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A crash of rhinos: Kruger 2012


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#1 Jochen

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 06:57 PM

Let's start with some general info:

This trip was 18 nights in total, starting on April, 29th. The places we chose were a combination of camps that we visited last year, and some camps of the year before. Our shedule was like this;
- Africa On Foot, Klaserie: 4 nights
- Shindzela, Timbavati: 4 nights
- nThambo, Klaserie: 6 nights
- Umkumbe, Sabi Sands: 4 nights
However... we did not stick to that shedule (you'll read about it further on in this report).

As you all know by now; the Kruger (and the private reserves nearby) were hit by a cyclone on Januari 18, and the result was major floods all over. Basically, they got as much water in one day as they normally get in one year. But they did get the normal rains after that as well. Those rains should have ended by the time we arrived (because "winter is coming", as Ned Stark would say). But it was still rather wet. Somewhere halfway our stay (1st week of May) we had a nice shower over noon. So luckily it did not interfere with game drives. But we did get quite a few grey mornings, and lotsa wind. We even had one morning with heavy mist!

Anyway, as a result of all that water, and perhaps also because we were there a few weeks earlier compared to the year before, the bush looked a lot greener to us. And definitely it was more difficult to spot and photograph animals. During those windy days the animals went into hiding!

But don't let all this fool you! We saw A LOT of animals, and had again a few sightings that will stick with us for the rest of our lives. We were incredibly lucky with one species in particular: rhinos. We saw a rhino almost every day. Most of the days we saw two or three or even four. And one time; eight together!

OK, so here goes...

#2 Jochen

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 08:09 PM

Part 1 : Africa On Foot, Klaserie

Web; http://www.africaonfoot.com/

I described this camp it in a previous trip report. So I'll keep it short;

A central area with a dining table, a lounge area, a bar, and a boma with firepit. Thatched roofs, mostly canvas walls (except the bar). Next to that; a kitchen and storage room. And around all this, in a garden; little houses, where the guests are staying. They have stone walls, thatched roofs, and mesh windows. Most of these houses are rondavels, with an open air bathroom (behind a stone wall that is at shoulder height). But some are square-shaped, contain two bedrooms and have a bathroom with a roof. These are family rooms.

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Maybe one more pic. Something I didn't phoyograph before; the swimming pool.

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Activities; if weather permits; a game walk in the morning, a game drive in the afternoon, and a night drive.

Our guides this time were Roel and Rein. Roel is Dutch by birth, and has been guiding for seven years now. His former employer is Kapama, and he thaught me a lot about fenced reserves vs open reserves (I will no doubt speak about that in other discussions at some point). Rein has been in the industry for even longer and worked at various reserves. He's also at AOF for quite some time now, as I remember having seen him the year before (when we were at nThambo, the sister camp).

This is Roel;

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I'll post a pic of Rein later; he'll be our guide later on.

On to the gamedrives!

#3 Jochen

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 09:03 PM

I'm not going to describe them drive by drive like last time, simply because I don't exactly remember. So I'm going to stick to the highlights. The things that stood out.

Like our first afternoon, just after we arrived. We had a very good sighting of a big herd of elephants who came to drink at one of the dams on the Ross farm (the property where AOF is on):

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We also saw the Ross pride that afternoon (named after the Ross farm as that is where they are found most of the time).

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And that same evening we saw Rhulani again. Rhulani is the female leopard that is the most accustomed to vehicles.
It had been almost a year since we last saw her. At that time, she was still a cub, inseparatable from her brother Tsotsi.
The last time we saw her was on foot. Isaac (the tracker from nThambo) found her and her brother for us, in the middle of a mopane block. My pics were very crappy, because they were skittish, and because I only take a wide angle while on walks. But now, she's quite easy to photograph. I'll show some pics later, but for now, here's a video of that evening. She had killed an impala; but lost it to a hyena:

http://vimeo.com/43774172

The first bush walk the next morning was also quite memorable; apart for some impale we saw no animals at all, except for ...lions!

