BEST corporate 2014 publication SA PUBLICATION FORUM
ENVIRONMENTAL MEDIA 2014
years later 40 ITHALA
game reserve bigger is better
Why parks need buffer zones
Secrets of the
Rugged or comfy? Take your pick
Cederberg Makings of the must-have map
West coast safari More than meets the eye
‘Our memories will call us back to this paradise.’ – peter chadwick 06012
9 771993 790001
The Language of Wings: Test your ID skills Hike the new birding trail at Albert Falls Sniffer dog: Can she save the geometric tortoise? Better photos with a flash | 5-star Kruger lodges
explore | conserve | enjoy
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“For my two daughters, the houseboat at Kraalbaai turned out to be the highlight of our trip.” – peter chadwick
4 6 8 10 12 57 96
WILD BITES Letters Vrolijkheid cottages Agulhas Birding Beat: Amur falcon Albert Falls birding Get a Wild Card Competition
photography 90 In a flash Tips for putting artificial light to creative use
Parks 14 Bush breakaway to Ithala KZN’s best-kept secret boasts big game and epic views 24 West Coast safari Take a road trip to starry skies and fields in flower 40 Kruger luxury lodges Enjoy one-of-a-kind experiences in SA’s most popular park 62 Mapping the Cederberg The story behind the ultimate walker’s guide
WILDLIFE 34 Sniffing out tortoises How specially trained dogs are changing conservation 58 Satara sighting Must-see picture of the strangest fellow diners 78 Disappearing act Learn how camouflage tricks the eye 82 The language of wings Could you identify a bird only by its feathers?
Wild AUTUMN 2015
CONTENTS “Hike the Cederberg features over 300 place names never before mapped.” – janine stephen
Adventure 60 For the thrill of it Five Wild Card parks, five action-packed activities 68 Tankwa Karoo camping Whether you opt for rustic or extra comfy, you’ll find plenty of serenity conservation 50 Buffer zones Why it matters what happens beyond the boundary fence
nature 76 Marula Can the fruit of this tree really drive elephants mad? Kids 94 Teeth and tusks Chompers come in all shapes and sizes
COVER IMAGE Peter chadwick
Lusaka Kasane Maun
Polokwane Gaborone Johannesburg
Sishen Kimberley Upington Bloemfontein
Skukuza Nelspruit Maputo Manzini Pietermaritzburg Durban
Mthatha East London Cape Town George Port Elizabeth
Connecting 35 destinations in 9 African countries.
INSIDE TRACK WILD CARD PARTNERS
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
Wild card enquiries 0861 GO WILD (46 9453) firstname.lastname@example.org International Wild Card members call +27-12-428-9112 EDITOR Romi Boom | email@example.com DEPUTY EDITOR Magriet Kruger | firstname.lastname@example.org ART DIRECTOR Riaan Vermeulen | email@example.com TEXT EDITOR Marion Boddy-Evans PROOFREADER Margy Beves-Gibson CONTENT DIRECTOR Igna Schneider EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Joan Kruger CREATIVE DIRECTOR Petro du Toit MAGAZINE ENQUIRIES
CONTRIBUTORS Ilse Bigalke, Emma Bryce, Peter Chadwick, Gareth Coombs, Albert Froneman, Rebekah Funk, Patricia McCracken, Dale Morris, Isak Pretorius, Scott Ramsay, Janine Stephen, Ron Swilling, Dianne Tipping-Woods, Albie Venter, Andreas Ziegler
Johan and Bridgena Barnard, Peter Chadwick, Chris Coetzee, Stephen Cunliffe, Albert and Marietjie Froneman, Istockphoto.com, Dale Morris, Steve Newbould, Isak Pretorius, Scott Ramsay, Daleen Roodt, Karin Schermbrucker, Shutterstock, Maggie and Peter Slingsby, Dianne Tipping-Woods, Albie Venter, Andreas Ziegler
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From the editor
oing places’ is what Wild magazine is all about. Such places invariably involve a trip to nature destinations, and we are equally happy to rough it camping or to enjoy creature comforts in bungalows and chalets. Occasionally, when we indulge in the fine offerings of SANParks’ Golden Kudus, those concession lodges that cater to wildlife fans with kudos, all we can say is “Wow!” I believe the standards are right up there with the best in the world (p40). From Golden to Bronze Kudus … At the 2014 conservation awards bestowed by SANParks, Wild walked away with the laurels for Environmental Media Contribution to Conservation (Best Publication). Our aim is to lobby for responsible tourism and, this autumn, in this biodiversity issue, we bring you a round-up of top spots where the call of nature takes on a different meaning. Flora defines our road trip up the West Coast, but I feel compelled to point out it’s a destination for all seaA highlight of my Kruger trip was sons (p24). Our article about Ithala seeing wild dogs; read more on www.wildcard.co.za. Game Reserve in northern KwaZuluNatal is about helping the proverbial phoenix rise from the ashes (p14), not only by re-wilding, but also by expanding boundaries. The same theme resurfaces when we look at how even a park as large as Kruger needs buffer zones (p50). May our passion for the environment inspire you to plan a trip, whether to Tankwa, Agulhas, the Cederberg, Vrolijkheid, Albert Falls, or any of more than 80 Wild Card parks and reserves. Explore the byways. Put some gravel in your travel.
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Wild® magazine and Wild Card® are registered trademarks of SANParks. 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. Prices correct at the time of going to print.
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Never too late
I am 60 years old and recently visited Kruger for the first time. It was an amazing and awesome week’s stay. The welcome was special and to see the Big Five and other animals up close and personal was a dream come true. Three cheers for all the people working in the park. I plan to visit some of the other Wild Card parks and reserves in 2015. WINNING
What a colourful park!
