”E
GETTING THERE Lake Panic is accessed from the main road between Skukuza and Paul Kruger Gate (H11). From Skukuza, drive to the four-way stop and turn right onto the H11. After 4 km, turn right onto the S42. You will reach the hide after 1.5 km. To get back to Skukuza, give yourself at least 30 minutes as you might want to stop for other sightings. The gravel road from the hide is good for leopard sightings in the late afternoon, while the H11 tar road is known for wild dog at dusk.
ook there, it’s a squacco heron,” I was told upon slipping into Lake Panic hide, a birder’s paradise in one of the most game-rich areas of the Kruger National Park. Right in front of us, the mottled buff squacco was sidling up to a young crocodile which was ignoring two Egyptian geese strolling by. I could hardly believe my eyes. Even though Lake Panic teems with fish, crocs are known to hunt the shallows for wading birds. Was it no threat on dry land? The croc’s presence was unsettling and my gaze wandered back to it repeatedly. Crunching jaws made me look carefully. It was nibbling on a mouthful of elephant dung, occasionally hitting the jackpot of a scrumptious beetle. Elephant pats on river banks appear to be a favourite snack of crocodiles, which know that dung beetles and insects, feeding on the same dung, attract insect-eating birds. Eating faeces [coprophagia ‒ Ed] is not uncommon in the animal kingdom, the attraction being valuable minerals, vitamins and protein. The presence of crocodiles, hippos, monitor lizards, terrapins and various insects, such as gorgeous dragonflies on the
22 WILD WINTER 2015
water lilies in front of the hide, makes Lake Panic one of the most scenic and productive spots in all of Kruger. The hide is ideal for photography and large mammals are seen at all times of the day. For me, the non-stop comings and goings of southern masked-weavers provided the most memorable birding. Their nests, suspended over the water, were being woven seemingly at an arm’s length from the hide. No need even for a big zoom lens! Being less than seven kilometres from Skukuza Rest Camp, some people believe the name Lake Panic originates from visitors who are tempted to stay longer than they should, resulting in panic to get to the camp before the gates close. Other versions suggest that Lake Panic got its name from its status as the emergency reservoir for Skukuza Camp. Early Skukuza staff used to say there was no need to panic about water supplies because of the reliability of the dam. In fact, the name was given shortly after completion of construction around 1975 when, during torrential downpours, it was feared that the dam wall would give way, creating panic at Skukuza. – Romi Boom
JAN VAN WYK
tian geese, before walking to the eagle. Both animals held their heads low and stared aggressively at each other. The eagle then ignored the bushbuck and started grooming itself, which is common behaviour to look more intimidating. “When the standoff resumed, the eagle decided to open its wings to look bigger, to scare the bushbuck. The tactic to achieve dominance worked and the naive bushbuck backed off as fast as possible. The young eagle was plain arrogant,” Jan recalls.
hen two juveniles, the one plucky and the other plain curious, had a run-in in front of Lake Panic Hide, amateur photographer Jan van Wyk captured this once-in-a-lifetime sighting. “A juvenile fish eagle, about 90 days old, landed on the small island in front of the hide, watched by its parents from a nearby tree. First it harassed an adult bushbuck, then some thick-knees and Egyptian geese. “A young bushbuck, which also wanted to explore new things, investigated the noises made by the Egyp-
WHAT TO EXPECT Despite being situated in a crowded area of the park, Lake Panic Hide is a relaxing spot as only eight cars are allowed at a time. From the car park you walk about 50 metres to the hide down a fenced-in walkway. The hide is L-shaped, allowing views in two directions. Towards the east is the bend in the dam and towards the south, across the short width of the
dam, about 100 metres, is the creek inlet with aquatic plants, reeds, grasses and trees. Most sightings are at close quarters and you may well spend longer than you’d anticipated. Apart from your camera and zoom lens with beanbag support, bring binoculars, a bird book, and drinks and snacks that don’t rustle. Take care to keep quiet and don’t litter.
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LUNCH TIME A goliath heron with its catch on the edge of Lake Panic.
JAN VAN WYK
TOP TICKS TO SEEK
Kingfishers abound at Lake Panic in summer, particularly the pied, woodland and malachite species (shown here), as well as giant and brown-hooded varieties.
