Category Archives: Eastern Cape Province

Addo Elephant National Park: Celebrating 90 years of conservation success!

Today we celebrate the 90th birthday of the Addo Elephant National Park.

By the early 1900’s the Eastern Cape’s wildlife was being exterminated at an alarming rate. The last remaining lions and black rhinos in the region did not see the arrival of the year 1900, and only about 140 African Elephants remained around the Addo district, which was rapidly developing into an important agricultural area, leading to conflict with the newly established farmers. The government’s decision to intervene was not good news for the elephants. In 1919 they appointed Major P.J. Pretorius to destroy the elephants, and by 1920 he had killed 114 of them and caught 2 for a circus. Only 16 elephants remained when public sentiment swung in their favour and the wanton killing ended, and when the Addo Elephant National Park was proclaimed on 3 July 1931, only 11 elephants were left. Initially, the Park was not fenced to keep the elephants in and when they left the Park they were at the mercy of the “civilisation” that wanted to destroy them all, so the first Park manager made the decision to feed them with citrus and other fresh produce to keep them within his boundaries. Slowly but surely their numbers started growing, but by the time the Park, then only 2,270 hectares in size, was finally surrounded with an elephant-proof fence in 1954, there was still only 22 elephants at Addo. The unnatural practice of feeding the elephants, which in the end was done more for the entertainment of tourists than for the elephants’ sake, ended in 1979. By then the herd numbered about 100 animals, but Addo’s elephants have responded wonderfully to the protection they’ve been afforded since the Park’s proclamation, and today number over 600! Along with the elephants, the last free-roaming herds of African (Cape) Buffalo that occurred in the then Cape Province, as well as the unique and endemic Addo Flightless Dung Beetle, finally found a secure refuge. In subsequent years the Park’s area was expanded and species that fell into local extinction were reintroduced.

With the Addo elephants now finally living in a safe refuge, the focus at Addo Elephant National Park is no longer on saving a single species. Today, the park’s management is concerned with the protection of the enormous diversity of landscapes, flora and fauna encompassed within its boundaries, which covers an expansive area of over 178,000 hectares stretching from beyond and across the Zuurberg range to the coastal forests and dune fields of Alexandria. The Park protects portions of no less than five of South Africa’s seven distinct terrestrial biomes, these being subtropical thicket, fynbos, forest, grassland and Nama-Karoo, not to forget to mention the portion of marine environment protected around Algoa Bay’s St. Croix and Bird islands which is important breeding sites for endangered seabirds. Addo is the only National Park in South Africa that can claim to protect the “Big Seven” – the famed “Big Five“ of ElephantLionBlack RhinoBuffaloLeopard, together with the Great White Shark, and Southern Right Whale.

Addo Elephant National Park protects a total of 95 mammals species. The Park also boasts a list of 417 bird species, and if that isn’t enough, visitors also have a chance of spotting any of the more than 50 reptile species or 20 kinds of frogs and toads that call Addo Elephant National Park home. The Park’s most famous invertebrate inhabitant undoubtedly is the Addo Flightless Dung Beetle (Circellium bacchus), this being only one of 5 places they are still found. These interesting insects make use of elephant and buffalo dung as food, either for themselves or rolled into brood balls in which they lay a single egg before burying it in soft sand and on which the larvae then feeds when it hatches.

The Addo Main Camp is the Addo Elephant National Park’s first and biggest tourist facility. Camping and a wide variety of accommodation (as well as a swimming pool) is available to overnight guests. There are picnic sites for day visitors, an underground hide overlooking a waterhole frequented by all the Park’s animals and floodlit at night (we even saw a brown hyena there when we visited in December), a birdwatching hide overlooking a small artificial wetland, a self-guided discovery trail, guided drives and horse rides, a fuel station, restaurant, shop and excellent interpretive centre where young and old can learn more about the Park and its inhabitants. Elsewhere in the Park guests can overnight at the luxury, full service and privately-run Gorah, Riverbend and Kuzuko-lodges, or in one of the Park’s own camps at Nyathi, Matyholweni, Kabouga Cottage, Mvubu Campsite, Narina Bushcamp, Langebos and Msintsi. Between the Main Camp and Matyholweni guests have access to an extensive and well-maintained network of all-weather game viewing roads, while other areas of the Park can be explored along hiking trails or 4×4 trails.

