The Great Migration Diaries 2013: Part Two
Field guide James Suter has spent a year travelling between Singita’s lodges in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania and reporting on the wildlife population of each reserve. He recently visited Singita Pamushana Lodge and discovered some unusual local inhabitants.
The diversity of wildlife to be found at Singita Pamushana Lodge is unmatched in Southern Africa. It is home not only to the well-known “Big Five” but also the “Little Six,” a group of small antelope which includes klipspringer, suni, grey duiker, steenbok, grysbok and oribi. The Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve also provides a sanctuary for three very uncommon antelope: the sable, roan and Lichtenstein’s hartebeest. These shy animals are rarely seen and this area provides a fantastic opportunity to spot them.
Sable antelope live in savanna woodlands and inhabit grassland areas during the dry season. Their remarkable, scimitar-shaped horns, while beautiful, have unfortunately led to a sharp decline in the species as they are hunted for this highly prized trophy. They are unmistakable and luckily for us, sightings are relatively common in the concession. We were even lucky enough to see a large breeding herd of fifteen recently, as they made their way through the Mopane forests.
The roan antelope, named for their reddish-brown colouring, are similar in appearance to the sable and are one of the largest species of antelope found in Africa, exceeded in size only by the African buffalo and eland. There has also been a substantial reduction in both numbers and range of these animals, largely as a result of illegal poaching and the destruction of their natural habitat. Roan antelope are also heavily reliant on tall grasses and are vulnerable to lack of rainfall, making extended dry seasons and drought a serious threat to their survival.
The Lichtenstein’s hartebeest is the rarest mammal in Zimbabwe. They can run up to 60 km per hour and the males are highly territorial. The herd is generally led by an adult male, who often takes up watch on a patch of elevated ground, usually in the form of a termite mound. This male defends a territory of about 2.5 square kilometers year-round and during the rut, a male with a territory will try to round up as many females as possible. At this time, fights between rival males are common, and can last for extended periods of time.
Visit our website to find out more about the conservation programmes at Singita Pamushana Lodge and don’t forget to read our monthly Wildlife Reports from the region.
July 01, 2013 - Africa,Conservation,Environment,Experience,Safari,Singita Faru Faru Lodge,Singita Grumeti,Singita Mara River Tented Camp,Singita Sasakwa Lodge,Wildlife
As you will have read in Part One of this year’s Migration Diaries, the epic journey of over a million animals began in earnest a few weeks ago. The nomadic wildebeest began arriving right on time at the beginning of June and soon covered the savannah surrounding Singita’s lodges and camps in Grumeti Reserves, Tanzania.
They were expected to move on relatively quickly (not surprising, considering they have 1200 miles to cover!) and landed up spending only a week on the plains, in full view of our lucky guests staying at Singita Faru Faru Lodge in the east, and all the way to Singita Sabora Tented Camp in the west.
After seven days, having had their fill of the lush grasslands, they began to move and the view from Singita Sasakwa Lodge changed overnight. Where, just the previous day there had been thousands of wildebeest scattered across the plains, we awoke to the sight of long, organised lines of animals marching due east. This lasted four days and by the 20th of June, only a few small groups of stragglers were left. The bulk of the herds had successfully traveled to the the Ikorongo region and were making their way back into the Serengeti National Park, towards Singita Mara River Tented Camp in the remote Lamai triangle.
If they follow their projected route, the wildebeest could arrive at the camp in the next few weeks, readying themselves anxiously for the crossing of the crocodile-filled Mara River. The unique location of Singita’s newest camp provides spectacular opportunities to view these crossings and we look forward to reporting again for you from this next leg of the wildebeests’ annual journey.
The Great Migration is an annual event in the Serengeti in which 1.5 million wildebeest (and 200 000 zebra) travel from the Ngorongoro region of Tanzania up to Kenya’s Maasai Mara game reserve and beyond, following the rains in search of better grazing. This natural phenomenon passes right through Singita Grumeti and Singita Lamai, making our lodges the ideal vantage point from which to observe this epic journey.