No, not one sighting, TWO sightings. The first time we were at the eastern cutline and saw a male standing in the open, about 300m away. He looked at us, we looked at him. And then he moved on. The second time it was the Ross pride. We had been told, by radio, where they were. So Roel walked us up to them. We were on the wall of a dam, but could ot see any of them. Then, all of a sudden we saw them, and one female charged us. More of a bluff actually, with kind of a hopping movement to it. But still enough for a good adrenalin rush. She just wanted to let us know we were close enough. When she walked back we were given the green light to film. This is us on the dam, and the lions moving away:

http://vimeo.com/43774357

Actually, almost ALL our walks were quite fun. As anyone who has done these walks knows; it can be a hit and miss. You do not cover that much distance, so you have to have a bit of luck running into the big 5. A lot depends on the weather as well. But those four days at AOF it was very hot.

Here's some more video footage of our walks:

Elephants on foot:
http://vimeo.com/43774358

Rhino on foot:
http://vimeo.com/43774359

Not only the walks were good, but the drives as well. I remember seeing a herd of buffalo the 2nd day, so by then we had our "big 5". We had plenty more good sightings of elephants, and especially rhino. As I said; we saw some about every day. The best sighting was a couple fighting over a rubbing post. Well, not a rubbing post as such, rather a tree that fell down, and they lifted one leg over the tree to have a good scratch between their hind legs. The grunts and noises were hilarious.

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But unfortunately no more cats after day 2. Well, not counting the genet we found sleeping in the tree one night.

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Actually, our night drives were quite good as well. Again, as with game walks; they can be a hit-or-miss. A good night drive is when you get to see a cat, or a genet, or any other animal that you don't see a lot. A bad one is just: chameleon, scrub hare, etc... the usual suspects. We only had one of those, so: can't complain!

One night drive comes to mind in particular; we were invited by the owner of a neighbouring plot to go look at some kudu at his dam. This was just before puza (sundowner) time. We followed his directions but could not find them. We arrived at the dam. It was almost empty as the wall had broken because of the floods. We stopped for a quick sundowner and then Rein decided to drive a bit further for the kudu. We found them but they were already rather far from the dam. So now it was time to get off the property again and we had the choice; turn back or drive on. Rein figured it either way would be about the same length away from the cutline, so we drove on. He was right; we did end up on the cutline, but also at the neighbour's house. Sorry to disturb you, kind sir!

On that same drive, we also saw a giant eagle owl. It isn't the sharpest picture, but it sure was a good sighting. When it flew off, it's huge wings made no noise at all. Magnificent animal!

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So all in all, a very good first episode. In my album, I see other greatpics of bateleur, kudu, leopard tortoise, buffalo, brown snake eagle, etc...

Also, I forgot to mention; quite a few visitors in camp as well. Three times in a row, an elephant came to drink from the pool at night. Much to the despair of the poolboy who had to clean it up every time. And the honey badgers were back as well. almost every night we heard them trying to get into the kitchen and the bar.

Tomorrow; on to Shindzela!

Edited by Jochen, 10 June 2012 - 09:11 PM.


#4 Game Warden

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 09:11 PM

Oh nice, embedded vimeo video. 1st successful embed of a video other than youtube.

Quick write up how you did it mate...

"Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you." - African proverb.

 

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#5 twaffle

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 11:52 PM

I love the quality of Vimeo, and the little windows into the safari work very nicely. Love the report.

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#6 PT123

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 12:14 AM

.... We were incredibly lucky with one species in particular: rhinos. We saw a rhino almost every day. Most of the days we saw two or three or even four. And one time; eight together!


Jochen, great report so far and great videos! Very much enjoying it and looking forward to more. The above was music to my ears - one can never see to many rhino!

#7 Uh_oh busted

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 01:50 AM

Love this report so far!

#8 Jochen

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 06:32 AM

Oh nice, embedded vimeo video. 1st successful embed of a video other than youtube.

Quick write up how you did it mate...


1) Copy the url address from the vimeo page (ctrl-C).
2) Press the "link" button while typing your post on ST.
3) Paste the URL in the popup window (ctrl-V).

That's it. The popup window even corrects your entry (ic takes the http away as that goes into another entry field).

;)

#9 Super LEEDS

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 12:00 PM

Awesome, Jochen. Been waiting for this report since your last Kruger Pvt. Reserves account!

#10 Lion Fanatic

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 03:18 PM

Excellent report so far, Jochen. Cant wait to read the rest of it.

BTW, were you using a Peleng lens inside the hut? I love the "Tardis" effect it gives.

