A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: NeedhamSA2024

Day 34 and 35

The Zambezi and my last blog

sunny 36 °C
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After 35 days and nearly 4,500 miles of travel within Southern Africa, the time has come to put together my last blog. I am hugely grateful to Gordon J for introducing me to TravellersPoint.com By adding your own title in front of a domain name you have your personal page to display on the world wide waste.

To be honest, this blog was more for our benefit; something on which we can reflect in the months and years to come. I doubt I have given the blog address to more than 15 people. I anticipated that my parents and siblings would probably enjoy following the adventure. They lived in Malawi for ten years before I arrived on the scene and travelled to many of the places that we have visited over the last few weeks. But if you have enjoyed joining us on our journey too, then I am pleased. I didn’t set out to write as much I did. But it just seemed natural to add as much detail as possible. It takes a hell of a long time to put together, transferring photos from the Nikon memory stick to the lap top, reviewing and comparing those taken on our phones, editing and then labelling photos, uploading to the blog site photo album and then deciding which ones to include. And that’s before researching facts and figures and putting it in words. But I know we will look back fondly on our time here, with this as our permanent record.

Now is typically the time to reflect. But in truth I think that will take weeks and months to do. We have covered so much ground and seen so much in a relatively short period of time that it is difficult to come up with some snazzy bite size conclusion. I can say that we have loved this trip even more than we could have imagined. It has been way more than a holiday. South Africa has bitten us and we will definitely be back, probably sooner than even we might expect. We have loved all that we have encountered. Right now, I struggle to find the right words to describe it all.
But hey, there’s still 2 more days to share with you so let’s not get ourselves down about leaving just yet!

Truffle Pig have found us a gem in Mpala Jena. What’s more incredible is that we have the entire resort to ourselves. It is summer and low season but with great excitement, there are no other guests. We had the pick of any villa we so chose. And it is the perfect place to relax and enjoy. Honestly, never in my life did I imagine being able to stay somewhere where I would wake up overlooking the Zambezi. In the night we can hear hippo, monkeys, baboons and at dawn we are woken to music played impeccably by any number of local birds. How can we ever come back from this?

And the food. My god have we eaten like royalty on this trip and here is no exception. All sorts of delicious fruits, yoghurts and breads greet us for breakfast. We actually decline the 3 course lunch that would otherwise be served 3 hours later. We do this knowing that high tea is served at 4.30pm Dinner is then a choice of delicious meats, vegetables and fish cooked with care by the wonderful Chef Flower. It’s difficult to be well behaved but we can tackle that when we get home. So please don’t comment on my waistline 😊.

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Because it is my last one, I am going to make it a long one. And I am going to treat you to visual sensory overload because there is much to show you and tell you about.

Let’s start with the grounds themselves. As you walk up from the boat, you are greeted with tastefully designed thatch rooved open plan structures.

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Mpala Jena was designed in Australia during Covid based on drone shots of the sight sent over from the local team. There’s a living area where you can sit and read or write if you choose.

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In front of that is the fire pit. It cools down quickly after sunset.

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Next to it is the bar. And why just sit at a bar when you can use a swing. Brilliant.

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Further along is the pool with deck chairs and another reading room across the way. It has a massive Atlas that is a little out of date. Zaire is no more.

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As I say, we had the place and all the staff to ourselves. They were so friendly and always engaged. After hearing of a nickname for which Susan is not keen Faith later repeated it, knowing she could. Karen and I thought that was brilliant :)

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After high tea, we are ready to sit our lazy bums on a boat and we spend consecutive evenings exploring the mighty river.

The Zambezi (which by the way should be pronounced zam-bay-zee) is a vast expanse of water. And you think it is one river, like the Thames perhaps. But you shoot down tributaries and there is another breadth of water just as wide as the first. The 2,574 km (1,599 mi) river rises in Zambia and flows through eastern Angola, along the north-eastern border of Namibia and the northern border of Botswana, then along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe to Mozambique, where it crosses the country to empty into the Indian Ocean. It's actually only the 4th largest river in Africa (behind the Nile, Congo and Niger).

