South Africa Safari – Cape Town

We were all a bit sad to leave the bush behind and return to urban reality. We had seen so many beautiful animals; had so many great experiences; had so much fun! But truth be told, I was tired. Twelve days of bumping around rutted paths in a land rover had taken their toll.

We landed at Cape Town International Airport at about 8 pm and were met by Wayne Donaldson, who would be our host for the next 3 days. Wayne drove us from the airport to our hotel in downtown Cape Town, the Cape Royal. As we drove through Cape Town I was astonished at what a beautiful city it was. It was the complete antithesis of Johannesburg. It practically sparkled it was so clean and pretty. I admit that I knew virtually nothing about Cape Town prior to arriving and was stunned to find this jewel of Africa.

At our hotel we were met by doormen in tails and top hats. The word opulent is insufficient to describe the lobby. One of the door men asked me the name of our group, which I gave to him. Seconds later I was startled by the sound of a loud gong. The door man announced “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Natural Exposures Photo Tours“, whereupon the entire staff in the lobby broke out in applause. Oh yeah, I knew I was going to like this place.

Click on any image to enlarge it. Hover over an image to view the caption (if any).

Tom Dietrich posing with the doormen at Cape Royale.

Tom Dietrich posing with the doormen at Cape Royale.

We were escorted to our rooms. They were clean, elegant and equipped with everything we could need. Our suite had two bedrooms and even a kitchen. And best of all, Tanya had arranged for a fruit and cheese plate to be delivered to everyone’s room. We devoured it.

Cape Town was originally established in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch used it as a replenishing stop on their way to the far east. Cape Town was the largest city in South Africa until the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886 which resulted in the development of Johannesburg as the largest and most powerful city. Today Cape Town has a population of about 3.74 million people and is the most popular international tourist destination in all of Africa. Its popularity is due to the beautiful weather, spectacular beaches and other natural wonders such as Table Mountain National Park. Our hotel was just across the street from the Cape Town Stadium that was built for the 2010 FIFA Cup Football (soccer) Championships.

Table Mountain creates a bowl that Cape Town rests in and a majestic backdrop to the city. It now boasts the accolade of being one of the “New” 7 Wonders of Nature. The mountain top can be reached by aerial tramway or by hiking and provides spectacular views of the area as well as being host to numerous endangered or protected species of animals and plants.

On our first day in Cape Town we took a drive along the spectacular Chapman’s Peak Drive and saw some of the most incredible coast line imaginable. The water from the Atlantic was crystal blue. We approached the small town of Simon’s Town and the home of the African penguin at Boulders Beach. These funny little guys, also know as jackass penguins, are only about 2 ft tall and weigh 5 to 8 pounds. They arrived at Boulder beach in 1982 and since then the colony has increased to about 3000 individuals. What is amazing is that Boulder Beach is in the middle of a residential area! It was great fun to watch these little creatures waddle about and play in the water.

From Boulder Beach we made the drive down to the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape is not actually the southernmost point on the African continent but it is the most south western point. Cape Point a few miles away is actually the southern most point of land.

, Cape of Good Hope, Mark, Cathy, Cape TownIt was extremely windy but we arrived just in time to see wave after wave of cormorants fly by. Their sleek black bodies standing out strongly against the crashing white surf. We also got close up and personal with the Rock Hyrax. These 9 lb. creatures most closely resemble the guinea pig but aren’t related. In fact, their closest living relative is the African elephant! They were running around everywhere. You had to be careful not to step on one.

As we were about to leave the Cape area Wayne spotted a Bontebok. The Bontebok is an endangered antelope that lives in the area. They were once considered to be a pest and slaughtered until the wild population was reduced to about 17 animals. Fortunately, with their protected status, their population has rebounded.

On our second day in Cape Town we headed for Gansbaai for a morning of whale watching. Gansbaai is noted for its population of Southern Right Whales. It is also the home of shark cage diving! While we were not going to go shark cage diving we were told that we would probably see one of the groups lowering their guests into the bay while the staff of the boat chums the water to attract sharks. But I digress…

The whale watching started off fine. We spotted several Southern Right Whales right away. However, the water was rough with some pretty big swells. That combined with the fact that we were in a pretty small boat made photography difficult as we rocked back and forth. The Southern Right Whale is a kind of gnarly looking whale. Most of the time I couldn’t tell what I was looking at. There were several breeches but Cathy and I observed only one.

Our captain spotted one of the shark diving operations and took us by for a look-see. There in a stainless steel cage, suspended from the side of the ship, were 5 people outfitted with wetsuits and masks. The people would submerge under water  while the staff tried to attract sharks to the cage with lures and chum. And they were definitely succeeding as sharks came swimming right up to the divers.

From shark diving we headed off to an island populated with massive numbers of Cape Fur Seals. There were thousands of them everywhere. It made me think of what it must have been like when settlers first came to America and discovered the seemingly inexhaustible populations of wildlife. Unfortunately, as we have learned (or have we) time and time again, wildlife populations are not inexhaustible.

