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


Kitsafari
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The two females are sisters - according to Adrian who has followed them since he worked as a permanent guide at Tswalu in 2009-2013 and did a thesis on Tswalu lion behaviours. they are around 13 years old and are fierce adults, having killed a lioness from the other pride years ago. The lactating female has a couple of young cubs - i think only a few weeks old - hidden away at the foot of a mountain and only one guide and his guests had a glimpse of the cubs. it looks as if the lactating female came to look for her pride. She starts to walk away and her sister follows, with the sub-adults trailing behind. It is here i get a big fuzzy. i think this is the south pride while the other is the north pride. the two male lions service both prides. The Lekgaba area apparently can hold two prides; any surplus, especially sub adult male lions will be relocated to other game reserves in need of new blood. All the adult lions were brought into Tswalu when it became a game reserve.

 

As the lactating female walks away, we follow, hoping against hope she will lead us to her cubs. the sister and the sub-adults follow some distance but the lazy teenagers, especially the males, started dropping to the ground, unwilling to go further. In the end, the mother leaves them and brings us on a merry go round.First she enters a kopje and we are full of anticipation that perhaps she had brought the cubs there and could introduce them to the pride. But she walks into the kopje, sniffing and then walks around it and down onto the plains. she heads towards a mountain where the cubs are stashed away. it is a fairly long jaunt but once she reaches the foot of the mountain, she flops onto a rock hidden by a bush. we wait in the hot sun, staying quiet but waiting in vain for any sighting of the cubs. The cubs have been trained well. we can 't even see any shadow. in the end we leave her and the cubs alone.

 

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@Kitsafari Classy stuff Kit. Way better than Chaingmai would have been I am sure!

 

Fine adventures and it looks like a wonderful place. Beautiful meerkat shots and one of the worst selfies ever posted on Safaritalk! :D But it's a very happy-looking one.

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@@pault you're back! from somewhere I'm sure, as your silence has been deafening.

 

well, that confirms it - no more wefies or selfies on ST. :huh:

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What we see during the rest of the morning drive...

 

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crimson breasted shrike

 

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a lonesome oryx

 

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not sure what this bird is, nor the following...

 

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a pygmy falcon?

 

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a kudu

 

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and another solitary Roan!

 

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and finally, a gemsbok cucumber (below), which I know nothing about! it is what it says - gemsbok love to it. I had most wanted to see Tsamma melons as I had read about how that had sustained brown hyenas in the Kalahari, but I didn't get a chance to see it.

 

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@@Kitsafari I really love how you take into consideration all aspects of the environment.You understand beautifully what safari is about in the most holistic way.Yes I do believe that you did a photograph of a young pygmy falcon.

Edited by optig
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@@Kitsafari re. Your unidentified birds. The first is a sunbird and given that most of them should be nowhere near Tswalu, I think it is a male Marico sunbird. The second is a non-breeding black-chested Prinia.

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Alexander33

@@Kitsafari

 

Gorgeous sunrise shots. And who could tire of the meerkats?

 

The first unidentified bird is indeed a sunbird. We had both Marico sunbird and dusky sunbird last September. With that greenish back, male Marico certainly makes sense.

 

Yes on the pygmy falcons. Tswalu is an excellent place to see them. They had a team of researchers in residence studying them when we were there.

Edited by Alexander33
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@@Tdgraves thanks for ID-ing the birds. I didn't write down the names at that time.

 

@@optig so glad you are enjoying the flora part of the safari as well!

 

@@Alexander33 more meerkats coming up soon!

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@@Kitsafari

It is very enjoyable seeing the environment as well as the wildlife. The tension of the lion encounter - but it was all OK.

The meerkats are beautiful and you photographed them so well. Fascinating and cute!

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@@TonyQ thanks Tony for being so supportive and encouraging!

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I am back at the lodge for lunch and I choose to have a ceasar salad at the deck. My evening game drive will start late today at 4pm so I have time to sit back and take pictures of the room and lodge.