We soon see an impressive tree full of weaver bird nests.

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Honestly, regardless of specie, males have it rough when it comes to courtship. The effort we have to go through to impress a female is spectacular and at the end, there’s every possibility we will simply be rejected. Male weaver birds have it especially tough. The self confidence of those who are unsuccessful must be absolutely shot.

“Zambezi weaver birds, are small passerine (perching) birds known for their remarkable nest-building skills, constructing intricate woven nests made from grass, reeds, lichen and other plant materials. The males typically weave these nests to attract females during the breeding season, showcasing their craftsmanship and providing a safe haven for raising their young.”

OK, so what’s the problem here? Well, if the female isn’t impressed, she wont just reject the male, she’ll physically demolish his efforts. Talk about harsh!

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Zambezi weavers are highly social birds though, often nesting in colonies that can contain dozens or even hundreds of individuals. From the photo above, some of the nests are no longer active apparently. They feed primarily on seeds, insects, and small fruits, foraging in groups near water bodies or in grasslands.

Their distinctive nests serve not only as shelters but also as protection from predators. Though I am sad to say that we did witness one such predator tucking in. But I am pleased to report that despite facing threats from habitat loss and degradation, Zambezi weaver birds continue to thrive along the River.

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Zambezi hippos, also known as common hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius), are fascinating creatures found along the River and its surrounding areas in southern Africa. I discovered some interesting facts about them and I know you will be pleased to learn more with me;

1. Huge Herbivores: Zambezi hippos are the third-largest land mammals on Earth, following elephants and rhinoceroses. They can weigh between 1,500 and 3,200 kilograms (3,300 to 7,000 pounds) which must be similar to me now after 5 weeks away..
2. Semi-Aquatic Lifestyle: Despite their massive size, Zambezi hippos spend much of their time in water to keep cool and avoid sunburn. They are excellent swimmers and can hold their breath for several minutes underwater.
3. Territorial Behavior: Male hippos establish territories in the water, which they fiercely defend from intruders, including other hippos. They use vocalizations and physical displays, such as opening their mouths wide to show off their formidable tusks.
4. Herbivorous Diet: Despite their intimidating appearance, Zambezi hippos are herbivores, feeding on grasses and other vegetation. They graze on land at night, traveling considerable distances from the water to find food.
5. Social Structure: Zambezi hippos typically live in groups called pods, which can consist of up to 30 individuals. Within these pods, there is a complex social hierarchy, with dominant males asserting authority over females and younger males.
6. Vulnerable Status: While Zambezi hippos are not currently considered endangered, they face threats from habitat loss, poaching, and human-wildlife conflict. Conservation efforts are crucial to ensuring their long-term survival in their natural habitat along the Zambezi River and beyond.

And I am happy to report that we saw plenty of them demonstrating many of the traits above. They make an almighty groan too, once they resurface, presumably gasping for air. By the 3rd and final night, the noise no longer woke us though.

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It was awesome to witness these two venturing back into the water, presumably after enjoying their evening meal. You can hear the trepidation in my voice as they disappear under water. Don’t worry; we survived.

Then Wellington’s eagle eyes spotted a crocodile on the bank. As we approached it was lying still, mouth closed. But it wasn’t long before it impressed us with its excessive amount of teeth.

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The difference between crocs and alligators? Crocodiles have V-shaped snouts and are typically found in saltwater habitats like Australia (and of course here in the fresh waters of the Zambezi), while alligators have U-shaped snouts and prefer freshwater environments. Crocodiles tend to be more aggressive, with teeth visible when their jaws are closed, while alligators are generally less aggressive, with only their top teeth visible.