Mokala National Park has been number one on my bucket list for many years and I recently had the opportunity to pay it a visit while on a business trip to the Northern Cape. It certainly did not disappoint. The changes in scenery, from plains to hills, grass to bushveld, are just fantastic. Every corner you turn there is a brand new view. Animals were abundant, the accommodation was excellent value for money and the park staff was exceptionally friendly and helpful — even bringing us candles when we experienced load shedding on our first night. The rangers came to our rescue, too, when we popped a tyre while going through a huge muddy puddle that was hiding a rock. Most of all, I was totally amazed by the colours. Red sand, green vegetation and the most magnificent blue skies sprinkled with white, fluffy clouds. The weather changed in an instant, from boiling hot sun to a rocking thunderstorm that caused the sky to change colour in seconds. What a sight! Diane Brooks
Looking for cheetahs
My husband and I were extremely interested in Wild magazine’s summer 2014/2015 issue. What with the quality of the production, the stunningly beautiful photographs, the excellent articles and the interesting map showing the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, each page was an absolute joy. We will take it to the Kgalagadi in the hope of helping with the Cheetah Identification Project. James and Lynette Pullen
100% Natural One of our first sightings in Kruger was a bateleur ‘anting’. Anting behaviour gives birds protection against parasites. The bateleur lay down in an area with a lot of ants and performed dust bathing movements, its wings spread wide. This forced the insects to secrete chemicals that act as insecticide, miticide, fungicide or bactericide. It’s a wonderful example of how nature creates and handles its own 100%-natural means of protection. Roland A. Simonet, Switzerland
Births and young ones With regard to the parenting of pups, we were mortified to note that on page 50 of the spring 2014 issue of Wild (‘New life’), reference was made to jackals instead of Cape foxes. Both species display the same behaviour. — Ed.
WINNING LETTER Diane Brooks wins a Base Camp three-person tent valued at R1 399.95 from Hi-Tec. Send us your letter for the chance to win. This lightweight tent comes in at just 3.5 kg and packs down to a compact size. It’s a cinch to put up and sleeps up to three people comfortably.
WINNERS: Wild summer 2014/2015 Rocherpan stay: Marian Butcher. Stamvrug print: Keith Honeyman www.wildcard.co.za
V R O L I J K H E I D NAT U R E R E S E RV E
had just finished a short stroll from the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve’s shady picnic site to one of the attractive bird hides, when it suddenly struck me how this place has changed since the days before CapeNature took over. I had seen a duiker, a tortoise, a noisome colony of weaver birds and a little parade of beautiful spoonbills on the edge of a dam, as well as countless pretty succulent plants and flowers. A drongo had followed me, guineafowl were READ THE busy shouting at a mongoose and BLOG ONLINE the late afternoon sky was alive with swooping swallows. “Back before Vrolijkheid became a nature reserve,” reserve manager Vrolijkeid Piet van Wyk had earlier told me, Nature Reserve “this place used to be an experilies 15 km from Robertson, mental farm, and happy hunting around two was the order of the day.” Thank hours’ drive from Cape Town. heavens those days are now over.
With readily accessible bird hides and refurbished accommodation, the allure of this small but charming reserve is fourfold. You can hike, mountain bike and bird watch, or simply relax on the deck with a bottle of the excellent local wine. By Dale Morris
Vrolijkheid is in the Breede River Valley, in the heart of the Robertson wine-growing region. That it has four newly upgraded, self-catering houses, makes it an ideal place to base yourself for a leisurely weekend of trail rambling and wine tasting. If you choose to be more active, hiking options include the 19-kilometre circular Rooikat Trail, which traverses the whole of the reserve. The trail is least challenging in winter, spring or autumn when the fierce Karoo sun is at its weakest. You might venture forth on the strenuous Boesmanskloof Trail between McGregor and Greyton. The Heron Trail is an easy ramble to and from the reserve’s bird hides, and there is a very short guided trail for the blind, appropriately named the Braille Trail. You could also take your bike to pedal the 8 km mountain-bike circuit.
Finding a pair of fish eagles perched on a tree-clustered island in one of Vrolijkheid’s three picturesque dams was the highlight of my birding endeavours.
The renovated farmhouses make an ideal base for exploring the nature reserve and surrounding winelands.
The reserve is dominated by the ultra-rare Robertson Karoo habitat and I was hoping to find a few endemic plants during my rambles. But I am no expert at these things and so I contented myself instead with a spot of amateur birdwatching. With over 190 species using the reserve, there’s always something to train your binoculars on. After ticking off a few additional avian species at the lake, I tried my hand at a spot of bass fishing from a grassy knoll next to the water, but alas, caught nothing but pond weed. A hamerkop on the opposite bank was having much better luck. Poor froggies! When the sun slipped away behind a line of acacia trees, I reluctantly returned to the rest camp, where my evening braai beckoned and all was happy. Vrolijkheid by name, Vrolijkheid by nature. /
Vrolijkheid’s newly refurbished Cape Dutch-style farmhouses sleep up to eight people in four spacious bedrooms. A fully equipped kitchen, dining room, braai and deck area provide plenty of room for the whole family. There’s aircon in all the houses and a Jacuzzi in two of them. Log fires will keep winter’s chill at bay. Rates Houses with Jacuzzi from R1 200 for one to four people a night, R200 an extra person. Houses without Jacuzzi from R1 000 for one to four people a night, R150 an extra person. Aardwolf and Jakkalskuil cottages sleep up to four people. From R705 for one or two people a night, R125 an extra person. Rates are off-peak. Conservation fee R40 an adult, R20 a child, Wild Card members free. Contact Book with CapeNature on 021-483-0190 or visit www.capenature.co.za
READ THE BLOG ONLINE
he 10 000 tourists who flock to Africa’s southernmost tip at Cape Agulhas during the summer holidays generally have two objectives in common. First to place one foot in the Atlantic and the other in the Indian Ocean at their symbolic meeting place, then to check out the second-oldest working lighthouse in South Africa. Fascinating as these two attractions are, there is much more to discover in the nearby Agulhas National Park. SANParks has added seven chalets to the park’s rest camp to provide a total of 51 beds for those keen to discover what lies beyond the beaten track. This is meant literally, because the road leading to the rest camp ends there. If you want to continue your journey by car, you have to drive back to L’Agulhas and go ‘around’. The thatched wooden chalets
END OF THE ROAD have spacious decks with glorious views of the rugged coast. These rough seas have claimed 140 ships, which you can learn about at the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum. The chalets sleep up to four people and each has a fully equipped kitchen, open-plan lounge, DStv, portable braai, fireplace to provide comfort on stormy nights and ceiling fan for the hot summer days. The ample shower cubicle felt large enough to accommodate a teenage elephant.
