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All creatures small and beautiful - Tswalu-Cape of Good Hope NP


Kitsafari
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@@optig Thank you for following along and for your kind wishes for my family. unfortunately Singaporeans are too spoiled by the clean, sanitised environment we have in our city. They can't abide insects, roughing it out, nature and they aren't interested in wildlife. The system has produced people who want clean streets, landscaped and well groomed forests with no wildlife which they will deem "dangerous".

 

I have a neighbour who has implored the government to plant trees that do not shed leaves as the dropped leaves and flowers "dirty" the streets. I have all but given up on my fellow citizens but fortunately just one or two are finally showing interest in safaris. One of them is travelling to sabi sands and phinda in October and another is planning a Botswana next year. Both are first timers - so there may be hope yet!

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It is the second of our full-day drive. I was full of energy yesterday and still full of adrenalin as I climb into the vehicle, ready for our expedition to the mountains and the eastern section.

 

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Today we shall wind through in a slightly southeasternly towards a pass in the mountains, cross into the eastern section and head slightly northwards to look for the big cats. A leopard mother and cubs are thought to be lurking somewhere around the mountains, and it’ll be cool to see them. But the leopards aren’t as chilled as those in South Luangwa or Sabi Sands. They are furtive, nervous and jittery, still unused to the occasional vehicles that come rocking over the roads to seek them.

 

Tswalu is not a Mara or a Seregenti, neither is it a Sabi Sands or the Okavango Delta. Those who come looking for high density of game will be sorely disappointed. You can drive for hours not seeing much except for a smattering of plains game. Could that be typical of May in Tswalu, or is it the effect of the drought? If the big cats are high on your list - then Mara or Seregenti is a better bet. Forget about the Big 5 here - there is no elephant for a start! Aril our tracker has never seen a hippo or an elephant or a crocodile as he’s never gone beyond tswalu fences. Tswalu has no permanent waters, which makes it unsuitable for the 3 big species.

 

 

Having said that, I am hardly upset or disappointed. I love being in the bush, and any wildlife is a bonus in my books. @@Alexander33 said it was a contemplative time for him. I recognise the same sentiment. The silence and the vast open spaces echo back the thoughts I have in my mind..

 

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But never underestimate the powers of nature to surprise. a nice surprise is in store - Hartmann’s zebras! For which I am thrilled as I had not expected to see them! The Hartmann’s are grazing, having come down from the mountains just before sunrise.

 

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The Hartmann’s are grazing, having come down from the mountains just before sunrise.

 

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The Hartmann’s is a sub species of the mountain zebra while the cape mountain zebra is the other. The hartmann’s is listed by ICUN as vulnerable, with only 9000 estimated mature individuals still around and likely declining. They occur mainly in the southern parts of South Africa through Namibia and south western Angola.

 

They must have been lulled by my quiet nature as they show up a handful more times for the rest of the morning, but far in the distance, mostly walking sure-footedly on the rocky slopes of the mountains.

 

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if you can spot them! Aril/Adrian could

 

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Edited by Kitsafari
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We track very fresh marks of a male and a female leopard but the marks split at an intersection and we follow the female. We loop into rocky outcrops and a route that has seen far better days but the female leopard stays a step ahead of us and vanishes into a gulley.

 

 

We give up on the leopard to make our way to the ancient San Artworks in the area of Steenkamp. This has been written about by members who were there before me and who took better pictures and wrote about the history of the engravings. Current research says the rock art dates back about 380,000 years, although you also see modern graffiti on the rocks as well.

 

 

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There’s not much history documented about the San bushmen in this particular area although Adrian alludes to a fight against another tribe in which the San tribe lost badly.

 

 

we decide to have breakfast there, at the area where you begin to walk to the engravings. It is a quiet pleasant morning but that place is apparently haunted. It has to be good spirits though as I sense nothing negative and the birds are singing and that, to me, is always a good sign.

 

There are many kudus we see along the slopes...

 

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okay, not a kudu but I don't recall what flower this is

Edited by Kitsafari
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A guide had called in lions in the north so we go hunting for them. But before we cross over the gates, there is another cat to search for. Two male cheetahs which have apparently been in the area for quite a while. But it is hot and all they want to do is lie in the shade.One of them is clearly not comfortable with us there, so we don't stay too long with them. It is a challenge taking pictures as the two are flat and grasses are not cooperating to give a clear view. I am surprised to see cheetahs, but I shouldn't be, since past reports have mentioned them. It's just that its imprinted in my mind that big cats are not profuse in numbers here. Still it's great to see them doing well here. I just love their amber eyes and their sleek slender bodies.

 

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We cross into Lion country. and a Big sign tells us that very clearly. Cross over at your own peril .

 

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But when we find the lions (it takes a long while to search for these tan bodies that would have stayed hidden in the long grasses except that I spot the male lion's head which is up, wondering who has the audacity to disturb their peace and quiet), you wonder what all that drama of a sign is all about. the two male lions do what they always do best - lying flat. The three accompanying female adults are just as horizontal. You can't really blame them; it is noon when we finally find them. so all I get are just bits of them.