 

Tswalu Motse has 6 suites with an additional 3 two-bedroom family suites. There are two pools, and a waterhole set in front of the deck. Dinner is non-communal, but because I am alone, Adrian keeps me company. This is the same for another single traveller, his guide dining with him. Adrian and I have starters and mains but skip desserts. My room has a perfect view but it is next to the dining area, so if the diners dine till late and are noisy, you will get the noise. And when the staff is cleaning up, you also can hear them. But on all the nights I am there, the last diner often ends by 10.30pm. There is a boma dinner one night, but I choose to eat in the room (not know there was a boma dinner), another couple can't take the smoke and chooses to eat in the dining room, leaving only one couple to eat in the boma and it just so happens to be one of their birthdays since I can hear the birthday song being sung.

 

Lunch is often from an all day dining (lamb chops is excellent, sweet potato fries is delicious) while dinner is a choice of 3 courses. I never had breakfast in the lodge, so I can't tell you about it.

 

What is far more interesting than meals and suite fireplaces is beyond the accomodation for guests. I am quite delighted to hear that Tswalu has a micro-village in the reserve itself. Each staff member has his/her own apartment in this village and his/her immediately family members stay in the apartment with them. The village has its services and faciities to serve the members. There is even a pre-school centre that prepares the employees' kids in terms of education. Then there is a separate facility for researchers and there is a number of on-going research programmes.

 

When we were in the mountains, Adrian pointed to a cabin and said that was used by guides and staff members to invite friends and families to holiday in the reserve (when he was a permanent guide at Tswalu).

 

What it boils down to is Tswalu takes great care of its staff. That is well appreciated.

 

The room:

 

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the lodge:

 

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the quiver trees were all brought in from outside the reserve

 

and a couple of birds around the lodge

 

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Edited by Kitsafari
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SafariChick

@@Kitsafari I also love what you described about the micro-village for staff and their families. I have seen at least one other lodge that worked that way, Kwandwe in S. Africa, and they also had a pre-school/day care. I always feel so bad for staff who have to live so far from their families most of the time - this is a great thing if it works to do it!

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I am starting my last evening drive late at 4pm and I’m pretty excited about a dinner in the bush, after which I shall be doing my only night drive in the reserve. I had been disappointed we didn’t have more night drives but we did have two full days, and really I couldn’t expect a night drive from tired trackers and guides, can I? But, after the very fruitful night drive, I did wish I had insisted on one for my first night in Tswalu.

 

Ambling along the way are:

a young handsome kudu

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a full adult and magnificent kudu...

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who's looking across to an alluring sight of a lovely tall female kudu...

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a southern pale chanting goshawk, i think

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... a stunning male sable all on its own by the road.

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and another solo antelope, an oryx enjoying the warmth of the setting sun...

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against a lovely backdrop.

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the almost full moon peeks out though the sun is still high on the horizon

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and a fawn coloured lark (?) bathes in its light

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Wendi the pangolin researcher is joining us for dinner tonight, a way for me to thank her for letting us in on her subjects. Before the dinner, we will join her to find the same pangolin. We meet up with her at the top of the hill where we last saw the young male. He has moved, a fair bit too. Wendy uses a trajectory to pinpoint the area he is in, but after that we have to go on foot to seek that little fellow. How do you find a pangolin amid the tall grasses? By using one’s ears. If you listen carefully, you can hear the beautiful glinting overlapping scales rustle against each other as it moves. We have to initially move slowly and quietly around him, stay still and allow him time to get comfortable with us. If he’s stressed, he’ll move from place to place. If he’s relaxed, he’ll forage. I’m not going to scare him so I tip toe, trying to avoid crushing leaves using as light a footfall as I clumsily can without falling.

 

The pangolin starts to forage. Phew.

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How beautiful can a pangolin be. The way it carries itself, the quiet manner in which it moves around.

It reminds me of a mini dragon, in a good way. In Asia, dragons are a good thing. It sympolises power, authority,and good luck. Its tiny narrow head looks disproportionate to its body but the tapering tail balances its head. I’ve always thought pangolins walk all on four legs, but this sprightly young chap is going at it just on its hind legs with its short front legs tucked close to its body. And when it does that, it looks like a miniature T-rex dinosaur with all the gentleness that was lost with its jumbo jurassic lookalike.

