Tag Archives: Sabi Sand

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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Fresh from the Grill

February 18, 2011 - Cuisine,Sabi Sand

Another delicious recipe posted by Singita Chef at Boulders Lodge, Loraine Pienaar

Singita Boulders Lodge – Swordfish Nicoise salad

Vinaigrette

1/2 cup lemon juice

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium shallot, minced

1 Tbsp minced fresh thyme leaves

2 Tbsp minced fresh basil leaves

2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano leaves

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salad

2 grilled or otherwise cooked Swordfish steaks (100g-200g)

Pickled quail eggs cut in halves (3-4)

2-3 small new potatoes, each potato cooked and cut in half, and grilled

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A small handful ripe cherry tomatoes cut in halves

1 small red onion, sliced very thin

130g green beans, stem ends trimmed and each bean halved crosswise

1/4 cup NiçoiseCalamata olives

Instructions

1 Whisk lemon juice, oil, shallot, thyme, basil, oregano, and mustard in medium bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside

2 Then in a bowl place, grilled potatoes, green beans, cherry tomatoes, sliced red onion, olives and quail eggs. Season with salt and fresh cracked black pepper and dressing with vinaigrette

3 Place the mixture in the centre of the plate and place the grilled swordfish on top, garnish with a few rocket leaves

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Opening little eyes to our big world

January 31, 2011 - Community Development,Sabi Sand

This week, Singita staff joined the Happy Homes preschool class and had some stories to tell….written/photography by Singita Guide, Nicky Silberbauer

Happy Homes pre-school offers after-hour classes for children from the community of Justica village, located on the outskirts of the Sabi Sand Reserve.  This particular pre-school has just experienced generous, enthusiastic, and hands-on involvement from “Growing up Africa”, a New York based Foundation which provides focused support for preschools.  Deborah Terhune, the Foundation Director and a past Singita guest travelled back to the Sabi Sand Reserve to put into action the plan she had been formulating with the school and with Singita, since her last visit.  A brand new eco-classroom has been developed and sponsored by Deborah’s foundation and creative classes not only aim to educate children about their environment and how to care for it, but also generate an income for the school. Parents pay a small fee and children learn about different animals through fun activities.

This week it was great to watch the children play ‘pin the tail on the zebra’, a game new to them. After which they coloured in the zebra and the sky; later they placed grass in the foreground. The goal is to introduce the children to a new animal each week.

All of the children are extremely excited to be part of the eco-class. You will see some of the pictures from before the class where they were looking through recent game photos and practicing some of the calls of the wild.

Singita supports a pre-school development programme being conducted in 12 pre-schools in the Sabi Sand region, in collaboration with the South African Education Department.  For further information about Singita’s support for pre-school and primary school development, read more on our website, or feel free to contact the Singita HR & Community Development Manager, Pam Richardson, pam.r@singita.com.

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Heralding the New Year – Singita Awards

December 30, 2010 - Awards,Singita

At Singita we are always honoured when our lodges are included in the best of the best awards worldwide – and immensely grateful for the support and applause from our trusted travel trade, media and guests.  We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for singing our praises in your spheres of influence this past year – as a result we are listed in some of the top international hot lists and we are thrilled.

~ Conde Nast TravellerThe Gold List 2011 – Singita Grumeti Reserves, Tanzania

~ Conde Nast TravelerReaders’ Choice Awards 2010, Top 100 – Singita Sabi Sand and Singita Kruger National Park, South Africa

~ Tatler Travel Guide 2011 – 101 Best Hotels in the World – Singita Pamushana, Zimbabwe

It is our endeavour to continue to provide the most excellent guest experiences in some of the world’s most pristine locations for many years to come.

Hope you will plan your journey for 2011, so we may welcome you.