It’s always a special time of year for our staff and guests at Singita Grumeti in Tanzania, when the dull rumble of hooves echoes across the savannah as the Great Wildebeest Migration begins. Over the next few weeks, more than one million animals will travel through the area and up through Singita Lamai, home of Singita Mara River Tented Camp. This year’s event is now in full swing, as the bearded creatures began arriving en masse from the southeast on the 1st of June, passing first alongside Singita Faru Faru Lodge.
A few days later, thousands of wildebeest flooded the Nyati plains, with the herds extending southwards into the Serengeti National Park, as far as the eye could see. By Wednesday the 5th, the herds that remained on Nyati plains were growing slowly more and more dense, spreading west and north towards Singita Sabora Tented Camp and the Sasakwa Plains. By Friday evening there was an incessant hum on Sasakwa Hill that originated from the thousands of animals murring on the plains below; a sound similar to that of flowing water.
On the morning of Monday, June 10th, the herds extended throughout Singita Grumeti, surrounding the lodges entirely. As it is also currently rutting season, it has been fascinating to watch the bulls running back and forth to protect their cows and calves from other bulls, while simultaneously having to continue the migration.
Although these herds are completely unpredictable, we expect that they will stay with us at least another two weeks, probably longer! We look forward to watching their antics and sharing more amazing photographs of them with you.
The Great Migration is an annual event in the Serengeti in which 1.5 million wildebeest (and 200 000 zebra) travel from the Ngorongoro region of Tanzania up to Kenya’s Maasai Mara game reserve and beyond, following the rains in search of better grazing. This natural phenomenon passes right through Singita Grumeti and Singita Lamai, making our lodges the ideal vantage point from which to observe this epic 1200-mile-long journey.
We were heartbroken this week when one of the most beautiful and best-loved members of our leopard family was killed in a battle to protect her young by a rogue male leopard. The Ravenscourt female was a familiar sight for visitors to Singita Sabi Sand, many of whom remember her fondly and have shared their experiences on our Facebook page. Field guide Marlon du Toit observed the incident and took this touching photograph of her final moments. He writes: “[She was] a true symbol of captivating Africa, she was pure beauty. As she lay in the shade of a leadwood and surrendered her bruised and battered body back to the earth, a delicate butterfly came to rest on her soft coat, closing the last chapter on the life of this iconic leopardess. Lady Ravenscourt you will be dearly missed.” This photo is a stunning reminder of the extreme beauty and brutality of life on this majestic continent.
You can read more about her life in our earlier wildlife journals and on the blog.
Cheetah once occurred throughout Zimbabwe, but are now largely absent from both the North and East of the country. Population size is limited in protected areas by shrinking habitat and the abundance of large predators, who compete for the same food source. Unfortunately, today the cheetah has vanished from over seventy seven percent of its historical range on the African continent. With fewer than ten thousand adults left in the wild, the species has now been classified as vulnerable.
So we were lucky enough to be were treated to some amazing cheetah encounters on our most recent trip to Singita Pamushana Lodge. A female and her two cubs provided us with some incredible sightings as we located them on a number of occasions. We were also fortunate to be introduced to two young males whose territory overlaps with the female and her two cubs. These males are also the female’s previous litter and have now established themselves as a solid unit, occupying the heart of the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve.
Viewing these skilled predators was interesting because, unlike most large cats, they are very active throughout the day. This fact, together with the presence of young cubs, meant that there was plenty of activity to keep us entertained. We spent hours with the cheetah, watching them interact, play and stalk potential prey. Since they are relatively comfortable with the game vehicles, we were afforded the opportunity to view these beautiful creatures from close quarter, which provided us with fantastic photographic opportunities without disturbing them.
Singita Field Guide, James Suter, is visiting all of our lodges and blogging about his experiences there. You can read more about his recent adventures or find out about Singita Pamushana Lodge and its surrounds.
