Northern Kruger – the Outpost

The Maluleke Contractual Park is now owned by the Maluleke people. These people were forced off their land in 1969 by the government of the day and the South African National Parks who wanted to extend the Kruger park to the Limpopo river. In 1996, the Maluleke people created the Community Property Association and after a prolonged legal challenge have had 22 000 hectares of land between the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers returned to them. The mediated settlement returned full ownership of the land to the Maluleke people in return for the guarantee to use the land in a manner compatible with the protection of wildlife. The agreement also gave them full rights to commercialise the land in a manner consistent with the wildlife management policies of SanParks. Today, the Maluleke Contractual Park is managed by the Maluleke Joint Management Board which includes Maluleke Community Property Association and SanParks representatives.

” Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success” ~ Henry Ford

The Joint Management Board created a zoning framework in which two private sector operators were given the right to Build-Operate-Transfer several upmarket lodges. An ecotraining camp was also set up in the Contractual Park. The three concessionaires are Return Africa who operate the Pafuri Tented Camp, Rare Earth which operates The Outpost and Pels Lodges and Ecotraining which has a camp on the Limpopo floodplain.

“Cooperation is the root of civilisation.” ~ Jerry Haworth

On the last leg of our northern Kruger adventure we stayed three nights at Pels Post. The view from our room looking west and the vista was spectacular. We looked down over the Luvuvhu river and across to a forest of Baobabs and the Mutale sandstone ridge.

A female fish eagle perched in one of the large trees adjacent to our room. She had an excellent view of the river and its fishing potential.

Another view from our room at Pels Post this time looking east down river.

Down below us in the river was this Goliath heron hunting among the reeds for its next meal.

One morning after we had returned from the game drive and finished a “scrummy” breakfast we returned to our room to relax and enjoy the spectacular view. The view was dynamic with wildlife moving on the ground and raptors riding the updrafts. We watched a pair of African hawk-eagles riding the updraft on our side of the valley. They gave us a wonderful display for about ten minutes.

“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.” ~ William Wordsworth

The weather was mercurial, at times it threatened to storm and the cumulus clouds looked heavy with rain and at other times it was partly cloudy with filtered sunlight. The weather did not disturb an elephant bull on the far side of the river from foraging on the large trees.

Another bull joined the first bull elephant. They seemed to be adolescent males as they were still play fighting and pushing each other around to establish who was the strongest.

Our morning drives were highly productive. One morning we crossed the main tarred road and drove down onto the Limpopo side of the ridge. We saw numerous pairs of Namaqua doves. The male is the more beautiful of the pair with his black face mask and black chest marking and his pinkish beak with a yellow tip. The pair of Namaqua doves were foraging for seeds on the gravel road.

The only bee-eater species we saw was a gorgeous Little bee-eater but they were numerous. I know there were White-fronted bee-eaters down near the Limpopo river because we could hear them but I never saw one.

” Outer beauty turns the head, but inner beauty turns the heart.” ~ Helen J Russell

We watched the Little bee-eaters successfully hawking insects and bees.

“It is better to see something once, than to hear about it a thousand times.” ~ Asian Proverb

An unexpected surprise. A young rock python was lounging in a small tree along side the road at around our eye level. We stopped and sat and watched it for about twenty minutes and it was motionless during that time.

Driving further down the ridge towards the Limpopo floodplain we found a very inquisitive family of Dwarf mongooses. On several occasions they all scattered and hid, and each time one-by-one they came out onto the rock to see if we were still there.

Driving down the rock ridge we passed numerous rock figs which had their roots firmly anchored into the crevices of the rock. The white to yellow roots and stems of the large-leaved Rock fig were conspicuous. This tree is well adapted to attaching itself to rock faces and and is known to split rocks.

Down on the edge of the flood plain, among numerous Baobabs we found a herd of Kudu. Kudu are mainly browsers but some members of the family were foraging on the grass. There was so much food for the herbivores down on the floodplain.

An adult Purple roller. We also saw the ubiquitous Lilac-breasted rollers but never got to see Racket-tailed roller which is usually only found in this area of South Africa, as it is the most southern part of its range which extends up to Tanzania. Like all rollers the Purple roller is a perch hunter and feeds mainly on insects and lizards.

“Nature is one of the most underutilised treasures in life. It has the power to unburden hearts and reconnect to that inner place of peace.” ~ Janice Anderson

The second morning we drove from our lodge along the ridge down to Lanner Gorge. The view is spectacular looking down on the sandstone gorge that the Luvuvhu river flows through on its way to join the Limpopo.

With the thick vegetation and rocky outcrops around Lanner Gorge, we found a lone Tree hyrax. The Tree hyrax is nocturnal and not as social as the Rock hyrax. The Tree hyrax has four-toed front feet and three-toed back feet with rounded nails, and rubbery soles that help it climb. By contrast, the Rock hyrax lives in colonies of about 50 in the natural crevices of rocks or boulders. Rock hyraxes are active in the daytime and can be seen feeding or sunning themselves near the entrances to their shelters.

The florescence of a Cleome Hitra with its delicate and beautiful mauve petals. I am often stopped by the incredible colour, elegant complexity and design of nature’s flora. The striking yellow marking on the flower’s mauve petals are diagnostic.

A Brown-headed parrot. This parrot has bright green body feathers and a brown head. These parrots feed on a variety of seeds, berries, flowers, fruits and nectar. I last saw Brown-headed parrots feeding on the flowers of a coral tree at the Paul Kruger gate of the Kruger park many years ago. I was looking out for, but never saw, a Grey-headed parrot which looks similar but has an orange-red forehead and several orange-red secondary feathers on each wing.

“To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams

Another view looking down into Lanner Gorge with its huge sandstone cliffs and dense vegetation. The walking trail along this section of the Luvuvhu river must be wonderful experience.

An adult male Sharpe’s Grysbok. Only the male has horns. This was a first sighting for me. It is a shy antelope but its thick rufous-coated coat with grey flecks gives it a wiry grizzled appearance which is diagnostic. This species is smaller and stockier than the Cape Grysbok.

Sharpe’s Grysboks are nocturnal feeders and spend the day in the cover of tall grass or shrubs. This antelope is a browser and feeds on anything from grass shoots to fruits flowers and leaves from shrubs and bushes.

On our last evening we drove down onto the Limpopo floodplain. Adjacent to the Limpopo river was a band of large trees from figs to leadwoods and Lala palms. The floodplain away from the river is covered in a variety of grasses. There is another Fever tree forest in one section of this section of the flood plain. This triangle between the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers is also referred to as the Pafuri triangle, which is said to be about 1% of the Kruger park but is home to around 75% of the park’s biodiversity.

“There’s a sunrise and a sunset every single day, and they’re absolutely free. Don’t miss so many of them.” ~ Jo Walton

Sundowner time with a drink in hand watching the sun set behind a hill covered in Baobabs. Once the sun had fallen below the horizon we did not linger. There was plenty of long grass around the opening we were standing in and we did not want an unexpected visit from a “dagga boy” (an old male buffalo).

On our way back to camp we came across several Bronze-winged Coursers on the gravel road. This is a large (almost the size of a lapwing) nocturnal courser. It has dark brown upper parts and a white belly. The head has a distinct cream-white supercilium. Its forecrown, and posterior eyeline, upper neck and throat are white. The facial lores and ear-coverts are darker brown-black. This species of courser is predominately solitary, only pairing for breeding.

Even though the sun had set there was still much to see and hear in the bush. Driving back to camp we could hear the Spotted eagle owls calling. It is intriguing to think that while we are calling an end to the day the nocturnal fauna is just getting started at this time of the evening.

Our time in the northern Kruger was richly rewarding. The photography was more challenging because of the dense vegetation in places but the biodiversity of flora and fauna is amply evident. This is a place you need to travel very slowly through. There is much to see but at nature’s pace. We saw a small part of life in this area of the park. This means we will have to return many times to fully appreciate it biodiversity. This is definitely a place we will return to at different times of the year.