 

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seeking a more shaded spot

 

 

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@@Kitsafari like yourself I don't need to have wildlife literally coming out of my skin to appreciate being in the bush.I simply love being in the bush and appreciate all aspects of being on safari. For me there has never been limits on safari because it simply encompasses everything. Safari is not just about wildlife,birds and beautiful scenery; It is also about politics,history,culture,economics,African development, astronomy,botany and so much else. I could go on and on why I love going on safari so much.

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Since they are hardly cooperating, we decide it is a good time to have our lunch. I don't recall where we have lunch, but the food is great; I have seconds and all I want to do is stay on this spot and eat and relax. Still, we hope to get the lions up and about, so we give ourselves a second try but no joy. they stay put.

 

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The food (taken with my mobile and the sun rays bounce into my camera)..

 

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the scenery...

 

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a visitor.

 

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Blonde stares at us admiring him.

 

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he couldn't care less.

 

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looking rather unglam for a King

 

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the darker mane male

 

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the females look more glamorous, especially against the waving fluffy tall grasses

 

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sniffing something in the air but not worth getting up for

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We leave the lions and start to roam around the area. we go off the well trodden routes and move into some routes that have not seen traffic for a long time. sometimes we pass reminders of what the land used to be - water pumps and cleared land that were used for cattle ranches once upon a time. Adrian sometimes turns to me and tells me where we are. I'm not keeping track and even if he tells which part we are, where I am concerned, I am happily lost in wonderland except that I have Adrian and Aril to pull me out of the looking glass.

 

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My first every Roan! I am very excited about it. I love everything about them - the sturdyl body with long slender limbs, the short stiff mane on its back, the mask that echoes the oryx's mask, the ribbed horn and those fabulous ears! It immediately reminds me of My Funny Valentine. what a fabulous antelope.

 

It sure is a chilled roan, so curious about us.

 

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pausing to check where we are

 

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pausing to laugh at us for getting lost, but not really

 

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sharing minerals with the small creatuers - canaries

 

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springbok - more plentiful than impalas

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Alexander33

@@Kitsafari

 

Great sightings of the Hartmann's mountain zebra. We spotted them only once -- or, rather, our guide and tracker did. By the time we got our binoculars focused in the area where they were directing us, the zebras had disappeared. How they spotted them on the side of that mountain in the first place, I have no idea. It just looked like all scrub, rock and dirt to me. But you managed not only to see this special species, but also to get some really great photos of them as well. Just wonderful!

 

Every time you post a photo of those sweeping landscapes, I am transformed back to those broad skies, haunting winds --- and silence. It's almost meditative.

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@@Kitsafari

Great report, thank you for sharing. My daughter and I had what I think was just about the perfect itinerary in 2014....Phinda 4 nights, Sabi Sands (Sabi Sabi Earth) 4 nights and Tswalu 4 nights. Just enough variety in landscapes and wildlife.

 

On an early morning drive in Tswalu we followed the 12 dogs for 45 min with the alpha female leading the pack. She stopped abruptly, started digging her den and had her pups a few hours later. What a woman!! So sad to hear of that loss.

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@@PCNW that sounded like a super itinerary. I decided against flying to and fro to save time for game drives so I made the only concession to stay in capetown for 3 days.

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@@Alexander33 i know what you mean - those zebras look like white dots on the mountain face. they have super eyes. it's quite incredible when you feel and know that you may be the only guest in the open quiet space.

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As we drive along, Adrian is looking out for signs of fresh digging and mounds that signal aardvark foraging. But there aren't any. It's my fourth day in Tswalu and not a sign of an aardvark. that's not good! We aim to return to camp early. I'm certain that Adrian and Aril are exhausted after 2 full days. I'm tired too, so I don't mind an early end to the day, but that will mean less one chance of seeing aardvarks. I still have 3 more drives - maybe, just maybe I may get a glimpse?

 

 

 

We head back to the lodge and Aril's sharp eyes pick up something. Nope, not aardvark, but something just as terrific. It's a family of bat-eared foxes! In all my 6 safaris (that's not a lot I know, compared with other ST-ers!) I've not seen a bat eared fox in the day. the only time I saw them was their vanishing ears in Tarangire in my first safari - a lifetime ago (all of 3 years!). the family is lying low in a slight depression just off the road, ears flattened in an effort to stay undetected. There looks to be four cubs. But as seconds tick by, they realise their game is up and 5 of them run to a bush to hide while the 6th tarries. as the vehicle starts up, the foxes scatter and dash into the distance. Sorry, foxes. but what enchanting animals.

 

 

Something I learn from Wikipedia (not the most reliable of sources) The normally nocturnal fox’s large ears are used for thermoregulation. This canid first appeared during the middle Pleistocene period, about 800,000 years ago.

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and a bit of a video (apologies for the shakiness - I think I'm the world's worst video-grapher ever.!)

 

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along the way back to the lodge...

 

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At the lodge, the sables are moving to the waterhole.