Zambezi crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) are known to reach impressive lengths, with males typically growing larger than females. On average, adult males can range from 3 to 5 meters (10 to 16 feet) in length, although individuals exceeding 6 meters (20 feet) have been reported. Females are generally smaller, reaching lengths of around 2 to 3 meters (6.5 to 10 feet). These crocodiles can weigh up to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) or more, making them one of the largest crocodilian species in Africa.

Wellington cautioned us against having a morning swim in the river. No worries Wellington, we are all good.

As we find a quiet place to enjoy a sundowner, Wellington suggests a photo. We thought he was joking when he told us that it would be good to have a croc in the snap (pun intended). It was just a tiddler but maybe a little too close for Susan’s comfort.

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We then headed back to camp, enjoying the colours of the post sunset sky.

A quick digression here. Because I told you several blogs ago, about Red Notice by Bill Browder, I want to update you that I finished the book today, finally. It was gripping, unbelievable , fascinating and sad. And it was utterly surreal that not 2 hours after reading the last page, news of Navalny’s presumed murder broke the airways. I’ll try not to bring the mood down for this final blog but if you still don’t believe that Putin and his cronies are murdering monsters, then you should certainly read this book. I shall be buying his sequel, ‘Freezing Order’ for our long journey home.

And so, for our second and final sunset cruise we headed off in the opposite direction. We had not expected to find this elephant grazing along the river. But it was certainly a bonus that we appreciated.

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And these zebras were enjoying an evening graze too.

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We encountered the banded Mongoose which stopped to say hello before scurrying off.

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And in the trees we spotted this Pied Kingfisher

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Then as if it had been pre ordered, the most wonderful sunset occurred before our very eyes. We have seen many stunning ones back home and indeed, on this trip but I am sure it is more than last night nostalgia to suggest that it has to be the most impressive one we have ever witnessed. Simply ‘wow’!

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And that ladies and gentlemen is all he wrote.

Thank you for your company.

Posted by NeedhamSA2024 10:18 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (2)

Day 33

Victoria Falls

sunny 35 °C
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We planned the trip so that we would finish at Victoria Falls. And brownie points with it being Valentine's Day! It's difficult to say that we left the best for last but we were pretty certain that it would be a good way to end our trip. As one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, it is something all of us have seen on the TV. I have always dreamed of being here and then sailing down the Zambezi.

I have seen the Niagara Falls and while they are stunning, the Canadians have managed to destroy the area with dull tall hotels and ubiquitous neon signs. I hoped that this was not the case at Victoria.

We were told by the pilot that we could see the Falls as we came in to land. The semi circle of smoke is in fact water spray. The airport has purposely been built several kilometers from the Falls so as not to ruin the vibe with aircraft noise. Good start.

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We were collected by a pleasant lady and driven the relatively short distance to the Falls where we were met by our guide, Lovemore. Africans have two names on the whole, one English and one native. We have met many such people; Clever, Goodman, Livewell, Happy, Fortunate, Blessing, Patience, Pretty, Wonderful. And indeed these names and the people to which they are connected have all been wonderful.

Lovemore is a guide at Mpala Jena which shall be our home for the next 3 nights. Before that though, we are going straight to the Falls for a tour. We can hear them before we see them, though first we pass a commemorative statue to the great adventurer Dr. David Livingstone (1813 to 1873).

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As you know, Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer is famous for his African exploration and humanitarian work during the 19th century. He was renowned for his efforts to abolish the African slave trade. Livingstone traversed vast expanses of uncharted territory, mapping regions and documenting natural wonders. According to Lovemore, he walked more of Africa than any other human being. His expeditions, including the discovery (first by a non African) of the Victoria Falls (which he named after Queen Victoria), contributed greatly to European knowledge of Africa's geography. Livingstone's dedication to Christian missions led to the establishment of numerous missions and trading posts, facilitating interaction between European traders and African communities. His commitment to humanitarian causes earned him international acclaim.

