From Singita Guide, Marlon du Toit – Singita Kruger National Park
November has to be one of the most exciting months. The dry dusty landscape changes into a lush and green savannah. Within two weeks of the first rains it all transforms. The grasses are an intense green and all the trees spread their fresh young leaves. To add to this there are thousands of impala lambs. They are born towards the end of November and the population almost doubles. Seeing these little things on their tall, wobbly legs is a sight to behold. All of the beautiful and colourful migratory birds have arrived as well.
For more uniquely fascinating tales from the African bush, read our November Guides’ Diaries
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.
From Singita Guide, Marlon du Toit – Singita Kruger National Park
Featured in this article are a variety of photographs from elephants to lions and leopards. In general the Singita Kruger concession is still blowing everyone away, including guides that have been here for a long time. Viewings of wildlife have been spectacular over the past weeks.
As far as lions go, the Mountain Pride has been staying within the Kori Clearing vicinity for the last two weeks now. That is good news for us as we don’t have to drive too the far north in order to find them.
Young elephants having fun.
Another highlight from the last few days were two slender mongooses battling it out for territory. They went about it as if their lives depended on it, and it was the first time I witnessed something like that. Also, we have been seeing black rhino at least twice a week; amazing considering there are fewer that 500 in the whole entire park.
To keep up with monthly wildlife happenings at all of our Singita reserves, follow our Guide’s Diaries for updates.
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.
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.
Wildebeest can smell rain over 50km’s away.