The new chalets in Agulhas National Park are cosy and comfortable.
In line with SANParks policy to involve local communities, 80 per cent of the construction of the new chalets, including building the beautiful boardwalks and thatching the roofs, was performed by local artisans. It is part of ensuring national parks don’t become “islands of isolation”, explained Antoinette van Wyk, General Manager: Infrastructure and Special Projects, and that SANParks affords communities ownership of the parks and “stays in the forever business”. Step beyond the chalets, and the few signs of human activity, to enjoy a solitary hike along the coast or one of the hiking trails. You might feel like one of the huntergatherers who first trod the pristine coastline, the coastal wetlands and the lowland fynbos. The park can also be explored by a leisurely cycle or by swimming in the lagoon, snorkelling and scuba diving. This is a birder’s paradise and the first morning I was awakened by
Agulhas National Park has added seven new chalets to its rest camp, for explorers wanting to venture beyond the beaten track. By Ilse Bigalke
Upsize the Big Five TRIP PLANNER
The small Agulhas rest camp is 10.3 km from Cape Agulhas Lighthouse. A twobed chalet is R980 a night and family chalet sleeping four R1 815 a night. Universally accessible units available. CONTACT Central Reservations on 012-428-9111 or visit www.sanparks.org/parks/agulhas
In our previous issue (Wild 29 Summer 2014/2015), we proposed expanding the traditional tick-list. Every one wants to see buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino — but which other bush champions top your list? Here are the five favourites as chosen by Wild Card members. Along with the Big Five, they make up the Terrific Ten tick-list. Let us know if you’ve seen all 10! Email email@example.com or talk to us on www. facebook.com/WildCardMagazine.
FOOTSIE COMPETITION Visit our page for more a cheerful dawn chorus. Taking a walk down to the lagoon, I was rewarded with sightings of southern boubou, African black oystercatcher, three-banded plover, white-fronted plover, various cormorants and gulls, and Kitlitz’s plover.
These are some of our favourite Wild Footsies from trips taken this summer. WEST COAST (p24)
“SANParks affords communities ownership of the parks. Local artisans built the boardwalks and thatched the roofs.”
LEARNING CURVE It is well worth the effort to climb the 71 steep steps to the top of the lighthouse, both for the hair-raising experience and the spectacular view. Be sure to book a talk by a tourism officer to get the most from your visit. Among other things you will learn that oceans have definite borders, like countries, and that the border between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans lies along the meridian of 20º east. You will also learn that the powerful bulb acting as beacon to the many vessels navigating this treacherous coast is no larger than three household bulbs. www.wildcard.co.za
Send us your picture of a footsie taken in a Wild Card park for a chance to be featured in the magazine and win a prize. Email your image to firstname.lastname@example.org (Footsie) and visit www.facebook.com/ WildCardMagazine for more information.
B I R D I N G B E AT
Earning air miles Amur falcon Falco amurensis
Amur falcons fly more than 11â€‰000â€‰km to spend part of each year with us. By Albert Froneman
Amur falcons fly over 11 000 km to overwinter in South Africa.
During the day you are most likely to handsome, pigeon-sized see Amur falcons foraging singly or in bird of prey, the Amur small groups. However, during the late falcon is a relatively comafternoon and early evening, they congremon summer visitor to the gate in massive numbers at favourite eastern half of Southern communal roost sites. These are typically Africa, but there’s nothing ordinary about in tall trees and the birds regularly share its migration. As its breeding grounds are the roost with lesser kestrels. in eastern Asia, Mongolia and Siberia, it The amazing journey these small falcons faces a journey of over 11 000 kilometres undertake twice a year is fraught with varto overwinter down south. No small feat ious dangers. Perhaps for such a small rapThe migration journey of an the most significant tor. The birds set off Amur falcon includes some is the threat of being around mid-Septem4 000 kilometres over the Indian hunted as they pass ber, arriving in Africa by mid-November. Ocean, the longest, regular over- through northeastern Part of their journey water passage by any bird of prey. India. A few years ago it was estimated that takes them some 4 000 at Nagaland in northeastern India more kilometres over the Indian Ocean, the than 10 000 birds were killed every day longest, regular over-water passage by any during the peak migration season. bird of prey. Since then, Indian conservation Their preferred habitat is open grassauthorities, non-governmental organisalands or open woodland. When I travel tions and communities in the Nagaland through the countryside in early summer, area have joined forces to establish the I enjoy seeing Amur falcons perched on Amur Falcon Roosting Areas Union. farm fences or overhead utility lines, from To protect the falcons, they set up check where they hunt insects. These raptors points and patrol the area during migraare very agile on the wing and regularly tion season. While the mass killings have hover before diving into the grass to catch been addressed in Nagaland, there are still an insect. They will even hawk insects in mid-air. They feast on termite emergences reports of it happening in other areas. Indian conservation and government and are incredibly fast. I have watched a authorities are working with the local few individuals near Satara Rest Camp in communities to try to put an end to Amur Kruger catch in excess of a hundred terfalcon killing at roost sites. mites in a few minutes.
A L B E RT FA L L S
A new, self-guided birding trail is on the cards at Albert Falls. Wild joined the conservation team for a recce. By Patricia McCracken
here was a hush as we curved down the valley towards Albert Falls Dam, intent on scouting a new Albert Falls Trail. My memories of visits here are all of blue skies, hot sun and sparkling water. Today, though, we arrived with veils of mist floating above the dam and shrouding the surrounding hills. “Sadly, the original self-guided Nyoni Trail hasn’t really been operational for a couple of years,” said Sandile Mkhize, who has taken over managing Albert Falls Dam and Game Reserve after 11 years as manager at Msinsi’s Shongweni Reserve. “Alien lantana has unfortunately rather overgrown it and we’re waiting for funding to be able to clear it properly. But we need a trail for visitors to get close to the natural, wild experience here.”
