The small town festival

October 4th, 2011, posted in Uncategorized

Swings and open-air shops = fun

When you live in the bush, a town trip is a restock on supply trip, no shopping allowed as such…  Home-schooling in the bush might afford a very tangible biology or geography lesson in the park/reserve but very few park visits as such.  The “as such” is referred to here as very seldom. Which is why, when the local town has a festival, it is marked on the calendar and we combine a ‘school-outing’ with a bit of shopping…

The sustainable festival hosted by Pick ‘n’ Pay in Hoedspruit over the weekend afforded Joshua the opportunity to zorb in a play-pool, bungee-bounce, swing on a park-like swing, attend a theatrical production put on by local schools about white lions as well as have an educational talk about snakes!  Pieter attended a Rhino Forum and I shopped and talked!

Snake education

The open-air shop stands makes shopping a pleasure – you’re outside, the people are passionate about their products and since the theme was sustainable – most of the goods for sale are good for the planet!

The food available was good and the healthy options tasted really good!  Joshua particularly enjoyed the dairy-free ‘milkshake’! I found great coffee and a variety of teas – all endorsed by fair trade. We also bought fresh produce from Hlokomela, an intiative of the Hoedspruit training trust that seeks to contribute to the reduction of HIV prevalence and the impact of AIDS among commercial farm workers and their families through an integrated programme of prevention, treatment and care.

The bottom line is that it was wonderful to see so many people wanting to make a difference in what we buy, use or produce so that it benefits our environment and we left having loads of fun and encouraged in our quest to do our part for nature conservation.

School children recite poems

The play that kept adults & children enteratined!

Kids at play

running on water ~ sort of

Anthrax – nature’s lethal weapon

September 23rd, 2011, posted in Creatures Great & Small, Educating You, Wildlife

The word anthrax sounds scary and for some it is. Understanding anthrax appeals to few, but the hype that is created around anthrax is amusing!

Why do people get so upset when animals die? Animals die every day in the wild in the struggle for survival and what is ironic is, that many tourists will pay a fortune to see a predator make a kill whilst they’re on the back of a game-viewing vehicle!  Is it beacuse so many animals die at once? Is it the side effects of the disease?

Recently in Zambia, anthrax killed a number of hippo and buffalo,  although initially there were conflicting reports from the “powers-that-be” anthrax was confirmed and the situation became SERIOUS!

Herewith part of an e-mail from a caring member of the community who tried to people at rest at the beginning of September…

Dear All

   As most of you are aware about the hippos that are keeling over and dieing …, I would just like to inform you that we are waiting for the test results to come back so that we have a definite answer about what is happening. So far we are just speculating that it is Anthrax due to the signs of bleeding from Anus and Nose. It is effecting the hippos most, however there have been a few dead buffalos in the park and GMA.

  There is no reason to panic though even if it is Anthrax, it is a naturally occurring disease which bares its head every few years due to climatic conditions. The spores are able to lie dormant for many years in the soil.

I have attached two links to very helpful sites which deal with Anthrax in Humans and in Wildlife. We as humans are not at major risk, unless we ingest an animals meat that has died from Anthrax. A form of anthrax which effects the skin and can cause blistering can be contracted if handling the carcases of dead beasts. This can be treated simply with a course of Anti-biotics…

Please if you do see any fresh carcases report them … and if possible take a GPS reading to pass on to us. As you have seen some carcases have been covered with Lime. This is to dissuade scavengers from opening the carcases and spreading the spores. It is just a preventative measure which we were advised to take …

 I will let everyone know the results of tests as soon as we have them, but in the meantime please report fresh carcases, don’t touch the carcases without gloves, drive to close, or eat the meat!!!  

Anthrax in Wildlife           http://www.iucn-vsg.org/documents/anthrax.pdf

Anthrax and Humans:     http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002301/

Of course their are many, many hippopotamus pods and large herds of buffalo and both species share a liking for shallow pools – the hippo like the pools because they like to take a rest from the might Zambezi river current and the buffalo enjoy the mud at the edge of the pools, they are also both grazers.  It would be interesting to find the source of the spores that can lie dormant for many years and if there is a connection between man-made channels leading inland from the Zambezi River or if this is pureply nature’s way of decreasing the populations.

