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bushmaniac

Day 2

 

It was cold but the vehicles have the best ever blankets, real quality (if I’d had space in my holdall I would have asked to buy mine!) – big enough to wrap around fully and cover from head to toe, thick close fleece on one side and sheepskin-type on the other side. Also the usual hot water bottles. Even the ponchos are Driza-bone, so good quality, wind-proof and most importantly, warm.

 

As we set off for our morning drive our guide announced his departure over the radio “this is Kalamari, on safari, in the Kalahari”. We would soon come to realise that this was pretty much all our guide ever said on the radio.

 

Guides will broadcast over the radio when they leave the lodge to go out on drive, advise what wildlife they are concentrating on and which areas they may be driving, and also request updates if they have been off-radio for a while, but other than that there is very little radio chatter.

 

This morning we made our first visit to one of the meerkat colonies. There are two main habituated colonies, but they had both already left their burrows and were out foraging so we visited the “off-shoots”, a new small colony of just seven individuals.

 

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We then went to the Wild Dog den where there were pups of around 4-5 weeks of age. Unfortunately the dogs had recently moved to Den number three. Whilst the first two den sites had good open areas and good vehicle access, the same can’t be said of the third den site. The only access meant that you were always looking into the sun and the only open areas were on the other side of thick bushes, which obviously made it extremely difficult for photography. But the habitat guys had said “no more roads” so we had to abide by that.

 

 

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We saw quite a bit of general game including sable and roan.

 

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Our first morning and, having told the lodge that we’d be back for breakfast about 10:30, we finally rocked up about 1pm. Start as you mean to go on, I always say!

 

 

Whenever we spotted an aardvark we got off the vehicle and tried to approach on foot. We were told that, if they bolt into a hole, they would take about 2 hours before venturing out again. We were amazed and excited when we got to about 20 metres of an aardvark. Three aardvark in total today.

 

 

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We saw quite a few bat-eared foxes but as soon as we saw them, they always turned tail and ran.

 

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Given the sighting of usually nocturnal animals that we were seeing during daylight, we decided that there was no need for any night driving, and returned to the lodge as soon as the sun set.

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Day 3   This morning we went out earlier and visited one of the main meerkat colonies. Easily spent over an hour sitting near the burrow whilst the meerkats warmed themselves and kept lookout.  

Day 4   It was time to venture over to the smaller section and give the lions a go. The other guides had lost them the previous afternoon, and there were many discussions about where to look for the

Day 2   It was cold but the vehicles have the best ever blankets, real quality (if I’d had space in my holdall I would have asked to buy mine!) – big enough to wrap around fully and cover from head

bettel

Wow! What a start! I want to go to Tswalu in Aug-Sep 2016. I was thinking about 10 days. I am trying to use discount 5 for 4 :), but 5 nights seem not enough :). Do you think 10 nights will be too much?

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Alexander33

@@bushmaniac

 

I am so thrilled you are posting this report. It will be such a help in preparing -- we leave for Cape Town two weeks from yesterday. Can't wait!

 

Great advice on having the camera ready from the get-go. That is not something I would have thought of.

 

Speaking of which, what lens did you use for your photos here, and are they cropped? I've got a 400mm, so I'm trying to get some perspective of what I can expect in terms of range -- vis-a-vis, the bat-eared foxes, for example.

 

Thanks again for your generosity in preparing this report.

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My first thought is that you should post it in the trip reports section. This sub-forum is under-used and in a few months only those of us who understand the search function's stubborn ways will be able to find it. However, maybe this way will make this sub-forum more active.

 

Actually I am lying. My first thought was a rude word. 23 Aardvarks! And the rest.... all the creatures on my most-wanted list. It's like heaven.

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bushmaniac

@@bettel - I stayed for 10 nights to make the most of the 5 for 4 (maybe it's the Scot in me). I didn't find it too long, but some might do. My feeling was that I was spending a lot of money in the hope of seeing the elusive aardvark/pangolin and wanted to give it the best shot possible. We all know the effect that a day or two of bad weather can have on game-viewing. Five days wouldn't have been enough for me and we did full day drives most days. IMHO lodges are for showering and sleeping (so don't ask me about the spa or the gym). We spent the first 6 days focusing on aardvark every afternoon and spent two days focused on pangolin. We also spent an entire day tracking cheetah - thoroughly enjoyable. If we'd stayed longer, we could have devoted some time to searching for aardwolf and the yellow morph, spent more time with the wild dogs etc. It just depends on whether you need to be "seeing" new things all the time or are happy spending hours with one animal or just tracking, even when unsuccessful. I am looking to go back for 10+ nights next year if that helps. The reserve is so massive that we only covered a fraction of it. On the other hand, @@Sangeeta was only there for a couple of nights so may be able to give a different perspective.