“The wilderness is a place of rest — not in the sense of being motionless, for the lure, after all, is to move, to round the next bend. The rest comes in the isolation from distractions, in the slowing of the daily centrifugal forces that keep us off balance.” ~ David Douglas

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

Have fun, Mike

Northern Kruger – following the Luvuvhu to Crooks Corner

We were fortunate enough to spend three nights at Pafuri Tented Camp which is positioned on the northern bank of the Luvuvhu river. Within the Pafuri area is the Makuleke Concession, the ancestral home of the Makuleke people and the most diverse and scenically attractive area in the Kruger National Park.

“Pursue something so important that even if you fail, the world is better off with you having tried.”
~ Tim O’Reilly

The Makuleke Concession is not accessible to the ordinary tourist visiting the park. This area belongs to the Makuleke community, who were removed in 1968. After a lengthy legal process, it was finally returned to the community in 1998. Wisely, the Maluleke community retained and developed its conservation and ecotourism objectives. This has turned into one of the most constructive outcomes from the land claim and land reform process in South Africa.

“The earth has music for those who listen” ~William Shakespeare

We had a dawn start from the Pafuri Tented Camp to drive to the location where the Pels Fishing owls had last been seen. It was a misty sunrise with lots of moisture after a heavy rain during the night.

After a half an hour’s drive we arrived at a fishing camp in a thick forested section on the north bank of the river. We found a juvenile Pels Fishing owl high up in the canopy. I never managed to get a decent image as this Pels never moved into a clearing. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see this elusive owl.

A Nyala bull is a spiral-horned antelope endemic to southern Africa. Only males have horns, which vary in length from 60 to 80 cm in length and are yellow-tipped. This species exhibits the highest sexual dimorphism among the spiral-horned antelopes. The adult male’s coat is a dark brown or slate grey, often tinged with blue.

Nyala females and juveniles are rufous brown with ten or more white stripes on their sides.  Nyala are mainly active in the early morning and the late afternoon and feed on foliage, fruits and grasses, and requires daily fresh water.

A juvenile Martial eagle showing its pure white belly and white head and chest. The adult is uniformly brown on the head, back, and chest, with a pale belly covered in dark brown blotches. The legs are white and this raptor has very large talons. The Martial eagle spends around 85% of its day perched and is predominantly an opportunistic perch and ambush hunter. It usually only takes to the wing in the late morning once thermals develop.

This old “dagga boy” was taking his frustrations out on the bushes behind him and a tuft of grass in front of him which is why he had so many leaves on his back and sides. A “dagga boy” is an old male buffalo which has been forced out of the herd by the younger bulls. These bulls tend to follow the herd and are either solitary or band together for protection. There are no lions in this part of Kruger so they have an easier time in that respect.

A Woolly-necked stork foraging in a shallow pan which had filled after the recent good rains. The species is predominantly carnivorous and its diet consists of fish, frogs, toads, small snakes, lizards, large insects and larvae, crabs and molluscs. It forages by slowly walking through water or vegetation, stabbing at prey. This stork is usually seen alone or as a pair foraging near water.

A White -browed scrub-robin. The creamy white superciliary stripe is distinct, but the crown can vary from a warm brown, to olive brown or greyish brown. This is a furtive and shy species which mostly sings from deep inside bushes. Like other scrub robin species, the tail is regularly flicked and fanned. 

Our guide from Pafuri Tented Camp, Wiseman, was excellent and had an incredible knowledge of birds and trees. Amongst so many things, he showed us this massive Baobab which was estimated to be around 1500 years old. The ring barking by elephants is clearly visible on all three sections of the trunk. Elephants change their eating habits during different seasons and in drier times will ring bark large Baobabs or often push over large trees to reach the nutrient rich leaves and roots. Elephants instinctively know that Baobabs store water and in the dry season when water is scarce they will look for Baobab trees to quench their thirst. The elephants rip large pieces from the trunk of the trees or tear off entire branches to get to nutrients and stored water. The bark of the Baobab is soft enough for an elephant to gouge a hole in it and rip the bark off.

A pair of Double-banded sandgrouse stopped foraging on the road when they saw us. This species is dimorphic. The male has a combination of black-and-white bands just above the beak and a strong yellow eye-ring. The female has a pale yellow eye-ring and is mottled with black, brown, and white. Both have cryptic colouring on their backs which provide good camouflage from raptors.

This was a typical scene on the gravel track leading to Crook’s Corner. The vegetation was thick with many Baobabs and Sausage trees on the stoney ridges. Once we got down onto the Limpopo floodplain the vegetation changed and got thicker.

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure some of them are dirt.” ~ John Muir

A juvenile Bateleur eagle with its characteristic brown plumage. Its facial skin is a blue-green colour as a juvenile but turns orange before becoming the scarlet colour of an adult. In the third year, this juvenile’s plumage starts to turn into adult colours of black, white, rufous and grey. It can take an immature Bateleur up to eight years to shed all its brown plumage and grow its full adult colouring. The Bateleur eagle is the most recognisable of the snake eagles. It spends most of its time soaring at low altitudes in a slow rocking motion. The rocking motion when flying with its long, bow-shaped wings turn up at the ends, and its noticeably short tail gives it the appearance of a tightrope walker. It is this rocking motion which gives it its French name.

Once we got down onto the floodplain we drove through the edges of the fever tree forests. Fever trees are usually found growing on river banks, swampy areas or in flood plains. The distinctive form and striking colours of the fever tree make it easily identifiable in the wild. The tree can be recognised by its trunk which is straight, smooth, an unusual lime green colour and is covered with a fine yellow dust. The bark of the trunk and branches is flaky and tends to peel off in paper thin layers.

Down in the thick vegetation of the floodplain, we found a family of Retz Helmeted shrikes. The orange eye and red eye wattles, red legs and red beak ( with a yellow tip) against a black body and head feathers are unmistakable diagnostic features. 

This is a gregarious species, much like its White helmeted cousin. It flocks in groups up to 15 birds. Its preferred habitat is mature broadleaf and mopani woodland and riverine and coastal forest, and it avoids arid habitats.

The pans adjacent to the fever tree forest had filled with the recent good rains. The pan attracted Grey and Goliath herons, Spur-winged geese, Spoonbills and Black-winged stilts.

We eventually arrived at Crooks Corner from the north bank of the Luvuvhu river. This was a window onto a huge sandbar looking onto the Limpopo river with Zimbabwe behind it.

Crooks Corner is where the Luvuvhu river meets the Limpopo river. At the mouth of the Luvuvhu there was a pod of hippos and a few Nile crocodiles basking on the southern bank. The public viewing point is on the south bank of the Luvuvhu river.

The muddy mouth of the Luvuvhu river as it feeds into the Limpopo river. When the Limpopo river’s water level is high the water flows back up the Luvuvhu as far as the fever tree forest. This back flow fills up small tributaries leaving large pools of water in the tributaries long after the rain has stopped.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Looking at the width of the Limpopo river, it is hard to believe that this turns into a river of sand during the winter months. In the 1900’s this confluence provided an escape route for gun runners, poachers, tribal labour recruiters and anyone else avoiding the law by hopping across the river into a neighbouring country. There is a large plaque here commemorating the legendary ivory hunter Stephanus Cecil Rutgert Barnard. The actual location of Crooks Corner is on an island in the Limpopo, close to where the Luvuvhu River flows into the Limpopo. There used to be a beacon on the island that marked the spot, but recent floods washed it away. Across from Crooks Corner is Ypie’s Island, named after Barnard’s favourite mule, which was marooned on the island for several weeks. (

On our return journey to the camp, we drove through and stopped in the fever tree forest. The atmosphere in the forest was quiet and serene with the occasional solo from a songbird.. The dappled light in the forest was complemented by a light blue haze deeper in the forest.

Once inside the fever tree forest, there is a wonderful feeling of serenity helped by the playful dappled light.