It had taken three days for us to locate our first pride of lions in the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve surrounding Singita Pamushana Lodge. We had been preoccupied with the abundance of wildlife and other unique sightings, so I hadn’t realised we had yet to see this member of the Big Five.
One morning, while working the Eastern sections of the reserve, we noticed a committee of vultures some distance away, who were circling in the sky and then dropping to the ground. Judging by the number of birds we suspected they had found something large.
There was no debate; we began driving in the direction of the scavenging birds. I never tire of the anticipation one feels when following up on a sign that may lead to predators and I was hoping that we would see something special. As we approached we could see the birds waiting patiently above a large figure in the grass which turned our to be an adult bull giraffe; this could only be the work of lions.
The small pride consisted of just a single adult male, a female and a younger sub-adult male. Lions are powerful animals and hunting in co-ordinated groups greatly increases their chances of success. Being primarily nocturnal, these lions had the advantage of hunting under the cover of darkness and had surprised the giraffe just before dawn. It was an especially unusual kill, considering that lions rarely attack very large prey such as fully grown male giraffes due to the danger of injury. That, combined with the fact that this was such a small pride, means we were very privileged to have seen it.
Field Guide James Suter is traveling through Africa, visiting Singita’s lodges and camps and documenting the wildlife in each unique location. He recently spotted hyena and cheetah near Singita Pamushana Lodge in south-eastern Zimbabwe, where Singita protects and manages an extraordinary 135 000 acre wilderness area next to the Gonarezhou National Park.
The memories of a trip to Africa and an unforgettable visit to Singita are some of the most precious that a traveller can experience. And while it can be very difficult to recreate that feeling when a guest is back home, they often have spectacular photos to remind them of the unique landscape and wildlife of our continent. We are always thrilled when these photos are shared with us, along with the wonderful stories behind them.
One such visitor to Singita in September 2012 was Mary Robbins, from Lynn, Massachusetts. She travelled to Tanzania and stayed at Singita Faru Faru Lodge, Singita Explore Mobile Tented Camp, Singita Sasakwa Lodge and Singita Sabora Tented Camp. Although an enthusiastic safari-lover, this was her first trip with us and she was especially keen to see a leopard and was rewarded with an amazing sighting during her time at the lodges, as well as spotting plenty of other big cats.
Looking back, she writes: “What a fabulous time Frances, my driver, and I had! We drove around the Serengeti and saw wonderful things. We watched the animals for hours on end and that is the only way to really come to an understanding of the way the animals are – by watching the way they move and interact with one another and with other species and with their environment. This was a true safari – a journey into another world – rather than a quick drive across the plain to fill up the time and make a tourist happy. Of course we saw all manner of animal and my personal favorites were:
- The time we came upon a pride of lions lounging on a river bank – then one by one we watched them get up, go to the top of a rock, and splash down into the water and walk/swim across the river to the other side.
- Watching three 3-month old cheetah cubs jumble and play around their mama.
- Admiring a fine, big, male leopard in a tree.
- Watching a pride of lions lounge around a tree and then jump up into it. Watching lion prides and little cubs is always wonderful.
Thank you for visiting us Mary, we hope to see you again soon.
You can see other guest photos on our blog from Stephen Saugestad (Canada) and Jeff Thompson (USA). Don’t forget to catch up on our monthly Wildlife Reports too.
The plight of the critically endangered rhino population is one of the more heartbreaking realities of life as custodians of over half a million acres of land in Southern and East Africa. Singita is proud to be a part of a number of projects aimed at eliminating the poaching of these majestic animals for their horns, including the Rhino Reintroduction Programme at Singita Pamushana Lodge (Zimbabwe) and the anti-poaching unit at Singita Sabi Sand (South Africa) which uses specially-trained tracker dogs to deter and catch would-be poachers.
As part of these ongoing efforts, we are now participating in a horn infusion treatment programme, which was pioneered by the Rhino Rescue Project in the Sabi Sand. The horn is treated by infusing it with a compound made up of an antiparasitic drug and indelible dye that contaminates the horn and renders it useless for ornamental or medicinal use. A full DNA sample is harvested and three matching identification microchips are inserted into the horns and the animal itself.