Wednesday, October 9th was to be our final day in South Africa. We started out with a tour of Table Mountain and then we headed out for a day of wine tasting. In the past 20 years South Africa has made quite a reputation for producing quality wines, and Wayne had lined up visits to two of the best. Our first stop was  Druk My Niet where we toured the wine making facilities and then settled in to try a series of excellent wines. I was especially enamored with the Cabernet Franc.

Our second visit was to Kanonkop, described by those in the know as being the South African equivalent of a Premier Cru. Again we were served a stellar line up of wines while enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.

Our final stop for the day would be at Jordan’s for a late lunch. Jordan Wine Estate and Restaurant in Stellenbosch is renowned for its 6 course lunch and fabulous food. We only had time for two courses (and a visit to the cheese room) but it was superb. Situated on a large estate with a beautiful lake this was a perfect end to our adventures.

We made our way back to Cape Town to pick up our bags and then set off for the airport to catch our flight to London and then back to San Francisco. As we basked in the radiance of the past few days we were jarred back into reality on the drive to the airport. Despite all the progress that has been made in South Africa over the past 20 years, true equality is still an elusive goal, as the shanties on the outskirts of Cape Town demonstrate.

Our visit to South Africa was over but we brought home memories and photos to last a life time. To all of our old and new friends we say thank you for a magnificent expedition.

Daniel Cox, Tom Dietrich, Tanya Cox, Mark & Cathy, Ray & Carole Tinnin, Jim & Lynne Edwards, JoAnn Ziegler, Pat & Ed Nahin

Daniel Cox, Tom Dietrich, Tanya Cox, Mark & Cathy, Ray & Carole Tinnin, Jim & Lynne Edwards, JoAnn Ziegler, Pat & Ed Nahin

South Africa Safari – Day 11

As we roll out of bed this morning we realize that this is our last full day on safari. Hopefully it will bring lots of exciting new discoveries.

We headed down to the river. Our ranger had heard there were lions there that had made a kill the night before. What a sight. I have never seen a group of lions with such extended bellies in my life. They could barely lie on their stomachs. Most lay on their backs with their feet extended in the air. Needles to say they weren’t very active. Comical but not active. We hung around for about 30 minutes photographing these lethargic beasts before moving on.

Driving around we spot a few zebras. Zebras are among the most beautiful of Africa’s animals. However, they photograph much better on the savanna of Masai Mara that the brush of the lowveld. It doesn’t help that this is the dry season and there is no green to contrast with their beautiful stripes. It does give an idea of how well the zebra’s stripes can serve as camouflage under the right conditions. We were also fortunate to spot a couple of endangered ground hornbills.

We headed over to a large water hole and spotted a hyena, and before we knew it there was a whole pack of them, including a couple of youngsters. We parked the land rover and watched these guys cavort in the water and chase each other for over 30 minutes. The main behavior of the pack seems to be checking out each others genitalia. The hyena is unique in that the female has a pseudo-penis. The female is also slightly larger than the male and they live in a female dominated pack. It was also astonishing the number of vocalizations that these animals made. It was downright noisy.

After the hyenas moved on we joined up with others from our group for our morning bush breakfast. These brief interludes each morning were highly civilized and gave us a chance to get to know our rangers and trackers better. And besides – they make great coffee!

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Ray, Pat, Ed, Tom and Colbert

As we wound our way back to camp we saw a crested francolin, a yellow billed hornbill, a warhog and a Nyala taking a rest in the shade. A pretty good morning overall.

Lunch was a special treat on this day. Our host at King’s Camp, Tristan, is the proud keeper of an African Wildcat. As this was our last lunch at King’s Camp he promised to bring the cat out for us to see. I wasn’t sure what an African Wildcat was but I was looking forward to seeing one. It turns out that the African Wildcat, to my eye, is indistinguishable from a common tabby. And for good reason. The house cat was probably domesticated from the African Wildcat about 9000 years ago in the fertile crescent of the Middle East. If you’d like to know more about what domestic cats have in common with the African Wildcat click here.

The weather was stunning as we left for our afternoon drive. We observed giraffes, including a young giraffe, more zebra and saw how birds can protect their nests by building them inside of a very thorny Acacia tree.

The afternoon, however, belonged to the elephants. We followed a large herd through the trees, brush and river bed for close to an hour. Our ranger, Remember, and our tracker, Elvis, did a good job of keeping us positioned to get some great shots. I never tire of watching these incredible animals.

Once the elephants had finished with us we drove to the river where a large concrete dam had been built years ago to control the flow of the river. There lying on top of the concrete, basking in the golden glow of the setting sun was a beautiful leopard. He seemed completely unconcerned with anything other than having a comfortable nap. As the sun set we could see hippos swimming in the river and shore birds on the river bank. One last surprise awaited us as we exited the area. A scrub hare  was laying by the road, just waiting for us to take its photograph. A lovely way to end an exciting day!

