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EcoTracker Experience in Mashatu

Growing up, I would imagine going on safaris as a live-action version of The Lion King, with wild animals interacting and living their lives, paying no attention to me. The two trips I’ve taken in the bush as an adult weren’t actually that far off from that image: I saw a ridiculous number and variety of animals from the safety of a game vehicle. My most recent experience – an EcoTracker course in Mashatu – was somehow entirely different, and even more magical.

South African lions

This lioness is a shoo-in

At the start of this amazing sighting, you can sure bet that Norman was not happy at the loss, but after seeing this lioness play and be so inquisitive it had definitely made him feel a bit better…

Alex van den Heever and Renias Mhlongo.

Tracking towards brotherhood

World-renowned wildlife trackers Alex van den Heever and Renias Mhlongo have spent more than two decades working together, tracking leopards and lions at Londolozi, jaguars in South America and grizzly bears in the United States. With a passion for wildlife, tracking and the natural world, this is a partnership that is set in stone.

Tree climbing lion - Kenya in February

Kenya in February

February is an unbelievable time to travel to East Africa, and this time of year Kenya experiences the lowest levels of precipitation in the Masai Mara but the birdlife is in abundance and it also happens to be lion season!

When travelling through East Africa it is never a guarantee that it will not rain, as the famous tropical storms of Kenya could hit at any moment, however in the earlier months of the year the rainfall is substantially less than the later months, this means that the game viewing is fantastic and you won’t be bumbling around in a waterproof poncho for half of the day.

Giraffe in kenya

Giraffe at sunset (c) Tayla McCurdy

Good weather also means beach weather and the coastline of Kenya sure does boast some incredible spots. Kenya is renowned for its national parks and wildlife, but also the 1,420 kilometres of Kenyan coastline, it is home to some of the most beautiful destinations, beaches and Marine National Parks in Africa. Most of Kenya’s finest beaches are found just north and south of Mombasa in the southeast of the country. Here are some of the amazing spots you wouldn’t want to miss out on, especially in the summer weather:

  1. Diani Beach
  2. Lamu Island
  3. Watamu
  4. Malindi Bay
  5. Kilifi
Watamu Kenya

Watamu Coastline (c) Tara Turkington via Wonders of Watamu

It’s not only the coastline that is bustling with life in the warmer months, the bush in February is rich with birdlife and their sounds and songs bring the wilderness to life, there is a variety of intra-African and Palearctic migrants in the beginning of the year so, if you’re a keen birder this will be paradise. with over 1,100 recorded species it is definitely one of the top birding destinations. Here are some of the star birds that should be on any birders list:

  1. White-bellied Go-away Bird
  2. Amani Sunbird
  3. Rüppell’s Vulture
  4. Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater
  5. Grey Crowned Crane
  6. Ross’s Turaco
  7. D’Arnaud’s Barbet
  8. Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill
  9. Superb Starling
  10. White-headed Buffalo-Weaver
Birds in Kenya

Some birds you could see in Kenya (c) Tayla McCurdy

From January to March the lions are out in full force, hence this time of year is called lion season. As the plains game such as wildebeest and zebra drop their young the Masai Mara becomes dotted with new-born calves, which means only one thing – predators.

Lions in Kenya

Predator season in Kenya (c) Tayla McCurdy

Lions are not the only predators that will be out in full force, there have been some amazing sightings of leopard, hyena and cheetah in the Masai Mara, as well as around EcoTraining’s camp at Mara Training Centre.

The predator game viewing is particularly fantastic in the Masai Mara year-round, another great time to travel to see some of these big cats in action is during the Great Migration, which falls in the dryer winter months in East Africa from around June to October.

Kenya Predators

Predators of the Mara (c) Tayla McCurdy

The adventures in Kenya are endless, you could be ticking some amazing birds off your life list, relaxing on the beach or have some mind-blowing sightings in the Masai Mara – what are you waiting for?

Here are some of the courses coming up this year:

Kenya Safari Guide: 01 February – 28 February 2020 (Mara Training Centre)

Masai Mara EcoQuest: 07 February – 13 February 2020 (7 days) or 07 February – 20 February (14 days)

EcoTraining Kenya Field Guide: 06 October – 29 November 2020 (Mara Training Centre)

If you want to learn more about Kenya maybe try your hand at our EcoTraining East Africa Inspired Quiz.

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.

Zues the male lion

EcoTraining Quiz: Lions

Test your knowledge in this week’s EcoTraining Quiz and see how well you know the African lion.

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.

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

 

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

 

 

 

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.”