Summer is such a great time of year here in the Timbavati. Not only is the bush green and vibrant, there are also some fantastic colours that show themselves. These colours come from many places, whether one finds them in the numerous butterflies slowly floating around or the migrant birds that have returned for the plentiful takings. However, it is the colour found in the flowers that I will be focusing on again in this “part two” instalment of the gorgeous wild flowers that pop up all over the place after some good summer rains.
The Large Raisin (Grewia hexamita)
This is not a very common tree or bush to find in the Timbavati but luckily for us at Tanda Tula we have several growing in and around the camp grounds and along the adjacent river banks. It’s such a lovely thing to walk along the camp pathways surrounded by such vibrant colours! Having such a bright and beautiful flower is bound to attract butterflies and birds, who will of course help with pollination but also in seed dispersal as this is a fruiting bush. This is a very important aspect as a seed that travels through an acidic digestive system is far more likely to germinate and a lot quicker too. There are sadly no medicinal uses for this bush but if you enjoy eating small and hard fruits that not even many animals enjoy then this plant is right up your alley!
String of Stars
I think this small, yet beautiful shrub is my favourite of all the flowers. The plants get no bigger than ankle height and from a distance just look like green shrubs with small white specs. However, its when you get close that they come to life! Suddenly there are hundreds of tiny white flowers all growing in neat lines. Up close, a normally small and unassuming string of stars, quickly becomes a scene of wonder and beauty. I have over my career noticed that one animal in particular finds incredible delight in eating this plant and that would be the largest of all, the elephants. They seem to eat the stuff like spaghetti, pulling huge amounts of it out of the ground to enjoy with there eyes closed. But then again, I haven’t really come across many things that the giant beasts don’t enjoy eating, so there also that.
The Poison Apple (Solanum panduriforme)
This is an incredibly interesting plant to happen upon in the Great Kruger National Park. Not because they are rare, they are actually fairly common, but rather because on one hand they are intensely poisonous and on the other they are fantastically medicinal. Although the whole plant is poisonous, it is the fruit, a small ‘apple’ like berry, that carries the most. If a swelling stomach and intestine that could ultimately lead to death is your thing, then be my guest! However, there are few small plants that offer as many health benefits as the Poisonous Apple. For one a watery tea brewed with the fruit can help remedy sore eyes. Or if you are unfortunately constipated, you can mash the entire plant and ingest it orally. Good luck! Finally, traditionally this plant was used by hunters, who would wash themselves with an infusion of the plants root in order to have a successful hunt.
The Wandering Dew (Commelina benghalensis)
This is a beautiful little blue to violet flower that offer a fair bit more than just something pretty to look at. In fact, its packed full of medicinal uses. The most notable of all would have to be its use as an eye drop or at least a way of cleaning the eyes. Just below the flower in the image above there is, what looks like a sharp little green leaf. This is in fact a pouch of sorts and within that pouch is a couple of drops of liquid, it just so happens that this liquid makes for a great eye drop, not to mention that the shape of pouch helps to administer the drop almost exactly like a regular eye drop bottle!
Sweet Thorn Acacia (Vachellia karroo)
The area around Tanda Tula Safari Camp is full of these iconic tree’s which at this time of year is spectacular as the horizon line is often filled with specs of yellow from the millions of little yellow fluff ball flowers. These are essentially balls of pollen just waiting for enticed bee’s and other insects to land on them. However due to the love that giraffe have for these trees and their delicious leaves, it is believed that they contribute greatly to the pollination of the trees and many other similar species. This occurs when the tall animals go to feed on the trees and while doing so end up with checks covered in the bright yellow pollen. When the giraffe finally moves onto the next tree pollination happens, in much the same as it would with a bee! It also has a great medicinal use, as a poultice can be made from a mixture of the leaves, bark, sap and flowers. This poultice can then be applied to wounds to help remedy pain, inflammation or infection.
The Greater Kruger National park is teaming with life. Leopards, lions, elephants and the like usually take centre stage during any safari but the bush is so much more than that! This week I have decided to focus on the gorgeous flowers that the Timbavati is home to at this time of year.
We have had some great rain over the last week, with over 40mm failing so far. This rain and the changing climate in general suddenly spurs all manor of life into action and suddenly the bush is alive with colour. This is something I would like to document as often we think of Africa as a stark and unforgiving wilderness but the effects of summer on the areas around Tanda Tula are truly mesmerising.
