Monday, October 29, 2012

Meat is meat and cats must eat!

Regular visitors to national parks and wilderness areas in Africa often come across lions and I think that few of them ever give it a thought that there was a time, not too long ago that people and lions shared common ground and prey. To me the most disturbing thought about that time is that the rifles that the old folks used were a far cry from today's automatic and semi automatic "ready for combat" weapons. The time that it take a lion to charge over a distance of a hundred meters would have been too short to reload. "They say that the only rule is: "Whatever you do... don't run!" Such bravery seems almost impossible. To show you that it is indeed possible, watch this video:

Here is more. Some might call it stupidity!

The best known man-eater lions were a pride known as the "Tsavo lions" that were responsible for the death of about 28 Indian workers that worked on the railway line between Kenia and Uganda. There is estimated that these lions were responsible for the death of up to a hundred people. The movie "Ghost Of The Darkness" were based on these events. It is not recommended to watch this prior to a visit to such areas. Scary! What about the Kruger national park? Are there any man-eating lions? According to Dr Douw Grobler, the park's veterinarian, cases where lions attacked people are by far due to irresponsible behavior of people. When lions tasted the meat of a human they do tend to go for it again. Whether it is the taste or just the fact that man is an easy target is something that can be debated.

There was a pride of five man-eating lions that basically lived off humans for some time in the Klopperfontein region. Their prey was mainly Mozambicans. Over a period of five weeks this pride consisting of a male and four females were responsible for the deaths of at least seventeen people. They became so good at stalking people that they even attacked and killed one of members of the team sent to hunt them down. When they were killed Dr Grobler found the remains of their last victim in their stomachs. The victims ID document and most of the head were found in the male and pieces of his limbs and shoes in the females. It is well known that in cases that humans were attacked they eat everything right down to the clothes.

One of the worst cases known about is the unhappy event where four Mozambicans were attacked while they followed the power line service road from Cahora Bassa to South Africa through the Kruger National Park. They decided to sleep over and made a fire. It was told that a pride of 10 lions simply approached them fearlessly. The men fled up the trees, but one unfortunate guy were to late and his friends had to sit and watch in utter fear and disgust how the lions finished him off to the very last morsel. The story unfortunately did not end there. One of the females managed to scale the tree and bring another man down. This sparked one of the other females to do the same. The last guy were found in hysterics by a party of game rangers on a routine patrol.

Fact is that these and many others are dangerous creatures and we are imposing on their territory. Caution should be taken at all times.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

How To Enjoy Your Game Viewing Experience

Although some visitors to the Wild Frontier and Kruger National Park come here to relax and just hang around to enjoy a pleasant time with friends and family, most people come here to experience game drives and take lots of photos to add to their "wild life" albums. There are a few things that anyone that has experience in these activities would tell you to take note of. I will try and list a few of the things I've experienced to be important and I would welcome any addition to this list.

A lion pride viewing tourists in cars
The first decision to take is if you want to do the self drive or guided open vehicle safari. There are obvious pros and cons to both. While the self drive gives you much greater freedom to go where you want and stay at a sighting for as long as you want, you might be forced to fall in with the preferences of the group when you do the guided trip.
I do however realize that for some, like my friend John, it might mean more freedom to go with the group, since his wife or mother in law (or both) will be kept off his neck by the guide. Since Ann's father have years ago mastered the art of ignorance everything comes down on John. The guided trip do serve a different problem to John and his family. Since nobody wants to stay at home with Johnny (5) and Anny (3) they have to be entertained on all game viewing trips. Believe me, whatever John's wife and mother in law is unhappy about in John's doings is nothing compared to Anny's unhappiness about the fact that Johnny lives "in her space". Animal sightings create a very short very welcome breather, but the more frequent they see animals the sooner they get used to it and the shorter the breaks seem to get between the fights.

