Category Archives: Wildlife

An Elephant’s Toothy Tool

March 20, 2013 - Africa,Experience,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Safari,Singita Pamushana Lodge,Wildlife

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The elephants of Singita Pamushana Lodge

It is always awe-inspiring being in the presence of elephants. As the world’s largest mammal, they’re not only physically intimidating but also known to be highly intelligent, functioning in a complex social structure. It is estimated that Zimbabwe has a population of around 110 000 elephants, which is more than twice the optimum capacity; a problem also faced by neighbouring South Africa.

The elephants of Singita Pamushana Lodge

Magnificent elephant tusks

When I first encountered the elephants of Zimbabwe, I was initially struck by the enormous size of the bulls and their colossal tusks, which were noticeably superior in size to most elephants I had observed in the Kruger National Park. These tusks are modified incisors, located in the upper jaw and made of calcium phosphate, more commonly known as ivory. They are essential tools to the animals and assist with eating by digging up roots and debarking trees. They are also used as a weapons during interaction with other bulls, while protecting their more vulnerable trunks.

Singita field guide James Suter photographing an elephant

The elephants of Singita Pamushana Lodge

Interestingly, like humans, theses animals are either right or left “handed”, favouring a particular tusk, with the master or dominant tusk being noticeably worn down due to extensive use. The longest tusk recorded was from an African elephant and measured just over three meters with a weight of over one hundred kilograms. Unfortunately statistical data shows the average weight of an elephant’s tusk has decreased at an alarming rate. In the seventies the average weight was around 12 kilograms and by the early nineties it had dropped to just three.

Elephant tusk

Singita Pamushana Lodge in Zimbabwe

We contribute this rapid evolution to relentless poaching, as the males with the largest tusks are usually targeted. This in turn has caused the breeding behavior of these animals to change rapidly over a short period of time. It was then even more gratifying to see so many healthy bulls in the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve and still in possession of such magnificent tusks.

Follow the adventures of field guide James Suter as he explores the wilderness surrounding Singita Pamushana Lodge and its fascinating inhabitants. You can also read James’ previous elephant post on Singita’s grey giants.

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Highlights from our Guides’ Diaries

March 13, 2013 - Africa,Experience,Kruger National Park,Lamai,Safari,Singita Grumeti,Singita Pamushana Lodge,Wildlife

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Did you know that our team of expert field guides write a monthly wildlife journal that chronicles the fauna and flora surrounding each lodge? High summer in Africa is a particularly fascinating time to document the local wildlife. Here are a few photographs from the most recent Guides’ Diaries from Singita Kruger National Park, Singita Lamai, Singita Grumeti and Singita Pamushana Lodge.

Carmine bee-eater

The southern carmine bee-eater (Merops nubicoides) occurs across sub-equatorial Africa, ranging from KwaZulu-Natal and Namibia to Gabon, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. This species is a richly coloured, striking bird, predominantly carmine in colouration (hence the name). They are highly sociable, gathering in large flocks, in or out of breeding season. Unperturbed by the light rain, they continue to move in a large flock as they hunt small insects within the lower areas of the floodplain. This was a sight that we followed for a few hours, mesmerised by their acrobatic displays.

by Ross Couper (Singita Kruger National Park). Read the full Guides’ Diary.

Giraffes

I’ve never seen as many giraffe about as there are at the moment. It’s possible that with all the rain and resulting thick vegetation they’ve moved to the few open areas where they can see, from their high vantage, any approaching danger. Giraffe are hunted by lions so it’s best that they avoid any ambush attacks.

By Jenny Hishin (Singita Pamushana Lodge). Read the full Guides’ Diary.

Zebra

It is interesting to note that despite all the theories as to why zebra are striped, there is one that seems to be most valid; it’s as a defence mechanism against flies, especially the stinging types, like tsetse and horseflies. Flies are attracted to horizontally polarized light. Zebra stripes are predominantly vertical and, when they lower their heads to feed or drink, this effect is reinforced. It appears that this assists them in avoiding the bites and diseases associated with tsetse and horseflies, in that the flies do not see vertically polarized light.

By Lee Bennett (Singita Lamai). Read the full Guides’ Diary.

Cheetah

Our cheetah sightings have been climbing recently and January was the best so far – sixty different cheetah sightings, and most of them consisting of more than one animal! The usual suspects on the property have become more and more comfortable with the vehicles and are less afraid to be seen. Then there are multiple newcomers who continue to sporadically show up. They include two additional brothers and a few single females. All of the newcomers are still quite skittish.

