Category Archives: Memorable sightings

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.

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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).

 

Christmas Cuties

Wishing all of our friends here at de Wets Wild a blessed Christmas from Addo Elephant National Park!

Today’s sequence shows two baby elephants sharing a Christmas morning nap. The smallest of the two really struggled to get back up when it was time to start moving with the herd again. Certainly one of the cutest things we’ve ever seen in South Africa’s wild places!

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Now this is brave!

While walking along the edge of the Tsitsikamma forests at Storms River Mouth Rest Camp today, Joubert and I came across a very brave Southern Boubou tangling with a deadly venomous Boomslang. The bird succeeded in driving the snake away, apparently none the worse for the encounter.

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If you enjoy de Wets Wild as much as we enjoy sharing our love for South Africa’s wild places and their denizens with you, please vote for us in the 2017 South African Blog Awards.

We’ve entered the categories for “Best Travel Blog” and “Best Environmental Blog”, and you are allowed to vote for us in both. Clicking on the badge below will bring you to the voting site. After voting, you’ll receive an e-mail requiring you to click on a link to confirm your votes.

Thank you very much for your support!

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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.

A Quick Nature Fix at Rietvlei

Our local Rietvlei Nature Reserve is often just what the doctor ordered when I need a quick nature fix. Located just 13km from our home, with a very fair rate of admission (R50 for adults currently, roughly $3.50), decent facilities, an extensive road network and an amazing diversity of wildlife, Rietvlei never fails to recharge the batteries! A week or so ago, in serious need of getting my head cleared following a few health worries, that’s exactly where I headed for a solo trip.

In all the years we’ve been visiting Rietvlei the reserve’s cheetahs have always eluded us – these large spotted cats are experts at hiding! I therefore felt extremely pleased when at long last I encountered a female with her three cubs, just after they had their fill of a freshly caught blesbok. I returned to the site several times later during the day, hoping that the family might still be in the vicinity, only to find the remains of the carcass variously attended by nervous black-backed jackals and pied crows squabbling over the left overs.

At one of the bird-viewing hides I had another encounter that will live in my memory forever. A reedbuck ewe hid her young lamb in a dense stand of reeds nearby, which is quite normal behaviour for the species. The curious (or should that be naughty?) youngster however did not want to stay put where his mom told him to, and quite unafraid approached me where I was sitting flat on the ground taking photos of him from a distance. Eventually he got so close that I had to get up and walk away, afraid that if he was to rub up against me his mother might catch my scent on him and abandon him. If I was pleased after the earlier cheetah sighting this experience really had me feeling utterly blessed!

Winter is getting a firm hold on South Africa’s Highveld now and early morning at Rietvlei is a pleasure to behold as mist rises from the waterways and the rising sun starts to thaw the frost covering the grass and trees.

For a reserve almost entirely surrounded by urban sprawl and industries, Rietvlei harbours an impressive collection of large and easily visible mammalian inhabitants. My sightings included black wildebeest, blesbok, buffalo, eland, meerkat, plains zebra, hartebeest, springbok, waterbuck, white rhinos and yellow mongoose (as well as the already mentioned cheetahs, jackals and reedbuck).

I also managed to identify 55 different kinds of birds in the few hours I spent at Rietvlei!

All in all a very pleasant day’s outing; one that certainly got my head back in the right place!

Red-billed Quelea

Quelea quelea

Some of the most impressive sights of our recent visit to the Satara area of the Kruger National Park was the enormous flocks of Red-billed Quelea occupying the grasslands of the central plains. Following the good rains that bought respite from an awful drought, the savannas are heavy with a rich harvest of seeding grasses, and literally millions of the little birds are making the most of the abundant foodsource. When their population reaches a peak, as it currently has, there could be as many as 33-million Red-billed Queleas swirling in cloudy swarms over the Park!

The Red-billed Quelea is a small (20g) seed-eating sparrow-like nomad inhabiting grasslands and grainfields (causing enormous losses to farming communities). Swarms that could number in the millions descend on watering holes at least twice daily. While feeding they “roll” over the grasslands in a wave-like motion, most impressive to witness! While seeds make up the vast majority of their diet they do catch small insects as well, especially when raising chicks.

Nesting occurs communally in the rainy months and hundreds, even thousands, of nests are woven per tree (prefers thorn trees) by the males. Breeding colonies could consist of more than 2 million monogamous pairs, and is a magnet for every imaginable predatory bird, reptile and mammal that is large enough to take adults and chicks. Clutches normally number three eggs and the female incubates them for only 12 days, whereafter the chicks fledge within another two weeks!

The Red-billed Quelea may well be the most abundant bird on the planet, with an estimated population as large as ten billion, and as such is considered as being of least concern by the IUCN. It occurs widely in the savannas of Sub-Saharan Africa and can be found in every one of South Africa’s provinces, where it must number in the hundreds of millions.

(The photos in the following gallery were taken on visits to the Kruger Park and elsewhere)