Lioness

Mashatu madness | Dramatic scenes

With a new group of students arriving at the EcoTraining Mashatu Camp, the instructors needed to show them around the reserve so they could start orientating themselves. They started out on morning safari as usual, and if you believe it, by 05:30 am it was already 30°C, so with that, it only made sense to visit one of the major water points in the riverbed.

The instructors and students clambered over East-West ridge, using rocky crossing which ensured that any students that were maybe dozing off were now very much awake! Next up was the fever berry forest, where they stopped for a bit to talk about the medicinal uses of this tree and made spinning tops out of the developing fruit. This is a game played by Tswana children and it proved to be more difficult than anticipated.

Once moving out of the fever berry forest, a tawny eagle was spotted posing beautifully on a dead tree, no one thought much of it, as there is a pair that are seen almost every day in the area. Then someone spotted some jackals in the distance and at that very moment, something caught their eyes…

Tawny Eagle in flight

Tawny Eagle (c) Tayla McCurdy

There was movement through the foliage that lined the rivers banks. Instructor Tayla McCurdy grabbed her binoculars, then explained to the students that there was a lioness coming their way with her cubs trailing behind her. One of the students then informed Tayla that the jackals were feeding on some kind of carcass, it turned out to be a fully-grown eland – the world’s largest antelope!

The lioness and cubs’ bellies were all bursting at the seam, the temperature had now climbed a fair amount and she wasn’t interested in eating but was instead looking for some shade. This meant that she had to move away from the carcass, and lead the cubs to a cool spot to rest for the day. She trundled along with her little ones in tow back towards the fever berry forest.

Lion cubs

Lion cubs in Mashatu (c) Tayla McCurdy

The vehicles were not covered so, sitting in an open safari vehicle (the best kind) lathering on sunscreen, quenching their thirst the students were also sitting down-wind from the fresh stench of the carcass. So, why did they not move out of the sighting into a more comfortable location?

A: Sometimes you need to learn to stomach horrid smells as a safari guide (this was mild).

B: The instructors were proactive in their guiding and guessed what might happen and wanted to be in the perfect position where they would not be interfering with the sighting. Thankfully, they were right! The vultures arrived out of nowhere and started circling above them, then one by one they started landing.

This was an impressive scene and comical at the same time. Vultures are not the most agile birds when it comes to landing, they bound about at great speed before coming to a complete halt. Then, in a very gangster-like movement with wings spread out they ran towards the carcass. There is always lots of squabbling amongst the various species, with the most dominant species being white-backed vultures and then a few Cape vultures joined the feeding frenzy.

Next minute the lioness burst out of the bush, she trotted angrily towards the scene scaring away as many of the thieving birds as she could. Just as quickly as the vultures arrived, they vanished into thin air, with the exception of a few brave souls that lingered on the tops of nearby trees.

In the video you have just watched, there are many hardships, firstly the lioness on her own trying to successfully raise, protect and feed her cubs, they too were battling what looked like mange. Then the second is the constant battle between predator and scavenger, the vultures, in the end, decimated the carcass and the lioness left the area with her cubs, luckily there are plenty of animals for her to hunt in Mashatu. Every single person on the vehicle were in awe of the sighting, some may have to wait many years to witness a spectacle like that again.

If you want to experience a possible sighting like this, or even have a dream of guiding people in the African wilderness. Why not look at the various courses we have on offer? Or contact enquires on enquires@ecotraining.co.za to learn more.

An interview with Steve Baillie | EcoTraining Podcast

Want to know what you can expect from an EcoTraining course? Freelance content creator David Batzofin, chatted with Senior Instructor Steve Baillie to get his opinion about our 1-year Professional Field Guide Course.

David’s first question was “Talk me through what a participant can expect”. Listen to our latest podcast to learn more.

Students at Pridelands

Pridelands Camp (c) Steve Baillie

Want to start a career as a Field Guide? Or if you want to learn more about EcoTraining, follow us on social, either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to be apart of our students’ and instructors’ amazing journeys through the African wilderness.