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Monkeys, oranges, and rejuvenation

December 01, 2010 - Accommodation,Africa,Events,Experience,Lodges and Camps

A treatment at the Singita Bush Spa can be enjoyed in the spa itself, or better yet, in a guest suite. Whether out on the deck with a spectacular view and the sounds of nature all around, or inside the room, the massage is as tranquil as in the spa. After the treatment guests can relax on their bed or flop onto a deck chair without ever having to completely regain consciousness.

The Monkey Orange Massage adds a different dimension to Swedish massage.  I wanted to create a treatment that not only was unique to Singita, but also captured the essence of the Kruger National Park – a true “Bush Spa” experience.  Monkey oranges are part of the calabash family – a round fruit that hardens when dried.  Inspired by the wild monkey oranges growing on the Singita concession, we designed a treatment using the fruit as “tools” to create pressure and pounding for easing tension and removing trigger points; as well as gliding over the body for relaxation and stress relief.  The African Marula and Neroli oils that are used, complement the monkey oranges for a completely holistic African spa experience.

For more information about pampering treatments at our Singita spas, click here to read more.

Article Contribution by Kerryn Mudie – Singita Spa, Singita Sabi Sand

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Pangolin – the Holy Grail

November 16, 2010 - Safari,Wildlife

Last night’s rare pangolin sighting at Singita Sabi Sand – the encounter described by James Crookes, Singita Guide

If you ask any guide what sighting would signify the pinnacle of their career, I have a strong suspicion that the response would be almost unanimous. One would probably expect an array of answers including mating leopards, lions taking down a buffalo, discovering leopard cubs at a den site and the list goes on. Whilst all these provide amazing experiences and would definitely be highly sought after by any guide, I know that perched safely at the top of my list was always a quest to find a pangolin (Manis temmincki).  To most people who have any affiliation with the African bush, the elusive pangolin, or scaly ant eater, has become the holy grail of the savannah.

A testament to the secretive lifestyle that this animal leads is the fact that even the most comprehensive of mammal behaviour literature provides very little insight into the daily life of the pangolin. Ecologist Jonathan Swart studied pangolins for both a masters degree and a doctorate. His field work was carried out in the Sabi Sand Wildtuin and in the course of a year, he located and studied 18 of these animals in the 65,000 hectare reserve. It took him no less than four and a half months to locate his first research subject.

On this particular afternoon, hampered by drizzle and generally overcast conditions, I took a few of the staff out on a game drive, to enable them to experience and appreciate the environment in which they work.  As we rounded a bend, I noticed a creature crossing the road. It seemed to take a while for me to process the scene before me, but after a brief pause, there was almost a uniform announcement of “PANGOLIN!”  The vehicle came to an abrupt halt and was evacuated in seconds, everyone clambering to have a closer look and dispel the sense of disbelief that gripped us all.

Once I had digested the scene, gathered my thoughts and allowed my heart rate time to slow down, I embarked on what many guides can only dream of.  I picked up the radio, keyed the microphone and, in the calmest voice I could muster, announced: “located a single pangolin, stationary on Kiaat road, west of north south firebreak”, as if this was an everyday occurrence.  I could just picture the reactions on the other vehicles as the message was transmitted!  I waited to be asked to confirm the species, but unfortunately I didn’t get another opportunity to gloat.  With the animal appearing to be relaxed and no immediate danger of it disappearing into the night, others slowly made their way to the position.

It was a privilege to be able to spend almost two hours with this rare and special creature.  It was a completely surreal and moving experience, something I had always hoped for, but never really thought of as a realistic opportunity.  To be able to touch the scales and feel how surprisingly soft they actually are, being of a similar texture and slightly softer than one’s finger nails.  Watching how sensitive the pangolin is to touch and how it retracts slightly each time you stroke one of its scales. Intermittently, it would expose its head as it investigated the scene before it.  Once, it even rolled into a partial ball, possibly feeling slightly threatened by the unusual amount of attention it was receiving.  All of this provided a recipe for an amazing experience, one that I’ll treasure forever.

