Friday, July 24, 2015

Meet a guide at Rhino River Lodge

The life of a safari lodge ranger is one ruled by adventure, excitement and that little dose of danger that comes with the bush-life package. It sounds exhilarating to any of us with a love for the African wilderness and a hint of khaki-fever.

Rhino River Lodge’s ranger, Kyle Naude, shares a little taste of what it’s like to be a game ranger in KwaZulu Natal’s wild backyard. His love for the bush is contagious and his wildlife photography passion goes hand in hand with the job he loves.

We asked him a few questions about being a game ranger in a Zululand, Big 5 game reserve.

Q1. What led you to your Rhino River Lodge position?

The Zululand Rhino Reserve is a beautiful 23 000ha reserve with a huge amount of diversity within the park. What better place to do what I love doing? I think what drew me to the ranger position at Rhino River Lodge was, the outstanding opportunity for me to further my career in a very special part of South Africa.


Q2. What is a typical day like as a ranger at a Big 5 safari lodge?
A typical day for me usually starts off with a lot of excitement, especially not knowing what is going to happen on a game drive.

However being a ranger is not always a piece of cake and not always about going on game drives. Everyday tends to be a busy day. A lodge always has maintenance that needs to be done, roads that need to be fixed and bush that needs to be cleared; especially when the elephants decide to do some renovations of their own.

Q3. In your position, when are you at your happiest?

I would say I am at my happiest, when on a game drive and I look back and see the smiles of the guests, knowing that they are enjoying an experience of a lifetime.


Q4. Can you tell us about a funny, off the wall, crazy bush moment you’ve experienced?

We were out on an afternoon drive, driving along the river where out of the blue a female cheetah and her five cubs popped out of the bush.

We sat with them for 10 minutes before they moved into the bush, out of site. We drove on to see if we could find some lions, when suddenly we regained a visual of the six cheetahs. We had stopped pretty close to impala which were about three hundred metres away from the cheetah. We could see that the female cheetah was particularly interested in the impala and we sat to wait and see what would happen.

The cheetahs were edging closer and closer and the impala were unaware of what was happening. Eventually after about forty-five minutes the cheetahs were about 30 metres away from the impala. One of the young cubs, with half a tail, proceeded to move around the back of our game viewer, across the road from the impala. Now we had five cheetahs to our left, a large herd of impala in the middle and one cub to our right. After about five minutes sitting in dead silence, everything sprung to life.

The cub to our right started chasing the impala towards the other five cheetahs. Impala were running everywhere, and to my amazement each and every cheetah was chasing their own impala. We did not know where to look because in each direction there was an impala running and a cheetah on its tail. This all lasted for maybe 40 seconds, but unfortunately the cheetahs went hungry this time.

For me it was one of the most amazing sightings, not only to see the chase but to see a female cheetah with five cubs, all in extremely good condition.

Q5. You’re quite the star photographer of the Rhino River Lodge Facebook page. Tell us about your love for wildlife photography?

My love for wildlife photography stems from all the time that I have been privileged enough to have spent in the bush. Simple as that.


Q6: What is your favourite creature or scene to capture in your photography?

To be honest I don’t have a favourite scene or creature. Every day is different. The animals are always doing something different and the bush will always have a different scene to show. For me that’s what makes the photography interesting.


Q7: If you were to be turned into an animal, which would you most like to be and why?

I would like to be changed into an oxpecker, because I would love to sit on a rhino all day and be its personal guard.


Question 8: Select one of the two options and tell us why you chose it: Birds or Beasts?


Birds are, for me, a pretty difficult subject to learn. With so many bird species in South Africa, to study, it’s going to take many years of experience out in the bush to get there, and I look forward to that. I cherish my time in nature.

Post originally published in Africa Geographic

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Date with Rhino River Lodge's Wilderness

“I’m on a date with the wilderness!” This is what I kept thinking to myself from each sunrise to sunset during my two night stay at Rhino River Lodge. I was cuddled by mountains that made for the most stunning photo backdrops and defrosted by sunrises and hot chocolates as I patiently watched Mother Nature begin her morning ritual.
Early morning safari with Rhino River Lodge

Yes, it was a weekend long romance that was dictated by the rising and setting of the sun and I adored every millisecond of it. The wildlife also seemed to be on cue with the sun’s rhythm, which made for dramatic and incredibly moving sightings that the universe must have been smiling down upon.
Sunrise over the Zululand Rhino Reserve

Sunrise over the Zululand Rhino Reserve

The morning sun inched its way above the mountains, and as we began to shed our blankets and winter layers the “Ferrari safari game vehicle” came across the first big prize of the day, the beautiful bull elephant that happened to be in musth.

At this point he was amongst the trees, but as he became aware of the game vehicle, he decided to make his presence a bit more known. We were in such awe of this big guy making his way to our cruiser that we didn’t notice his male friend coming from the other direction. Did I just say friend? I meant foe!
Elephant sighting with Rhino River Lodge in the Zululand Rhino Reserve

But before elephant #1 made headway to elephant #2, he decided to give our hearts a reason to skip a beat. He came shockingly close to the backend of our cruiser. So close only his face could be seen when looking back. Our poor photographer tried to snap a quick picture, but because of the close proximity, her camera’s autofocus didn’t manage to do its job.