Jackal

EcoTraining Quiz: Small Predators

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EcoTraining Quiz - Botswana

EcoTraining Quiz: Botswana

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EcoTraining Quiz: Cheetah

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EcoTraining Kenya Safari Guide

International Cheetah Day | 4 December 2019

Over a short distance, the cheetah has been recognized as the fastest land mammal on the planet. Encounters with these special predators feature on the bucket lists of both local and international travellers who visit the various natural wilderness regions throughout Africa. International Cheetah Day is a day in which we focus on these phenomenal creatures and the plight that they face in conservation.

World Cheetah Day 2019

International Cheetah Day (c) David Batzofin

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) are found mainly in Africa and with a small remaining population in Northern Iran. A sighting of these rather elusive felines is always memorable and never easily forgotten. To call attention to the plight of this vulnerable species, we celebrate International Cheetah Day with some interesting facts that you can share when trading wildlife stories and bushveld encounters.

  • Cheetahs are physically designed for speed! From nose to tail they are aerodynamically designed to achieve maximum acceleration in the shortest time.
  • Their tails that can be used as a rudder when running, are almost as long as their bodies. In full hunting mode, it is used to balance the animal when it executes tight turns at high speed.
  • To retain their fastest-land-mammal crown, they can get from 0 to 100 km/ph in 3 seconds. Faster than most supercars! However, they can only maintain their top speed of +/- 120 km/ph for a short period.
World Cheetah Day 2019

International Cheetah Day 2019

  • Although cheetahs are generally regarded as solitary creatures, the males occasionally form coalitions that will allow them to hunt larger prey species. These groups consist of between two and four animals, usually siblings, but they can also be non-related animals that band together to be more effective hunters.
  • It is hot work…when hunting, a cheetah can raise the body temperature from an average 38.3°C to over 40°C. They expend a lot of energy in the chase which often leaves them prone to overheating. Although they have a success rate of about 50%, their post-hunt recovery time means that they regularly lose their meal to opportunistic predators like jackal and hyena.
  • You would think that with all the expended energy, they would have to drink regularly, but they are the least water-dependent of the cats, getting most of their moisture from the prey they eat.
  • Unlike the roar of the lion or the sawing grunt of the leopard, cheetahs communicate through almost bird-like chirps and purrs. They are the only cat out of the big cats that actually purr.
  • The dark lines running on either side of the nose are used to absorb light in order to cut-out the visible glare whilst hunting during the day. NFL football players in the USA have adopted similar markings to help them when playing under stadium lights.
World Cheetah Day 2019

International Cheetah Day (c) David Batzofin

  • As a solitary animal, a cheetah mom gets no help from either the father of the cubs or other females in the raising and training of the cubs. The cubs are born with a grey ruff along their backs that mimics the colouration of a Honey Badger, a small animal with the attitude of an elephant!
  • The fossilized remains of a Giant Cheetah have been carbon-dated, showing that it to be around 1 to 2 million years old!
World Cheetah Day 2019

Cheetah cubs at EcoTraining Mara Training Centre (c) Willie van Eeden

Would you like to be able to learn to identify the tracks of a cheetah? Or perhaps even track one on foot? If this educational experience is on your bucket list, then why not celebrate International Cheetah Day by signing up and joining one of the EcoTraining Courses? For more information, contact enquiries@ecotraining.co.za

 

Elephant Eye

An Elephant Encounter | EcoTraining Pridelands Camp

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But what happens when the eye being watched is towering several meters above where you are sitting? At EcoTraining Pridelands Camp recently the students had an encounter that reinforced that these gentle giants are exactly that if treated with calmness and respect.