Livingstone died on 1 May 1873 at the age of 60 in Chief Chitambo's village at Chipundu, in present-day Zambia, from malaria and internal bleeding due to dysentery. Most unpleasant don't you think. Led by his loyal attendants Chuma and Susi, his expedition arranged funeral ceremonies. They removed his heart & lungs and buried them under a tree near the spot where he died. His body was then returned to the UK, I understand.

On we moved toward the wonders themselves. And wow, what a sight that greeted us. By the way, the locals call the falls Mosi-oa-Tunya meaning “smoke that thunders.”

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"Victoria Falls has a rich geological history spanning millions of years and is situated on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Though it may not be the widest or the highest, Victoria Falls is classified as the largest because of its combined width of 1,708 metres and height of 108 metres, surpassing the aforementioned Niagara and also the Iguacu Falls (South America). Victoria Falls comprises five different 'smaller' waterfalls. One is in Zambia and four are in Zimbabwe." Visiting them from the Zimbabwe side, we have a wonderful view of the Falls with Zambia on the other side.

"Around 180 million years ago, during the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana, the African plate began to separate from the South American plate. This tectonic activity led to the uplifting of the African plateau, creating a vast elevated region where Victoria Falls now stands.

Approximately five to two million years ago, the Zambezi River began carving its path across this plateau. The river's flow encountered alternating layers of hard basalt and softer sandstone, a geological formation known as the Batoka Gorge. Over time, the relentless force of water eroded the softer rock layers, gradually creating a series of waterfalls, including Victoria Falls.

The geological significance of Victoria Falls extends beyond its formation. The surrounding landscape, with its diverse flora and fauna, reflects the intricate relationship between geology, climate, and biodiversity. This geological masterpiece stands as a reminder of the Earth's dynamic processes and its ability to carve breathtaking landscapes over vast stretches of time."

And what of the future?

"Victoria Falls will likely entail continued erosion, albeit at a slower rate. The Zambezi River will persist in carving through the underlying rock layers, gradually deepening the chasm downstream of the falls. Over time, this erosion may result in further retreat of the falls upstream. However, the process will unfold over geological timescales, ensuring that Victoria Falls will remain a stunning natural wonder for generations to come." But don't leave it too late to visit!

The Falls are every bit as breathtaking as I have always imagined them to be. In fact they are huge which accounts for the 15 look out points along our way. I could have sat and watched them all day, so mesmerising are they. It was worth the 52 years that I have waited to see them in all of their glory. And not a neon sign or hotel in sight.

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Along the path we came across 2 vervet monkeys grooming. They could care less as to our presence.

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Though we are not rushed, it is time to move on to Mpala Jena which is 25km away. And how about this, we are to arrive by boat. We met the Captain (Wellington, a young chap from Zambia) at a dock down the road, transferred our luggage onto the small vessel and set off on the mighty Zambezi. It is difficult to describe it but I felt more in Africa now than at any point in the trip. To me, the Zambezi is Africa. We travelled 40 minutes looking at all the incredible sights. We had to traverse two rapids;

and we saw hippos. Oh wow!

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And then we arrived at our destination, greeted by the entire staff at the lodge.

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It is now time to relax for a while and enjoy the few days before we head home. No more safaris needed now but we certainly plan to enjoy a couple of sunset cruises.

This is where heaven is located!!

Posted by NeedhamSA2024 06:09 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Day 32

Our last safari

sunny 34 °C
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With some sadness, we realise that there is time for just one last safari on this adventure of a life time.

When we arrived at Kwandwe you might recall that we were not as excited as we felt we should have been. I am pleased to say that was very short lived. We have loved our time here beyond measure.

And wow, have we seen so much in the last few weeks. In fact, way more than we ever could have dreamed of. We have also seen so many birds but they are usually too quick for us to be able to snap. A couple of days ago, we saw the enormous secretary bird. It was clear through the binos but too far away for our camera. The secretary bird is instantly recognizable as a very large bird with an eagle-like body on crane-like legs that give the bird a height of as much as 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in).