Burchell’s coucal Centropus burchellii
“Plenty of the birds at Albert Falls are quite different from Shongweni because of the habitat.” – Nkanyiso Zibula Ranger Nkanyiso Zibula led the way, taking us to a dam. Village weavers were displaying under their nests while barn swallows gathered along fencing wire to contemplate their journey back north. “Is there anything special about this roadside post?” asked our guide. Really, it looked like another sturdy wooden post, probably hollowed out by hungry termites. Nkanyiso grinned knowingly. This post, he said, often hosts the nest of the elusive African broadbill. A ringing alarm-clock call sounded in a nearby tree. A crested barbet setting our start time perhaps? Up a rusty red road that’s ranger-access only, I followed Nkanyiso, accompanied by his colleagues Mthikanyezwa Myeza, who has been with Msinsi for 13 years, starting at Nagle Dam and Game Reserve near where he was born, and Zamani Myeza, no relation and not a ranger either, but getting to know the reserve and its staff for his post in Msinsi’s human resources department. Bushveld and grassland undu-
lated to either side of us. A Cape turtle dove seemed to vary its call, “Walk slowly, walk slowly.” A white-browed scrub robin emerged from a dust bath and a common fiscal shrike flew up to a favourite perch. Our overhead escort of yellow-billed kites gave way to swallows and swifts zooming around in formation at about chest height. “We call them the Air Force,” laughed Nkanyiso. “Because the woodland is mostly acacia, we generally have insectivorous birds rather than fruit-eaters.” As if on cue, an acacia pied barbet flitted onto a nearby branch. Cresting a rise, we could see riverine bush flanking a stream, ideal shade in drier months. But thick mud pans right now meant we would need a more comfortable option for trail walkers. Striking out across the grassland pretty much gave us the best of both worlds. In the shallows, glimpsed through gaps in the trees, a hamerkop patrols. “It has one of those typical, huge untidy nests further upstream along the game fence,” said Mthikanyezwa. A familiar piercing call started
reverberating. Not one, not two, but four African fish eagles were riding the thermals far above us. “First time I’ve seen the real, live ‘Flight of The Fish Eagle’. This is some day at the office!” laughed Zamani. We waded through grass sometimes tickling my chin. The new trail will be cut through here, but leaving plenty of scope for seed-eaters such as the fan-tailed widowbirds with their scarlet epaulettes. As we reached the dam shore, a flotilla of Egyptian geese surged across Pelican Bay, as if parading for a name change. Heading back to base, a yellowthroated longclaw whistled brightly from a treetop. But it was no match for the noisy bustle of a party of red-billed wood-hoopoe, called ‘Hlekabafazi’ in isiZulu, meaning the laughter or chatter of women. We agreed they were certainly living up to their name today. In the distance, a Burchell’s coucal hinted at coming rain. When we arrived back, a crested barbet popped up on a branch, perhaps the same one that timed us off on the start of the trail, which took us some 90 minutes to amble round.
ALBERT FRONEMAN / PATRICIA MCCRACKEN
Wild Card members are invited to suggest a name (in English, Afrikaans or isiZulu) for the new trail. Talk to us on the WildCardMagazine Facebook page or email email@example.com.
Albert Falls lies some 20 km from Pietermaritzburg. Entry fee R32 an adult, R20 for children and pensioners, Wild Card members free. Accommodation ranges from campsites for R100 a night, to self-catering rondavels sleeping two for R650 a night, to chalets sleeping six for R1 300 a night. To book call 033-5691202, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.msinsi.co.za. www.wildcard.co.za
Albert Falls is an easy day trip from Durban and Pietermaritzburg.
Park in the spotlight
Born again Remote Ithala Game Reserve offers plenty of wildlife action in an exquisite landscape. Yet 40 years ago there was nothing. By Scott Ramsay
he 4x4’s engine whined and groaned. Guide Russell Xaba changed down into second gear, and strained his eyes to peer through the mist. The tyres skidded and slipped, trying to gain traction up the rocky mountain slope. We were heading into the clouds of Ithala Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal, onto the high escarpment. Behind us the rugged terrain fell away steeply, tumbling down to the subtropical coastline of the Indian Ocean, only 100 kilometres to the east. For two days summer thunderstorms had drenched the land and we had seen almost no wild animals, except for a few disgruntled wildebeest and zebra. Then a giant apparition came floating silently down through the clouds towards us. Like a tipsy, portly monk who’d quaffed too many pints of some heavenly brew, it meandered this way and that, tiptoeing down the steep mountains. Russell veered the 4x4 onto the edge of the track, out of the elephant’s way.
VIEW TO FOREVER Ithala’s lookout points offer dramatic vistas.
Park in the spotlight The bull harrumphed with a shake of his head and a toss of his trunk. Then the rest of the gang followed. A breeding herd of females and juveniles emerged from the mist, sauntering deftly down the precipitous incline into the valley below. Before colonial hunters arrived in the 1850s, elephants had almost always lived here, moving where they wished, no matter the terrain. Historical records show wildlife was once abundant, but it changed for the worse in 1884 when King Dinuzulu granted over one million hectares of land to 800 Boer farmers, who proclaimed it as their “Nieuwe Republiek”. Intensive hunting ensued, then the rinderpest epidemic of 1896 destroyed most of the remaining wildlife. In the early 1900s, two gold mines near the Pongola River attracted hundreds of labourers. Some wildlife returned to the area, only to be wiped out by the anti-nagana campaign from 1915 to 1950, when authorities purposely shot all animals, in the mistaken belief that it would rid the area of tsetse flies and therefore sleeping sickness. When the Natal Parks Board bought four farms totalling 8 488 hectares and Ithala was proclaimed a protected area in March 1973, there was almost nothing left bar a few grey duiker, klipspringer, reedbuck, steenbok and vervet monkeys. This spectacular landscape had lost not only its wild animals, but also its spirit. Rangers set about the task of re-wilding Ithala. First the land was progressively expanded to its current 29 653 hectares. It took several years to rehabilitate the eroded gulleys and overgrazed grasslands, but soon thereafter almost all the original animal species were re-introduced, including big game such as white rhino, black rhino, kudu, 1. Ithala’s road network stretches from the rocky highlands to the subtropical valleys below. 2. The main camp, Ntshondwe, is situated on a ridge. 3. New life is flourishing. 4. The bright bloom of pride of De Kaap Bauhinia galpinii. 5. The view over the Thalu river from Thalu Bush Camp. 6. Dainty cat’s whiskers Ocimum obovatum. 7. Raindrops look jewel-like on Melinis repens. 8. Eland thrive in the park. 9. Chironia palustris flowers during the summer rain season.