“The sacred place of silent minds and deep souls is the depths of the forest!” ~ Mehmet Murat İldan

After having had coffee in the fever tree forest we continued our journey back to camp. As we climbed up off the flood plain back onto the stoney ridges we were greeted by many Baobabs, many of which were still fully leafed.

“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.” ~ John James Audubon

On our way back to the Pafuri Tented Camp along the Luvuvhu river we found a small group of elephants cooling off and having fun in the river. Being so large they have little to fear from the crocodiles in the river.

The Luvuvhu river gives one a sense of quintessential Africa. The river was flowing strongly and there was plenty of wildlife along its banks. This family group of waterbuck stopped their grazing to watch us as we drove past.

Back at camp, looking down onto the Luvuvhu river from the elevated deck. The river is a magnet for wildlife. The view from the deck is superb and one could easily spend a morning just watching and listening to all the wildlife activity next to the river.

The biodiversity in the Maluleke Contractual Park is remarkable. The photography is challenging because of the thick vegetation but there is great diversity of geology, scenery, birds and botany. You may be rewarded by seeing a variety of unusual birds such as Retz Helmeted shrikes, Pels Fishing owl, Racket-tailed roller, Crested guineafowl, Black and Crowned eagles to name a few. The region is well known for its abundant, year-round birdlife.

The Makuleke region is home to an unusual geological and natural heritage that makes this region interesting to geographers, historians, anthropologists, wildlife and birding enthusiasts. The Makuleke community opted to retain the conservation status of the northern portion of the Kruger National Park (KNP) and after a successful land claim process they concluded a co-management agreement with South African National Parks (SANP). This has been one of the most successful and constructive post-land claim outcomes in the past two decades.

“The more civilized man becomes, the more he needs and craves a great background of forest wildness, to which he may return like a contrite prodigal from the husks of an artificial life”. ~ Ellen Burns Sherman

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

Have fun, Mike

Northern Kruger – Pafuri

After three days rambling around Punda Maria area, we travelled north to the upper most section of the Kruger Park to Pafuri which incorporates the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” ~ Anais Nin

The upper reaches of the Kruger Park which incorporate the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers are all about birds, botany and breathtaking vistas. If you are looking for the big cats this is not the place to go. Although it is an ideal habitat for lions, with plentiful game and huge expanses of pristine bushveld, there are presently no resident lions in the Pafuri area due to snaring & poisoning. In addition, those lions that cross the Limpopo into Zimbabwe are usually never seen again.

It was interesting to see that the baobab trees still had most of their leaves as we travelled north closer to the Limpopo river. I had never seen baobabs adorned with such vibrant greens and yellows.

A female Double-band sandgrouse foraging for seeds in the gravel road. She was incredibly well camouflaged with her back feathers blending in with this stoney section of the gravel road.

“Live your life by a compass, not a clock.”~ Stephen Covey

A view looking downstream of the Luvuvhu river from the bridge across the main road. The Luvuvhu River flows for about 200 km through a diverse range of landscapes before it joins the Limpopo River in the Fever Tree Forest area, near Pafuri in the Kruger National Park. A few kilometres up river, this body of water flows through some dramatic gorges.

A massive Nile crocodile basking in the warmth of the sandbank around the middle of the day. It was relatively cloudy but still warm.

The main road through Pafuri area is the H1-9. Two bridges enable access across the Luvuvhu river. There is always plenty of wildlife activity in the trees next to these bridges. For birders this section of the road is extremely productive.

A lone Crowned lapwing standing on top of a broken down anthill. It had been foraging for insects when we caught its attention.

The Luvuvhu river flowing away to meet the Limpopo river. The plentiful rains during the rainy season painted the vegetation on the river banks with verdant green.

A cathedral of trees. This gravel road runs along the Luvuvhu river close to Crooks corner. Other an a fish eagle calling all you could hear was the wind flowing through the trees.

“The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

There was plenty of water in pans away from the river but that did not stop this family herd of waterbuck from foraging on the lush vegetation along the river bank.

It had rained a lot in the days prior to our arrival in the Pafuri area. The gravel roads had many puddles of water in them. On the gravel road to Crooks Corner, we watched a Hammerkop successfully hunting for frogs. It moved along the road walking from puddle to puddle and managed to catch four decent sized frogs in about 20 minutes. As it entered a new puddle it would use its feet to scratch around the bottom of the puddle and in doing so stirred up insects and frogs. Having caught a frog it stepped to the edge of puddle and beat the frog to death by hitting against the ground. Once the frog was dead the Hammerkop manoeuvred the frog to swallow it head first in one gulp.

The bush along the Luvuvhu river is beautiful. That said there are plenty of crocodiles in the river and when walking with a guide you have to be careful of buffalo and snakes.

The Luvuvhu River rises as a steep mountain stream in the southeasterly slopes of the Soutpansberg Mountains around 200 kilometres away from the Pafuri area. Once the Luvuvhu river enters the western side of northern Kruger, it is characterised by steep sandstone/shale gorges which are home to Lanner falcons and Black eagles. One of the most impressive sections is Lanner gorge. Just down river of Lanner Gorge, the Mutale river flows into the Luvuvhu just as it flows onto the wide Pafuri flood plain.

“The river has great wisdom and whispers its secret to the hearts of men.” ~ Mark Twain

Along the Luvuvhu is a riparian forest which is home to a wonderful variety of birds and botany. The riparian trees are are home to unique birds such as the Pels fishing owl, Crested guineafowl, Racket-tailed rollers, Tropical Boubous, Retz Helmeted shrikes and White-backed herons to name just a few.

“Rivers are places that renew our spirit, connect us with our past, and link us directly with the flow and rhythm of the natural world.” ~ Ted Turner

Recalling our adventure in the Pafuri area, in my next post I describe our wandering down to Crookes Corner through baobab and fever tree forests to see where the Luvuvhu meets the mighty Limpopo river.

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

Have fun, Mike

Northern Kruger Park- the Mphongolo loop

On our second day in the northern part of Kruger National Park, based in Punda Maria, we travelled south along the H1-7 road towards Shingwedzi camp. On the way there is a wonderful drive along the Mphongolo loop which follows the Mphongolo river. This 20 kilometre loop offers one of the most productive drives in the Kruger Park.

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” ~ Mark Twain

Mphongolo means a very spiritual person who often relies on intuition for decision making.

There are many windows through the trees that give you a view down to the Mphongolo river and each time you look through nature’s window you may see something unexpected and special.

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” ~Ram Dass

It is strange how some scenes have a profound effect on one. It must have been 40 years ago when I cut out a picture from a magazine of a bushbuck in a dry sand river bed similar to this one with a buffalo bull standing in the river bed. The large fig tree created a nostalgic background. I love the enormity of the scene where even a massive buffalo bull is small in the scene. The sand riverbed is big with massive trees rimming the banks. It was quiet and the buffalo bull was listening for the slightest dissonance above the gentle rustle of the leaves.

The Mphongolo river has plenty of water in its deep bends. Wherever the river hit a section of sandstone it meandered around it. At each bend, on the outside edge of the riverbed, the water travelled fastest so dug deepest into the river bed. This left relatively deep pools of water even after the river had stopped flowing. The Mphongolo river is know to be home to many Nile crocodiles.

Looking down onto this section of the river, we saw a small pod of hippos in the water and a pair of Woolly-necked storks foraging in the shallows. An adult Woolly-necked stork has glossy black upperparts and wings, with a tinge of purple and copper, except the lower underparts, which are white. This stork has a distinctive woolly white neck which reaches the back of the head. One of the interesting aspects of looking at this river bend was that at first you did not see anything. With patience and quiet, slowly and carefully mother nature began to reveal herself.

Down near the river’s bend a kudu bull appeared. He was thirsty but alert and would stop every few paces to look and listen and smell. Having assessed the situation correctly he had a peaceful drink at the river before melting back into the bush where his family must have been foraging.

