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Despite some trepidation, the Easter weekend came and went without a hitch, and although the long weekend that followed saw relatively more units occupied, the impact on the ambiance of the reserve was minimal. Unless you insisted on joining in at the numerous lion sightings that punctuated the excellent viewing over this period, then of course, some crowding was evident. On the other hand you could have felt quite lonely out there on a well planned drive. Overall, in terms of game viewing, veld conditions, weather and services in general, I believe there was much to be pleased about.
As winter closes in, most of the reserve’s natural pans and wallows have dried up. However, the Palm Loop and the Mohlabetsi riverbeds are saturated and still flowing, albeit just a mere trickle now, it is nevertheless quite incredible for this semi arid bushveld region. Having recently spoken to the technicians from ARC, specifically in terms of grass production, they confirm that preliminary vegetation monitoring indicates that this season could be one of the best years on record. I await their data with eager anticipation. Lion numbers are improving, and although the prides are still relatively small and fragmented, good sightings are being had. Most importantly the individuals seen are in good condition. I’d like to see young cubs… in my book, that’s one of the more positive signs of pending stability. Only days after sending out my last update to say we hadn’t seen hide nor hair of wild dogs, a pack of ten made their appearance again. On the 23rd March, the first sighting was reported by Eric Borcherds who watched them on an impala kill at Warthog Pan. Three weeks later on the 16th April, Graham Dacomb picked up the same ten again. I suspect these dogs are members of the same pack that numbered fifteen at one stage. Their den site is located in the Klaserie PNR, not too far from the trig beacon on Lisbon. Cheetahs have remained conspicuous by their absence, with not a single sighting reported of late. However, the plethora of leopard sightings has more than made up for any shortfall in the spotted cat department. Ostriches appear to have made Sunset Plains and Jackal Plains their turf. Talking of rather large birds, regular sightings of five Ground Hornbills in the Warthog Pan, Hide
Dam and Nkonkoni Dam triangle were reported last month. Another unusual sighting
reported was that of a pair of secretary birds, but they didn’t stay long. A pair of Short
Tailed Eagles has bred successfully on Lisbon.
Of the hundreds of Guinea fowl that occur on the riverine between the office and unit
two, only a couple of chicks have been raised. I suspect this is due to unnaturally high
baboon numbers and subsequent predation on eggs and chicks, as this is not reflective of
the breeding rates of other flocks that occur where fewer troops are found. Three nyala
and two bushbuck fawns have been killed and eaten by two large male baboons in
Dinidza’s camp environs. I am concerned that with so many Sycamore Figs, Jackal Berry
and other fruit trees having been washed away in the recent flood, that primates are going
to be under even more stress this coming winter.
Breeding herds of buffalo have made a welcome change from the lone “dagga boys” we
have had to be content with most of the time. At times there were up to three herds on the
reserve at the same time. A feature of which were the numerous young calves seen. One
in particular, a new born calf, was inadvertently left behind by the herd, but was later
reunited with its mother. There will be more on this at a later date. Interestingly,
according to R.D. Estes’ “Behavioral Guide To African Mammals”
he states that when
a buffalo calf is left behind, the mother will shuffle back and forth between the herd and
her calf for a while, but that the pull of the herd is so strong, she will sometimes abandon
Despite the loss of ideal roosting and nesting habitat, namely huge stands of Natal
Mahogany and Sycamore Fig trees, the odd Pel’s Owl is still being seen along Pel’s
Sinhle Mathebula who monitors those of which we do not speak, had a narrow escape or
should I say “scrape,” from a determined attack by one of them. He relayed the story to
us hours afterwards, gesticulating with still shaking hands. Thankfully all he suffered was
a bruised lower leg…and learned something no book can teach.
“Save The Elephants” (STE) have fitted a GPS collar to an elephant cow near Sable
Dam. The where, how, why, and what for of this operation, accompanied by a couple of
photos that was sent out recently, should be appearing on the Olifants website soon. We
(selected monitors) are now able to follow her (Charlize’s) real time movements on
google at any time… Wow! Isn’t technology great?. Please don’t shoot the messenger,
the sponsors of the collar get to choose the names!
