Category Archives: Memorable sightings

Limpopo Ramble 2022: Eastern Rock Sengi

During our recent visit to Marakele National Park, while enjoying the magnificent view from the Lenong Viewpoint, we spied a little Eastern Rock Sengi basking in the early morning sun – a habit they are particularly fond of – behind a fence surrounding one of the communication towers also built atop the mountain. While the fence is a rather irritating obtrusion in these photo’s of ours, it is probably because of it that the Sengi felt comfortable enough to be out and about, safe in the knowledge that neither us humans nor any other predator could reach it!

Elephantulus myurus

The Sengis, or Elephant Shrews, (order Macroscelidea) are a family of 20 small, insectivorous mammal species occurring only in Africa. While they’re superficially very shrew-like they are in fact not related to shrews at all (and they are in fact more closely related to elephants, even if their “trunks” aren’t nearly as long and prehensile), which is why the scientific community is trying to move away from the old moniker in favour of Sengi, a name based in indigenous African languages.

The Eastern Rock Elephant Shrew, or Sengi then, occurs widely in South Africa’s northern and eastern provinces and throughout Zimbabwe, extending into portions of Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana and Mozambique south of the Zambezi. The IUCN considers it to be of least concern.

As suggested by its name, the Eastern Rock Sengi is always found in close association with rocky areas where they hide in cracks and tiny caves among the boulders. Here they subsist on a diet that consist of insects (mainly ants and termites) and other invertebrates, though they will also eat seeds. They are diurnal, very rarely venturing out in the dark. They are also very alert and nervous, usually dashing for cover at the slightest disturbance.

Eastern Rock Sengi’s are mainly solitary and seen in pairs only while they breed during spring and summer. Females usually give birth to twins after a two-month long gestation. The young are very well developed and can move around with their mother soon after birth. Fully grown, Eastern Rock Sengi’s measure about 26cm long (of which the tail is more than half) and weigh approximately 60g. They have a very short lifespan and may live to only around 18 months of age in the wild.

Limpopo Ramble 2022: Royal Welcome at Marakele

Scarcely half-an-hour after arriving at Marakele National Park on the 29th of June, while making our way between reception and our allocated tent at Tlopi Tented Camp, we were met by this beautiful male lion, out patrolling and marking his territory. It really is nice to have your arrival acknowledged by the local royalty, don’t you think?

Limpopo Ramble 2022: Taking our Elephant for a walk

Late one evening as we were slowly heading back to Marakele National Park’s Tlopi Camp with a few minutes left before gate closing time, we found our way blocked by a big herd of elephants, and I parked our vehicle a good distance away so that we could enjoy the sighting. While the herd were peacefully going about their business up ahead, suddenly a young elephant cow came charging at full tilt out of the bush right next to us!

I immediately turned the car around and drove off. After a few hundred metres I slowed down so that we could resume our more leisurely game-viewing pace, only to have the raging cow appear in the rear-view mirror again. This being repeated several times, it was startling to realise that she would not relent and in the end she chased us for over a kilometre – with Joubert snapping away these photographs – before she turned around.

Limpopo Ramble 2022: Tlopi Buffalo Pub

One afternoon during our recent visit to Marakele National Park, while relaxing on the deck of our safari tent and enjoying the serenity of Tlopi Camp, this sizable herd of buffaloes visited their local waterhole for a drink. Joubert is responsible for all these pictures.

Limpopo Ramble 2022: Verreaux’s Eagle Nest in Mapungubwe

On a sheer rock face in the Mapungubwe National Park, we found a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles attending to their chick at their nest. So large was the nest that we seldom got even a glimpse of the fluffy white chick, but it was wonderful nevertheless to see the majestic adults coming and going.

Limpopo Ramble 2022: Mapungubwe’s Treetop Walk

One of the real treats of a visit to Mapungubwe National Park is the Treetop Walk through the riverine forest on the South African bank of the Limpopo River (Botswana is on the opposite side). Sadly the length of the elevated boardwalk was trimmed significantly by recent floods, but it still offers a wonderful glimpse into life in the tree canopy and an amazing opportunity to watch elephants from above if you are lucky to be on the treetop walk when a herd moves through on their way to the water.

Limpopo Ramble 2022: The Land of the Giants

In the Mapungubwe National Park, three aspects are truly iconic of this landscape: Elephants, baobabs, and rocky hills and cliffs. It’s as if the entire atmosphere of the Park hinges on these key natural attributes.

Mapungubwe, situated as it is at the place where the borders of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet, has a high population of elephants and especially so when the dry season concentrate the behemoths along the banks of the Limpopo River. From families of cows and tiny calves to enormous bulls can all be expected along any of the roads traversing the Park, and sometimes waiting for these charismatic animals to clear the way can be a very entertaining delay. At other times, the dense mopane veld may lead to you inadvertently finding yourself in the personal space of one of the giants and they might react with more than a little agitation!