Where the river bends around an obstacle, the outer bend is usually deeper. We found an adult Grey heron hunting in the deeper section of the river bend. I am always amazed how apparently casual most Grey and Goliath herons are when wading in the crocodile infected waters of southern Africa. I have never heard a plausible explanation for this behaviour. Crocs will happily take doves and Egyptian geese from the river bank if they can but they don’t seem to attack herons.

You will seldom find a bird flying towards you. This Grey heron must have been spooked by something and the only way out was to fly along the river towards me.

A relaxed female waterbuck chewing her cud. She belongs to the large family of bovids, which are plant-eating hooved animals with horns and a four-chambered stomach. Bovid’s diet is mainly grass and foliage. These ruminants regurgitate and re-chew their food (chew the cud).

A Pearl-spotted owlet. They are often seen out in the open in the mornings. The pearls on its forehead were quite noticeable. It looked at us sternly for a few minutes before flying off to a quieter spot. This is one of the smallest owls in southern Africa. It is “earless”, meaning is does not have prominent tufts of feathers on either side of its head which can be seen on the much larger Spotted and Cape Eagle-owls. The Pearl-spotted owlet has white spots on its head not bars as seen on the African Barred owlet. The Pearl-spotted owlet also has brown streaks on its chest whereas the African Barred owlet has barring on its chest.

Further along the river we saw a family herd of elephants drinking water from the narrow rivulet flowing meandering along the riverbed. Some family members were foraging on the bushes along the river. Again the size of the scene is dimensioned by the relatively small size of the elephants.

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.” ~ Samuel Johnson

Further along, a pair of southern Africa giraffe were ambling along the river bed. Presumably they were looking for a bend with pools of water and enough space for them not to be ambushed while they are drinking.

The epitome of peace. All we could hear were Ring necked turtle doves, starlings and the cackle of the odd Egyptian goose. Some members of the elephant family were drinking while the older members just stood patiently waiting for the others to finish. The water was not deep enough for them to bathe in. If it had been I am sure some of them would have been swimming too.

This loop is known for its lion, leopard and hyaena sightings. We heard from fellow travellers that they had seen lion but we could not find them. Often a special sighting is only available for a few minutes before the animal has moved back into the bush.

I hope these few scenes give you a sense of the variety of wildlife that can been seen along this gravel road. The weather was overcast but it was warm and the bush was verdant. Thankfully, there was plenty of water for the wildlife. Once we had finished the Mphongolo loop we ventured further down to the Shingwedzi camp. This is a must for our next trip to the northern Kruger.

“The curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

If we were to stay at Shingwedzi camp, we could easily access the Mphongolo loop, do the loop to the Bateleur Bushveld camp, travel down to Mopani camp and follow the Dipani road from Mopani camp back to Shingwedzi camp which takes you past the Lebombo mountains and along the Shingwedzi river.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ~ Henry Miller

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

Have fun, Mike

Punda Maria – a place of quiet and giants

We visited the northern section of Kruger Park in late April. It had been an extended wet summer season and the vegetation was verdant. Our first stop was Punda Maria camp, which we made our base for three days.

“Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.” ~ William Burchell

There are three main drives around Punda Maria – Mahonie Loop, the Klopperfontein road (S60, S61) past the sacred Gumbandebvu koppies and the tarred road (H13-1) between Punda Maria Gate and Dzundzwini Hill.

Close to the Punda Maria camp, on the S60 heading towards Pafuri, lies the long, flat hill of Gumbandebvu. The hill is named after a chief who’s daughter, Khama, was reputed to have had the gift of rain-making. During years of drought, people from far and wide would bring gifts to Khama and implore her to bring rain. The story tells that she would slaughter a goat, prolonging its death cries so that the ancestors would hear the desperation of the people, and then climb to the top of the hill with bones and potions and implore the spirits to change the weather. Many people from this area today believe the hill is sacred and haunted. (Source: Siyaboga Africa).

“Anticipation is one of the magical aspects of a game drive. You just never know what is around the corner.” ~ Mike Haworth

Our first adventure was along the Mahonie loop. It is only about 30 kms but there is much to see and it can take many hours to complete. At the start of the Mahonie loop is this large Marula tree. The elephants have had a go at digging into its bark. During the dry season, elephants turn their attention to foraging from suitable species of trees, consuming leaves, twigs, roots and bark, and of course fruit and flowers when they are available.

After driving under the large Marula tree and another 100 metres further down the gravel road we found this elephant bull browsing on the leaves of another large Marula tree on the top of a low stony kopjie.

Further along the Mahonie loop, there is a wonderful view down onto the sandveld leading down to the Luvuvhu river in the middle distance. There were scattered clouds around but it was hot, well over 30 degrees centigrade.

A Burchell’s coucal was perched on a bush next to the gravel road. It had fluffed itself out to dry out after its skulking in the heavily dew-laden grass. This species of coucal has a beautiful ruby red eye. The fine barring on the upper tail coverts is a diagnostic feature of the Burchell’s coucal. The Senegal coucal looks similar but lacks the barring on its upper tail coverts.

Further along the Mahonie loop we stopped at the Maritube waterhole. There we found three old “dagga boys”, large old buffalo bulls, wallowing in a mud pool below to the waterhole. They rolled in the mud to cover themselves in it. The mud dries and acts as a form of skin protection from biting flies. One of the old “dagga boys” was enjoying a rub against a tree. Above his back you can see the amount of flies they have to content with.

A Lilac-breasted roller sitting on top of an anthill rubbed smooth by passing buffalo which needed a scratch. It was a perfect perch from which to hunt for insects disturbed by the buffalo wallowing in the mud close by.

A massive baobab tree which had lost almost all of its leaves in early autumn. The baobab tree is an icon of the African continent and probably the most recognisable tree too. This long-lived, majestic tree is the source of many traditional African remedies and lies at the heart of local folklore. Baobab trees grow in 32 African countries. Many lists of the oldest trees confine their classification to single-trunked plants that produce annual growth rings. These kinds of trees are easier to date. Scientists called dendrochronologists focus on assigning calendar years to tree rings and interpreting data within those rings. These long lived angiosperms (flowering plants with fruits) reach up to 30 metres high and up to an enormous 50 metres in circumference.

“Ancient trees are precious. There is little else on Earth that plays host to such a rich community of life within a single living organism.” ~ Sir David Attenborough

The Baobab is endemic to Africa and prefers the dry and arid areas. It is a succulent, which absorbs water during the rainy season and stores the water in its vast trunk, and produces a nutrient-dense fruit in the dry season. By virtue of its life saving offerings in the dry winter, it has became known as “The Tree of Life”.

A Purple roller perch hunting from the dead branch of a tree. Its elevated position gave it a good view of its surroundings and insects disturbed by animals. Its upper parts are mainly dark olive-green and the rump is a blue-purple. The closed wings look dark rufous and the tail is square. The sides of the head and underparts are a pale purple-brown, with heavy white streaks. This roller prefers well wooded dry areas.

A wild foxglove beautifully backlit in the early morning light. Despite its beauty, the entire wild foxglove is poisonous to animals and humans.

After having travelled along the Mahonie loop, we decided to venture around the Kopperfontein loop which is off the S60 which links with the main road from Shingwedzi camp to Pafuri. This is an interesting seven kilometer loop but the main feature is the Kopperfontein dam which is fed by the Shikuwa river which, in turn, is fed by a large catchment area.

Klopperfontein is a spring which was named after a hunter who camped in this region while on hunting trips before the park was proclaimed.

Northern Kruger is home to numerous large Baobab trees. They seemed to be in different stages of undress. Some still had all their leaves while others were leafless. The Baobab (Adansonia digitata) is southern Africa’s most distinctive tree by virtue of its great girth, fleshy trunk and widely spreading crown. There are many African legends around the origins of the Baobab. One such legend holds that a giant child of the gods once pulled the Baobab out of the ground and then stuck it back upside down, which accounts for its root-like branches.