 

@@Alexander33 - I used a Canon 500D with the 100-400 mk1 lens. All my bat-eared fox photos were taken at 400mm and aren't cropped (not sharp enough to crop). But there were a few occasions with aardvark when even the 100mm was too long and I had to switch to using my phone!

 

@@pault - Thanks for your comments on location of the post. My thinking was that it wasn't really a "trip" but a report on my stay at one lodge. Search function? I just go into new content each time I visit! I guess the final decision will be up to @@Game Warden. But I can relate to the rude word. We expressed many of them on the trip - so many times we just sat there, looked at each other with a grin and said "#%*@!". I don't think we stopped smiling our entire stay. :D

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michael-ibk

Thank you for doing this report. I knew of Tswalu´s reputation as a good place for Aardvarks, but was not too sure about how legit that reputation was. I remember one trip report here (from a different time of year) and that one did not feature Aardvarks, Pangolins or Aardwolves. But your sightings really were incredible, like Pault mentioned, all of my dream animals in one place. Sooo looking forward to more.

 

Interesting shot of the Meerkat and the Squirrel, are these two species mingling.

 

And, btw, some time in the future I would really love to hear more about your Aberdares adventures as well! :)

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bushmaniac

@@michael-ibk - we were told that the Cape Ground Squirrels often hang around the meerkat burrows as it gives them extra protection with all those extra eyes keeping lookout. The meerkats totally ignored both the squirrel and us, but the squirrel was very wary of us.

 

Unfortunately the only aardwolf sighting we had was the one on the initial drive from the airstrip, so no photo. But there were other guests who went looking for aardwolf one day and managed to get a good sighting of one. The guides know the areas where they're seen most often, but they are still fairly elusive and require dedication to find one.

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Tom Kellie

~ @@bushmaniac

 

Thank you so much for redirecting me to this trip report/lodge report.

Fascinating throughout!

The sightings, level of service, adaptability of the staff — all the stuff of dreams!

Your patient explanations and responses to questions are enormously helpful.

It's a very, very special experience expressed in an equally very, very special report!

With Appreciation,

Tom K.

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bushmaniac

Day 3

 

This morning we went out earlier and visited one of the main meerkat colonies. Easily spent over an hour sitting near the burrow whilst the meerkats warmed themselves and kept lookout.

 

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We moved on and found a female cheetah with three cubs. The female is collared. Unfortunately this was in the middle of the day and the light was harsh. The cheetah spent most of their time in the shade, again making for poor photography.

 

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On our afternoon drive we visited several waterholes, but only saw general game including kudu, gemsbok, sable, roan, impala, jackal, warthogs and buffalo.

 

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Four aardvarks sighted this afternoon, and we were able to approach each on foot with varying degrees of success.

 

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On the drive back to the lodge we suddenly saw movement next to the vehicle. It was yet another aardvark, and this one was diving into a burrow literally two metres from the road. At first we thought that we had frightened it but then we noticed a jackal come nosing at the burrow entrance. We sat quietly watching the jackal and it was only a short while before the aardvark darted out of the burrow, with the jackal close on its heels. The jackal half-heartedly kept nipping at the aardvark whilst the aardvark moved off at a trot to continue its search for dinner. It happened so fast and was so fascinating that the camera was almost forgotten. These aardvark sightings are just getting better and better.

 

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SafariChick
These aardvark sightings are just getting better and better.

 

 

They certainly are! What an adorable creature it is - great sighting with the jackal! And even just on its own, I'd love to see one! And regarding seeing "just general game," I always consider a sighting of roan or sable very special. Really enjoying the report!

