Category Archives: Kruger National Park

An Elephant’s Playground

November 01, 2012 - Conservation,Kruger National Park,Safari,Wildlife

Dumbana Pools is a well-known pool situated along the N’wanetsi River in Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park, and treasured by all the animals that inhabit the area. It’s a refuge for hippos throughout the year and a source of life for the animals during the dry and unforgiving winters.

While driving in the area along a track that runs parallel with the river, I noticed a great deal of elephant tracks heading down towards the pool. Turning the vehicle off, I heard a great deal of commotion ahead of us in the water. At this time of the year during the colder months, many of the elephants spend the majority of their time seeking refuge in the Lebombo Mountains feeding on many of the evergreen shrubs and trees. They do however make the daily journey towards the N’wanetsi River to fill up on water, which they are so dependent on. We were in the right place at the right time and the wind seemed to be in our favour. The decision was made to take a closer look on foot.

I knew this was going to be one of those incredible moments. With my heart beating at a slightly abnormal pace, I left the comfort of the vehicle and headed quietly to the bank of the river. I knew immediately that this was a massive herd of elephants, as the numbers of the tracks together with the noise coming from the usually tranquil pools were clear giveaways.

As we approached the river and got our first visual of the pools, I was astounded to see the sheer size of the herd. The hippos looked on in despair as these animals made sure that this was going to be a day-out to remember and had turned the body of water into a playground. We watched as the youngsters played, always under the careful watch of the females and they all quenched their thirst, consuming hundreds of liters of water and cooling themselves in the heat of the day.  We gained such pleasure watching the herd indulge in this precious resource and the excitement experienced by the youngsters, the trials and tribulations of living in the bush were all forgotten in this moment.

Finally the matriarch decided it was time to attend to more important matters as they were now hydrated and so it was time to head east towards the mountains. A quick decision was made, and we decided to hold our ground and stay put – as we were completely sheltered and still had the blessing of the wind in our favour; we were close but they would not detect us.

The sounds were tremendous as the herd of around fifty elephant crashed through the water towards the riverbank, leaving the hippos in peace and the pool with a little less water. Exiting the water, their next move was to make use of the abundance of red earth, with their trunks they tossed it over themselves, and soon they disappeared into the mountains in an almost mystical illusion.

Keep following the James Suter blog series as James explores Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park, tracking wildlife through a daily expedition of adrenalin.

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On Foot with Big Cats

October 24, 2012 - Conservation,Kruger National Park,Wildlife

One’s first thought when thinking of the N’wanetsi concession in the Kruger National Park is the sheer size of the area; 33,00 acres to be precise. It’s a magical place and I made sure that a decent amount of our time spent there was on foot, exploring this unique area and all it had to offer.

One of the most exciting encounters was being on foot with eighteen lions and when there is nothing between you and a number of unpredictable cats, it is an intimidating but somewhat addictive sensation. Tracking them is a different story and can often be a frustrating experience, but can also be an incredibly rewarding exercise involving some skill and often a little bit of luck.

We hit the tracks early one morning with the assistance of one of the trackers, Daniel Sibuyi. We started following the tracks that were from the previous night and in a rather isolated area of the concession. Looking at the tracks, we knew that they belonged to the Mountain pride, due to the number of tracks that littered the area (this is an extremely large pride of lions). The tracks were relatively fresh and we knew we were hot on the trail of these animals.  The exercise had begun and we were determined to find them.  What an exhilarating feeling tracking a pride of lions through the heart of Kruger National Park, predicting the animals’ movements and trying to utilize and apply all the skills we had learned over the years.

In winter the bush turns an arid brown, with the grass at shoulder height making it very difficult to spot these animals as they seem to vanish into the colors of the environment. This makes tracking a little more interesting and enriches the already uneasy atmosphere.

After three hours we became slightly despondent as the tracks were all heading in different directions and it seemed that the pride had split up while hunting the night before. We were now walking through thick bush, the grass meeting us at eye level in certain areas, walking slowly with every step – careful not to miss any signs of these predators lurking nearby.

After totally losing their tracks, we needed another plan. We needed to start thinking like these lions, which may sound a little odd but none the less, an effective method. This area was desolate with very little surface water, so our best option was to head towards the area where water is found in the hope we might locate signs of the pride.