Our ranger, Kyle, handled the situation with such style and ease and slowly moved the vehicle away to give the elephant bull his space. We then watched from a distance as the elephant in musth decided to battle with his foe for the day.

Two elephants face up on the Zululand Rhino Reserve with Rhino River Lodge

Only a thorny tree stood between the two grey giants. But if you saw the catastrophe of the surroundings, smashed branches and trees uprooted, you could tell a battle had been fought. Heart palpitations aside, it was a wild and wonderful sighting we were lucky to witness.

Large bull elephant in the Zululand Rhino Reserve with Rhino River Lodge

Fast forward to the sunset and re-layering of jersey and blankets. A cheetah greeted our path as the sky transformed into a pretty blend of purple and orange. I was officially convinced Mother Nature and the reserve’s wildlife were on some sort of secret wavelength.

Cheetah sillouehtte at sunset

There he was winding in and out of the bush, as our heads simultaneously weaved with every slight movement the stealthy creature made. All that could be heard was the sniffling of our noses as the nippy weather and colourful skies set the moody scene for our cheetah sighting.

Cheeta sighting at night in the Zululand Rhino Reserve with Rhino River Lodge
We couldn’t believe that this animal, unsurpassed by speed, was so gracefully still and posing for our photography pleasure. The moment was ours and we didn’t have to share it with anybody else, thanks to the exclusivity of the reserve. Fast, fearsome, strong, wild, and oh so private setting to observe the cheetah at dusk.
cheetah photographed on a night drive in the Zululand Rhino Reserve with Rhino River Lodge

My date with Rhino River Lodge’s wilderness and welcomed wildlife was a record breaking 10 out of 10. Not a moment would have been changed, and that’s when you know you’ve found a keeper, or in this case a winning spot in the African bush.

Written by guest, Hilary Gaertner.
Originally published by ThisIsKZN

Outnumbered cheetahs outsmart wild dogs

The scene was set for a three part performance, and the whole extravaganza unravelled like any drama should. The only difference was that this was a real life bushveld sighting, not a film – and popcorn wasn’t included.

On a morning game drive from Rhino River Lodge led by ranger Frances Hannah, the air was crisp against our skin, and the blankets crept up slowly as we sped off in pursuit of Zululand Rhino Reserve’s new addition – the wild dog. The valley was shrouded in a thick cloud of mist; the rising sun was straining through the fog to reach our cold noses and trees stood silhouetted against the light.

view on an early morning game drive
The dogs had been spotted running across the plains but had disappeared into the thick bushveld. By now they could be anywhere. We manoeuvred the cruiser along winding roads, hoping to catch a glimpse of white fur at the end of a tail; our beacon of hope.

Winding the cruiser along the road
On our way up from the river, we heard the warning call of the vervet monkeys. The dogs were new to the reserve, but these monkeys knew the lingo. They were alarm calling from the tops of the trees, singing out to anyone who would listen that danger was near. We swung the cruiser around, and as we neared the river, there they were – all six dogs were scaling down the steep rock face of the mountain, edging towards the dry riverbed.

six wild dogs edging towards dry riverbed
Soft padded paws kicked up sand as they sprinted towards us, excited by the fuss we were making over them. A flurry of patches and big black ears circled our cruiser momentarily and then they were off in all directions. We began reversing but by the time we were over the lip of the river, the dogs had vanished, and the hot pursuit began again!

We swung around and began to climb the mountain slope until we saw a big grey, lumbering roadblock hurtling towards us!

Big grey roadblock
You could smell him before you saw him. His frame blocked out the morning sun as he towered over us, urine gushing out between his back legs, temples shiny with oily secretion and his trunk snaking towards our vehicle, investigating what this foreigner wanted in his wilderness. Once the formalities were over, he continued his hefty walk down to the soft river sand where he started devouring the lush vegetation on the bank’s edge.

The road opened to a wide open plane, and there in the middle stood six wild dogs, circling four sub-adult cheetah. The dogs chattered excitedly amongst each other, their tails erect in the air, white tips saluting the morning sun. This was the classic dogs versus cats scenario, but in the wild.

The cats grouped together with their backs to each other while keeping the dogs at swiping length. Hair stood up on their spotted backs and their teeth glared sharply as the dogs closed in.

Guide Frances explained the reasons behind the intense behaviour, “The wild dog and cheetah interaction was as tense as it was because the wild dogs are still finding their paws and are essentially ‘house shopping’. So when they find themselves in another predator’s territory by chance, they will either turn in the opposite direction or stand strong and face up to them… it all depends on the predators they encounter. They would have run from lions if they were caught in their territory, for example, but they stood their ground when faced with cheetahs.”

Wild dogs close in on cheetahs
Wild dogs each have specific rank within their pack, and as one of the excited smaller dogs at the back rushed forward, the dogs piled onto it to reaffirm the hierarchy. As the dogs battled with their inner politics, the cheetahs seized their chance and retreated to a thorny bush, which they used as a barricade.

six wild dogs
The battle continued between the curtains of bush until the dogs admitted defeat and energetically moved along, bouncing off each other’s adrenalin. We all took a deep breath; the sun was warming our skin and we were elated to have found the dogs in such an eager state!

It was a morning full of action fit for the silver screen that guests were lucky enough to witness.

Blog post originally published on Africa Geographic