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