The African weeping wattle
These stunning trees are just starting to come into bloom at the moment and the riverbanks are awash with their bright yellow flowers at this time of year. The “weeping” part of the trees name comes from it being what we call a “rain tree”, these are trees are great hosts to spittle-bugs – small creatures that bore into the stems of the plant to harvest sap. Of course when something is eaten, waste is produced and when enough of these bugs are present it can give one the impression that the tree is weeping. Due to their lovely soft leaves, this species is often referred to as the “toilet paper tree”.
The crinum lily
Crinum lilies are almost most notable after recent rains when they pop out of the ground, as beautiful white flowers that can eventually turn to a pink candy-like stripped wonderment, after lying dormant as a bulb underground during the dry wintery months. These bulbs prove to be a great source of food for elephants. I have had a number of great sightings of the large beasts when attempting to find, dig up, pick up and eat the large bulbs. Often curling their trunk into somewhat of a fist and then lightly tapping the floor until a hallow point is herd. They would then make use of their enormous feet to kick soil out of the way in order to dig them up. However, then the conundrum occurs. How does an elephant get the sometimes American football sized tuber from the ground to his mouth? Well, he eventually resorts to gently rolling the treat all the up his leg, over his chest and somehow into his mouth
The Mopane Pomegranate
This is definitely one of the most striking plants to see when in flower! I guess what makes them so dramatic is that they are often the very first to show this much life, right at the end winter, when nothing else is. Suddenly there are bright yellow hives of activity, dotted around the Timbavati. The insects who happen to be active at this time of year are drawn to it like, well, bees to honey. Finally, a ray of hope that summer is coming!
Being somewhat rare really does help these trees stand out just when the time is right. In the distance, sometimes deep in the bush you can make out the vibrant purple flowers of the tall and somewhat slender Tree Wisteria. Finding one in full bloom before the baboons get to it is an awesome find while on safari. I haven’t tried eating one myself yet but if baboons like them, then I am fairly tempted after all their taste in fruit has never lead me astray before.
The Baboons Tail
This plant could be the lead character in its very own “Ugly Duckling” type story. Afterall it follows a very similar path. For most of the year the Baboons Tail lays perched at the highest and coarsest parts of the rolling Kruger landscape as a dry brownish-blackish tough and tail like scaly cucumber. Tough enough to presumably transport a burning ember embedded in its hollowed out core. Only after rain it becomes so much more than that, when it graciously sprouts a number bright green leaves before making way for a stunning white or lavender coloured flower
The Ground Lily
I don’t think I have ever had a group of guests at Tanda Tula Safari Camp that have allowed me to just simply drive past one of these flowers and generally the stop involves everyone getting off the vehicle to get a closer look at this alien like puff of red and pink protruding from the coarse sand of the many sodic sights in the area. They occur in much the same way as the Crinum Lily, in that they grow from a large underground bulb. However, their leaves are most loved by the many hungry herbivores. This is evident due to their short and squared trimming. The flower luckily doesn’t seem to appeal to hungry grazers.
I hope you have enjoyed this short piece on just some of the flowers that begin to emerge at this time of year. There are still many more to come and I look forward to sharing some information based on my experience as well some ecological and traditional medicine information. The season is just getting started!
Always remember, when in nature, no matter where you are, to stop and smell the roses.
Until next time, happy snapping
So, you have booked your safari, the cameras are clean and packed and ready to snap their first African animal or scene. You’ve got lenses for every situation, the wide angle for those dramatic sunrises and the big telephoto or zoom for those detailed shots of the leopard you hope to see lazing in a tree. One thing you perhaps haven’t taken into account is your arms. You see, as you may know, arms get tired when they hold heavy things for a while and on safari I can guarantee, you will be holding that heavy lens up to your face a lot. Maybe its to late for you to hit the gym in order to bulk those arms up and for that reason I have decided to put this article together for you. Let’s take the strain off those arms and help you get the shots you have dreamt of!