We also saw an African red-billed hornbill or for those more familiar with the Lion King, Zazu.

We did manage to snap this Goshawk (from Goose Hawk of years gone by). 99% of its diet is other birds.

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Anyway, we headed south with Matt for one final hurrah. This afternoon we fly to Joburg where we stay with Karen before all 3 of us fly tomorrow, to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Today, we searched for nothing in particular. It was more to enjoy and appreciate all that we have witnessed over the last few weeks. But we were not to be disappointed.

But before you get to see a couple of delightful videos and photos, let me tell you about Spekboom, seen here in front of the lodge. Matt gave us some quick facts and it is so incredible I researched it further now. It is worth passing on some of the details for your amazement;

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"Spekboom (Portulacaria Afra) is a succulent plant found in South Africa. It is indigenous to the Eastern Cape province and has been deemed as a miracle plant. It is a bright green, small-leaved plant.

Facts About the Spekboom Plant & Its Uses;

Leaves are Edible
The taste of spekboom leaves are pleasant but changes throughout as the sun rises and sets. During the day leaves have an acid flavour and they become less acidic towards the evening. The delicious greenery is heavily browsed by game and firm favourite of several wild animals, especially elephants that can eat about 200 kilograms a day.!

Communities Use Spekboom Leaves for Their Medicinal Values
The leaves are used medicinally and in traditional home construction. Here are the most popular traditional and contemporary uses of spekboom leaves:

Sucking a leaf to quench thirst, treat exhaustion, dehydration and heatstroke.
Using crushed leaves to provide relief for blisters.
Chewing leaves can treat a sore throat and mouth infections.
Juiced leaves are used as an antiseptic and to soothe skin ailments such as pimples, rashes, insect stings and sunburn.

This miracle plant species can be beneficial in rehabilitating and restoring semi-arid and thicket habitats. More impressive still is the spekboom’s fantastic growth rate and its drought-resistance, making it an ideal plant for arid areas.

What Makes Spekboom Such a Special Plant;

It Helps to Fight Climate Change and Air Pollution;
This plant helps to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by acting like a carbon sponge, improving the quality of air we breathe. More specifically, spekboom can absorb between four to ten tonnes of carbon per hectare. This incredible tree uses carbon to make plant tissue and produce oxygen. According to The Spekboom Foundation, spekboom’s“capacity to offset harmful carbon emissions is compared to that of moist, subtropical forests. This remarkable plant is unique in that it stores solar energy to perform photosynthesis at night. This makes a spekboom thicket 10 times more effective per hectare at carbon fixing than any tropical rainforest.”

SpekboomCan Live Up to 200 Years Old!
This plant propagates easily. A broken branch tossed onto the ground by a grazing elephant will grow roots and create a whole new plant. It can sprout up to five metres tall. It also stimulates biodiversity, enabling other plants to grow and live in its mini biome.

It is High in Basic Nutrients
This plant is edible and high in nutrients, especially Vitamin C, and a perfect addition to a salad. It is a firm favourite in the animal kingdom, especially for elephants, kudu and black rhino."

We tasted some and it reminded us of apples. 2 leaves contains more Vit C than a Kiwi fruit!

So back to this morning and what we saw. These were the southern pride, different from the ones with cubs I posted in my last blog. It was getting hot so they were not in hunting mode but they were still playful and two lionesses greeted each other with joy. Matt is clearly well versed in the behavior of these cats as you can hear in the video clip. Soon after it was time to rest in the shade.

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You should recognise these I think;

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And saving the best to last, we were greeted by the same mother and calf that had been eyeing us two days ago and for which I had posted a video. This time, they came even closer to check us out. Matt's comment about the Rolex watch is her AI collar round her front leg.

Ah, magic!! :)

Thank you South Africa. We will miss you.

Posted by NeedhamSA2024 10:46 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Day 31

The Mgcamabele Community Centre and a big creature

sunny 42 °C
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Ever since we knew we would stay at Kwandwe we have been looking forward to today.

