At Mission Rocks lookout point the wetlands of the St. Lucia estuary unfold in front of you, with sweeping views of evergreen forests, ancient coastal dunes and open savannah. Some specks in the far distance turn out to be grazing rhinos, but tiny as they are my attention is drawn to some flowering Natal creeping figs (Carpobrotus dimidiatus) that grow in the area abundantly. This succulent plant is indigenous to the coastal habitats of KwaZulu-Natal, thriving on sandy soils and therefore often used as a stabilizer near roads and railways. Even more fascinating is its traditional use as a remedy against dysentery, blue bottle stings and eczema. Because I took a few extra pictures of this wonderful flower we apparently missed out on a spectacular leopard sighting a bit further on, but hey, I’ve learned to be content with the little things in life, to slow down and experience nature in all its nuances. Besides that, in Africa the next big thing is never far away anyway!
The thick-tailed bushbaby (Otolemur crassicaudatus) is the biggest species of a primitive group of African primates called galagos. They are arboreal, just as their smaller cousins, and walk and run along branches like monkeys. Although they sometimes hop around as if they were kangaroos, they don’t posses the same agility and quick-grabbing reflexes other bushbabies display. Their diet therefore consist mainly of fruit, gum and seeds rather than insects. They are solitary feeders most of the time, but often congregate and socialize on fruiting trees and gum-oozing acacias, even in man-made habitats as plantations and gardens. We were lucky to witness these lovely big-eyed residents of the Bushbaby Lodge near Hluhluwe, eagerly anticipating some slices of banana. After a minute or two they quickly moved into the dark canopy again to continue their usual foraging route. Eye to eye with an ancient ancestor: totally awesome!
We spotted this beautiful black rhino on the 8th of august in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. According to information provided by KZN Wildlife this individual should still be alive – a reason to celebrate on World Rhino Day and honour all those who are involved in conservation efforts. Make your contribution to save the rhino and play this game! iTunes link for Rest of the the world: itunes.apple.com/us/app/wwf-rhino-raid/id603031304?ls=1&mt=8 Android link: play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=za.co.flintsky.rhinoraid&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEsInphLmNvLmZsaW50c2t5LnJoaW5vcmFpZCJd
“I had time after time watched the progression across the plain of the giraffe, in their queer inimitable, vegetative gracefulness, as if it were not a herd of animals but a family of rare, long-stemmed, speckled gigantic flowers slowly advancing” – Karen Blixen, Out of Africa I simply love giraffes, the way they look, eat and walk in all their gracious glory. These were not the first animals we came across on this golden hour morning drive near Orpen: lions and black-backed jackals had crossed our path just five minutes earlier. Although the predators didn’t offer the same photo opportunity, I’ve never had such an exciting start of the day!
Just south of the Letaba the S-46 crosses a side arm of this mighty river. At the water’s edge our attention was drawn to a solitary hippo bull, clearly not amused by our presence according to his resonant grunts. It was only after he submerged when we spotted this Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) right next to the car, waiting for an unsuspecting fish or frog in the shallows. We observed this fascinating bird for a few moments, but as it is a symbol for bad-luck and human futility in South-African folklore we didn’t wait for the hippo to reappear…
“A woodland in full color is awesome as a forest fire, in magnitude at least, but a single tree is like a dancing tongue of flame to warm the heart” – Hal Borland
Browsing giraffes are a common sight on any safari as they love the tender leaves and twigs of acacia trees. Since a giraffe eats up to 34 kilograms every day in order to sustain its bulk, acacias have developed clever defence mechanisms to avoid being stripped completely. Apart from their big thorns – that can be negotiated by the giraffe’s flexible upper lip and prehensile tongue – acacias charge their leaves with alkaloids, chemical compounds that bind with tannins, rendering the leaves indigestible. As soon as an acacia starts this chemical defence it warns other trees in the vicinity, forcing the giraffe to browse upwind in order to continue his love affair with these thorny trees.
We had seen mum cooling herself down in the mud of the riverbed earlier that afternoon. But when a foul smelling odour of territory-marking secretion reached our tents later on, we knew a den of hyena’s would be nearby. The whole family emerged out of their holes early that night and we had a close encounter with them just outside the gates of Letaba. Its reputation as a craven scavenger is perfectly demonstrated by the fearful, almost ashamed body-language of these six month old cubs, constantly glancing at everything except us.
“Much as I love the lion, elephant, kudu and eland, the animal closest to the earth and with most of the quintessence of Africa in its being is for me the buffalo of the serene marble brow.” – Laurens van der Post Buffalo are one of my favourite subjects. They show an interesting spectrum of behaviour ranging from docile to outright malevolent and offer enough drama for a good photo. This old bull didn’t show much action, but the worn boss of its horns and two diligent red-billed oxpeckers did the trick.
A long stretch of the H1-4 road between Satara and Olifants in the Kruger National Park runs through open savanna, a vast plain of pale yellow grass only sparingly interrupted by trees. This area is prime habitat for grazers as blue wildebeest and zebra, although only elephants came out of the shade to withstand the harsh afternoon sun on this unusual warm winter day. While feeding undisturbed on the few knob thorn trees around him, this impressive lone bachelor made his way towards the camera slow but sure, constantly keeping an eye on us. Being in the presence of such a display of power always evokes a sense of fear and excitement that makes me respect and appreciate the natural order of things.
I watched David Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities on the BBC last week and thought about our inspiring encounter with this flap-necked chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis). Although they are often regarded as primitive reptiles, their fast tongue, 360-degrees rotating eyes and spectacular colour make them really sophisticated creatures. We have seen quite a few of these fascinating animals on the occasional night-drive, always wondering how well they blend into their surroundings. In fact, we nearly missed this one sitting on a branch ready to pose for iAMsafari!
Since our first visit to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park ten years ago (then called the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) this place has undergone a real transformation: many new animals have been (re)introduced – notably elephant, white and black rhinoceros – while the vegetation on the coastal wetland savannah on the eastern shore has become more natural, especially in the southern part near the entrance gate. Apart from the already large populations of hippo, buffalo and waterbuck, we were delighted to spot the magnificent herds of greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepciceros) again, one of the crown jewels of iSimangaliso in my opinion. Especially the adult males with their sweeping, curving horns are outright spectacular!
Southern Ground Hornbills (Bucorvis leadbeateri) are one of the most fascinating and striking looking birds to see in the Kruger National Park. We had been lucky to find a pair willing to pose before the camera, crossing the road leisurely in the heat of the afternoon sun and seemingly too weary to even raise their beautiful eyelashes. Soooo pretty!!!