The humble bean bag
Let’s start with the classic. In your photographic journey you have probably seen these in the wild already but if you haven’t, let me explain. This is exactly what it sounds like, a bean bag. However, these are large beans bags that are shaped in such way so as to droop over the hand rail/roll bar of the vehicle. Once it is drooped over this bar you can then rest your large camera setup directly on it. This not only helps take the strain off of your arms, but it also helps dramatically in terms on getting a steady and clear shot even when the shutter speeds get right down low. I have found bean bags to be a great choice as they are cheap, functional and incredibly easy to use. What I also like about them is that your camera is not permanently attached to anything, so if you need to you can immediately pick your camera up for a hand held shot as that eagle flies right over you. Most safari lodges will have several beans bags ready for their guests to use, so please ask if you would like to try one out
The raised circular bean bag
This type of bean bag is a little different to the above-mentioned style, in that they make use of two parts. The first part is a clamp that is tightened to the hand rail of the vehicle. The second part of this contraption is a circular raised bean bag that tightens into the clamp. This is a great feature as it makes the humble bean bag a little more accessible in that it is at a more usable height than a standard bean bag. Other than that they perform exactly the same as a regular bean bag and still allow you to quickly pick the camera up when needs be. The only drawback I have encountered with this setup is that you can’t adjust the height of the bean bag. Many safari lodges also keep these items and so once again all you need to do is ask!
The clamp and ball head
This setup if a little more in depth than the previous two. However, it also works in two parts. Starting with the clamp, just like the one used for the raised bean bag, which attaches to the hand rail of the vehicle. Attached to the clamp is what we call a “Ball Head” in the biz. You are probably familiar with a ball head but essentially what it does is allow you to attach the camera, on a semi-permanent basis, through the use of an Arca-Swiss plate attached to your camera. From here you can now turn your camera all the way around and up and down to get the angle you are looking for you while maintaining a steady shot and relieving your arms. What makes these contraptions fantastic is that they have a built in spirit level generally, which will help greatly in making your sure you get a balanced shot. However, there is a small limitation in that you can’t remove the camera from the ball head very quickly in order to get some hand-held shots. You will need to loosen the Arca-Swiss plate first. I own one of these personally and I am more than happy to lend it out if you are on a photographic safari with me, so if you would like to use it you only need to but ask. I will happily sit with you and explain how to get the most out of it as well if you would like.
Monopods are a tried, tested and proven method for stabilisation and fatigue assistance. They pack away brilliantly for travel as well. As the name suggests this is a single and expandable leg that has a Arca-Swiss plate and locking system attached, making it very easy for you to attach your camera too. Monopods are also very comfortable to use as they take up very little space in the back of a safari vehicle and they also make it very easy to reposition your camera to get the shot you need. What I love about them is that they are also useful when you are off the vehicle, allowing you to get a great stable shot of the sunset while enjoying your gin and tonic at the sundowner stop.
This is the only option here that I can’t readily recommend. I have seen them in use before on the back of a safari vehicle, but they are big and take up way too much space. Of course, they give you the best stabilisation and support you could ever ask for, but they really aren’t made for use on a safari vehicle where leg room is already a factor. However, if astrophotography or long exposure shots are your thing then you really do need one of these. If this style of photography is what you are looking for then please by all means bring your tripod along with you and we will find time for you to get the shots you need…While off the vehicle.
There are many other options that one can make use of, from full safari vehicle arm mounts to something that you may have designed and put together yourself. If you would like to discuss these other options or if you have an idea you would like to chat with me about then please do get in touch with me at email@example.com.
Until next time, happy snapping.
There are some truly great characters of the African wilderness and in my opinion, none more so than the humble warthog! These gorgeous, yes I said gorgeous, animals are always a treat to see when on safari at Tanda Tula Safari Camp. I always like to remark to my guests when viewing them, that if this species doesn’t make you laugh or at least smile, then there has got to be something wrong with you! Look out for them at the lodge during the winter months when our delicious manicured lawn entices their taste buds beyond control.
In honour of these very special animals here are 10 interesting facts about them…
1. Contrary to popular belief they do not cruise around the bush with a small meerkat singing at the top of their lungs, however, this is easy to imagine.
2. They do however, cruise around the bush at break neck speeds! Often reaching over 40km per hour, possibly reaching 48km per hour. That’s faster than Usain Bolt!
3. Of course, this speed is greatly needed when you form a very integral part of the food chain. All manner of predators from lions to hyenas to leopards are interested in eating the poor pigs.