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Wine on Safari

October 18, 2010 - Awards,Cuisine,Events,Experience

If you haven’t experienced ‘The Premier Wine Boutique’ on site at Singita Sabi Sand then you may not have known that Singita is recognised as one of South Africa’s most influential buyers of wine, with an extensive cellar showcasing a premium selection of wines, including some of the country’s most sought-after private reserves and limited release wines.

With a wine list that encompasses approximately 222 labels and just the South African Singita lodge cellars comprising 20 000 bottles, it can safely be said that wine is a key ingredient of the unique Singita experience. The Singita wine list has received numerous Awards of Excellence, the top Diners Club Wine List accolade as well as other significant local and international recognition.

What is extra special is that guests may experience a wine during their stay at Singita and want to use the services of Singita Premier Wine Direct to either take home ‘specially packed’ wine as ‘checked luggage’ or SPWD can assist to make up unique consignments to be freighted on a guest’s behalf.  The Singita collection of wines includes sought-after Exclusive Release, Limited Single Vineyard and Rare Auction Wines.

Whether guests are wine connoisseurs or just love wine they revel in the opportunity to enjoy personalised wine tastings within the unique ambience of each lodge’s own temperature-controlled cellar.  Singita’s experienced sommeliers are able to guide guests through a variety of wine styles, years and cultivars to sample those that may suit their taste.

Something that is extremely fulfilling for the Singita wine programme is that it gives back to the community too.  François Rautenbach heading up Singita Premier Wine Direct has embarked on a training programme for enthusiastic young wine lovers, and in doing so is developing the ‘next generation’ of Sommeliers for Africa providing educational assistance, personal mentoring, formal wine training and access to Africa’s Finest Wine program.

If you would like to learn more about the Singita training programme or order wine through Singita Premier Wine Direct please contact us at premierwine@singita.com.

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All Creatures Great and Small

September 30, 2010 - Wildlife

What is the one thing most visitors to our country want to see in terms of their wildlife experience? You probably guessed it, the Big Five. But what are the Big Five?   Is it really that important, and how did this all originate, you are probably asking yourself?  Well, its origins stem way back to the days of hunting.  They were seen to be the five most dangerous animals to hunt on foot specifically due to the nature of the beast as opposed to the actual physical size of the animal.  But in my opinion there is actually so much more to the bush and the safari experience and I often find the smaller creatures much more interesting and thus I wanted to introduce you to the Little Five. “What?”, you may be asking yourself.  Yes, the Little Five are unofficially named as such and have no relevance to hunting or danger but rather just a play on words.

These include:

1.   Red-billed buffalo weaver – A black bird with a red bill and white wing fleck who often builds its nest on the north western side of the tree to benefit from the late afternoon sun, keeping the nest warm.

2.   Rhinoceros beetle  - A remarkable beetle, similar to the famous dung beetle in basic appearance, however, it has a very distinctive horn on its head. I wonder if this horn is as sought after as a real rhinoceros horn?

3.   Ant lion – Also part of the insect world and a far cry from the king of beasts, but this small creature constructs a “v-shaped” trap to catch its prey, probably with better success than its lazy feline counterpart.

4.   Leopard tortoise – Nothing quite compares to the real thing in this department.  Stealth is a word associated with the spotted cat and somehow doesn’t go for a tortoise. It does however have a blotchy carapace but that’s where the comparison ends.

5.   Elephant shrew – This is the one of the Little Five which would probably scare most people more than the original pachyderm itself. It slightly resembles a mouse in appearance. There is nothing more delightful to see in the bush than shrews participating in what is termed “caravanning” where they link head to tail holding on with their long “trunk-like” snout in perfect single file, scurrying through the vegetation.

So next time you are on safari, try and see if you can spot the Little Five. Just keep an eye out to ensure you don’t stumble onto one of the Big Five in the process.

Article written by Mark Broodryk, Singita Guide, Sabi Sand Reserve.

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