You can probably tell that in addition to enjoying the many comforts we have been fortunate to experience, we like to learn as much as we can about local culture and of course wildlife.

Kwandwe is committed to making a positive and lasting difference in the rural Eastern Cape, one of South Africa’s least developed provinces. Working through their social development partner, the Ubunye Foundation, they invest in projects that improve lives and create sustainable opportunities in marginalised rural communities.

An allocation of land on the reserve plus the facilitation and construction of the Mgcamabele Community Centre occurred as a result. On-site Pre-school and aftercare services are provided for the children of their staff, with meals served daily. And it is to the Mgcamabele Community Centre that we visit this morning.

We were asked not to take photos of the children and so we duly obliged but https://www.kwandwe.com/giving-back/ provides more details as to the initiatives of the Ubunye Foundation and the community centre.

When we arrived, the class of around 11 children were singing 'Heads, shoulders, knees and toes'. What better way to break the ice than to join in. Viewed with some suspicion, they non the less continued their song while keeping a close eye on these strange looking oldies behaving like it was perfectly natural for us to be stretching for our knees and toes. They seamlessly moved onto the 'Wheels on the Bus'.

We were asked whether we would like to read to the children. Absolutely. I had already spotted Fox in Socks which I had read to my own children many moons ago. I had forgotten what a tongue twister it is and they giggled when I tripped up or ran out of breath. Susan's turn. A much more sedate story about a puppy. By this stage they were warming to us. In Joburg while thinking ahead, we had bought footballs, bouncy balls, SA footy shirts, Frisbees, crayons, colouring books and other items we thought might be of use. We presented these to Asi who carefully distributed something to each child. We pumped up the footballs and in no time the entire class with Susan & I were running around the school yard like nutters. It was great fun and the children were kicking or bouncing balls and throwing Frisbees in every conceivable direction. We had bought stickers that had variations of 'well done' and each with an African animal. We gave one to each child who took great pride (no pun) in wearing it. They asked that I make the noise of the animal that corresponded with their sticker. When it came to the elephant, I made a noise so loud it initially made a couple scream out. Thankfully, tears did not follow. After a couple of hours, it was time for their snack break and rest and for us to take our leave. It had been such a fun morning and I was grateful to them that I was able to kick a football again for the first time in weeks. The Foundation and the Community Centre are truly having a positive impact on wildlife and community and it is a privilege to witness. Again, so many people who have so little give up so much to help others. As the African proverb in the photo below says, 'A person is a person because of other persons'. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Of note, the school was opened by the widow of Steve Biko. You may know the name from the wonderful 1987 film Cry Freedom, starring Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline.

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It is seriously bloody hot today with temps expected to reach 42c. The Germans have now left (I'm aching to quote many lines now from Fawlty Towers 'The Germans' but despite my own strong German heritage, rather than risk not being politically correct, I shall simply suggest that you watch the episode on YouTube if you don't know to what I refer. It's very politically incorrect but very funny). Apologies to any family or friends if I have offended!

I have things I need to do, so for the afternoon safari, Susan had her own private guide.

Due to the afternoon heat, Matt says there is little point trying to locate Leopard so they set off in pursuit of a tower of giraffe. A tower is a suitable name for a group of animals with such large frames.

But on the drive, a troop of monkeys are causing mayhem. Much louder than their usual cacophony of communication. Then out of the bushes runs a buffalo in pursuit of, drum role.......... a leopard. After all the time we have been on safari, one is briefly spotted against all the odds of the African afternoon heat. It was clearly too close to a buffalo cub and now the leopard was gone. Or so they thought. So a short while later, it appeared in the open again some distance from the buffalo and this time it was much more obliging for the camera. Susan and Matt spent some time being able to appreciate this glorious cat. Susan had indeed seen the catrick and all the big 5.

The English name "leopard" comes from Old French leupart or Middle French liepart, that derives from Latin leopardus and ancient Greek λέοπάρδος (leopardos). I bet they didn't teach you that in school!