The easiest way to reach the Park is along the N2 highway from Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), turning off to the gate at Matyholweni just before you reach the small town of Colchester on the bank of the Sundays River, about 45km from PE’s airport.

Addo Location

 

Summertide Diary: Departing Mountain Zebra

3 January 2021

Today we had to leave Mountain Zebra National Park early, for we had a long way to get back home to Pretoria and had to beat the government-imposed curfew at that. It may have been only 12km from the camp to the gate, but still there was loads to see!

Very near the gate there’s a nice waterhole where even this early in the morning a procession of game was already congregating. The serenity of the scene was shattered when a mountain zebra love triangle got out of hand, but calm soon settled again.

During our time in Mountain Zebra National Park we were very lucky to come across a Black Rhinoceros cow and calf. For their protection I won’t be able to share where or when it was that we saw them, but being able to see more of these magnificent creatures was a privilege we were very grateful for.

And with that our summertide ramble came to a halt, if temporarily, as I had important start-of-the-year work to attend to back in Pretoria. As it would be some weeks still before the schools were due to reopen we did have another reservation in the offing, but with South Africa in the midst of a serious second wave of COVID-19 infections we weren’t at all certain that we would be able to take it up…

We posted a special feature about Mountain Zebra National Park following a previous visit, if you’d like to learn more about this special destination.

Map of Mountain Zebra National Park from the SANParks website (https://www.sanparks.org/images/parks/mountain_zebra/mznp-map.jpg)

 

Summertide Diary: Exploring Mountain Zebra (part two)

2 January 2021

When dawn found the Mountain Zebra National Park under heavy skies this morning we were already underway along the Kranskop Loop.

When we arrived at the start of Rooiplaat Loop we found a male lion lying there, flat on its right-side. We sat there as the minutes passed, studying it through cameras and binoculars and finally coming to the sad conclusion that this lion was dead – there wasn’t even a twitch of an ear or any movement of its stomach to indicate a breath being taken. Disheartened, I started the car to drive off.

King Roy, fast asleep

The sound of the Duster’s engine had a miraculous effect. The lion lifted his head, sleepily. He rested his head on his paws for a while, then gave a mighty yawn before getting up, stretching his legs and then lying down again to look at us in irritation. He is magnificent, known as Roy, and despite his advanced age one of the ruling coalition of lion males here at Mountain Zebra National Park, along with Nomad whom we saw at a distance the day before .

When the next vehicle arrived at the lion sighting we moved of so that those visitors too could have a private audience with The King. The skies have cleared and it’s turning into a glorious day. On our way back to camp we passed Roy again, and he was fast asleep again.

With it being our last afternoon at Mountain Zebra we opted to visit all our favourite spots along the Ubejane and Rooiplaat Loops and the Link road between them again. There’s just something so indescribably peaceful about driving around wild Africa as dusk approaches.

We posted a special feature about Mountain Zebra National Park following a previous visit, if you’d like to learn more about this special destination.

Map of Mountain Zebra National Park from the SANParks website (https://www.sanparks.org/images/parks/mountain_zebra/mznp-map.jpg)

Summertide Diary: Bat-eared Fox puppies

Our new year got off to a great start when we encountered this lovely family of Bat-eared Foxes along the Link Road in the Mountain Zebra National Park on the 1st of January. At the den there were three very lively puppies and four adults who did everything they could to get the pups to hide away from the enamoured humans, without much success!

