Category Archives: Limpopo Province

Our experiences in the reserves of Limpopo, South Africa

Easter in Kruger

The Easter break afforded us the opportunity to visit South Africa’s flagship National Park, and one of our favourite destinations, again, spending first three nights at Skukuza Rest Camp in the south of the Kruger National Park, and then four nights around Mopani Rest Camp in the north. After a summer of apparently good rainfall, the Park’s vegetation is lush and green, with water in ample supply. These conditions make searching for wildlife a bit trickier, but it is wonderful to see the Park transformed from the harrowing effects of the recent drought that is still so fresh in our minds.

The Kruger National Park is renowned for its Big-5 sightings. There isn’t very many other places where one can so easily find completely wild lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and rhinos from the comfort of your own vehicle, at your own pace and according to your own schedule. And then there’s always a chance that you may cross paths with a magnificent big tusker!

On the other side of the scale are those less frequently noticed smaller critters (“creepy crawlies” or “goggas” as we call them), that fairly seldom feature on any of the Kruger visitors’ sightings wish-lists. They may be small and unobtrusive, but they are certainly no less fascinating than the glamorous Big-5. We already shared with your the exciting scenes of a Western Stripe-bellied Sand Snake catching and swallowing a skink in Shingwedzi, but there’s plenty more to see if you bend your knees!

The Mopani area is well-known for prized sightings of the rarer antelope species, and we weren’t disappointed on that score either, ticking bushbucknyalaeland, tsessebe, reedbuck and roan antelope on our list.

The lush vegetation made it very challenging to see the smaller antelope species. We managed to photograph steenbok, grey duiker and klipspringer, but unfortunately the grysbok just weren’t willing to pose for a picture this time around.

There’s quite a few herbivore species that you are virtually guaranteed to see when visiting the Kruger National Park. Among these are baboons and vervet monkeys, blue wildebeest, plains zebra, impala, kudu, waterbuck, giraffe, warthog and hippo.

Of course, with such a menu there are many predators in attendance. Apart from lions and leopards, on our latest visit we also encountered spotted hyena, side-striped and black-backed jackal, crocodile and large-spotted genet.

The Kruger National Park is regarded as a paradise for bird-watchers, and that is not without reason. During the warmer months especially, when many summer migrants from northern latitudes enjoy our warm weather, the variety and numbers of bird species to be seen is absolutely prolific, but even in winter feathered life abounds in the Lowveld.

The Kruger National Park is an addictive place. You only need to visit once for it to get under your skin, and stay there. The more you experience of Kruger’s wonders, the more you pine for it. We’ll be back again and again, no question about it.

 

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Easter Encounters with Tuskers

One of our greatest joys when visiting the Kruger National Park is being treated to an encounter with a real “Tusker”; a majestic elephant bull carrying massive ivory. There are only a handful of these enigmatic animals on the continent, and they are living monuments to those who protect our wild places for generations to come. Owing to their special status, they are given names by the Park authorities, often according to specific areas they roam or in remembrance of rangers or other members of staff that dedicated their lives to the Park.

During our Easter visit to Kruger, we were lucky to have seen no less than three of these awesome animals. Each one of them has some unique features – scars on the ears, marks on the trunk, characteristic tusk shape, etc. that aids in the identification. We’ve submitted our photographs to the Kruger’s Emerging Tuskers Project and will update this post once we hear the names of these tuskers.

“Bull 1”

This big bull is known as “Hahlwa“, which is Tsonga for “twin” because he looks so similar to Masasana, another big tusker roaming the Kruger Park.

This last bull has not been named yet, but the project team will be keeping a close watch on him until he too receives his well-deserved moniker.

For some more pictures of tuskers we’ve seen in Kruger in years past have a look at this post.