2 3 5 6
Think of a mixture between uKhahlambaDrakensberg, Golden Gate and Hluhluwe.
BIG FOOT Ithala boasts around 150 elephants.
PARK IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The sicklebush flower, a favourite browsing bush of the black rhino.
CUTE CRITTERS A baby vervet monkey clutches to its mother for comfort.
Park in the spotlight
The landscape in Ithala is rich and varied.
giraffe, eland, impala, tsessebe, warthog, wildebeest, zebra and red hartebeest. Re-introduced predators included spotted and brown hyena, caracal and cheetah, although the latter has since been removed. Rangers also brought back buffalo, with Ithala now having the largest disease-free population in the province. Even baboon, bush pig, porcupine and rock python were re-introduced. And yes, elephants with a penchant for mountain climbing thrive. A century after the last elephant was shot in the area, 50 juvenile elephants from Kruger were released between 1990 and 1993, to reestablish natural disturbance of the vegetation and promote species diversity. “At some point we will need to manage the population, probably through contraception, because the current number of about 150 elephants is too high for Ithala’s relatively small size,” said Russell Xaba. Of the original species, only roan ante-
lope and lion were not re-introduced, the latter because of the inadequate fences and threats to surrounding farming areas. These days leopard is the apex predator, and Ithala has one of the highest densities in the country (see page 22). “Leopards probably never left the area,” remarked ecologist Rickert van der Westhuizen. “They’re doing exceptionally well because there’s no competition from lions, and the rugged terrain is the perfect habitat.” Over the next day, the weather cleared and the animals emerged in droves, loving the sunshine as much as we were. “The grasslands attract good numbers of white rhino,” said Russell, “although the sourveld grazing does limit their breeding success.” Ithala is probably more important, though, for its black rhinos, which were the main reason for the park’s proclamation. They thrive in the acacia thickets that line the park’s four tributary rivers, all of which flow into the Pongola. “This is one of the
Ranger Dalton Nkosi
The Lie of the Land
The park has a road network of 84 kilometres.
best breeding areas in Southern Africa for them. They love the terrain and vegetation, especially all the sickle bush.” Ithala’s anti-poaching teams have had much success, losing a far lower percentage of rhinos than many other public reserves in Africa. “We have few communities around the park,” Russell explained, “and the rough terrain makes it difficult to traverse if you don’t know it.” Ithala’s landscape limits the road network, but the 84 kilometres of roads provide good viewing of wildlife and scenery, with elevated views and mountain backgrounds. Think of a mixture between uKhahlamba-Drakensberg, Golden Gate and Hluhluwe, with good densities of large African mammals. On the way back to Ntshondwe, Ithala’s main camp situated high up on the slopes of Ngotshe mountain at 1 030 metres, we were intercepted by a variety of plains game: impala, red hartebeest, kudu, www.wildcard.co.za
eland and several of the park’s namesake, giraffe. As we drove, precocious male pin-tailed whydas and red-collared widowbirds buzzed us, their long tails flowing flirtatiously in the breeze. Above the cliffs of Ntshondwe we spotted a pair of Verreaux’s eagles, doing what these regal raptors do best, soaring high above the riff-raff below. Crowned eagles are regularly sighted too, flying low over the riverine forest and watched carefully by vervet monkeys. Russell and I ended our exploration at the Horace Rall viewpoint, a spectacular spot high up on Ngotshe Mountain looking north over Ithala’s deeply incised valleys and hills towards the Pongola River. It seemed remarkable that all these creatures were in the park below us. More remarkable is how, thanks to the foresight and hard work of conservationists, the spectacular wilderness of Ithala has been reclaimed.
At its southern end, Ithala Game Reserve looks like the foothills of the Drakensberg, with huge dolerite and sandstone cliffs, forested kloofs and emerald sourveld grasslands. Noted for its ancient geological structures, dating back three billion years, Ithala has one of the most dramatic altitudinal variances of any protected area in South Africa. From the 1 400 m escarpment in the south of the park, where mist and rain bring cool temperatures, the terrain falls dramatically to 400 metres at the Pongola River Valley, the northern boundary. Here the intense heat and humidity is typical of northern Zululand. The distance between these two opposite places is a mere 16 kilometres. This extreme diversity of climate, vegetation, soil types and animals in a relatively small area, some 300 square kilometres, makes Ithala one of the most surprising parks in the country. It is a superb example of how land can be re-wilded.
PARK IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Leopard hot spot Regular camera-trap surveys of leopards in Ithala have revealed one of the highest densities of these predators in South Africa. In 2014, Panthera, Wildlife Act and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife estimated the density at 10.3 leopards per 100 square kilometres. This suggests that roughly 30 leopards have territories in Ithala at any given time. Compared to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi’s 7.5 or Mkhuze’s 6.9 and some private reserves at 2.7, Ithala is theoretically the best place in the province to see leopards. The area around Ntshondwe main camp is a leopard hot spot, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled while driving in and out of camp.
Look for wildlife on a self-guided walk from Ntshondwe.
Special ticks Ithala is designated as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife South Africa, with 323 recorded bird species. Forty years of conservation has certainly paid off because, after many years, the rare blue crane has returned. Although there are only three pairs, their presence in the grasslands is a great sight. Another bird that has made a big comeback is the red-billed oxpecker. In 1994, after decades of absence, 97 were re-introduced. The elimination of almost all the wildlife meant they had no ticks to feed on, but now that the animals are back, they are thriving. Less often seen but critical from a conservation perspective is the rare and near-threatened hinged-back tortoise and 10 species of frog that are found nowhere else except in Ithala and surrounds. In the Pongola River, the suckermouth and southern-barred minnow are considered vulnerable to invasive alien fish.