This treatment has resulted in zero losses in areas where it has been applied, and is seen as an important intervention to deflect prospective poachers. Over 100 rhino have already been treated in the reserve and all animals in the initial treatment sample are in excellent health. Since all the products used in the treatment are biodegradable and eco-friendly, there are no long-term effects on the environment. The treatment “grows” out with the horn and so poses no long-term effect and, if a treated animal dies of natural causes, retrieval and registration of the horn is a legal requirement.
Please visit the Rhino Rescue Project website for more information and FAQs on the treatment. You can also find out more about Singita’s wildlife conservation initiatives and environmental protection policies on our site.
Photographs courtesy of Singita Field Guide Dylan Brandt.
I was fortunate enough to have a number of different leopard sightings during my stay at Singita Grumeti. Most of these encounters were brief and had taken place in the lush vegetation along the Grumeti River, where the shy cats are easily able to camouflage themselves.
One morning during our visit, I was delighted to hear that a large male leopard had been located in the south western parts of the concession; just a stone’s throw from Singita Sabora Tented Camp. This region is known for its vast, open plains and I hoped to have a sighting of the handsome cat within such a unique habitat.
As we approached the area where the leopard had last been seen, we were quickly able to identify the characteristic figure of the large cat while he lay resting in an isolated acacia tree. We approached slowly, making sure not to scare the animal away but he seemed more comfortable than most of the leopards in the reserve who offered us just fleeting glimpses of their spotted hide. This healthy male appeared completely relaxed as he sat guarding a warthog that he had killed and dragged up into the tree, away from other opportunistic predators.
I was amazed at the scene of this massive cat perched in a rather small tree in the middle of the Serengeti. After observing him for some time, we noticed a large burrow directly beneath the acacia, which appeared to be active, as indicated by the presence of flies around the entrance. It became clear that this burrow belonged to the unfortunate warthog that was now neatly placed in the upper branches of the tree, a victim of the leopard’s hunting skill and experience.
James Suter is an expert Field Guide and talented photographer who is exploring Singita Grumeti in Tanzania and reporting on the wildlife he finds there. You can read more of James’ journey with Singita through Southern Africa on the blog.
Talented photographer and experienced Field Guide, James Suter, spent the better part of a year exploring Singita’s lodges and camps in Southern Africa. Towards the end of 2012, he visited Singita Grumeti in Tanzania and was lucky enough to experience part of the world-famous animal migration through the Serengeti.
One of the most popular attractions for visitors to East Africa is the annual migration of hundreds of thousands of zebra and over a million wildebeest and other plains game who follow the rains for more than 1800 miles. Witnessing this natural phenomenon as the animals move through the Serengeti is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially since Singita Grumeti offers the perfect vantage point from which to view “The Greatest Wildlife Show on Earth”.
From December to March, Northern Tanzania is home to massive herds of wildebeest who give birth to roughly 500 000 calves over a period of just three weeks in a remarkable, synchronised event. The main reason for this is that very young calves are more noticeable to predators when mixed with older calves and therefore make for easier prey.
The month of July is the ideal time to visit Singita Grumeti, as this is roughly when the herds reach their first major obstacle and are forced to navigate across the Grumeti River. The western corridor of the Serengeti National Park – Africa’s No. 1 World Heritage Site - is where the action takes place and is the best place to watch the migration unfold.
We spent some time at Singita Grumeti in September and were blown away by the sheer numbers of game and the large herds of wildebeest. We drove out onto the vast plains and watched while a hundred thousand of the animals advanced slowly towards the game vehicle. The sights, sounds and smells were mesmerising and completely unforgettable.
There are six Singita lodges and camps to visit in Tanzania, including the brand new Singita Serengeti House, an exclusive-use retreat on the slopes of Sasakwa Hill. To learn more about Singita Grumeti and Lamai, read more on our blog or catch up on the monthly wildlife journals from the region.