Good News from the African Elephant Summit

It seems that all the conservation news is bad these days. Loss of habitat, climate change, poaching, etc. So occasionally when there is a bit of good news I like to celebrate it. After all, the subtitle for this blog is “Inform and Inspire.” Well we got some good news last week from the African Elephant Summit in Gaborone, Botswana. At the summit meeting governments of states where the illegal ivory trade occurs pledged to take “urgent measures” to try and stop the illegal trade and end poaching.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, “2011 saw the highest levels of poaching and illegal ivory trade in at least 16 years, with around 25,000 elephants killed on the continent, and it says 2012 showed no signs of abating.” Furthermore, “eighteen large scale seizures of more than 40 tons of ivory had been recorded so far this year, which represented the greatest quantity of ivory seized over the last 25 years.”

If not stopped, poaching will reduce elephant herds significantly in the next 10 years.

If not stopped, poaching will reduce elephant herds significantly in the next 10 years.

“Our window of opportunity to tackle the growing illegal ivory trade is closing and if we do not stem the tide, future generations will condemn our unwillingness to act,” Botswana President Ian Khama told the summit.

“Now is the time for Africa and Asia to join forces to protect this universally valued and much needed species,” he said.

The governments in attendance published a list of Urgent Measures to be taken in 2014. This list was agreed upon by key African elephant range states including Gabon, Kenya, Niger and Zambia, ivory transit states such as Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia, and ivory destination states, including China and Thailand, said the IUCN in a statement.

Probably the most urgent of the 14 measures classifies wildlife trafficking as a “serious crime.” According to the IUCN, this will unlock international law enforcement cooperation provided under the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, including mutual legal assistance, asset seizure and forfeiture, extradition and other tools to hold criminals accountable for wildlife crime. In other words, It won’t just be the Kenya Wildlife Service going up against international criminal cartels.

Will this action by the African Elephant Summit and IUCN put an end to poaching? Of course not. Poverty, greed and corruption, as well as increasing demand from Asia for ivory are strong motivators. But this action inspires hope that the number of needless deaths of elephants will decline. And that will be something to celebrate.

One of the victims of poaching are the baby elephants that are orphaned when their mothers are killed for their ivory. Without the protection of the mother the baby will die or be killed by predators.

One of the victims of poaching are the baby elephants that are orphaned when their mothers are killed for their ivory. Without the protection of the mother the baby will die or be killed by predators.

Side Note: When I was in South Africa in October I was reading an investigative article about the use of powdered rhino horn in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In this story the investigator made undercover purchases of powdered ivory at traditional ethnic pharmacies and chemists shops in Asia. He then had all the samples tested by DNA sequencing. The result – not a single sample was authentic. Elephants and rhinos are being killed for their ivory and yet what people in Vietnam and China are buying is fake. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so painful.

Sources:

  1. Urgent deal reached for African elephants, Key states commit to urgent measures to half illegal ivory trade; By Ray Faure, Associated Press – Wed, Dec 4, 2013 12:28 PM EST
  2. African Elephant Summit; Gaborone, Botswana; 2-4 December 2013; Urgent Measures 3 December 2013; https://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/african_elephant_summit_final_urgent_measures_3_dec_2013.pdf
  3. Zambia Assents to Secure Elephants; http://www.lusakatimes.com/2013/12/04/zambia-assents-secure-elephants/

South Africa Safari – Day 10

What day 10 lacked in variety it made up for in quantity. One again we started the day by tracking a pride of lions on the hunt. It was clear that they sensed nearby prey but we never figured out what they were after. We stayed with them for over 30 minutes and they stalked through the dry grass before moving on.

Click on any image to enlarge it.

We explored the veldt for about 40 minutes before coming upon a few elephants at a watering hole. Unlike yesterday the light was good and we stopped to watch these magnificent animals.

We moved on but almost immediately came upon the rest of the herd. For a moment we thought we were going to see a scuffle as two males challenged each other. However, the smaller of the males showed good sense and backed down.

We drove ahead of the herd and parked at a second water hole and waited. Within minutes the herd arrived and began to fill up. Along with the herd was one baby elephant. It was so young it had not yet learned how to use its trunk to drink. It was so cute as the baby got down on its knees to drink water directly with its mouth. The adults kept the baby surrounded at all times in what was clearly a protective maneuver. There was lots of other activity around the water as well. There was some pushing and shoving by some of the elephants. Some waded directly into the water while the others remained on the bank. This continued for about 30 minutes. Then the herd reversed course and headed back into the bush.

With the departure of the elephants we resumed our search. We came across a few Cape Buffalo. I must admit that I find these beasts fascinating.

Cape buffalo, King's CampAfter about 50 minutes of exploration we found a leopard hidden in the bush with fresh prey. (An antelope or Impala I think.) We watched as the leopard ripped the fur from the carcass and then tore in to the meat. Despite the grisly scene in front of us you could not help but admire the beauty of this animal.

Our afternoon drive began with more elephants. It was probably part of the same herd that we saw this morning. We grabbed a few shots and moved on.

We decided to see if the leopard from this morning was still there – and she was. She was still working over her prey. A somewhat older cub briefly made an appearance but then quickly disappeared back into the bush.