To have the best of the day one should start early! These
 white rhino's were still napping when
we arrived just after six.
When you organise the guided safari, it is always better to do it privately. It might cost you a bit more if you are a small group or family. The vehicles of the private operators can handle 10 people. With ten people on the vehicle you should know that three of them will be sitting in the middle. It's a bad spot, even for two lovebirds. The one in the middle will often be used as a shelf for cameras and binoculars. It is far better to have the seat in the middle open. That leaves space for accessories. The guide/driver will often prefer to have the front passenger seat open for stuff and like books, binoculars and snack boxes. Everybody should be happy with no more than six guests on the vehicle. There are ways to do this without paying the full fair for the "absent person".
Kruger Africa Safaris on a private game drive
Repeat guests almost always prefer to have the same guide when they come back on a repeat visit. If the guy or girl made you happy it's fine, but I have often found that guides do have their favorite routes and to experience something different, it is often necessary to have a different approach. It will therefore be better to make use of an operator with more than one vehicle and more than one guide. That way you can make sure you get the benefit of a good fare by booking it all with the same operator without denying your group the opportunity of diversity.
The larger "Kruger" vehicle.

The cheapest guided drive you can go on is the time limited  ones done with the Kruger vehicles and guides. I know many of them and they all have their own style and many guests enjoy their humor and knowledge. Very pleasant guys. They are unfortunately in a much less of a position to make their own decisions on a drive. While the private operators can decide to extend the activity with hours if the group do not want to leave the scene of a lion kill, the guys from Kruger, true to any government organization have to be back for their morning tea, roll call or whatever. The vehicles that Kruger use is quite large and can often take as many as between 20 and 30 people. Now you could end up with Johnny between you and the old Chinese lady and Anny on your other side. A waste of good money and time. It is not cheap to get here and you sacrifice precious leave to be here. Do not waste it by being penny wise.

When you do the "self drive" your vehicle of choice should be one that has more height than a Chevy Spark. A micro bus being it anything from a German, Japanese or a Korean still is the best vehicle for this. City folk often believe that a dirt road demands a four by four vehicle. All public roads, tarred or not, inside Kruger is in perfect condition for the Uno you drove as a student. No need for anything built for off road conditions if you plan to do the legal thing and stick to the public roads. The same rule about extra seating space applies here. John enjoys the extra space for the kids to sleep on and grandpa can sit and enjoy an undetected snooze in the very back seat.
To see this one needs to have patience and luck!
Probably the most important stuff to remember is... what to take with. If you go on a guided trip it could be expected that there will be blankets. It might be chilly in the early morning and its better to make sure your guide do cater for this. This is one of the events where "the early bird"-rule applies. The earlier the better. If your visit coincides with a popular time such as Easter Weekend or some time during the December holidays you can expect to be waiting in a long que to enter the gate. This is another thing why the guided trip is better. If your operator is well established he will enjoy special privileges. No need for him to wait in line. Other people in the que might get annoyed by this, but they should realise that this guy enters the park every single day and his guests are booked in advance and payment has been made often weeks in advance. They only allow a certain amount of cars per day and it might well be that if you arrive late, you will be denied access. Still, if the gates are not open yet... he might drive to right in front and wait for gates to open. This is the time to enjoy that coffee that your guide packed. If you understood beforehand that he only bring for himself, make sure you do not have the bad experience like John had on his first trip. Ann's mom have until today still not forgiven him for allowing the guide to sit and drink his coffee and she was left with the smell of the melting chocolate from his Romany Creams.
Nkulu picnic spot on the Sabie river between Lower Sabie and Skukuza
 Do you plan to make your own meals "el fresco" at one of the designated picnic spots? Better to pack everything. There are shops and they also do rent gas equipment for making breakfasts, but you cannot book this in advance and it is "first come first serve". This would of course be none of your concern if you organised a trip with such breakfast included. In such a case your guide will supply and cook everything. You could of course also opt for a packed breakfast, either by yourselves or by your accommodation staff. John never opt for this as Ann's mom always demand the eggs to be blue-hard and it leaves the old guy with terrible hiccups for the rest of the day. To enjoy at least one of the days meals at one of the restaurants in the park might be a good idea as it gives everybody the change to stretch legs and have a change of scenery. Such occasions has its own game viewing opportunities as it is often on a riverbank or between high trees where birds like to gather.