After investigating a warthog’s den, we crossed an open area when I noticed the flick of an ear. Picking up small movements like these becomes second nature when one has worked in the bush for some time and I was happy to know I still retained my “bush-sense.” We stopped immediately, raised the binoculars and there they were, the Mountain pride. They seemed reluctantly satisfied with our distance, so we kept it that way and made no attempt to approach any closer. All of them with heads up, staring at us in an unnerving fashion. I decided to not think about what the scenario could have been, if we had bumped into them in the thick grass, just meters behind us. It was our first encounter with these animals since we had arrived two days earlier and I was happy to see the pride again and even happier that it was due to some great teamwork and perseverance. With abundant excitement and a feeling of accomplishment we made the long walk back to the vehicle to call in the sighting.

James Suter, Field Guide, exploring Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.

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The re-acquaintance of an old friend

October 16, 2012 - Conservation,Kruger National Park,Wildlife

During my time as a guide working at Singita Kruger National Park, I spent many long hours with the Xinkelegane female. She was one of the most relaxed and therefore commonly seen female leopards in the area. She was at ease with vehicles and this allowed us to closely observe her in her natural environment.  We became familiar with both her habits and movements.

One morning we managed to locate two tiny leopard cubs and immediately knew they belonged to her as she had been heavily pregnant.  She had hidden them in a rocky outcrop in the middle of her territory, taking every precaution to ensure their safety. In due course she slowly introduced them to us and it was wonderful following their progress, watching them develop their skills that would play such an important role later in life.

Now coming back to Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park, having not seen the cubs for over a year, I could hardly believe it when I heard one of the guides announce that he had located Xinkelegane’s young male offspring with an impala kill. Way to go!  He was now completely self-sufficient, a successful hunter, and he had brought down an impala ram. We headed to an open area which was dotted with large Acacias and a male impala kill lodged at the top of a tree was the giveaway – the male leopard was close by.

And then we spotted him, almost fully-grown.  We knew the father that sired him, and the resemblance between the two was remarkable.  He was strong and healthy and had finally grown into his oversized head, which made him appear slightly awkward in his earlier years.

Impala rams are extremely active at this time of year and dedicate a great deal of their time and energy rounding up females and fighting off other rival males. This, together with them being unusually vocal means they are targeted by most of the larger predators.

We decided to spend some time with the leopard, hoping to see him scale the tree and feed on the impala he had strategically wedged between branches.  Eventually without bother, he glanced at the impala and proceeded to climb the Acacia.

Watching him feed, I pondered on what a long way he had come and what a fantastic job his mother had done in raising him. There were plenty of close calls, but he had made it through his first year, the most challenging of all. Now I had witnessed him in all his glory, a survivor in this harsh environment.

James Suter, Field Guide, exploring Singita Kruger National Park.

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The N’wanetsi

October 10, 2012 - Events,Kruger National Park,Wildlife

James Suter exploring Singita Kruger National Park.

I awoke early the first morning, packed the vehicle, gulped down some coffee and headed for the African bush. The flooding has been dramatic this year, and even though we were in the middle of winter there was enough surface water in the N’wanetsi River.

My first inclination as I headed out into the concession was to distance myself from the vehicle and walk along the N’wanetsi River. This is the source of all life here and at this time of the year it is a lifeline for many species that occur in the area. The winters are harsh and the precious water attracts a vast amount of game. At this time of the year the real spectacle is the abundance of birdlife found along the river. Many parts of the river have now dried up leaving small stagnant pools filled to the brim with helpless catfish and Tilapia; trapped as the sun rapidly dries up their only means of protection, they consequently fall victim to the many waiting bills.

In the distance I could see a number of Marabou storks sunning themselves in a large Leadwood. It was worth a closer look, as this perch was right on the riverbank. I began walking up the river and noticed a commotion in a small body of water ahead.   It was an Egyptian Goose, lying face down in the water. However it was moving, although on closer inspection I discovered this was due to terrapins scavenging on it.  An unusual but fascinating sight.

I continued onwards where I had seen the large congregation of storks. Sure enough as I approached the area, surprising a pair of honey badgers, I could see over thirteen different bird species surrounding a single pool of water.

These stagnant pools brought birds from far and wide including the heavyweights: the eagles, storks and herons all competing for the dwindling fish supplies. The catfish wriggled helplessly and were plucked out with ease. The Marabou storks caught my eye, most definitely not blessed with the best looks but a wonder to observe  – massive birds with thick carnivorous bills, weighing up to nine kilograms and standing over a meter tall.