Trip Planner Getting there Ithala is located off the R69 near Louwsburg, between the towns of Pongola and Vryheid. GPS main gate: S27 32.801 E31 18.813.
Accommodation Main camp Ntshondwe has 39 self-catering, twoto six-bed chalets and a six-bed guest lodge with its own attendant and dip-pool. A licensed restaurant and cafeteria serve buffet and à la carte meals. The camp is unfenced. Rates start at R840 a night. Bush Camps Mbizo is in the west on the Thalu River, with two four-bed thatched units with shower and toilet. R1 750 for five people, R210 an extra person. Thalu, also on the river, sleeps four in two bedrooms on either side of a central lounge and dining area, with shower and toilet. R1 260 for three people, R210 an extra person. Mhlangeni lies on top of a rocky outcrop and has the best views of all, looking out over the Ncence River. There are five two-bed units, three showers and toilets and a braai deck overlooking the river. R2 450 for seven people, R210 an extra person. Campsite Doornkraal is near Mbizo, and has basic facilities for 20 people, with showers, toilets and kitchen, with a thatched communal dining area. No caravans allowed. R130 a person.
Activities Walk Guided morning and afternoon walks, and morning and sundowner drives, are offered from Ntshondwe. Two self-guided walks start at main camp, offering great views along the escarpment. 4x4 Three 4x4 trails are Bivane in the north-west, Ntshamanzi in the centre and Ncence in the northeast, only open to guests at Mhlangeni. Picnic Two recommended picnic sites are Phongolo, on the main river in the north, and Onverwacht, near the main entrance in the south. Lookouts Two excellent viewing sites include Phuzamoya (‘Drink the wind’), reached on foot about 600 metres from the Ngubhu loop road in the south, and Horace Rall, accessed from outside the reserve — ask for the key at reception. FEES Day visitors R60 an adult, R30 a child, Wild Card members get free entry.
Contact Book with Ezemvelo Central Reservations on 033-845-1000 or www.kznwildlife.com
T H E FAT O F
Cotyledon orbiculata, commonly known as pigâ€™s ear or round-leaved navel-wort, in bloom in Namaqua National Park.
On a West Coast safari, treasures beckon across all seasons. Few places on the planet offer galaxies of stars at night, and gazillions of flowers by day. By Peter Chadwick
the L A N D
hey say the darkest hours are those JUST before the dawn, when the moon has slipped over the horizon to bed itself down for a well-earned rest. This is also the time when night skies sparkle at their brightest, showing off a million distant constellations. As I sat enjoying the transition from darkness to dawn, it seemed these glimmering lights in the heavens above transferred their glow and energy down to Earth, placing them as dewdrops onto the sleeping forms of thousands of Namaqua daisies. The fields in front of me were carpeted in delicate yellow, orange and white flowers. As the sun rose ever higher, they raised their sleepy heads, opening their vibrantly coloured petals to track the path of the sun’s rays. Now it was summer and I had brought my family to discover this wonderland outside the popular flower season. We had arrived in Namaqua National Park late the previous day, having travelled from the southern Cape on a circuitous, yet easily drivable journey. After a warm welcome from parks staff, we www.wildcard.co.za
had settled into one of the four cosy self-catering chalets that offered spectacular views towards the west, where deep valleys and hills lay silhouetted against a setting sun. As darkness arrived, and with eager anticipation, we explored the pathways outside our chalet with our torches. We found hunting thick-tail scorpions, a variety of spiders that ran around as if they were on steroids and huge Bibron’s geckos that gorged themselves on insects drawn to the outside lights of the chalets. The next morning, rising early, we sat on the veranda with steaming cups of hot chocolate to marvel at the starry skies before driving the short distance to the Skilpad flats, renowned for their floral displays. As the flowers opened towards the sun’s rays, scrub hares, steenbok and springbok wandered around, feeding between the daisies and gazanias, while a dawn chorus of bokmakieries, large-billed larks, ant-eating chats, Cape robin-chats and Karoo scrubrobins all sang in the arrival of a new day. Leaving the flat areas behind us, we followed the road down a winding pass to Soebatsfontein and onto the coastal section of the Namaqua
A male southern double-collared sunbird in the West Coast National Park.
Just a few hours’ drive north of Cape Town, up the amazing West Coast, lie three hot spots of global importance. Namaqua National Park, West Coast National Park and the newly proclaimed Knersvlakte Nature Reserve are home to the richest bulb flora of any arid region in the world, with an estimated 3 500 plant species having been recorded so far.
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National Park. Large outcrops of grey granite boulders channelled our path – upon these rock hyrax families and the occasional klipspringer huddled. As we continued slowly down the pass, isolated flowering plants held our attention. The diversity of shape and colours they represented are enthralling, perhaps even more than flower carpets. Delicate pale-purple flowering rooisalie bushes, yellow kandelaarsbos flowers and varkore, the upside down red Cotyledons with their yellow anthers, were among our first sightings. Pockets of quiver trees dotted the horizon and at the base of their trunks, greenishyellow geelmelkbos plants attracted large numbers of iridescent green flies to their tiny flowers that gave off a pungent smell. Crag lizards and rock agamas emerged to sun themselves on the rocky outcrops, cautiously keeping a watchful eye around them, yet totally ignoring the herds of gemsbok and red hartebeest that picked their way through the succulent vegetation growing adjacent to the koppies. Down in the flatter areas, bird parties of pririt batis, fairy flycatcher, Karoo eremomela, rufous-eared warbler and grey tits moved quickly through the yellow-flowering Acacia karoo trees that lined the dry riverbeds. Reaching the coastline, a network 1. Gazania flowers grow along a sandy track in Namaqua National Park. 2. The picturesque coastline at Korringkorrel Bay within the park. 3. Sea fog rolls in between valleys and ridges in Namaqualand. 4. Look for the dainty, pale yellow flowers of the Kandelaarsbos. 5. Namaqua National Park’s rustic campsites lie at the water’s edge. 6. The park offers some of the best stargazing in the country. 7. Strandroos flowers are common along the sandy coastlines of Namaqua and West Coast national parks. 8. A gemsbok pauses from feeding to eye visitors.
