Tag Archives: tracking game

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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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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