 

 

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as the sun is against my camera, I want to try my luck at my room which is the first room after the main lounge and where the antelopes seem to like to pass through. but the sables take a separate route and I find a kudu and the resident ground squirrel instead.

 

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It is then I notice meerkats at the corner of my eye. It is the family! 5 adults and 4 tiny tots and when they hear me moving on the deck, they dash back to their burrows, located right in front of my room and shared with the ground squirrels. While I videotape, I stay as silent and still as possible. The meerkats are obviously not familiar with a figure seated on the deck, and they puzzle over this unmoving statue. I am thoroughly entertained by the family.

 

the following is a video clip of the family but a pretty long one - about 8 mins. again, apologies for the shakes. :(

 

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michael-ibk

Very cool Bat-Eared Fox sighting - I love them. :)

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@@Kitsafari I think that your video of the bat eared foxes were simply outstanding.I have to say that I have only seen a bat eared fox twice; on a game drive in Botswana and once on a night drive in Laikipia. One of the reasons why I'm going to Tswalu Kalahari next year is to see more of them. Furthermore,your video of the meerkat family is simply priceless. I've always enjoyed seeing both roan,sable and gemsbok oryx as well as kudu.

Edited by optig
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I love your Bat-eared foxes - a wonderful animal and great photos and video. I didn't know the ears were linked to thermoregulation.

How perfect being able to watch the meerkats from your room - such a treat to see their behaviour!

Edited by TonyQ
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Alexander33

@@Kitsafari

 

Like the others, I love those bat-eared foxes. How great to see a family relatively close-up and in good light. We saw bat-eared foxes twice, both times nothing but distant blurs as they ran away from us as fast as they possibly could. Just a wonderful sighting for you.

 

And meerkats right at your cabin. I'd say that's worth staying home for. We had the ground squirrels and yellow mongoose around the lodge when we were there, but not any meerkats, so I'd consider them an extra special welcome committee designed just for you.

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@@michael-ibk I love them too. I was so lucky to see them in daylight.

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@@optig I hope you get to see them at Tswalu and even in your safaris before that!

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@@TonyQ it was great to see the bat eared foxes. it was not something I expected to see in daylight. and i always thought the ears were only to help that catch prey.

 

the meerkat babies were a bonus - only because of the fortunate return to the lodge early in the evening made that possible. :)

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@@Alexander33 and what a special welcome committee it was. it was so marvellous to watch the baby meerkats for a sustained time too. i enjoyed that room a lot, mainly because of all the small and big animals that choose to pass through browsing, grazing and foraging. what surprised me was their relaxed demeanour while I was on the deck, which suggest that they have become accustomed to people loitering on the decks watching them!

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My second last morning drive begins in crisp cool air. I am blessed with clear cool weather. Rains fell just a couple of days before I arrived, not only cooling down the weather but also anchored the red sand on the ground and my stuff remain clear of dust. But today the sands begin to loosen and blow into my camera bag and clothes.Still the clothes don't get reddened like they did in India!

 

Today we revert to the traditional morning and evening drives, which will give me time to pack up in the afternoon break. Pack-up. such sad words with such finality, as it means the end of my safari in Tswalu is nigh. I still have a couple more animals on my must-see list unticked. the pressure on Adrian and Aril grows to help me nail, if not all, most of them.

 

We wind our way to the meerkats which I want to see in the early morning light. They only emerge at around 7am when the sun rises above the mountains and the warm rays hit their burrows. Since we are out early at 6.15am, we take our time to admire early risers and enjoy the sunrise.

 

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Edited by Kitsafari
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On reflection, I think one should see them meerkats at dawn and dusk, but dawn wins in my view because you get to spend a little more time with them. At dusk, while they soak the last of the sun's warmth, they duck into their burrows pretty quickly. But in the morning you have more time to watch them warm up, spread out and follow them foraging.

 

Now for another blast of those little adorable critters

We are heading to see the meerkats in the early morning light, and on reflection I think one should see them both at dawn and dusk but dawn wins in my view because you get to spend a little more time with them. At dusk, while they soak the last of the sun's warmth, they duck into their burrows pretty quick which doesn't give one enough time to watch and follow them foraging.

 

Conversations:

 

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an inquisitive look

 

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losing interest

 

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morning chores

 

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have they gone without me? ?

 

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who are you looking at?

 

 

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shimmering in the warm rays

 

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the lookout

 

 

 

 

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It's here somewhere...

 

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got it!

Edited by Kitsafari
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It's hard to look for nocturnal animals in the morning so we search for something larger. we cross into Lion country to see if we can see any of the big cats. Right at the corner of his eye, Aril sees 2 of them staring straight ahead. Adrian is alerted to our right - a large female adult is making her way directly to the 2 in a very determined manner. behind the 2 lions on our left, a female adult with a wound to her right side started working to the other female. we aren't sure if they are related or if they had been in a fight, but both adults have a determined look and tense gait.

 

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female to our right and then below female to our left

 

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and then they meet...

 

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