Dzivamusoko : April 2012 Wildlife Journal

The month of April has come and gone, what is left is an unforgettable memories and life experiences.  Autumn is in full swing here in Sabi Sand Reserve and winter is closing in very quickly indeed. Morning and evening temperatures are getting cooler and cooler by the day we can feel the early morning chill is creeping in the back door and the days are getting shorter. The last of the rains has fallen and the leaves are starting to change to beautiful shades of orange and red and covering the ground below them. With a good rainy season behind us, there is lots of food out there to keep the animals well fed during this coming winter. Wildlife did not disappoint, predators activities were at its peak and there were also lots of general game around.

Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Leopard (Panthera pardus)

The leopard is regarded as the most elusive of all of Africa‘s large cat species and quite often hard to see on safari, an element of luck is involved in encountering this fascinating feline. In the Sabi Sand Game reserve however we are blessed with frequent and fairly regular sightings of these solitary cats. One of the commonly asked questions is: how can one identify individual leopard? Leopards can be uniquely identified by looking at their distinctive facial markings, such as their whisker spot pattern, forehead patterns and eye markings. The most accepted means of leopard identification is by using spot patterns. A spot pattern refers to the upper most row of spots on the leopard’s cheeks. These are the spots above the upper line of whiskers. Other useful methods used are noting notches or tears in their ears and other distinctive marks like scars. 

Shangwa and cub

Shangwa  The leopard mother, Shangwa is doing just great her 2years cub is growing fast and have gain some confident in his hunting capabilities. She does however still feed him, tipical of elderly mother leopards they find it hard to let go of their grown young male. She did killed a common duiker on one night; with the help of her son they devoured the whole antelope in just few hours. And late in the month she was seen with him feeding on an Impala carcass in the marula tree. There were five spotted hyenas hanging around the base of the tree waiting for their share.

watch Shangwa young male on one morning tormenting a group of buffalo. Shangwa - tormenting a group of buffalo. Some of our guests and guides we privileged to watch Shangwa young male on one morning tormenting a group of buffalo. The confidence in his agility bordered arrogance as he darted between the buffalo with total ease. The buffalo did manage to tree the pestering cat on a few occasions. But the leopard was adamant and continued returning. It was extraordinary that on each approach he managed to get closer before the buffalo noticed him, in an hour we noticed his ability to use cover and the wind improving. It’s truly a privilege to witness a future master honing his skills. We can only hope that his choice of training partners will not be the end of him in future. We left the area with six spitting mad buffalo and one leopard relaxing in a tree, looking very proud of himself.

Dayone maleThis male is looking great, everything is going his way at the moment no male is threatening his territory and there are lots of female in it. During the month of this report he rejected at least two females that came for him showing sign of mating. Tlangisa and Dam 3 female followed him for days displaying sign of being in oestrous but the male got just got aggressive and kept walking away.

Hlabankunzi female

Perseverance is a mother of success. After long time trying Hlabankunzi finally get Dayone to mate with her. Even better is that few days later she was seen mating with Khashane male. This means could mean that her new coming cubs will be protected from both male as they will both think they fathered the cubs. 

Hlabankunzi female Hlabankunzi & Dayone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tlangisa female

Tlangisa female

This female has provided some great viewing of late with her been found with more regularity around centre of our traversing area. The young female leopard continues to prosper and stay in excellent health. She has been her usual self, playful and entertaining as she poses for pictures.

Lion (Panthera leo)

Selati coalition

The new coalition is settling in well in their new territory, they paroling and marking every corner of the territory, their roar can be heard from miles away almost every night. On one morning we had a magnificent start to the day as we woke up to the Selati males calling in camp. We set out at dawn and to track them down, with combing fine work of ranger and trackers they were found just east of camp. They seemed to be moving with intent. A short while after we found them they flushed a group of buffalo bulls and the chaos started. They separated one bull, working as a team one teased on the front as the others attacked from behind. The buffalo fought hard but the four strong lions wear determent to pull him down, at one stage one of the male was riding on his back to add some weight in attempt to weaken him.

