Thursday, December 8, 2011

Monday Madness at a waterhole!!

A waterhole in the African Wilderness on a warm afternoon can be a huge magnet for the game, attracting a wide variety of animals desperately searching for water.  Keeping this in mind, one warm November afternoon we decided to do a short game drive focusing mainly on waterholes.  Our section in the reserve holds 10 waterholes with a regular supply of water.  We started with the biggest of all surrounded by fever trees giving way to the open savannah.  Except for the resident hippos there was no activity in the vicinity, at least the hippos were very active and kept us entertained.  Now was the time to judge our patience.  The wait began!  Slowly as the temperature soared, animals like warthog, wildebeest and impalas started appearing in ones and twos.  And within a few minutes something triggered the change and then appeared 5 white rhinos followed by buffaloes in small groups.  What seemed like a quite waterhole now was the circle of animal mayhem.  With the temperature rising so rose the tension.  Big buffalo bulls and rhinos started pushing each other for the best wallowing spots.  Disturbed by all of this, the hippos decided to prove their point and chased the buffaloes away for a while.  It was surely a delight to watch and something that our young guests will not forget for years to come.  At one time we had the following animals at the waterhole.

5 White Rhinos                    Hippos
90-100 Buffalo                    Crocodiles
Wildebeest                          Impala
Waterbuck                          Variety of water birds

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

2 Stunning Discoveries by Institute of Biomimicry

The Institute of Bio mimicry looks for answers to our day to day problems in the natural world and intends to turn them into easy solutions.

1) Ever wondered why zebras have black and white stripes?

The zebra's stripes have more than one function. One function that can be mimicked is their cooling mechanism. The black stripes absorb the sun's rays and a fatty layer under the stripe prevents the heat from affecting the zebra. The white stripes reflect the sunlight. As a result the air above the black stripes becomes warmer than above the white stripes and this difference in the temperature creates an air flow across the sweat glands located in the white stripes. This helps to cool the zebra as it stands.
2) Self healing of rhino's horns                                      

Rhinos dig with their horns and use them as swords to spar with. If they get a crack in the horn, its a problem. Surprisingly in their study, they found that they don't seem to get cracks in the horn, and if they do then the cracks seem to heal up. When there is a crack, the material around the crack disassembles, pours in the crack and then reassembles. They have no idea how this happens, because there are no living cells in the horn. Its made entirely of dead keratin! Bio mimics are looking at it as a model for self-healing structures.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The BIG 5... We have them!

On the 1st of July 2011, Zululand Rhino Reserve officially became a Big 5 reserve with the introduction of 3 male lions. An historical day for conservation, returning lions to an area that they previously inhabited. 

The 3 young males have been in a boma at Phinda Game Reserve for the last couple of weeks, until finally the go-ahead was given and they could be bought over to their new home. A few days before they were bought over to us, they were fitted with telemetry collars so that we can keep track of their movements and whereabouts. Once the lions have settled in, and we have an idea of their range, the collars will be removed. 

Lion sedated and about to be fitted with the telemetry collar

Right now the lions are in a boma here with us, and they will spend a few more weeks in the boma so that they can acclimatise and monitored for any disease that they may have contracted. If they do need any medical assistance, it is much easier for them to be treated in a boma than if they were out roaming around. 

If all goes to plan, the females which are from a completely different reserve, and therefore completely new bloodlines, will be joining the males in the boma soon so that they can form bonds and create a cohesive pride. 

Young male fast asleep under sedation

Exciting times here at Rhino River Lodge, and the competition is fierce between all the rangers at the different lodges situated inside the Zululand Rhino Reserve as to who will spot the lions out on game drive first! 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Crocodile Catching!

Well this last Saturday we all donned our Steve Irwin khaki's, and got in touch with our inner "Crocodile Hunter" for a very exciting morning out in the field.

It all started with our reserve staff reporting a sighting of a lone Crocodile out in the forest where they had been working. This in not unusual as crocodiles can walk a fair amount of kilometres in order to find new and reliable water sources. This guy was on the banks of a very dried up river bed, and luckily for us, we had a new dam that was looking for a resident croc.
Naturally, we let nature take it's course on most occasions although because the crocodile numbers are quite low in this reserve we decided to help this lonely guy out a bit. Crocodiles were never reintroduced and so whatever number crocodiles we have residing on the property has been of their own accord and their own movement in to and out of the property.

