Male lion killed a lioness at pridelands

The harsh reality of lions | Not for sensitive viewers

The students at our EcoTraining Pridelands Camp recently witnessed a severe yet interesting occurrence.

Early in the morning the sounds of lions fighting echoed across the region. During morning game drive, the instructors and students were informed of the presence of two large male lions and a lioness in an area not far from the camp.

Upon arriving at the sighting, they were surprised to see that the lioness was in fact dead! The bite marks around her throat, back of the neck and lower spine indicated that she had indeed been killed by the two male lions lying close by.

Male lion killed a lioness at pridelands

Male lion killed a lioness (c) Fabio v.d Westhuizen

These males seemed to be new to the region, having come, we believe from somewhere in the Greater Kruger National Park. The blood on the chin and paws of one of the male lions as well as a laceration at his elbow and two small cuts on his face suggests that he was the one most responsible for the dead lioness.

Male lion with blood on his chin

Male lion (c) Fabio v.d Westhuizen

It has been witnessed in the past that when dominant male lions expand their territory and take over another pride of lioness and their cubs that they will immediately try to kill any cubs under the age of around a year. Occasionally lionesses will try to defend their cubs and, in the past, this has resulted in male lions driving home the attack and killing lionesses. From the evidence gathered the seems to be the case in this situation.

Dead lioness

Lion dragging lioness (c) Fabio v.d Westhuizen

Even more interesting is the fact that the lions that seem to have killed the lioness spent some time feeding on her carcass, lions have on the very rare occasion been known to cannibalize each other, this is less common and not often witnessed.

Male lion feeding on lioness

Feeding on the carcass (c) Fabio v.d Westhuizen

This very rare sighting witnessed by the EcoTraining students paints a picture into the harsh reality of lions and their somewhat cruel yet natural territorial behaviour.

World Rhino Day | 22 September 2019

On September the 22nd, 2019 we celebrate World Rhino Day. Rhinos once roamed throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, and were depicted by early Europeans in cave paintings. Within historical times, rhinos were still widespread across Africa’s savannas and Asia’s tropical forests. On a single day, numerous amounts of rhinos could be seen in large herds, now if you are lucky enough you may get to see one when out on Safari in the African Bush. Today, very few rhinos survive outside protected areas. And almost all five species are threatened, primarily through poaching.

World Rhino Day was first established in 2010 in South Africa, this day has now gained international recognition and it is celebrated by a variety of organizations and individuals from around the world.

World Rhino Day celebrates all five of the surviving species:

  1. Southern white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum)
  2. Northern white rhinoceros or northern square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni)
  3. Southern-central black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor)
  4. South-western black rhino (Diceros bicornis occidentalis)
  5. East African black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli)

At EcoTraining we are cognoscente of the important role that rhino play in both tourism and conservation and we are, therefore grateful to the founders of this day and the huge amount of work that has been done to make it the worldwide phenomenon that it has become in such a short space of time.

How can you tell the difference between black and white rhino?

Size: Firstly, the white rhino is a lot larger in size in comparison to the black rhino. A white rhino female weighs about 1, 700kg and the male about 2,300 kg, compared with a black rhino which weighs between 800 – 1,400 kg.

The white rhino is considerably larger than the black rhino and has a distinctive ‘barrel-shaped’ body. The black rhino is slighter, smaller and more compactly built than its counterpart due to the different habitats they roam.

two white rhinos

White rhinos

Body shape:  The white rhino is much longer, bigger and weightier looking, whereas the black rhino is shorter and more compact.

black rhino facing

Black rhino (c) David Batzofin

Feeding and mouth structure: One of the greatest differences between the two is the shape of their mouths. A white rhino has a very broad, flat, wide lip, which makes perfect sense as it is a grazer and requires a mouth designed for feeding on grass. A black rhino is a browser and feeds on leaves, shoots and branches. As a result, it has a more pointed soft beak-like prehensile lip, which it uses to grab hold branches than can often be very spikey.

Horn: The white rhino has longer front horn with a much shorter second horn. The black rhino tends to have a slightly shorter front horn and longer second, meaning that its two horns are more similar in length.

Habitat: Although the habitats of black and white rhino may sometimes overlap, there are definitely specific areas that you would expect to see either a black or a white rhino. A white rhino will typically be found in grasslands or in areas that are open, whereas a black rhino will be found in thickets and dense bushes this is again due to their feeding habits.

These are just a few differences between these mighty giants.

oxpecker on rhino

Oxpecker on a rhino (c) David Batzofin

The Poaching Crisis:

The current rhino poaching crisis began in 2008, with massive numbers of rhinos killed for their horn throughout Africa. From around 2016 there has thankfully been a decrease in the number of rhinos poached across Africa since the peak of 1,349 poached in 2015.

However, there are still two and a half rhinos killed every single day: there is still a lot more to do.

South Africa holds nearly 80% of the world’s rhinos and has been the country hit hardest by poachers, with more than 1,000 rhinos killed each year between 2013 and 2017.

Africa Rhino stats from 2008 to 2018

South Africa & Africa Rhino Poaching Stats 2006 – 2018 (c) Save The Rhino

At 769 recorded poaching incidents in South Africa in 2018, poaching numbers are still high. As you can see in the graph above the numbers show a decrease in both South Africa and Africa as a whole in comparison to 2017, when a whopping number of 1,028 rhino were poached in South Africa.

According to Save The Rhino this positive sign does not mean rhinos are now thriving. It shows at least two rhinos were killed each day in 2018. Furthermore, the cumulative impact of the poaching crisis is taking its toll, as well as the prolonged drought affecting food and water resources.

This decline in the amount of rhino poached may demonstrate that the anti-poaching work taking place is having an effect, or it could also mean that there are significantly fewer rhinos surviving in the wild, therefore it is getting harder for poachers to locate them.

Rhino in the bush

White rhino (c) David Batzofin

Do you know what a rhino’s horn is made of?