At Geelbek, wooden boardwalks led us across nutrientPanoramic view of the Langebaan Lagoon salt marshes.
of deep sandy tracks necessitated lowering the tyre pressure on our vehicle and engaging 4x4. These tracks led us close along a wild and unspoilt coastline where massive waves crashed upon the shoreline and white beaches stretched between outcrops of boulders. Among these boulders, patches of different vygie species grew in dome-shaped bushes covered in brightly coloured pink, purple and white flowers. Orange, red and pale-yellow lichens covered the crowns of bushes and on the edge of the coastline itself, orange salad thistle flowers pushed their way between the cracks in the boulders, or grew between piles of bleached mussel shells. Mesembryanthemum alatum, known as ice plants or locally as brakslaai, spread out their tendrils along the sand. Just south of Boulderbaai, we found the Cape fur seal colony. Sitting next to our vehicle, we watched the crĂ¨ches of seal pups jostle and tumble with one another in play that already had a deeper meaning in terms of determining dominance status. To our surprise, a Namaqua dwarf chameleon showed itself next
to where we were sitting. If it had not moved, we would have failed to see this well-camouflaged endemic reptile. Continuing south, we passed flocks of ostriches that ran easily in the soft sand and meerkat families that paused from feeding to stand upright and watch as we drove past. Our campsite at Kwas-se-Baai lay right on the beach edge. Having set up camp, we viewed the orange orb of the sun melt into the sea as African black oystercatchers, Hartlaubâ€™s gulls and sanderling flocks pecked at invertebrates that emerged in their thousands along the sandy beach. The new dawn had us packing again for a southward journey past the Groenrivier estuary and onwards to Doringbaai, Lamberts Bay, Elandsbaai and Velddrift before reaching our destination of the West Coast National Park and the tropical blue waters of Langebaan Lagoon. To try something different, we had booked into one of the houseboats at Kraalbaai. For my two daughters, this turned out to be the highlight of our trip. There were repeated delighted leaps from the boat into the warm waters where they swam for
rich salt marshes to bird watching hides. hours on end, only breaking to canoe around the houseboats or get towed behind a boat on a rubber ‘alligator’ by Morgan Sambaba, who looked after us during our stay. Cape fur seals were constant playful companions. At dusk thousands of southern mullet rose to the surface around the boat and began a feeding session that had us all enthralled by the wonders of nature. Back on the Kraalbaai shoreline, we watched squadrons of bull rays and sand sharks feeding on hermit crabs and sand prawns in the clear shallow waters, while a short drive took us to the coastline at Tsaarsbank. Here we stood on top of a large grey granite boulder that lay on the very edge of where land meets sea in an angry turmoil of gigantic waves that were born deep in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The spray from crashing waves washed over us and the very ground shuddered from their awesome power. Kelp gulls hovered and dodged down with millisecond timing between these waves to snatch at invertebrates that were briefly exposed on rocky platforms. At Geelbek, wooden boardwalks www.wildcard.co.za
led us across nutrient-rich salt marshes to birdwatching hides, where we observed greater flamingos landing in flashes of pink. Marsh harriers and black harriers hovered over reed and restio beds. On our return to Kraalbaai, herds of eland and bontebok grazed and browsed between the strandroos plants with their pink and purple flowers that grow along the narrow finger of land that separates the Atlantic Ocean and the lagoon. The next morning we paid a final visit to the Seeberg lookout that showcases spectacular views across the entire park. Red and yellow Cape cowslip bulbs pushed up from the sandy soils around the massive granite dome and in the distance, southern black korhaans gave their ‘rusty pump’ calls while an adult rock kestrel encouraged its three recently fledged chicks to follow it in flight. We had started our journey in search of floral splendours. In addition we had been blessed with a diversity and constant buzzing of life. These memories will call us back again and again to this paradise.
A Cape fur seal pup looks out from a raised boulder on the coast of Namaqua National Park.
Road Trip Bull rays patrol the shallows of Langebaan Lagoon, searching out sand prawns and hermit crabs to feed on.
As we continued slowly down the pass, isolated flowering plants held our attention.
NAMAQUA LADY A female southern black korhaan struts in Namaqua National Park.
The water of Langebaan Lagoon in West Coast National Park is warm and inviting.
Knersvlakte Nature Reserve This newly proclaimed reserve is well worth a visit during the spring months of August and September when the white quartzite gravel plains reveal a splendour of rare dwarf plants in flower. To date about 1 500 plant species have been recorded, with at least 900 of these being endemic and thus making the area a region of international
importance. The Knersvlakte is about a three-hour drive north of Cape Town and is best reached from Vanrhynsdorp, where it is the ideal stop-over en route to Namaqua National Park. Currently, accommodation is not available on the reserve and visits should be confirmed with the CapeNature offices in Vanrhynsdorp by phoning 027-219-1480.
Namaqua National Park lies along the N7, about 500 km north of Cape Town. Winters are mild by day, cold at night, while summers can be very hot. After winter rains, the veld bursts into bloom. This can happen as early as July and last into September. Conservation fee R32 a person, R16 children under 12, free with a Wild Card. Chalets R525 a night for one to two people in low season, R880 in high season. R210 an extra adult, R105 an extra child. Campsites R115 for one to six people. Contact SANParks Central Reservations on 012-428-9111 or visit www.sanparks.org. West Coast National Park is situated along the R27, about 100 km north of Cape Town. It has mild weather year round, with winter rainfall. Prime flower
season is August to September. Conservation fee during flower season R60 a person, R30 children under 12, free with a Wild Card. Outside flower season R42 a person, R21 children under 12. The park has sprawling self-catering cottages, which range from R1 105 a night for one to four people. Contact SANParks Central Reservations on 012-428-9111 or visit www.sanparks.org. Larus Houseboat sleeps up to four adults and two small children. R2 100 a night. The luxurious Nirvana Houseboat sleeps up to 22 people. R10 125 a night. Both rented a minimum of two nights. Contact O21-526-0432 or visit www.kraalbaaihouseboats.co.za. The cosy Duinepos chalets cost from R800 a night for two people. Contact 022-707-9900 or www.duinepos.co.za.