The dam that was to become the crocs new home had dried up over the winter months, and so we took the opportunity to dig it slightly deeper and make it more "user friendly" for our animals. We do pump water from a borehole into this dam when the water levels start looking too low to ensure that our animals are gauranteed of a reliable water source when things get too dry. 

After packing a blanket, some ropes, a towel and a very large stick off we went to catch the croc.
We came upon him in very thick vegetation and luckily for us, his body tempreture was quite low making him very lazy and easy to work with.

The crocodile wrapped up and ready for relocation.

We made sure that his eyes were safely blind-folded to protect them during the move, and his jaws were tied shut to make sure that he couldn't injure himself, or anyone else for that matter.

For a crocodile just under 2 metres in length, it took 4 adults to carry it back to the waiting Cruiser for the last stretch of the capture. Once on the vehicle, Anand and myself secured him by sitting on his back whilst we travelled but ensured that our full body weight was not on him. Just enough pressure to convince him that a deathroll would not be a good idea!

After an uneventful trip to the dam, we took our new friend down to the waters edge to show him his new home. The poor croc was very reluctant to enter the water and so we left him on the edge to warm up and regain some of his energy.

Duze inspecting the Croc, under close watch from Dale!
We are so glad to say that Croc is very happy in his new home and after us avoiding the dam for some 3 days to give him some time to settle in, he has been spotted swimming around quite happily.

On the banks of his new home, catching some sun.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Rangers Perspective - The Leopard Sighting That Never Happened

Why is is that the best sightings always happen when you are alone and there are no witnesses?

When new guests are about to experience a game drive with us for the first time, we have a little chat to our guests while everyone is on the vehicle and we let them know what the procedures will be and any safety precautions while out on the drive. A ranger will almost always ask whether there are any special interests - meaning any birders, or people who are specifically interested in botany. This gives the ranger an idea on where exactly their interests lie and so boredom can often be avoided by stopping for things that no-one has any interest in. When posing this question to guests, the ranger runs the risk of getting inundated by lists of species that each one of the guests is hoping to see.
It will go something like this:
Suitably attired first-time-safari goer: "Well I've never seen elephant, lion, buffalo, pangolin, porcupine, aardvark, caracal, serval, polecat...Oh! And a Leopard jumping out of a tree onto an unsuspecting Impala!"

Well half of those things the rangers haven't seen (and they are out doing drives every single day) and the other half are only seen on documentaries after 5 years of filming. Documentaries are great for education, but my goodness they set high standards for us!

The number 1 most requested animal sighting is a Leopard. This is the most elusive and secretive cat in Africa - and there is a reason for that: The are very elusive and secretive!

The funny thing is that I have personally seen leopard out in the wild approximately 37.25 times (.25 is for the time I saw it's tail disappearing into a bush) in the 5 years I have been living in a game reserve. Out of those sightings, I have been with other people - lets call them "witnesses" - about 22 times. Therefore the 15.25 times I have seen a Leopard without "witnesses" does not count.
That is the rule. There is however a loophole in the form of photographic evidence. BUT, the chances that your leopard sighting is long enough and fulfilling enough to get out your camera, remove the lense-cap and screw on the lenses are very very slim. These sightings are best appreciated without the help of a camera bacause they are fleeting. Your eyes will be glued and your breath stuck in your throat. These sightings will also happen while you are flying through the reserve, with somewhere to be and people to see. It will happen when you least expect it. Kind of like a UFO sighting but way cooler.

I know all this because I have done research. I have just now written a proposal to my boss on Leopard research requesting if I could please speed through the reserve for a month under the pretense of very special meetings to attend. It was turned down obviously but the reasons where apparently financial...