Now for the Serious stuff…

Another letter, but this time,  two weeks later, it is a PLEA…

Greetings all

Thanks to … we have been informed today of some lions showing signs of swelling around the mouth and face as well as drooling thick white mucous. As a result … went down to photograph them and check for ourselves. Indeed it was a scary sight! The poor beasts are suffering from obvious signs of Anthrax, obviously from gorging themselves on infected carcasses. At first we didn’t think they could be affected but unfortunately that is obviously not the case.

The warden has been notified as to has the government vet and Dr … Doc  is on his way down with the government vet and hope they will be here tomorrow. At the moment our aim is to treat these lions as soon as possible with penicillin as well as inoculate them and possibly all the lions in the area.

We will need everyones co-operation on this please and request that any lion sightings be reported immediately … We also ask that the guides take notice of any swelling around the mouths or head and neck region or signs of drooling excessively. At the same time though we will need space and privacy to work on the lions so will ask that all game drives stay away if they see us busy with lions. We might be out all day and night tomorrow so will need everyones co-operation and if needed we will call for assistance.

Thank you all in advance.

As it stands at the moment we have lost over 40 hippo, 15 buffalo, 4 Civets and possibly 2 elephants to this outbreak. All are unconfirmed as they haven’t been tested and there may be more which we have missed.

The first reported cases were this time last month.

If anyone has had contact with the carcases or handled them in anyway please take a course of Ampicillin for precautions.

Thanks and hopefully with everyones help we can save our lions. According to Dr … if we treat them soon then they will bounce back fast.

So there we have it from DONT PANIC to PLEASE HELP.  This is what humans are all about, we want nature to take it course but we’ll do anything we can to prevent animals from dying due to natural diseases because at the end of the day, it’s not nice to see dead animals but it certainly is great to see lions feeding off their own kill!

🙂

On a more serious note, if you ever see grazers bleeding from the nose or anus or lots of saliva dripping from the mouths of predators, please report it to the local authorities, park rangers and wardens do need all the help they can get to manage their parks and reserves!

Herewith the sad pictures of the infected lions:

A walk along the Olifants River

August 16th, 2011, posted in Birds, Wildlife

Waking early, packing our back-packs and setting off for the first day of the Pel’s Fishing Owl survey was the beginning of a day, I’ll remember well…

Our morning had started just after mid-night when we woke to the sounds of jackal and hyena calls, we discussed the direction of where the sounds were coming from and then went back to sleep, waking a few hours later. Knowing there must be something in the vicinity, we kept our eyes open en route…

On the back of the open-game-drive vehicle, our jackets zipped up and hands in pockets we drove at a less-than-comfortable speed of 20km/hour – it was freezing (Well, not quite – our blood has been thinned from our Lower-Zambezi life) when we saw three spotted hyena and thankfully stopped to have a better look, then, a few hundred metres later, Pieter spotted a Lion who was tucking into his early morning breakfast – a wildebeest kill. Totally awesome and all before the survey began, which is why I got a picture – once the survey began – there was very little time to take photo’s between looking, ID-ing and making notes!

We started walking along the banks of the Olifants River just after sunrise, heading upstream. We marked all the locations of fish-eating birds that either flew past us (downstream) or those on branches, rocks and sandbanks we walked past, using a GPS. Let’s rephrase that – Pieter put in the way-points, whilst I was scribe – pencil and notebook in hand! Bird identification was the most important factor, armed with binoculars and having my personal field guide, made that possible!

Apart from the list species of birds we saw (See below), we also saw a baby hippo – and I mean, baby, this was a tiny little thing, staying very close to its mother, further upstream was a pod of 20+ hippo, crocs, waterbuck, elephant and plenty of bush buck!