4. Luckily, they are equipped with a bit of weaponry to deal with such encounters though. Warthog’s, like elephants, have tusks and these tusks can be instrumental when warding off predators. Now this may sound a bit far fetched but when you put 50-125kg (100lbs-250lbs) of angry pig behind them, they become fairly deadly.
5. As a last resort, or a first resort, depending they will bolt down underground and into their burrows to evade the predator. These burrows are usually repossessed aardvark holes that the warthogs excavate to their liking. They prove to be excellent hide outs, but this doesn’t stop predators from attempting to wait them out. I have seen leopards fall asleep right outside these burrows waiting for the pigs to the show themselves. Only to be woken by a large dust cloud and the sight of a warthog running away with all its fury!
6. And this is where that famous “tail straight up in the air” comes from. Many animals have what we call a “follow me” sign and this happens to be the warthogs. This is an involuntary reaction to excitement and is supposedly there in order to help members of the sounder or youngsters maintain visual contact with each other or their mom during dangerous and high paced situations.
7. The fun with this species doesn’t stop there though and so lets move onto their own eating habits. Warthogs are not the aggressive hunting and meat-eating creatures that some believe them to be. They are however omnivorous.
8. This means that they eat both vegetable matter and meat but the vast, vast majority of the time they are more than happy to just eat grass, roots and fruits with the occasional insect, lizard or spot of carrion.
9. Warthogs have an eating stance, whereby they get right down on their haunches by folding in their front feet, that has literally come about in order to get them closer to the food in a more comfortable manner. This is a very a cute thing to see! Keep a look out for it when you are on safari as it is bound to make you smile.
10. To top off their eating habits they have also learnt to make use of their rather flattened nose. This tough facial feature helps them dig up roots, move branches to get to tasty things underneath and as an added benefit it helps them tremendously with their burrow excavating endeavours.
The above list is but a fraction of the information available on this iconic species but you’ll have to come on safari to learn more! I didn’t touch on why they are named Warthogs and so I thought I may pose the question to you! If you know why they have attained this name, then please let us know in the comments below.
There is always life around Tanda Tula Safari Camp, this part of the Timbavati just seems to teem with life. Everyday guests are greeted by some form of fauna, from the always peaceful Nyala, the scurrying squirrels or the boisterous warthogs making the lawn and watering hole their own. The wintery months are made even more incredible by the constant elephant, buffalo, impala and giraffe visitors as they come in from all angles to enjoy the camp dam. This is an incredibly immersive place through and through, the sights, the sounds, the smells, they are all right on your doorstep!
A few days ago, however, our guests were treated to a truly spectacular display of just how wild this place can be. I am confident in saying that what happened around the lodge will be in the memories of all who saw and heard it for the rest of their lives – myself included.
It all started with my good friend and colleague Chad Cocking, departing his house in the early hours of the morning, as we all do, in order to prepare the tea trays that our guests have come to know and love. However, as he left his house he heard the sound of a nearby group of buffalo and so naturally (well at least naturally for a nature guide) he decided to conduct a bit of an investigation. I know what you are thinking and no this is not at all dangerous… after a few seconds of shinning his flashlight around the nearby bush, suddenly there in the middle of the beam of light was a lioness! Needless to say, she quickly disappeared back into the darkness, followed by Chad having a rather nerve racking walk to kitchen where he then told us what he had seen.
Its always exciting knowing that lions are nearby the camp. This is due to the strange fact that everybody wants to see them, and this gives us a great chance in finding them first thing in the morning. It wasn’t until a bit later once we had all delivered the tea trays to our guests that the first major sounds of this incredible sighting would be heard. There is unmistakable sound that buffalo make when they are being attacked by lions and it was this very sound that perked our ears immediately. And so, it was with great excitement and eagerness that we hurried up and waited for our guests to appear. It was a bit of jostle though not knowing whose vehicle would be first to attain all of its sleepy guests and hit the road. All the time in the background the sound of a struggle between two of Africa’s titans ongoing.