White-fronted bee-eaters hunt along the water, while black crake and African jacana stalk the lily pads. In the reed-beds, look for African rail (not pictured), one of the few places in Kruger where it has been seen.
JAN VAN WYK
On the fringes or in the reeds, check out larger birds such as African darter and purple and green-backed herons, along with black-crowned night-heron (not pictured).
The striated or green-backed heron (third row, far right), only 40 cm in length, with piercing yellow eyes, legs and feet, is one of Southern Africa’s smallest herons. It is resident along rivers that have a fringe of trees or reeds along their banks. Visitors to Kruger will encounter it at most low-level bridges. Prey is mainly small fish, but they also take aquatic insects, frogs and even small birds. Birding guru Warwick Tarboton recounts that unlike other herons, their technique of fishing involves placing ‘floating bait’ in the water and then ambushing any fish that comes to take it. Bait is usually a small insect or spider. On the edges of streams the birds drop the bait into the water, then move downstream and wait at the ready for it to come past. If the bait fails initially, it may be retrieved and dropped again or taken to another position and the exercise repeated.
QUODIPSA DOLORE, QUODIPSA DOLORE, Heavyweights and African alicto quod entuscimetur alictosuch as African openbill stork, African harrier-hawk quod entuscimetur fishdolore, eagle can (not dolore, pictured). quodipsa quodbe seen. Lake Panic also turns up sightings of osprey quodipsa quod www.wildcard.co.za
WINTER 2015 WILD 25
TO CATCH THE SUN AS IT RISES OVER THE LAKE, YOU HAVE TO GET UP EARLY.
NO MATTER WHAT TIME YOU ARRIVE, THERE IS ALWAYS PLENTY TO SEE. SUNSET
26 WILD WINTER 2015
JOHANNES VAN NIEKERK
“Pack some non-rustling snacks along with your bird book.” – Romi Boom, Wild editor
AAI PHOTOSTOCK / B. G. WILSON
TO HAVE THE SUN BEHIND YOU FOR PHOTOGRAPHY, VISIT LATE IN THE AFTERNOON.
WINTER 2015 WILD 27
Although the hide provides ample opportunity to captureâ€¨birds in flight,
Buffaloes may be seen in the thickets next to the hide. 28 WILD WINTER 2015
Lurking crocodiles feed on overweight barbels.
Kudus are most active in the morning and late afternoon.
Unsuspecting antelopes run the risk of falling prey to crocodiles.
JAN VAN WYK
THE FAR SIDE The opposite bank is covered with trees, thorn thickets and riverine bush. Well-trodden animal paths slope down to the waterâ€™s edge.
JAN VAN WYK
it is not only birds that make great subjects.
The dense vegetation on the banks provides cover for leopards. www.wildcard.co.za
A lion sighting is always extra special.
Wild dogs also visit, even though they donâ€™t need to drink every day.
Giraffes can be seen on the approach to the hide. WINTER 2015 WILD 29
Lake Panic is one of the most scenic and productive spots in all of Kruger.
VIRTUAL VISITS Lake Panic hide is a spectacle that never fails to amaze. Sightings are keenly recorded on various community forums, with SANParks’ Lake Panic sighting gallery boasting 232 pages at last count and about 100 000 views from all over the world. Most of the pictures in the gallery come from distinguished virtual ranger Jan van Wyk, as do most of the images in our article. The SANParks forum is well worth a visit when you’re planning a trip or simply missing the wilds. SANPARKS FORUM, WWW.SANPARKS.ORG “Is this squacco heron a Lake Panic resident? I have wanted to photograph a squacco for ages, but have never got to find one close enough. Will definitely be paying LP a first-time visit during our holiday and have a bit of fun there.” Posted 29 March 2015 “Just love this thread with all the amazing images ... Never a dull moment spent here. Beautiful!!” Posted 19 March 2015 “Something different ... stand-off between the thick-knee and lapwing.” Posted 19 March 2015 “Very special heron reflection! Maybe the croc was confused between the reflection and the real bird!” Posted 11 March 2015 Virtual ranger Jan van Wyk is the main contributor to the Lake Panic thread on the SANParks forum. 30 WILD WINTER 2015
AFRICA WILD FORUM, WWW.SAGR.CO.ZA/FORUM “Saw a double kill there once... Was sitting watching a small frog on one of the stumps below the hide, when a little water monitor dashed down and caught it! The monitor was sitting there quite smugly, when a second later a small crocodile appeared from the water and caught it!” Posted 6 January 2015
TAKE FIVE Instead of driving around to find game, let the sightings come to you. These five Kruger hides are well worth a visit.