 

An interesting fact about the prehistoric animal – Pangolin apparently came from its Malay name “Pengguling” which meant all rolled up, something that pangolin does to defend itself. In many African cultures, pangolin is thought to be a bearer of good luck. I'd always thought only the Chinese sought after its scales for medicinal reasons (disputable, I know). But it seems other cultures share the same beliefs.

 

ICUN Red List has this to say:

In Tanzania Temminck’s Ground Pangolins are sometimes referred to as Bwana mganga ('the doctor') because every body part is believed to have some medicinal value (Wright 1954). Many East African people believe that burning pangolin scales keeps away lions (Kingdon 1971). Across their range the scales are widely believed to bring good luck and to bring rain, while smoke from burning scales is said to improve the health of cattle and cure persistent nose-bleeding. The isiZulu believe that seeing a pangolin indicates that there will be a drought, and the only way to prevent the drought is by killing the animal (Kyle 2000). Scales are also used as talismans and in traditional dress (Kyle 2000, Manwa and Ndamba 2011).

In Zimbabwe it is traditionally a good omen to catch and present Temminck's Ground Pangolins to a superior such as a local chief, and hundreds of individuals were captured and presented to the Zimbabwean president and other authority figures at the onset of majority rule in Zimbabwe (Coulson 1985, L. Hywood, pers. comm.).

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Aril, Adrian, Wendi against the growing glow of the moon while I stalk the pangolin

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Edited by Kitsafari
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michael-ibk

Pangolin again - double-lucky you! Love the video especially. Is it possible for all guests to go with the researcher and join her and "her" pangolins? About the night drives - wouldn´t it have been possible to do this with another guide?

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After a magical time with the pangolin, we have a magical bush dinner. We allow the darkness to embrace us, but the brightness of the almost full moon bath us in its light. There is a hush over the land, other than our voices.

 

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We chat and laugh about a few things from pangolins to aardvarks to Wendi’s plans for the future. Safe to say, she’s going to stick around her subjects for a long time more.

 

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Sadly, we wrap up fairly soon but there are night creatures waiting to be discovered. And high on my list – an aardvark.

 

 

Adrian has told me that no other guests had seen the aardvarks for a while, although I did find out that the night I had arrived, a family flying into Tswalu was lucky in seeing one.

 

The night I had arrived in Tswalu was freezing cold (bear in mind I’m a tropical gal so anything below 25 degrees is cold, and anything under 15 degrees is freezing) The morning I arrived in Johannesburg, it is 8 degrees centigrade. The cold is also keenly felt in Tswalu, and I am initially discouraged from night drives as even the nocturnal animals duck into their burrows to keep warm in the peak of winter. Which is a reason why the aardvarks emerge in the daylight in the height of winter months to forage.

 

While I am there, the weather warmed up steadily and could have kept the aardvarks underground during the day. But there has also been few fresh signs of aardvarks on the surface. The stocky anteater digs into the ground for ants and termites, and the soil it flings out typically forms a mound - a mini termite mound if you like.

 

 

It is a sharp contrast to the last two years when aardvarks were just falling out of the roads even in May. Adrian said you could see 3-4 a day, and one just walked right into him. But while I am there, it seems only that family saw the elusive creature. Wendi said she saw them 3 weeks before my arrival but, since then, she had not seen them in the daylight hours. The pangolin has not been hit by the drought nor have the aardvarks, said Wendi.

 

The guides are mixed in their conclusions. Adrian feels that the numbers are hammered by the prolonged drought. Another guide said he saw a number of dead aardvarks in January when the rains failed to come. Guy, the Tswalu director I flew to Capetown with, is more confident that it is still a little warm for them to emerge. the minute the frost is out, they will come out.

 

 

I sure hope it is the weather that is keeping them away, and not the drought.

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@@michael-ibk

I didn't realise it at that time, but found out subsequently that guests are welcome to talk to researchers, and if they allow, tag along with them for their work (without impeding their research). Tswalu is quite proud of the research projects in their reserve and they have a few projects ongoing (check their website: http://www.tswalu.com/conservation/the-tswalu-foundation)

 

i didn't think of asking another guide. Adrian did say that the nights could be so cold that even the nocturnal animals don't move around at all. i think he suggested the night drive only because we couldn't find the aardvark in the day.

 

yes I was so lucky with the pangolin! quite an endearing creature. wish it isn't so hunted by humans though.

