South Africa’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park is one of our favourite destinations. This unique estuarine park consists of over 300,000 hectares of lakes, swamp forests, giant sand dunes and one of the most beautiful coastlines in Southern Africa. And of course there is an abundance of wildlife, an ever important asset for the local tourism industry with its headquarters based in the pleasant and laid back town of St. Lucia. In fact, (eco)tourism has become such an important economic driver that the park has seen major changes over the past 15 years with new sections created, the rehabilitation of former agricultural land and the reintroduction of thousands of animals including elephants, rhinos and lions – notably in the uMkhuze part of iSimangaliso. Not less spectacular are the hippos and crocodiles that live in the park’s waterways – with around 1,200 crocodiles iSimangaliso holds one of South Africa’s most important wild crocodiles populations. Apart from being important predators in a complex ecosystem crocodiles are also of vital importance for the local economy – boat cruises on the …
A few days ago we were honoured with an invitation from our dear friends at De Wets Wild to participate in the 5 Day Black-and-White Photo Challenge. If anyone has ever read their reports on South Africa’s incredible parks and wildlife it’s easy to understand we were absolutely delighted by their invite – which we eagerly accepted. Regarding our own blog I personally believe it’s more about storytelling than anything else, and although you might like some of our shots we never had any technical photography training whatsoever. To do something different than usual is therefore the real challenge, however, I believe there are a few simple rules or tricks to master black and white photography. The most important of course is the subject, which has to be suitable for print in black and white. And what other animal than the zebra could that be? Although so common in any game reserve it’s often overlooked after the first few encounters, I’ll always be fascinated by their unique stripy coat that offers camouflage to the zebra …
The past week showed some rather erratic spring weather – glorious sunny days with temperatures in the high thirties immediately followed by unusually cool days. Especially the cloudy ones didn’t help me much in the search of my next wildlife-fix: the Ornate Dragon (Ctenophorus ornatus). This colourful lizard lives in and around the numerous granite outcrops near our tree hut, and with their extremely flattened body it shelters in ridiculously narrow crevices. On about every sunny day I expect them to be out there basking on some boulder, but for almost one year now I have been looking in vain. It’s frustrating although I know that patience and perseverance are the key words here. However, sometimes nature provides us with wildlife effortlessly – just by being at the right place at the right time we are able to witness the most memorable spectacles. This made me think of an encounter with a Southern Tree Agama (Acanthocercus atricollis). This arboreal African dragon was sitting unhurriedly in a tree right next to our bungalow in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi’s Mpila camp …
Out of the numerous fascinating features of the Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) I find its eyes most intriguing. As a predator hunting by vision rather than scent a cheetah’s eyesight is truly amazing, being able to spot their prey from as far as 5 kilometres away. To protect its eyes from the harsh daylight – unlike other big cats their night vision is so poor they mainly hunt in the morning and afternoon – a tear stain mark runs from each eye to their mouth. These marks are clearly visible in the pictures of this young male taking a late-afternoon rest. He obviously focused on an object in the far distance that we were not able to see, staring right past us and adding an almost condescending air to its handsome appearance. We could only guess what he was looking at.
Mpila is a place that will stay in our memories forever. Perched on one of the numerous hilltops in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park, this camp offers stupendous views of its surroundings. The rich wildlife is the main drawcard though, wandering about freely as there are no fences to protect the nature-loving visitor. On our first night hyenas checked out the braai with the roar of a distant lion enhancing the overall wilderness experience. At dawn we were woken up by the chorus of the birds foraging in front of our bungalow, with mixed parties of Black-bellied starlings, Burchell’s coucals, Bush-shrikes, Crested-Barnets and African Hoopoes, followed by some late-morning entertainment of the inevitable gang of Vervet monkeys, ready to snatch about everything lying around unattended. After lunch our lawn was cut by a family of warthogs, and with the occasional herd of Kudu and Impala close-by, we felt no urge to go on a game-drive. The highlight of this relaxing day was a personal encounter with this lone Nyala male, his horns covered in mud to show his prowess to the ladies nearby. As the real king of Mpila he grazed undisturbed, looked back to inspect the surroundings before continuing his way.
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
“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
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!