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Game and Wildlife Encounters

This category includes posts and reviews about game lodges and South Africa’s fabulous national parks, nature and game reserves. South Africa boasts a huge collection of wildlife regions encompassing every possible landscape from deserts to forests … Visit SA-Venues.com for more information about South Africa Game Reserves.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Five Places To See The Cape Mountain Zebra

The zebra is an African equid found on the grassy plains of Africa’s game reserves. It’s a common herbivore found in great numbers, which means it rarely gets much attention. Particularly if there is the chance of spotting any of the Big Five.

A zebra is a zebra, is a zebra…But is it?

There are three species of zebra – Burchell’s (Equus burchelli), Grevy’s (Equus grevyi) and Mountain zebras (Equus zebra) – all of them characterised by wide horizontal black and white stripes.

The function of these stripes is still open to debate. Some people think it’s camouflage, whilst others site a socialisation function by which zebras are drawn to one another, to the exclusion of any non-striped equids (horses, asses).

The Cape mountain zebra is different from the other two species, however….

 

Cape Mountain Zebra

 

The vertical black lines on its neck and torso are thinner, more numerous and closer together than Burchell’s zebra. The black horizontal bands on its haunches are broader than either Burchell’s or Grevy’s zebra.

But its most distinguishable feature (and the one way to easily tell if you are looking at a Mountain zebra or not) is the dewlap, or extra fold of skin, at its throat (when a Cape mountain zebra lowers its neck to feed it makes the zebra’s neck look shorter and fatter).

Mountain zebras are also smaller than their counterparts, but unless they’re standing next to one of the other species this feature is not easily discernible.

The other noticeable characteristic of the Mountain zebra is that it occurs in small groups. Most groups are made up of a single stallion and anything from one to five mares, with their young. Stallions can maintain this group for as long as 15 years, depending on whether or not a younger male attempts a take over, or not.

Some people further divide the Mountain zebra into the Cape mountain zebra and Hartmann’s mountain zebra. The IUCN Redlist recognises the two as a single species made up of two subspecies, a species that is today Vulnerable (in 1996 the Mountain zebra was considered Endangered).

Cape mountain zebras used to roam widely along the southern mountains of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape. They were commonly found in the Roggeveld, Ceder and Amatola mountains of the Cathcart District, and west and north to the Kamiesberg in Namaqualand. Hartmann’s zebras lived in the mountains between the Namib Desert and Namibia’s central plateau where small groups are still in evidence.

Today there are only small surviving natural populations of Cape mountain zebra in the Mountain Zebra National Park, Gamka Mountain Reserve and the Kamanassie mountains.

Other populations have been reintroduced in the Karoo National Park, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Camdeboo National Park, Commando Drift Nature Reserve, Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, Tsolowana Nature Reserve and the Gariep Dam Nature Reserve.

 

Cape Mountain Zebra

Five of the best places to spot the Cape mountain zebra:

1. MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK

If it were not for the Mountain Zebra National Park (MZNR) the Mountain zebra could very well be extinct today. The concerted effort on the part of the reserve to preserve the few remaining zebra in the early 1930s, by adding further zebra from an adjoining farm, paid off. By 1980 there were 220 animals in a herd that has remained stable ever since. Every year up to 40 zebra are transferred from the reserve to re-establish herds in other reserves. MZNR lies just outside Cradock in amongst the Bankberg Mountains that gently slide into endless grassy hills hugging the vast plains of the Karoo.

2. GAMKA MOUNTAIN RESERVE

The Gamka Mountain (GMNR) Reserve’s Cape mountain zebra population might be small, but it’s regarded as important because it represents a third of the entire gene pool of this species. GMNR was established in 1974 with the express purpose of conserving the 13 Cape mountain zebra remaining in the area. However six were shot by a local farmer before the fences could be erected. Despite this, the population is 90 strong today, although it has been slow to grow relative to other mountain zebra populations. The 9 428 hectare reserve lies 33 km outside of Oudtshoorn, dominated by mountainous plateaus, deep valleys and fynbos.

