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Living with African wild cats

In search of Kapama’s big cats

Everyone loves a good predator sighting, and there’s no greater thrill than getting close to the big cats that call Kapama home. Our bold lions, elusive leopards, and elegant cheetahs never fail to get the adrenaline pumping, and we are really fortunate to be able to get close to them without disturbing their natural behaviour.

Kapama’s lions are particularly relaxed around vehicles, possibly because they are innately confident within the protection of their pride, but mostly because many of them have grown up with the smells and sounds and chatter of game viewers. This makes them wonderful subjects for photography, especially when their cubs are out and about, amusing our guests.

Getting as close to a leopard or cheetah, though not impossible, is a little more challenging. Nevertheless, there have been many special occasions where I have enjoyed memorable sightings of a lurking leopard or a cheetah feasting on a fresh kill.

On one such occasion, my Argentinian guests were desperate to see a cheetah. It was their last evening drive and though I knew that chances of finding one were slim, we headed out to the north western farm to seek out a speedy spotted cat.

The bark of an anxious nyala alerted us to the presence of a predator so Shadrick, my tracker, jumped off to see what he could find on foot while I drove around the block.  When we both came back empty-handed we decided to cut our losses and go and check on a kudu that had been taken down by lions the previous night instead.

The well-fed lions and their cubs entertained us for a while, and we’d all made peace with our cheetah no-show by the time we left them to find a spot for sundowners. But just as we passed where the nyala had called earlier, the snorts of nervous impala brought us to a halt once more.

“There she is! There she is!” came a cry from an ecstatic guest behind me.

Sure enough, there was the cheetah they were so desperate to see, stalking through the bush and away from stares and snorts of the unhappy impala as if she hadn’t been there all along. It just goes to show, those spots really are fantastic for camouflage, and just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Written by: Chane Blignaut
Kapama Karula

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Africa’s cold-blooded giant

African rock python

The African Rock Python

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

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A stand off between a jackal and a wildebeest

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.

Jackal and wildebeest stand off

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.

Jackals and vultures

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

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A startled herd and a lurking leopard

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.

Birth of an impala

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.

Birth of an impala

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.

Birth of an impala

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.

Birth of an impala

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.

Birth of an impala

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 Karula

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Recent Comments
  • Simon Witney: Sitting in my office in Vancouver, Canada, I open the email ...
  • Helen Cox: Beautiful photos-thank you so much. Now I ought to have ask...
  • Salomien Rudolph: We saw the lionesses and cubs often on our visit in March, e...
  • Karl Brandt: Educational, and (excuse the pun) offering fascinating evide...
  • Karsten Kemp: That was a touching story. That impala-calf must have been b...
  • Krishnan: Enjoyed your piece, Greg! Tells us anything can happen in th...
  • Nalin: Hey Gary. Great sighting I was with Marius when I veistid y...
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  • Hellen: - Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the mo...
  • Melissa Smit: It is a pleasure Carmen. We hope to see you back at Kapama s...
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