Category Archives: Did You Know?

Creatures Great & Small: Banded Mongoose

June 30, 2015 - Did You Know?,Wildlife

Most safari enthusiasts who have spent some time out on game drive will be familiar with the sight of a small, furry creature darting into the undergrowth as the vehicle trundles down the path. Usually seen as a brown blur out of the corner of one’s eye, the banded mongoose is easily identifiable by the distinctive stripes along its back. They have long claws on their front feet which are used for digging up insects, especially beetles and their larvae, and they eat an array of fruit, meat and other morsels.

Banded mongoose at Singita

Banded mongooses live in mixed-sex groups of roughly 20 animals and sleep together at night in underground dens (often abandoned termite mounds) and change dens every 2-3 days. The females tend to breed all at the same time, giving birth within hours of each other to litters of 2–6 pups. The young stay in the den for their first four weeks of their lives, being carefully guarded by a adult caretakers while the other pack members forage for food. All the pack members take care of the pups, the mothers suckle each other’s offspring indiscriminately, and each young pup has an adult “escort” that catches prey for it.

Banded mongoose at Singita

Collective noun options for mongooses include ‘business’ and ‘rush’ – both referring to the frenetic pace at which they go about their daily search for food, relying mainly on their acute sense of smell. They are also known for their constant, high-pitched chatter; chirps to keep in contact with their family, sharp chittering for sounding the alarm, delighted squeaks upon finding food and even soft purring sounds of contentment.

Banded mongoose at Singita

Animal lovers will be fascinated by our monthly Wildlife Reports, which comprise stories and information like this. They are written and photographed by our field guides from across our concessions in South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

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Conservation & Community: How Tourism Helps

June 24, 2015 - Community Development,Conservation,Did You Know?,Environment,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Singita Pamushana Lodge,Sustainable Conservation

For more than two decades, Singita has been a “place of miracles”, offering guests a unique and extraordinary safari experience. Our 12 lodges and camps have been the recipient of numerous awards and the number of guests who return year after year speaks for itself. And while we are extremely proud of this, Singita’s enduring purpose, which is to preserve and protect the miraculous places of which we are custodians, remains our primary focus. Our concessions, reserves, and properties represent some of the most pristine wilderness areas on the continent and we are dedicated to maintaining these incredible pieces of earth for future generations. As well as our commitment to environmentally conscious hospitality, our core vision supports sustainable conservation and the empowerment of local communities.

Malilangwe Reserve, Zimbabwe

Malilangwe Reserve, Zimbabwe

Dr Bruce Clegg, Resident Ecologist at the Malilangwe Trust, Singita’s conservation partner in Zimbabwe, explains the extent to which tourism contributes to wildlife conservation and rural community development in Africa:

Dr Bruce Clegg

Dr Bruce Clegg

“Travel and tourism contributes only 3.6% of the total GDP in Africa, the majority of which is generated from just a handful of countries on the continent. Ecotourism accounts for only a fraction of this relatively small figure, putting wildlife conservation and development of rural communities at a considerable disadvantage.

Wildlife conservation at Singita

Tourism is a difficult business. Africa only attracts 5% of global travellers. The market is very competitive, overhead costs high and profit margins low. In addition the industry is sensitive to shocks caused by political instability, disease outbreaks, natural disasters etc. and it takes many years to develop a credible reputation. This means that little extra money is available for large-scale conservation efforts or community development. Strong competition between companies for bookings necessitates promotion of the charismatic animal species that underpin the industry (most notably lions and the other members of the Big Five) and more urgent conservation needs such as protection of critically endangered, but less captivating plants and animals are overlooked. For these reasons the hope placed in ecotourism as a solution to Africa’s poverty and conservation problems has not been fulfilled.

Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

Child Supplementary Feeding Programme

However, a small light is beginning to shine at the end of the tunnel. A few progressive organisations have recognised these failings and instead of continuing to base their activities on wishful thinking have changed their approach and setup partnerships between their ecotourism ventures and charitable NGOs or generous philanthropists. These partnerships appear to work better. Ecotourism provides environmentally sensitive employment for locals thereby promoting community development, and the charitable partners provide the extra funds required to conduct meaningful conservation projects and additional community upliftment.

Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

Singita Pamushana

Singita has taken this approach a step further and also included professional conservation and community development organisations in their partnerships to provide the technical input and experience required to run truly meaningful projects. This has the added advantage of giving the donors confidence that their funds will pay for best practice, and visiting tourists the assurance that their dollars will actually make a difference. A three-way partnership of this nature is very promising and may well be the industry standard of the future. If this approach becomes widely adopted, ecotourism’s role in conservation and community development may at long last reach its full potential.”

Wildlife conservation at Singita

Singita is the trusted guardian of a million acres of pristine land in Africa and responsible for many successful community development projects, making a tangible difference in the lives of the people living and working in and around our lodges. Please visit our website to find out more about the wonderful work of our conservation and community upliftment teams.

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Shining a Light on Solar Power

June 03, 2015 - Conservation,Did You Know?,Kruger National Park,Lodges and Camps,Singita Lebombo Lodge

Solar power at Singita Lebombo Lodge

In the height of summer, the sun beats down on the red volcanic rocks of the Lebombo Mountains. With the temperature rising, the morning game drives return to the cool sanctuary of Singita Lebombo and Sweni Lodges, as animals search out the deep shade of the jackalberry trees. Even the pod of grunting hippos sinks a little deeper beneath the waters of the N’Wanetsi and Sweni Rivers.

Singita Kruger National Park

Solar power at Singita Lebombo Lodge

Animals and guests alike may be seeking out the shade, but a short drive from the pool deck at the lodge, the searing sunshine is helping to slash the property’s carbon footprint. “It’s a resource that’s abundant, so we decided that we need to be using it to reduce our carbon footprint on the environment,” says Gavin McCabe, Technical Services Manager at Singita Kruger National Park, where the final adjustments are being made to a groundbreaking solar energy project. “We are the first concession in the whole of the Kruger National Park to switch over to solar energy,” says McCabe.

Producing sufficient solar energy to power the 15-suite Lebombo Lodge and 6-suite Sweni Lodge, didn’t happen overnight though. The first step was to identify a suitable site clear of large trees, to allow for maximum sunlight, where the solar array would have minimal impact on the sensitive bushveld ecosystem. Once authorities from the South African National Parks had approved the site, supporting pillars to mount the array of panels had to be carefully installed.

“These metal beams were inserted into the ground using a hydraulic hammer, so there’s absolutely no foundation; no concrete in the soil at all,” explains McCabe. Before the panels could be installed, a heavy-duty electric fence also had to be erected to keep out any curious locals. “Elephants and baboons were the biggest concern,” says McCabe. “And the monkeys as well; you can just imagine them running across these panels!”

Solar power at Singita Lebombo Lodge

With the structure in place 1188 photovoltaic solar panels were installed, connected to state-of-the-art batteries and inverters situated close to the lodge. Two new diesel generators provide back-up power for cloudy days and when the battery systems run low. Previously, the generators powering both lodges guzzled up to 40 000 litres of diesel per month, but with solar energy providing clean carbon-free power that consumption will be halved. A similar solar installation is also ensuring a lighter footprint for the Singita staff village.

_DSC1797

Aside from ensuring a lighter carbon footprint, guests at Singita Kruger National Park will also see another benefit of the impressive new solar scheme. With the batteries silently providing power after sunset, there’s no chance that the humming of a diesel generator will break the perfect quiet of a bushveld night. And if you do happen to hear a low rumble? Well, that’s probably the resident hippos in the N’Wanetsi River…

This new solar energy system is an excellent example of how Singita aims to always “touch the earth lightly”; a commitment that is manifested in the way the lodges were constructed; how they operate today; and how guests experience the wildlife and the natural habitat. Visit our Conservation section to find out more about the various projects that drive sustainable hospitality at Singita.

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Cooking Up a Storm at Singita Kruger National Park

May 14, 2015 - Community Development,Cuisine,Did You Know?,Kruger National Park,Singita Lebombo Lodge

From the outside, it’s not much to look at: a nondescript building in the heart of the Singita Kruger National Park staff village. Take a step closer and the sound of pots clattering on iron stovetops breaks the bushveld silence. A babble of chatter and laughter wafts out across the dusty courtyard, as a flash of chef’s whites whips past the screen door. Welcome, to the Singita School of Cooking (SSC).

Singita School of Cooking

Students at the SSC with Chef Skills Developer, Louis Vandewalle

A cooking school in the wilderness may seem something of an anomaly, but there’s a good reason the stockpots are boiling furiously out here in the Kruger bushveld. “Communities and conservation can’t function independently, they have to co-exist,” explains Louis Vandewalle, Chef Skills Developer at SSC. “The idea behind the Singita School of Cooking was two-fold: to increase the skill level in our lodge kitchens, but also to provide opportunities for the surrounding communities.”

