Thursday, June 14, 2012

May 28, 2012: The Lost World of Niassa & Farewell to Africa

Greetings All,
The last chapter in our Southern African odyssey was a quick trip to Mozambique. We flew from Johannesburg to Pemba in northern Mozambique. We spent one night on the Indian Ocean (photo 1)

before heading inland. A one and a half hour charter flight the next morning took us to Niassa Reserve close to the border with Tanzania. The Reserve is a large (42,000 square kilometer) expanse of wilderness containing rivers cutting through Miambo woodland. Palm, Acacia and Baobab trees grow in the floodplains along the rivers. The most unusual features in the landscape are rock formations called inselbergs. They loom above the plain in a variety of shapes (photo 2).

Some are virtually bare containing resurrection grass while others have trees growing on their slopes. Some contain caves with ancient rock art 4000 years old (photo 3).

Wildlife viewing this time of year is difficult with plenty of tall grass for the animals to hide in. We did get some nice sightings of Waterbuck (photo 4), Elephants (photo 5) and 3 Klipspringers climbing up an inselberg covered in Resurrection grass (photo 6).

On our second night we were treated to dinner on top of an inselberg overlooking the Lugenda River (photo 7).

It was a magical spot, right out of Jurassic Park. On our last night in the Reserve we went to a Hippo Pool on the Lugenda River to watch the sunset. We're still smiling after nearly 3 and a half months in Africa (photo 8).

Tomorrow we head home. We're looking forward to seeing everyone!
Marc and Peggy

      Southern Africa Mammal List: February 23 - May 30, 2012

 No. Species Scientific Name Notes
  1 African Bush Elephant Loxodonta africana Okavango, Tuli, Kruger, Niassa,  Pilanesberg 
  2 Cape Buffalo Syncerus caffer caffer Moremi 
  3 Southern White Rhino Ceratotherium simum simum Hluhluwe, Greater Kudulands,  Pilanesberg 
  4 Southern African Lion Panthera leo melanochaita Okavango, Kalahari, Kruger 
  5 Angolan Giraffe Giraffa giraffa angolensis Maun
  6 Eland Tragelaphus oryx  Tuli
  7 Black-backed Jackal  Canis mesomelas  Kalahari, Tuli
  8 Spotted Hyena Crocuta crocuta Kruger
  9 Small Spotted Genet Genetta genetta Maun
 10 Hippopotamus  Hippopotamus amphibius Okavango, Pilanesberg 
 11 Spotted-necked Otter Hydrictis maculicollis Okavango
 12 Southern Greater Kudu Tragelaphus  strepsiceros strepsiceros  Makgadikgadi, Tuli, Pilanesberg 
 13 Side-striped Jackal Canis adustus Niassa Reserve
 14 Plains Zebra Equus quagga Maun, Makgadikgadi 
 15 Red Lechwe Kobus leche leche Okavango
 16 South African Ground  Squirrel  Xerus inauris Kalahari 
 17 Chacma Baboon Papio ursinus Greater Kudulands, Kruger 
 18 Springbok Antidorcas marsupialis  Maun, Kalahari 
 19 Common Impala Aepyceros  melampus melampus Moremi, Pilanesberg 
 20 Klipspringer  Oreotragus oreotragus  Niassa Reserve
 21 Gemsbok  Oryx gazella Kalahari 
 22 African Wild Dog Lycaon pictus Moremi, Tuli, Hluhluwe, Kruger 
 23 Rock Hyrax Procavia capensis Greater Kudulands 
 24 Nyala Tragelaphus angasii Greater Kudulands 
 25 Blue Wildebeest Connochaetes  taurinus taurinus Okavango, Moremi, Pilanesberg 
 26 Red Hartebeest Alcelaphus  buselaphus caama Pilanesberg 
 27 Honey Badger Mellivora capensis Kalahari 
 28 Bushbuck Tragelaphus scriptus Okavango 
 29 South African Giraffe  Giraffa camelopardalis  giraffa Makgadikgadi, Greater  Kudulands 
 30 Bat-eared Fox Otocyon megalotis Kalahari 
 31 African Leopard Panthera pardus pardus Tuli, Kruger
 32 Sloggett’s Vlei Rat Otomys sloggetti Drakensberg
 33 Sable Antelope Hippotragus niger Greater Kudulands
 34 Serval Leptailurus serval Kruger
 35 Nyasaland Wildebeest Connochaetes tauranus  johnstoni Niassa Reserve
 36 African Civet Civettictis civetta Niassa Reserve
 37 Common Waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus  ellipsiprymnus Niassa Reserve
 38 Blue Monkey Cercopithecus mitis Niassa Reserve