Please do not forget the cameras and binoculars. Have the Blackberries and I-pods ready for that almost "live" posts done to Facebook. Tease your friends and make sure they get the information about your preferred service providers if you are happy with them. Make sure you have the books like "Newman's Birds By Colour", maps and other interesting books to keep the kids happy!

If you're in such strange territory and do not know where to start, do not despair. Send a mail to You could also visit the site for some accommodation possibilities.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Surprise Visit!

Thick-Tailed Bush-baby in Marloth Park
 Bush-babies are a real treat for visitors when they frequent the lodges in Marloth Park. The Lessor Bush-baby (Nagapie in Afrikaans) are common to the area and their "cute-factor" are in the extremes. They live from the gum and juice excreted by trees. They do however also love to hunt for and eat insects like moths, grasshoppers, spiders and ants. What we found them to also enjoy is yogurt. They do definitely prefer the banana flavour and it is not a strange sight for regular visitors and permanents to have them jumping onto the dinner table to get to it.
Lessor Bush-baby coming for it's daily treat.

A surprisingly new sighting for us was the Thick-tailed Bush-baby (Bosnagaap in Afrikaans) that came to say "hallo" last night. They appear to be quite common further north from Marloth Park although we've also seen them at Kwa Madwala to the south where they are a real menace at the restaurant. Although they are much bigger, their diet are very similar to that of the Lessor BB. There is a definite lower count on the cute factor meter. This one moved so slow that one could almost mistake it for some strange exotic specimen from Madagascar!  All people that I spoke to first wanted to see the photos before they believed the Thick-tailed Bush-baby to be here. They are very social animals and it is extremely unlikely that this will be a loner. We will keep a close watch to see if the rest of the family will show up.

Making the best of bad weather!

Organising activities during the rainy summer months in Mpumalanga can be quite a tricky exercise. Although the temperature during the months of November to March always makes one beg for some sort of relief in the form of shade provided by clouds or some natural clean cool water pouring from the sky, nobody that I know of will enjoy going on a hike during a downpour. Camping out with the bare essentials could also be robbed of most enjoyment by consistent rain and muddy feet and shoes. Dirt roads in Kruger are generally shut down during bad weather conditions and game viewing are extremely less enjoyable when you have to peep from behind closed windows at flocks of impala standing all shrugged up with their backsides to the falling rain.

All this can be overcome or at least eased out a bit by good planning. Our agreement with Kruger National Park is of such that if we should need to cancel an activity due to bad weather, they give us credit. Even if we cancel the activity with the specific guest group we can still do it weeks later with other guests. We still like to be well prepared as an activity missed could be a great disappointment for people that traveled for days over thousands of miles to get here. We are not good at weather forecasts ourselves. Since growing up in the Western Cape with it's ever changing and extreme weather conditions, where a misjudgement could have you in a life threatening position, we did  some research!

What we discovered is:

These guys can see in the future! We'll keep them to their word and if they do not fail us long enough we'll ask them for the lotto numbers!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Permanent move to Marloth Park

More new arrivals in the bush!
Since moving to Marloth Park on a permanent basis about a month ago, Louise and I will be in a position to place more up to date information that can help potential visitors to have more fun and come better prepared. We have already seen more places to go and discovered more things to do during this month than during all our previous visits altogether. Since our family, friends and a big part of our hearts are still in the Western Cape we will still be in a good position to advise people about visiting that region as well.

The weather in Mpumalanga, and more specifically along the Wild Frontier, is very pleasant at the moment. Days are mild and I suppose that the odd hot and humid day just serves as a warning of things to come. The bush is lush and green since the rains started early during springtime. Animals are in excellent shape and we are looking forward to a December during which the storks doing service in the animal maternity wards will have a very busy schedule!