3. KAMANASSIE MOUNTAINS

The Kamanassie Nature Reserve (KNR) is a sanctuary for a small relict herd of Cape mountain zebra. What is important about this little group is that their gene pool is pure – they are descendants of the original herd that lived on the mountain. No other zebra have been introduced from one of the other protected populations. Ensuring that each of the three populations remains conserved is really important to maintain genetic variety. The herd has been slow to grow, which could have something to do with the fact that mountain fynbos covers over 80% of the reserve. Mountain zebra only appreciate Arid restioid fynbos and Waboomveld. The reserve is beautiful, receiving rain almost throughout the year (Kammanassie means ‘mountain of water’). It is here you can spot the Kammanassie blue butterfly, and take advantage of two incredible day hikes.

 

Cape Mountain Zebra

4. DE HOOP NATURE RESERVE

De Hoop’s Cape mountain zebra population is also important. Together with a neighbouring conservancy, the reserve is home to the most genetically diverse sub-population of the zebra, although the herd is ‘male heavy’. The reserve, famous for its Whale Trail and whale spotting potential, makes sighting the zebra easy – they’re often in amongst the chalets.

5. CAMDEBOO NATIONAL PARK

Camdeboo National Park lies not far, as the crow flies, from the Mountain Zebra National Park. The two are separated by the Mountain Zebra Wilderness Corridor – a series of protected grasslands and the Sneeuberg mountain complex of the central Karoo – that will ultimately link the two and assist in the protection of the Cape mountain zebra. Camdeboo’s population of Cape mountain zebra is rather elusive as they prefer the mountainous areas of the reserve.

 

Cape Mountain Zebra

 

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Endangered Cape Griffon Vulture – Where To See It In South Africa

The Cape Griffon Vulture (more commonly known as the Cape vulture) is a large bird; the largest of its kind in Africa.

Its size is clearly no measure of its ability to survive for the IUCN Red List lists it as Vulnerable and it is also the most endangered of the vultures; its already small population, distributed over various colonies, likely to continue declining unless conservation increases its efforts.

Called ‘Cape’ vulture because of the bird’s original commonplace sighting throughout the former Cape province of South Africa, it is today confined to a small part of south and southwest Africa.

Its population has significantly declined over the last few decades. Today there are colonies in Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and South Africa. In Swaziland they are extinct, and only non-breeding populations survive in Zimbabwe and Namibia.

In South Africa 39% of the colonies recorded between 1987 and 1992 are now inactive.

In 2006 an estimation of the total population of Cape vultures brought the overall figures to between 8 000 and 10 000 individuals. The species is thought to have declined by as much as 70% between 1992 and 2007 in eastern South Africa. Continued

Monday, 14 September 2015

Where To See The Cape Parrot – Africa’s Most Endangered Parrot

Cape parrots are disappearing at a rapid rate.

Endemic to South Africa, the Cape parrot, or Poicephalus robustus, lives in the Afromontane yellowwood forests found mainly in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal.

Over the last 50-100 years the population has decreased dramatically. They are considered critically endangered. Only 1600 remain in the wild.

In other words, you have more chance of sighting a white rhino, in South Africa, than you do a Cape parrot.

The Cape parrot is a large bird, roughly 34 cm in height, with an average weight of 260-330g. Their head and neck colours are bright gold mixed with dark brown, their backs and wings are dark green, their rumps and underparts bright green, sometimes with a hint of blue. The females sport an orange-red blaze across the crowns of their heads… Continued

Monday, 23 February 2015

Amazing Facts About South Africa’s Wildlife

South Africa is a land abundant in the weird and wonderful, beautiful and a little strange at times. There are around 300 mammalian species in South Africa alone, as well as hundreds of amphibians, insects, reptiles, and bird species. With this variety and scope, it is no wonder that some of the animals found in South Africa have some peculiar characteristics… Continued

Monday, 8 December 2014

10 best places to see wild dogs in South Africa

Probably the most distinctive feature of the African wild dog is its big, round ears. They’re nothing like a domestic dog’s.