Serpentine encounter at Shingwedzi

Psammophis subtaeniatus

One of the most exciting and memorable sightings of our Easter trip to the Kruger National Park took place right in front of the reception office at Shingwedzi Rest Camp. We watched as a Western Stripe-bellied Sand Snake (aka Western Yellow-bellied Sand Snake) stalked, caught, killed and swallowed a skink – the whole episode playing out within perhaps ten minutes at the most.

This was a fairly large specimen of this slender species, which grows to around a metre in length. Western Stripe-bellied Sand Snakes are strictly diurnal, equally at home on the ground or in low trees and shrubs, and extremely fast moving. Aside from lizards they will also prey on frogs, small birds and rodents, which they dispatch with a dose of mild venom (not lethal to humans though).

Females lay between 4 and 10 eggs in summer, and probably lives for between 5 and 10 years in the wild.

The Western Stripe-bellied Sand Snake is described as widespread and common by the IUCN, which considers it to be of least concern. It is distributed from southern Angola and northern Namibia through to Swaziland and South Africa (North West, Limpopo, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and possibly northern Kwazulu-Natal), occurring in a variety of savanna types and being especially closely associated with mopane veld (such as which occurs around Shingwedzi).

 

Our 2017 in pictures

Looking back at the places we stayed at during another year of enjoying South Africa’s beautiful wild places.

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Breathing in our Natural Heritage at Marakele

In South Africa, we celebrate the 24th of September as “Heritage Day”, and of course to us de Wets our country’s natural heritage is our biggest pride. What better way then to spend the Heritage Day long weekend than at a place as beautiful as Marakele National Park, accompanied by a group of wonderful friends?

Marakele’s varied landscapes makes for such a diverse experience – from the top of the Waterberg massif to the plains of Kwaggasvlakte below. A few fires passed through the area some days before our visit (a quite natural occurrence in African savannas, to which animal and plant life alike are perfectly adapted) and as soon as the first rains of spring fall Marakele should be transformed into a green paradise again.

There’s no doubt in our mind that Marakele’s populations of the popular “Big Five” animals must be growing at a good rate. We’ve never seen so many elephants on any of our previous visits to this Park, and this latest visit also delivered us our first encounters with both Marakele’s buffaloes and lions. It is now only the Park’s leopards that still elude us.

By now our regular readers will know that we love walking around after dark looking for nocturnal creatures, and in this respect the Thutong Environmental Education Centre where we stayed delivered a range of arachnid species!

We’ve already shared with you a series of photos of a wasp dragging a paralysed caterpillar to a nesting tunnel for its young to feed on – have a look here for the complete set.

Wasp and prey

Marakele means “a place of sanctuary”, and it is as true for human visitors as it is for the immense collection of wildlife that calls this gem of a place home!

A big group of people needs a big place to stay. Marakele’s Thutong Environmental Education Centre is a dormitory-style facility built purposely to accommodate visiting school groups, however it is available for private groups when not being used by school children. Provided is six double rooms with en-suite bathrooms for the teachers, with a maximum of 128 children that can be accommodated in 16 seperate rooms with 8 bunk beds in each. Thutong also has a decently equipped kitchen to cook for that many mouths, and a large hall and fireplace. It is securely fenced – the necessity for which we clearly understood when we found lion tracks right outside the gate one morning!

Want to learn more about Marakele National Park? Why not scroll through all our posts about this special place, here.

Hardworking Wasp

Just to prove that a visit to a game reserve isn’t all about the “hairies and scaries”, one of the most memorable sightings of the trip we took to Marakele National Park last weekend wasn’t of one of the “Big Five” or another large mammal, bird or reptile. Instead, we watched in awe as a wasp carried (sometimes through the air, but mostly along the ground) a large, paralysed caterpillar to a specially prepared tunnel. In there, the wasp’s young can grow to adulthood by feeding on the hapless immature insect.

Back from Marakele

If you thought we were a little quiet the last few days, you’d be right. We spent the Heritage Day long weekend enjoying our natural heritage and the company of good friends at Marakele National Park. Here’s just a little sample of some of what we experienced, with a promise of more to come later in the week.