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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.

What makes Kenya great again?

10 new things that everyone should know when Kenya forms part of their bucket list Safari

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.

 

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

 

EcoTraining student and instructor

Mandela Day and a tribute to Johnny Clegg | EcoTraining Mashatu Camp

In 2009, the United Nations declared that July 18th, Mabida’s birthday would be celebrated internationally as Mandela Day. In tribute to the 67 years that he fought for equality and social justice, communities, businesses and individuals were tasked with ‘giving back’ for 67 minutes.

What to expect from EcoTraining Karongwe Camp

Karongwe Camp is on the banks of the Karongwe River (mostly a dry river bed) in the 9,000ha (22 239-acre) Karongwe Game Reserve, which is to the south-west of the Kruger National Park. Three rivers flow through the reserve, all tributaries of the Olifants River, carving their way through the bedrock and dividing the reserve. So what can you expect from EcoTraining Karongwe Camp.

David Batzofin (cc)

Like all of the EcoTraining camps, the one at Karongwe is unfenced, giving course participants an immersive bush experience. This is the first view that new arrivals get to experience. New students arrive at around mid-day and are welcomed by the friendly EcoTraining staff contingent. After a short walk around the camp to orientate the participants, they are given time to settle into their accommodation before lunch is served.

David Batzofin (cc)

The thick foliage hides the tents from each other, allowing total privacy for the occupants. The spacious shared Meru tents fit two people comfortably and are equipped with two single beds and mattresses. There is also space to hang and store their belongings.

There are separate communal ablution facilities throughout the camp. And what can be more exciting than an outdoor shower?  With the open sky above and the river in front of you, it is a wonderful way to connect with Africa while washing off the dust from a game drive or an on-foot activity. 

David Batzofin (cc)

If you sit quietly, you might be privileged to indulge in a moment like this with the resident Nyala. They are not fed in the camp but use it as a refuge from predators while feeding and when their offspring are young. Many an unsuspecting and preoccupied student has stumbled into these on one of the paths. They are normally only encountered during daylight hours.

David Batzofin (cc)

The EcoTraining method of calling all in camp is to blow a Kudu horn. This alerts students to the start of meal times or lectures. It does take some practice to master, but the resulting sound is eco-friendlier than the raucous noise made by the ubiquitous Vuvuzela.

David Batzofin (cc)

Who says that pizza cannot be made in the bush? Certainly NOT the chef at Karongwe camp! This delicious example is a testament to her skills. All those in the camp were suitably impressed as it was not what was expected.

David Batzofin (cc)

When the EcoQuest group heads out on a game drive and this is where they decided to stop for an afternoon drinks sundowner. This stunning dam was home to more than one crocodile, but both the humans and the reptiles kept their distance and allowed the international participants on the EcoQuest course to fully enjoy their surroundings while sipping a beverage of their choice.

David Batzofin (cc)

If you are very lucky, you might get to spot a leopard when out on a drive. These elusive predators can hide in plain sight and are often only spotted in the rear view mirror! This young female was seen on an evening drive and as she was rather skittish when caught in our spotlight. As a result, a red filter was used instead of open white light. In this manner, the animal is not startled by the light but conversely, it makes colour photography difficult.

Dinners, especially after an exciting leopard encounter are the ideal time for participants and instructors to share thoughts and experiences around the glowing embers of the fire.

All meals, unless the weather is inclement, are enjoyed outdoors. Delicious food, like-minded company and the excitement of upcoming activities can be shared around a table.

The expression “Early to bed, early to rise” best describes the attitude of both staff and students alike and as a result, the camp settles down to where the only sounds are those that nature provides. Be it the snort of an Impala or the vocalizing of lions in the distance.

Mornings in camp, especially for those who are not used to being woken early can be a ‘struggle’. But the aroma of fresh coffee and the promise of an exciting day can have the most reticent student ready and raring to go in a short space of time.

The pre-breakfast activity can be a game drive or an on-foot experience. Once these have been completed, it is back to camp for a full, hot breakfast.

Students are given some time off  before a mid-morning lecture takes place.

David Batzofin (cc)

As part of the EcoQuest course, participants are treated to a series of lectures on a variety of topics. This one, on tracks and signs, was given by assistant instructor Michael Anderson before the group set off on a bush walk where they could put their newly found skills to the test.

David Batzofin (cc)

Lead by Assistant Instructor Michael Anderson and back up Trails Guide, Aagie van der Plaetse, this group on the EcoQuest course set off on an afternoon walk. The walks give the course participants a totally different perspective on their time spent in the bush. They focus on the biodiversity of the bush that game drives bypass.

David Batzofin (cc)

This stunning flower is part of the Pea family. Although these are visible on game drives, it is only when one gets up close on a walk that their innate beauty can be appreciated to the full.

David Batzofin (cc)

The Aardvark that left this sign is predominantly a nocturnal animal. Getting to see one during the day is an experience that not many to get to enjoy. That being said, this tentative digging was an indication that there was one in the vicinity and that with perseverance it might get seen at some point. 

David Batzofin (cc)

It is not only the large webs of the ubiquitous Golden Orb spiders that can turn one into a dancer almost immediately.

This tiny Kite spider, which is part of the Orb web family, almost turned some of the EcoQuest participants into ballroom specialists when they walked into the edge of its web!

 

An EcoQuest course is the ideal way to sharpen your bush skills, improve your mental well being as well as being the ideal break from the hustle and bustle of regular urban lives.

 

Learn about Butterflies Day – Butterfly Flutterby

To celebrate ‘Learn about Butterflies Day’, EcoTraining Instructor, David Havemann shares his fondness towards certain butterflies in Southern Africa. These beautiful flying insects are more than just a pretty sight, they also have many fascinating features that most people do not even know about.

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.

My life changed in Africa, so I changed with it

“I was born and raised in the Netherlands, amongst the shadows of concrete building and perfectly manicured parks. In a country where at that time had hardly any wildlife left. It was in 1996 when I visited Africa for the first time for our honeymoon and I was eager to see elephants in the wild.”

10 Tips on how to Survive Hot Summer Camping in South Africa

One thing to keep in mind is that South African summers can get very hot. How hot you might ask? It’s not unusual for it to get as high as the mid 30 degrees to low 40 degrees Celsius.  If you are not used to or have not been exposed to these extreme temperatures, you might wonder how you will ever survive this scorching heat.

Always Expect the Unexpected

Professional Field Guide demonstrates safety first in a scary situation!

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…

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.

What type of guide do you want to be?

FGASA (Field Guide Association of Southern Africa) and EcoTraining will help you plan your guiding career by sharing an overview of the various types of guiding and options available to you.

A wilderness Photographer who became a professional Field Guide

People come to EcoTraining for a variety of reasons. Some want to become safari guides. Some want a gap year of adventure. Some just want to learn. Then you get some who want to be better photographers.

Hyenas are not the ‘Underdogs’ of Wild

If you look closely at them you will see their scars – proof of battles won and lost, proof that they are born survivors.

Zebra and wildebeest migration_edited

The Kenya Safari Guide programme with EcoTraining in the land of the greatest global wildlife migration

It happens once a year, why not make it an educational lifetime experience?