HI, and welcome to my blog! I am a field guide in a private game reserve in South Africa and below you will find stories and pictures of my amazing job!

June 2, 2011

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Rhino Scorned

Another week in the bush has flown by.  Winter is most definitely here now and those of you that have never been to South Africa will not comprehend that it is possible to be so cold in the sub tropics!  Mornings now are between 1 and 3 degrees on average and guests are very grateful for the inclusion of blankets and hot water bottles in the land rovers.  The wind chill is biting when there is no roof or windows and chapped lips, streaming eyes and frozen ears are becoming par for the course!  The bush is also drying out now as we expect no more rain before October.  The vibrant greens and colours of summer are long behind us now and have been replaced by shades of yellow, orange and brown as the bush begins its annual torpor.  This is fire season and smoke has been spotted in neighbouring reserves often over the last few days.  Thankfully we have avoided any thus far but we are under no illusions that the fire fighting team of us, the lodge personnel, will be called into action soon.
                The sightings are also picking up as the trees are losing their leaves and the visibility improves.  The lion cubs have been seen regularly and all 10 balls of playful fluff are entertaining us on an almost daily basis.  The mothers hunting has also improved as they camp out by the river waiting for the unwitting animals to approach the river for water during this dry time.  In the past few days they have killed 2 buffalo and all are looking in great shape.  Winter is a great time for predators as the lack of food and scarcity of water mean that the herbivores are loosing condition and taking more chances to find nature’s elixir, water.

1 of the young lion cubs swots his sibling bathed in morning sunlight

                     We also had a great sighting of the original dominant male leopard of the area, known as Sand River, one night.  He has been patrolling his old stomping ground looking for the female that hangs out around Little Bush Camp.  It seems as if she has lost her cub and is now back in estrus and the males of the area are trying to pinpoint her location to mate with her once again.  Sand River still looks as if he is blind in one eye but is still in great shape and oozed confidence as he walked past our land rover.

An intimidating walk past from the big guy

Sand River searching out the Little Bush female

Sand River's opaque right eyes seems not to be hampering his hunting ability

                A large herd of elephants was also seen in front of Selati camp the other day and we watched them at sunset as they strode over to the water to drink.  During the winter, these giants need about 120 litres of water a day and will be a regular sighting around the pans on the reserve.  We were looking into the sunset so photos were difficult and the only way to get an acceptable image was to give it a sepia finish.

Some of the large herd of elephant drinking in front of Selati 

                     In other news, a new male leopard has been spotted on our reserve and we watch with anticipation what his arrival will do to upset the already rather unstable apple cart.  One of our guides, Jonas, also witnessed 2 lesser bush babies mating one evening and there have been a few porcupine sightings of late.  It is rare to see these secretive nocturnal pin cushions but there have been about 4 or 5 sightings in the last week!  Not to mention a plethora of beautiful sunrises and sunsets!!

Sunrise in the lowveld - what more is there to say?

The undoubted biggest story of the last week came about when I was doing a mentored training walk.  The premise is simple – purposely walk into, view and extract from a sighting involving one of the big 5.  These approaches are an essential part of the on going training of the guides at Sabi Sabi as walking safaris are offered on a daily basis and the more experience we can gather, the better prepared we are to deal with a potentially dangerous situation.  I was leading the walk with Alistair as my back up as we headed out into the bush for a few hours.  Soon after leaving the lodge, we heard the trumpeting of elephants north of us so made a cautious approach to their approximate location.
                All went well and I spotted one of the females through a thicket of bushes about 50m from the road.  The wind direction was swirling and thus it was very difficult to decide on a safe approach.  While we were debating our next move, the herd suddenly changed direction and started making directly towards us on the road.  Swiftly we decided to head north of them and try to get to an open area where at least our surroundings could be monitored more safely.  Once there we were rewarded with a far safer view point to watch the herd as they milled about feeding.  We also spotted 2 rhino in the distance so decided to cross the drainage line to get another approach in the bag.  I left Alistair to look after the others while I went into the river bed to ensure that there were no surprises waiting for us inside.  After 5 minutes or so I returned to find the rest of the group hiding behind the bushes.  It seemed that in my absence, a mother and calf had ventured back and crossed the road about 30m from where I left them!
                In light of the still confusing wind and the erratic nature of the elephants’ movements we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and quickly made our way through the drainage line to the rhinos.  We were able to do a good approach on the 2 females and watched them from about 40m before deciding it was time to head back as the sun was now low in the sky.  As we extracted back towards the road the females broke into a run.  Fearing that they had been alerted to our presence, we took refuge behind a bush and waited to see what had spooked them.  Our initial thoughts that we were the cause of their flight were dashed when a huge male rhino strode into view.  We all recognized him instantly as he has only half a left ear and our adrenaline levels rose as one.  We know him well on Sabi Sabi – on his own, he is generally very placid and easily approachable but when females are placed in the mix, he becomes very aggressive and protective of his ladies.
                To make maters worse, the wind changed and so did his body language.  He checked his advance on the females and sniffed the air.  The sun was setting directly behind him and we were given a beautiful view of him on the crest of the open area but then the sun was soon blotted out by his massive figure as he made a beeline to where we were hiding. How dare some human intruders get in the way of his courtship?!  All of a sudden, the situation had become more serious.  Our escape route had been cut off, the light was fading and we now had a male rhino hot on our heels!  Having very little option left, we agreed to move fast.  Alistair was to lead the others back to the drainage line and I would bring up the rear as a last line of defense in case the rhino decided to charge.  We kept low as we half jogged across the 50m of open ground to the shelter of the riverbed with the rhino still quickly closing ground.  This was straight back towards the elephant herd, and we were all praying that we wouldn’t find them waiting for us.  Alistair slipped down the bank first, swiftly followed by the others and as I came down last, the rhino was now 20m and closing.  Thankfully, the riverbed was empty and we bid a very hasty exit away from the area, checking behind us every few steps to ensure our jealous bull didn’t decide to follow us down.  Thankfully he chose to remain on the bank, seemingly happy that he had scared off any competition.  Because of the failing light, we frog marched back to the lodge, arriving well after sunset, thankfully not encountering anything else on the way!  It was a scary situation but a good lesson that things can change at any time and to expect the unexpected!