May 22, 2012: Lunch with Elephants, Love in the Bush & Hyena Hijinks

Hi All,
As promised here are some more tails and tales from Kruger National Park. On Friday we stopped off at a hide for lunch. A hide is an enclosed, usually raised platform overlooking a waterhole where you can safely sit and watch animals and birds. On the way to the hide we had to sneak past some elephants that were crossing the road. Turns out they were on their way to the waterhole for a drink. There was this little guy that ended up in the waterhole trunk first (photo 1).

He panicked when he couldn't climb out a let out a trumpet which agitated the rest of the herd. Fortunately, Mom was there to lend a helping truck and pushed the little guy to safety (photo 2).

That night we stayed at a camp called Shingwedzi. We decided to go on a night drive and heard lions roaring as we were getting ready to leave. I was hoping to run into them but, we were disappointed. As it turns out we decided to spend a 5th night in the Park which meant we had to pass by Shingwedzi Camp again on Sunday morning. As we approached there was a male and female lion on the road! They headed off into the grass to mate (photo 3 edited version). We were very lucky to have gotten a second change to see them.

We did go on another night drive from another camp called Punda Maria. We had better luck on this one. We ran into a female leopard and her two cubs! Marc managed to get a photo as she crossed the road (photo 4).

On our last game drive in Kruger we came across a Hyena den. There were 3 older pups and 1 young pup most likely from another litter playing around with each other. As we drove up they turned their attention to us. They circled the car and one put his front legs on the bumper and peered over the hood. Another inquisitive guy approached my open window and I thought he was going to jump in. When I went to close the window the car motor was off and these were power windows. A second vehicle pulled up and the hyena pups went off to check it out (photo 5).

One cheeky fellow ended up pulling a cap off from the back of the vehicle (photo 6).

I heard the driver exclaim "why you little b______d!" I could have watched them all morning but we had a long drive back to Pretoria. After spending the night with a friend, we are back in Joburg. Tomorrow we head to Mozambique for 4 nights. It's hard to believe our trip is nearing the end.

We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc

May 22, 2012: Mad Dash to Skuza

Greetings All,
On our first afternoon in Kruger National Park we decided to do a game drive. Our plan was a bit aggressive and we found ourselves far from the rest camp we were staying at as the sun was sinking lower in the sky. We had to be back by 5:30 before the gates closed. We headed back a bit faster than the 50 KPH speed limit and encountered a guy parked on the side on the road indicating for us to slow down. We thought maybe there was a park ranger ahead. As we rounded a slight bend I caught a glimpse of a cat crossing the road. It was a leopard! We didn't get a great view of her but enough to snap a quick photo (photo 1).

The man who indicated for us to slow down drove up grinning. We weren't sure how he knew the leopard would be there. He must have been following her.

We really had to get back to camp. It was 4:50 and we had 45 km to go to get back to Skuza Rest Camp. No sooner had we left the leopard when I spotted a Serval cat on the side of the road. We snapped a quick photo but we really had to get back to camp (photo 2).

Literally a minute after spotting the Serval, another rarity in the Park was in the road ahead, 4 Southern Ground Hornbills (photo 3).