On average, Baobabs start to flower and bear fruit at the age of about 20 years. Most Baobabs flower once a year and the flowers last for one day. Baobab flowers are beautiful large, white chiropterophilous flowers, which means that they evolved specifically for bat pollination. Baobabs are fertilised by beetles, hawkmoths, bats and bushbabies. Throughout Africa it is thought that bats are their main pollinators.  A science project conducted by Dr Sarah Venter, founder of the Baobab Foundation, together with her colleagues in 2020, found that bats were not pollinating Baobab flowers in South Africa. The research team is currently analysing Baobab nectar and scent in order to help them understand what role these characteristics are playing in determining what and how Baobab flowers are pollinated across Africa. After fertilisation, the ovule forms a seed and the ovary develops into a fruit pod. So each flower may produce a single fruit pod with many seeds if fertilisation is successful. The fruit pods are equipped with very tough shells. The seeds are embedded in a white pulp. The pulp can be diluted in water and drunk. It is rich in Vitamin C.

A dainty Emerald-spotted wood-dove foraging for grass seeds in the sand on the side of the gravel road. This wood-dove has its characteristic emerald green wing-spots, two rows of iridescent green spots on each wing. It also has blackish bands on the lower back and tail. When it takes flight, the underside of its wings are a beautiful rich ochre colour.

Once we arrived at Kopperfontein dam we found this elephant bull standing in the shallows at the edge of the dam. He was squirting water from his trunk onto a wound on his side. It was obviously troubling him. It looked like a piece of branch or a large splinter of some sort.

We had been watching the lone bull for about half an hour while quietly drinking a cup of coffee when he was joined by a group of four large bulls. The biggest was this magnificent bull. He was well on his way to becoming one of Kruger’s big tuskers.

“In a world where everything is changing so fast, there is something reverent about seeing a a big tusker. He is breathtakingly big. To attain his stature requires wisdom, intelligence, and an ability to adapt.” ~ Mike Haworth

A “big tusker” is a male bull elephant with tusks that weigh over 50kgs (110lbs) each. Tusks of that size are usually longer than two metres in length. Long enough to scrape along the ground when the elephant walks.

A SANP survey in 2017 revealed 12 previously unknown tuskers in Kruger National Park. A dozen of the 28 elephants assessed met the criteria to be considered “potential tuskers”. Their tusks typically weighed more than 50 kilograms (110 lbs) each.  According to Sanparks, there are 25 big tuskers in the park at present. When a new tusker is identified, current policy requires that he be named after his home range or characteristics unique to the individual tusker.

We watched the five large elephant bulls drink from the dam for about half an hour. The largest bull appeared to be the leader. When he had finished drinking he walked a few metres from the water’s edge and stopped. He waited for the others to finish drinking then turned to walk back into the bush and the others followed.

After a spellbinding hour or so at Kopperfontein dam all on our own with the elephants we decided to slowly make our way back to camp. The next image is of another magnificent giant in Kruger. This was an especially tall Baobab.

One reason Baobabs are thought to live so long and become so enormous is because they grow new stems, much like other trees grow new branches. Over time, these stems fuse into a ring-shaped trunk structure with a cavity in the middle. Over the course of a day the baobab’s girth can expand and shrink by several centimeters, based on water loss and absorption. When a dry period is followed by a hard rain, the trunks can swell rapidly.

Whenever we drive past a Baobab we are always on the look out for a leopard peering out from the shadows between the branches. We often see elephants standing in the shade of these giants.

“Advice from a tree: Stand tall and proud, Sink your roots into the earth, Be content with your natural beauty, Go out on a limb, Drink plenty of water, Remember your roots, Enjoy the view.” ~ Ilan Shamir

The next post from this trip will explore and discuss the Mphongolo loop which stretches loops off the H1-7 at Babalala and runs along the Mphongolo river to rejoin the H1-7 a few kilometres above the Shingwedzi camp.

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

Have fun, Mike

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

Tiger Canyon – cheetah conservation

Tiger Canyon Private Game Reserve’s objective is to conserve and create a separate gene pool for two endangered big cats, the tiger and the cheetah. This game park also boasts a diverse range of mammals such as aardwolf, aardvarks, serval, caracal, Bat-eared fox, Cape fox, Grey mongoose, springbok, zebra, blesbok, kudu, wildebeest and wild horses. There is also an impressive range of birds in the reserve.

“The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those have not viewed the world.” ~ Alexander von Humboldt

Tiger Canyon’s cheetahs are the first to return to this indigenous habitat in over 100 years. Due to the encroachment of sheep farming, there have been no free-roaming cheetahs in the Free State since the early 1900’s.

“The beauty of Africa is not man made, it is natures gift to humanity.” ~ Paul Oxton

Tiger Canyon Private Game Reserve is a member of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Metapopulation Project. As part of this project, cheetah offspring are relocated to other reserves within the Metapopulation in a bid to help increase the cheetah numbers and keep the genetics clean (Source:

We watched an adult cheetah chase down, catch and kill an adult springbok. The chase was unusually long so the cheetah did not start to eat immediately but lay next to its kill until it had caught its breath.

“This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

These close up images of an adult cheetah were possible because the cheetah in the reserve are habituated.

We were in the cheetah enclosure around mid-morning on our second day of our stay in Tiger Canyon when we saw this cheetah walking towards a small herd of springbok a few hundred metres away in the long grass with its head down showing intent. The enclosure is massive, probably over 1 000 hectares. The terrain is open and reasonably flat but the grass was relatively long after the good summer rains at the start of the year.

Cheetahs are visual hunters and hunt predominately in diurnal hours when most of the competing big cats are resting.

Once the cheetah had got its breath back, it started to drag its kill a few metres away from where it killed the springbok. There was no shade for the cheetah to pull its prey into to get some relief from the heat of the direct sun.

A cheetah is capable of reaching speeds over 110 kms per hour in just over three seconds. The cheetah’s unique body structure: flexible spine, semi-retractable claws, long legs and tail enable it reach speeds over 100km per hour. The cheetah’s tail is long and flattened in the central section and acts like a rudder at high speeds.

Cheetah are naturally wary predators especially when they have just made a kill. This cheetah fed for a short period then sat up and carefully looked around to ensure there was no encroaching threat.

A blood soaked muzzle. Cheetahs have relative a small head, small ears and high set eyes. The shape of the head and the position of its large eyes facilitate maximum binocular vision. The large nostrils and lungs provide quick air intake necessary for their rapid acceleration and high speed run – which lasts for around 30 seconds. This facial structure also allows this cat to breathe while suffocating their prey.

Cheetah have distinctive black “tear marks” that run from inside the corner of the eyes along the nose down to their mouths. The “tear marks” help in reducing the sun’s glare during daytime hunting. These lines are also thought to act like sights on a rifle which help the cheetah aim when they are running at top speeds after their prey.

Although this cheetah was habituated when anyone got too close to it – and particularly its kill – it snarled and hissed a warning to back off.

The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN red data list. Cheetahs face extinction pressure from climate change, hunting by humans, and habitat destruction, which is reducing the size of their populations. Cheetahs’ genes also pose a challenge to their continued survival. Cheetahs have a low rate of reproductive success. With fewer offspring, the population struggles to grow and adapt to changes in the environment. (Source:

The Cheetah Metapopulation Project was initiated by the Endangered Wildlife Trust in 2011. The project supports cheetah populations in several small reserves, most of them private. While relatively safe in these small reserves, the likelihood of inbreeding remains high. In the wild, cheetahs are wide-ranging carnivores that exist in low densities. By swapping animals between participating reserves, the project helps private and state wildlife custodians to manage overpopulation and underpopulation on their land and identifies new areas of suitable cheetah habitat.

South Africa is home to around 1 300 of the world’s roughly 7 100 remaining cheetahs. It is also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to the Cheetah Metapopulation Project, a conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. In 2020, there were 419 cheetahs across 60 reserves. (Source: Most of the reserves that take part in the Cheetah Metapopulation Project are privately funded. The majority of them rely heavily on tourism revenue to fund conservation.