Summertide Diary: Exploring Mountain Zebra (part one)

1 January 2021

As soon as the gates opened on New Year’s Day we headed for the Rooiplaat Loop, the sightings board at reception having indicated that Lions and Cheetahs were seen there the previous day. And we did not wait long – right where the road skirts the Park’s boundary fence we came across a big male lion, known as Nomad, patrolling his territory.

We supposed that it was the proximity of the big predator that made these Black Wildebeest so jittery!

It’s early morning in the Mountain Zebra National Park and there’s so much to be seen!

It was on the link road between Rooiplaat and Ubejane Loops that we happened upon these cute little Bat-eared Fox pups and their elders. More photos of them tomorrow!

Bat-eared Fox pups

Along the main road, between the two junctions with the Ubejane Loop, we saw this pair of unusually tolerant Secretarybirds – they’re normally quite nervous and move away from the road the moment a vehicle approaches, so this was a great opportunity to watch them in action.

At the southern junction of Ubejane Loop with the main road there’s a small earth dam filled with rainwater. By the time we arrived there at mid-morning Cape Mountain Zebra families were arriving from all corners, along with some other wildlife, to slake their thirst and it was wonderful to watch their social interactions before heading back to camp.

Back at camp there was time to kill either side of lunchtime, and thankfully there’s very much of interest around the accommodation and camping area.

Our route for the afternoon would first take us into the mountains along the Kranskop Loop before taking another jaunt around the Rooiplaat Loop.

A real highlight of our afternoon drive was an encounter with a group of three Cheetahs – one adult and two youngsters – on the Rooiplaat Plateau, just half-an-hour before we had to be back in camp.

 

We posted a special feature about Mountain Zebra National Park following a previous visit, if you’d like to learn more about this special destination.

Map of Mountain Zebra National Park from the SANParks website (https://www.sanparks.org/images/parks/mountain_zebra/mznp-map.jpg)

Summertide Diary: Arriving at Mountain Zebra

31 December 2020

It’s a 210km drive from Addo‘s Main Rest Camp to the gates of the Mountain Zebra National park, and we arrive just after 13:00. The rest camp lies about 12km into the Park, but it’s hot and most animals are hiding from the midday summer sun and we don’t see much of them before reaching the camp.

After checking in we make our way to our allotted unit, cottage 20, and while Marilize and I unpack the car and settle into our accommodation Joubert is already out exploring and enjoying the birdlife in camp.

Time to go exploring as a family, and off we go to the Rooiplaat and Ubejane Loops before returning to camp three hours later.

2020 draws to a close with a beautiful sunset over the hills of the Mountain Zebra National Park

The last sighting of the year: a Raucous Toad next to the swimming pool in camp.

We posted a special feature about Mountain Zebra National Park following a previous visit, if you’d like to learn more about this special destination.

Map of Mountain Zebra National Park from the SANParks website (https://www.sanparks.org/images/parks/mountain_zebra/mznp-map.jpg)

Summertide Diary: Elephant Processions at Addo

One of the most wonderful experiences one could hope to have in the Addo Elephant National Park is to sit at a waterhole while a herd of elephants arrive, often passing so close to your vehicle that it will take your breath away.

Summertide Diary: Exploring Addo (part three)

30 December 2020

Today was our last day in the Addo Elephant National Park, and that meant it was also the last day we had to enjoy with Joubert’s maternal grandparents and we all felt a little melancholy. It was a very windy day and most of the animals were hiding away from the gusts, so we decided to do an extended morning drive to the Ngulube and Harvey’s loop in the southern section of the Park, again taking a break at Jack’s Picnic Spot, and then spend the afternoon hours together in camp.

We enjoyed a wonderful final sunset over Addo, the clouds glowing red in the last rays of sunshine coming over the horizon. This is Joubert’s photo. The next morning there would be sad goodbyes as we left for Mountain Zebra National Park while Marilize’s parents returned home to Jeffreys Bay.