Rhino horn is made up primarily of keratin – a protein found in our hair and fingernails, as well as animal hooves. To get more technical about it, the rhinoceros’ horn is a chemical complex and contains large quantities of sulphur-containing amino acids, particularly cysteine, as well as tyrosine, histidine, lysine, and arginine, and the salts calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate.

What is rhino horn used for?

In traditional Asian medicine, rhino horn has been used for more than 2,000 years to treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. It also states that the horn could also cure snakebites, hallucinations, typhoid, headaches, carbuncles, vomiting, food poisoning, and “devil possession.” When used, the horn is shaved or ground into a powder, before being dissolved in boiling water and consumed. As seen in the graph above, in 2008 there was a massive increase in demand for rhino horn, this was due to the false belief that it could cure cancer.

Have you heard that rhino horn is used as an aphrodisiac? The most popular belief in Western countries is that rhino horn is used as an aphrodisiac, but this is not correct and seems to have been misunderstood or misinterpreted by Western media. However, research has shown that people in Vietnam are starting to, unfortunately, believe that this rumour is true.  There has been a recent surge in demand for rhino horn in Vietnam, where it is being used as a hangover cure.

The international trade of rhino horn is banned under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora). In recent years in South Africa, there has been a call to legalise the trade of rhino horn, this in itself it a whole new debate, if you want to know more about this, the Department of Environmental Affairs wrote this paper.

white rhino with calf

White rhino cow & calf (c) David Batzofin

 

Shiluva on game drive

Shiluva on game drive (c) David Batzofin

Shiluva pictures above, is from the Makuleke Community just outside the Northern Kruger National Park and is on the EcoTraining 1-year Professional Field Guide Course. She grew up hearing folk tales from here parents and elders about the magnificent rhinoceros. Listen as Shiluva tells the story of how the hippo lost its horn, and how the rhino ended up with two!

Have you seen or heard about rhinos being dehorned? Watch the EcoTraining TV YouTube video to find out more:

So, after hearing all the stories and learning about the rhino do you think you are up to the task of taking our EcoTraining Rhino Quiz? Click here to see how clued up you are about rhinos and their conservation.

With World Rhino Day in mind, let’s all do our part and sharing this message of rhino conservation far and wide.

Hyena in mud

The highly intelligent hyena

It sometimes seems that the trio of hyaenas from Disney’s famous movie the Lion King is a representation of the species as a whole. There can be nothing further from the truth, as hyenas are not cowardly, skulking scavengers that they are made out to be.

Found in most wilderness regions of sub-Saharan Africa, the spotted hyena plays a very important role in many African eco-systems.

Much like other animals that have stripes or spots, the pattern on each animal is unique, allowing for easy identification.

Spotted hyena on the grass

Spotted Hyena (c) David Batzofin

These large animals can be found is a vast variety of habitats and have even been found at altitudes as high as 4,100m!

Although they have their cubs in a den, they do like to lie in shaded hollows, culverts and even pools of water during the heat of the day. If you have ever had the privilege to travel to Tanzania or Kenya, you will see hyenas wallowing midday like a hippo in muddy pools of water.

Hippo and hyena in the water

Hyena and hippo in East Africa (c) Tayla McCurdy

Most people believe that hyena scavenges the majority of their food, but this is not necessarily the truth. They kill up to 95% of their food, with the remaining percentage being scavenged or stolen. Hyenas have excellent hearing and can hear the sound of predators on a kill from up to 10 km away. They will eat almost anything on offer, including fish, pythons and tortoises if nothing else is available. The amount of scavenging versus the amount of hunting a hyena does is all dependent on the population dynamics of other large predators in the region.

Hyenas in East Africa

Hyenas (c) Tayla McCurdy

Hyenas exert a far greater bite pressure than any other land predator on the continent, they can crush bones that other carnivores cannot eat.

The main rivalry for hyenas are lions. And in many areas, where lions do exist, hyenas are regarded as the dominant apex predator. In the Ngorongoro Crater in Northern Tanzania, hyenas and lions are in a constant battle with each other, in what can only be described as a gladiator’s arena of life and death where often, due to numbers and cunning, hyenas are the victor.

Living in clans as they do, they can be observed to be extremely social. And considering that these clans can exceed 50 in number, it is no easy task. The clans are matriarchal, as the females are larger than their male counterparts and can outweigh them by as much as 30%.

Hyenas communicate via a range of vocalizations varying from whoops and grunts to almost demented human-like laughter. Hence they are often referred to as ‘Laughing Hyenas’. Each call has a specific use and is therefore easily distinguished and interpreted by the rest of the clan. Sitting and listening to a pack of hyenas as they call to each other in the dead of night, is a cacophony that will not be easily forgotten.

When cubs are born at the den site, they get to interact with each other and thus build up a clan hierarchy. The female offspring of the dominant matriarch is known as a Princess and will be afforded special privileges by the rest of the clan.

Hyena and cub

Hyena and cub (c) David Batzofin

Built like they are running uphill; they can attain speeds of up to 60 kph, however, more importantly, they maintain that speed for long period of time, enabling them to tier their prey out before catching it and ripping it to shreds.

Female hyenas have a pseudo-penis, making the animals difficult to sex when young, though as adults’, females are easily noticeable due to their size and weight difference to the males. Clans are territorial and will defend their areas aggressively. They mark their areas with dung and a pungent paste secreted from their anal glands.

Hyenas are one of the most intelligent animals on the African continent and arguably the most intelligent predator bar the African Wild Dog.

So, the next time you are on a Safari and encounter these amazing creators, take the time to watch them and learn more about their complex and interesting behaviours.

If you want to know more about EcoTraining, have a look at our website and some of the courses we offer.

Watch and listen to the incredible sounds below in an EcoTraining TV video.

Running Batty for Bats | by Megan Loftie-Eaton

Do you love mangoes, bananas and coffee? You have the bats to thank for that!

They are the unsung heroes of nature, often misunderstood and feared by people, they play a vital role in keeping our ecosystems healthy. From pollination and seed dispersal to keeping insect populations in check, we have bats to thank for all that.