Suddenly guests started to appear, and I couldn’t applaud my guests enough, all four of them, as they were the first in line that morning. As quickly as they took their seats, I started the vehicle. It wasn’t even 200 meters down the road when we encountered the scene. There under a tree, not more than 5 meters from the road lay a huge defeated buffalo bull. Upon the bull, what looked like a swarm of lions. The 9 lions of the River Pride, in all their glory had moved into the area through the cover darkness, they knew their target all along and they had hit it beautifully and square! We sat there as the sun came over the horizon and lit the scene and although the light was a bit dull the sound of cameras rapid firing began only to be drowned out by the sound of lions grumbling, mumbling, roaring, growling, ripping and chewing. We sat in awe as we watched raw nature unfolding in front of us until.
Later that day upon returning to the scene, we were greeted by a bunch of fat and lazy lions, a growing group of ever wishful hyenas and in the distance, a sight we did not expect, the Zebenine Pride – a group of just 2 lioness and their two small cubs. Surely, they had been drawn to the area by the sounds being produced and had thought maybe it could be a good scavenging opportunity. However, I am very certain the sight of 9 lions all gorging themselves was enough to make them think twice. And so, they lay cautiously and hidden a distance away. It was at this point where the decision to close the sighting was taken. After all ethics always need to be adhered too and we as guides would hate to be the cause of a pride fight and worse yet the death of two small cubs.
It wasn’t until later that night when things got exponentially more interesting, although this we did not see but rather heard. After the River Pride had come down to the lodge dam for a drink and lay beautifully in front of the lodge for us all to enjoy by spotlight things started to heat up. Suddenly the deep bellows of nearby lions could be heard, only to be matched by the high pitched whooping of hyenas responding. It was at this point that my wife, Brittany and I decided to leave the safety of our house to go outside and listen to the drama unfold. You will have to listen to the sound bites attached to this article in order to hear just what we did. It was amazing to just focus on hearing rather than seeing.
It was truly hard to deceiver just what was going on. However, the awesome sounds quickly made me jump to the conclusion that the Zebenine females along with their cubs had been attacked by the powerful group of 9 lions – this is a battle that they simply couldn’t win. My stomach immediately turned when I thought of the cubs as this sort of altercation almost always results in infanticide – a fancy word given to the killing of offspring. Another option that came to mind was that the Mbiri males, a coalition of two dominate male lions in the area and the fathers of the two cubs had also been attracted to the scene. This could have occurred by them simply hearing the commotion throughout the day or by the Zebenine females calling them into the area for a bit of backup. This option is likely as this is, after all, very much their territory and male lions seldom let something like this go unchecked in their own backyard! However, whatever was happening (and there was a lot) was enough to catch the attention of Africa’s very own security forces, the elephants. A nearby herd was just grazing across the river from us when this all started, and the gentle giants were having none of it! Its hard to know just how involved they became but they definitely made their presence and their lack of support for this madness known! A true rumble in the jungle.
After standing outside and recording for what seemed like an eternity things suddenly went very quiet, well other than the sound of two opposing hyena clans going to war. They had obviously been attracted to the kill but instead of giving the lions grief and trying to poach the kill from them, they ended up having their own turf war and forgetting almost completely about the possible meal at hand. They were however, far enough away for Britt and myself to hear the movements and heavy breathing of several lions of the river pride just in front of our house across the dry river in front of the lodge. This was made all the more special as the moon was almost full and so we could see them one by one emerging out of the riverine forest and into the river bed. They were panting heavily and moving slowly. They came to rest for a short time right in front of us as they all lay around and tried to catch their breath. This was short lived though, as suddenly there was an almighty roar that came from the kill sight. Quickly and quietly the group stood up and moved north up the riverbed and away from the area, giving everyone in the lodge a good look at them as the moved past all the tents and the main lodge area. They had evidently lost the rumble.
This next morning, we had no idea of what was going to greet us at the kill sight and there was loads of speculation and discussion before we set off. Once again, my amazing guests were first in line and thus we were first on the scene. The one thing I least expected to see, is exactly what we saw that morning. Once again just as the sun came over the horizon we were greeted by what was left of a once proud buffalo bull, lying under a tree not 5 meters from the road. Upon the bull, two lioness and two victorious lion cubs. The Zebenine pride had prevailed along with the help of their almighty, although sometimes rather infuriating, pride males – The Mbiri’s! Although the two males had already left the scene and headed back south to continue their courtship with the females of the Vlak Pride, no time to waste of course. There were still some hyenas around the kill sight but the Zebenine girls had no trouble in dealing out some harsh security while the cubs played around and ate what they could.