Mother and cub

Mother and cub

As we drove around we spotted a few rhinos but not much else. Finally, around 5 pm, we came across a pride of lions. They of course were doing what lions do best – rest. We watched them lay about and groom each other. Then slowly they started to show some signs of life, eventually heading over to the water for a drink. By this time the sun was down and it was starting to get dark. (i.e.: some of the following shots were taken at ISO 12800) We left them as they were getting ready for their evening’s adventures.

South Africa Safari – Day 7

When we rolled out of bed at 5:00 am on day 7 we had no idea what an exciting and  interesting day was in store for us. As usual, we were on the trail before 6 o’clock. It was a beautiful morning and the light was magnificent. We had barely gotten out of camp when we came across a small herd of impala. Even though we had lots of impala photos the light was so golden we had to stop and snap a few photos.

Click on any photo to enlarge

We left the impala behind and headed down to the river.  As we were crossing the river we spotted two saddle billed storks a couple hundred yards away. We had only seen these birds once before, and that was 2 years ago in Kenya. They are tall, colorful and spectacular. We watched and photographed them for over 30 minutes, although it seemed a lot longer. It was fascinating to watch them catch fish and then toss them down their throats. While watching the storks we also spotted some three banded plovers and Pied Kingfishers.

Leaving the storks behind we began to explore and see what else we could find. It was only 7 o’clock and the light was still good. As we drove under a tall tree a Vervet monkey issued warning calls. We drove through an area of rocky outcroppings hoping to spot leopards. Instead we spotted something ever less common, a Klipspringer (rock jumper). The Klipspringer is a very small antelope that has adapted to the rocky outcroppings as its home. He was very cute as he stood proud on the edge of a boulder surveying his domain.

Shortly thereafter we came across another pride of sleepy lions. We watched for a short time and realized that this group had no intention of moving anytime in the near future so we left. Our ranger Ross mentioned that a rhino had been killed by a poacher the day before and the rhino’s horn sawed off. We asked if the rhino was nearby and if we could see it. We took off for a short drive. We spotted conclusive signs that we were getting close.

We arrived at the rhino carcass and got to witness first hand the horror of poaching. The rhino was killed, the horn sawed off and the animal left for dead. It also appeared that one leg had been cut off, for reasons unknown.

rhino carcass, poaching, dead, Mala Mala688 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2013, half of those were in the area of Kruger and Mala Mala.This one made it 689. To find out a bit more about this incident take a look at my blog of October 14th.

The rhino carcass had already been partially eaten by scavengers. When we arrived there were just a few vultures present. Then a leopard showed up to help himself to a piece of rhino flesh before heading off to the bush. With the leopard gone the vultures moved in with a fury. It was fascinating to watch nature at work. As the following photos show, there were times when so many vultures were fighting for food that you couldn’t see the carcass.

If you would like to really see what a feeding frenzy this was you can check out some video of the scene on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbfbbSrrMJ4

We spent over an hour at the site. It was one of the most meaningful and relevant experiences of the trip in many ways. But it was time to move on.

As we started exploring again we came across a waterhole with an Egyptian goose and a hippopotamus immersed in green slime. Not real photogenic so we moved on. We also found some wildebeest, an elephant and a male and female kudu in the brush.

Our next discovery really impressed me. I am always astonished at how good our rangers and trackers are at spotting hidden animals. As we were driving along the trail at a pretty good speed, Ross all of a sudden pulls over by a tree and holds up his hand for silence. He takes out his binoculars and stares intently into the tree for a few seconds and then turns to us, points and says “white faced owl”. And sure enough, hidden in the branches of this dense tree was a smallish owl. The owl flew from place to place in the tree before settling down. It took us a bit of maneuvering to finally get in position where we could get a photograph of it. It was gorgeous with white and grey feathers and bright orange eyes

Southern White Faced Scops Owl

Southern White Faced Scops Owl

.As we started to make our way back to camp we came across a herd of Cape buffalo. These animals are interesting. In the two trips that I’ve taken to Africa the Cape Buffalo has shown the temperament of a cow, yet it is renowned to be among the fiercest of animals. I guess I should be happy I haven’t seen that side of their personality.

We had seen a record number of species during the morning drive. Fifteen different animals by my count. We had also seen nature in action as the vultures moved in to clean up the rhino carcass. Could the afternoon possibly keep pace?

Shortly after taking off we “bumped” into a grazing white rhino. You can get pretty close to these guys as long as they are not defending turf or females. This is why the recent announcement by the Dallas Safari Club that it was going to auction off the trophy rights to kill a black rhino (endangered, only 5000 left in the world) makes no sense. It takes no great skill to kill a rhino. You drive up to it and shoot it!

See also Black Rhino to be Killed by Dallas Safari Club

After leaving the rhino we sighted a herd of elephants in the river bed and headed off in that direction.

Elephant, Mala MalaThe herd included elephants of all ages and sizes. One was so young and small that it had not yet learned to fully control its trunk. Mom was going up the bank by the river and junior was trying to follow but couldn’t quite make it. Mom had to turn around and pull him up the bank with her trunk.

Mother pulls baby up the river bank with her trunk.

Mother pulls baby up the river bank with her trunk.