Picture of an African Yellow Ba

African Yellow Bat (c) Megan Loftie-Eaton

Bats around the world play crucial ecological roles that support ecosystem health and human economies. Many bat species consume vast amounts of insects, including some of the most damaging agricultural pests. A single bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects every hour, and each bat usually eats 6,000 to 8,000 insects every night! Some of their favourite prey include crop-destroying moths, cucumber beetles, flies and mosquitos. Natural insect control is their speciality.

Image of a Wahlberg's Epauletted Fruit Bat

Wahlberg’s Epauletted Fruit Bat

Fruit-eating bats pollinate many valuable plants, ensuring the production of fruits that support not just local economies, but diverse animal populations too. We have a lot to be grateful for because of the existence of bats. Fruit bats excrete seeds from the ripe fruit they eat. They do this in flight, often a considerable distance from the parent tree. The seeds, which are packed into their own fertilizer (guano), then grow into new fruit trees, helping to regenerate forests. Some bats also drink nectar from flowers and — like sunbirds, bees, and butterflies — pollinate the flowers. Overall, bats are irreplaceable in sustaining their forest habitats, which would simply disappear without them.

Image of a Mauritian Tomb Bat

Mauritian Tomb Bat (c) Megan Loftie-Eaton

Unfortunately, about 40 percent of bat populations worldwide are in danger of going extinct. Bats are slow at reproducing. Most species give birth to only one pup a year, which means they cannot quickly rebuild their populations. Much of the blame for declining bat populations rests on human shoulders. Bats can be poisoned when they consume insects that have been sprayed with synthetic pesticides. But the biggest problem for the bat population is the loss of natural habitat. Many bats prefer to roost in dead or dying trees under the loose and peeling bark, or in tree cavities. Some prefer to roost in caves or caverns. Populations have dwindled and diversity has suffered without the protection of these important natural roosts.

So, I have decided to run 50 miles for bat conservation and to raise awareness about the importance of bats. I’m batty enough to run the Karkloof 50 Miler on 21 September 2019 in support of bats! But I need your help. I’m raising money for ReWild NPC, a local NGO in Phalaborwa. They do amazing work to rescue and rehabilitate bats, as well as to educate the public on the importance of bats.

ReWild NPC helps wildlife that has been injured or orphaned and, when they are ready, return them to the wild. But they do far more than this! They help with human-bat conflict resolution, they help farmers to use bats to control crop pests, they make bat houses and apply many other bat conservation measures.

Megan training for the 50 Miler

Megan training for the 50 Miler (c) Lowveld Trail Running

Please help me to raise crucial funds for bat conservation and ReWild NPC by donating to my campaign on GivenGain.

If you want to learn more, maybe take this week EcoTraining Quiz.

If you want to do more for wildlife or are just generally interested and want to learn more about our natural world, have a look at the courses we have to offer.

 

Chacma baboon

Baboons and their behavior | All you need to know

Certainly not one of the Big 5 and not on many viewing bucket lists, baboons are often seen as a pest. Yet their social structures hold a mirror up to modern human society. Our quirks, traits and behaviours’ are often seen to be similar within their social structures.

Chacma baboon

Chacma baboon (c) David Batzofin

They are social creatures that live in large troops, which have a definite hierarchy. Family orientated, they participate in mutual grooming sessions and food sharing. Much like humans, they have a set daily routine, which involves waking up at a set time, going about their daily business and then settling down again at night.

Baboons are omnivores, eating a wide array of meats and plants. Typical foods in a baboon’s diet include grasses, fruits, seeds, roots, bark, rodents, birds and small or young mammals when the opportunity arises.

Chacma baboon

Chacma baboon (c) David Batzofin

If you are a regular visitor to the bush, you will be familiar with the loud barking sound that they make. What people don’t know is that they are capable of making around 30 different vocalizations. These include some most un-baboon like grunts and screams. They also have a series of non-vocal communication gestures.

The Chacma baboon is the largest of the species. In 2010, the fossil skull of a two million years old individual was discovered near Johannesburg in South Africa.

Similar to hamsters, baboons have cheek pouches in which they can store food. This helps while they are foraging as it can be brought back to a safe area to be eaten.

Mothers and babies have a special bond and the baby will remain close to its mother for at least the first four months before it is allowed to interact with other youngsters. After birth they are carried under the belly of the mother, graduating to riding on her back when they are older.

Chacma baboon

Chacma baboon (c) David Batzofin

Chacma baboon

Chacma baboon (c) David Batzofin

The dominant males will often interact with the youngsters and will be seen to be grooming as well as disciplining them should the need arise.

Chacma baboon

Chacma baboon (c) David Batzofin

Despite what local farmers think of this primate, it was revered in Ancient Egypt for its intelligence. It is still seen as the guardian of the dead in the Underworld.

Perhaps we do not give them enough credit for their contribution to the wildlife tapestry of Africa. Or perhaps it is just the fact that they are seen as too representative of us, but baboons are here to stay and should be embraced rather than reviled and rejected.

Chacma baboon

Chacma baboon (c) David Batzofin

Want to know more about baboons, watch our video on EcoTraining TV on YouTube to find out more.

lion

World Lion Day | 10 August 2019

No matter how many times you have witnessed a pride of lions when out on a game drive, or if you have been lucky enough to have had an encounter on foot, your heart will always beat faster and the adrenaline will flow that much quicker. Today, the 10th of August 2019 we celebrate World Lion Day with some interesting facts.

Lion Pride

Pride of Lions at Karongwe Game Reserve

Although often referred to as the ‘King of the Jungle’, you will often find lions in grasslands, open plains, or near a water source.

Try sitting next to a lion while it is vocalizing! Their roar can be heard up to 8km. Lions can vocalize as soon as they are born, but they only begin to roar when they are around one year old.

Although weighing in at an average of 180kg, the heaviest wild lion ever recorded was in 1936; a male lion weighing 313kg, which is very unusual for a lion; especially in the wild. The lion is the second-largest cat, with the tiger being bigger and heavier.

