Living and working in the heart of the African bush is a privilege shared by only a few. It’s been my privilege for 14 years – 9 as a field guide before becoming Southern Camp’s lodge manager – long enough to occasionally feel as though I’ve seen it all. There are times, however, when Mother Nature stops me in my tracks with something so amazing that I can’t help but wonder, in all my years of living out here, how much of the magic happening all around me I’ve actually seen.
One of these halting moments happened just two evenings ago, right on my doorstep.
I was spending the evening relaxing at home when an annoying squeaking sound had me frowning up at the ceiling fan spinning over my head. To my relief, I realised that the noise was actually coming from the big old knob thorn tree just outside my front door. Naturally, I grabbed a flashlight and my camera and went to investigate.
Shining up into the branches, I was amazed to see that the odd screeching sound was coming from a very distraught lesser bushbaby. These little, wide-eyed primates are long-time residents in the trees around camp, so it surprised me to hear this particular, unrecognisable distress call. I decided to hang around and keep searching for whatever was causing him so much discomfort.
It took me a while to find the troublemaker, but when I did I immediately understood the bushbaby’s distress. High up in the tree lay an African rock python, waiting for the bushbaby to move into striking range. I couldn’t see its head, but its distinctive markings made it easy to identify. It’s not at all strange to find pythons in trees, and younger ones often venture up in search of nesting birds and bats – and bushbabies, apparently. Although clearly a juvenile, at almost 2 metres long it was no small threat to the tiny bushbaby. I had never witnessed a lesser bushbaby interacting with a snake before, but now I know that strange, whining distress call that brings to mind dodgy ceiling fans translates to a very particular fear.
In the manner of so many prey animals, the lesser bushbaby kept his eyes on the python while shouting out his agitated warning into the night. For almost an hour, I stood outside in the dark watching him leap back and forth between the branches, just out of reach of a killing strike, wondering if it could be a clever tactic to loosen the snake’s grip on the branches so it might fall.
Another 30 minutes or so later, the bushbaby gave up and moved off somewhere safer, and not long after, the hungry python wound its way further up into the tree in search of an easier dinner.
The evening’s entertainment over, I went back inside and thanked my lucky stars for the wonders of the African bush that, even after 14 years, still manage to astound me.
And for the fact that I’m not a bushbaby.
Lodge Manager – Southern Camp
Painted Wolf, Wild Dog, Cape Hunting Dog are all words describing one of the most successful predators you’ll get to witness on a safari anywhere in Africa. We at Kapama were lucky enough to view a pack of these incredible animals for the last week now, probably ( hopefully ) seeking new hunting grounds to include in their massive home ranges.
Unfortunately Wild dog numbers are on the decline and very few wildlife areas still exist where these animals can be seen in a natural environment doing what they are supposed to do. This mostly because they were invading cattle farms, and being as successful at hunting as they are, thousands of them got shot because of the threats they posed to livestock.
Rather than using stealth, cunning or brute power to bring down prey they hunt in packs and it takes a considerable amount of team effort for them to be successful With a 90% success rate this tactic obviously serves them very well as they employ cooperation and a good dose of stamina to run down prey and tire it out until such basically collapse out of pure exhaustion.
The pack we see at Kapama probably came through from the conservancy next door to our west, but in all indication it seems like this family is quite happy to be spending some time with us. Hopefully they will have a couple of successful hunts on the reserve and decide to include Kapama Game Reserve as a part of their home range, which would mean that we get to see them a whole lot more often than we used to.
It is truly a big privilege to have them here as their dwelling numbers everywhere throughout sub- Saharan Africa is a cause of great concern. For now we will just enjoy every single sighting of these amazing predators and hope they will decide to make this a part of their permanent home…
On a pleasant night safari the other day my guests and I were coming towards the end of the safari drive, when out of the blue we happen upon one of the rarest sightings I have ever experienced. It all started earlier during the drive when we found the young Southern Male lion fast asleep at Sunset dam. This male normally likes to associate with the youngsters and lionesses of the Moria pride (named after one of the areas on the reserve). Later that evening on the way to the lodge I thought I would go past Sunset dam again and sure enough found the same magnificent Male lion heading towards us in the middle of the road.