All in all, we walked 15km under the warm African Sun, along a river – surrounded by nature, it’s a bush trail, I certainly enjoyed! We did not see any Pels that day, but the rest of the survey on day 2 and 3 produced 5 – so there is still hope…

African Hawk Eagle
Black breasted Snake eagle
BlackSmith Plover
Egyptian geese
Fish Eagle
Giant Eagle Owl
Giant Kingfisher
Green backed heron
Gymnogene
Hammerkop
Hawk eagle
Hooded Vulture
Pied Kingfisher
Pied wagtails
Reed cormorant
Water dikkop
White backed vulture
White breasted cormorant
White-crowned lapwing

About 20 vultures circled us – too high to identify, but still noted in the survey.

World Ranger Day

July 26th, 2011, posted in Educating You

31 July 2011 is World Ranger Day and we’ll be taking time to honour our Field Rangers on the reserve.

Rangers have pledged their lives to their environment, rangers spend days and nights learning from nature and many choose to share their findings with the world. Rangers also put their lives on the line when they choose to protect animals, plants and soil.

Every month we read reports of rangers who have died in their struggle against poachers, plant collectors, witchdoctors, loggers and other harvesters of marine life.

Our rangers on Grietjie have done a great job of finding snares which has resulted in the arrest of two suspects within a month. We salute all the rangers of the world and thank you all for dedicating your time to looking after our wildlife and their homes!

Out of Zambia – back into South Africa

July 23rd, 2011, posted in Uncategorized

Our time at Mvuu came to an end after a wonderful short-term contract.
We were hoping to see another season through in the Lower Zambezi Valley, but alas, it was not meant to be!

Where in South Africa are we now?

Pieter is now Warden on Grietjie private nature reserve. The concept of Grietjie is interesting in that the Plot owners got together, took down a number of internal fences to form a reserve and the result is that they have now been included into the Greater Balule bordering Klaserie and the Kruger National Park. The Olifants River is a natural border and from where we are currently staying, is about 800m away!!

Phalaborwa is our closest town for those looking on a map!

Joshua’s head down into his home-schooling and says he likes it here! I (Jennie) am a Nature Conservation student about to start my practical experiential learning phase here on Grietjie! It’s going to be interesting to apply my head-knowledge into the field at last! Tourism has been my passion for years, but wildlife, wilderness and nature have always been the driving force behind the tours I have organized or the areas I have promoted and now, I can put my energy into a cause I feel strongly about!

View over part of Grietjie, Balulue

elephant neighbours

Bush trail in a sedan

June 11th, 2011, posted in travel

A true bush trail is conducted on foot, where you smell the fragrances of the plants and/or dung, taste fruit, herbs or roots, cower from majestic elephant and rhino, observing social behaviour and locating nests or dens. However not everyone is able to take a walk on the wild side, for phobias, fitness levels (or lack thereof) and other physical or personal reasons.

There is no such thing as a bush trail on tarred road – read the words – BUSH (plant) TRAIL (track). The Beauty of taking a bush trail in a sedan lies in the absence of traffic, the raw grinding of your tyres on the gravel as you slowly drive, windows open, looking and listening to the sounds made by the creatures that inhabit that piece of earth that surrounds you. It is about being yourself; sitting the way you would like to; eating when you want to; watching a bird or tortoise for as long as you want to; without having to appease a game viewer full of other persons. A bush trail is using your senses, sometimes hearing the roar of a lion and feeling the vehicle vibrate is more powerful than seeing them – but seeing your front windscreen filled with the most amazing view of wilderness is better than hearing about it!

