I’ve been a ranger for a long time, but I’ve never been a fan of snakes. They don’t necessarily frighten me, they just creep me out a little – especially if I need to touch them. It’s inevitable to come across them from time to time in the bush. Sometimes it’s a deadly black mamba and sometimes it’s a harmless spotted bush snake, but of all the snakes in South Africa, the one I mind the least is the African rock python.
We’ve been very fortunate with African rock python sightings at Kapama over the last few months. A young, half-metre-long one was spotted on a recent night drive, sluggishly crossing the road in front of a ranger and his guests, and another, much larger one was observed cooling off in the waterhole near camp. My best African rock python sighting was of a two-metre-long snake basking in a sunny patch in a tree, lying so still that a turtledove landed right in front of it. The snake struck out so quickly we barely had time to blink, and within seconds it had wound its muscular form round and round its prey, squeezing the life out of it before swallowing it down.
African rock pythons are one of the six largest snake species in the world, the largest in Africa, and can grow to a length of six metres (19 feet). Their long, stout bodies are beautifully patterned with blotches of brown, olive, chestnut or yellow, often joining up in a broad, irregular stripe, and their triangular heads are marked on top with a dark brown ‘spear-head’ outlined in yellow. They’re usually found near water, preferring evergreen forests or moist, open savannahs, and they eat anything from birds and rodents to monkeys or fish. Fully-grown pythons have been known to hunt small antelope and even crocodiles. Being non-venomous constrictors, they strike and grab with the help of many small, backward-curved teeth and crush their prey by winding tighter and tighter with each exhalation.
Like all snakes, they’re ectothermic (or cold-blooded), and therefore depend on their environment to regulate their body temperature. This explains why the small one spotted at night took its time to cross the road and why the large one near camp needed to cool off in the water in the heat of the day. The fact that they can get big enough to consider a human child a convenient snack can be quite frightening, but it’s also their size that makes them vulnerable to hunting for food and leather.
I may not like snakes all that much, but finding an African rock python (even a small one) is always a treat – especially if they keep their distance…
Written by: Pieter Barwise
Kapama River Lodge
The circle of life
A few days ago, on a calm and sunny morning, one of Mother Nature’s spectacles unfolded and my guests and I were fortunate to be allowed to witness it.
We were heading towards the southern plains, where I’d heard rhinos had been spotted, when something unusual caught my eye. It was a black-backed jackal growling at a female blue wildebeest – much too large for a jackal to consider taking on – so I stopped to figure out what was going on. Upon closer inspection, I realised that the reason for the standoff between her and the jackal was a stillborn blue wildebeest calf.
The wildebeest cow edged closer to the jackal, shaking her head, stomping and snorting threateningly. Then, without warning, she turned and walked away, resigned to the fact that there was no hope for her unmoving calf. Within seconds, the air became dim as vultures waiting in nearby trees flocked in for the feast and the jackal, no match for them, backed off with a wild howl. The sound was unexpected, and was followed by an equally unexpected yet delightful surprise: three young jackal pups! They crept out from under a nearby bush and sidled over to their mother, who led them away from the flurry of feathers and off to safety.
There’s no room for happiness or sadness in sightings like these – only awe and gratitude for the chance to witness the circle of life run its course in the African bushveld.
Written by: Alister Kemp
Kapama Southern Camp
Witnessing the birth of an impala
Every day is a unique opportunity to connect with the African bush and on this day I was most fortunate in driving by a truly remarkable sighting. It was an impala ewe with something hanging between her legs.
I was on my way to pick up my guests from the nearby airport and enjoying the beautiful drive in my open safari game drive vehicle, the sound of lions roaring and birds chirping filling the air. I stopped when I heard distress calls from a herd of impalas since this is usually a clear indication that a predator is lurking nearby. It was then that the impala ewe caught my eye and I immediately realised that the thing hanging between its legs was the impala’s calf – still in the process of being born.
The rest of the herd called the alarm again, I searched for the cause of their distress with a combination of concern and excitement. Seeing nothing, I laid down my binoculars and just then a leopard bolted out of the bush, scattering the startled herd. The laboring ewe tried to delay the birth of her newborn lamb, but it was too late. The tiny calf fell to the ground in a bloody mess and the ewe sprung to the safety of a nearby thicket.
The leopard was nowhere to be seen and the distant alarm calls from the scattered herd told me it has moved off. Surprisingly, this calf had gone unnoticed.
Alone, it stretched its long, skinny legs and stood up to take its first few wobbly steps. Its mother returned, together they made their way back into the thicket and out of harm’s way.
Heaving a sigh of relief, I made my way to the airport and shared my remarkable sighting and excitement with my new guests. It’s rare moments like these that makes life in the raw African bush so special.
Written by: Gregory Heasman
Kapama’s new baby giant
Elephants are big, bold and beautiful, not to mention being up there with dolphins and chimps in terms of intelligence. With their beautiful long lashes, wrinkly trunks and Africa-shaped ears, you can’t help but love them, and baby elephants take cuteness to a whole new level. And guess what? Kapama is one elephant calf richer!
One morning, my guests and my tracker, Richard, and I went searching for the herd. It was their last game drive at Kapama and elephants were the only animals they really wanted to and hadn’t yet seen. I mentioned to Richard that I had seen a fresh tree pushed over on the road near the waterhole– a clear sign of elephant activity – just next to Southern Camp. “Yes, I also heard them this morning. They might still be nearby,” Richard said.
We hadn’t driven far when the silence was broken by the sound of trees breaking all around – they were very close to camp indeed. Moments later two elephants hurried across the road to the nearby waterhole, and I suddenly brought the vehicle to a halt. My heart thudded and the sound of cameras clicking became evident. We waited for the rest of the herd to follow, but they remained deep in the bush.
“Let’s carry on. Maybe it’ll give these guys some time to come out so we can try again,” I explained. Just as we set off to drive further into the reserve, a movement far down the road at the waterhole caught my eye… big flapping ears! At last!
“Ah, look at the baby,” one gentlemen guest exclaimed. I turned around and saw the new elephant calf, about a month old, only a few metres away from the game drive vehicle. After being carried in her mother’s womb for almost two years, a teeny tiny giant stood sheltered between the tree-trunk-sized legs of the herd. Ten elephants stood nearby, cooling off in the water. You can probably imagine the excitement and sheer delight on my vehicle.
The tiny giant was very interested in our vehicle and ventured close enough to give us a sniff before racing back to stand beside her mom, who remained splashing peacefully in the water near the Land Cruiser. In the African bush, every moment has the potential to be extraordinary.
Written by: Liesa Becker
Kapama Southern Camp