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bettel

I think Tswalu should pay you an agent fee :) for promoting the place :)

 

I stayed for 10 nights to make the most of the 5 for 4 (maybe it's the Scot in me). I didn't find it too long, but some might do. My feeling was that I was spending a lot of money in the hope of seeing the elusive aardvark/pangolin and wanted to give it the best shot possible.

Thank you. This is exactly what I am thinking. Good to know that it worked for you!

Have you heard something on guiding in Tswalu, I mean are there guides that are worth to ask for. I saw that two Tswalu guides were named finalists in Safari Guide of the Year competition. So i am wondering if it is a good idea to place a request for one of them.

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bushmaniac

I think Tswalu should pay you an agent fee :) for promoting the place :)

 

I stayed for 10 nights to make the most of the 5 for 4 (maybe it's the Scot in me). I didn't find it too long, but some might do. My feeling was that I was spending a lot of money in the hope of seeing the elusive aardvark/pangolin and wanted to give it the best shot possible.

Thank you. This is exactly what I am thinking. Good to know that it worked for you!

Have you heard something on guiding in Tswalu, I mean are there guides that are worth to ask for. I saw that two Tswalu guides were named finalists in Safari Guide of the Year competition. So i am wondering if it is a good idea to place a request for one of them.

 

@@bettel

 

Forget the agent fee, but I'll take bed nights any day!

 

Regarding the guides, Tswalu is currently run with a mixture of permanent and freelance guides. The regular freelance guides have usually spent a lot of time at Tswalu, and include a number of ex-employees. All of the guides I met appeared to have excellent knowledge of the endemic wildlife. I was lucky enough to be a guest at the Safari Guide of the Year finals and so got to meet and see those particular guides in action. Two permanent Tswalu guides were finalists, JP Le Roux and Rudi Venter, and another finalist, Adrian Bantich, is an ex-Tswalu employee who often freelances there - in fact he was guiding there at the time of our visit.

 

JP Le Roux achieved the distinction of being the first ever candidate to score 100% on the birding assessment. Rudi Venter won the Tracking and Shooting assessments, and Adrian Bantich was overall competition Runner-Up. If you were a keen birder, then without doubt I would say to request JP, but if birds aren't your thing, then any of the guides are good. I'm not aware of any "bad" guides. Our particular guide wasn't great on positioning the vehicle for photography but we just learned to be more specific in our instructions to him. The main thing is that all the guides and trackers are so amenable to anything you suggest and accommodate all requests willingly.

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bushmaniac

@@SafariChick

 

You are so right about the "general game"! And I'm thankful I decided to finally write my first TR. Usually I process very few of my photos, just a couple of really good ones (if there are any) and then a selection of the "hairy's and scary's" for sharing with friends (who are in no way interested in safari). Writing this has encouraged me to go back through all my photos, especially the antelope and "unexciting" critters, and to learn to appreciate them once more. Rather than just processing photos that my friends will enjoy, I'm now processing the ones that I enjoy and reliving the memories. Thank you ST! :)

Edited by bushmaniac
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@@SafariChick

 

You are so right about the "general game"! And I'm thankful I decided to finally write my first TR. Usually I process very few of my photos, just a couple of really good ones (if there are any) and then a selection of the "hairy's and scary's" for sharing with friends (who are in no way interested in safari). Writing this has encouraged me to go back through all my photos, especially the antelope and "unexciting" critters, and to learn to appreciate them once more. Rather than just processing photos that my friends will enjoy, I'm now processing the ones that I enjoy and reliving the memories. Thank you ST! :)

Absolutely. And don't forget that the definition of a "good" photo is very differnt in this context... Like the jackal and aardvark and the meerkat group, or meerkat and squirrel. Not that I am saying they aren't good pictures... But I am sure you know what I mean.

 

Anyway, great update and I hope this means we'll be seeing some historical trip reports. The recent ones will be just as relevant as most of those already in the index.

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Sangeeta

That jackal & aardvark photo is priceless - and in that lovely peachy light too! Hmmm, now that I think of it, I have very a nice empty spot on my wall :D

 

I noticed squirrels with the meerkats too, so obviously they do that all the time.

 

@@bettel - I don't think 10 nights is too much for anyone who frequents ST! I really, really wished I could have stayed for much longer. But having said that, I will say that you don't need 10 days for amazing sightings. Even half of that will give you an extraordinary number of them. In 2 days, I saw more here than I could have ever imagined.