“Right or Wrong Don’t know

But those things don’t give me Money,
But gives Satisfaction

It consumes my time,
But gives me happiness

Those things can’t give me Future,
But I can’t live without them

These things can’t give me fame,
But adds value to my life

So Conservation is life”
~ Kedar dhepe

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

Have fun, Mike

Tiger Canyon

After spending three days in Mokala National Park, we continued our journey down to Tiger Canyon Game Reserve. This reserve is located 25 km west of the town of Philippolis positioned on the Free State side of the Van der Kloof dam in the Karoo of South Africa.

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Tiger Canyon is a conservation project to preserve the remaining Bengal tiger species. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) there are about 4 500 tigers left in the wild. This reserve has the only wild population of tigers outside of Asia.

The reserve was established by conservationist John Varty (JV). It is an ex-situ experiment which began in 2000 with the rewilding of two captive-born cubs, Ron and Julie, which JV acquired from a zoo in Canada. The first step was to see if these cubs could be rewilded in Africa, and learn to successfully hunt indigenous game in the long grass and rocky outcrops of the Karoo. This rewilding process worked with JV teaching the cubs to survive and hunt in the Upper Karoo region of South Africa. The two founder cubs thrived encouraging the later introduction of two more captive-born cubs, Shadow and Seatao. Once adult, these four tigers went on to establish a breeding population which over last twenty years resulted in 11 wild tigers and 11 wild-born cubs at Tiger Canyon. The first wild cubs were born at Tiger Canyon in 2008. In 2014, two new tigers were introduced to diversify the genetic line.

“The world is waiting for a new direction. One based on Nature.” ~ John Varty

Varty’s partner in the project, Rodney Drew, first visited Tiger Canyon in 2009. Inspired by the project, Rodney and Lorna Drew purchased adjoining land in order to expand the reserve. Tiger Canyon now comprises 6 100 hectares. The Drew’s are now major shareholders in Tiger Canyon and Rodney is the managing director.

Since 2017, IUCN has recognised two tiger subspecies, commonly referred to as the Continental tiger and the Sunda Island tiger. All remaining Island tigers are found only in Sumatra, with tigers in Java and Bali now extinct. These are popularly known as Sumatran tigers. The continental tigers currently include the Bengal, Malayan, Indochinese and Amur (Siberian) tiger populations, while the Caspian tiger is extinct in the wild. The South China tiger is believed to be functionally extinct. (Source:

I have tried to name the tigers shown in the images by matching their facial striped pattern of the tigers presented in Apologies to our Tiger Canyon guides, Adi Stander and Daniella Kueck, if I have got the names wrong.

Father Kumba and daughter Ziyanda. I wanted to show the relative size of a fully grown adult male tiger – massive. The adult male tiger is much larger than a fully grown male lion. Tigers are the largest felines in the world and can reach up to 12.5 feet in length (including the tail) and up to 650 pounds. By contrast, lions tend to weigh between 330 and 550 kilos and measure between 6.5 and 11 feet. Interestingly, lions have longer tails than tigers.

The Bengal Tiger is the most common subspecies of tiger, constituting approximately 80% of the entire tiger population, and is found in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal. The tiger, Panthera tigris, is listed as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The largest of all cats, the tiger once occurred throughout central, eastern and southern Asia. In the past 100 years, the tiger has lost more than 93% of its historic range and now only survives in scattered populations in 13 countries, from India to Southeast Asia, and in Sumatra, China and the Russian Far East. (Source:

The next image is of young tigress, Ziyanda, walking through the long grass in the one of the large enclosures in the late afternoon. There are several enclosures which are in some cases over 1000 hectares and designed to separate groups of tigers and the cheetahs from the tigers.

According to Tiger Canyon, the number of resident tigers varies with time and expanded to 26 at one point and reduced to a low of 10 at another point. The size of this private game reserve will have to be expanded if its tiger population is to be increased sustainably.

Early in the morning, we found the young male Indra and his sister Ziyanda in the main enclosure. Tiger Canyon Game Reserve comprises 6 100ha of prime Karoo landscape divided into separate territories for the wild tigers and cheetahs to thrive in and survive. The main enclosures are at least 1 000 hectares and stocked with herbivores ranging from zebra, and wildebeest to impala, springbok, blesbok and warthog.

Oria, an adult female tigress backlit in a rocky outcrop. She was on her own and appeared to be deliberately separating herself from her adolescent youngsters.

Oria walking across a rock outcrop in the early morning. She was watching her two youngsters lying in the long grass about a hundred metres away.

Oria, a full grown tigress. She was in her prime and looked to be in superb condition and thriving in the grasslands and rock outcrops of the Karoo.

Indra, a young male tiger watching his sister walking towards him through the long grass. The light changes dramatically in the Karoo depending on the time of day offering many photographic opportunities. Tigers generally gain independence at around two years of age and attain sexual maturity at age three or four for females and four or five years for males.

Kumba is a full grown male tiger. When he was not patrolling the fence line protecting his territory from the males in the adjacent enclosure he was patrolling his enclosure. I was struck by how big he was the first time I saw him.

Adolescent male Indra, drinking from Shellduck dam in the late afternoon. He was watching his sister approaching.

Adolescent cubs, Ziyanda and Indra, drinking from Shellduck dam in the late afternoon.

Tigers love water and are inquisitive so any movement in the water attracted Indra’s attention.

After drinking at Shellduck dam, Indra walked off to climb on a small rock outcrop to gain a vantage point from which to lookout over the grassland and keep an eye on us.

It is surprising how well camouflaged the tigers were in the Karoo’s long grass. This young male tiger was hiding in the “middelmannetjie”, the grass ridge in the middle of the vehicle track. He was waiting to ambush his approaching sister.

A young male tiger looking south east across one of the large enclosures in the late afternoon. These tigers roam entirely wild in these large enclosures, hunting, mating and fighting.

The elderly tigress, TiBo, lying on an outcrop of large rocks early in the morning. TiBo was in her own enclosure for her own protection.

TiBo could watch all the activity outside her enclosure from a high outlook point. White tigers carry a regressive gene which yield a white pelage and fawn to pale blue eyes.

The tiger (Panthera tigris) is most recognised for its dark stripes against an orange background. Less well known are three other pelage color variants: white, golden and stripeless snow white. The white tiger is a polymorphism that was first seen among wild Bengal tigers (P. t. tigris) in India, with white fur and sepia brown stripes. The golden tiger, also first sighted in the jungle in India, has a blonde color tone with pale golden fur and red-brown rather than black stripes. The snow white tiger is almost completely white, with faint to nearly nonexistent narrow stripes on the trunk and diluted sepia brown rings on the tail. (Source:

Lions and tigers are two different species. They look different, they have different lifestyles, they vocalize differently, and they generally live on different continents. Yet when they are brought together artificially, they can interbreed. Such hybrids are called tigons and ligers. The offspring of a male lion and a female tiger is called a liger. The offspring of a male tiger and a female lion is a tigon. Tigons and ligers generally are sterile and short-lived — an evolutionary dead end. 

“At first encounter, the Karoo may seem arid, desolate and unforgiving. But to those who know it, it is a land of secret beauty and infinite variety” ~ Eve Palmer

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

Have fun, Mike

Mokala – flights of fancy

Mokala National Park is located in the northern Cape which is a large land locked province in South Africa with low rainfall. Given its position it is in the transition zone between the Kalahari and Nama Karoo biomes. As such it dictates the type of birds you are likely to see in the park.

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” ~ Chinese Proverb

We found many European rollers in Mokala, many more than its Lilac-breasted cousin. The European roller does not have the tail-shafts seen on the Lilac-breasted and Racket-tailed rollers. Rollers put on a flight display much like the lapwing where it twists and turns creating a sense that it is rolling, hence its name.

Its blue and brown-coloured plumage is the most distinctive feature of the European roller. This bird breeds in Europe in the northern hemisphere summer and winters in sub-Saharan Africa. It covers over 10 000 km on its migratory route. This is the only species of roller to breed in Europe. Rollers prefer to perch prominently on trees and bushes looking for large insects, small reptiles, rodents and frogs to prey on. The diet of adult rollers is dominated by beetles.