There were a number of large bulls that looked menacing and some teenagers that tried to look tough. We did see a couple of males fighting over a female. It wasn’t a death match but it wasn’t play time either.

After leaving the elephants we spotted a leopard, who for the most part was content to just lie in the grass. We watched and tracked it for about an hour before moving on.

Even though we had seen a number of male kudus we hadn’t yet captured a really great photo of one. It was just about 5 pm, an hour before sunset and the light was great, when we spotted a beautiful male. We started to follow him and managed to get a great shot that took advantage of the “golden hour” lighting. We also captured another lilac breasted roller in this same light.

In the morning we found a pride of sleepy lions. We decided to check up on them before returning to camp, hoping that they were awake and ready for action. While we caught a few nice portraits in the golden evening light, most of the lions were still catching zzz’s.

Thus ended day 7. As the sun went down we caught one last photograph in memory of a great day.

Sunset, silouette, Mala Mala

South Africa Safari – Day 6 Mala Mala

When we went to bed the previous evening it was unclear if the weather was going to cooperate with us for our game drive in the morning. When we woke up, as we feared, it was still raining, although it had slowed to a drizzle.  We got together at 5:30 am as usual but decided against going out. The forecast was for clearing skies and we decided to wait it out.

Click on any image to enlarge

We had a hearty breakfast and the rain did indeed clear. We were out by shortly after 9 am. That’s not to say that the weather was perfect. Even the animals seemed to be complaining. We came across a number of birds desperately trying to dry out. A lilac breasted roller was fluffed up like a cotton ball. An entire tree was filled with white backed vultures with wings extended trying to dry out. An a yellow horn bill was looking very bedraggled – like Richard Lewis after a hard night on the town. We were also fortunate to see a Brown Hooded Kingfisher and a Warburg’s Eagle.

Just to round out the day’s birding we also came across a red-billed oxpecker taking a bath in a mud puddle, a helmeted guinea fowl and a beautiful Greater Blue-eared Starling. Although not a member of the avian kingdom we did come across another of Africa’s smaller mammals – the dwarf mongoose.

One  of the most fascinating creatures in all of Africa has to be the giraffe. It is almost without comparison throughout the rest of the world. One would think that that long neck and spindly legs would make it unstable and ready prey to lions and other carnivores. Yet we watched a few giraffes take off at a full “gallop” and they are both fast and graceful. Last weekend I was watching a National Geography special on TV and saw a giraffe kick an attacking lion with it’s hind legs about 15 feet into the air. Male giraffes will battle for supremacy by “necking” or swinging their heads and necks at each other. On this particular morning we got to watch a couple of males “necking”.

The sun was out fully now and we could appreciate the beauty of the landscape. In addition, the animals were starting to move about.

It was now about 11:30 and we came across a pride of lions doing what they do best – nothing. They were obviously well fed and resting in the mid-day sun. Not much to do but watch and enjoy their beauty.

After watching the lions lounge about for a while we decided it was time to head back to camp. Our ranger and driver Ross was flying down the trail when JoAnn called out “Leopard”. Sure enough, right by the road was a leopard resting under a tree. Of course we had to stop for photos. Shortly after we stopped, the leopard decided he didn’t want company and took off. By then a second land rover had joined us and we followed this fellow for quite a while. He made us work for our photographs but in the end it was worth it.

After tracking the leopard we broke for lunch but resumed our drive at the usual time of 3:30 pm. We saw a number of animals that afternoon but one of the coolest was a mother white rhino and her young calf. It’s hard to describe the calf as “cute” but no other word fits.

We stayed out until sundown as usual. On our way back to the camp in the dark we had two very rare sightings. The first was a large spotted Genet. Although not endangered they are not often sighted because they are nocturnal. The second sighting was extremely rare – an endangered white-tailed mongoose. We were thrilled to have captured photos of both!

South Africa Safari – Where in the World is Londolozi?

I thought I’d take a short break today from all the animal photographs and answer a question or two that I’ve received regarding our trip to South Africa. Several people have asked where is Londolozi, Mala Mala, etc. So I’ve prepared a few maps to give you a quick idea where we went.

Londolozi, Mala Mala and Kings camp are in the northeastern part of South Africa, just to the west of Kruger National Park. Londolozi and Mala Mala are part of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve while Kings Camp is in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve.

Capture3We arrived in South Africa via Johannesburg and flew in a small commuter plane up to Londolozi. At the end of our trip we visited Cape Town for a few days.

This next map is a closer look at the 3 camps.

Capture4This third map shows the relationship between Londolozi, Mala Mala and Kruger National Park.

CaptureLondolozi and Mala Mala are private reserves located within the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Londolozi occupies about 37,000 acres. Mala Mala is slightly larger at 39,500 acres. Londolozi and Mala Mala are exclusive privately owned reserves. Kings Camp shares the Timbavati Private Game Reserve with several other camps.

There are no fences separating any of the reserves or Kruger National park. Thus the animals are free to migrate from area to area as they wish. With 544,000 acres, Kruger National Park provides an immense amount of biodiversity that is shared among all the wildlife reserves.