LOCATION: On the S37, about 5km from N’wanetsi Picnic Site CLOSEST CAMP: Satara This east-facing hide is best in the afternoon. It overlooks the Sweni River and is good for sightings of crocodiles, hippos and water birds.
LOCATION: On the S39, about 4km from Timbavati Picnic Site CLOSEST CAMP: Satara This hide faces west so get there early in the morning to make the most of the light. Look for crocodiles, hippos and water birds on the sandy islands in the Timbavati River. Avail. Sept
LOCATION: On the S51, about 7km from Phalaborwa Gate CLOSEST CAMP: Shimuwini Avail. Sept
Want to know what happens after dark? Spend the night at Sable Hide, which is booked for one party at a time. It’s a rustic experience, but nothing beats listening to bush sounds (hippos, lions and elephants) throughout the night. Book through Phalaborwa Gate Tel 013-735-3547.
LOCATION: On the S142 CLOSEST CAMP: Mopani Overlooking a long, broad dam, this hide is best for sightings of water birds.
LOCATION: On the S50 CLOSEST CAMP: Shingwedzi This quiet oasis in the north draws elephant herds, offering photographers excellent opportunity to get intimate pictures.
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F I S H E AG L E G U E S T H O U S E
For your eyes only Fancy a private hide in the Kruger National Park? What about your own stretch of river frontage? These are perks when you overnight at Fish Eagle Guest House, in the northeastern corner of Letaba Camp. By Dianne Tipping-Woods
A Lighting the fire in the evening with a Natal spurfowl strutting around possessively, it was easy to believe I had the whole park to myself. 32 WILD WINTER 2015
shy bushbuck doe watched as I made my way to the private bird hide overlooking the Letaba River. Amid a chorus of African grey hornbills, the dawn colours intensified. A small herd of waterbuck stirred on a sand bank in the river in front of me. Last night, well after the sun had set, I’d heard them splashing through the water to this point of relatively safety. They had made the same journey the previous night too, when my spotlight had caught them in its beam, along with the eyes of several crocodiles. As I had been getting to know this stretch of river, I’d begun to develop what I can only describe as a strange sense of possessiveness over this corner of the Kruger National Park. Apparently this happens quite often to guests staying at Letaba’s private Fish Eagle Guest House, which is set in a sprawling yard
and isolated from the rest of the camp on two sides by a tall reed fence. When we arrived, housekeeper Elma Mohlala greeted us with an enthusiastic welcome and showed us around the spacious, immaculate and modern accommodation. Within minutes of settling into one of the four large en-suite bedrooms, I was in the hide, watching white-fronted bee-eaters hawking insects in the riverbed. Impalas were followed by elephants, kudus and giraffes, while the resident waterbucks lingered for hours, nursing their young and ruminating. The hide is an excellent vantage point for spotting waders and collared pratincoles on the river’s sand bars and banks, especially with a scope. Wire-tailed swallows were a constant presence and I also spotted grey-rumped swallows, Letaba being possibly the best place in the park for these. Soon ticked on my list were pied and giant kingfishers,
Fish Eagle Guest House is ideal for visitors who prize privacy.