Whatever you do, don’t try to outrun them! They can reach speeds of up to 80km/h, but only in short bursts as they lack the stamina for lengthy chases. A cheetah which is the fastest mammal averages speeds of 100 – 120 km/h so if you think about it the lion is not too far off.

Contrary to what you may think, they are not the most successful predators, with less than 75% of their chases ending in a kill. Their most successful hunts usually happen under the cover of darkness. “Lions are the archetypal apex predator, but their hunting success rate strongly depends on the number of lions involved – a single lion hunting in daylight has a success rate of 17% – 19%, but this increases for those hunting as a group to 30%. Of 1,300 hunts observed in the Serengeti, nearly half involved only one animal, 20% involved two and the rest a group of (normally) between three and eight individuals.” – Discover Wildlife

That being said, their night vision is impeccable, along with their highly developed sense of smell and great hearing, their most advanced sense would have to be their eyesight. Lions are able to see eight times better than us at night, which is amazing as during the day our eyesight is not that different.

A pride can spend between 18 – 20 hours a day resting and conserving energy. They will only become active at dusk or if the need arises during the day.

Due to loss of habitat and exponential human population growth, the African lion population has been reduced by half since the 1950s.

Having once roamed the entire globe, lions are now only found in Africa and a small group that call the Gir Forest in India home.

The ultimate goal of World Lion Day is to be both educational and informative and create awareness surrounding lions and other conservation challenges we face.

Lioness

Lioness (c) Constantin Schmittmann

Want to know more about lions? Have a look at the EcoTraining YouTube Channel to learn more.

 

elephant encounter

World Ranger Day 2019

July 31st we celebrated World Ranger Day. And by extension, it should also be celebrated as World Field Guide Day.

If you are a Field Guide, Game Ranger or involved in the conservation and eco-tourism industry, then thank you for your time and dedication. We appreciate all those who put in the effort every day to conserve and teach those around us about Africa and the majestic wilderness that surrounds us. If you have ever thought about learning more or getting involved in the industry, whether as a full-time profession or just to learn and broaden your knowledge, then read on…

If your answer is yes, and joining the guiding industry is something that you are passionate about? Or perhaps you just want to up-skill your bushcraft. If either of these is an option, then an EcoQuest course might just be what you are looking for.

Instructor Mike Anderson point of tracks

Instructor Mike Anderson point of tracks (c) David Batzofin

If you find yourself on Safari or on a game drive with friends, and your thirst for knowledge and your need to know more about the wilderness around you is too much, then look no further than an EcoTraining EcoQuest Course.

The course is a ‘snapshot‘ of the Professional Field Guide Course that we offer.

Tree Squirrel

Tree Squirrel (c) David Batzofin

Time in the bush is not always about dangerous game and encounters with those that have teeth, claws and horns.

It is also about taking time to appreciate the ‘smaller’ inhabitants and how they contribute to a particular eco-system.

Game Rangers

(c) David Batzofin

Some of the course’s unique selling points are:

The EcoQuest courses can be tailored to suit individuals or groups.

Participants can sign up for either a 7 or 14-day course, depending on how much time they have at their disposal.

Do you have a speciality that you would like to highlight?

We can structure your course time to focus on that.

It is an immersive experience, in world-class wilderness regions.

Baboon skull

Baboon skull (c) David Batzofin

The course is designed to inform, educate and entertain. Finding skulls and identifying them is just one of the activities that can be experienced during an outing.

Flower

(c) David Batzofin

Each of the EcoTraining camps in South Africa,  Selati, Karongwe, Pridelands and Makuleke are situated in different biomes.

Thus making the vegetation very different.

bug

(c) David Batzofin

Did you know that there are about 100,000  insect species in South Africa?

Most of the reading material only mentions a fraction of these, however, you can find out more about some of those on the walks from the various EcoTraining camps where this course is presented.

Luckily, most of the species found in South Africa are harmless but it does help to know which might sting or bite.

Elephant tracks

Elephant tracks (c) David Batzofin

What does the EcoQuest course cover?

The course consists of drives, walks and lectures.

Each activity covers flora, fauna as well as tracking and spoor identification.

Termite mound

A termite mound (c) David Batzofin

Aside from the underground construction by this insect, termites also build these above-ground structures.

They can vary in height and are made out of clay that is stuck together with saliva. Should a portion of this mound be broken, they can repair it in record time.

Sunset in the African bush

Sunset in the African bush (c) David Batzofin

Walking back to camp as the sun sets.

A perfect ending to a day filled with exciting new experiences.

Camp fire

Campfire (c) David Batzofin

Share experiences around a roaring campfire.

There are stories to be told and it is here where friendships are made and lifetime bonds formed.

 

EcoTraining Managing Director, Anton Lategan sat down with David Batzofin and shared his hopes and dreams for EcoTraining.
Where we have come from and where we are going. Listen to the interview here.

Impala

Underrated | by Emma Summers

When you come to the beautiful continent of Africa what animals are on on the top of your list to see? Elegant Cheetahs, gigantic Elephants, magnificent Lions, prehistoric Rhinos and maybe the curious Giraffe and stripy Zebra, they probably all made the list. There is one species of animal that is commonly overlooked on a game drive, an animal that is probably one of the most numerous animals that you will see in the African bush, an animal that when the initial excitement of seeing it has worn off, it tends to get ignored.

I’m talking about an antelope, specifically the beautiful and elegant reddish-brown Impala. I can understand why people take them for granted after all it’s pretty rare to go on a game drive and not see them, which means that it’s all too easy for people to take them for granted, brushing them off as ‘’oh its just another herd of Impala’’, rather than marvelling in the magnitude of these animals. The Impala is one of the most successful, perfectly adapted species in Africa, in fact, they are so perfectly designed that as a species their form has barely changed in the last 5 million years.