Singita Lebombo Lodge Dining Area

The dining area at Singita Lebombo Lodge

The SSC opened its doors in 2007, and today offers an intensive 12-month curriculum that sees nine students drawn from local communities untying their brand-new knife-rolls in March each year. A multi-faceted training program combines theory components completed in the classroom and online, alongside intensive practical training in the dedicated SSC kitchens.

Singita School of Cooking

If the course is testing, making it through the selection process is even tougher. In 2014 the School had 85 applicants for just nine places. After interviews by Singita lodge staff and chefs, 30 hopefuls were shortlisted and put through their paces in a series of theory and practical tests. “It’s not about their skills in the kitchen,” says Vandewalle. “We focus on character and attitude. We want to make sure that they have the right foundation for us to build their kitchen skills on. And, most importantly, we want to ensure that those who join the programme will stay the course.”

Singita School of Cooking

Aside from occasional government grants the School is funded entirely by Singita: an investment of $7500-$8000 per student that covers uniforms, equipment, ingredients and a monthly stipend. After months of training, real-world experience is gained in the kitchens of Singita Lebombo Lodge with students rotating through pastry, cold section and hot kitchen. At the end of the 12-month course, students emerge as competent commis chefs.

Singita School of Cooking

Singita School of Cooking

“Unlike many chef schools with longer programs, we focus on the fundamentals,” says Vandewalle, as a stockpot bubbles on the central range. “By the time they leave this kitchen our students have a limited set of skills, but they are extremely proficient at what they do. We’re trying to develop work skills and work ethics too.” He goes on to explain how time-management and forward planning are vital skills for the young chefs to learn. “Each day one chef is appointed to be in charge of the kitchen. The responsibility then rests on them to allocate tasks to each of the student chefs, work out portions and run the kitchen.”

Singita School of Cooking

“We have a very high success rate with students finding employment, either with Singita lodges or further afield,” adds Vandewalle. “Because of Singita’s extremely high standards, we find that’s more than sufficient for what other lodges and guesthouses are expecting.” For most students though, a position in one of the Singita kitchens is first prize.

Singita School of Cooking

“I’ve always wanted to be in the kitchen, but just never had the opportunity,” bubbles Unity Mokhomolo (25) from the village of Welverdiend, who says she’s happiest in the pastry section. “After the course I am hoping to be one of the students that Singita takes to work at the lodges. Singita started my career in the kitchen, so I want to work for them. If that happens, I will grab that opportunity with both hands.”

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The Singita School of Cooking was established to encourage the development of culinary skills and employment opportunities among local youth as part of Singita’s broader objective to assist communities to thrive, both economically and socially. Visit our website to find out how you can help to make a difference in the lives of our students at SSC, or read about some of our star pupils on the blog.

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Rock Art at Singita Pamushana

May 11, 2015 - Conservation,Conservation,Did You Know?,History,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Singita Pamushana Lodge

The forests and sandstone kopjes surrounding Singita Pamushana Lodge are home to more than 80 known rock art sites with more almost certainly yet to be discovered. These range from single figures to large ‘galleries’ containing multiple paintings, sometimes from different time periods.

Rock art at Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

Carbon dating from pieces of charcoal found in sediments at two of the sites suggest that the paintings range from 700 to 2,000 years-old and fall into three main traditions. The oldest are those painted by San Bushmen hunter gatherers who used porcupine quills and bird feathers as brushes, and ochre mixed with blood and dyes from tree-bark as paint.

Rock art at Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

The more geometric spot paintings found in the reserve were painted by Khoi San herders, while finger-paintings, often white in colour, were made by the Bantu-speaking people using ground egg shells as paint.

Rock art at Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

Many of the earliest paintings are figurative and illustrate everyday scenes from the lives of the hunter gatherers who made them. These include hunting scenes and animals like elephant, rhino, zebra and many other creatures of the bush including, most significantly, eland which were sacred to the San and represented rain and fertility.

Rock art at Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

Many rock art experts now believe, however, that the original interpretations of these paintings by the early colonialists were too simplistic. Scenes which looked easy to interpret missed complex underlying meanings, including metaphors for aspects of the San’s strong spiritual traditions that included trance, rain and initiation dances among other rituals. Many scenes on closer inspection show creatures that are half-animal and half-human, for example, and probably depict shamans in a trance state.