There are not too many elephant bulls around as I write, but as we know this situation can
change overnight. One of the (STE) collared bulls, known as “Shoshangane” is in full
musth and is closely associated with one of the breeding herds.
Most wild animals infected with Sarcoptic mange, eventually succumb to this parasitic skin mite. In our area black backed jackals appear to be the most susceptible species, particularly those few individuals that frequent, or have territories near human habitation. For example just across the river from the office floodplain where we find a relatively high density of people and domestic pets. However, of more concern is that no one knows what affect nearly 600 captive baboons, confined on a few hectares and interacting with wild free roaming troops, could have on the spread of diseases. Or is it purely co-incidence that the jackals on the floodplain, only a few hundred metres from this centre, have a noticeably higher rate of infection than elsewhere on the reserve? Not to mention the number of impala and bushbuck which have been infected over the years, or indeed the less common side striped jackals which are now virtually extinct from our reserve. The last one infected with this disease died near the clubhouse in 1994. Over the years we have been able to ascertain that this particular infection, unlike most other parasitic diseases among wildlife, is not triggered by poor environmental conditions, and as I have said, appears to be confined to a relatively small section of the reserve. Overpopulation or poor nutrition or possibly a combination of complex factors may perpetuate this condition, sure, but I have observed that even the healthiest jackals, in peak condition, will suddenly contract this awful disease, and eventually die from it many months later. The first obvious outward sign is tail hair loss causing their normally bushy tails to have a “stick- like” appearance. This hair loss then quickly spreads over the entire skin surface. Eventually the skin cracks at every fold, giving rise to suppurating sores, this condition is made worse by the poor animal constantly scratching itself to relieve the incessant itch… It has to be one of the most horrible ways to die. Apparently there is an effective cure for Sarcoptic mange, the most widely applied treatment being regular shampooing with a recommended ectoparasitecide. Another tried and trusted boere
remedy used sulphur and vaseline or Ajax washing powder. This is all fine if your pooch or moggy contracts mange, but it would simply be impractical to apply this method of treatment to a wild jackal. The stress of capture and the darting of an already stressed animal may do more harm than good, and jackal are smart…you will only trap them once. There had to be another way, so I contacted Veterinarian Dr Pete Rodgers with the problem. I asked him if there was anything we could give the jackal that would work through ingestion via the bloodstream. He said yes, providing we could get the jackal to take minced meat, we could then lace the food with Ivermectin. The other good news was that one treatment may be all that would be needed. I had already identified a candidate for the experiment, a little runt of a black backed jackal I’d seen on occasion when I went on a jog around the office floodplain. Although in an advanced stage of the infection, it still had a fair amount of hair on its skin. It took some careful timing to ensure only this specific jackal would get the food, but I persisted and it worked. Within a week the little jackal was coming to my call, eating the dog cubes and the one or two small mince balls I’d leave for it. At no point did I let it associate me with the food which was always placed on the ground while I was still in the Land Cruiser. If it had seen anything of me, it would have been my lower arm as I leaned
out. Despite knowing the food was there, it remained wary and would never eat while I was nearby. After ten days of feeding the jackal, I laced four small mince balls with a dose of Ivermectin….it gobbled the lot! I have continued with the supplementary feeding in order to monitor its progress, to see how effective the treatment is proving. So far the little runt has put on good condition, has developed a coat that now identifies it as a black backed jackal, and has a shiny black nose. Most importantly, it is not itching and scratching nearly as much. Dr Rodgers has suggested that a follow up treatment in a week or so won’t do any harm…We’re holding thumbs, because if this works, there is hope that we may get this disease under some control at last, without the stress and costs associated with capture and immobilization. ….I hear you…What about possible re infection from any of the suspected sources?. Well…. I’m not going there at this stage, suffice it to say, we may be able to keep ahead of things until sanity prevails, which hopefully won’t be too long.
The riverbed drive from Warthog Pan crossing to Mike’s Link is no longer a viable route
due to the huge rocks exposed after the flood. However, you are still able to cross the
Palm Loop at Mike’s Link to conveniently access the old Zozo Hut Road from Ian’s Pan
and visa versa.
