Under a Watchful Eye

Animals, just like humans, have personalities. Think about your dog at home – some days your dog is beyond excited about anything and the next, he might be laying in his basket, having what we as humans would call an “off” day. As rangers, we constantly see the behaviour of the animals and their reactions to different situations. These situations could include the weather, environment around them or hormonal influences. We have so many guests asking us everyday whether all the videos they have seen about animals attacking people are true, and whether things like that happen to us. Even though we do see many amazing things, we have been taught to be aware of our surroundings, especially when we are out in the bush. People who are going on safari for the first time are usually quite nervous and underestimate the sheer size and power some of these animals have. I have had many guests who are full of confidence while we’re driving around, but as soon as we’re near some lions, they’re suddenly pushing themselves as far into their seats as it will allow. Our animals are beautiful, and no doubt, could instill fear in anyone, but, if you know how to pick up the subtle hints they give off as warning signs, your safari experience (whether in a private reserve with a qualified ranger, or when you are driving yourself around a national park) will be more amazing than you could have ever imagined. When you are ready to go on safari, keep in mind that the animals have good days and bad days, too, and try pick a place where you will feel comfortable enough enjoying them from a distance where you and the animals feel happy. Don’t ever push animals, because then you could just land up being the star of yet another video on the internet. Enjoy your safari, and remember that the animals are not dangerous – only the people who don’t know how to behave around them!

Story by Angie (River Lodge)

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Western Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Every now and again, you get up close and personal with a particularly beautiful bird. As I am rather fond of the birds of prey – each displaying their magnificent talons, strong beak and striking colours – I find myself drawn to taking pictures of them whenever I get a good opportunity.
One of my absolute favourites (if I really had to choose), would have to be the Western Osprey. It’s astonishing white feathers and stark, dark eyes make them look far wiser than they are given credit for.
This bird is diurnal, preferring to dine on fish. It possesses specialised physical characteristics and exhibits unique behaviour to assist in hunting and catching prey. It is a large raptor, reaching more than 60 cm (24 in) in length and 180 cm (71 in) across the wings. It tolerates a wide variety of habitats, nesting in any location near a body of water providing an adequate food supply, and occurs on all continents except Antarctica.
The Western Osprey is a summer migrant, making its appearance all the more worthwhile. I am still quite new in the birding world and I enjoy watching all of the feathery creatures, some more majestic than others, but my heart still skips a beat when I see one of these fierce creatures, hunting for their next meal.

Story by Angie (River Lodge)

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The Best Job in the World

The past few days have been really exiting – so many different sightings of animals interacting with one another. Not too long ago, we had two male hippos battling it out in one of our dams, real serious fight – water splashing everywhere, blood coming from the hippos mouths, spit almost flying on our faces… A real show of muscle! But it was an amazing sighting! A few days after that, we had our newly released male cheetah chasing blue wildebeest around and jackals around in an open plains. However, the best sighting was about a day ago. Our pride of lions killed a female buffalo while in the background, there were three rhinos just having a drink of water and enjoying the show. It didn’t stop there – after that, our big male lion and his lioness came and stole the carcass from the pride and drove them away. And the very next day, we had a lovely interaction between our lion cubs and mother with some buffalo. I didn’t go on drive tonight, but I heard from the other rangers that there were several leopard sighting all over Kapama and all in the same drive. It’s been a really exciting week and looking forward to my next drive, to see what new adventures await us.

Story by Jakes (River Lodge)

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Southern White Faced Scops Owl

The Southern White Faced Scops Owl is a small owl easily recognizable by the very striking white facial disc with a border of black plumage. It has large, bright orange eyes, which are surrounded with black colours. They are 25cm in height and they weigh around 200gms, making them one of the smallest owls in Southern Africa.

This species is found singly or in pairs, where the female will lay a clutch of 2 or 3 eggs in an old stick nest of many other bird species. If these abandoned nests are not available, they will nest in natural tree holes. The young chicks will start flying at roughly 33 days.