The landscape of Sabi Sands is classic Lowveld bush savanna. The elevation is approximately 1000 ft. The land is flat with dense bush and thickets covering much of the area. (Lots of places for the animals to hide)

The following is a video that I shot by clamping my point and shoot camera to a seat rail on the land rover as we drove around. The video, while not terribly exciting, gives a good idea for what much of the landscape looked like.

I hope you enjoyed this brief informational interlude. If you’d like more information, Londolozi has a FREE book titled “Londolozi, Eco-Guide” available for downloading from iTunes. Now, back to the animals.

South Africa Safari – Day 3

Day 3 rolled around and it was another great day in the bush. Within the first hour we had already seen and photographed impala, a crocodile, a malachite kingfisher, an Egyptian goose, a fish eagle, a lilac breasted roller and a spotted hyena. Not bad for the first hour.

Click on any image to enlarge

Then Richard got a call on the radio that one of the other rangers had spotted a female leopard with 2 cubs. The opportunity to see leopards was one of the primary reasons that we had come to South Africa, so we were very excited.

When we arrived at the location we found out that the cubs were hiding and that mom was out hunting. This was disappointing because the rules in the preserve state that if cubs are unattended you can only stay for 10 minutes. To hang around longer than that might draw attention to the cubs and put them at risk from other predators. However, just at that moment we saw some movement and up popped one little head. The cubs were moving. For the next 5 minutes or so we got to watch as they climbed around on the rocks and through the heavy brush. These two were just beautiful. However, we had to leave.

For the next couple of hours we continued our explorations. Shortly after leaving the cubs we came across some steenbok, the smallest antelope in South Africa. They are also very skittish and take off quickly when approached. White-backed vultures, impala and warthogs rounded out the first part of the morning.

Each morning we would finds a nice shady spot, that appeared to be devoid of man-eating carnivores, and pull over for some coffee and a bush breakfast. This gave us a chance to stretch our legs and have a bite to eat. Our boxed breakfast usually consisted of a croissant, yogurt, juice, a few other items and coffee. It was always tasty and enough to stave off starvation until we returned for lunch.

Bush breakfast with Tom, Richard, Like and Cathy

Bush breakfast with Tom, Richard, Like and Cathy

We heard of the radio that the mother leopard had returned to her cubs so we headed back to where we had left them earlier. We arrived to find that mom was back and she had brought a kill back with her for the cubs to eat. Only mom and one cub were visible and they were both under some bushes and hard to see. We were also the 3rd vehicle on site and really could not get a very good angle to see them. We found the best spot that we could, parked and observed. Even though we weren’t in a great spot for photography we were able to watch the mother and cub interact. After a while the other cub came out of hiding and began to nurse.

Eventually mom decided to move over to a large rock and rest. She was posed perfectly for a photograph but once again we were at a bad angle. Richard put the land rover into gear and crashed through the under brush and over some sizable trees to get us to where we could have a good view.

And there she was in all her splendor. We had the opportunity to photograph her unimpeded by branches and bushes. Eventually she left. It was time to go hunting again.

The other two land rovers left first and then Richard started ours. Problem! In driving over the trees to get us into position they had wedged at an angle under the vehicle making it impossible to back up. Unfortunately in front of the land rover was a sand filled wash. If we went forward we would almost certainly get stuck in the wash, but backing up was impossible.

Richard put the land rover into its lowest gear and struggled forward. After much lurching and bouncing about we freed ourselves from the trees and dropped into the wash…where we promptly became stuck in the sand. Richard and Like tried for about 10 minutes to get us out with no success. Richard asked us to get out of the vehicle and walked us through the brush to the nearby trail that served as a road and told us to wait there for them. He then went back and he and Like pulled out a Come-Along hand winch to try and pull the land rover from the wash. I thought about asking him to leave his rifle with us but he was already gone.

So Tom, Cathy and I are left standing in the middle of the road all by ourselves wondering if momma leopard is going to return at any minutes. I was also thinking “why don’t they just call one of the other land rovers back to pull us out of the wash.” I figured that it had something to do with male bravado and a code of independence in the bush. However, having tourists eaten by leopards couldn’t be good for business.

Finally we heard the land rover start up and saw Richard come bouncing through the brush and out onto the road. On the drive back to camp I asked Richard why he didn’t call for help to get out of the wash. His reply was along the lines of what I expected. Apparently there are no consequences to getting stuck at Londolozi, as long as you can free yourself. However, if you have to call for help the leather ammo pouch that each ranger carries on his belt is replaced by a pink ammo pouch for a month!

Our afternoon game drive could be named the day of elephants. They were everywhere that we went. We did see some other animals such as nyala, cape buffalo, a maribou stork, giraffes and wildebeest, but largely the afternoon was devoted to observing elephants.

We saw several herds of elephants that afternoon. There were large bull elephants and young ones too. The young ones were cute. One was so young that he had not yet figured out how to control his trunk.