By Ryan Schmitt and Lizzie Hamrick (Singita Grumeti). Read the full Guides’ Diary.

Our Guide’s Diaries are published on a monthly basis from our lodges in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. You can read all of them here.

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Maternal Instinct

February 26, 2013 - Africa,Experience,Sabi Sand,Safari,Wildlife

Leopard at Singita Sabi Sand

Francois Fourie, Field Guide at Singita Sabi Sand, had the great fortune of spotting the female Ravenscourt leopard last week, while in action defending her young. The Sabi Sand Reserve is well known for frequent leopard sightings (as well as a general diversity of game), since the big cats are attracted to the camouflage afforded them by the lush riverine flora. You can read regular updates on wildlife sightings in the area by following our fascinating monthly Guides’ Diaries.

It was once again one of those mornings that will stick with me forever. We are so privileged to wake up in this amazing place every day and get to see such incredible things; this morning just proved that we really have the best job in world.

The female Ravenscourt leopard defends her cub from a hyena

We headed out from the lodge with our main aim being to spot a leopard. We headed south and not even ten minutes into the excursion, our tracker Sandile saw the spoor of a female leopard and her cub. We knew she must be in the area because there had been a report that she had killed a young impala lamb the day before. She wasn’t on the site of the kill, instead there were plenty of hyena tracks and a drag mark suggesting that she lost her lamb to a hungry pack.

The female Ravenscourt leopard defends her cub from a hyena

We followed the fresh tracks and about 15 minutes later we found her and the cub with another impala lamb hoisted in a marula tree. Lurking hopefully at the base of the tree was an opportunistic hyena, while the Ravenscourt female lay not too far from the tree keeping a wary eye on the predator. Suddenly the cub decided to come down from his perch and with that motion the hyena promptly got to his feet, most likely assuming that the leopard had dropped the kill.  In the blink of an eye, the protective female was up and flying to attack the hyena that was threatening her cub, successfully warding him off. It was amazing to see how quickly and naturally her mothering instinct kicked in within a matter of seconds and I will remember it along with some of the greatest moments experienced in the bush.

The female Ravenscourt leopard defends her cub from a hyena

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A Wonderful Wild Dog Sighting

February 22, 2013 - Environment,Experience,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Singita Pamushana Lodge,Wildlife

African wild dogs at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Zimbabwe boasts one of the largest African wild dog populations; over several hundred dogs can be found in the country’s national parks. Although once considered a pest, the “painted dog” is now highly endangered and they have become a symbol of pride in Zimbabwe, with the population almost doubling in recent years.

During our recent visit to Singita Pamushana Lodge, we were fortunate enough to witness a rare sighting of these cursorial predators. It is estimated that there are only six hundred to a thousand individual packs left on the continent and their lack of numbers coupled with the massive territories they occupy make sightings extremely gratifying.

African wild dogs at Singita Pamushana Lodge

African wild dogs at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Wild dogs can achieve a speed of up to 55km/h and maintain that speed for several kilometers, making it very difficult to keep up with them when hunting. They are incredibly efficient hunters, using both their intelligence and co-operation to ensure a successful kill and will literally run their prey to the ground. No two wild dogs are marked exactly the same, making it easy to identify individuals within a group. They are fascinating animals to observe and it always special to watch them interact with fellow pack members while enjoying their painted beauty.

African wild dogs at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Field guide James Suter at Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve

Unfortunately the gradual disappearance of their natural habitat and outbreaks of viral diseases such as rabies and distemper makes them vulnerable to extinction. The preservation of the African wild dog population depends on the size of the region in which they can live and conserved areas, such as the 120 000 acres of the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, provide sanctuary for these beautiful animals.

Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve

Follow field guide James Suter as he explores the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in Zimbabwe and reports on the spectacular plants and animals he encounters. Some of his recent posts from the reserve include a spectacular cheetah sighting and tracking the local hyena clans.

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A Bit About the Buffalo

February 12, 2013 - Environment,Experience,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Safari,Singita Pamushana Lodge,Wildlife

James Suter in front of a buffalo herd

It’s not an uncommon sight to see massive herds of African buffalo in the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve surrounding Singita Pamushana Lodge, often exceeding four hundred in a single group. These animals are active throughout the day and night with, on average, around eighteen hours of the day being spent feeding and moving.

African buffalo are found in a variety of habitats, including open savannah, grasslands and woodlands. They occupy a stable home range, usually based near water holes as they need to drink on a daily basis in order to survive. Their grazing fodder of choice is tall, coarse grass which they effectively mow down to make way for more selective grazers.

