Tag Archives: Singita guide

Teeming with Grey Giants

July 12, 2011 - Kruger National Park,Safari,Wildlife

Written by Marlon du Toit, Singita Guide, Singita Kruger National Park

Elephant, Cape buffalo, White Rhino and Hippo are plentiful on the concession. There are two prominent water sources within the concession during the dry season: the Nwanetsi River system and Gudzane Dam.  As the last remaining water holes dry up west of the concession, animals are forced to move east in order to quench their thirst.

Elephants can trek amazing distances in pursuit of water. They prefer to drink at least once a day and will cover up to or more than 12km in a single journey. We have a large resident hippo population. As the water evaporates under the heat and the pressure mounts, some sections of the river can house more than eighty hippos. This is not ideal for them as they are territorial animals that do not like to share, but they have no choice.  Battles between dominant male hippos are a common sight.

To read more of this month’s safari updates from Singita Guides, click here for recently published journal entries.  Also for up-to-date, out-of-this-world photography of the daily happenings at Singita Game Reserves, follow us on Facebook.

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Seeing Spots…More Cheetah Sightings

June 13, 2011 - Wildlife

As the sun was setting this image was captured in the more central parts of Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park.  In the past, Singita Kruger National Park has not been regarded as a concession that produces abundant cheetah sightings.  Well that’s all changed!  This month alone we have had over 10 different sightings – all of them unbelievable in their own way.  This female and her three cubs have realized the benefits of the abundance of general game in the concession and both her and the cubs are in a very healthy condition.  We will watch with interest as they continue to grace us with their presence.

By James Suter, Guide at Singita Kruger National Park.  Follow our monthly Guides’ Diaries for more enthralling updates about the diverse wildlife at each of the Singita game reserves.

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What Makes a Singita Guide Tick?

February 24, 2011 - Sabi Sand,Safari,Wildlife

Written by Leon van Wyk, Assistant Head Guide, Singita Sabi Sand

It would not be difficult to write a whole book on the subject of what makes a guide tick. It is somewhat more challenging to write such an article in précis form, but a guide should always be up for a challenge. Having been a guide for almost two decades, perhaps I am in a good position to share with the reader a little of what it is that keeps me passionate about what I do.

It is always good to wake up a little earlier than really necessary. I’m not one who can leap out of bed twenty minutes before I’m due to meet my guests for a game drive. Setting my alarm for the seemingly indecent hour of 04h00 means that I’m not rushed. I can have an invigorating shower and enjoy the feeling of waking up with the birds. The dawn chorus of birds is something to be enjoyed and appreciated at every opportunity. Having had ample time to wake up and get ready at leisure, I believe a guide is much better prepared for the day, and in a more relaxed frame of mind, than if he/she stole an extra half an hour in bed and had to rush to be on time to meet guests.

As guides, we are all obviously passionate about the environment in which we are privileged to live and the game drive is rightly what we enjoy most about this line of work. Every guide who lasts a long time in this industry needs to also be genuinely passionate about people and sharing knowledge and experiences with his/her guests in such a way that the guide’s passion and enthusiasm is infectious. Not every game drive is an action-packed, adrenalin-charged sequence of events. There is no doubt that many guides and guests want to see predators in action, or get a kick out of seeing the so-called “Big Five” on one game drive. Being a guide who is no longer a novice, I still gain a huge thrill when I see guests enjoying themselves, particularly when they start taking a keen interest in the little things. Guests who were once not very interested in watching birds at all, have become avid birders. I love seeing them appreciate the things that I appreciate, whether it is a massive dead leadwood tree, a relaxed old elephant bull having a slow drink, a bee-eater feeding its mate or a nursery group of twenty baby impalas, all exuding freshness, innocence and curiosity.

The sounds and the smells are all very much part of the experience as well and it is so important to pause frequently to enjoy the sounds of the night, smell the damp grass and earth after a good rain and gaze at stars in sheer wonder at the enormity of it all. Finding fresh leopard tracks in wet sand is still a thrill to any guide and it is not difficult to involve the guests and encourage them to share in the excitement, hope and expectation.

There is just so much to share with guests, and once a guide has bonded with them and starts seeing everything through their eyes, the guide-guest relationship has the potential to become very meaningful indeed. There are often just not enough hours in the day to do everything you would like to do with your super-keen guests. For many, a trip to a game reserve is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and as guides we have the opportunity, the privilege and the responsibility of making it unforgettably special for our guests.

Very few careers can offer the variety that a guide enjoys. Sure, the hours can be long at times, but when you’re having fun, you hardly notice it. There is often an opportunity during the day to pull off the boots and take a half-hour cat nap. There has never yet been an occasion when I have not looked forward with eager anticipation to my next game drive. Of course it is not only the game drives that we look forward to, but the walks too, as they often offer better opportunities to focus on little treasures and allow time to become acquainted with guests a little better. Joining guests for the occasional drink or meal is also a privilege which we guides enjoy and it allows the guests and their guide a great opportunity to chat about the day that they’ve experienced, or the one that they look forward to experiencing, together.