So, what is the difference between an antelope and a deer that you might find at home? A male deer will shed and regrow his horns every year, while an antelope’s horns are permanent. Many a time I have been on game drives and seen antelope with broken horns, more than likely lost in battle with another male. Deer also have branched horns and antelope don’t.

Impala Ram

Let’s address one popular misunderstanding about Impalas. Its has long been a rumour that female Impalas can delay the birth of their young by up to a month if the conditions aren’t right. This rumour may prove to be more myth than fact. Impalas are synchronised breeders, the rutting season normally starts in May resulting in lots of baby Impalas being born in November and December, when the first rains start to replenish the African bush, resulting in plenty of food for the lactating mother. But what happens when the rains are late, and conditions aren’t right for the baby Impalas to survive?  The birth canal of an Impala is only so big, so in order to delay the birth of a foetus, she would also need to be able to stop it from growing, which is highly unlikely.  What is more likely that any babies born early are the ones that were conceived first when the rutting season started, if the rains are late and there is no food about then these calves will simply die before we even know that they exist and the ones that are born a week or two later are the ones that survive. It is also possible for a female, early in the pregnancy to reabsorb the foetus or later to abort the foetus if the conditions aren’t favourable.

Impala calf

Due to environmental conditions and the fact that baby Impalas are a tasty snack for any predator, it is thought that only half the newborn Impalas will survive. This might sound harsh, but the rule of nature is one of survival of the fittest and because there are so many born in such a short space of time half of them survive. To Impalas safety in numbers and a high birth rate is an important survival strategy that has served them well for thousands of years.

Impalas have beautiful glossy coats. This is the result of them spending large amounts of time attending to their personal grooming. They have modified teeth, their lower incisors are slightly loose and can splay open, turning their teeth into a comb that can effectively get rid of parasites and dirt. They are also allo-groomers which means that Impala will help each other clean those harder to reach places.

Impala allo grooming

Just like us, Impalas feel the cold and when they get cold, the hair on their bodies stands up. This helps them trap a layer of air close to their skin, which helps insulate them against the cold.  It’s not unusual on a winter’s morning to see the Impalas gleaming coats take on a darker, fluffier and duller appearance. Do you know what the erection of hair is called? Drop us a comment below and let us know.

When you are a prey species it is important that you can blend into the background and that stand a chance of outrunning any animal that will try to make you its dinner. The colouring of an Impala helps make them appear two dimensional to predators. When you look at an impala, you will notice that their stomachs are white, their flanks are light brown and their backs are a darker shade brown. This is called countershading and it helps to break up their form enabling them to blend into the background.  They are also incredibly agile, when they need to, they can jump 3m high and up to 12m long and they can run up to 80kmp.

Impala Herd

These are just some of the amazing facts about these elegant animals. Next time you see them please don’t just drive by them, rather stop and spend some time marvelling and observing these magnificent animals. After all the African bush comprises of more than the Big 5 and in our ecosystem, every animal is important.

If you want to know any more fact about Impala, have a look at EcoTraining TV on YouTube or read more on the blog about Impala.

YouTube Video

EcoTraining TV | Learn the facts: All you need to know about Impala

 

10 things you did not know about Hippo

It seems unfair that the Hippo did not make it onto the Big 5 list. Surely, since they are the 3rd largest land mammal after the elephant and the white rhino, and they are considered to be the most dangerous, they deserve some sort of recognition? That being said there are many stories and legends about the huge ‘River Horse’.

Hippo in water

David Batzofin (cc)

Here are some of the facts that you might not know about this fearsome creature:

  1. Given the right conditions, a hippo can live up to 40 years.
  2. When hippos bask in the sun, they secrete a red, oily substance. This has given rise to the myth that they ‘sweat blood’. The liquid is a natural sunblock and moisturizer.
  3. Although it seems that hippos can submerge for inordinately long periods of time, they need to surface every 3-5 minutes to breathe. This is a natural reflex and can be done even when the animal is sleeping.
  4. Despite their bulk, hippos can attain speeds of up to 30 km per hour over short distances.
  5. They spend most of their time in the water although they leave the water in the cooler parts of the day and night in order to forage for vegetation. They have been known to walk up to 10km in order to find food. Considering their bulk, the fact that they can consume up to 68kg in a night is a relatively small amount.
  6. Hippo’s are not only territorial in water, but it is also when they are out of the water that hippo can be extremely aggressive towards humans. They have been called the most dangerous animal in Africa as they have been known to cause many a death, especially in communities that are near or are surrounded by water.
  7. Much like the Rock Hyrax is the closest living relatives to the elephant, the hippo is closely related to whales and porpoises. Albeit that their evolutionary paths diverged about 55 million years ago.
  8. Both reproduction and birth take place in water, and it is here that the huge bulls become fiercely territorial. Adult males have been known to injure or kill both females and youngsters when competing for space.
  9. Hippos can neither swim nor float! They give that impression while they are in the water, when in fact they are walking along the bottom surface.
  10. Often seen rearing up out of the water, mouth agape, this is not a yawn but a sign of aggression. Accompanied by a loud series of grunts and honks, it is a warning not to be taken lightly.

David Batzofin (cc)

A famous South African hippo:

One of the most famous South African hippos was Huberta (originally called Hubert, she was correctly named after her death). Her fame lasted for three years as she walked several thousands of kilometre from KwaZulu Natal to King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape back in 1928. No one knows what started her walking, but she certainly captured the attention of the media, both local and international during this time.

Hippo up close

David Batzofin (cc)

An African myth about hippos:

How the hippo came to live in the water is one story that is often repeated around an evening campfire. Many millennia ago, most of the African animals lived together on land and only very few could be found in the rivers and lakes. The baking hot sun caused many of them discomfort, but they were lucky and had feathers, fur or scales to protect them from the energy-sapping rays. However, Hippo’s skin had none of that protection and as he grew in size his skin stretched and became extremely sensitive to the harsh rays of the sun. Finally, Hippo could endure it no more. He asked the Creator if he could live in the water to keep cool and protect his sensitive skin. “You may”, said the Creator. “You must ask the permission of those already living in the water as you are large, and they fear that you will eat all their food”. To allay their fears, Hippo explained that he did not eat fish, but only consumed the vegetation that could be found on the riverbanks. As the river inhabitants were still sceptical, Hippo made them the following solemn promise. “I will open my mouth wide every day, in order for you to see that there are no fish bones or scales in my mouth. And I will use my tail to spread my dung, to prove that there no bones” Finally, the river animals were convinced and from that day forth, the hippo has lived in the water, opening his mouth and spreading his dung. The next time you come across a hippo, take a moment and give it the respect that it deserves.