A bush trail is not simply off the beaten track, but rather a gravel or two-track road that leads you into an area protected or land conserved for its plants, animals, historical value, wilderness or all of these combined. There are many bush trails that are scenically beautiful, others are remote and others to suite individual preferences – all are accessible by most sedans. Just because you do not own a 4X4 does not mean you can’t take a safari – you need to approach it a little more carefully…

We have selected our five best bush trails to drive – not in a 4X4, but in a sedan not a low slung car:

1) The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
2) Ndumo Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
3) Nylsvley Nature Reserve, Limpopo
4) Cederberg Conservancy, Western Province
5) Weenen Game reserve, KwaZulu-Natal

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is all about wilderness, wildlife, birds and taking your time! It is not a reserve to visit over the weekend, it is a destination and 7 nights would be doing it justice for a first-time visit. Teaming with wildlife, there is no need to travel every corrugated road in search for a sighting, it would be more rewarding to drive short distances, stopping frequently that’s how our discovery began, watching the “vlei-rotte”, then watching the fat African wildcats stalk them, then watching jackal, vultures, sociable weavers, honey badgers, gemsbok, listening to lions roar…
Many of the gravel roads are corrugated, so unless you want your kidneys rattled, do not attempt to drive more than one road a day!

Ndumo is a birder’s paradise and does not need as much time to explore it and can be visited in 2 or 3 nights, depending on how much action you see or hear from the hides – we could not get enough from the sunset’s themselves so each to their own….

Nylsvley is a RAMSAR site – again more for those interested in birding but like Nduma there are other animals about and due to the limited roads, 1 night or a full day would be good enough for novices!

The Cederberg conservancy is very large and can be explored in bits and pieces or you could take you entire leave and envelop yourself in wilderness, rock art, waterfalls, flora and scenery for weeks, your eyes will not grow weary and there are more than enough bush trails to take your sedan along – although permits are required for the activities and to see attractions. Keep the time of year in mind as when the rivers are in flood you will have to take alternative routes and there is a section of road between Wupperthal and the Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve that is rocky and better for a bantam bakkie rather than a sedan, however, we have heard Golf Chico’s have great ground clearance!

Weenen game reserve is a place that needs a day, great for a weekend camping getaway or for those near enough, a day’s drive in the bush. It is a well kept reserve with interesting terrain, great birding and good game-viewing, the weather always tends to be perfect in autumn, winter or spring but becoming hot in summer, the aloes are exceptional in autumn and the scenery allows for great photography.

If a place says 4X4 trails only – don’t attempt it in a sedan – there is a reason for that sign, stick to the bush trail – it will be well worth it no matter how tempting it may be to test the limits! Having said that, learn a thing-or-two from the foreigners who rent cars and drive – anywhere with no regard for the time it takes to get to the destination they just have to experience it, or students who cant afford SUV’s so pile into a car to explore these places in freedom and more importantly take time to be quiet in this very busy life.

Mvuu in July

April 14th, 2011, posted in travel

Elephants drinking from the Zambezi River

Canoe docking, Zambezi river

Mwinga, the friendly, strong and excellent fishing guide!

Chongwe Falls - the Chongwe river runs into the Zambezi

Diverse vegetation

A hippo pod sandwiched between four layers of BLUE!

Elephants visit my office, whilst Joshua watches them from the steps!

Yes, elephants are the largest mammals on earth, but get a look at the trees in Zambia!

Camo or size? What would be the best to avoid detection?

Bulls prune trees in Boma!

Walking Safaris – Zambia

April 9th, 2011, posted in travel, Wildlife

Walking safaris are a personal favourite. Nothing beats being on foot in the bush. Apart from sitting at the camp or lodge and listening to the sound of the African bush, walking is the only other time you as a visitor get to be actively listening for bird song, frog calls, branches breaking or grunts. There is a constant adrenalin rush, there is always something new to discover and a far richer experience to take home than what a game drive can offer.

I have an adventurous family and my Aunt and Uncle though smitten with Africa’s wildlife, still want a bit of luxury, privacy and good food. They too enjoy wild walking trails and since I am the one making suggestions as to where they should travel to next, I had to also find a suitable lodge that catered for their interests in all ways.

I found a venue in South Luangwa, Zambia.

Puku

$550 per person per night for 3 nights inclusive of 2 walks per day, three meals a day, soft drinks, local wines and local spirits, national park fees and a laundry service.

For wildlife enthusiasts wanting to see more than the normal plains game, there are Puku, Thorncroft’s giraffe, Cookson’s Wildebeest and Crawshay’s Zebra. Since there is a concentration of wildlife in the South Luangwa National Park, there are also predators in the form of lion, leopard, crocodile and on the rare occasion – wild dog.