What this article comes down to, is that last week Tuesday I saw a Leopard. It crossed the road in front of me and it walked down along the road next to me. It was a fantastic sighting. The sun was setting behind me and the cat was lit up like a photoshopped postcard. Perfect.
Except, no-one believes me because there were no witnesses or photographic evidence.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A new Guest in Camp

Every so often we get an unusual visitor in the camp. Our camp has an electric strand that encircles the camp at about eye-level to keep the big animals out, but that means it can let the little animals in too...

We have had all kinds of animals that have popped in during the night. There has been buffalo dung left on our front lawn, Nyala's regularly make an appearance, Warthogs are frequently spotted each evening keeping the grass short and very occasionally we find quills along the well used staff pathways.

The quills belong to someone, and that someone has decided to make himself known. One evening on my way up to the staff accomodation, I heard a scuffling in the bushes right next to me and out pops a very prickly porcupine! He was obviously in a very grumpy mood because his quills were sticking up (as they do when they're defending themselves) and it was making a very curious "huffing" sound as he crossed the road ahead of me. They odour was very strong and musky too!

Since that evening a few months ago, this procupine has been showing up all over the camp. One hot summers evening, Douglas who is our groundsman decided to sleep outside to escape the sweltering heat from indoors. He was awoken in the early hours of the morning by shuffling and snorting nearby. He sat up just in time to catch the porcupine carrying one of his shoes off! After a brief chase Douglas managed to retrieve his shoe and the following morning we all had a good giggle after hearing about the previous nights adventures.

This particular porcupine seems quite relaxed around people and doesn't seem to be put off by the chatting and general noise made by both our staff and guests. A few of us were sitting outside the staff accomodation one evening, when it casually sauntered past without a second glance at us. The climax was a couple of evenings ago when Anand our ranger was busy with dinner service for our guests, when the porcupine ambled along and walked in through our main lodge! He came in and wandered around the boma area, but after deciding that the food smelt much better inside, wandered through the lodge and out onto the deck area where plenty of pictures were taken. The animal got a little defensive when it couldn't remember it's way out again, so clever thinking Anand closed the doors to the deck and let it be while it found it's co-ordination again. 

Such excitement! Porcupines are the second largest rodent species in the world, with the largest being the Capybara which is found in South America. Porcupine are also covered with thick quills that grow out of hair follicles in the porcupines skin, the same has hair. Contrary to popular belief, porcupine do not shoot their quills out at a threat, but rather shake them to cause a loud rattling sound (as the quills are hollow) as a first means of defense. If the predator or threat does not heed the first warning, the porcupine will walk backwards and even jump towards the predator in order to for the quills to penetrate the predators skin. The quills are lineated and they are not very clean, so predators will often run the very serious risk of infection following the infliction from a quill. These guys are not to be messed with! The quills will grow back exactly the same as hair.
Baby porcupine are born hairless, and will grow their quills during their first few weeks of life.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rhino Notching!

There were still dew crystals scattered on the long blades on grass and the fresh winter chill was keeping us awake, when we headed off early one morning on what we thought was a regular morning drive. I had a small group of people with me who all got along famously and I was thoroughly enjoying their company - our drives were filled with laughter!

After about an hour of driving and not seeing anything too exciting, my radio came alive and my call sign was called. I responded and the reserve manager Dale wanted to know where I was and if my guests would like to join them in darting a rhino. How very exciting! I tried to keep my cool as much as possible as I nonchalantly relayed the message to my guests.  Well, my vehicle came alive and everyone suddenly woke up. I warned my guests to hang on as I reached the speed limit of 40km an hour on the bumpy dusty road. We needed to meet the team before any of the action started and as we weren't quite sure when that would be, we needed to put foot.

We found the darting team and another lodge from the Zululand Rhino Reserve who had also bought their guests along for the experience. The excitement was palpable and everyone got chatting and the reserve ecologist briefed us all on what would be happening and why.