While we were enjoying our meal on the stoep that evening this Small-spotted Genet, picked up by our small camera trap, was (unsuccessfully) looking for leftovers of our braai (barbeque) just outside the little circle of light around our chalet.

If you’d like to learn more about the Addo Elephant National Park’s history and all it has to offer visitors, why not have a read through this post we compiled after our previous visit? And to follow along on our travels through Addo, you might find this map (from the SANParks website) most handy.Addo map from https://www.sanparks.org/parks/addo/tourism/map.php

Summertide Diary: Hyenas versus Elephant

Yesterday we promised you more photos of the fascinating interaction between the Spotted Hyenas and Elephant at Hapoor Dam in Addo Elephant National Park, and here they are.

When we arrived on the scene, the hyenas were quite far from the road and only barely visible without binoculars (or a 300mm camera lens). We could see they were eating, but couldn’t figure out what. Then one adult hyena picked up a sizable chunk of meat and started walking towards us, followed closely by a sub-adult with a piece of leg in its mouth. As they came closer we could identify the prey item as a buffalo calf, or what was left of it anyway. Whether it was caught by the hyenas themselves or killed by lions and then stolen we’ll never know. In any event, the hyenas promptly deposited their meat in a drinking trough on the opposite side of the road to where the actual Hapoor Dam is. Caching food in this fashion is quite well-known hyena behaviour.

The hyenas were still tussling in the water, apparently not knowing whether they want to save their meal for later or gobble it all up now, when a big elephant bull appeared out of the spekboom-thicket some distance away. And he was obviously on a mission. In no time the elephant closed the distance to the hyenas, and while the courage of the younger of the two predators gave in much quicker than that of his older pack mate both had to vacate their bath-cum-larder before the agitated bull got too close. For his part the elephant then gave the fouled water one indignant sniff before moving across the road to drink from Hapoor Dam proper.

With the elephant gone, the hyenas quickly moved back to their pantry, retrieved their meat and continued their meal. The day was heating up though and the Pied Crows were starting to get really annoying, and so they put their meat away a final time to be enjoyed later.

Summertide Diary: Exploring Addo (part two)

29 December 2020

The first leg of our route through the Addo Elephant Park this morning, again managing to leave camp as the gates opened, went past Gwarrie Pan and Rooidam towards Hapoor Dam. Still being early in the morning there was little animal activity around the watering holes but lots to see along the way nevertheless, both big and small.

It was on arrival at Hapoor Dam that the morning turned really exciting as we came across spotted hyenas feeding on the carcass of a buffalo calf, soon to have their feast interrupted by a very annoyed elephant bull. More on that tomorrow!

Annoyed elephant spoiling the hyena feast

I think by now the birds inhabiting Jack’s Picnic Spot started to recognise us as friends, for they were very eager to join us at our breakfast table and didn’t let any rusk crumbs that dared drop to the ground go unpunished!

From “Jack’s” we headed south-east as far as Arizona Dam before turning back to camp along the same way we came, just in case there was still some drama at Hapoor (which there was, but this time it involved elephants waiting for a work crew to fix an errant water pump so they could get their morning drink).

From the moment we left camp for our afternoon drive it was noticeable that there was a sudden explosion in the Park’s Warthog population, as seemingly every sow we saw was accompanied by little bundles of joy – not something we noticed on any of our previous drives.

Another notable encounter in the afternoon, which by then turned exceedingly windy, was with a family of foraging Meerkats, a perennial favourite with visitors to our parks.

But warthogs and meerkats weren’t all that we crossed our path that afternoon and we returned to camp very pleased with our day – again!

If you’d like to learn more about the Addo Elephant National Park’s history and all it has to offer visitors, why not have a read through this post we compiled after our previous visit? And to follow along on our travels through Addo, you might find this map (from the SANParks website) most handy.Addo map from https://www.sanparks.org/parks/addo/tourism/map.php