 Selati coalitionIt was hard work but they manage to pull him down eventually. One of the males hit the much larger beast with enough force to stop it in its tracks.

Ximhungwe pride

 The new dominate males made few attempts to kill the cubs and the lioness fought hard to protect the cubs and they are the run. We didn’t see much of them this month because they have run east across our boundaries. Only one lioness stay behind, it’s easier for her since she has no cubs and she has interacted with these males before they took over the territory. The pride is doing exceptionally well, the youngsters are growing well and have sufficient energy to play and tackle each other and the rest of the pride, especially on cool afternoons and early evenings. They have begun to help their mothers with the hunting even though they are mostly just getting in the way other than anything, but they will soon learn the tricks of the trade.

Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

They were few large parade of elephants spread around the reserve with lots of new young babies. Keith and his guests got up-close and personal with large elephant bull in musth, elephant in this condition is normally aggressive as level of testosterone increases by about 50 percent but this bull was surprisingly relax.

Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

There were few small herds of buffalo bulls scattered around our traversing area. While the large obstinancy has been seen constantly going in and out of our section, it’s always  great to see the return of these big herds and some days we have seen over 600 buffalos  in our in one herds.

More than the big five…..

Impala rut

April is the month of the impala rut. The full-grown males have become ferociously territorial and form temporary territories. Those that win the battle get to spend most of their time herding females into their territories and chasing the loser and the subordinate males out of their territory. The excitement is palpable as they rush to attract mates, letting out loud roaring sounds and splaying their white-tipped tails in display. These distracted bachelors are vulnerable to attack by predators, and those that survive this season will be weak, sporting gashes on their necks that are the scars of fierce battles with their competitors. The dominant rams put all their energy into the rut and spend little time eating. Thus resulting in loosing physical condition and get defeated by the next strong male. Quite a few of these battles do result in one been stabbed to death.

African hawk eagle is one of furious hunter of the African sky. They one of the only bird species that hunt cooperatively; one bird flushes prey which the other strikes, then they both feed on the carcass. They mainly eat birds, using its large feet to tackle and kill animals weighing up to about 4 kg. The nest (see image below) is built by both sexes, consisting of a large platform of sticks and twigs, lined with green leaves and are about 3 meters in diameter. It is typically placed just below the canopy of a tall tree, especially a knob thorn (Acacia nigrescens) about 6-19 metres above ground. The average clutch consists of one or two but normally only one chick is raised to adult as the stronger chick will always kill the weaker to eliminate competition for food.

African hawk eagle
African hawk eagle

In and around camp

Resident elephant bull in campThe resident elephant bulls are constantly ambling though camp, feeding on the vegetation, giving us superb close up views – see picture on below as he take a pick into room seven.

Our lodge sits on the bank of the mighty Sand river  and riverine is the most favourable habitat for leopards and we get see them frequent as they their wonder past through the lodge. This month even Kashane male who normally occupied the southern area of the reserve decided to drop in for an unexpected visit.

Kashane male

That’s all from us this month, we thank you for spending few moments with us in the wilderness, shared our experiences and joined our adventures, and we are committed to keep you updated.

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RHINO FACT FILE: Rhino Action Group Effort

RHINO FACT FILE

What is the problem?

By the end of October 2011, over 350 rhinos had been killed by poachers. Most of these were in the Kruger National Park. Last year, 333 rhinos were killed illegally by poachers, 10 were black rhinos which are critically endangered. This total death count is nearly three times more than in 2009.

Poaching is being carried out by well-organised criminal networks that are linked to drugs, arms and human-trafficking syndicates. These people have high-tech equipment and automatic weapons. This major increase in poaching is due to an increased demand for rhino horn from Asian markets where it is used for various medicinal purposes. It was apparently claimed recently by a Vietnamese politician that rhino horn could cure cancer despite lack of medical evidence. This claim has helped to popularise rhino horn in Asian markets.

Why should we care?

Rhinos are part of a group of animals known as the Big 5. The other animals in the Big 5 are lion, elephant, buffalo and leopard. These animals have always been part of the wildlife found in South Africa and are part of our heritage as South Africans. South Africa would just not be the same if we no longer had rhinos in our game reserves and to show future generations of our children.