The leopard is a slender and muscular cat, with relatively short limbs and a broad head. Leopards from the Cape Province in South Africa are generally smaller than other regions, reaching only 20–45 kg (44–99 lb) in males. The maximum recorded weight of a wild leopard in Southern Africa was around 96 kg (212 lb), and it measured 262 cm (103 in). Hardly a pet cat though.

Their diet fluctuates with prey availability, which ranges from strong-scented carrion, fish, reptiles, and birds to mammals such as rodents, hares, warthogs, antelopes, and baboons.

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Later on the safari, they came across a herd of elephant with young. This calf was so young, it was still unable to control its own trunk.

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In my excitement of telling you about the Rhino experience, I forgot to say that later that evening (Day 30) we went for an evening safari and came across the the 4 lion cubs that we had spotted after dark a couple of nights back. This time, the pride were united and with them were two males. How cute?!;

Posted by NeedhamSA2024 09:42 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Day 30

Rhino Conservation

sunny 38 °C
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Time goes so quickly that it is easy to fall behind on blogging. Which is exactly what I have done. The days have been full on, starting with our 5am wake up call for morning safari. By the time we have finished evening safari and dinner it's near 9.30pm and these oldies are knackered.

So let's get to it. Not many pictures in this blog I am afraid.

Kwandwe is similar to Welgevonden in many ways. Once upon a time the big 5 called this area home but then hunting changed that in the 1800s and land was then used for farming goat and ostrich. The last two cheetah's were killed in 1888. Antelope and others remained but the big game died out. Kwandwe is located in the Eastern Cape in the Great Fish River Valley, about 2 hours north east of Port Elizabeth (now called Gqeberha). The nearest town, formerly Grahamstown, is Makhanda. In 1998 the dream was to return a piece of land to its former glory and rehabilitate it with wildlife and Kwandwe is now home to the big 5 plus cheetah, woodpecker, cape grysbok, black wildebeest, crown eagles and blue crane, the national bird. Kwandwe literally means the place of the Blue Crane. When I say a piece of land, I am talking about 65,000 acres. This will soon expand to over 85,000 acres.

The whole reserve is owned by one family, the Chouest Family from the USA.

With the primary aim of protecting black and white rhino, the Kwandwe Rhino Conservation Trust was settled in order to raise funds for rhino conservation strategies in the Great Fish River Valley. There are countless NGOs set up around the world to protect rhinos but Kwandwe discovered that after admin expenses, a $75,000 donation would mean that they only saw $25,000 of that. They needed to ensure that all donations went directly to helping the species and not spent on layers of bureaucracy. The Trust was born.

Today, Susan and I have paid for a conservation experience with rhino specialists, Craig and Nicky. Effectively, we are joining them to witness them at work, not as a sightseeing tour. Our main objective today is to find two sub adults that have not been spotted for over 2 weeks. I am pretty sure my parents probably referred to me as a sub adult at times, especially in my co-operate teens years! There are no alarm bells at this stage. It is usually after about 3 years when mum will boot her calf into the big wide world as she prepares to give birth to her next offspring. It takes sub adults some time to find their own turf.

Craig, whom I would guess is in his mid thirties, has a Masters in environmental studies. In the olden days he would take his note pad and pen, together with his senses and go searching for rhino tracks and then pursue those across the reserve. It would be a full day in hot conditions and he might not always locate any rhino. Now a days, technology has come to the rescue of both Craig and the rhino. Powerful drones travel out up to 8km from our location and with heat seeking technology can locate any animal some hundreds meters below. He is then able to focus in on camera and determine not only the animal but the zoom is so powerful, it can identify the markings on its ears (assuming it is a rhino). Rhinos on the reserve are not given pet names but rather a series of letters and numbers. Each rhino is given a unique ear clip from which they can identity it from great heights, without freaking it/them out. To view this in real time on the screen is amazing.