Rock art at Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

The study of rock art is open to interpretation and the full meanings of these paintings will probably never be known for sure. “The San Bushmen were intensely spiritual people,” says Dr. Bruce Clegg, Resident Ecologist at the Malilangwe Trust. “At the Lisililija Spring site, for example, on one panel there’s a row of people in a trance dance which is connected by a spiritual line to a rainfall event pouring down on a female figure which is a sign of fertility in San belief. It’s one big celebration connecting human people to their spiritual counterparts.”

WATCH THE VIDEO:

The San Bushmen are the original hunter-gatherers and one of the earth’s oldest continuous cultures. Guests at Singita Pamushana Lodge can take an educational tour of the best rock art sites in the reserve, including those shown in the accompanying film, and learn about their remarkable way of life.

Rock art at Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe

Richard and Sarah Madden are freelance travel writers and filmmakers currently based at in the Malilangwe Reserve at Singita Pamushana Lodge in Zimbabwe. Their series of short films from the region is entitled “Bush Tales” and explores Singita’s community development, ecotourism and conservation work in Southern Africa. Richard and Sarah met while producing documentaries for the Discovery Channel and are now freelance and, prior to working with Singita, spent two years in Africa writing and filming the multi-media Bush Telegraph column for the Daily Telegraph.

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Ross Couper: Field Guide and Wildlife Photographer

May 04, 2015 - Did You Know?,General,People of Singita

Singita Field Guide Ross Couper

Field Guide Ross Couper and his stunning wildlife photographs will be no stranger to regular readers of this blog. His keen eye for animals in interesting situations and the gorgeous landscapes surrounding our lodges have produced some of the finest photos we’ve ever had the privilege of publishing.

Copyright Ross Couper

Born in Zimbabwe, Ross grew up at Matopos National Park, where his father was Park Warden, and developed a deep love for capturing nature through painting and sculpture. The impracticalities of these art forms for an enthusiastic traveller like Ross brought forth an interest in photography as a way of documenting his surroundings. In this excerpt from his interview with the South African Tourism blog, he explains more about his passion for photography:

Copyright Ross Couper

Q: When did your passion for wildlife photography begin?
A: Photography happened because of a “don’t know what to get you for Christmas” situation with my wife. As a result she purchased my first camera with the hope of getting on top of my ‘Best Ever Christmas Gift’ list. In short, she has been up there ever since 2009. I had a great interest in art, however due to travelling the globe it limited my scope to take my art further, so receiving a camera was an outlet to capture my artistic view on life during my travels.

Copyright Ross Couper

Q: What inspires your images?
A: Finding an artistic view of capturing a unique moment. Capturing an image where the viewer will be in awe of how the image was captured and evoke a feeling of being in the moment when it occurred. As a wildlife artist, I always had an idea in my head before putting it onto canvas and I find that I have the same inclination when it comes to my photography. I am a photographer that prefers to take time to really study my subjects. I like to effectively capture moments that showcase the beauty of the wildlife in Africa and the scenery that embraces in every inch of the content.

Copyright Ross Couper

Copyright Ross Couper

Q: How would you describe your style of photography?
A: I have a strong drive to acquire uniqueness in my images, by capturing the beauty of the African surroundings and its wildlife, with the hope that my photography will inspire people around the world to travel and visit the wild areas of Africa and experience the imagery that has been captured first hand. I’d describe my style of photography as artistic. I enjoy portraying a wildlife subject as if it were stepping out of the frame and engulfing the viewer to feel as though they were in the moment. Captivating an audience to view an image and wonder, just how was this photograph was captured. A profound quote by Anne Geddes that inspires me: “The best images are the ones that retain their strength and impact over the years, regardless of the number of times they are viewed”.

Copyright Ross Couper

Copyright Ross Couper

Q: What are the challenges regarding wildlife photography, and what attributes should a wildlife photographer have?
A: Patience, timing, light, subject availability are all just a few requirements that come to mind. There are always challenges but I believe it’s how you overcome a challenge that makes you a great photographer. For instance if the light is fading and you don’t get the shot you are looking for, keep persistent to attaining that image, go out again, focus on the goal and keep trying. I can recall an event where I was due to service my car and on route out of the National Park during a day off, I was informed that there was a leopard and two cubs sitting on a rocky outcrop within an hour’s detour to my route out of the park. I called the car dealership and mentioned I was running late. Finding the leopard on the rock and getting a glimpse of the leopard cubs resulted in me sitting in the back of the car with my eye glued to my cameras view finder for 5 hours waiting for a perfect view. After calling the car dealership for the third time I knew it would be better just to cancel as this was an opportunity of a lifetime.