We stayed out past sunset on this day. It was already dark as we were heading back to camp when Richard stopped the land rover and turned the key off. We looked ahead of us and about 30 yards away was another herd of elephants, walking down the road directly toward us. Richard whispered to remain silent and to not move. The elephants continued to come directly toward us, lead by a large bull. As the elephants approached the land rover they split into two columns, one on each side of us. As each one passed, it turned its head slightly to look at us, and continued on. What was amazing was that this all took place in almost complete silence. All we heard was the slight rustle of grass from the elephants walking by. These huge animals passing silently by us in the dark,only a few feet away was one of the most spiritual moments of the trip.

sunset, elephant, LondoloziThe evening meal at camp was always an elaborate affair with gourmet food and wine. Every two or three days we would have a bush dinner to create a special atmosphere. These were indeed special (although sometimes a bit cold) and memorable.

Dinner at Londolozi Game Reserve, South Africa.

Are We All Poachers?

First of all, to those of you that follow this blog I apologize for my absence the past couple of months. I’ve been busy with a myriad of tasks but hope to settle back into a routine now.

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What does the future hold for this young rhino?
Copyright Cathy Pemberton 2012

Are we all poachers?  This of course is, and was meant to be a provocative question. As many of you know I am extremely concerned about the rampant poaching that is occurring in Africa. Elephants are being slaughtered by the thousands for their ivory tusks[1]. Reports are now coming in about the killing of rhinos. Powdered rhino horn is a valued “male enhancement” and medicinal product in much of Asia. Just 2 weeks ago the western black rhino, a subspecies of the African rhinoceros last spotted in 2006, was declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.[2]  Those of us in the western world that would never consider purchasing artworks carved from ivory or consume powdered rhino horn to improve our sexual prowess are rightly offended by the killing of endangered species and the destruction of habitats that is occurring today in Africa.

However, reality is seldom so neat and clean. Saturday’s issue of the San Francisco Chronicle contained a front page article by Meredith May titled “PAWS helps aging elephants.” [3] This article describes the work of Pat Derby (dec. Feb. 15, 2013) and Ed Stewart in operating the Performing Animal Welfare Society. Today PAWS operates three animal sanctuaries in Galt, Rancho Seco and San Andreas, California. Pat and Ed were originally animal trainers and created PAWS as a rescue sanctuary for abused performing animals.

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Mercury – Sign of the Cat

I first met Pat in the mid 1980s shortly after she opened the first sanctuary in Galt, just outside of Sacramento. As a trainer she had worked on television shows such as Daktari, Gunsmoke, Lassie, Gentle Ben and Flipper. She also trained Chauncey and Christopher, the cougars that starred in the Lincoln Mercury “Sign of the Cat” car commercials. The facility in Galt was small, only a few hundred acres, but it was clear that Pat was passionate about correcting the abuses of animals that she had seen and giving them a place to peacefully live out their lives. She campaigned relentlessly until the time of her death to eliminate the abuses of performing animals that were (are?) rampant in the industry. Does public demand for animal entertainment represent a form of “poaching”?

Jack Hanna

Jack Hanna

The article in the Chronicle got me thinking about the role of zoos in the world today. Most people will attend a zoo and find it to be a very enjoyable experience. And there is no question that seeing an elephant up close is infinitely more impressive than seeing one on television. In fact, zoos today pride themselves on their scientific breeding programs, their educational programs and their wildlife conservation efforts. We even have celebrity zookeepers such as Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, with their own TV shows proclaiming the value of zoos in promoting environmental awareness and conservation.

Paul Chinn - SF Chronicle

Paul Chinn – SF Chronicle

Yet I’ve always had an uneasy feeling that such proclamations contained a good deal of self-serving  rationalization. Zoos are centers of civic pride in many communities. We remember catch phrases such as “the world famous San Diego Zoo”. Are we really maintaining zoos to educate our populace and preserve the species? Or are the educational programs simply there to justify what already exists. Zoos have dramatically improved over the years, eliminating the confined metal cages and replacing them with simulated natural environments. Yet these are still woefully short of what wild animals, such as elephants, need and would experience in a natural environment. While there are still some animals captured in the wild and placed in zoos, most of the animals are bred in captivity and transferred between zoos. But as Ed Stewart of PAWS stated “Each time I hear another baby elephant is born in a zoo, I think, “That’s another 50-year jail sentence.'” 3 Some zoos have in fact shut down their elephant programs. The latest to do so is the Toronto Zoo. With a donation of $800,000 from game show host and well know animal rights activist Bob Barker the last 3 elephants will be transferred from Toronto to PAWS Ark 2000 facility in San Andreas. Is it time we shut down all of them?