I pulled off the road and allowed this massive cat to pass mere meters away from the vehicle. The guests loved the thrill and exhilaration to have such an powerful animal go past this close, and also the fact that he trusted us enough to actually come this close, without paying us any notice. We followed him down the road and he then suddenly veered off his direction clearly showing signs of having picked up on a smell needing closer investigation.
At first we thought he might have picked up a females’ scent and as he moved closer to a bush pandemonium broke loose. He suddenly launched himself into the air behind the bush with a massive African Rock Python biting him on the muzzle. With enormous power he flung the python of his nose and darted back into the road. You could see that this was quite an unpleasant surprise for him and after a few rubs he continued down the road. African Rock Pythons can reach a length of about 6-8 meters and grow up to about 50 – 70 Kg in weight. This is pure muscle and they are extremely powerful snakes.
Obviously this would be quite a hearty meal for a Lion but I am sure this male would think twice before taking on such a powerful reptile again. We couldn’t help but smile when it struck us that this is probably the best example of the age old saying ” don’t bite off more than you can chew…”
Ranger Mike Powell
On a beautiful clear and pleasant afternoon on Kapama Game Reserve we had an epic sighting building up which culminated the moment we arrived. My guests and I found a big bull Elephant bull (around 30 years of age) and a younger bull (possibly late teens) having a bit of a tussle.
The older bull was clearly much bigger, so as we watched I didn’t expect this to go on much further than a few pushes and shoves before the younger bull would retreat from the bigger much more dominant bull. To my surprise the younger bull however wasn’t going to give up and the bigger one now had an aggressive teenager to deal with.
We were parked quite a bit further than the minimum distance for these big animals as from past experiences I knew that when two elephants really get into it, trees and anything else in their path will be demolished. Sure enough after a big shove from the older bull the teenager swung around and saw us at the end of the road. He gave us an exhilarating mock charge and I had to quickly give him some space.
He stopped charging after a short distance and I knew he was just a bit frustrated for not being able to dominate the bigger bull. As all this was happening the older bull then started to display a behavior I’ve heard of but not yet actually seen. He was kneeling down and it looked like he was injured. The younger bull noticed this and tried to shove him while he was down. As the teenager was close enough again the bigger bull quickly rose to his feet and gave the youngster a proper hiding.
It seemed as if the older bull “faked” injury and submission to lure the younger one back so the fight could continue. All my guests and I left that sighting with plenty to talk about at the dinner table.
Mike Duncan Powell – Southern Camp
On our afternoon game drive the other day we came across a herd of Zebra and some Oxpecker birds. A herd of Zebra normally comprises of the dominant stallion and his harem of females or mares and their foals. This particular herd had a very young foal of less than a month old. Newborn zebra foals’ coats are shaggy with brownish or buff stripes. This is thought to camouflage the youngster and protect it to a certain degree from insect bites.
In our area there is a species of bird known as the Red Billed Oxpecker that will often associate and interact with many antelope and larger species, including zebra. These birds are extremely specialized feeders and their bills are designed to feed of the ectoparasites of different animals. They take of parasites by utilizing a scissor like action of the bill.
As the guests and I were watching the zebra and the oxpeckers interacting I noticed that one particular oxpecker was sitting on the rump of the young foal with a collection of soft brown hair in its bill. I knew that oxpeckers would collect hair from certain animals but this was the first time I actually got to see this unique behavior. The reason they collect hair is to line their nests which are usually in the holes of trees.
Most of the time oxpeckers would use the adult hair which is far more coarse and thus quite a bit more difficult to remove. This particular oxpecker however saw the opportunity of lining the last layer of the nest with much softer and more easily extracted hair from the young zebra foal.
In nature it is all about preserving energy and this clever oxpecker saw a much less energy expendant way to line their nest.
Mike Duncan Powell – Southern Camp