Hippo in water

David Batzofin (cc)

Do you have any specific questions about hippos you would like answered? Is there another specific non-Big 5 animal you would like us to write about? Drop us a comment below and we will respond to you.

Or if you want to learn more about the bush have a look at the career courses we offer, or if you want to teach those that aspire to become guides have a look at what jobs are available with EcoTraining.

 

Impala ram

The Impressive Impala

Believe it or not, impala are one of a kind! They are the only member of the genus Aepyceros that falls under the Bovidae family (which includes buffalo, sheep, goats, and cows). However, there are two sub-species, the common impala and the very rare black-faced impala, found only in Namibia and Angola.

Being an apex prey species, this graceful animal can jump up to 3m in height and 10m in length. Combine that with speeds of up to 60km/h and you will realize that they have an amazing skill set to evade predators. This being said, they sometimes, literally, just jump for joy. ‘Impala’ is the Zulu word for ‘gazelle’.

Only the males have horns, which are used for defence as well as an attack during the mating season. The horns take several years to reach full length and that is the reason that younger males do not challenge for dominance. A gland on the forehead of the rams produces a scent that informs their rivals of their status.

Impala image

David Batzofin (cc)

There is a common theory that female impala, have been known to delay giving birth if the weather conditions are harsh. Impala young are born in the middle of the day when their main predators are resting. The females synchronize their birthing so that there are large numbers of young as up to half of the newborns are killed within their first few weeks. Twice as many females as males are born annually.

David Batzofin (cc)

Impalas have to drink every day, but as predators’ frequent waterholes at dawn or dusk, the impala is often seen drinking in the hottest part of the day when the chance of being attacked is reduced.

Most of the cat species will prey on both the adult impala as well as the youngsters and new-born. Baboons have been known to kill and eat smaller individuals as well.

Impalas are social animals and are usually never seen alone. Females and youngsters will live together in mixed herds with a dominant male, while the males will live in bachelor herds. There is an increase of males in a herd during the rutting season. Herd living has the advantage of confusing predators when they scatter.

There is another theory that surrounds impala (that has yet to be proven. It is thought that they produce a scent from glands on their hind legs, this scent is released when they kick high when they are airborne. The purpose of the scent is to enable the herd to regroup after they have scattered. Covering a wide range, they will migrate seasonally depending on food availability.

David Batzofin (cc)

Do you have any specific questions about Impala you would like answered?

Drop us a comment below and we will respond to you.

If you want to know more about impala have a look at the video on EcoTraining TV or if you are interested in learning first hand about African wildlife have a look at the courses we offer.

YouTube Video

EcoTraining TV | Learn the facts: All you need to know about Impala

Zebra and wildebeest migration_edited

Zebras | Facts and fallacies surrounding them

Zebras are fascinating creatures and there are many facts and fallacies surrounding them. Known for their black and white stripes and their migratory behaviour, these animals are actually very unique and adaptable. Like a finger print, a zebras stripe patterns are different from zebra to zebra. It is said that their stripes appear unattractive to small bloodsucking predators like horseflies that can spread disease. There is so much to this wild animal and we invite you to take a look as some frequently asked unusual questions about the zebra (which could help you if you are thinking of doing an EcoTraining Course).

Willie van Eeden (cc)

 

Question 1: Is a zebra black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

Despite what you might think, a zebra is actually black with white stripes. Certain zebra species do not have belly stripes, leading to the belief that white was the predominant colour. But current research has shown conclusively that the underlying colour is black and the white is an overlying fur.

Fun fact: Zebras are an odd-toed ungulate belonging to the Perissodactyla order which also includes rhinos and tapirs.

Question 2: Why do they have stripes?

Their coat is thought to help disperse the heat of the hot African sun as the black stripes are light absorbing and the white stripes are reflective. The air moving over these stripes creates a cooling current, almost like an individual air conditioner for each animal.

Question 3: How many zebra species are there?

There are three, two of which, the Plains zebra (Equus quagga) and the Mountain zebra (Equus zebra) can be found in South Africa. The Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi) is the rarest of the three and is found only in Kenya and Ethiopia. It is the largest and most imposing of the three and is often referred to as the Imperial zebra.

Question 4: Can you ride a zebra?

It has been done in circuses, but is not recommended. They can be aggressive and bad tempered and will bite and kick with no provocation. Their backs are not strong enough to support the weight of an adult rider.

Fun fact: The legs of a newborn Zebra are the same length at those of the adults in the herd. This has the effect of confusing predators who cannot distinguish the youngsters from the adults.

Question 5: What sound does a zebra make?

Much like domesticated horses, they will snort and nicker. But they can also bray similar to a donkey which a horse cannot replicate. This bray can be heard from a long distance and is often used to find a potential mate.

Fun fact: Zebra stallions are protective of their females and will often attack other male intruders. Their defense mechanisms include kicking and biting. Male zebras can often be seen without tails, that have been removed in a fight with a member of their own species.

Question 6: How fast can they run?

They can get up to 65 kilometers per hour, often outrunning the slower predators. Foals can keep up with the herd within a few hours of being born.

Fun fact: Lions do not see in colour and as a result a black and white mass, moving at speed, can be totally confusing to them. This is why lions try to isolate individual animals when it comes to looking for a meal.

Willie van Eeden (cc)

 

As you can see, when it comes to the zebra, never judge a book by its cover (or in this case its colour). This fascinating species is extremely adaptable to its environment, even though they seem to stand out from the crowd. They may seem calm and gentle, but they do have a fierce wild side to them that allows them to survive and thrive.