Copyright Ross Couper

Copyright Ross Couper

Q: What would you say to foreigners wanting to come and visit South Africa’s wild spaces?
A; What are you waiting for? There is no place like Africa. It’s place where you cry when you arrive due its beauty and you will cry when you leave because of it’s beautiful people. It will engulf you and sink deep into heart as a special place that you will always return to. It’s a soul enriching visit.

Copyright Ross Couper

Copyright Ross Couper

Read the full interview on the South African Tourism blog and follow us on Instagram to see more of his beautiful photos from the bush.

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Neighbour Outreach Programme at Singita Pamushana Lodge

March 13, 2015 - Community Development,Did You Know?,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Singita Pamushana Lodge

As part of its ongoing commitment to the local community, Singita Pamushana Lodge provides support across a broad spectrum of projects through the Malilangwe Trust, its non-profit development and conservation partner.

Neighbour Outreach Programme | Singita Pamushana Lodge

The Neighbour Outreach Programme (NOP) includes a Supplementary Feeding Programme for children up to school age, support for local primary schools and cultural projects which include the fostering of traditional tribal dance at a young age.

Neighbour Outreach Programme | Singita Pamushana Lodge

The Supplementary Feeding Programme began in February 2003 when, after two years of severe drought, Singita responded to the government’s call for assistance. “At that time, many local children were severely malnourished,” says Shepherd Mawire, NOP Project Co-ordinator. “But the programme has since provided additional food and nourishment to thousands of children in the local communities.”

Neighbour Outreach Programme | Singita Pamushana Lodge

Every day 19 000 children (mostly aged 5 years and younger) are provided with a nutrient rich soya-corn blend. The ingredients are delivered to 436 feeding points and 11 primary schools which are managed by volunteers appointed by the local communities to oversee this core village activity.

Neighbour Outreach Programme | Singita Pamushana Lodge

The programme not only provides much needed nutrition, but also helps the children realise their educational and developmental potential by ensuring that hunger does not get in the way of their ability to concentrate and learn during the school day.

Neighbour Outreach Programme | Singita Pamushana Lodge

The NOP also supports the local primary schools in the form of much-needed extra stationery and books while working with the community on other projects agreed with them. A pilot scheme that will provide honey from bee-hives has been launched and there are five kitchen garden irrigation schemes growing nutritious, fresh vegetables which are otherwise in short supply.

One of the NOP’s most important cultural initiatives is in providing musical instruments, costumes and regalia for the primary school children who compete in the national tribal dance competitions held annually in August.

Sarah Madden | Singita Pamushana Lodge

Sarah Madden asked more about the motives behind the programme – “We want the children to learn about their Shangaan cultural roots,” says Shepherd. “We want the cultural soul to survive into the next generation and to do that we need to start at the grass-roots primary school level. We want the children to know that despite our modern technological world, this was how it was done in the past. It’s all part of our mission to empower and support the local community.”

WATCH THE VIDEO

Richard and Sarah Madden are freelance travel writers and filmmakers. Richard has written for the Daily Telegraph (UK) for more then 20 years and met Sarah while presenting documentaries for the Discovery Channel which were produced by Sarah. Prior to working with Singita, the couple spent two years in Africa writing and filming the multi-media Bush Telegraph column for the Daily Telegraph. The column includes reports on safaris, wildlife conservation and community stories from all over southern and eastern Africa.

You can read their previous report from Singita Malilangwe here.

This film was shot on a Leica V-Lux (www.leica-camera.com)

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Fascinating Flora: The Leadwood Tree

February 25, 2015 - Did You Know?,Environment,Kruger National Park,Singita Lebombo Lodge,Singita Sweni Lodge

There is a classic, if slightly ominous, African image with which you’re probably familiar; it’s the scene of a colony of vultures huddled on the branches of a leafless leadwood tree, black rain clouds looming overhead. It is, in fact, a fairly common sight at Singita’s South African properties (albeit with more blue sky!), where the bush is studded with tall leadwoods that live up to their scientific name; combretum imberbe, meaning “hairless climber”.