The game trails often lead guests to places with far-reaching views and finding some of the 400 species of birds will prove to be a lot easier along the river banks or islands that are reached by canoe.

For a bit of a colonial treat, trailists are accompanied by a tea bearer!

You’ll have plenty sightings of hippo and elephant and you’ll be on foot most of the time, so your experience will be as close to an authentic safari as you will ever get.

Cooksons Wildebeest

Crawshays Zebra

Thorncrofts Giraffe

November at Mvuu

March 15th, 2011, posted in Climate & Weather, travel

The end of November is the end of the tourist season, with the number of insects on the increase as the air temperatures increase.

It’s 06h00 – just after sunsrise and already it is 24ºC (ºF). The ground is dry, thirsty and begging for rain. Sleep is hard to come by – the air you breathe is hot and trying to home-school Joshua has become a 06h30-08h30 rush – his concentration drops with every degree the mercury climbs! He’s in the pool at least 4 times a day – his little body needs all the help it can to prevent heat-stroke and of course we can easily drink 2 litres of water and still need something more – which when juice and sodas come to our rescue!

Breeding herd of elephants in camp

It’s a pleasure to watch the elephants come into camp for their daily mud-bath – its so crazy how relaxed they are, drenching themselves with mud to help keep them cool and I’m starting to wonder if that may be a better option than sunblock?

Elephant bull at Mvuu lodge

The fishing is still good and we’ve just hosted a team from the TV series, WildFly and Inside angling – super men who fished from sunrise to sunset every day, with them was Chris Bladen who only fly-fished, no compromise – no bait, no spinners, only flies! Yes the 2010 season has been quite an adventure, meeting people from around the world, making new friends and learning much from the creatures that inhabit the Lower Zambezi Valley as well as its visitors.

Chris Bladen

Chris Bladen's Marlin

River cruise into the Lower Zambezi National Park

November 7th, 2010, posted in travel

sunrise-on the way to the park

We left at sunrise for our river safari into the Lower Zambezi National Park…

Just after paying our park fees we saw lions, 2 lionesses – it was Joshua’s first sighting of lions and what a treat we had! We then slowly made our way down stream, marveling at the large number of birds on the islands and trying to remember the names of the islands as Justin, our guide named them.

lioness-sighting on the bank

The sun got a bit higher and my men-folk’s tummy’s started rumbling so we stopped on an island for a cup of tea and a muffin! I must interrupt the safari at this point to mentions the ISLAND RULES!

The Zambezi River is a wonderful river with the deep-water channel being the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Tourists are asked to remain on the correct side of mutual islands, but only to alight on islands that fall within the country’s boundary – so, its best you take a river safari with a licensed guide that knows which islands belong to which country and then which islands are safe to venture out on as some have large herds of buffalo and I’m told but did not witness that there is even an island on which lion live….

zambezi islands

Tummy’s satisfied we continued down the Zambezi River, watching elephant along the shoreline and marveling at bee-eater colonies and the ever changing vegetation!! I think that’s what makes a river safari so different – it’s a smooth relaxing ride, with no/few tse-tse flies and great sightings of wildlife!

hippo pod

ground hornbills

buffalo sighting 100+

Time flew and then we stopped for a picnic lunch before heading out to a spot to try our hand at catching Chessa…

Pieter, Justin and Joshua did very well, whereas I only caught 1! You’ll see from the pictures the delight in Joshua’s face and excitement at catching his first fish in the Zambezi! We now look forward to try Tiger fishing these same waters…

fishing for chessa

Joshua catches a Chessa


Our day came to an end, but before we reached camp, our good-bye present from the Lower Zambezi National Park was another sighting of Lions – this time a male and female, there they were on the shore of the Zambezi River lion and lioness and I just had marvel at the exceptional day we had all had. What a blessing!

Pieter fishing the Zambezi waters

Lion and lioness

 
 
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