A Warm WINTER
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Standard conservation fees apply. Free access for Wild Card members. | Be responsible and put your fires out before retiring for the night. | Funds generated through tourism are ploughed back into conservation on CapeNature reserves.
PICTURES: SCOTT RAMSAY
Discover all that makes the season special at CapeNature reserves. Enjoy the crisp air and sheer tranquillity when you explore the great outdoors â€“ hiking, birding, mountain biking, paddling, horse riding or rock climbing. And when you really have to go inside, many of our overnight spots have a cosy fireplace where you can unwind and keep warm. Come and experience the beauty of the wilds. Itâ€™ll change the way you think about winter.
Short, long, sharp, curly or curved ... In the animal kingdom, chompers come in all shapes and sizes. They are the ultimate tools for survival, helping animals hunt, eat and fight. By Emma Bryce
Great White Shark
There’s no toothier grin than the crocodile’s. This leathery reptile keeps about 60 teeth in its jaws. Whether its mouth is open or closed, a croc’s pearly whites are always on show. Powerful sensors on the snout tell a crocodile when food is near. It reacts quickly and snaps its jaws shut with frightening speed. Sometimes crocodiles lose their teeth, but that doesn’t mean prey should be any less afraid. Crocs can grow new teeth in just 48 hours.
If you think your teeth are a handful, spare a thought for the great white shark. This powerful ocean hunter often loses teeth when it’s taking down prey. Luckily the great white has a fresh supply ready. Its mouth contains up to seven rows of teeth and new ones constantly come out. Like knives, the shark’s teeth also have serrated edges that help them slice through meat.
Hippos are vegetarians, so why do they have such long, fierce teeth? Their large canines (eye teeth) are swords for fighting their enemies. In male hippos these teeth can grow as long as 50 cm, almost two standard rulers in length! As their bottom teeth rub against the top teeth, they are constantly sharpened. You may spot older hippos with several scars on their backs. That’s a sign that they’ve survived many toothy battles in their time.
Did you know?
Just like humans are either left-handed or right-handed, elephants use one tusk more than the other. Here’s how you can tell if an elephant is left- or right-tusked. See which tusk is slightly shorter and more rounded at the tip. That’s usually the one the elephant prefers to use.
Did You Know?
Chacma baboons have exactly 32 teeth. That’s the same number as humans.
An elephant’s tusks are really just oversized teeth. Because they never stop growing, these massive ivories can even tell us an elephant’s age. In fact, some of the oldest elephants have tusks so big that the animals themselves are called ‘tuskers’. Males and females both have tusks. They use their jumbo teeth to strip tree bark, dig in the ground for roots and scare off rivals. Not too many creatures want to tangle with such giant teeth!
A yawn isn’t normally scary, but it is a different story if you’re a baboon. To scare others, baboons will silently open their jaws and show their massive eye teeth. It looks a lot like a terrifying yawn. Baboons use their teeth to communicate in other ways, too. Mothers will chatter their teeth together to reassure their babies. Troop members display a toothy grin to show others that they’re friendly.
Warthogs are lucky enough to have two sets of tusks — and they certainly know how to use them. The larger curled ones at the top look scary, but it’s the short ones that are dangerous. Warthogs use their smaller tusks like knives to slash and stab. Even the big cats know to watch out for them. When warthogs go into their underground burrows, they make sure their tusks face outwards. If any other animals come prying, they will get a very sharp surprise.
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Kruger’s private concessions certainly don’t come cheap, but do offer memories money can’t buy. By Romi Boom
I PHOTOS: LION SANDS GAME RESERVE
Experience Kruger in a new way at Tinyeleti treehouse.
IT WAS MID-AFTERNOON AND HOT AS A FURNACE. The elephant herd was slowly moving towards us, grazing among the reeds of the Sabie River. There were babies everywhere, unafraid of tumbling down the river bank. We couldn’t hear them, way down below us, but we had a prime lookout. We could see perfectly how the little ones would get distracted, lag behind, then run on wobbly legs to catch up with their older siblings, moms and aunts. A wildlife spectacle, from the cool bliss of our private plunge pool. The best tickets in the house! We were at Narina Lodge, sheltered by centuryold trees, in one of only nine suites, which are connected by wooden walkways. We might as well have been in a treehouse and could have been as Narina, one of the private concessions in the Kruger National Park, and its sister establishment, Tinga Lodge, do in fact offer guests the option of a luxurious treehouse stay, unique in the Kruger gamut of experiences. As bush bedrooms go, it doesn’t get any more romantic than Tinyeleti treehouse (meaning ‘many stars’). A happy camper, I have slept countless
KERRY DE BRUYN PHOTOGRAPHY
nights under the Milky Way and shooting stars, but the securely constructed platform, with all the creature comforts you could wish for, simply blew my mind. Completely disconnected from other people, any wildlife enthusiast will be impressed by this way of immersing yourself in the bush as you sit high above the ground and watch the animals quenching their thirst from the river. The 50 m2 deck can accommodate four people, and children are welcome. Guests arrive at sunset, to spend the dusk hours enjoying a picnic dinner by the glow of lanterns. When night falls, you blend with the wild animals, armed only with a torch and a radio for communication with your field guide. Absolute peace, except for your own excited heartbeat, until you are collected the next morning. Safari luxury is synonymous with teak floorboards, dreamy mosquito nets, slipper baths, outdoor showers, raised timber walkways and ancient jackalberry trees. Kruger’s private concessions, the Golden Kudus, also offer the opportunity to venture offroad. This does not entail breaking the rules, but it allows rangers the leeway to improvise; for example, to enjoy
You can now read Wild magazine on your tablet or smartphone.
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.
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WILD magazine Autumn 2015 Wild Card's wildlife environment and travel magazine containing top wildlife, park and reserve stories; illustrate...
Published on Apr 24, 2015
WILD magazine Autumn 2015 Wild Card's wildlife environment and travel magazine containing top wildlife, park and reserve stories; illustrate...