:)

#11 Jochen

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 04:53 PM

Hey LF,

No I just used my 17-40mm on a full body lens.
I sold my Peleng ...and now regret that very much.

#12 Lion Fanatic

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 06:24 PM

The 17-40mm is one of the two lens that I want before I go to BOTS next year. The other is the 70-200mm L II.

Incidentally, it was you that brought my attention to the Peleng and I'm still considering buying the 3.5/8mm. A lot cheaper than the 17-40mm.

Now then, I shall leave you be so that you can finish the next installment of your trip report ;)

#13 Jochen

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 08:09 PM

pics and vids are ready but it will be for tomorrow.

About that 70-200mm; I got the f2.8 IS L I version and could not live without it, especially for night drives it's a life saver.


#14 Kavey

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 08:46 AM

Lovely sightings, thanks for sharing!
"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not."
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Life to the lees."
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#15 COSMIC RHINO

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 09:00 AM

good sightings

I will be there early July unkumbe 7 nights, a on f and nthambo 5 nights each and I am really looking foward to it

Wild Africa is in my blood. All life is sacred and interconnected. for the animals are fellow nations caught in the splendor and trevail of the earth.


#16 Jochen

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 11:20 AM

Part 2: Shindzela, Timbavati

Web; http://www.shindzela.co.za/
( new website!)

We were here two years ago as well. The camp has changed a bit since then:
- 3 new tents were added in the far back, one of which we stayed in this time (no.7). I'd say nrs 6 or 7 are the best in terms of being closest to the riverbed. But nrs 8 and 9 may even give more privacy as they're further away from the main area.
- The central part with the dining table and bar was rebuilt. Now it is a bar like a bar should look. And it's got a new thatched roof.
- A swimmng pool was constructed in the midle of the lawn that sits between the riverbed and the camp buildings. To keep the elephants out, a low electric fence was constructed. Only the braai area, the boma, and the dining area are fenced. Not the rooms. And the fence is almost never on (no need; the ellies have learned fast.

Our evenings were warm so we often ate outside and not in the area:
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This was our tent:
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There's a group of warthogs that hace become quite accustomed to people. The two females are very docile. But the male apparently doesn't like Peter (the camp manager) as he always chases him around.
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The lodge is now operated by Peter and Monika. There's also a new guide called Mike (Michael). Very good guy.
Dave wasn't around a lot. We only saw him one day; he had dinner with us too, and stayed overnight, but was gone in the morning. He's in town with his wife and new born baby.
Tracker Sam is still around, and his smile is as wide as ever.
Legendary cook Gertie is gone, but surprise sursprise; the new cook Melita is quite a character as well (and her food was divine).

As the camp now has so many rooms, it means that sometimes you're out in two vehicles or two groups on foot. One led by Peter, one by Mike. But we only had that on one day we were there. And their plot is 4600Ha, so it's actually good to be able to share sightings by radio. Note that Shindzela does not traverse with anyone else.

OK, on to the activities!

Edited by Jochen, 12 June 2012 - 11:21 AM.


#17 Jochen

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 12:00 PM

OK, first a word about the morning walks. These did not start at the camp, like at AOF, but at various points on the Shindzela plot. So we always had a short drive to/from camp as well.

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We were a bit unlucky perhaps, as the total sightings we had was a bit below average. I'm comparing with last time, when we had plenty of wildlife drinking from the dam. That time we saw zebra, giraffe and even wild dogs, all paying the dam a visit. No such luck this time. I assume the late and abundant rains were in part responsible, and the fact that we had quite chilly and windy mornings while there.

Still, that doesn't mean we had a vad time. Mike concentrated on the smaller stuff, and one day of the four we did get lucky with elephants on foot. Although they were in thick bush (dangerous for us to go in) we dd get a good and long look at them.

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Here's a video of our encounter on foot with the elephants:
http://vimeo.com/43840475


The afternoon game drives were good, although we saw no big cats at all. Apparently the main reason for that is a huge coalition of ten (!) male lions. They have wreaked havoc in the central part of Timbavati, killing cubs and chasing (or even killing) females. By doing so they created a vacuum. Not only did we not see lion during the four days we were there, but the camp had not seen lions for four whole weeks.