I have hardly scratched the surface, but if I had to cut it even shorter, I would conclude that the most brief answer to the question “What makes a Singita guide tick?” is “A passion for people, a passion for the environment, an insatiable desire to learn and a willingness to share with others what we enjoy”. I sincerely hope that these attributes are still a part of my humble make-up and will continue to be for many more years. Guiding is, without a doubt, one of the most privileged careers.

To read more updates from our Singita Guides, follow the Guides’ Diaries posted every month on our website – exhilerating wildlife accounts that you won’t want to miss.

These photographs of Singita Sabi Sand Reserve were taken by Singita Guide, Leon van Wyk.

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Ravenscourt Young Male Goes Solo

February 21, 2011 - Sabi Sand,Wildlife

Written by Singita Guide, James Crookes, Singita Sabi Sand

As the Ravenscourt female leopard seems about to give birth to her 5th litter, it seems fitting to discuss the fate of her previous litter.

Soon after giving birth to two cubs in April 2009, she was rejoined by the surviving male from her previous litter, the Xindzele male. This behaviour was unusual as normally a female will chase off any intruders, regardless of whether or not they are her progeny, in an effort to protect her new cubs. During this period, it was not uncommon to see 4 leopards together at a kill or in a tree. Only in the Sabi Sand!

Unfortunately, one of the cubs, also a male, was killed during July 2010 by an adult male leopard (see July 2010 guides’ diary for details).

After this incident, there were intermittent sightings of the remaining 3 leopards, but from September 2010, the Xindzele male seemed to become completely independent and he hasn’t been seen with the other two since. He was born in November 2007, so by September 2010 he was approaching 3 years of age, by which time he is definitely expected to have become independent. This male would often be seen calling and urine spraying, both signs of territoriality indicating that he is staking claim to a certain area. His territory seems to now be centred around an area to the west of the Singita property, where he is said to be the dominant male in the area and has asserted this fact through a couple of disputes. Unfortunately, this means that we haven’t been seeing him as much as we used to, although we are still occasionally afforded this privilege.

The Ravenscourt female and young male were still seen together on a regular basis up until her mating with the Khashane male in mid October 2010. After this separation they never seemed to rejoin and it was from around this time that there were intermittent sightings of the Ravenscourt young male attempting to hunt, a sure sign that he was fending for himself and no longer relying on his mother to provide him with kills.

Leopards are the only large cats that don’t have any form of hunting training and so, when they become independent, they rely purely on instinct to learn to hunt. Lions will take their cubs to watch a hunt and cheetah will stun prey items and allow the cubs to practice their skills on these animals. A mother leopard, however, will leave her cubs at a place of safety, make a kill, and then return to collect the cubs and take them to feed allowing them no exposure to the hunt itself. This is therefore often a trying time for leopards and they often struggle to take down larger prey items. Being the resourceful animals they are, leopards will usually resort to smaller prey items while they sharpen their skills. The Ravenscourt young male was seen on more than one occasion hunting water monitor lizards in the Sand River.

To read the full tale of the young Ravenscourt male leopard, refer to James’ article in the January Singita Sabi Sand Guides’ Diary

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Viewing Nature Without Seeing It

January 17, 2011 - Experience,Safari,Wildlife

Written by Alan Yeowart, Singita Guide, Singita Sabi Sand

I think that any reasonable guide understands the value of, and is able to express the emphatic power of utilizing a full spectrum of sensory props to enhance a guest’s safari experience.

Up until yesterday I was of the opinion that, although backed up solidly by the other senses, a wildlife experience was primarily a visual one.

Throughout my career as a field guide I have looked after people with many physical disabilities that have challenged what the “normal” exposure may be, and have had enormous admiration for the individuals and how they overcome these challenges. I have recently been afforded the great pleasure of looking after a blind man on Safari over the period of two days.

Blindness, in my opinion, must be one of the most devastating and debilitating of disabilities, but I learnt that Nature is powerful enough to overcome even this in Her ability to deeply touch individuals. It was a hugely humbling experience indeed!!

I was really quite unsure how I was going to manage the safari experience with a blind person on my vehicle, and how to try and portray wildlife with the same degree of enormity that is so simple visually. But as it transpired, I needn’t have been even remotely concerned, as Nature would divulge Herself in a cacophony of sounds and non-visual prompts that left me bewildered.

We began by crossing the Sand River, an aural experience in itself, as the land rover waded through the crossing and the water cascaded around us and the tyres crunched over the rocky bed. Switching off the vehicle to listen to the soothing current – suddenly a large Nile Monitor Lizard scrambled from a rock where it had been sunning itself, its long, sharp claws grinding against the rock as they sought purchase; its gravelly belly and tail scales rasped across the surface portraying its size and serpentine swiftness. Had I heard this before?

