The shortest month of the year has passed in a flash and suddenly we've landed in the first month of Autumn in the southern hemisphere. It still feels rather a lot like summer, and that sought after summer rain waited until the last official month of the season to truly show itself! It is the quiet safari season and tourism in South Africa has entered its annual snooze, so it is the perfect time for those travellers who enjoy private experiences, no queues, emptier aeroplanes, and lower prices. The young impalas are growing quickly and blending in well with the rest of the herd, and the baby warthogs that were tiny piglets only a month or two ago are now fiesty miniature versions of their parents with the first signs of tusks and warts beginning to show. The larger summer babies like zebra, waterbuck, giraffe, buffalo, and elephant are still visibly smaller than their parents, giving us every reason to "awwww" when we see them fumbling around in the bush. The month has seen some exciting and unexpected wildlife sightings, and some heavy rainfall has presented some obstacles on game drive, but our summer-loving guests have embraced every moment. We're also looking forward to seeing the support for the Baby Box Project start pouring in, now that we're offically signed up with Pack for a Purpose. Take a look at some of our February highlights below.
This is as far as we'll come to a river crossing on Tshukudu Game Reserve! About 50mm of rain fell down by the bucket-load in only a couple of hours recently and this mass of water flooding across the soil was the result. After a long period of drought with below average rainfall for a good few years in a row, this month has shown some of the most promising rain in the area in a long time. It's a reason to celebrate, even though it means game drive includes some unexpected obstacles. Our guests were troopers and embraced the weather conditions, wearing their ponchos with pride. When the dense heat finally broke and the skies opened, we knew we were in for a big one. We were grateful for the rain filling the dams and feeding the soil, and of course for giving us a break from the high temperatures. Crossing this flooded roadway took some excellent navigating, and we're sure it won't be easily forgotten by our brave passengers on board! The videos below show the "river" crossing and the overflowing dam. Did you know this is what summer in Africa often looks like?
Lioness steals cooler box!
The unusual activity continued when one of our afternoon sundowner stops resulted in one less cooler box. The curious behaviour of cats seems not to be limited to the domestic felines we have in our homes, and that became all too clear when this lioness interrupted our drinks session in a clearing on the reserve and proceeded to disappear with a cooler box! Our guests had disembarked the vehicle to stretch their legs and enjoy a refreshment next to the vehicle with their guide, but their break was cut short when this cheeky cat started to pay attention. They climbed back into their seats and then got to watch as she gave our equipment a good sniff to satisfy her curiosity. Soon it became obvious that she was going to leave with a momento, and took off with a red cooler. Cats.
A snake sighting for the books
Chris Sussens had a very interesting and unusual sighting of two snakes recently on his way back to the lodge when he witnessed one snake predating on another. This behaviour is not unusual as there are many snakes that prey on other snake species, but it is rare to see because snakes keep well hidden and enjoy rather private lives. The snakes in this instance were a black file snake - the predatory snake - and a Schlegel's beaked blind snake - the unfortunate prey. They are about the same length and are harmless to humans, and Chris was fortunate enough (if that's the sort of thing you like!) to watch the entire thing. A black file snake is normally nocturnal and active at night when it hunts, so people never really get to see them. The blind snake spends most of its time underground burrowing through the soil and feeding on termites and larvae, and emerges after heavy rains. Unfortunately for this blind snake, a usually nocturnal black file snake took the opportunity that presented itself and scored a meal during the day. The natural world is full of surprises!
We've continued to have some wonderful elephant sightings, and our guests have enjoyed watching the giant herbivores foraging and feeding in the lush summer greenery, and splashing around in the full dams. Elephants are so expressive and emotive, so they really do offer some entertainment on game drive. They are visibly thriving with the abundance of food and water.
Ntombi and her brothers, Floppy and Hunter, have made regular appearances too, giving our guests some special photos to take home. Having the cheetahs roaming free on the reserve and visiting us when they feel like it is an enormous luxury seeing as this endangered African cat is not easy to spot in the vast, open system areas. During daily morning walks, guests have the opportunity to learn about tracks and signs of the bush and have the chance of seeing wildlife on foot. If the cheetahs are in the vicinity, they often approach the walking group and stroll alongside them to say hello. We know this is a very special experience for people who might never get another opportunity to see cheetahs in the wild. Chris and his daughter Isabella also snuck in a photo with Ntombi who seemed very happy to see her old friends.
Supporting new mothers and newborns with the Baby Box Project
Last month we mentioned our new endeavour with Pack for a Purpose, which is an interntional organisation that encourages travellers to pack something to donate to a cause in need of support in whatever destination they are travelling to. We are very proud to have partnered with this initiative, and the cause we have chosen to support is the Baby Box Project in Hoedspruit, which donates supplies for new mothers and their infants at Mpumalanga's Tintswalo Hospital, which has the highest birth rate in the province. Tintswalo services the community of Bushbuckridge and much further afield where expectant mothers from rural and underprivileged areas are in need of baby clothes and products, as well as toiletry and sanitary products for themselves.
The Baby Box Project puts together "starter packs" and delivers them directly to mothers in need at the hospital right after giving birth. We are great supporters of this compassionate and important work, and are proud to contribute to the cause. We would like to invite our future guests to consider keeping a small space in their luggage to "pack for a purpose" and include some items that can be donated to newborn babies and new Moms. Here is the link to the initiative on our website where you will be able to find all the information you need should you like to contribute and be a part of the movement.