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Lioness

Mashatu madness | Dramatic scenes

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

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

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

Tawny Eagle in flight

Tawny Eagle (c) Tayla McCurdy

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

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

Lion cubs

Lion cubs in Mashatu (c) Tayla McCurdy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

 

Sleeping out under the vast African sky

As part of the EcoTraining Trails Guide Course the students get the opportunity of sleeping out under the vast African sky.

Log smoking

David Batzofin (cc)

With a sleeping bag and a cooler box of food, they get to experience what it is like to be outside in the wild from sunset to sunrise.

While there is the possibility of animals wandering past, the silence of the bush and the vastness of the African sky is what created an immersive experience that was unforgettable.

Camp site

David Batzofin (cc)

Finding a campsite proved to be harder to agree on than actually setting up camp for the night.

After much discussion, a suitable spot was eventually decided on and the task of unpacking the vehicle was dealt with in quick time.

Teapot

David Batzofin (cc)

The first task was the collection of firewood to heat water for coffee and tea.

David Batzofin (cc)

But not just any wood. No, it had to come from places around the site where the use of the wood would not have any impact on the ecosystem.

Sleeping bag

David Batzofin (cc)

Sleeping bags were then laid out and tasks were assigned.

Aagia and guitar

David Batzofin (cc)

The backup guide, Aagia, had brought her guitar along and in the silence of the bush, her chords were clean and sweet, not loud and intrusive, but calming and quieting (Aagia playing guitar). It was now time to start a fire.

starting the fire

David Batzofin (cc)

With the fire roaring in a purposely dug hole, it was time for toasting marshmallows and sharing stories.

dinner time

David Batzofin (cc)

The pasta that the camp kitchen staff had prepared for us was enjoyed with gusto. And the container of biscuits was most welcomed by those on duty in the early hours of the morning.

bush toilet

David Batzofin (cc)

Ever used a bush loo? It’ very simple, find a nice bush with a good view, dig a hole and there you go!

Bush TV

David Batzofin (cc)

The ever-changing flames of the ‘bush TV’ were hypnotic and despite the early hour, we were all ready to creep into our sleeping bags and settle down for the night.

But before the final good nights were exchanged a duty roster was worked out as there had to be someone awake at all times to keep an eye open for animals that might take an interest in our sleeping forms.

There were enough people for us to have to only do an hour each between 21h00 to 05h00.

middle of the night

David Batzofin (cc)

It was soon discovered that all that was required during this on duty time was to keep the fire going and the water in the kettle boiling!

The bush does not sleep and although you might believe it is quiet there is a constant stream of noises that are sometimes difficult to identify.

The lions that walked past our sleeping forms were the easiest to identify. Their guttural vocalizations left no doubt as to whom they were and what they were capable of doing.

The crashing of branches close by signaled the fact that there was at least one feeding elephant in the vicinity.

Warm in our thermal sleeping bags we lay in silence, allowing all these sounds to envelop us without the need for discussion (That would take place over coffee in the morning).

Although the ground was hard and unforgiving, sleep did eventually come. And with it a deep, contented almost childlike sleep.

Morning

David Batzofin (cc)

As the dawn broke and faces began to appear out of bedding it was time to share our impressions about our night and to repack the vehicle before heading off back to camp.

putting out the fire

David Batzofin (cc)

Just as we had set up camp the night before, we had to return it to as pristine a condition as we could before we headed off.

The campfire had to be doused and the ashes scattered.

cleaning the site

David Batzofin (cc)

The wood had to be replaced back into the tree line.

leave no footprints

David Batzofin (cc)

And the area swept with branches to eradicate as much of the traces of our stay as possible.

Personally, I believe that no one who spends a night under the vast African sky can return without a change of some sort.

It might not be a huge ‘Eureka’ moment, but deep in the psyche of each of those present, a change had occurred.

In contrast to our silence during our stay, we drove away in high spirits. Chatting loudly about our experience…and enquiring as to when we could do it again!

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.

 

A morning drive to awaken your senses

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.

Julia Wheeler (c)

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.

Kirsten Scholtz (c)

Kirsten Scholtz (c)

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.

David Batzofin (c)

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.

David Batzofin (c)

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.

David Batzofin (c)

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.

David Batzofin (c)

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.

David Batzofin (c)

The students make time for a sundowner break on the viewing deck perched high above the vast bushveld that stretched out towards the horizon.

David Batzofin (c)

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.