Tiger Canyon – remarkable diversity

We only spent three days in Tiger Canyon private game reserve. It felt like much more because we saw and experienced so many different aspects. This is a unique private game reserve. Unique because of its raison d’être, its location, its wildlife and its diversity.

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Tiger Canyon exists because a few far-sighted people believed they could create a separate Tiger gene pool outside Asia. They also participated in the Endangered Wildife Trust’s metapopulation breeding pool project to bring cheetahs back from the brink of existence. It has taken and will continue to take bravery, dedication, diligence and investment to create and sustain this environmental project.

This reserve’s actions are having a keystone effect. A keystone species is a species which has a disproportionately large effect on its natural environment relative to its abundance, a concept introduced in 1969 by the zoologist Robert T. Paine. New species have been introduced and some species have been reintroduced after having been absent for 100 years. Interest in the idea and the place is growing.

“There is a love of wild nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love showing itself whether recognised or not, and however covered by cares and duties” ~ John Muir

Tiger Canyon is in the southern edge of the Free State in South Africa, just above the Vanderkloof dam, which is in fact a lake that extends for some 50 kilometres to the west. It is the second largest dam in South Africa. The reserve is in the Karoo ecosystem. The Great Karoo is a natural wonder of endless plains and fascinating rock layers. It is one of the world’s most unique arid zones.

The Tiger project is thriving. There are currently 17 tigers resident in the reserve and there are now three generations of tigers that have been raised in the reserve in the wild.

There is abundant natural fauna. While looking for tigers we caught the attention of this magnificent kudu bull.

As an avid avian enthusiast I was keen to see what birdlife was present in the reserve. One unique bird is the Blue Korhaan. It is medium sized with a large head, long neck and long legs. Both sexes have a striking bluish-grey neck and underparts, while their upper are dull chestnut in colour. The legs and feet of both sexes are yellow in colour.

Despite many similarities the sexes of the Blue Korhaan are dimorphic. The male Blue Korhaan usually has a black and white face and chestnut ear coverts. The adult female Blue Korhaan has similar colours but her neck and underparts are dull grey, and the ear coverts are buff.

Coursers prefer the warm and dry areas of Southern Africa. We found numerous Double-banded coursers in the main enclosure which is essentially open grassland. These desert dwellers have a range of physiological and behavioural adaptations that enable them to thrive in such harsh areas, especially in relation to the lack of water. They are cryptically coloured and superbly camouflaged in its arid surroundings.

“The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.” ~ Nancy Newhall

We followed a tiger wandering through the grass plain in one of the primary enclosures. These enclosures are large – greater than 1000 hectares.

This was a first for me, I had never seen a Golden wildebeest before. The Golden wildebeest is a rare variation/mutation in colour from the Blue wildebeest. Golden Wildebeest naturally occurred along the Limpopo River basin, adjacent to the Tuli-Block of Botswana. Early farmers in the 1920’s, called them “Vos Wildebeest”.

A Bokmakierie happily calling from a bush covered in spider’s web.

The Cape Ground squirrel is found in the drier parts of southern Africa. Ground squirrels eat bulbs, fruits, grasses, herbs, insects and shrubs. They forage daily but unlike other squirrel species do not hoard food. The Cape Ground squirrel usually does not need to drink as it gets sufficient moisture from its food.

Tiger Canyon Private Game Reserve is a member of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Metapopulation Project. Here the cheetah offspring are relocated to other reserves within the Metapopulation in a bid to help increase the cheetah numbers and keep the genetics clean.

These open grasslands are ideal for a variety of species of lark. This Red-capped lark is a medium-sized, slender, pipit-like lark. It has a distinctive white eyebrow, a diagnostic brick-red crown that can be raised like a small crest, and reddish sides to the chest.