Buffalo herd

Although they may resemble a harmless cow, buffalo are in fact very dangerous animals on account of their large size and temperamental behavior, especially the bulls. If injured or threatened they have been known to attack humans but on the whole, if left in peace, they are placid creatures with a sociable nature.

Viewing these large herds is a marvelous spectacle and we enjoyed their company on a number of occasions, with the vehicle often being completely engulfed by hundreds of buffalo. Watching and listening to them while they feed is an almost therapeutic experience, although often interrupted by the screech of an oxpecker, the gregarious birds that dine on the buffalo’s ticks.

African buffalo at Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve

African buffalo drinking at the water hole

One particular sighting that stands out occurred near a beautiful pan. It was dusk and four massive bulls were approaching the water. We strategically positioned ourselves downwind and waited for them to approach in the beautiful light of an African sunset, which gave me the opportunity to photograph them closely without being detected. Watching them quench their thirst in this small, isolated pan, with the sun ablaze in the distance, was a moment I will not forget.

Lone African buffalo

Field guide James Suter is documenting the fauna and flora of the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve so check back regularly to see his latest photos and read about his most recent adventure. You can catch up on his earlier posts from the region here.

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Great Guest Photos from 2012: Jeff Thompson

January 21, 2013 - Accommodation,Africa,Environment,Experience,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Safari,Singita Pamushana Lodge,Wildlife

Elephants at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Visiting Singita is always an unforgettable experience and for many guests, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Africa in a very special way. It is especially gratifying for us when guests stay in touch with the lodge teams once they have returned home and share their astounding photographs of the trip.

Jeff Thompson and his wife Julie visited Singita Pamushana Lodge from Atlanta twice last year with a keen eye for unusual photo opportunities. Here is a selection of his gorgeous wildlife pictures, taken throughout the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve surrounding the lodge. We hope you enjoy these photos and would love for you to share your own shots of Singita with us by visiting our Facebook page or getting in touch on the website.

Elephants at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Elephants at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Painted dogs at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Game spotting at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Cheetah at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Rhino at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Lioness at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Lions at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Lions at Singita Pamushana Lodge

© All photographs copyright Jeff Thompson 2013

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Black Rhino Encounter

January 09, 2013 - Environment,Experience,Lodges and Camps,Safari,Singita Pamushana Lodge,Wildlife

Black rhino at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Tracking the temperamental black rhino has to be one of the most exciting and challenging activities for a field guide. Black rhino are notoriously aggressive, and will not hesitate to charge, even when one is in the confines of a vehicle. Singita Pamushana Lodge is home to a healthy population of these animals, which offered me a fantastic opportunity to learn more about them.

Our mission was to locate the fresh spoor of a black rhino and continue to follow the tracks until we finally located the animal. In order to optimise our chances of seeing one, we decided to set off early in the morning when the day is still cool and rhinos are the most active.

James Suter tracking the black rhino

James Suter tracking the black rhino

They mainly drink at night or early in the morning, so the logical place to start was at one of the larger pans. It was a challenging task, as we had to select one particular track that seemed the most promising. It had to be the freshest track and not only would we have to distinguish this spoor from the hundreds of others surrounding the waterhole, but we would also have to make sure we continued trailing the same one. After circling the pan a number of times we selected the tracks of a single bull and set off with our noses to the ground.

James Suter tracking the black rhino

We were headed south, straight into the thick Mopane forest. I noted the fresh dung as well as the broken branches the rhino had left as clues. As we went deeper into the scrub, I felt my heart rate quicken and my ears and eyes sharpen, all the while considering the black rhino’s fearsome reputation.

Black rhino charging the group

The startled oxpeckers alerted us to the proximity of our quarry when they took to the air as we approached, pricking the ears of the large figures below them in the undergrowth. We kept silent and still, wary of giving away our position. Suddenly the wind changed against us and the rhino caught our scent, lumbering straight for our hiding place. The best response when being charged by a rhino is to find a tree to climb or hide behind (since rhino have bad eyesight, they usually can’t distinguish between a large tree trunk and the perceived threat of a person). We promptly found a thicket to hide behind, hearts pounding, and quietly watched the rhino retreat into the shadows of the forest, feeling great respect for these massive but agile beasts.

Black rhino charging the group

James Suter is an experienced Singita field guide with a passion for photography. Check back regularly for more of James’ stories from Singita’s private reserves in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

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Looking Back: Great Guest Photos from 2012

December 28, 2012 - Accommodation,Africa,Environment,Experience,Kruger National Park,Safari,Wildlife

We are always delighted to hear from past guests who have visited Singita, especially when they share their memories of their trip with us by way of some spectacular holiday snaps. It is so special to see the lodges and their surroundings through the eyes of our visitors and some of them have been generous enough to allow us to share these photographs with you.