We will never really know what exactly happened that night, but I can gladly state that that was the most incredible sounding night I have ever experienced in the African wilderness. I cannot express just how overcome with joy I was when I saw those little cubs as they ran around the kill and roared (imagine a kitten roaring) with victory! This was an amazing thing to witness and I know that I will never forget it and judging by our guests’ reactions and the sheer amount of talking around camp involving this sighting, they never will either.
So you’ll soon be going on your very own safari and you really want to take some top notch images but where do you start?
This week I have decided to put together a list of not only what I keep in my photography bag but also what I recommend you bring with in order to make the most out of your photographic safari.
We so often have guests from around the world that bought a camera specifically for their safari and so this article is here to help you make informed decisions on what you need to maximize your time spent in the bush as far as photography is concerned.
First and foremost, you need a camera obviously, but let me start this off by saying the best camera is the one you have with you. Whether it be a smartphone in your pocket, a point shoot or a fully fledged DSLR with all the bells and whistles, all that matters is that you get the image! However, I will use this platform to give you a couple of recommendations as far as wildlife and nature photography is concerned.
Photography is sadly a very expensive hobby and we don’t all have the means to get the best gear possible all the time. However, when looking for the perfect camera for you (with the outdoors in mind) please consider the below points.
A last note concerning cameras, particularly for DSLR or mirrorless systems is that of full frame versus APS-C (crop frame) cameras. Crop Frame cameras are generally smaller and lighter and as an added benefit allow one to zoom in closer, to the tune of between x1.3 and x2.0. This allows you to get closer to the action. However, full frame cameras will generally have better low light performance as well as better image quality.
At the end of the day the most important thing you can do for your photography is to invest in good lenses or glass. Pairing a great camera body with a terrible lens is far worse than pairing a mediocre camera body with a great lens. With this in mind my recommendations for capturing wildlife and nature in general would be:
Now that you have a good idea of what to look at as far as cameras and lenses go let’s take a look at some of the extras that come highly recommended. After all you wouldn’t want to be in a situation where you have a stunning leopard in a tree on a kill at golden hour and suddenly you realise your battery is dead!
Below is a list of extras that I carry in my camera bag at all times:
Until next time, happy snapping!
It’s a fascinating thing, a lot of the time even mesmerizing. The elephant’s trunk is an appendage that has intrigued people for an age. An organ I think could be the most adapted towards its environment in the entire animal kingdom.
This incredible device is an extension of two facial features, one could even consider it as a fusion. The upper lip and the nose come together beautifully to create an extension of the face that reaches all the way to the ground. Something that is very useful when a lot of your food comes from ground level. Adversely it can easily be redirected upwards to reach fruits, seeds and foliage that is out of reach to just about everything else in the African wilderness. Let’s not forget the sideways movement either. Essentially what this is, is an arm but unlike our arms or any other animal’s arms, it has no bones and thus no limitation in the direction it can take or the twisting and turning it can achieve.
Scientists believe there to be between 40 000 and 50 000 muscles within the elephant’s trunk. When applying some crude mathematics, that’s about 60 times the amount of muscles found in the entire human body! The end result of this is an organ that is incredibly strong while at the same time delicately tactile. However, something this complex takes time to master and the idea is that it takes a young elephant in the region of two years to get a mild grip of what its trunk can achieve. Though I don’t think the learning ever stops as I have often witnessed elephants of a mature age struggling to get their trunk to do exactly what they want. One particular sighting comes to mind of the time I spent watching a large and mature elephant bull trying with all his might to pick up a very large tuber (bulb) he had just dug up. The tuber was just too big and smooth for him to effectively wrap his trunk around and maintain a grip. Time and time again it fell to the ground until eventually he figured out that he could, with the aid of his trunk, roll the tuber up his mighty leg towards his chest where he then found the leverage needed and managed to scoop it into his mouth – I have never seen an elephant so satisfied and I will never forgot the sound of that tuber being crunched.