What a treat to be able to escape to this paradise surrounded by all things natural and beautiful. I sat down on the bank of the river leaning against the base of a tree and spent the morning enjoying the spectacle of the river and all it had to offer.

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Shooting in Monochrome

October 02, 2012 - Experience,Kruger National Park,Sabi Sand,Wildlife

Marlon du Toit thrives on adventure and has a deep connection with Africa and its beauty. Growing up near the Kruger National Park he was immersed in nature from a young age and is now a professional field guide at Singita Sabi Sand.

His eye for capturing split-second moments on camera is astonishing, and after years behind the lens, we thought we would give our readers some of his ideas for taking the perfect wildlife photograph when out in the bush. Follow the Singita blog for Marlon’s upcoming articles.

Black and white photography has become a little “washed-out” as of late, excuse the pun. Great photographers such as Nick Brandt have created an epidemic by creating fine-art masterpieces in black and white, and it seems that many are now going down that same route and failing hopelessly. I don’t consider myself the best monochrome photographer out there by any stretch, but I do believe that I have an eye to know whether it will work or not. Simply put, there is more to a black and white image than the simple click of a button. By taking a little time to process your image you can create something breathtaking.

The kind of software you utilize makes a world of difference. The “black and white” button on iPhoto may be fine for your desktop background picture, but if you want something more impressive, perhaps an image for your wall, you need to go bigger. I make use of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4. It is an amazing program and will help you immensely. It is easy to figure out and will allow for stunning monochrome images in a short amount of time.

In this upcoming blog article series I will go through 5 of my recent images and explain why I selected them specifically, and why I feel they work in monochrome. The larger of the two images is the final product and the smaller is the original RAW image imply converted to black and white.

A monochrome image often needs to be punchy. You can use your creative freedom to the maximum here as long as you stick to basic principles, such as still having exposure in check, and that your images are nice and sharp. In Lightroom I use a slider called “Clarity” a lot. It gives your image a beautiful look as it deepens the dark tones and highlights the lighter parts. The finish is amazing and you will love it. Contrast plays a huge role here and you need to really deepen the darker tones. It adds dynamic to your image and creates a three-dimensional feel. In Lightroom there’s also a fill-in brush. This allows you to edit specific areas in your image such as, only the face, or only the background. I make use of this tool often and it helps me create dynamic images in monochrome. There are many more techniques and hopefully my comments on the photographs in this series will explain a few more things for you. These are only merely pointers in the right direction and by no means the be-all and end-all of monochrome photography. I hope it helps…keep visiting this blog space – Marlon du Toit.

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Singita Kruger National Park

September 21, 2012 - Conservation,Kruger National Park,Safari,Wildlife

It was an extraordinary feeling walking along the wooden boardwalk as I arrived at Singita Lebombo Lodge, set against the majestic Lebombo Mountains in the heart of Kruger National Park. This had been my home for so long and I had not returned in over a year.  Singita Kruger National Park is made up of fifteen thousand hectares of pristine wilderness, with a diversity of fauna and flora not matched anywhere.  The rolling Lebombo Mountains hug the eastern boundary of the park, giving way to the vast basalt plains and supported by the N’wanetsi River that cuts through the mountains and makes its way to the east into Mozambique. It’s an isolated place, where the animals seem just a little more wild.  This is because vehicles and people have only operated in the area for a couple of years as the lodge was only completed in 2003. It is a truly unique landscape bustling with life, renowned for the large concentrations of lion and general game and seldom-seen animals such as the sable antelope – and if you’re really lucky, the elusive and shy black rhino.

After our recent, mind-blowing experience in the Sabi Sand area I was eager to see the contrast that this environment has to offer. We would be spending much more time out of the Land Rover, and exploring vast tracts of land with nothing more than a backpack, rifle, and of course a camera. My aim was to rediscover all the secret gems the concession has to offer, such as walking the N’wanetsi River, traversing the mountain ranges and possibly tracking the Mountain Pride of lion, which was an exercise I had come to miss over the last year.

I was happy to see many familiar faces; the tracking team remained unchanged and Given, the tracker who I worked with, greeted me with a hug and a familiar smile. I listened enthusiastically as they told me all that had changed in the bush since my departure. I discovered the Mountain Pride was still eighteen strong, the resident female leopard’s cubs were healthy and were now fending for themselves, the Shish pride had grown to twenty six members, and one of the males from the Xirombe pride had been killed by a rival and so it went on. I lapped it all up.