This was crazy. It was now 4:55 and we were no closer to camp. We started our mad dash in ernest, not daring to go faster than 60-80 kph. We had to get past the gauntlet of Helmeted Guinea Fowl and Chacma Baboons that were congregating on the road, no doubt a conspiracy to make us late getting back to camp.

The last thing we wanted was to hit an animal crossing the road. Sure enough there were animals in the road up ahead. "Stop, Wild Dogs!" I shouted to Marc. There were a pack of 12 or so in the road! They were feeding on a fresh kill. It was now 5:35 and unfortunately we could not stay and watch them. I tried to snap a photo with my camera but it would not focus in the dark. I did manage to get an image that we could lighten up (photo 4).

I wanted to stay longer but Marc didn't want to face the consequences of getting back to camp late. Heck, we were already late.

When we arrived at camp, the gate was closed! The gate attendant was there and was not happy. He asked "OK, why are you late?". "Wild Dogs", I replied. He gave us a warning but told us next time we would be fined. Whew, what a way to start our visit to Kruger National Park! More tales from the Park to come.

We hope all is well back home.
Marc and Peggy

May 18, 2012: Swaziland

Greetings All,
After leaving Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve we headed north to the tiny kingdom of Swaziland to visit Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and take in a bit of Swazi culture. We stayed in a traditional beehive hut and the Nyala paid us a visit (photo 1).

That night the local staff sang and danced for us with a lot of high kicking (photo 2).

The sanctuary has a good variety of antelope including this Blesbok (photo 3).

Since there are no "dangerous" animals at Mlilwane you are free to walk or in our case mountain bike. We biked through an enclosure for Roan Antelope. These antelope became extinct in Swaziland and now the Sanctuary has a project to reintroduce them to the country. We arrived at feeding time and a herd of 20 approached the gate to check us out (photo 4).

We left Swaziland a couple of days ago and continued our drive North back into South Africa and Kruger National Park. Stay tuned for some of our adventures in Kruger.

We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc

May 12, 2012: Road Block, Wild Dogs Galore & Close Encounters with Cheetah

Hi All,
We've spent the last 2 days exploring Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve. Yesterday was White Rhino Day. We saw 16 Rhinos while exploring the park. Our first encounter was with 2 bulls then out of the bush comes a cow with a calf. One of the bulls approached the cow and her calf became very upset. He wasn't about ready to give up mom yet and chased the bull off (photo 1).
Today we headed into the park early and encountered a road block of the elephant kind. I was happy that we were 4th in line behind the pick up truck (photo 2).

We continued along the main road and came upon another road block. This time it was caused by a pack of 17 African Wild Dogs! We followed them for half an hour. They were toying with the cars, running back and forth across the road before they got tired of the game and trotted off into the bush (photo 3).

We finally got a decent sighting of a male Nyala (photo 4).

We headed back to Emdomeni Lodge early to help feed the cats. The Lodge has a rehabilitation center for cats and there are Cheetah, African Wild Cats (photo 5),

Caracals and Servals in residence. I got to help feed the caracals by chucking zebra meat over the fence (photo 6).

Two of the male cheetahs were hand reared and were very tame. We were able to scratch them under their chins making them purr loudly (photo 7 ).

The center breeds cats that can't be released into the wild for one reason or another then gives the kittens/cubs to game reserves and parks in order to increase wild populations. One of the female Servals preferred her dinner up in a tree (photo 8).

That's it from South Africa. We're off to St. Lucia Wetlands early tomorrow morning.
Marc and Peggy

May 11, 2012: Barrier of Spears

Greetings All,
We are in Hulhluwe, South Africa after completing our 6 day trek in the Central Drakensberg Mountains. In Zulu they are referred as uKhahlamba ("barrier of spears"). We covered 90km during the course of our trek. We started at Injisuthi trailhead (photo 1)

and on our second day reached what's known as the high berg via Leslie Pass (photo 2).