The Elephants even move through Mapungubwe’s unfenced main camp Leokwe, as we experienced one evening upon arriving at out cottage.

Baobabs are the undisputable rulers of Mapungubwe’s plant kingdom. With this part of the world now firmly in Winter’s grip, the trees are mostly leafless, lending more credence to the myth that the Creator tossed them to earth, planting them upside down. Elephants have a paticular liking for the pulpy wood of the baobab, and many of Mapungubwe’s trees show damage as a result, leading to the Park authorities protecting some prime specimens by using wire as wrapping around their trunks (those of the trees, not those of the elephants 😉 )

On the largest scale of all, it is the rocky, hilly landscapes that really forms the basis of Mapungubwe’s ancient atmosphere. The hills are composed mainly of dolerite – the remains of molten rock pushed up from deep inside the earth through sandstone that has long since weathered away to leave only the harder volcanic geology visible.

Limpopo Ramble 2022: Hungry Honeymooners

During our recent visit to Mapungubwe National Park we left the environs of Leokwe Camp early one morning to go and explore the western reaches of the Park around the Maloutswa Pan, near the Limpopo Forest Tented Camp and Mazhou Camping Site. We were already close to our destination when we came across a mating pair of lions enjoying the early morning sun.

Mating pair of Lions

The female especially was interested in (we thought) a herd of impala grazing nearby, and got up to sneak out of view followed by the male. Anticipating an impending attack on the impalas, we positioned our vehicle for a clear view of the antelope grazing entirely unaware of the danger lurking nearby.

What we didn’t see, but the lions did, was a family of warthogs. When next we saw the lions they were chasing the warthogs at speed across the road!

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on which team you support!, the warthogs were too quick for the lions, and the honeymoon pair had to continue searching for their next breakfast opportunity.

 

 

Limpopo Ramble 2022: Pel’s Fishing Owl

Now, searching for the Pel’s Fishing Owl can make you feel like Indiana Jones searching for some long lost artefact only to be thwarted at every turn. We have spent many, many hours over the years slowly driving through prime habitat in search of this elusive bird and have always come off second best.

Upon arrival at Mapungubwe National Park on the 25th of June, and while completing the usual formalities at the entrance gate, I enquired about whether there had been any recent sightings of Fishing Owls in the Park and whether we might book a special guided drive to search for them in case there was. Without hesitation the kind receptionist picked up the phone, and minutes later we were being escorted down to the banks of the Limpopo River by Leonard Luula, one of the excellent guides at Mapungubwe.

Leonard’s expert eye quickly picked out the bird that has eluded us for so long sitting in a tall riparian tree. We were ecstatic.

We went back to the same area early the following day and were very grateful to see the owl once again before it shuffled out of view along its perch to behind the screen of leaves.

Scotopelia peli

As its name suggests, the Pel’s Fishing Owl subsists on a diet of fish (and the occasional frog, crab and even baby crocodile!) which it catches at night by swooping down over the water to snatch its prey from it. They live in riverine forests on the banks of large rivers and swamps.

Pel’s Fishing Owl usually nests in deep cavities or old hamerkop nests in tall trees near the water’s edge, mainly during the months of summer and autumn. The female incubates the clutch of two eggs for around 5 weeks while being provided food by the male. Both eggs usually hatch, but only one chick survives to fledging as the parents feed mainly the stronger chick and neglect the weaker, which dies of starvation within a few days of hatching. The chick remains in the nest for almost 10 weeks and is dependent on its parents for up to 9 months months after fledging. Due to it taking so long to raise a chick, pairs generally breed only every second year.

Pel’s Fishing Owl is the second largest owl on the African continent (after Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl). Adults have a wingspan of around 1.5m, sit about 60cm tall, and weigh approximately 2kg. Their call can be heard up to 3km away.

While overall Pel’s Fishing Owl is considered to be of least concern, it is listed as endangered in South Africa, with a population estimated at only between 70 and 100 mature individuals. Here, these enigmatic birds are found in the north of Kwazulu-Natal, along large Lowveld rivers – notably the Olifants and Luvuvhu – and along the course of the Limpopo on the border with Zimbabwe and Botswana. Thankfully, most of this restricted range is covered by formal protected areas, such as the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Kruger National Park and of course Mapungubwe National Park. They are very sensitive to human disturbance and threatened by habitat loss. Beyond our borders, Pel’s Fishing Owls are found widely, if somewhat patchily, over much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Autumn Adventure – Boys will be boys, even if they’re lions

Early into the third morning of our latest visit to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, we happened upon a pride of lions on the bank of the Hluhluwe River at a spot called Sitezi. Most members of the pride quickly walked past, but at the rear of the family were three teenage males with boundless energy! They had great fun, and so were we watching them with cameras clicking away.