Next we encountered a lone buffalo bull in the reed beds on the opposite side of the river – this I was certain was to be a “sighting” that would be only for the benefit of the sighted as there was little I could do to try and improve it for my blind guest. Just as I was about to start the vehicle (and get the diesel engine running, that was to become such an intrusive noise throughout the experience!!) this great General steered towards the water’s edge and proceeded to wade out into the river and across to the northern bank! Quite audibly depicting his huge bulk as he laboriously heaved himself, splashing and sloshing, across the River.

It was then the turn of the most silent and elusive of all, the leopard. Having undertaken some rather hairy off-road maneuvering, and navigating angles that gave the feeling that the vehicle may roll over at any moment! (Although this was far from the critical levels that can be safely negotiated, it was an experience in itself.) We came upon a sighting of a female leopard with a young impala kill deep within the sprawling branches of a river bushwillow. The visibility for the rest of us was fairly average, but she was feeding on the carcass as we located her. The ripping of flesh and skin and the cracking of bones, coupled with the olfactory element that accompanies sightings such as these, gave more than enough stimuli for the mind to paint a picture.

I was really starting to enjoy this. Already there was a relaxed and absorptive atmosphere amongst all on the vehicle and on we went.

The cards continued to fall perfectly as we came across a young male cheetah lying in fairly long grass. Again it began as a mediocre scene with little potential of improving for any of us, being especially enigmatic and challenging to try and describe this lithe feline who is significantly more famous for its high-speed chases than its vocal repertoire or raucousness. Just then the cheetah stood up and walked straight to a tree a few metres from us and proceeded to reach up the trunk and claw the bark audibly (with the very same partially-sheathed claws that I had described only seconds prior).  This was followed by a flurry of circular sprints in the fallen leaf-litter of the deciduous woodland that it had been lying in, which appeared to be completely for show, and provided another amazing display of aural tangibility.

It was then the turn of my favorites, the elephants; I would surely get some audio from these giants and felt quietly confident as I approached a herd that was just finishing a drink at a large waterpoint. “Elephants!” I announced somewhat unnecessarily as two fabulous bulls jousted one another mere metres away; clattering ivory, slapping trunks and ears, growling and bellowing, pushing and shoving through bushes which tore at their tough hide. Calves squealed in the background, others slurped audibly at the cool water and sprayed trunk-fulls over their bodies in a noisy, drenching shower. Then sand was kicked loose and hovered up with the trunk and blown with great exhalations across their sides.

Trunks wound around thorny acacia branches and slowly and purposefully stripped along the length of the branch to de-nature the lignified thorns, creating an almost “hissing” sound. Clatter again as ivory collided and deep, guttural rumblings that reverberated around us…..

Elephants, they certainly know how to come to the party!!

I disembarked the vehicle with my blind guest so that he could get a better cognizance of this experience away from the relative sanctuary of the land rover.  I too, closed my eyes to try and share in his perception, albeit from a different level. His grip was firm on my arm but not with fear, it was rigid with the power of the experience, formulating images and harnessing the sounds and smells.

Aromatic herbs released their scents as they were trampled beneath the great padded feet, and the dull thuds of dung bolus as they hit the ground emanating rich animal scents, not unpleasant.

We could have stayed all day with this group, sight or no sight it was a very special scene, but the pressures of a short safari determined that we continue to explore further.

A pride of 11 lions had dispossessed a leopard of its kill and now lay lazily at the base of a large Marula Tree whilst the disgruntled leopard wiled away the time high up in the branches above them, offering disapproving looks down to his fat relatives below. Visually this was an extraordinary scene. All the other creatures had performed so well to announce themselves to my blind guest. Rather dreamily I wished that one of the lions would stand up and unleash a mighty roar – the sound so encapsulating and powerful.  But deep down I really expected the lions to fail me, and I was spot on!! There were one or two grunts and a belch as they lazily flopped from one side of a fully-loaded belly to the other. The busy and excited narrative on the vehicle would have to suffice in this instance.

Hippos wheeze-honking; impala snorting in alarm and uttering their nasal bellowing in remembrance of the rut, rhino and herds of buffalo tore at tussocks of grass within touching distance, their heavy scents permeating the air around us. We kicked elephant dung balls and felt the giant circumference of the footprint of a great bull. We felt the length and rigidity of the scented-pod acacia thorns.

Once all was done out in the field it was time to tie up all the loose ends – décor around the lodge! Delicate and informative fingers roamed over the huge ostrich eggs and spiraled kudu horns.  The skulls of giraffe, rhino and hippo; the pitted bone, occluded canines and over-sized incisors. His face was a picture of amazement as he pieced together the final elements of his minds’ image.

Nature had been on show, but as I recollect the many hundreds of game drives I have taken, I cannot recall any being so loaded with non-visual stimuli, or maybe my vision had simply deafened me to it.

Do not underestimate the sounds,  the smells and the textures.

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