As part of rhino conservation, nearly all rhinos in Kwa-Zulu Natal and even South Africa are notched. Notching is a way of identifying each individual animal. A small triangle of skin is removed from the rhinos ears and depending on where the notch is removed from it has a corresponding numerical value. So each animal is given a numerical "name". The skin that is removed is also used for genetic analysis in order to monitor breeding.  Along with the notching, the animal has a microchip inserted into its horn where a drill is used to create a little hole that is later filled up again, and another one inserted under its skin with a simple injection. This is completely noninvasive and the animal cannot feel it at all as their horns are made up of similar proteins as our finger nails and hair.  These microchips correspond with each other so that if we come across the horn we can relate it to the animal and the reserve it came from. With poaching being so rife, it is so important that we keep tabs on all our rhinos. Both black rhino and white rhino. This method id the best way forward and the entire process takes less than 15 minutes. 

The small triangles of skin removed from the ears for notching
 After enjoying a hot cup of coffee and a good chat while waiting to get news on the rhino, we got the message that it had been darted and we needed to move in fast!
Off we went crashing through the trees so that we could get there in time to watch the animal go down. It had been darted from another vehicle by the vet and now we were off to join them.
The rhino went down in a nice open space and we all circled around to watch the process taking place. Someone was asked to volunteer to remove some ticks for scientific research and not many hands came up for that one!
After getting up close and personal, seeing smelling and touching her, we took photos for our guests and then loaded back into the vehicles to watch her getting woken up with the reversal drug. This is always the scariest part as we're not sure what mood they're going to be in. Quite often a little grumpy! After ensuring everyone was at a safe distance the reversal drug was administered and the big animal got up a little drunkenly. Off she tottered back to her companion who had been waiting not too far off.
Guests from both lodges behind the sedated white rhino   

The team from Zululand Rhino Reserve and the rangers

What a great and exciting morning! It's always great to be able to give our guests a hands on experience as to why rhino conservation is so important, and being a part of the process that will hopefully drive the message home. 


Friday, March 18, 2011

The Lions are coming!

Wow, it has been a while since our last blog post...but we've got some great news!

Zululand Rhino Reserve, the reserve that Rhino River Lodge is situated in, has finally procured a small pride of Lions. We've been planning and arranging for nearly a year for the introduction of the "King of the Jungle" and the perfect pride has now been found. The introduction is planned for the end of March 2011.


Historically, lions were found here and over 100 years ago the last lion was shot. The game that we keep here on the reserve are all animals that are indigenous to the area, or were once indigenous but because of man have been eradicated from the area. The lion introduction goes according to the plan of restocking game species that were once found in the area. 

The lions will be released into a boma where the aim will be for them to bond and form a cohesive pride, before being let out after approximately 6 weeks. The pride we're getting consists of 5 animals altogether: 2 males who have bonded and have a good solid hunting coalition and 3 females who are unrelated. The boma period for them will mean that the females will get to know each other and the males will get to know the females. It also gives us time to access the animals for any illness or disease that they might have contracted. 
They will also be fitted with collars for a short period of time in order for us to locate the animals and track their movements while they get used to the reserve and find their way around. 
The lions will also be able to assist in keeping our game numbers down. Normally we would have to take off animals in live sales in order to protect our vegetation from over-grazing and soil erosion, but now with a big predator like lion, this will be taken care of and a natural balance can be once again restored.

Very exciting times here at Rhino River, where we can officially be known as a Big 5 reserve!

Another very unusual happening here at in the reserve, is the precautions we are all taking against the outbreak of Foot-and mouth disease in northern KZN. Whilst we have not been directly affected, this disease is so highly contagious that we need to do everything we can in order to keep our animals safe. The disease affects cloven-hoofed animals like Buffalo, antelope and occasionally animals like elephants can be infected too. The disease consists of blisters which form on the mouth and feet which can cause lameness. This disease is completely harmless to humans, although we are a carrier for the virus to spread.
Control measures that we've put in place are security stations at the reserve entrance, where the guards will simply spray your vehicles tyres with disinfectant, and you will be asked to step on a damp mat with your shoes. Nothing to be alarmed about and a little on the exciting side too! 
All our guests have been fantastic with their co-operation!

Just a reminder about Earth Hour on the 26th of March 2011 
Go to: to find out more about this great way to unite against climate change, and in recognition for all those who were affected in Japan by the earthquake.
It will be happening at 20:30pm, and all that you have to do is turn off all your lights for an hour.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Unlucky Reedbuck....Lucky us!