So with all the thoughts of what I may encounter over the next couple of days I switched off the light on my first night. I could hardly wait for the next day’s exhilaration to begin.

James Suter, a Field Guide with Singita for several years, is now trekking across Singita’s private reserves in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, documenting his time spent in these incredible locations, and the amazing sightings.

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The Battle of Beasts

July 05, 2012 - Conservation,Kruger National Park,Wildlife

Even within the comfort of a vehicle, a lion is one intimidating animal.  At Singita we often have close encounters with these beasts as most individuals are fairly relaxed with the Land Rovers.  They are unusually lackadaisical animals spending most of the day resting and we often forget the power these massive cats possess.

On this particular occasion, while some of the Mountain pride females were coming into season, the scene was far from lethargic. The two brothers who generally are more than tolerant towards each other were out to prove a point and brotherly love was put aside for the time being. This was serious business. The possibility to mate is every male lion’s ambition.  Some are successful and some unfortunately don’t make the grade.

It was an exciting moment and tension was thick in the air as the two males sized one another up. It was inevitable what was going to follow and before we knew it the larger lion hurtled towards his brother.  The vehicle seemed to vibrate as the two collided, with snarls and more hostility and tenacity than any I’ve ever witnessed.

The battle had begun and the victor would reserve the right to claim his female.

(Blog series by James Suter.)

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The Last Day

July 04, 2012 - Community Development,Cuisine,Kruger National Park

Today was Lucien Green’s last day in the kitchen at the Singita School of Cooking.  He managed to squeeze in one more demo before he left:  confit duck gizzards, duck hearts, and orange segments all drizzled with a Dijon mustard dressing.  I was worried I might not sample the duck delicacy as there was a sea of students in front of me destroying the delicious salad by the fork-full.  As a thank-you to Lucien he was given a cooking school jacket with his name embroidered on it, a Singita book and an invitation for him and his wife to return to Singita Lebombo and Sweni Lodges.  His remark?  “I’ll certainly return but not in summer.  I hear there are a lot of snakes around at that time!”

This has been a remarkable week.  The students have gained mountains of knowledge and also a new friend.  Everyone is looking forward to the return of Lucien Green.

The End…for now.

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Competition Day 2

July 03, 2012 - Community Development,Cuisine,Kruger National Park

Four points separated the teams in the end, but let’s start at the beginning. Lucien Green, Senior Training and Development Chef from Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Apprentice Programme, started the day by presenting his demo for plating carpaccio.

Then the students split into their teams to begin their own creations and Amos started the clock-watch – a 25 minute challenge!  All teams finished in time so the first challenge was met.  Some great dishes were created by all and the sirloin was delectable and tender.

After the judging it was time to announce the winner. In 4th place with 39 points was team D.  In joint 2nd and 3rd place with 40.5 points were teams B and C and in first place with a whopping 43 points was team A. The grand prize?  Each member of the winning team proudly accepted a chef’s jacket from Fifteen, together with a Fifteen-branded apron.  The smiles couldn’t have been any bigger.

(Written by Archie Maclean, Head Chef at Singita Lebombo Lodge.)

Here’s the winning team A and their scrumptious creation.

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Turning up the Heat

July 02, 2012 - Community Development,Cuisine,Events,Kruger National Park

The excitement at Singita Kruger National Park has been contagious this week.  What’s been causing the stir?  Lucien Green.

Visiting from Jamie Oliver’s “Fifteen” Apprentice Programme in London, Lucien Green (Senior Training and Development Chef)  has hailed an energy at the Singita School of Cooking like never before.  Each day has been jam-packed with activities, revving up from one day to the next.

Day One – the Singita team whisked Lucien out into the bush to look for lions.

Day Two – stepping into the kitchen at the Singita School of Cooking for the first time, Lucien observed students elbow-deep in dough and perfecting their focaccia-making skills.

Day Three – Lucien took some time out to review curriculum.  He gave the cooking school a thumbs-up!

Day Four – this was a special day – it was marked as the official opening of the Singita School of Cooking.  Mark Witney, Singita’s Chief Operating Officer was also present for the honours.

Day Five – then it was back to the kitchen.  Lucien conducted a day of teaching, introduced the students to carpaccio for the first time, and iniated a competition to see who could produce some winning results. For the competition the students were split into teams and over two days they’ll compete for the top prize.  It is going to be a gruelling, fast-paced stretch.  Stay tuned!

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