Tourists come from all over the world to see the Big 5 animals, which are considered the most exciting and impressive animals to see in the African bush. Game reserves, game lodges and the supporting industries around the game reserves provide jobs and a large amount of revenue for the South African economy. If there were no longer rhinos, this would affect the tourist industry, which would affect job-creation and directly impact many people’s livelihoods.

Rhinos are not only important for creating jobs and generating money in tourism. Many game farmers breed and sell rhinos for hunting. If rhinos are poached, the value of the rhino will become less and farmers will no longer want to farm rhinos which means that jobs in this sector will also be lost as well as much revenue for the South African economy.

In the early 1980’s, the rhino nearly went extinct but thanks to a project called “Operation Rhino” South Africa was able to save rhinos and since then the numbers of rhino have grown. South Africa became famous for saving the rhinos and for supporting other countries by selling rhinos to them in order for those countries to grow their own populations of rhinos. It would be a sad thing to see the victory of the 20th Century reversed!

What can people do to help?

Intelligence through the public is a key source of information for the police and investigators. Not everyone can contribute financially but anyone can contribute information. It’s our collective responsibility to blow the whistle on rhino poaching. Call a hotline if you see something suspicious or have info 0800 205 005 or 0860 10111.

If you do want to contribute financially, do your homework. There are many fraudulent organizations disguised to look like anti-poaching organisations. If you don’t know which organization to donate to directly, RAGE is a good option.

Its not only about donating money. We all have skills and resources to offer.

Who is RAGE?

Rhino Action Group Effort (RAGE) is part of the LeadSA initiative that was set up last year (2010) when concerned groups from both the public and private sectors put their heads together to harness public support against rhino poaching. Whether in the form of skills, resources or financial donations, RAGE channels support to the places where it’s needed most and in this regard is a fully transparent organisation, audited by KPMG. RAGE also performs a function in creating awareness and informing the public about rhino poaching, helping to dispel myths as well as assimilating and redirecting information back to the National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit. After the Minister of Environmental Affairs’ rhino summit in 2010, RAGE was identified as the civil arm of the National rhino strategy.

Other useful information:

Commercial hunting helped to give an economic value to the rhino without which there would probably not currently be as much as 20% of the approximately 18000 rhino in SA on private land. Many private owners have invested in land and breeding rhinos because of their value and contribute hugely to the conservation of the species.

Many people don’t realise that the trade in rhino horn isn’t legal in China or Vietnam either.

The live import/export of rhinos anywhere is not illegal. Live animals can be sold and transported out of SA according to CITIES regulations (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species). This is not considered trade in horn.

SANParks have kept records of its rhino sales over the last few years. They no longer conduct auctions wherein there is no control over who buys the rhino. Now, buyers have to be carefully checked before a sale is made.

A new DNA database called RHODIS, is helping to keep track of the origin of rhino’s and where they come from so if illegal sales take place, these crimes can be addressed. Horns can also be matched to crime scenes which will result in many more prosecutions.

Asian traditions have been around for 1000’s of years. The perception that rhino horn is effective as medicine needs to change urgently but it’s unlikely to be effective coming from the Western front. South Africa needs to lead by example and we can’t tell the Asains not to poach rhinos if our own people still chop off vulture heads and feet to win the lottery!

The financial value of an animal and its conservation status are linked. Little serious international consideration has until recently, been given to legalising trade to undermine illegal trade and slash the value of stockpiles; meeting annual consumption by sustainable production of horn; promoting trade relationships with and sustainable use practices in consumer states; maximising sustainable economic benefits from rhino to support conservation costs and promote rural development; and increasing the number and diversity of stake-holders in rhino survival. These possibilities are being investigated.

Solving the rhino poaching problem is a complex issue which is multifaceted. It involves security and coordination of animals on the ground as much as legislation and policy on a local and international scale. The laws of a country, the natural history of the animal, the traditional beliefs of people involved and the greed that drives criminal industries all need to be understood and addressed at different levels.