I must add that in the meantime things have changed again. No one knows where that coaltion went to. Did they split up? Did some get killed? Etc. But it looks as if the balances are restored again as I read on Shindzela's facebook page that they had good lion sightings recently. Another indicator is what I hear from Klaserie camps on the other end of the tar road; they saw their lions much less than they normally would. Probably because their resident prides were drawn towards that vacuum. But now they're all back (check FaceBook pages of Africa On Foot and Baobab Ridge).

So we had no lions ther, but what did we see then? Well, plenty of raptors (but one sighting with ground horbills was even better). And plenty of ungulates; kudu, waterbuck, steenbok, zebra, giraffe, rhino... you name it. But the sightins that stood out were a huge herd of buffalo who came to drink at the dam, and a few amazing elephant sightings.

About the ground horbills; there's actually a breeding project on their property, so one morning we saw four of them. Not good pics, as it was a rey and misty morning. But one started calling while sitting in a tree not far from us. I know there's a lot of talk on the web about how beautiful (and deep) this call is. So if you haven't had the opportunity to witness this; here you go:

http://vimeo.com/43842207

Just some individuals from that buffalo herd:
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And this was a massive bull who was with a big herd of elephants. He was quite impressive:
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By the way, I just realized I keep on saying "the dam". But I think there's actually more than one dam on the property. And I know there's another one just across the western cutline somewhere. But "the dam" I refer to is in the center of the Shinzela plot and by comparison to other dams it is HUGE.

Here's another great sighting we had; a large herd of elephants drinking in the rivebed. Two babies were incredibly playfull, and that resulted in amazing video footage and me going absolutely shutter mad.
This was the youngest, and quite a hoot:
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The whole group:
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When they were about to go, the baby gave us a last pose, like an artist thanking his audience:
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But perhaps the best way to convey the atmosphere is this short video of the two babies drinking from the river (notice one can already control his trunk and the other cannot), and then playing in the sand:
http://vimeo.com/43840580

By the way, we had this incredible sighting because we left camp mid day in search of a lone wild dog that ran through camp.
We could not find the dog, but I'm glad we didn't keep on driving and stayed with these elephants.

(more to come on night drives etc)

Edited by Jochen, 12 June 2012 - 12:04 PM.


#18 Jochen

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 12:25 PM

About the night drives at Shindzela:

We did get to see one leopard (a big male), and although we have some pics and video footage; it's not the best as apparently he was not that very relaxed. But never mind the big cats; we saw plenty of other things, and not only that: most of those stuck around long enough for us to photograph them.

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This guy walked up to us and then just stood there for a couple of minutes:
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This is one of two sub-adult African wild cats that we found. They were obviously from the same litter, and out on patrol together.
They were rather curious, so we could take some good shots before they scooted off:
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Oh yes; it was full moon while we were at Shindzela. This is the big lake at night;
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And my attempt of shooting a full-frame moon. when it just rose it was quite enormous.
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Something else deserves it's own separate "chapter".
Let's call it "in-camp activities.

Those who read my previous report know that we had a very nice encounter with elephants at the lodge itself; the ellies coming to drink while we just watched them from the terrace of our hut.
Well, this time a similar thing happened, and this tim even better.

This is a little video snippet of me, showing our hut, and then zooming in on the elephants drinking in the riverbed. There's a fun part in it where a mum tries to lift her infant out of the riverbed:



After shooting this I moved forward with my camera. I let the elephants smell me (I'd rather have them know I was there)...

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...and once they understood that I was no threat (which took a while as elephants are slow thinkers) I was allowed to come closer.
I'm not nuts so I did stay well away from them, making sure I was able to retreat to the tent if an elephant (that had not smelled me) would take offence in me being there.

This is an example of the results I got:

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Outro:
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on to nThambo!

#19 twaffle

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Posted 13 June 2012 - 12:41 AM

Love those beautiful elephant calves and the moon reflection was gorgeous.

What do the camp guides feel about using spotlights at night? It has been raised a few times.

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#20 ZaminOz

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Posted 13 June 2012 - 05:51 AM

Jochen,

Love the elephants and the Bushbaby!
I am a sucker for elephants and have fond childhood memories of a pet bushbaby :)
*******
Warning, if any safari camps wish to employ me as a guide, I expect a salary far, far, more commensurate than my actual experience!





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