Tag Archives: Wildlife

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.


Read More


Wildlife – the News in Pictures

December 09, 2010 - Safari,Singita,Wildlife

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

Read More


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.

Read More


Wildlife – the News in Pictures

November 08, 2010 - Wildlife

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.

Xinkelengene Cub

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.

Read More


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.

Read More


Sign up to receive the Singita newsletter

×