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bettel

I'm not aware of any "bad" guides. Our particular guide wasn't great on positioning the vehicle for photography but we just learned to be more specific in our instructions to him. The main thing is that all the guides and trackers are so amenable to anything you suggest and accommodate all requests willingly.

 

Thanks again!!! I am wondering if they have photo savvy guides. I mean in 90% cases it does not matter too much but sometimes it is a question of seconds before the opportunity disappears.

 

 

@@bettel - I don't think 10 nights is too much for anyone who frequents ST! I really, really wished I could have stayed for much longer. But having said that, I will say that you don't need 10 days for amazing sightings. Even half of that will give you an extraordinary number of them. In 2 days, I saw more here than I could have ever imagined.

Actually for me it is not even the question of sightings. It is a question of the guiding quality. With a good guide I can spend weeks :), but if there are issues with a guide it might be tough :)

 

BTW, you were promising pictures :). I hope you did not change your mind :)

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bushmaniac

Day 4

 

It was time to venture over to the smaller section and give the lions a go. The other guides had lost them the previous afternoon, and there were many discussions about where to look for them.

 

For the purists out there – there are some fences visible but I only felt this to be noticeable when going from the main 80,000 hectare area across to the smaller 20,000 hectare area where the lions are. Most of the time you are going around mountains and crossing sand dunes and there are no fences as far as the eye can see. The reserve is the largest privately owned reserve in SA and is considerably larger than the entire Sabi Sands.

 

Finally we got to the fences which separate the two sections of the reserve. Literally 100 metres inside the gate, the two male lions were sat waiting for us. They soon lay flat and didn’t look like moving any time soon. It wasn’t long before we decided to leave them for a while, and return later when the temperature was a little higher and they may be more active.

 

This smaller section is more mountainous whereas the larger section has more dunes. After trying for pangolin tracks once again we returned to the lions, or where we’d left the lions – of course they’d moved in our absence. I was in the company of three 'level 3' trackers – and on the soft sand of the Kalahari I was confident we’d be able to relocate them.

 

Knowing that it wasn’t far to the nearest waterhole, we made our way in that direction and soon found them walking slowly through the long grass. We kept leap-frogging them trying to get a picture of them head-on walking side by side, but whenever we were head-on to us, they separated. We ended up spending the entire morning with the two male lions.

 

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We ate our lunch near one of the massive Sociable Weavers' nests, watching the never-ending maintenance.

 

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Having slowly made our way across to the main section of reserve, we came across an elderly aardvark bumbling around. As we followed her on foot, and she remain relaxed, we gradually got closer and closer until she was only a few metres away. She was clearly getting on in years. Her ears were jagged and covered in age-spots and you could see her prominent spine and hip bones. But she did not appear to have any problems feeding and was totally relaxed as we followed her around for well over an hour.

 

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To be sitting on the ground and have a relaxed aardvark walking within a couple of metres of you, is absolutely mind-blowing. This is day four, and every day the aardvark sightings are getting better and better. I had no idea of the frequency of aardvark sightings, nor of the quality. Tswalu in winter is to aardvark what Sabi Sands is to leopards.

 

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When you’re looking for aardvark you always have to keep an eye out for Ant Eating Chats as you won’t often find an aardvark without having several of these birds around. This one enjoyed spending time with a Crimson Breasted Shrike.

 

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We eventually tore ourselves away and returned to the vehicle to replace my exhausted camera battery. We were still buzzing from our encounter when there was an update over the radio that a young pangolin had been found. After our experience with the grand old lady, what better way to top off our day – or so we thought. :huh:

 

Pangolins are the only sightings that guides have to call in. Any other sighting is yours and yours alone. Whilst I can appreciate the exclusivity of a sighting, the attitude of the guides did seem to me to be somewhat selfish at times. For example, even though we knew that another guide was looking for cheetah and had been unsuccessful so far, our guide didn’t bother telling him when we came across very fresh cheetah tracks even though we weren’t going to follow up on the tracks.