We have not forgotten about repairing the access road down to Fig Tree Grove.
Reparation work on flood damaged units requiring our labour and heavy machinery is
taking priority at the moment. The railroad main access is next.
I know I’ve mentioned this before, so here’s an update. Jejane (Mohlabetsi Conservancy)
are yet to drop fences with Balule and Klaserie thereby becoming ecologically integrated
with the Balule Reserve. Although there are still a few I’s to dot and a couple of T’s to
cross, I believe it is imminent. The upshot, besides the addition of a large well managed
chunk of bushveld to the reserve, is that the railway gate will get moved closer to
Hoedspruit. (Where the Jejane gate is located) and we will have a simple cattle grid
where our railway gate now stands.
Although the causeway has been open to traffic since a couple of weeks after the flood,
there is still a massive pile of silt and log jam to be tackled. Olifants North are apparently
going to employ their TLB to remove the silt. We will assist with cutting up whatever we
can of the huge logs. This is necessary in order to allow a free flow of water under the
Many of the members that visited over Easter will have met our new unit guard for the Grootdraai section of the reserve. Shadrack Mthabini, is a thoroughly pleasant man and has replaced John Chiburre who retired at the end of last year after 22 years service. Four Rhino Poachers were arrested by Quemic’s Dap Maritz… YESSS! The four men, all Mozambican nationals, were found in possession of R800, 000 and the horns of two rhino they’d shot on Selati Game Reserve only a week before. Completely kitted out with automatic weapons and well trained, the Quemic guards that accompany our anti poaching rangers are certainly a show of force. These guys complement our team and have combined to make the outfit a “patrol de force.”
A proposal by Dap Maritz of Quemic to form a local support and reactionary unit known as Game Reserves United (GRU) has been well received by all. This highly trained unit and associated intelligence network will be headed by Dap and will be specifically aimed at providing security for the private reserves namely, The Sabi Sand, Timbavati, Umbabat, Balule and Selati Game Reserves at this stage.
Moonlighting in broad daylight
We take this opportunity to urge members to come through the office for all
requirements. There have been incidents brought to our attention of certain staff hinting
for gratuities. While it is perfectly acceptable to tip staff, we ask that you use your own
discretion in this regard, but do not feel obliged to tip for routine deliveries and assistance
which you are being billed for anyway.
Unit sales/ for sale
There is a share available for sale in unit 6. Shares have changed hands recently, namely; a half share of unit 25 was sold to Johann Strijdom (our neighbor on Nhoveni). There is presently a sale underway in unit 40, but we have not yet been advised of the new owners. Unit three changed hands from three shareholders to two shareholders (present owners bought out a partner) and the same in unit 55, where there is now a single owner.
“Dance to be Wild”
Dianna Moore of unit 53 brought an innovative initiative to our attention which would
help raise funds for Anti Rhino Poaching organizations.
Dianna is extremely well known in the dance world and together with Dave Campbell (of
strictly come dancing fame) and Sheila Upton they are hoping to begin a multi faceted
brand of fund raising. Children would be learning to dance and be educated about
wildlife at the same time and knowledge of our poaching crisis would be imparted
beyond our borders through international dance celebrities (the Asian involvement in
dance shows has become huge over the past few years).
It will work in much the same manner as the now well known “My School card”, where
schools benefited from a portion of the sale at well known retail outlets. There is obvious
spin off for retailers and businesses in terms of branding and marketing that would flow
from their involvement as well a chance to do something meaningful for South African
“Dance” is the new ‘it’ word as can be seen from the popularity of numerous recent
shows and is a useful alternative in the school curriculum for those not that keen on
traditional sports. The combination of music and dance in our educational system could
become a uniquely African theme.
To kick off the program the organisers want to do a dance show at carnival city,
hopefully as soon as June 2012 with all the proceeds going to anti-rhino poaching, it
promises to be an important event with many international dancers as well as South
African stars giving their time and talent absolutely free of charge.
Olifants members who wish to support this initiative and offer help and encouragement to
the scheme or get their company involved for advertising value, please give Sheila Upton
a ring on 082 332 9234 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Dianna Moore –
082 448 5774.
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