Here is Craig seeing what the drone sees plus the view from one of our look out points;

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Technology helps both poacher and protector. But in terms of protecting, huge assistance has been given. A collar was developed at a University in South Africa that not only is able to track the location of a rhino but is solar panelled and so there is not risk of battery run out. The most wonderful aspect of the technology though is that it is AI driven. Sensors and other components help understand the emotions of the rhino. It can determine when it is calm, in heat, anxious or even severely distressed. In the event that a rhino is shot by a poacher, the collar will send out a red alert to the team and in less than 15 minutes anywhere in the reserve, a drone can arrive at the location of the animal. If it is indeed a poacher, the heat sensors will track the poacher and a helicopter is deployed to the scene. There is no escape for the poacher. In the past, it might be 5 days before the reserve even know that a rhino is in distress, or worse shot.

There are 3 very large poaching syndicates operating in South Africa, acting much like a drug cartel. Demand has now shifted from China to emerging far eastern countries, particularly Vietnam and Thailand. Rather than for medicinal purposes, the greater demand is now for the prestige of having a rhino horn adorning your entrance way. Before the collars had been introduced they received information that poachers were coming for the rhino on the reserve. Now we see the relevance of me sharing that the reserve has one owner. With one simple Whats App they were able to communicate with the family. These collars are not cheap and there was no guarantee of raising funds in time. The owner gave the go ahead to buy ten collars and the developer rushed up to the reserve and with Craig they worked over 2 days erecting communication towers and fitting the most 10 most vulnerable rhinos with collars. They flew the helicopter constantly and made a huge public song and dance as to what they were doing. It worked, the poachers caught wind and moved on by.

Now, most rhinos over 5 years old have been fitted with the collars. That is the age at which their legs no longer grow wider.

It is a sad fact that 90% of poaching is usually an inside job. Selling information and turning a blind eye. Nearly 60% of all remaining rhinos are now found on private reserves such as Welgevonden and Kwandwe. National Parks are finally working with private reserves to collaborate on conservation methods but the provincial parks have a dark record. Craig told me some alarming stories which he asked me not to share, so I won't. Safe to say that it is sad what some will do for personal financial gain.

You might ask whether it is sensible of me to share the details I have. We asked Craig and Nicky the same thing. Rather than try and keep their rhino population on the reserve secret, they openly market the fact. With the drones, helicopters, large K9 units and armed security patrol, they are doing their best to keep the poachers out. The only way then to help the cause is with guests visiting the lodge and/or making donations to the Trust. They are proud of the work they are doing and want the world to come and witness the majesty of these great creatures. Their breeding has been so successful that they have been able to relocate rhino to other appropriate reserves.

In fact, one way of promoting Kwandwe is by entertaining travel agents whom will then spread the word. Craig relayed a story of one day when an agent needed a bathroom break. From the bushes came an almighty commotion then suddenly the agent with her pants still unfastened levitated from the privacy of the bushes straight into the vehicle without ever touching the ground. She was immediately followed by a charging bull rhino. The rhino was not after her but instead, had picked up the scent of a cow in heat. It was unfortunate that said agent had chosen her comfort break right in its path. Well it made me laugh!! Just imagine.

Ultimately, we did not locate the two sub adults. If they haven't found them in 2 or 3 days, they'll send up the helicopter. But we learned an incredible amount about conservation and were so glad of the experience. We have been totally privileged to see many rhino across two reserves. We cannot let the wonderful work of so many dedicated people go to waste. National Parks inflate their numbers to attract tourists, by all accounts, which means that there are likely less than 10,000 rhinos, black or white, remaining in the wild.

These photos were taken during the trip and not today but show the majestic white (1st 2) and black.

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Finally I must stress that the Foundation doesn't ignore other animals. Poaching of lion for their teeth and elephant for their tusk remains a very real issue and huge support is directed there too.

Today was an extremely positive day in regard to conservation.

Posted by NeedhamSA2024 08:33 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

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