They’re nothing like a wolf’s either, yet this beautiful Cape hunting dog, or painted dog as it’s also known, is given the Latin name Lycaon pictus, meaning ‘painted wolf-like animal’, because it is closest in nature to a wolf.

Their hide is different from a dog’s too – covered with irregular patches of black, brown, red, white and yellow fur. Wild dogs have a black, furrow-like vertical line on the forehead between the eyes that is rather endearing. And they have only four toes per foot, unlike the five toes of domestic dogs.

Catching a glimpse of one is difficult. The wild dog is southern Africa’s most endangered large carnivore, and has all but disappeared from most of its original range… Continued

Friday, 24 October 2014

South Africa’s elusive aardvark – 7 places to see it

The aardvark. The only surviving member of the prehistoric species Tubulidentata.  It looks like a rabbit crossed with a piglet and a kangaroo, and is sometimes called an African antbear, or a Cape anteater.  Actually, its name comes from the Afrikaans meaning ‘earth pig’ or ‘ground pig’, due in no small part to its habit of burrowing under the ground to avoid the heat of the day (they only come out at night).

Despite its name, the aardvark is not even vaguely related to the pig, nor the South American anteater, despite looking fairly similar (only smaller). In fact, its closest living relatives are elephant shrews, dassies, elephants and tenrecs (a Madagascan animal that resembles a hedgehog, shrew or mouse).

So, if you’ve managed to spot an aardvark in your life time, I’m impressed… Continued

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

South Africa’s peace parks – top 5 parks that transcend borders

Peace parks, also known as Transboundary Protected Areas (TBPA), allow animals to migrate freely between neighbouring countries in a return to their natural migration patterns. They promote tourism and goodwill between neighbouring countries.

It is also a potential tool to save a deteriorating ecology. Once parties or countries involved realise the importance of biological diversity, they are more likely to co-operate.  Environmental cooperation, in turn, can help resolve political and territorial conflicts. Sharing physical space and management responsibilities sustains peace among countries.

Real-life examples of such successes include the Seslous-Niassa Wildlife Corridor, and the Emerald Triangle conservation zone in Indochina.

But the bonus for visitors is the increased access to a greater variety of game, and far greater variety of wildlife habitats.

South Africa has eight peace parks, and one in the making. All are worthy of a visit. Here is more on 5 of them: Continued

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

South Africa’s four small wild cats – where to see them

The big cats in South Africa receive a lot of attention. In fairness lions, leopards and cheetah deserve the focus; most of these top predators are in danger – we live in their space, we hunt them illegally and kill them when they prey on livestock.

But South Africa is also home to four smaller cats – the African wild cat, the black-footed cat (now known as the small spotted cat), the caracal, and the serval. To this list I wanted to add the civet and genet but they are not, in fact, cats at all. Instead they belong to a family known as Viverrids, related to the mongoose and meerkatContinued

Monday, 2 June 2014

South Africa’s rare Riverine rabbit – 7 places to see it

One of the most endangered mammals on Earth, the riverine rabbit is found only in the Karoo.

There are thought to be less than 250 of these rare creatures left. And few people can claim the privilege of having seen one. Found mostly in dry riverbeds in the arid, central Karoo in an area that has been almost completely converted to agriculture, the riverine rabbit is under pressure to survive.

None of its traditional habitat has, up until now, been protected within a national or provincial nature reserve. The rabbits are found only on private farmland, private reserves or in isolated pockets of no more than 50 rabbits in a number of areas in the Western Cape… Continued

Monday, 26 May 2014

10 top places to see leopard in South Africa

The leopard: a solitary creature that because of its preference for living in dense bush, and its nocturnal habits, remains well hidden and seldom, if ever, seen earning it the labels: secretive and elusive.

