Not only does EcoTraining offer a variety of Field Guide career and short nature courses, but we also offer onsite training at lodges all over the world. This time around, we had the opportunity to do training in South Luangwa, Zambia. Instructor, Michael Anderson, made the trip to Zambia and in the blog shares his experience with us.
If you were ever asked to give some examples of African carnivores, what animals come to mind? Animals like lions, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs and hyenas were some of the first animals you thought of. But did you know that there are other, much smaller carnivores out there as well?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Night game drive is offered to students as an exciting and different experience when it comes to wildlife encounters.
When you are driving in the bush and you come to a river crossing, do you
- A) Trundle through irrespective?
- B) Stop, look, wonder and THEN trundle through?
- 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The camp kitchen is a hive of activity as the sun slowly starts to filter through the trees. A warm beverage (or two) before setting off on an early morning game drive is always a must.
After the quick morning coffee and a chat about the game drive plan, you are then off on a new adventure. You never know what the day has in store for you. It’s very exciting.
Selati camp being situated on the banks of the Selati River makes the mornings even more beautiful, with breathtaking sunrises and interesting animals coming to investigate around the water’s edge the possibilities are endless.
It is always a pleasure to be out on a drive, even if the vehicle seems to be at an impossible angle. In this instance an instructor was driving, but the students each get a turn behind the wheel. They get to know the capabilities of the vehicle and they get to understand how to interact with guests in situations that might arise while on a drive.
Vultures perched on trees can give away the presence of a carcass, which in turn often signifies the fact that there are predators in the area. These two White backed vultures looked like they had a disagreement.
A look can say it all. Often when you get close to a lion, even if you are in a vehicle, a low growl will warn you of their mood.
Could this be a Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticose)?
Every drive is a learning opportunity for the students. Be it an animal, bird, insect or plant species. Questions are asked by the instructors to make certain that every safari drive it utilized to the fullest.
This is one of the Kingfisher species that does not eat fish. Instead it preys on insects like grasshoppers and locusts. They have been known to catch and eat lizards.
There is also a recorded case of one seen eating a bat! Of the 10 Kingfisher species found in South Africa, only 4 have a fish based diet.
The students make time for a sundowner break on the viewing deck perched high above the vast bushveld that stretched out towards the horizon.
There is no better way to end a day in Africa. Our sunsets are spectacular and will creep into the hearts and souls of students, both local and International.
“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.”
Professional Field Guide demonstrates safety first in a scary situation!