EcoTraining Pridelands Camp Waterhole

Elephants at Pridelands Camp waterhole (c) David Batzofin

Sitting quietly at the EcoTraining Pridelands Camp waterhole, watching a herd of elephants is always a great opportunity for students to get to understand the interactive dynamics of a group of the largest of all land mammals. Taking time off from their theoretical studies, the students got to sit and marvel as these giants frolicked in the water and mud on the far side of the waterhole. But what no one factored in whilst viewing the elephants was the possibility that part of the herd would decide to end up right outside the lecture tent (where everyone was sitting).

Close up of elephants tusks

Elephant close up (c) David Batzofin

One of the golden rules of walking in the bush is “NEVER RUN” and the same was true in this instance. Having these huge animals testing the wind just a short distance away from the students had everyone’s ‘flight or fight’ reflexes on high alert. Thanks to the expertise of the instructors, who had, on previous occasions stressed the need to remain calm when in potentially dangerous situations with game, the students did exactly that and fought the natural urge to move and instead sat enjoyed the moment with these magnificent creatures.

Close up of elephants mouth

Elephant close up (c) David Batzofin

At the various EcoTraining Camps there are learning opportunities around every corner, or in this case behind a tree. And this instance was no exception. The instructors took this opportunity to explain the feeding habits as well as the tooth structure of elephants to the group.

Close up of an elephant

Elephant close up (c) David Batzofin

As a result of their size and poor digestion, elephants have to eat often and in copious quantities, it, therefore, came as no surprise to the students that part of the herd would stay to feed. What was a surprise was the fact that the bulls decided to come to where everyone was seated to fulfil that need. As the camp, like all other EcoTraining Camps, it is unfenced, the animals are not hindered in their search for sustenance.

By sitting quietly, we allowed these gentle creatures to continue with their daily feeding regime without feeling threatened or uncomfortable.

Elephant in camp

Elephant and students (c) David Batzofin

As the last of the young males slowly wandered through the camp, the students all watched in silence. What had this experience taught them? Elephants are definitely bigger than they seem (especially when you are on the same level) and, if treated with the respect they deserve, they will allow you to share their space, turning an encounter such as this into an educational experience.

How would you behave in a situation like this? Would you be able to relax or would you be too uncomfortable to remain seated quietly and enjoy the encounter? By joining an EcoTraining course you will be provided with the knowledge and understanding of how to make the most of encounters like this in a calm and respectful way. For more information contact EcoTraining on enquiries@ecotraining.co.za

If you want to learn more about elephants maybe try your hand at our EcoTraining Elephant Quiz.

EcoTraining Quiz: Climate change

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Want to know if summer’s here | Listen for a Cuckoo

They may have a bad rap in literature (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Midwich Cuckoos for example) but there are few more fascinating birds than cuckoos. In Southern Africa, cuckoos are all migrants, except for the Klaas’s Cuckoo which is a resident in some lowland areas. This means that they are absent from the region for most of the year, only moving down from further north in Africa and Asia during the rainy season.

While cuckoos tend to migrate from as early as September, typically most arrive in late October to November. Most of the 15 species we have in South Africa are intra-African migrants, which means that they come down from countries further north within Africa, down to the south of the continent. There are also a few Palearctic migrants, namely the Common (European) Cuckoo and the Lesser Cuckoo, with the Common Cuckoo coming from China, Korea and Japan and the Lesser Cuckoo coming from Afghanistan and the foothills of the Himalayas. These Palearctic migrants are, however, much less common than the intra-African migrants.

One of the reasons cuckoos migrate down to our neck of the woods is to feast upon the vast insect numbers that come to life after the early summer rains have fallen – specifically to eat the processionary worms (hairy caterpillars) that you will often see huddled together on tree branches, particularly on the Velvet Corkwood tree (Commiphora mollis). In fact, cuckoos are specialised in eating the hairy caterpillars, which are – for good reason – avoided by most other birds. For their meals, cuckoos smash the caterpillars against branches and other objects to remove the caterpillar’s irritating hairs. These caterpillars are the larval stage of the reticulate bagnest moth (Anaphe reticulata).

