Tag Archives: James Suter blog series

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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The Lion’s Share

November 13, 2012 - Conservation,Kruger National Park,Safari,Wildlife

Lion

The northern part of the N’wanetsi concession, in which Singita Lebombo Lodge is situated, is wonderfully isolated and bursting with undiscovered wonders. Heading up into these territories can be very rewarding, as the landscape changes dramatically, offering a variety of exciting game-viewing opportunities. The elusive black rhino, cheetah, sable antelope and nomadic lions are often encountered in this remote part of the bush.

Jackal

It was very cold on this particular morning, with the Lebombo Mountains engulfed in thick cloud cover. We set off along the Mozambique border, heading through the mountains, and noticed a number of vultures in the distance. The cooler weather meant they may just be resting, although there was also the possibility that they had located food, meaning there may also be predators in the area.

Hyena

We picked our way closer through the dense bush and began searching. The roads were narrow and the vegetation almost impenetrable. Suddenly we were confronted with the thick smell of death, indicating that there was indeed something lifeless nearby. A number of vultures swiftly flew up from a rotting acacia and I knew, judging by the smell, that it was a large animal.

Fresh kill

We eventually found what we were looking for; a large buffalo bull had been challenged by to two male lions. The odds were against the bull due to the sheer size of the predators and, judging by the scars that covered their faces, these lions had fought and won many an epic battle. The tracks showed that it had been a long and grueling clash, ending in a drainage line where the massive bull succumbed to these tenacious predators.

News of the dead buffalo had traveled, and though the vultures were first on the scene, we soon caught sight of hyena and jackal, all fighting for scraps and avoiding confrontation with the protective cats.

Hyena

Check back regularly for more stories from field guide James Suter as he explores Singita’s private reserve in the Kruger National Park.

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A Haven for Hippo

November 08, 2012 - Conservation,Kruger National Park,Safari,Wildlife

The place to be in winter when looking for game in the bush is along a watercourse, as these areas are always teeming with a variety of wildlife who visit from miles around. We set out on foot on a lovely, cool morning with the hope of finding a large pod of hippo and some great photographic opportunities. I very quickly found a well-used hippo path which we jumped onto, making our way towards the river.

Hippo at Singita Kruger National Park

I was really interested to see the size of the hippo populations in the larger pools that normally remain filled until the summer rains come. There were plenty of indicators that many of these animals had now returned to the river. Being nocturnal feeders, they head back to the safety of the water as soon as day breaks and the sun’s rays strike the now harsh savannah. Following their huge tracks, we drew closer to the river, always mindful of our position as the last place one wants to be is between this massive beast and its water. Hippo, like most wild animals, are unpredictable so we approached quietly and vigilantly, ears pricked and eyes strained for any potential danger.

Hippo spotting at Singita Kruger National Park

Another factor I was considering was the abundance of predators, as well as elephants, which all made full use of these pools. We had come across fresh lion, leopard and rhino tracks just minutes into our walk and all this was evidence of this area being well used by these dangerous species.

Determined to find the hippo that were clearly in no shortage of supply, we proceeded towards the lush banks of the drainage that supplies water to the grateful beasts that are so dependent on this precious resource. Suddenly we had our first visual of a large bull leaving the water, fortunately on the other side of the bank and walking directly away from us. He was apparently completely unaware of our presence, even after the noisy baboons gave away our position. I was however happy to have them around, as in this thick area they would provide us with warning should a predator be approaching. Although the hippo in this area were usually to be found in abundance, this male was alone. He had obviously been ousted from the rest of the pod, and would have to settle for a shallow, muddy pool, which he would have to make the most of until the next rains.

James Suter, field guide at Singita

This meant we would have to head downstream and it also meant we would have to walk through very dense bush between a ridge and the water, keeping our wits about us.  Leaving the male to his business, and feeling slightly sorry for this lone creature, we made our way down the narrow hippo path and headed cautiously along the eastern bank of the river. A swish of movement caught my eye as an animal sped up the ridge; I was sure it was a leopard. This was confirmed minutes later as we found the tracks of a young female.

Female leopard tracks at Singita Kruger National Park

While examining the tracks, we heard the faint sound of a hippo calling in the distance, confirming we were headed in the right direction. After some time, we rounded a large bend in the river and were rewarded with the sight of a large pool, a gem, absolutely full of hippo. We approached slowly as they vocalized – a sound only hippos can make! It was amazing to soak up the spectacle of this fifty-strong pod, which included the dominant male, females and some youngsters. In the morning light, it was a magnificent scene.

A pod of hippo basking in the morning sun

Hippo at Singita Kruger National Park

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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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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