These nocturnal owls are very well known for their ability to “transform” their shape. If they are alarmed, they have a way of escaping detection – they can elongate their bodies and contract their plumage, making themselves look taller and thinner. At the same time, they can narrow their very bright eyes into slits, making their faces less visible. To create the illusion of being much larger and more aggressive, they will open and raise their wings, creating a large “semi-circle” around their bodies – and then fluff out their feathers to further increase their apparent size.

According to tradition, owls are considered to be the wisest of all birds. Their large eyes give the impression of intelligence, so they are often depicted in stories as wise and knowledgeable.
In our world full of endless activity and distractions, being able to sit quietly is a lost art.

Story by Chané (River Lodge)

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Small Tracks, Big Animal

It is the first drive for my new guests. They were staying for two nights so the plan was to maybe track down one of the big 5. There was no pressure yet and everything was still new and exciting to them. So the drive went along smoothly as we looked at birds, trees and general game like impala and giraffe.

After about an hour, we came across some lion tracks. It seemed to be quite fresh so we decided to follow them. They led us into and down a riverbed. I will never complain as I enjoy driving in the sand every now and then. Further along we came across some rhino tracks going in the same direction as the lions. But since we decided to follow the lions, the rhino tracks didn’t bother us too much when they veered off to the north.

As I stopped at one of the nicer tracks to explain to the guests about how we go along identifying the tracks, my tracker spotted a rhino not too far ahead of us. He must have been dreaming because as we drove around the corner there was nothing. But I trust my tracker and if he insists that he saw a rhino, then he saw a rhino. He could see tracks of them going north again. I couldn’t, showing why he is the tracker and I am not. We drove north and sure as daylight there was a different one of the big 5 – the buffalo. This may sound weird, but at quick glance, a buffalo can look identical to a rhino, especially in the thick bush. Again my tracker said that the tracks keep going north, so after a while we continued north, completely forgetting about the serious lion tracking we were busy with. And suddenly there they were – beautiful white rhino females, standing larger than life in the middle of the road.

After we enjoyed the rhinos for a while, we thought about the lion tracks again and decided against it. Don’t want to spoil the guests too much on the first experience. So we headed to an open area to enjoy sundowner drinks as the sun disappeared over the horizon and giraffes gracefully walking across the open plains. Great ending to another perfect day in Africa.

Story by Jacques (River Lodge)

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The Calls of Africa

Our safari was almost complete. We only had one night drive and a morning drive left. It was time to look for what we haven’t seen yet. The answer – lion cubs. Setting out, all the other rangers were determined to find a leopard. So we were alone. We did however have an idea of where the animals had been by trying tracking them that morning. But they hadn’t been found yet. And the tracks disappeared because of a soft rain all day. So this was going to be a mission from the start.

As we drove around, we started losing hope – there was no fresh tracks to be found, and the spots that were most likely to be their end destination turned up empty. Until that one unknown turn you go around and they are, lying on the road. Mom and the older sisters sleeping while the cubs play around and on top of them. It turned out to be fantastic. With everybody else still looking for leopard, that ensured that we had the sighting to ourselves for as long as we wanted. Then however, we got thirsty for more.

We made our way to a nice open spot, far enough away from the lions to enjoy a sun downer drink. Just as the guests were finishing up their last sips, we heard a lion roaring. Then a few minutes later another roar. Closer this time. So we packed up and got back onto the vehicle. It didn’t take as long to find the big male walking along slowly up the road, marking his territorial boundaries after the rain. He walked closer to the car and flopped down a little distance away from us, but still facing the vehicle. We got the opportunity for some amazing photographs and then he started to roar. Lying down, head up. Full volume roar. It sounded like it came right from the stomach, straight through the car! Awestruck, we realized again the immense presence this magnificent animal has wherever it goes. And there is no place I would have rather been at that moment than right there. Beautiful, amazing Africa

Story by Jacques (River Lodge)

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