The approach to the top of the escarpment was quite steep as seen in the photo. The actual pass is the grassy slope in the left of the photo. Once on top of the plateau a vast landscape of valleys, ridges and peaks unfolded before us. Our campsite was near the top of the pass (photo 3)

a good starting point for the hike up Mafadi Peak, the highest point in South Africa the next day. The summit of Mafadi Peak at 3450 meters is a broad, rocky one (photo 4).

Two of the many prominent rock formations we encountered along our route was Giant's Castle (photo 5) and The Hook (photo 6).

We didn't encounter many other trekkers on our route, just a few Lesotho sheppard's tending their flocks of sheep. They spend the summer in stone huts with grass roofs (photo 7)

but this one has been abandoned for the winter. Our trek culminated with an accent of Thabana Ntlenyana at 3482 meters it is the highest peak in Lesotho and Southern African for that matter. That's Marc, Carlos our guide and me on the summit (photo 8).

As the clouds were gathering, we made a hasty retreat to Sani Pass. At the pass we were rewarded with a warm chalet and a bottle of good South African wine at the highest pub in Africa (photo 9)!

It's hard to believe we'll be home in less than 3 weeks. We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc

April 29, 2012: Feeding the Kitties and Bedroom Visitor

Greetings All,
Yesterday we got a call from Howard that he was going to feed the kitties if anyone wanted to watch. Sure we did. We rushed off to the kitty enclosure and Howard was there in his land rover with a dead Impala in the back (photo 1).

We followed Howard into the lion enclosure in vehicles of course and the lions were waiting for lunch (photo 2).

It's kind of hard to see through the bushes but the Impala was pushed off the back of the land rover and the lions pounced on it dragging it into the bushes (photo 3).

The 3 lions (1 female and 2 males) feasted on the carcass with a few snarls and growls (photo 4). The experience gave new meaning to time to feed the cats. No friskies for these kitties!

No sooner had we settled back into camp when Elisa got a frantic call from Loren. A giant monitor lizard had crawled through a hole in the roof and was dangling above her bed! He fell to the floor with a thud and promptly disappeared. Loren was requesting back up to find him and get him out of the house. We arrived on the scene and carefully peered under the furniture finally locating him peering from under Elisa's bed (photo 5).

We devised a plan to herd him out of the house with a broom but he wouldn't budge. No one wanted to grab him since monitor lizards have formidable claws and a bite laden with bacteria. Finally, Elisa got brave and threw her towel over him, gingerly lifted him up and carried him outside (photo 6).

Luckily, he did not put up a struggle preferring to play dead instead. Once released he slunk off in the tall grass (photo 7). There's never a dull moment when you live on a game farm in South Africa.

We hope all is well back home.
Marc and Peggy

April 26, 2012: Bucky Escapes

Hi All,
Today we were just finishing checking the waterhole pumps when we got a call from Howard. Bucky, the pet Nyala had escaped (no, we didn't let her out). He wanted to know if anyone wanted to go with him in his helicopter to fetch a dart gun and drugs from the local vet. We drew sticks and I got the longest one so
Marc and I got to join Howard (photo 1).

We met the vet on a neighboring farm, set the chopper down and picked up the gun and drugs. We returned to the air strip then piled into the back of Howard's land rover to find Bucky who had wandered into a nearby village. We located her literally in the village next to a house (photo 2).

Howard darted her and his workers lifted her to the back of the truck. I keep the blindfold on so she wouldn't get too stressed out (photo 3).

We drove back to the farm where Bucky was given a reversal drug (photo 4).

She almost immediately got up on wobbly legs (photo 5). I think Bucky learned an important lesson today. The grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence.

I threw in a few misc. photos. The first is Howard's lion (photo 6) and the second is a Bat-eared Fox (photo 7) we saw today while checking the waterhole pumps.

We hope Spring has sprung in Vermont.
Marc and Peggy