Of course, being an extension of the nose equates to a superior sense of smell, especially when you consider the size of this nose and the amount of olfactory hairs that is contains. Elephants are selective in the smells they concentrate on though and water is something they very much know how to smell. It is estimated that they can smell water from over 10 kilometres away and it is evidently proven, by the diggings we find, that they can smell water bodies underground. Once they have located some underground water they once again employ the use of their trunks in aid of their feet and tusks in digging the hole from which they can access this water. The work of the trunk in this process is not over though. Changing from a digging apparatus the trunk now becomes a massive siphoning device, a huge straw, if you will. Guzzling up to 10 litres of water in a single take, from which it can then be brought up to the mouth for drinking.
The tactile abilities of this appendage seem to have no end and when you look closely at the tip of the trunk you will notice that there is actually two finger like tips, one at the top and one at the bottom. This of course gives the elephant the same tactile prowess as any human’s thumb and index finger working together. This enables elephants to feel for, with great accuracy and pick up with great care even the smallest of objects such as twigs and minute berries. There are few things more satisfying than seeing an elephant quickly and efficiently picking up marula fruit after marula fruit as they shovel them into their mouths. Elephants can use their trunks for very delicate touches, such as those witnessed when they greet and touch each other, or they can use it for very rough things like breaking the branches of trees. The trunk is also obligatory in the process of throwing mud and sand onto their immense bodies, something which is very much needed for protection from heat and sun burn and something that is very entertaining to see in action.
Some of the things I have seen elephants achieve with their trunks astound me and the incredible thing is that there seems to be no shortage of uses. All elephants are different and they all seem to have different ways of using this fascinating organ. It is a true joy to witness elephants in their natural habitat at Tanda Tula Safari Camp on a daily basis and I implore you to take note of their trunk and become mesmerised next time you are out there on safari with us in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve.
Spending time in the wilderness invokes many feelings for nature loving people. Mostly of calm, of peace. However on occasion, one is confronted with the raw brutality of Mother Nature in such a way that it lingers in their memory. Sometimes enduring for a lifetime.
There is nothing more inspiring than spending time with animals in their natural environment and the more one witnesses the more one begins to understand. There are moments of utter joy and there are moments of terrible heart ache. All of it is what makes the natural world such a humbling experience.
I recently headed out on drive with a couple of guests in the early morning. It was their last drive with us at Tanda Tula and I had planned for it to be dedicated to one of the more misunderstood of all beasts, the spotted hyena. We set out before dawn in the direction of an hyena den in the south, I wanted to show my guests just what this species had to offer and there is nothing better than to show people the humble begins that all hyena share.
Along the way and as we went through a river crossing my tracker, Jack, alerted me to some African wild dog tracks on the road moving in the direction we were headed. I remember remarking to my guests that we would not be following up – we had already seen the gorgeous canines on everyone of their previous three game drives. They understood and agreed with my decision.
The tracks persisted on the road ahead. Until we came around a bend in the road. There all of a sudden near a watering hole we could see a number of hyena bunching together and in their typical savage nature, appeared to be gorging themselves on something.
Now, let me set the record straight, I have over the years of my career seen many interactions between these two incredibly special species and I can only ever recall those sightings being entertaining to say the most. You see hyena have a knack for being the biggest buggers in the bush. They so often see other predators off their kills, in a classic pesky manor. But not the dogs. The dogs in my experience were the only other species to ever stick it back to the hyena and most often come out hilariously on top of the altercation.
This morning was different though. As I speed up to get my vehicle into the best position to view the feeding hyenas, my heart began to sink. Slowly the full picture came into focus and suddenly I realised that they were feeding on one of Africa’s and indeed the world’s most endangered predators. The dog must have been separated from the rest of the pack during a typical high paced hunt – something that often happens. This time however, the young wild dog came short and I can only presume that the clan of hyena managed to snag it before it could get away and without the support of the rest of the pack it really stood little chance.
It was incredibly saddening to witness the poor lifeless body of the dog being flung around by the animosity filled hyenas. It was over, the battle had been won.
After a few minutes of viewing this incredibly sad yet thought provoking sighting we noticed that the rest of wild dog pack was moving in quickly from the south lead by the alpha male. They must have been alerted and thus attracted to the scene by the ghostly sounds of the excited hyena. They looked ready for war but upon witnessing the sheer number of hyena and the lifeless body of their pack member they immediately stopped. It was in this moment that I witnessed firsthand the heart break set in. Some say animals don’t feel emotion like us humans do, I couldn’t disagree more. The dogs suddenly stood still in disbelief, every single one of them. They slowly started to retreat and came to settle at a nearby dam further south. There was no classic play behaviour that morning and a thick sombre feeling filled the air around the pack. The war had been lost.