Do you have any unusual questions about the Zebra you would like to know, drop us a comment or if you want any more facts about zebras have a look at the zebra video our YouTube page.

YouTube Zebra Video

 

 

 

Night game drive from Karongwe Camp

Night game drive is offered to students as an exciting and different experience when it comes to wildlife encounters.

David Batzofin (cc)

When you are driving in the bush and you come to a river crossing, do you

  1. A) Trundle through irrespective?
  2. B) Stop, look, wonder and THEN trundle through?

or

  1. C) Send a student to walk across and back?

Izaan, one of the EcoTraininings’ interns was only too keen to get her feet wet. As it turned out, it was a lot shallower than was first suspected.

David Batzofin (cc)

The roads in the northern area of Karongwe can be somewhat confusing, so finding this small herd of elephants took longer than expected. The search was not wasted, as assistant instructor Michael Anderson was able to use it as part of the EcoQuest curriculum.

This particular individual was rather disdainful of our presence and although she might look aggressive, she actually turned her back on us and continued eating!

David Batzofin (cc)

A breathtakingly beautiful African sunset ends another perfect day in the African bush. Vanishing as it did, first behind the tree line and then dipping below the horizon to awaken the Northern hemisphere. The participants were most impressed.

David Batzofin (cc)

As the sun vanished, the moon rose. Not yet a full moon, but offering enough light to make out more than just shapes in the impending darkness.

David Batzofin (cc)

An exciting sighting. We had actually heard this large lion vocalizing when we stopped for our evening drinks break. He sounded closer than he was but it was decided to cut the stop short to go and find him.

Lying on the warm sand of the dry river bed, he was in command of all that he surveyed. He astounded the group with an extended vocalization that reverberated off the walls of the river bank.

David Batzofin (cc)

Nature has an innate manner of throwing a curve ball when you least expect it. The EcoQuest group was heading back to camp when they surprised this White-tailed Mongoose crossing a road.

The largest of the mongoose family, it stopped momentarily before vanishing into the thick grass on the side of the road.

David Batzofin (cc)

Field guides have a ‘trick’ for entertaining guests by finding chameleons at night. Although not a single one was spotted in the beam of the spotlight, their place was usurped by a plethora of Lesser Bushbabies. These tiny creatures were everywhere and if not sitting quietly staring straight at us, they were leaping from tree to tree with amazing agility.

David Batzofin (cc)

The excitement was not over yet. The EcoQuest participants were treated to this awesome sight just a short way from the campsite. A young female leopard in hunting mode.

David Batzofin (cc)

While sitting at dinner, this male moth decided that he would pose in the torchlight at the dinner table.

A superb ending to an entertaining, informative and most educational night game drive.

 

World Giraffe Day | 21 June 2019

Indlulamithi – above the trees for World Giraffe Day.

Today on the winter/summer solstice also know as the longest night in the Southern hemisphere or the longest day in the Northern hemisphere we celebrate a very special, unique, curious, long necked animal, the Giraffe.

So why is the 21st June World Giraffe day? This is a new annual event launched by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) to raise awareness of our iconic long-necked friends. Did you know that even though they are an iconic African species that very little research has been done on them, and because of this the tallest mammal of the African bush has been disappearing right under our noses? According to the ICUN it is now thought that there are less than 69000 mature Giraffes left across the African Continent. This might sound like a healthy population number however; when you consider that over the last three decades Giraffe numbers have decreased by around 30-40%, a staggering amount, this population estimate is beginning to not look as good as it first you first thought.

The reasons why their numbers are declining is a familiar story. War, civil unrest, explosions in the human population, deforestation, habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, disease and poaching are all contributing to their decline.

The Giraffe should have one advantage over other animals, because of its height they can reach food that other animals can’t which means that they don’t compete with other wild or domestic animals for food. However; in countries like Niger, where people are cutting down trees for fire wood, to grow crops and to sell, the Giraffes started to raid peoples crops, which in turn meant that the animals were being viewed as pests.

Currently the ICUN acknowledges the giraffe as one species with nine different subspecies. The Giraffe as a species are listed as vulnerable to extinction and if you break it down into the nine subspecies you will see that some of these subspecies are in danger of disappearing completely –  the Nubian and Kordofan subspecies are critically endangered and the Reticulated subspecies is classified as endangered.  The giraffes that live in Eastern, Western and Central Africa with most of them living in scattered, fragmented populations are the ones that are under the greatest threat whereas the lucky subspecies that live in Southern Africa have more stable population figures, although they are also not immune to population decline.

In recent years there has been some hope. The West Africa subspecies population declined so drastically that by the mid-nineties there were only 49 left. They used to have an extensive range, but they disappeared everywhere except in a small ‘giraffe corridor’ in Niger.  Due to people recognizing the importance of them a massive conservation effort began. The Niger government gave them protected status and money was spent on anti-poaching. Thousands of Acacia trees, their favorite food have been planted, which helped to stop the Giraffes raiding people’s valuable crops.  Thanks to Giraffe conservation organizations like GCF working with local people awareness of the Giraffes plight has increased and people now see these Giraffes as a positive force as they provide them with and income and jobs. All this work has had positive results.  Their population numbers have increased and according to the ICUN there are now approximately 425 mature individuals. This success has enabled 8 West African Giraffes to be translocated to the protected Gadabedji Biosphere Reserve, an area they haven’t roamed for 50 years. Although this might sound like a small number these Giraffe have helped to increase the Biosphere Reserves biodiversity and most importantly these precious animals are helping to establish a second colony of West African Giraffe.

Now there we are researching Giraffe we are learning some interesting things. Thanks to genetic testing our assumptions that there are nine subspecies has been shown to be wrong and many questions are being raised. It has shown that there are four distinct species of Giraffe that have not interbreed for millions of years.  Some of these species of Giraffes also have subspecies.