 

The pangolin sighting was a total circus – none of the Tswalu guides took any control and there were 20+ guests crowding around this young pangolin, all shouting, pushing less than a metre from the poor creature. If the pangolin turned to try and go in the opposite direction, everyone rushed around so they could be in its face. Guests were physically pushing each other out of the way. I was actually quite disgusted that people had so little respect for the young animal, who was clearly desperate to get away! This went on for a good 15-20 minutes. I was just praying for the sun to set, as the guests had been told they couldn’t use flash after the sun went down. :(

 

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:angry: Some may disagree with my next actions, but I would do it again in similar circumstances. Everyone had had time to get some photos and by this time I was seriously close to losing my cool. This was one time I was glad that I am quite large in size as I then used my body as a shield between two bushes to stop other guests from getting around me and thereby allowing the pangolin room to escape into the bushes. :ph34r: For me, the best part of the entire experience was losing sight of the pangolin and hearing its scales rattling as it scuttled away through the dense brush.

 

Day 5

 

A cold front moved in overnight, and there is a strong cold wind, with the odd spots of rain.

 

I didn’t realise until I got home that I took absolutely no photos today. It can’t have been a bad day without any sightings (or I would have remembered), just no unusual or particularly excellent sightings.

 

In the evening we had a massive thunderstorm whilst we were eating dinner, and then heavy rain all night.

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Kitsafari

@@bushmaniac bravo for giving the pangolin space to run off. I would probably have told off some people or get our guide to tell the other guides to rein in their guests. did you have a word with the managers about it? I think it is also the job of the guides to educate their guests as many are probably first timers and don't know what the right approach would be.

 

That's still a beautiful aardvark, no matter how old she is. I didn't realise how big they are.

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SafariChick

@@bushmaniac I agree, I think you did the right thing allowing the pangolin to escape. I am also surprised the guides didn't rein in their clients.

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bushmaniac

I got the feeling that many of the guides at Tswalu are struggling to know how to act/behave in situations such as this. I noticed that many of the Tswalu guides are quite quiet and reserved, and don't often speak out or assert themselves. With the move to private vehicles and total flexibility together with the attitude of "whatever the guest wants is OK" the permanent guides appear to be unsure of when, or even if, they can rein in the guest. The freelance guides don't feel comfortable speaking out when the permanent guides are standing around accepting this type of behaviour.

 

Another example of this was on the first morning when we said to our guide that we wanted to look for aardvark. His answer was "no problem" and off we drove. It was only after an hour or so of bombarding him with a bazillion questions regarding the aardvarks that he mentioned they only see them in the afternoons and not in the mornings. If he'd said that in the first place .... but instead he just agreed to whatever we asked for.

 

They're not bad guides, they just need strong and clear leadership from someone who understands that the private guide/vehicle scenario doesn't mean blindly agreeing with everything a guest says/does. They need to be empowered to use their judgement as to when they can say "no" or ask a guest to be quiet etc.

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kittykat23uk

I might be trying to convince @@Sangeeta that she and I need to go on another adventure together here myself :rolleyes:

Count me in! :)

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Alexander33

@@bushmaniac

 

First, I love your sharing of your experience with the aged female aardvark. I actually find something noble about her in your wonderful photographs. Sort of a dowager who isn't about to be stopped in her daily routine by visitors like us.

 

I am very surprised by the behavior of guests around the pangolin. Even though Tswalu is known for pangolin, I was not expecting that many of the guests there would be so eager to see one (as I am). It's disappointing to see such a special sighting turn into a circus of sorts.

 

I am most appreciative of your comments about the guides and the general interpersonal interplay at the lodge. You are helping me to prepare for our having a richer experience (next week, unebelievably!). Thanks to your insight, I will be sure to tell the guides what we want to see, but, at the same time, to be explicit that I want them to assert their opinions and to give us their advice, as we are relying on their expertise to direct what we do, and when.

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kittykat23uk

@@bushmaniac thank you for this detailed trip report thus far! It is a very interesting read. Do you happen to know how much, if any of the game is managed? I.e. has the reserve been stocked with game or are all the animals naturally occurring within the reserve?

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bushmaniac

@@Alexander

 

I think the guides must have told the guests how rare the pangolin is. Plus there were quite a few asian/Chinese guests and I would assume that they are more aware of the existence of pangolin.

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bushmaniac

@@Alexander33

 

I think the guides must have told the guests how rare the pangolin is. Plus there were quite a few asian/Chinese guests and I would assume that they are more aware of the existence of pangolin.

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