Tag Archives: field guide

People of Singita: Tengwe Siabwanda

November 01, 2013 - Conservation,Experience,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Singita Pamushana Lodge,Wildlife

Tengwe Siabwanda, Field Guide at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Tengwe Siabwanda is a second generation field guide based at the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in Zimbabwe, with a passion for all the world’s creatures. Today he shares with us his experiences working at Singita, his most memorable moments and his favourite things about the African bush:

Tengwe Siabwanda, Field Guide at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Singita Pamushana lodge in Zimbabwe.

How did you get started at Singita?
I joined the staff at Singita Pamushana Lodge on the 1st of October 2008, having worked for nine years as a guide in various other lodges. I received such a warm welcome from my colleagues at Singita and remember being so excited to be joining such a wonderful team.

Tengwe Siabwanda, Field Guide at Singita Pamushana Lodge

What inspired you to become a Field Guide?
My father used to work in Matusadona National Park in northern Zimbabwe, and every school holiday I would visit him. I enjoyed spending time in the bush, seeing the animals, trees and birds, and learning about their rhino conservation projects. I spent hours in the museum, looking at skulls, insects, butterflies, animal skins and feathers and the natural world became my passion. These experiences inspired me to become a professional guide when I left school.

Tengwe Siabwanda, Field Guide at Singita Pamushana Lodge

What do you love most about your job?
There are many things! I love meeting different people from all over the world and learning about their cultures. I have also learnt so much from my fellow guides and done exciting courses like scorpion identification and handling, and how to capture, identify, handle and treat snakes. I also love taking guided walks in the bush with guests and showing them the reserve at ground level.

Tengwe Siabwanda, Field Guide at Singita Pamushana Lodge

What is one of your most memorable guest or wildlife experiences?
Once, I took three guests on a walk and we came across a group of white rhinos and decided to approach them on foot. When we were about thirty meters from the rhinos, we spotted an elephant bull feeding on a mopane tree nearby. Suddenly, the elephant started charging the rhinos who in turn began running in our direction with the elephant in hot pursuit. Luckily, just before they reached us they changed direction and we took cover behind a big tree. I am not sure what happened between the rhinos and the elephant but it was definitely a memorable experience!

Tengwe Siabwanda, Field Guide at Singita Pamushana Lodge

What do you love about the wilderness?
I love everything about the bush; plants, animals, insects, butterflies, trees and all their medicinal uses.

Tengwe Siabwanda, Field Guide at Singita Pamushana Lodge

In your opinion, what is important about the conservation work that you do?
For me, it’s all about education – teaching people about the important of preserving these species for the benefit of future generations is essential to the success of our conservation efforts.

Tengwe Siabwanda, Field Guide at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Our “People of Singita” blog series has so far profiled a chef, a tracker and a lodge manager. To find out more about working at Singita, please visit our Careers page.

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An Elephant’s Toothy Tool

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

sasakwa

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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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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The Tree of Life

January 28, 2013 - Environment,Experience,Lodges and Camps,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Safari,Singita Pamushana Lodge

Baobab tree at Singita Pamushana Lodge

The majestic baobab tree is a common landmark found within the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in which Singita Pamushana Lodge is nestled. It is known as the “tree of life” as it provides food, water and shelter to both human and animal inhabitants of the African savannah.

Dwarfing the surrounding vegetation, the tree is shrouded in a heady mixture of mystique and legend. Zimbabweans have long told the charming story of how God planted the trees on their heads, with many local tribes believing that the baobab tree grows upside-down, due to the massive trunk which gives rise to thick tapering branches resembling a root system.

Baobab tree at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Adinsonia digitata can grow to a height of thirty metres and some are estimated to be thousands of years old. This cannot be verified however, as baobabs produce no annual growth rings, making it impossible to accurately measure their age. Their trunks can hold up to one hundred and twenty thousand litres of water, an amount which sustains them throughout the dry season when water is scarce.

People have used these enormous trees with their hollow trunks for various purposes including houses, prisons, storage facilities and even shops. In Zimbabwe the fruit is used in traditional food preparations, being crushed into a pulp and mixed into porridge and drinks containing high levels of vitamin C. The tree provides a source of water, fiber, dye and fuel for the people of Zimbabwe and has been used for centuries.