Hence our ethical dilemma. Is the keeping of wild animals in zoos the ethical equivalent of poaching? In terms of numbers of animals certainly not. And the fact that the zoo animals are alive while the poached animals are dead is an important difference. Even though I can’t help but feel that the promotion of zoos perpetuates the acceptability of captive wild animals, at the end of the day, I must reject my conjecture that we are all poachers for enjoying the captive animals in the zoo. However, we must be cautious. We must continuously examine our actions and motives and make sure they withstand rigorous ethical scrutiny. At the first whiff of rationalization we must sound the alarm and take action. You can start by checking to see if your zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) by clicking here:
http://www.aza.org/current-accreditation-list/

A list of non AZA accredited facilities can be found here:
http://www.zoology.msu.edu/uploads/documents/nonAZAaccredited2012.pdf [4]

If you are interested in supporting conservation and efforts to prevent poaching there are many fine organizations. If you are interested in PAWS their website is: http://www.pawsweb.org/index.html

A few of my other  favorites are:

World Wildlife Fund,
http://worldwildlife.org/

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust,
https://www.facebook.com/thedswt?hc_location=stream


[1] Record poaching drives African elephants into decline
For Release: Jun 21, 2012
Jennafer Bonello
jenna.bonello@wwfus.org

[2] Western black rhino officially extinct
By William Holt | Yahoo! News – Thu, Jun 27, 2013
http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/news/western-black-rhino-officially-extinct-150259423.html

[3] PAWS helps aging elephants, Meredith May, San Francisco Chronicle, July 6, 2013

[4] The presence of a facility on this list does not assure that the facility is inadequate or non-compliant. It is a starting point for investigation.

Tanzania Government Displacing Maasai Off Land

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Henry Miwani – © 2012 Mark Pemberton

One of the great pleasures that Cathy and I had when we visited Kenya in 2012 was our visit with a Maasai Village. Henry Miwani, one of our guides, took us to visit his village. The villagers performed their traditional dances and songs for us and taught us about their traditional way of life. We were then free to wander around, observe and talk to those you spoke English. We got to go into their small huts and learn about how they make their living by herding.

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© 2012 Cathy Pemberton

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© 2012 Cathy Pemberton

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© 2012 Cathy Pemberton

For hundreds of years, the Maasai have roamed across Kenya and Tanzania with their herds of cattle and goats. However, more and more land has been set aside for animal preserves, thus reducing the area available to the Maasai. One of the greatest concerns of conservationists is the reduction of habitat for wild animals due to the encroachment of man. Here is an example of the encroachment of man causing a reduction in habitat for man!

In a coup de gras that has raised the ire of the Maasai and conservationists alike “Tanzania announced last week it plans to evict 30,000 Maasai herders from a hefty swath of their ancestral lands in order to create a game reserve offering exclusive access for a Dubai-based hunting company.” 1

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© 2012 Mark Pemberton

“Maasai activists say the proposal, which reduces their space here by 40 percent, will destroy their traditional cattle-herding livelihood. …The government says the corridor is a necessity for conservation in the northern Loliondo region bordering the Serengeti, and charges that Maasai cattle are overgrazing the land.” 1

Reports from the Christian Science Monitor confirmed the information reported by AP.

“Tourism Minister Khamis Kagasheki said last week the government will not budge from its plans, described as a compromise that would divide current Maasai territory by giving about 40 percent for a wildlife zone and the rest to the Maasai for grazing.

“There is no government in the world that can just let an area so important to conservation to be wasted away by overgrazing,” Mr. Kagasheki said.

Benjamin Gardner, a cultural geographer at the University of Washington who has studied the Maasai since 1992, says he doubts they are harming the environment. “The way the Maasai manage the range actually encourages wildlife,” Mr. Gardner says, citing their aversion to hunting, and prescribed burns that regenerate grass.

But Tanzania is also in need of foreign investment. Livestock rearing, although economically productive for people in Loliondo, is less lucrative for the government than tourism. The OBC hunting firm’s clients include the United Arab Emirates royal family, and pay so well that in the past,  Tanzania’s president Jakaya Kikwete has dispatched troops to keep the hunting grounds free of cattle and locals.” 2

The question is, who will be the better steward for the land, the Maasai or the Ortello Business Corporation? There is little question in my mind.

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Maasai Village – © 2012 Cathy Pemberton

It is very discouraging that in the 21st century, trophy hunting is still occurring. But it is. There are private game preserves throughout Central Africa that cater to private game hunters.  These preserves are highly profitable for the countries in which they reside.

According to the Christian Science Monitor a mass protest rally by the Maasai was planned for this week. In support, about 50 politicians threatened to resign their jobs. Ultimately the politicians reneged on their promises (can you believe that?) and the local police outlawed public gatherings. Soldiers were sent in to disperse the demonstrators.

“Maasai women, dressed in traditional red shukas with shining jewelry, are now resisting on their own. Defying both the ban on gatherings and the patriarchal Maasai culture, by midweek they began holding small sit-ins under wiry acacia trees in villages across Loliondo, where they debated whether they should go to court or march on OBC’s camp.” 2

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Maasai Women – © 2012 Mark Pemberton

I will try to keep track of this issue and let you know of future developments.

Mark

1Groups: Tanzania gov’t kicking Maasai off land
By JASON STRAZIUSO | Associated Press – Fri, Apr 5, 2013
http://news.yahoo.com/groups-tanzania-govt-kicking-maasai-off-land-134348511.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

2Maasai face eviction from ancestral lands to make way for Dubai hunting firm
Yahoo News, By A correspondent | Christian Science Monitor – Fri, Apr 5, 2013
http://news.yahoo.com/maasai-face-eviction-ancestral-lands-way-dubai-hunting-160806860.html