An Ant-eating chat is a stout dark brown chat with an upright posture. It flies fast on short round wings, exposing bold white patches in the outer webs of the primary feathers which are diagnostic. These chats prefer open grassy country, especially near dense collections of termite mounds. It can be found sitting on fences, rocks, or low bushes looking for ants, termites, and other invertebrates to feed on.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”~Henry David Thoreau

Rufous-cheeked warbler sitting and singing from the top of a leafless sickle bush. This is a long-tailed, pale prinia-like warbler with a rufous facial patch on the side of the head and a neat black band across the throat on otherwise white underparts. These warblers avoid trees, preferring arid open shrubland on sparsely vegetated plains, where they can forage on and among low shrubs.

A pair of Blue cranes in the main tiger enclosure where there are large open grasslands. We found this pair in the long grass early in the morning where the male was displaying for his mate. The Blue crane is also known as the Stanley or Paradise crane. The national bird of South Africa, the Blue Crane, is endemic to southern Africa with most of its range falling in South Africa. It is the world’s most range-restricted crane. This crane’s plumage is pale grey colour, with the lightest tones on head and darkest on the tertial plumes. Their long tertial plumes are diagnostic, which almost trail on the ground, as are their rounded heads and differently shaped bill; and in flight by the outstretched neck. 

A late afternoon scene with two young tigers walking through the grassland to drink at Shellduck dam.

We were also fortunate to go out one evening for a night drive. There was a whole other world active in the Karoo at night. We saw the tigers patrolling. The guineafowl were roosting the few decent sized trees. We saw numerous springhares but they are relatively small and difficult to photograph in the long grass at night. We came across two aardvarks both of which were very skittish. I was amazed to see how fast one of the large adult aardvark could run. Aardvarks are known to reach speeds of just over 40 kms per hour and are surprisingly agile, being able to zigzag at speed. We also saw several aardwolves foraging in the long grass but they too were skittish.

A young tiger enjoying the cool water in Shellduck dam in the late afternoon.

A female Grassveld pipit feeding its youngster. Like all members of the family they are slender, short necked birds with long tails, long slender legs with elongated (in some cases very elongated) hind claws. The length of the hindclaw varies with the habits of the species, more arboreal species have shorter, more curved hindclaws than the more terrestrial species. The bills are generally long, slender and pointed. In both size and plumage there is little differences between the sexes.

A female cheetah savouring her springbok kill in the open grasslands of the large cheetah enclosure.

On our last morning game drive we found a pair of young tigers in one of the eastern enclosures. The female was trying very hard to encourage the male to mate with her but he was too laid-back to take much notice. They were lying near a stream which was surrounded by lush vegetation and it was lovely and cool.

This post has illustrated a small selection of the remarkable diversity that can be found at Tiger Canyon Private Game Reserve. We visited this fascinating private game reserve in summer. I am interested to go back again see how different the vegetation and wildlife behaviour will be in winter. This place has a surprising diversity of flora, fauna, ancient geology, and is steeped in history.

“… there’s a silent voice in the wilderness that we hear only when no one else is around. When you go far, far beyond, out across the netherlands of the Known, the din of human static slowly fades away.” ~ Rob Schultheis

The Karoo is a land of extremes. Winter days are crisp and cold with blue skies and bright sunshine while nights are clear with wonderful starlit skies. In summer, temperatures can reach over 35℃ with hot sunny days, occasionally interrupted by spectacular thunderstorms which bring the majority of area’s annual rainfall. During winter in the Karoo (June to August) the afternoons are mild and sunny, with an average temperature of 17°C/63°F. Nights and early mornings, however, are very cold and average just 3°C/37°F.

“One who will not accept solitude, stillness and quiet recurring moments…is caught up in the wilderness of addictions; far removed from an original state of being and awareness.” ~ T.F. Hodge,

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

3 thoughts on “Tiger Canyon – remarkable diversity

  1. Goly. what a wonderful Reserve Those photos are fantastic and reminded me of my visit to the Pumba Reserve north of Port Elizabeth in 2018

    • Hi Elizabeth, Thanks for your comment. Despite all the difficulties in SA there are still some wonderful places to see and worthwhile things to do. I hope you are well and looking forward to your summer. Best wishes Mike

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