Whilst this might seem like an academic argument, after all it doesn’t change the conservation status of these animals, it goes to show that there is still so much to learn about them. It is also hoped that with more research, by understating their genetic makeup and what makes each species of Giraffe unique that they will be able to come up with new conservation approaches that can save this amazing animal.

Masai giraffeGiraffa tippelskirchi35,000
Northern giraffeGiraffa camelopardalis5,600
 Kordofan giraffeG. c. antiquorum2,000
 Nubian giraffeG. c. camelopardalis3,000
 West African giraffeG. c. peralta600
Reticulated giraffeGiraffa reticulata15,780
Southern giraffeGiraffa giraffa54,750
 Angolan giraffeG. g. angolensis17,750
 South African giraffeG. g. giraffa37,000

(Source: GCF)

When humans put their minds to it, we can change the world and when we work together with nature rather than just considering our needs, we can create a positive change.

Learn more about Giraffe (EcoTraining TV)

Matabele ants at Karongwe Camp

Matabele ants get their name from the mighty Matabele tribe as they equally go to war with termites the same way the Matabele tribe use to overwhelm their adversaries.

David Batzofin (cc)

The participants on the EcoQuest course at Karongwe Camp came upon this Matabele Ant raiding party setting out. Also known as hissing ants because of the sound they emit, they live on a diet comprised solely of termites.

David Batzofin (cc)

Although the Matabele raiding party featured extensively during the morning drive, there was time to focus on other interesting interactions that were taking place close by. Like this African Harrier Hawk and Fork-tailed Drongo.

Equipped with long scaly legs and a long neck for getting into the cracks and crevices, the large grey raptor also known as a gymnogene was busy searching in this tree as to where chicks and eggs might be concealed.

In this scenario, it is possible that the Drongo did have a nest it was protecting. This relatively small bird will dive-bomb large raptors that are intent on killing their offspring or just out of defense.

David Batzofin (cc)

When first discovered, the participants watched as the raiding party set out in a very organized manner. Then, one of their scouts took a wrong turn, leading to total confusion within the party until the issue was resolved and they could move off with confidence.

David Batzofin (cc)

Another diversion, this time to take a moment to look at some of the flora that we can observe during morning activity. The Black Stick Lily is known as the Monkey’s Tail, derived from its Afrikaans name ‘Bobbejaan’s stert’ (Baboon’s Tail).

This is a resilient plant that can withstand extreme conditions and can also go for long periods of time without water. Their medicinal properties include the treatment of asthma and as an anti-inflammatory.

David Batzofin (cc)

Instructor, Michael Anderson, wondering what the result would be if he stuck his fist into the path of the returning raiding party. The bite of this ant, although not toxic to humans, can be very painful and can cause swelling.

David Batzofin (cc)

This particular species of ant is the only one that look after those that get injured during a raid. Much like the US Marines, they try not to leave anyone behind and will tend to the wounded on the site of the battle. The treatment is only carried out on individuals who have lost one or two limbs.

David Batzofin (cc)

From the time they left their nest until they returned with their spoils, less than an hour had elapsed. As they were not under constant surveillance, it is not certain as to how far they had to go to reach the termite mound.

David Batzofin (cc)

The returning raiding party with their spoils. As their diet consists only of termites, they returned with as many as they could carry. Interestingly enough a raiding party will not return to an already raided termite mound immediately. Thus giving the termites a chance to replenish their losses. These ants do not forage individually, but only as a large coordinated party.

David Batzofin (cc)

The successful and victorious raiding party disappears into the grass to share and enjoy the fruits of their labour with the rest of the colony.

Can you see yourself doing a bush walk?

The EcoQuest course is not all about dashing in a vehicle from one Big 5 sighting to the next. It is about becoming intimate with the ecosystems and the biodiversity of the area around the Karongwe camp.

Do you know what the largest rodent in South Africa is?

You never know what you will find in the African bush, especially if you decide to explore it on foot. There are so many creatures hiding away, all minding their own business. It is just a matter of what creature you will bump into next.

Birds of a feather flock together, especially Red-billed Quelea’s

Red-billed Quelea’s are a relatively common sight in a number of South Africa’s nature reserves and farmlands. These small seed eating birds can be predominantly seen flying from food source to food source and always in big numbers. These numbers will ebb and flow depending on the amount of food available and to make it quite difficult for predators to take any individual within the flock.

Always Expect the Unexpected

Professional Field Guide demonstrates safety first in a scary situation!

Snouted Cobra Sighting in Makuleke

The same species that was said to have killed Queen Cleopatra

A very close wildlife encounter

Working in nature in unfenced bush camps is a wonderful and frightening experience at the same time. We live and work in remote areas so wildlife encounters in camp occur quite often.

A Crash of Rhino

If you have ever heard them running, you will understand why…

Celebrating every Milestone in Rhino Conservation

Happy World Rhino Day 2018!  On this day we’d like to recognise the successes in the fight against the extinction of this majestic animal.

The Golden Orb Spider

If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty Orb spider your wife…

Matabele Ants known as Hissing Ants

A lesson about hard work and teamwork

The Makuleke Concession in the Kruger National Park is a Biodiversity Hotspot

Biological diversity or biodiversity is the variety of life around us, life of all kinds, from the largest animal to the smallest plant. Its complexity is measured in terms of variations at genetic, species and ecosystem levels.

10 Interesting facts about Elephants

Our EcoTraining unfenced bush camps are located in remote areas of beautiful concessions and game reserves. As such, our instructors and students are fortunate enough to experience frequent encounters with elephants, whether it be in camp or out in the wild.

Malaria, getting you up to scratch

Now here is an itchy subject. Malaria affects millions of people around the world. The disease has been wiped out in some places but is still rampant in tropical areas of the world. ‘Mal aria’ was a description of the “bad air” that was found in swampy areas and thought to be the cause of the disease.

Elephants – Nature’s ecosystem architects

People sometimes ask, that surely, if they cause this much damage, elephants must be bad for the environment and threaten the very survival of other animals around them?