Join us for a look back at the wonderfully wild South African destinations we visited during 2022. May 2023 be a blessed year for you and your family, memorable for all the best reasons.
The housing complex where we live here in Pretoria has seen a proliferation of Garden Acraea butterflies and their caterpillars over the past few weeks.
These in turn have been a boon for the Diederik Cuckoos that visit our part of the world in summer. Caterpillars are a staple for them.
An added bonus for the Diederikkies are the number of nests of Southern Masked Weavers to be found in our complex gardens. The Diederik Cuckoo is a brood parasite that is especially fond of using weavers as foster parents for their chicks. Of course this isn’t going down too well with the weavers, who frequently dive bomb any Diederikkie found exposed.
These photographs were all taken by Joubert in the past couple of days. His examinations are over and for all intents and purposes his Grade 6 year is concluded – all that he still needs to do is collect his report card and certificates. The dramas of the Diederikkies and their neighbours has been great entertainment and Joubert quickly got very adept at using both stories of our townhouse as photographic hides from which to capture their antics. Of course I am very grateful that he loves photography so much rather than vegetating on the couch with tv games.
With it being a short school holiday we had the opportunity to visit the privately owned Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve for a day this past week.
The reserve was established in 1990 and is located in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site northwest of Johannesburg in the Gauteng Province of South Africa. It covers approximately 1,600 hectares of undulating terrain at the transition between the open grasslands of the Highveld and the savannas of the Bushveld.
Going by the name, clearly pride of place at the reserve goes to two species. The first is the white rhinoceros, which are heavily guarded on the reserve to keep them safe from poachers – in fact, several of the reserve’s rhinos arrived here as orphans after their mothers were poached. Furthermore the horns of the rhinos at the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve has been infused with a toxin that makes it unfit for human consumption to further deter the unscrupulous syndicates supplying the traditional medicine markets in Asia.
In a corner of the reserve are four large camps through which visitors are allowed to drive to view two prides of lion, African wild dogs and cheetahs in natural surroundings. Whenever we consider visiting a destination where large predators are kept in camps and enclosures we are always very careful that it is not in any way linked to the absolutely abhorrent canned hunting fraternity, cub petting or the lion-bone trade. The owners and management of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve have publicly undertaken that the animals on the reserve will not be subjected to such inhumane practices.
The first and most expansive of the predator camps at the reserve is allocated to the tawny lions. We arrived there just minutes before feeding time, and found the lions up and very active indeed!
The next camp visitors enter houses a sizable pack of the highly social African Wild Dog, also known as Painted Wolves for their beautifully blotched coats.
A pride of White Lions is to be seen in the third predator camp (regular readers of our blog will remember how excited we were to have seen one of only three known wild white lions back in January during a visit to the Kruger National Park).
In the fourth camp visitors can try and spot cheetahs, though these lanky cats use their camouflage to great effect and finding them may be neigh impossible if they don’t want to be spotted!
Another positive feature of the reserve is the vulture restaurant – a feeding station where carcasses are regularly laid out for the endangered birds. Throughout our day on the reserve we had regular sightings of the impressive but endangered Cape Vultures overhead, and many other kinds of birds were also in evidence.
Other kinds of mammals, aside from the rhinos and large predators, thrive on the reserve and roam freely over most of it. We were especially impressed by the large herd of eland and beautiful sable antelope, and we also saw black-backed jackal, black and blue wildebeest, blesbok, buffalo, gemsbok, grey duiker, impala, roan antelope, springbok, warthog, waterbuck and yellow mongoose.
Special mention needs to be made of the reserve’s population of Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra. Being not at all indigenous to this part of the country visitors are provided an opportunity to see the least well-known of the three kinds of zebra found in South Africa.
The main visitor centre of the reserve offers an extensive picnic site and playground, restaurant, swimming pool and the wildlife centre – a collection of endangered and mostly non-indigenous reptiles, birds and mammals, obviously well taken care of and displayed in well maintained terrariums and enclosures, among which visitors are allowed to stroll at their leisure.
Visitors can overnight on the reserve in chalets and log cabins, the latter overlooking a portion of the lion camp. Given the rather small size of the reserve the road network, all dirt, is not very extensive but the majority of roads can at least be fairly easily traversed in standard passenger vehicles while there’s also additional routes available to 4×4’s. Unfortunately the Wonder Cave which as adjacent to the reserve was closed at the time of our visit.
Under South Africa’s current “COVID-19 lockdown restrictions” our nature reserves and national parks are allowed to open their gates to local day visitors, and so Joubert and I used the opportunity to visit Pretoria’s Rietvlei Nature Reserve this past week (Marilize is back at work at the local Primary School). It was our first time out in natural surroundings since our visit to the Royal Natal Park in March and, despite all the new formalities of temperature checks and health declarations at the entrance and the constant aggravation of face masks fogging up the lenses of my glasses in the crisp winter’s air, still an experience to be treasured – perhaps even more so now that it is clear how easily freedoms like these are forfeited in a time of crisis. Being just 13km from our home and surrounded by development in South Africa’s most industrialised province, it is easy to underestimate the value of Rietvlei as a place where tired souls can find a temporary reprieve from the onslaught of seemingly ever escalating bad news.
This past weekend saw us, accompanied by good friends and close family, heading to our local Rietvlei Nature Reserve to celebrate Joubert’s tenth birthday. The highlight of the day for Joubert and his mates was a tour to Rietvlei’s lions, with the birthday boy getting the seat of honour next to the very knowledgeable ranger-guide.
With the spring season now in glorious swing here in South Africa we headed to the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden again for a jolly day out in nature this past Sunday. The recently fledged Verreaux’s Eagle chick and its parents were the stars of the show, as always, and yet again we were amazed at the variety of wildlife finding a home here in suburban Johannesburg. The gardens are hugely popular with the citizens of South Africa’s biggest city, and not without reason, as we hope these photos will convince.
Have a look here for all our posts on the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden if you’d like to learn more about this fantastic place.
It is the Heritage Day long weekend in South Africa, and yesterday we packed the Duster with picnic baskets and grandparents and set out for a most enjoyable morning at our local Rietvlei Nature Reserve. Large sections of the reserve have recently received management burns to clear moribund grass cover (fire being an essential component of Africa’s grassland and savanna landscapes), and the first spring rains have spurred the growth of new grass, attracting a wide range of birds and animals to these areas.
Yesterday we celebrated Joubert’s ninth birthday at our local Rietvlei Nature Reserve, just a few kilometers from home. Combining family and friends, wildlife, photography, a picnic and birthday cake just seems like the best way to celebrate the special day, don’t you agree?
Rietvlei is home to a small pride of lions housed in a 150-hectare enclosure in a corner of the reserve. Normally we wouldn’t support any “reserves” in which lions are kept in confined quarters nor any that offer “cub petting” as an attraction due to the very real possibility that these establishments are involved to a greater or lesser extent in the breeding of lions for the canned hunting and bone exporting business, despite their claims of “conservation” and “education”. Rietvlei’s lions however were rescued from exactly such circumstances, cannot be introduced to the wild and will live out their lives here. It was a special birthday treat for Joubert and his friends to visit Tau, Jarvis, Bassie and Tawane at their home.