Stephen Saugestad traveled to Singita Lebombo Lodge and Singita Ebony Lodge from Vancouver, Canada and was particularly taken with the variety of wildlife they spotted on their daily game drives. We hope you enjoy these lovely pictures and we encourage you to share your own photographs of Singita with us by visiting our Facebook page or getting in touch on the website.

Singita Boulders Lodge

Mandla, our Singita Sabi Sand Community Development Officer

Early morning game drive

Early morning game drive

Elephant

Leopard

Giraffe

Sunset in the Kruger National Park

© All photographs copyright Stephen Saugestad 2012

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The Hyena Clans of the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve

December 27, 2012 - Environment,Experience,Lodges and Camps,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Safari,Singita Pamushana Lodge,Wildlife

Hyena

One of the most interesting observations I made while visiting Singita Pamushana Lodge was the incredibly high population of hyena that inhabit the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve. We spotted these unusual-looking and highly entertaining characters on nearly every excursion. Game numbers are high in this area, providing an abundant source of food, while the lion prides that compete for similar prey are small and widely dispersed.

Hyena feeding on wildebeest carcass

The spotted hyena is one of the most gregarious of all carnivores and their clans function within a strict dominance hierarchy essential to the success of their society. I am fascinated by hyenas and enjoy observing them so I was determined to find a den site and spend time with these intriguing creatures. Their social life is centred on a communal den, with some clans using the same one for years, while others may use several different sites throughout the year.

Hyena

An opportunity arose when we located a large clan that had recently killed a young wildebeest. They had separated the individual from the herd and used their strength and cooperation to overpower the animal. Once they began to feed we could clearly see the strict hierarchy structure being enforced, with even the lowest ranking female being more dominant than the highest ranking male. It was captivating to watch the low ranking males giggling in submission, accepting their lower status and biding their time, waiting patiently for the females and higher ranking males to finish feeding.

We spent the morning watching the clan feast as the heat set in and the carcass slowly got picked clean. The clan then led us to their den site where we were given a rare and intimate opportunity to enjoy their company for the rest of the day.

Hyena sunset

Follow the adventures of field guide James Suter as he explores the wilderness surrounding Singita Pamushana Lodge and its fascinating inhabitants.

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Sibling Rivalry: A Tense Moment

December 24, 2012 - Environment,Experience,Lodges and Camps,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Safari,Singita Pamushana Lodge,Wildlife

Field guide James Suter

Early one morning we set out to locate a female cheetah and her young cubs, who had been spotted hunting the previous afternoon. Cheetah territories are often located in areas where there is a rich supply of game, such as the open areas south of Singita Pamushana Lodge where game congregates around the Banyini Pan, a constant supply of water.

Field guide James Suter

Female cheetah

Traveling towards the pan, we soon discovered her resting near a large acacia accompanied by her two cubs. We sat there quietly, savouring the moment, and watching these beautiful animals who were totally at ease with the presence of the vehicle.

A tense moment

Then I noticed something in the distance – the vague shape of two figures, much larger than the female and approaching at great speed. I held my breath as the two large male cheetahs pounced on both of the youngsters who immediately assumed a submissive posture and were yelping in fear. It was a tense moment after what had been such a peaceful sighting, and had now turned into a life or death situation for the cubs.

Cheetah fighting

Cheetah fighting

The female desperately tried to protect her cubs; she was extremely distressed and afraid. Fierce fights like this one between adult cheetahs, usually in the defence of territories, can result in serious injury or death.

As quickly as the commotion had started however, the males appeared to both lose interest and calmly joined the female and her cubs in the shade of the acacia. It was a somewhat bizarre sight – we were now sitting with five cheetahs who had been fighting tooth and claw not moments before, but now seemed comfortable and familiar with one another.

Cheetah fighting

Nature is often full of surprises and after speaking to one of the local guides, we managed to piece it all together. The two males were from the female’s previous litter and whom she had left as usual at the age of eighteen months. These two brothers had subsequently formed a coalition, surviving as a team and appeared to be in very good shape. The reunion with their mother, while tense at first, became a touching family portrait as they sought refuge from the heat together with their younger siblings.

Field guide James Suter is exploring the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve that surrounds Singita Pamushana Lodge. Check back next week to learn about the local hyena population, accompanied by more of James’ stunning photography.

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