South African Road trip (Part IV – Kruger National Park and surrounding sanctuaries)

Day 15 – Johannesburg – Kapama. Overnight at Timbawati Lodge

We spent most of the day driving from Johannesburg towards Kruger National Park. The last part of the drive took us through some spectacular mountainous scenery.  As I watched the passing country-side I could not shake off the feeling that South Africa is incredibly similar to Australia. It is in everything: in climate, in parts of landscape and even inhuman aspects – the little towns in South Africa look and feel exactly the same as little towns in Australia.

Bushveld rain frog

Bushveld rain frog

We arrived in Kruger in complete darkness and opted to spend the night at Timbawati lodge (about 14 km from the Orpen gate). In the morning we went for a sunrise walk on the property, but did not see much wildlife. I personally was quite excited to spot a Bushveld Rain frog at the camp site. These guys spend most of the year under ground and only come out after heavy rains, just like the Truncate-snouted Borrowing frogs in Thailand, or a variety of burrowing frog species in Australia. During the walk itself we saw a rather aggressive Zebra that chased us off the road, a Giraffe, some Kudu, a juvenile snake and lots and lots of Golden Orb Spiders.

Day 16 – Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center & Kapama Reserve

Our main goal for visiting Kapama was to see Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center. The Center is involved in conservation of Cheetahs and Wild dogs, as well as Black-footed Cats. Unfortunately, the Black-footed cats were breeding at the time of our visit and we were not able to see them.

HECS has successfully released some of its hand- raised cheetahs on the adjacent Kapama property and reportedly these cats were doing quite well, even though they received no predation or predator-avoidance training.

Cheetah

Cheetah

Cheetah cubs

Cheetah cubs

Overnight we stayed at the Center’s Tented camp site and went for a late afternoon game drive in Kapama Reserve. The area around the camp site was quite rich in wildlife. I saw a male and a few female Nyala, lots of birds including Common Scimitarbill and Yellow-Breasted Apalis and tracks of a largish cat, probably a Serval and some monkey prints. There were also a few lizards around the camp site including Jones’ Girdled Lizard and lots of frogs calling at night. I could hear Painted Reed frogs, but found only Red Toads and a Sand Frog on the camp site grounds.

Wild dogs

Wild dogs

Wild dogs

Wild dogs

Vulture feeding time

Vulture feeding time

Jones’ Girdled lizard

Jones’ Girdled lizard

Sand frog

Sand frog

 

Sunset drive

Cub at the kill

Cub at the kill

The beginning of the afternoon drive was quite uneventful: we saw some Wildebeest, two Waterbucks and two Elands.  Later on a Giant Eagle Owl dropped its dinner (guinea fowl) on the roof of our truck. Just before the sunset our luck picked up and we found the resident pride of Lions. They have made a kill and it was the cubs’ turn to feed. We watched them until only one cub was left at the carcass tearing the last scraps of meat off the bone. Then we went to see the kingly-looking male. It was amazing how close the pride let us approach, we were only 3-4 meters away from the cats, ready to leave at any sign of discomfort, but the animals totally ignored us.

During the night we spotted a Porcupine, a family of Jackals and then, unbelievably, an African wildcat!  We followed it off road for a little bit and it appeared to be quite unfazed. After a while it did get bored with us though and jumped away.

Back end of the retreating African wildcat,  Kruger National Park, South Africa

Back end of the retreating African wildcat, Kruger National Park, South Africa

Day 17: February 18th ~ Moholoholo ~Kruger National Park

Moholoholo is another wildlife sanctuary similar to others we already visited. What distinguishes Moholoholo from all other places is the man behind the place – Brian Jones.  He gives an intense and interesting presentation in a way of introducing visitors to his park. Brian is heavily involved with vultures and centers his presentation around them. Being birds (and not mammals), vultures can eat diseased dead flesh and not get infected from it.  Even their feces are strongly disinfecting. Vultures are able to fly for thousands kilometers at the altitude of 11 kilometers where the temperature is -40 C and almost no oxygen. These birds are able to recycle 90% of their oxygen. Quite a feat.

Around Moholoholo we spotteda Village Indigobird and a colony of Rock Hyrax – a species I wanted to see for a long time.

Moholoholo

Moholoholo

Rock hyraxes

Rock hyrax

Rock hyrax

Rock hyrax

 

Kruger National Park

After the visit to Moholoholo we checked in at Tamboti Tented camp inside Kruger National Park and went for a drive in the park. We spent most of the time looking for a leopard, but even though we found some fresh tracks on the road the cat itself eluded us. However, we saw Giraffe, Steenbok, Impala, Wildebeest, Chama Baboons, Mozambique Spitting Cobra, Bateleur (Red-billed Eagle), Yellow billed hornbill, Lilac-breasted Roller, European Roller, Dove and huge flocks of Red-billed Quelea.

Lilac-breasted roller

Lilac-breasted roller

Steenbok

Steenbok

Impala

Impala

European roller

European roller

Bateleur

Bateleur

 

Day 8 – Chimp Eden ~ Berg En Dal (Melalane Gate)

Vervet monkey

Vervet monkey

After a quick visit to the Chimp Eden we headed back to Kruger. We entered the park in the south and stayed at Berg En Dal camp. Berg En Dal is by far the largest and most comfortable rest camp in Kruger. We arrived there in late afternoon and went on a guided night drive. We’ve seen mostly Spotted Eagle Owls and Scrubhares, but also spotted a Spotted Hyena and a male Lion. That lion was not bothered by our truck and calmly walked on the road parallel to the truck. He called out quite often and seemed to be listening intently for something in the night. The guide explained that there were two young males in the area preparing to challenge him with an intent of taking over his territory.

Other animals we saw on the night drive were: Elephant, Black-backed Jackal, Common Warthog and Water Thick-knee. There was a lot of wildlife around the camp site as well. We saw a Tree Squirrel, a male Vervet monkey with fabulously blue testicles, Rainbow Rock Skink, Striped Skink, Spiny Agama Lizard and some Natal Spurfowl.

Spotted hyena

Spotted hyena

Spotted Eagle Owl

Spotted Eagle Owl

Tree squirrel

Tree squirrel

In the morning as we walked to the restaurant for breakfast we saw a number of birds feeding on some fruiting trees. On closer inspection there turned out to be 5 species: Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Red-billed Hornbill, Cape Glossy Starling, Black-headed Oriole, Golden-tailed Woodpecker and Bennett’s Woodpecker.

Golden-tailed woodpecker

Bennett’s woodpecker

Bennett’s woodpecker

Golden-tailed woodpecker

Cape glossy starling

Cape glossy starling

Yellow-bill hornbill

Yellow-bill hornbill

Red-billed Hornbill

Red-billed Hornbill

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