They are strong, comfortable in trees, and adept climbers who think nothing of hauling their kill up into branches. Closely related to lions, tigers and jaguars they are listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. Outside of Africa, many of them are endangered.

There is a long history in South Africa of conflict between farmers with live stock and leopards. There is also little information about leopard populations or their conservation status.

Tourists who come to South Africa expecting leopard interaction are disappointed.  Whilst numerous places offer up close and personal moments with elephant, lions and cheetah, leopards very seldom put in an appearance for photo moments.

On the whole, a bit of sleuth work might pay off if you intend spotting a leopard.

But you are more likely to see leopard in South Africa at one of these 10 places: Continued

Monday, 12 May 2014

Where to see the Big Cats in South Africa

South Africa’s big cats – the lion, leopard and cheetah – are the reason so many people visit South Africa. However spotting them is not always as simple as visiting a game reserve, particularly if you want to see the leopard, who is by nature elusive.

Game reserves are for those for whom the excitement of seeing the cats in their own territory, whether you spot them or not, is all important. Whilst for those who want to see cats up close and personal, the sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres are a good idea. Continued

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Five Safari Breaks Near To You

All my life I had read Wilbur Smith novels, watched programmes like 50/50 and National Geographic (filmed right in my backyard) and craved the experience of the “bush.” I was a city boy though. So though I craved the experienced I never made the effort to get out there – thinking I could just satisfy my thirst with another chapter / episode or magazine. The truth of the matter is that the real wonder of a South African safari can hardly be done justice through pictures or the written word. It has to be experienced first hand,

Last year I gave in and headed out to the Kruger National Park, the largest game reserve in the country, and came back a different spirit. To be right alongside these majestic creatures, to smell the, to witness them feeding – be it on leaves or a fresh kill (equally exhilarating), playing with their young and going about their daily lives was incredibly special. I remember my wife and wishing that all South Africans would get the opportunity to witness what we had. And the truth is, we all can. Continued

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Top 5 wildlife parks in South Africa (other than Kruger)

South Africa has 700 publically owned reserves. The list includes 19 national parks. Over and above that are at least another 200 private reserves.

Making a choice as to which ones to visit can be rather difficult. As a consequence most visitors simply head to the Kruger National Park – it’s an obvious choice.

South Africa is hugely diverse. It’s habitats range from the intense heat and red sand dunes of the Kalahari to the subtropical wetlands of the Elephant Coast. It has great swathes of mountain belts like the Drakensberg and the Cape Fold Mountains, densely forested kloofs, heaving waterfalls, and savanna grasslands that extend to meet the horizon.

Within this medley are a myriad protected areas that house game.

We list the five wildlife parks in South Africa we consider worthy of a visit, and why… Continued

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The elusive Knysna elephants – do they exist?

It is a bit like tracking down the Yeti, or Big Foot – trying to find out about the Knysna elephants. Information about them is inadequate, tends to lapse into lengthy descriptions about their history, or is shrouded in mystery.

There are those who say they are so elusive that, if indeed they are there, they have yet to make their presence known.

Very little is conclusive about them. As a result, they have become figures of myth and legend; a mystery. Some people believe they do not exist at all… Continued

Thursday, 3 April 2014

10 Best Places To See Cheetahs In South Africa

The Cheetah: fastest land animal on earth over short distances; can reach a speed of 120 kilometres an hour; measures two metres from the snout to the end of its tail; weighs between 40 – 60kgs; is the only cat with semi-retractable claws, and has a spotted coat.

Cheetah are listed as Vulnerable, and Critically Endangered in North Africa and Asia.

Cheetahs prefer open plains where they run down their prey, but they can function as well in savanna woodland. They no longer occur in almost 80 percent of their historic range in Africa, although they have been reintroduced in about 38 reserves in South Africa. However, their populations are small and isolated… Continued