A Southern Pale Chanting goshawk is identified by its red-orange coloured legs, beak and cere. Its plumage is a lighter grey than its northern Dark Chanting cousin. The male vocalises during the breeding season. He will perch at the top of a tree and call to the female in a series of “kleeu-kleeu-kleeu-ku-ku-ku” chants.

The Southern Pale Chanting goshawk is distributed throughout South Africa but its dark cousin is distributed mainly in the Limpopo and North-west provinces of South Africa, northern Namibia, northern Mozambique, northern Botswana and throughout Zimbabwe.

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

A Steppe buzzard usually hunts by gliding down from its conspicuous perch. This individual was standing on its perch near Stofdam keenly watching for any potential prey. The Steppe buzzard differs from the Forest buzzard in that the Forest buzzard has more white on its belly and breast. It also prefers forests and thickly wooded areas while the Steppe buzzard prefers open areas.

Sociable weavers build their metropolis in Camelthorn trees. The next image shows one example of many to be found in Mokala. Where there are Sociable weaver colonies you are likely to find a Cape cobra and Pygmy falcons. Sociable weavers build large compound community nests. They are large enough to house over a hundred pairs of birds and last several generations.

Red-billed oxpeckers sitting on the neck of an old darkened giraffe. The adults have a distinctive red beak and red eye with a yellow eye-ring. The adult’s plumage is dark brown on its upper parts and a beige colour on its neck and belly. The juvenile will develop the red beak and colourful eyes. Oxpeckers have short legs but strong sharp claws which enables them to cling to their host. The Yellow-billed oxpecker has a stouter beak and uses a pecking motion to extract ticks from hosts, whereas the Red-billed oxpecker uses a scissor-like action.

A Shaft -tailed whydah which refused to turn around and face us. During the breeding season the male has black crown and upper body plumage, golden breast and four elongated black tail shaft feathers with expanded tips. After the breeding season is over, the male sheds its long tail and grows olive brown female-like plumage. This species imitates the song of the Violet-eared Waxbill, which it parasitises. All Indigobirds and whydahs are brood parasites.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

The next image is of a female Red-backed shrike. In the female and young birds the upperparts are brown and vermiculated. Underparts are buff and also vermiculated. This is probably a juvenile female as it has not yet developed the black eye band evident in the adults of this species. Shrikes like to perch prominently on the tops of bushes, fence posts and telephone wires, where they have a good view of potential prey. Items caught are then taken to a larder where they are impaled on a thorn or wedged in a fork.

An adult male Long-tailed Paradise whydah dressed up in all his finery. In Mokala, this species is at the southern most reach of its southern African distribution. The breeding male has a display flight in which he holds his two wide short black tail feathers erect. Like a Pin-tailed whydah, he hovers over females in a slow bobbing flight which makes his long tail flow up and down in a mesmerising display. This species of whydah parasites Green-winged pytilias.

A Cape wagtail foraging for insects around the edge of Stofdam. This wagtail has dull grey upper plumage and a creamy-white breast and belly plumage. Like most wagtails it has a black collar and has a characteristic stride while wagging is tail up and down. There are six species of wagtail in South Africa.

A female Yellow canary. The male and female are dimorphic with the female having grey-brown upperparts, black wings with yellow flight feathers, a yellow rump and a pale supercilium. The underparts are white with brown streaking. The adult male colour ranges from almost uniform yellow in the northwest of its range to streaked, olive backed birds in the southeast. The underparts, rump and tail sides are yellow. This canary is abundant in the western and central regions of southern Africa. This is a gregarious seed-eater.

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” ~ Socrates

You can expect to see Pygmy falcons in Mokala. We saw several individuals along the main road between Mosu and Lilydale camps and along the Matopi and Kameldoring loops. This is the smallest bird of prey on the African continent which prefers dry habitats. It is the size of a shrike. This falcon preys on reptiles and insects and sometimes small birds and rodents.

In Southern Africa the Pygmy falcons have a symbiotic relationship with Sociable weavers. The weaver give up one of their nest chambers in exchange for a degree protection of their colony. These tiny falcons help deter predators, such as snakes, from the weaver colonies. The Pygmy falcon uses a nest in the Sociable weavers nest structure to roost and breed. The temperature variation is huge between night and day in the dry arid regions of Namibia, Northern Cape and western Free-state. The Sociable weaver nests regulate the birds’ environmental temperature and keep air cool in summer and warm in the freezing nights of winter. Pygmy falcons are not the only raptors occupying Sociable weaver nests, as Secretary birds and Giant Eagle owls also nest on top of deserted weaver nest structures.

We had a short three day stay in Mokala. This was not long enough to do it justice and see all this small national park had to offer.

Given its conservation and breeding orientation and that fact that it is in a biome transition zone, these features make it a unique park to visit. It is not a “big-five” park but it does offer buffalo and rhino. Spending a little longer in the park may yield sightings of Wild cat, Caracal, Aardwolf and Bat-eared and Cape foxes. Over 200 bird species have been recorded in Mokala so we only got to photograph a very small selection. We will definitely be returning to this fascinating park.

“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility. ” ~ Rachel Carson

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

Have fun, Mike

Mokala – a place of rarities

Mokala National Park is South African National Parks most recently established national park. It was constituted in mid-2007. Mokala is a Setswana name for Camelthorn. This park is located in almost the centre of South Africa in the northern Cape about 80kms south of Kimberley. The northern Cape is a dry region with hot summers and relatively low rainfall.

“You cannot leave Africa, Africa said. It is always with you, there inside your head. Our rivers run in currents in the swirl of your thumbprints; our drumbeats counting out your pulse; our coastline the silhouette of your soul.” ~ Bridget Dore

The ecosystem in the park is characterised as a transition zone between the Kalahari and Nama Karoo biomes. The landscape comprises large grass covered plains contrasted with low ridges and hills. These ridges and hills are formed by andesite larva outcrops and dolerite dykes.

Mokala is also characterised by its soils. The soil types vary from the Hutton red sands to the yellow Clovelly soils. There are sections which are stoney and most of the pans are very clayey.

The major conservation attraction of Mokala is it is a breeding reserve for several rare large herbivores such as Roan antelope, Sable antelope, Tsessebe, disease-free buffalo and both Black and White rhinoceros.

“Wilderness gave us knowledge. Wilderness made us human. We came from here. Perhaps that is why so many of us feel a strong bond to this land called Serengeti; it is the land of our youth.” ~ Boyd Norton

Mokala guarantees sightings of ungulates that are rarely spotted in other parks. Roan and Sable antelope, Livingston’s eland, Tsessebe, Mountain reedbuck and Black wildebeest can be seen in this park. There are no elephants in the park and no predators larger than jackals, and that includes hyaenas. There are wild cats, caracals, genets and even aardwolf. This is not a Big Five park, so for wildlife enthusiasts this is a fascinating place to visit.

A Cape ground squirrel foraging on grass seeds next to the road just below where we were staying at Mosu camp. This squirrel prefers open dry savanna. It is distinctive for its bushy tail which it uses as an umbrella. This squirrel is mainly herbivorous eating grass, roots and bulbs which it collects with its long sharp front paws claws.

The Cape ground squirrel has sharp incisors and strong long claws on its front paws to dig for roots and bulbs.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do” ~ H. Jackson Brown Jr.

A vigilant Yellow mongoose. It dashed across the gravel road only to stop midway to stand on its back legs supported by its tail. This mongoose had a good look around before venturing off the other side of the road. The Yellow and Slender mongooses are found in Mokala.

A Scrub hare sitting in the late afternoon light in the gravel entrance to the waterhole at Stofdam. The afternoon sunlight illuminated this hare’s ears showing all the blood vessels. The Scrub hare’s leverets are born thoughout the year with birth peaking between November and April each year. The leverets are born ready to fend for themselves although parental care does allow suckling for a short period during the night. The large eyes indicate that this hare is mainly nocturnal.