The day was a dreary, misty foggy day. The expectations for any great sightings were pretty low but we decided to head out any way in search of the elusive Giraffe. We headed out to the open plains of Zen Zulu with a light drizzle slowly coating us all with a sticky moisture. From a vantage point up on the ridge I spotted a lone dagga boy buffalo along the lip of the fever tree forest, slowly making his way deeper into the vegetation. We headed out towards him and had a really good comparative sighting of the buffalo in amongst a herd of Wildebeest. These guys are often confused with each other although close up the differences are unmistakable. Just next to the buffalo, we heard a loud branch snap, and standing just next to the road, beneath a fever tree was an elephant bull. He was feeding quite calmly and never even noticed us drive up. After sitting with him for about 2 minutes, I looked to my right where the fever tree forest ends, and the open plains of Zen Zulu begin, and walking along were the two Cheetah! 

After absolutely no argument, we decided to follow the cheetah and see if we could get a better sighting of them. Coincidentally enough, there was a track running along the path the the cheetah were following. They slowed their pace down a bit, so I parked my vehicle and we watched them walk directly in front of us, not even 30 metres away. All of a sudden the lead cheetah picked up his pace and began a swift jog with the second cheetah following behind. We held our breath as he picked up speed, and an invisible reedbuck popped up from it's cosy nest in the long grass. The reedbuck had no chance of escape as the cheetah were too near and the reedbuck was too late to make a run for it. The cheetah neared the reedbuck and it flicked out its front paw knocking the reedbuck off balance and bringing it to the ground. The lead cheetah quickly clamped its jaws down on the reedbucks throat, closing of the windpipe and suffocating it. The second cheetah had caught up by that stage and was using it's body to hold the reedbuck down until it had been killed. 
All this was happening not even 30 metres in front of us! We were very lucky to have the sighting all to ourselves and enjoy the moment until the other vehicles appeared. The precision of the cheetahs kill and the swiftness made the whole thing very mechanical and was not as gruesome as I imagined witnessing a kill would be. It was over in a matter of minutes and the cheetah started feeding. By that stage a vehicle from Leopard Mountain and a vehicle from Bayete Zulu had joined us and we all sat in awe as we watched these amazing animals devour the reedbuck, with my guests and I still wiping away the emotional tears that were shed at watching such an incredible thing. While we wee sitting there facing the Cheetah, the lone buffalo made its way over to see what was going on. This is when my guests and I decided the day could not get any better and we moved off. 

On our way off the plains, we found crash of rhino comprising of 2 males, a young female calf and an older mature female who was obviously in oestrus as the males were fighting for her attention while she was trying to fight them off! We parked the vehicle and just absorbed the sights and sounds around us when it appeared that the rhino had completely forgotten we were there and decided to walk next to us in the vehicle. I read their body language and decided that they were pretty relaxed, and showing no curiosity towards us at all. I drew an imaginary line in the road and decided that if they crossed that line they would be in our comfort zone and I would then move the vehicle out of the space. These guys came up right next to us, and stood about 2 metres away smelling the air towards us and having a good look! My guests and I were dead quiet but I decided that if I were to switch on the ignition, they would get a huge fright and might charge the vehicle, so I started talking to them just to let them know we were there and they needed to move off. You can imagine me sitting there with two foreign guests who were turning blue, too scared to exhale saying "you're too close guys, you need to move off..." over and over until the rhinos curiosity was fulfilled.

What a special day that was and what great guests I had to share it with...

Apologies for such erratic posts, but with the holiday season being so busy there just wasn't time. I have saved up all our great sightings and will hopefully be posting more regularly. 

From all of us at Rhino River Lodge, we hope that 2011 will be a good year for everyone, including our Rhino's which are being poached at such a merciless rate. 
We urge you that if on one of your safaris in South Africa, if you do come across any suspicious behaviour or people, please let someone know. You could be saving a rhinos life. 

Please see the link below for more information on the new Rhino Poaching Hotline number
You can report suspicious behaviour on the new Rhino hotline number: 082 404 2128