A bushbuck grazes near camp, the private hide in the background.
brown-throated martin and a noisy flock of arrow-marked babblers following a hunting European roller. Low water levels meant that some of the egrets, storks and herons you’d expect, along with the hippos, had moved to deeper pools elsewhere along the river, but a saddle-billed stork and African spoonbill did fly past. The repeated, lyrical shrieks of a pair of fish eagles perfectly explained the guesthouse’s name and, sipping on a steaming mug of coffee in the cool of the autumn morning, it felt like they were calling just for me. When it was time for game drives, I was reluctant to leave the guest house, choosing rather to maximise my time in this little haven. It was incredibly relaxing to watch squirrels make a playground of the building’s solid wooden beams and outside braai area, or to observe beetles, giant crickets, millipedes and colonies www.wildcard.co.za
of industrious ants as they went about their business. Wandering among the massive Natal mahogany, apple-leaf and false marula trees interspersed with the mopani trees, I looked for the pearl-spotted owlets I’d heard calling. Also the barn owl that I imagined gliding through the trees and over the river, its screech drifting through the night air and settling into my subconscious, along with the haunting calls of a lone hyena. Lighting the fire in the evening with a Natal spurfowl strutting around possessively, it was easy to believe I had the whole park to myself. Just the occasional sound of tyres on a dirt road reminded me that I wasn’t completely alone. After dinner, sitting in the hide, the only sounds were natural ones and the only lights were from the fireflies in the riverbed and a scattering of stars. I was in a special piece of Kruger, for my eyes only. /
Fish Eagle Guest House sleeps eight and is ideal for family holidays or groups of friends. Children will love exploring the large, private yard. There is a modern kitchen with ample cupboard, fridge and freezer space, a dining area that’s made for get-togethers, plus a lounge full of comfortable couches as well as DStv. Base rate is R3 725 for four people, R600 an extra adult, R300 an extra child. Daily conservation fee is R66 an adult and R33 a child, so remember your Wild Card. Contact SANParks Central Reservation on 012-428-9111. WINTER 2015 WILD 33
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ON YOUR TABLET OR PHONE CONSERVATION
The five pilots from ZAPWing patrol 26 protected areas across more than 1,5 million hectares. “We actively look for poachers before they can get near our rhinos.”
The sun sets over the White Umfolozi River in the wilderness area of the park.
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Then we spotted it. A dead white rhino. Lying alongside the river in thick reeds. Wayne’s smile disappeared. He banked the chopper round and hovered low over the carcass to have another look. “Could be poachers,” Wayne said. “Watch out for them. Keep your eyes on the ground.” But then we saw that the horns were still on the rhino and the carcass was bloated from gas inside the decomposing body, indicating it had been dead for a while. “This rhino probably died of old age. Poachers
would have removed the horns.” We landed next to the carcass. Wayne took GPS co-ordinates and texted them on to the section ranger, along with a short message. “The rangers will mobilise tonight to remove the horns for safekeeping.” Soon after we took off again, Wayne showed me two more carcasses lying in the open veld. Nothing remained of the mother and her calf except their skeletons and some desiccated skin. “Poachers killed these a few weeks ago. The calf wouldn’t
have had much of a horn, but they killed it anyway.” The sight of the carcasses ripped me out of my reverie. There are problems in paradise. Rhino poaching in South Africa is at record levels, with more than 1 200 killed in 2014, about 700 of them in the Kruger National Park, where the majority of Africa’s rhino occurs. The public and private protected areas of KwaZulu-Natal have the second-biggest population of rhinos in Africa. In this province, the birthplace www.wildcard.co.za
A ranger flies a Bantam aircraft on an anti-poaching mission in KwaZulu-Natal.
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You can now read Wild magazine on your tablet or smartphone.
of rhino conservation on the continent, poachers killed around 90 rhino in 2014. Lawrence Munro is the head of KwaZuluNatal’s Rhino Operations Unit, a joint government task force that co-ordinates anti-poaching efforts across the province. The 39-year-old former section ranger of the iMfolozi Wilderness Area was also responsible for setting up the Zululand Anti-Poaching Wing, the aerial division of the rhino unit. He is also a fixed-wing pilot for ZAPWing.
The app is available for both Apple and Android devices. It also offers video and live web links, so you can access the relevant park web page straightaway. You can even find directions from your current location through Google maps. The digital format makes it easy to carry your copy of Wild with you at all times.
WHAT WE DO WHEN WE
COLD SOME OTHER
4787 Angelcy 2015
Itâ€™s never winter here. No jokes. Come enjoy warm weather & great food a mere 200m from the Phalaborwa Gate of the Kruger National Park in cool, contemporary luxury - all year round. J 015 781 3447 | email@example.com www.bushveldterrace.co.za | B&B rates from R545pppns Visit our website for great winter specials