Leaded trees at Singita Kruger National Park

The leadwood is one of the largest trees in Africa, and is so called because of the wood which is extremely dense and heavy. As such, it is impermeable to termites and is one of the only wood species that sinks when thrown into water. It’s hardiness also explains why, up to 80 years after a leadwood tree has died, its imposing skeleton will remain intact, and why it used to be the material of choice for railway sleepers. The species is protected in South Africa, although fallen branches and those left behind by marauding elephants are allowed to be used for furniture or ornamental work.

Leaded trees at Singita Kruger National Park

Although slow-growing, they can live to be thousands of years old and flourish in alluvial soil along river beds, like the Sweni and N’wanetsi Rivers that run through Singita Kruger National Park. The leaves are popular with herbivores and you will regularly see elephant, giraffe, kudu and impala munching on them during a game drive.

Leopard in a leadwood tree | All Dolled Up

Singita’s 33,000-acre private concession in the Kruger National Park is home to two of our lodges; Singita Lebombo Lodge and Singita Sweni Lodge. This area is especially well-known for the remarkable concentration of the ‘Big 5’ and four particularly formidable prides of lions. Discover more on our website.

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Experience the Serengeti: Setting up Singita Explore

February 19, 2015 - Did You Know?,Experience,Lodges and Camps,Safari,Singita Explore,Singita Grumeti

“Endless” is a word that is often used to describe the Serengeti. The apparent infinity of its grassy plains, acacia woodlands and riverine forests is a stunning sight, the memory of which never leaves those who have seen it in person. These boundless landscapes are the first thing to greet guests every morning at Singita Explore, as the rising sun casts light on 350,000 acres of untouched wilderness.

Singita Explore, Serengeti, Tanzania

Each camp is strategically located and moved throughout the year in order to give guests the best opportunity of experiencing this vast and unique ecosystem. Visitors to the region are treated to unrivalled sightings of high concentrations of game at any time of year, including the renowned annual wildebeest migration which passes right through the concession.

Singita Explore, Serengeti, Tanzania

This delightful video gives the viewer an authentic sense of the experience, and takes you behind the scenes to see how the camp at Singita Explore comes to life, narrated by some of the special people who make it all happen:

Singita Explore is a private use camp in northern Tanzania. It is particularly appealing to those in search of an opportunity to connect up-close with the earth and wildlife in a way they have never done before. With a private guide, chef, camp host and camp staff, activities can be arranged on a whim, game drives may be as long or as short as you choose and intimate experiences await. Please explore our website or contact our Reservations team to find out more.

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Creatures Great & Small: Leopard Tortoise

December 22, 2014 - Conservation,Did You Know?,Wildlife

Leopard tortoise at Singita

Leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)

My partner, a tracker named Johnston, is quick to spot wildlife and fun… With his hand raised to stop the vehicle, we stare at his movements and look in the direction he’s looking. While we are expecting him to point out a predator track in the sand or an animal in the distance, he turns to us and says, “Leopard!” Everyone grabs their cameras and looks frantically around to see where this elusive leopard is. Johnston climbs off the tracker seat and saunters off down the road. By this time our poor guests are all speechless not knowing what’s going to happen. Then he points to the ground, smiles broadly, and announces, “Leopard. Leopard tortoise.” Indeed it was a leopard tortoise, and on this occasion it had retreated into its shell after feeling the vibrations of the vehicle. We all sat quietly and slowly a small head poked out and all four legs were set in motion. It may not be a Big Five species, but it is one of the Little Five and shares this accreditation due to their names being similar to the Big Five.

Field guide and tracker

Field guide and tracker

Leopard tortoises all have unique and beautiful gold and black markings on their shells, hence their name. They generally eat grasses, and this must suit them well because they live up to 100 years. They are great diggers although they only burrow when building a nest for their eggs.

Singita Sabi Sand

Singita Sabi Sand

The leopard tortoise is one of the world’s largest tortoise species as they can grow to 70 cm in length and 12kgs in weight. As with other tortoise species, the leopard tortoise has a large shell which protects its softer body. It is able to retract its limbs back into its shell so that no body part is left vulnerable.

It’s easy to forget that there’s more to Africa’s wildlife than elephants, giraffes, leopards and lions; the continent is home to all sorts of fascinating small creatures too. We shine a spotlight on these more diminutive beasties in our Creatures Great & Small blog series, which has previously showcased the flap-necked chameleon and the Giant African land snail.

You can read more stories like this one in our monthly Wildlife Reports, which are written by our field guides and illustrated with their stunning photography.

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