While driving through the land surrounding Singita Pamushana Lodge, one never tires of seeing these mighty trees dotted throughout the grassland, lending this incredible place an even more magical atmosphere.

Baobab tree at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Baobab tree at Singita Pamushana Lodge

Visit us again soon for a new update from James Suter’s exploration of the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve and his beautiful photographs of the fauna and flora of this unique area. You can catch up on his earlier posts from the region here.

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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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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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Singita Pamushana Lodge: An African Gem

December 20, 2012 - Conservation,Environment,Experience,Lodges and Camps,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Safari,Singita Pamushana Lodge,Wildlife

James Suter

Singita Pamushana Lodge is easily described as one of the most beautiful places on earth. Situated in the heart of the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in south-eastern Zimbabwe, it is an oasis of beauty, thriving with both wildlife and a rich archaeological and cultural heritage. It is home to over four hundred species of birds, including fourteen species of eagle and ten different types of owls. The area is dotted with majestic baobabs and cathedral-like mopane forests, as well as impressive rocky outcrops littered with nearly a hundred rock painting sites dating back over two thousand years. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to discover all the wonders of this untouched wilderness area for myself.

Lion at Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve

Rhino at Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve

The reserve was established back in 1994 in order to conserve forty thousand hectares of land, its environment and its wildlife. A strong focus was placed on safeguarding protected species such as the black and white rhino, the roan antelope, and Zimbabwe’s most rare antelope, the Lichtenstein’s hartebeest.

Cheetah at Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve

Wildlife of Singita Pamushana Lodge

Malilangwe is also where I had my most memorable and unusual cheetah sighting. I saw my first ever pangolin here, a unique species with its shy and nocturnal habits making it almost impossible to observe in the wild. I came face to face with the ill-tempered black rhino and lived to tell the tale. I scaled the massive sandstone outcrops, embracing the scenic treasures and meandered along the Chiredzi River.

Baobab tree at Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve

Wildlife of Singita Pamushana Lodge

I truly soaked up every minute and cherished every unique sighting, and I can’t wait to share all my experiences at Singita Pamushana Lodge with you over the next few weeks.

Find out more about the unique rock art that surrounds the lodge by reading our recent blog article. James Suter will be back next week with the extraordinary tale of an unfortgettable cheetah sighting.

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Cat calls in the Kruger

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

Leopards are elusive cats and agile, stealthy predators. When I first arrived on the reserve, sightings were always fleeting, leaving the guide trying to convince the guest that the flash of rosettes had indeed been a leopard.

Leopard | Singita Kruger National Park

It has taken some time for the leopards at Singita Kruger National Park to become relaxed enough in the presence of guides, guests and game vehicles to be spotted. Thankfully the animals seem to realize that the rumbling Land Rovers pose no threat and many no longer pay the vehicles any attention.

Leopard | Singita Kruger National Park

New generations of animals are becoming accustomed to the vehicles from a young age and don’t develop a fear of these man-made objects. This allows us to spend time viewing them in their natural habitat without disturbing them in the process.

Leopard | Singita Kruger National Park

Singita Kruger National Park has always had a very healthy population of leopards, and it is a joy for field guides and trackers to get to know some of the individual cats, following their movements and learning their personalities.

I am always surprised and excited when I realise that I am viewing a leopard that I have never seen before. In this case, they are usually incredibly shy and the sighting is often short-lived. This was not the case with the incredible experience we had on our last afternoon spent in the N’wanetsi concession.

Leopard | Singita Kruger National Park

It was late afternoon and the light was golden; we were following up on a female that had been momentarily spotted heading towards the N’wanetsi River. We decided to cut the engine and listen, as there was no chance of spotting this cat in the thick vegetation. Suddenly we heard the distinctive contact call of a leopard – it was the female we were looking for and we knew by the type of call that she had cubs.

We started driving in the general direction of the sound; a section where the bush gave way to a beautiful open area. Poised on a fallen leadwood tree, perched like a princess, with the light falling on her as she called anxiously for her young, was a beautiful female leopard.

Leopard | Singita Kruger National Park

We had not seen this particular leopard before and she was very striking, her coat almost glowing in the afternoon light. Her cubs responded to her call just as we approached and we spent the rest of the afternoon watching this entertaining family of cats, until the sun slipped away and we had to head home.

Leopard | Singita Kruger National Park

Don’t forget to come back next week for another of field guide James Suter’s reports from Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park.

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