In spite of their dark reputation (see the books mentioned above and the saying “you’ve gone cuckoo”!), cuckoos are renowned for having very musical songs. That said, not all species are known for holding a tune with the Clamator cuckoos (Levaillant’s, Jacobin and great spotted cuckoo’s) have more of a chattering, unmusical call. But a few have such characteristic songs that it has resulted in their actual common name. For example, the red-chested cuckoo is called the Piet-my-vrou in Afrikaans, which is an onomatopoeic rendition of the distinct “quid-pro-quo” sounding call it monotonously sings. The Diederick cuckoo is called a Diederikkie in Afrikaans which is also a reference to its call which sounds like “dee-dee-deederick”.

Most cuckoos that migrate to Southern Africa breed during their stay here. Their breeding behaviour is very interesting and unlike that of most other birds. All of the locally occurring cuckoos are what we call “brood parasites”. A “brood parasite” is a bird that lays its eggs or egg in another bird’s nest, in the hopes that their clutch will outcompete the host’s eggs and the host bird will incubate and raise the cuckoo’s chicks. This is done for a few reasons: the cuckoo expends less energy as it does not need to raise its own chick and by laying eggs in a few different nests, the risk is spread and therefore the chances of the chicks being successfully raised is increased. To achieve this parasitism, cuckoos have developed techniques to trick their host birds: most cuckoos have developed what is called “egg-mimicry” in which their eggs look similar in size, colour and shape to that of the host’s egg. Typically, the cuckoo will also evict an egg from the host nest, for each one she lays. When they hatch, some cuckoos – like the African emerald cuckoo and the Diederick – will even evict unhatched host eggs. After hatching (and while still blind) the hatchling will back up to the host’s egg, collect it in a special cavity and then toss it over the edge of the nest. They may do this to the host’s young chicks as well. Alternatively, the cuckoo chick will hack and peck the host chicks to death once they have hatched – and which might just help explain their reputation in popular culture! However, in some cases, the parasite and host chicks are raised together without any hostility.

Another interesting point to add is that males often perform “courtship-feeding”, in which they feed caterpillars to females in an attempt to court them. This often leads people to believe that the cuckoo is feeding one of its own, yet this is not true as no local cuckoo species raises its young.

Cuckoos are amazing birds and are fascinating even to non-twitchers, particularly for their long-distance travel, nesting behaviour and beautiful melodic calls. Unfortunately, however, catching sight of a cuckoo is not easy as they are only seen – and more often just heard – in the rainy season.

This, however, just makes their presence more special as they are here to tell us that summer has well and truly begun!

Are you keen on birds or learning more about them, have a look at our Birding in the Bush course we offer.

Still want to learn something more today, have a look at the bird quizzes we have available:

Birds & Birding

Animal Eyesight 

Bird Challenge

 

EcoTraining Quiz: Birds & Birding

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Animal Behaviour Quiz

EcoTraining Quiz: Animal Behaviour

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Martial Eagle

EcoTraining Quiz: Animal Eyesight

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EcoTraining Quiz: Myths and legends

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EcoTraining Quiz: The Baobab

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EcoTraining Quiz: Dung Beetles

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EcoTraining Quiz: Mammal General Knowledge

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EcoTraining Quiz: General Knowledge | Part 2

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EcoTraining Quiz: Can you identify the animal? | Part 2

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EcoTraining Quiz: Bush Survival

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EcoTraining Quiz: Kruger National Park

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EcoTraining Quiz: Spiders, Snakes and other Reptiles

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EcoTraining Quiz: Biomes

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EcoTraining Quiz: Antelope

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EcoTraining Quiz: Elephants

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EcoTraining Quiz: Collective Nouns

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EcoTraining Quiz: Can you identify the animal? | Part 1

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EcoTraining Quiz: Bats

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EcoTraining Quiz: Baby Animals

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EcoTraining Quiz: Rhinos

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EcoTraining Quiz: Track & Sign

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