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@@Kitsafari I also love what you described about the micro-village for staff and their families. I have seen at least one other lodge that worked that way, Kwandwe in S. Africa, and they also had a pre-school/day care. I always feel so bad for staff who have to live so far from their families most of the time - this is a great thing if it works to do it!

 

@safariChick

 

me too, especially when they have to work for a few months before they get leave to return home. In Tswalu, if I recall correctly, the staff work for about four weeks and then get a week off. These guys work 7 days a week, so Tswalu's shorter working times seem quite protective of their welfare.

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sorry for the short intermission... had to give some priority to work ( :wacko: ).

 

So we begin our night drive. The springhares are out and what a cute fascinating creature it is! I try to take a few pictures but obviously Ms Slowhand is also Ms Amateur and all my photos fail. The other ST TRs have mentioned it before; despite its name and despite its resemblance to a tiny kangaroo, the springhare is a rodent. Why would one name it springhare? It's probably due to its ears and its jumping characteristic.

 

Well the next creature we see – 3 porcupines – is also a rodent, but at least it has a special niche name of its own and isn’t trying to be something it isn’t, like, a springhare. But gosh, they are all devilishly fast and hard to photograph – just like the elephant shrews.

 

Then the sightings go up a notch when we come across a cape fox. That’s new for me too but they are found widely in central and western regions of southern Africa. They are tiny as befit the smallest canid found in South Africa. The bushy tail is enormous in proportion to its body size, helping it balance when it’s dodging larger predators. It’s supposed to be silver grey but in the red filtered spotlight it appears almost snowy.

 

My photo is rubbish, and my taping (a red filter is used on the spotlight) is really not much better.

 

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Still no signs of the stocky pig-snouted ground animal that I fly thousands of miles in to see. I recall someone in ST had said she tried calling the name of the animal she wanted to see, and she would always see it. So I try something different, by appealing to the spirits of the Kalahari. They are very much alive around me – in the red sands that clasp the scruffy bushes in place, in the acacia and thornvelds that hide and protect its gems, in the winds that blow against my face. there are two animals I so wanted to see – an aardvark and an aardwolf – but I don’t want to be greedy. So, although I’m hardly a superstitious person, but I think karma and spirits do surround me, I ask Kalahari to show me either an aardvark or an aardwolf. Was I being too underwhelming? Should i have asked for both.

 

whichever the case, Aril jumps in his seat and yells and points to a distance. Aardwolf!

 

Yay! Aardwolf! I can’t believe it – Kalahari grants me my wish. That striped funny looking thing that looks almost like a striped hyena but smaller. It is a nocturnal animal and a member of the hyena family. Unlike its cousins, it eats mainly termites. It pairs for life. Its name means earth wolf in Afrikaans. I like that name, it grounds it to the native land.

 

 

As I said earlier, I gave up on taking photos in the low light with my bridge camera. So I try to tape it, but in my excitement of alternating looks through the viewfinder and naked eye, the camera sways a lot and I won't hurt your eyes with it.

 

The night ends on a high note. I am pretty satisfied, but wonder if Kalahari would have granted me anything if I had asked for both. I am disappointed I don’t get to see an aardvark, but an aardwolf, well! One can’t be too greedy,right? Maybe a good reason to return to Tswalu in the wintry months?

Edited by Kitsafari
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I think I was the mystical "she" and it clearly works ;)

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michael-ibk

Cape Fox, Porcupine and Aardwolf - really impressive nightdrive results! You know, there´s still the Great Aardvark Quest to be done, so you can´t find it all on your own, can you? :)

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@@michael-ibk ahh where do i sign up?! I need all the help I can get for The Great Quest.

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@@Kitsafari

I love the Pangolin - great to see a second one.I also really enjoyed your video of the Cape Fox!

Shame about the Aardvark -but an Aardwolf is n amazing sighting.

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Truly a rewarding safari, what incredible sightings and such variety. I love your descriptions and your photos.

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Thank you for the great TR. Your descriptions and photos are extremely helpful

 

This reserve is very high on our list.

 

Do you think you could have done more night drives if you had been more insisting? Did you pay extra for the private guide or is that standard practice?

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