A Leopard tortoise crossing the gravel road. The bony, convex, upper section of the shell is the ‘carapace’ and the flat, lower part of the shell is called the ‘plastron’. The markings of the shells vary with age and wear. The shell is made up of numerous small bones which are covered by separate plates of keratin called scutes. As a tortoise grows, extra layers of keratin are added underneath the existing layer, creating “growth rings”. These growth rings give an indication of age but are not always a sign of annual growth. The Leopard tortoise is distinguished by its high, domed shell with its distinctive yellow and brown spots and radiating circles.

An old warrior. This old eland bull had a broken right horn. His dark coat signaled his old age. Apart from a short rough mane, the eland’s coat is smooth. Females have a tan coat. The male’s coat is darker, with a bluish-grey tinge. The Livingston eland bull has a series of vertical white stripes on their sides (and is found mainly in parts of the Karoo in South Africa). Males also have dense fur on their foreheads and a large dewlap on their throats. This eland bull did not have the whitish stripes on its side so looked to be a Common eland not a Livingston’s eland which can also be seen in Mokala.

A young giraffe calf with the remains of its umbilical cords on its belly. This stout youngster was not far from its mother. There are supposedly no predators larger than jackals in the park, so no lions or hyaenas. It is hard to believe that leopards have not moved into the park given the abundance of food and lack of predator competition.

A South African giraffe. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) have divided the giraffe in Africa into nine subspecies based on range. Each subspecies also has a different pelage pattern. Giraffe thrive in Mokala with all the acacia fauna. There are no elephant in the park so the acacias and camelthorns remain intact.

“Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Mokala is known to contain both Black and White rhinos. We did not see any Black rhinos which gravitate more towards the hills. Apart from the difference in the shape of their upper lip, with the White rhino having a square upper lip and the Black rhino having a prehensile tapered upper lip, the White rhino has a flattish back with a bump near the middle, and a large elongated head. The Black rhino is smaller and has a concave back. It has a rounded head and its horns are more upright.

On the Matopi loop we found this female White rhino and her calf. The White rhino prefer the open grasslands where their big broad square upper lip is suited to cropping grass. With White rhinos, the calf usually runs ahead of its mother whereas with the Black rhino, the calf follows behind its mother.

This Tsessebe was having a great time digging it horns and forehead into the mud patch in the middle of the road. In fact the road has detoured around these mud wallows. We came across numerous mud wallows used by ungulates, warthog and rhinos alike. The Tsessebe rut takes place from mid-February to March, and is a time when the bulls perform displays as a part of the mating ritual. The Tsessebe is reddish-brown in colour on the upper body and withers and has a dark face with purplish splotches on the shoulders. Tsessebe is a speedster who can run at a speed of 60 km/h.

A mature male Sable antelope striding through the long grass adjacent to the main road from Stofdam to Lilydale camp. Sable prefer areas of light woodland such as “miombo,” which is a mixture of bush and grassland. These antelope have have beautiful dark brown to black coats which have a slight ochre hue in the sunlight. This male has a major sweep of his scimitar-shaped horns. The older dominant bulls have an even larger sweep of their horns. You can also tell this is a male from his penal bump on his belly.

“It’s Better to Travel Well than to Arrive” ~ Buddha

Both males and females have ringed horns which arch backwards. In females, these backwardly arched horns can reach 61–102 cm, while in males they can be much longer from 81cm to 165 cm in length.

Sable calves are born reddish-brown, with virtually no markings. As they age, the white markings appear, and the rest of the coat gets darker. The older the animal, the more striking the contrast. This antelope is usually found near water, in areas with good drainage and good grazing.

We only saw Roan antelope on our first morning in Mokala at the end of the Matopi loop just below a rocky ridge. Although similar to the Sable, the Roan Antelope has a rufous-grey colouring. It has a different black marking on its face and although bigger in stature, its ringed horns are shorter and less curved than those of the Sable.

This was a young adult Roan antelope lying in the long grass in the shade under an acacia. The long tasseled ears of the Roan antelope are diagnostic as is the black-and-white facemask. Like Sable, the Roan antelope must drink regularly and inhabit areas where water is easily accessible.

This blue wildebeest bull had been rolling and mud-packing in the red Hutton soil.

A close up view of a Blue wildebeest bull in the early morning light. His preorbital gland is clearly evident just below his eye. This gland is rubbed on branches to deposit his scent. Both males and females have a preorbital gland. Mokala also has Black wildebeest but we did not see any in the short time we were there.

The next image shows a warthog boar leaving the remains of a springbok carcass. Warthogs are have a varied diet. They normally eat highly nutritious roots and bulbs but will supplement with bones, soil and stones for their mineral content. They are known to scavenge both the meat and stomach contents from a carcass.

A very young Greater kudu calf stopped in the middle of the road startled by our vehicle. We did not see its mother but she must have been close by in a thicket just off the road.

“The important thing is to never stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing” ~ Albert Einstein

The young kudu bulls appeared to have started “mud-packing”. Even for the young males, once the smell of estrogen reaches them, they start showing off. They are sometimes seen thrashing their horns through mud and bushes. It makes them highly visible and demonstrates their status to each other and the females.

A Red hartebeest seen on Matopi loop. This character had made himself even more red by digging his horns into the red Hutton soil. Red Hartebeest are well adapted for the harsh drier areas. Their narrow muzzle is well suited to picking the best shoots in the tuffs of grass and for occasional browsing.

Remarkably his eyes were clear of red soil. The males of some antelope, like Greater kudu, Eland, Tsessebe and Red hartebeest, are known to rub their horns in mud to make them look bigger and more intimidating. This behaviour is called “mud-packing”.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” ~ Anonymous

One of the more intriguing aspects of Mokala is the different morphs of springbok which can be seen. The next image is of a Black Springbok in a small herd of normal-coloured springbok. We could not get close to a Black Springbok to get a really good image.

We were also able to find a Copper springbok. This young male had the copper coloured pelage. The copper or caramel colour replaces the white found on the belly of the Common Springbok below the side stripes.

“It is better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.”~ Martin Buber

Copper Springbok is a rare mutation in colour from Common Springbok. Other than the colour variation it has all the same characteristics of the Common springbok. The Copper springbok is unique among the colour phases in that the colour mutation can repeat itself in the first generation.

There are only three species of zebra in sub-Saharan Africa. The Plains zebra inhabits the open savanna plains, the Mountain zebra which prefers mountainous terrain, and the Grevy zebra found in east Africa. The term “Plains Zebra” encompasses the species as a whole. There are subspecies such as Burchell’s. There is no agreement among scientists how many “subspecies” there are.

Quagga were a sub-species of the Plains zebra that were native to southern Africa, but were killed off in the 1880’s to preserve grazing land for settlers. The Quagga Project, based out of Cape Town University, used DNA from pelts along with selective breeding to bring the species back into existence using zebra as surrogates. The brown shading has been showing more with successive generations along with reduced striping. With their white flanks and back legs, they were easy to identify. The Quagga Project is an attempt to use selective breeding to achieve a breeding lineage of Burchell’s zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) which visually resemble the extinct quagga (Equus quagga quagga). (Source:

The Quagga Project started in 1987 as an attempt by a group of dedicated people in South Africa to bring back an animal from extinction and reintroduce it into reserves in its former habitat. DNA analysis has shown that the Quagga was not a separate species of zebra but in fact a subspecies of the Plains Zebra (Equus Quagga) The Quagga, formerly inhabited the Karoo and southern Free State of South Africa. The name “Quagga” is an onomatopoeia from the sound the Quagga makes. 

We visited Mokala in mid-February. There had been good rains in that area and the park looked verdant green with extensive healthy grass plains for the herbivores. The heavy skies created a wonderful moody backdrop while the sunlight illuminated the foreground.

“The eye never forgets what the heart has seen.” ~ African proverb

Not only did we see rare mammal species in Mokala but it also has some interesting avian offerings which I will show in my next post on Mokala.

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

Have fun, Mike