I will never forget this sighting.
At Tanda Tula, as most of our guests know, we have a resident troop of Vervet monkeys and while they are fantastic animals to observe they can often prove to be rather pesky. However on some mornings they can sometimes prove their worth. While sitting and chatting over a cup of coffee after delivering “tea trays” a couple of mornings ago, I along with some of the other guides and trackers of Tanda Tula were brought to attention by the classic sound of monkeys alarm calling around the lodge. The first thought that went through my mind... Ingwe! (Leopard in the local language). I along with the others immediately stood up and went to investigate, as I approached the pool I could see one of the little monkeys peering towards the dam in front of the lodge. I stood there for a while trying hard to focus my eyes in the early morning dim light but as the monkey went on alarming and alarming I just could not see anything. It was therefore back the vehicles in order to wait for our guests to arrive so we could head out and find this mystery predator.
Eventually I had all my guests on board and so after a quick explanation we headed out. We circled around the lodge but just could not find anything to go until Glen, one of our trackers radioed in and said he had found tracks for a female leopard going past our staff village. I quickly headed that way in order to drop Jack, my tracker, off at the scene before turning around and slowly retracing my steps. Suddenly Chad, a guide at Tanda Tula radioed me. He had found her! I drove down into the river crossing and there she was, in all her gorgeous glory drinking from a small rock pond down the river bed.
The lighting at this point was still rather dull and of course being down in the river there was no sunlight hitting her and so I bided my time, only taking one or two images. She began to head out of the river bed and up onto the opposite bank. Thus I drove quickly to get a head of her, knowing full well that sadly that would mean the sunlight would now be coming from behind her, oh well!
I pulled in front of her and noticed how the sunlight was hitting the side of her body as she moved through the bush. It was at this point that I thought “This could make a cool black white image” and so I quickly turned the vehicle off, lifted my camera and dialled in some settings. My thoughts were to try and expose for her face that was basically all shaded. This would hopefully end up blowing the highlights down the side of her body and around her face out. I quickly dialled in an aperture of f/4, thinking about how I would like her face to be really sharp but also about how it might look good to have her tail be very soft. Due to the natural light in the scene I had to make do with a rather low shutter of 1/250 – I would have preferred more, however this helped to show a little movement in the front paw, something which I have come to really enjoy about the image. Needless to say, we had a great sighting and I was pretty happy with the outcome of the shoot.
In post production a bit later, I brought the highlights all the way down to -100 as the bloom affect I had gone for had really gone BLOOM! I also brought the contrast up to create even more depth in the image; finally I converted the image into black and white.
I have recently started looking for opportunities to do this and it is something I try and teach my photography guests often. Always look for the black and white image and the opportune moment to capture it. It goes a hell of a long way when you plan for black and white as opposed to taking an image in colour and later thinking “ooh I wander what this looks like in black and white!”
Conservation and the protection of wildlife is something I am intensely passionate about. So when I got the opportunity to join this course I was beyond excited to see what it had in store!
The course focuses on the art of tracking and more specifically on man tracking obviously. At a time when poaching of wildlife in Africa is at an all time high with multiple daily insurgencies, it is vital that as many people on the “the good side” get involved.
The course revolves around not only tracking and just about everything that goes into effectively tracking well experienced and intelligent poachers but also on gunshot reporting. This reporting is vital as it can help our anti poachers on the ground respond accurately and quickly to the scene of wildlife crimes and in this way affect arrests far more efficiently.
While on course, we were joined by some of the heavy weights of the industry such as anti poachers themselves, Kruger section rangers and tracking specialists. Who shared their wealth of knowledge on the issue. This gave us a small glimpse of the problems being faced and what is being done at the ground level to combat them.
A truly inspiring course to have attended. An incredible eye opener that leaves one with a solemn feeling of now is the time to stand up. This is a war and it is not as black and white as many people would like to think. I recommend that anyone with a burning passion for nature and wildlife sign up for this. It is of course not for the faint of heart but then again conservation in general is not.