At Umkhumbi lodge we like to think of our guests as friends. We travel too and we know that nothing beats feeling truly welcome where you are staying.
The downside of this is that it is always sad seeing them leave. But leave they must as they continue their travels through South Africa.
Today we say goodbye to two new friends.
They thoroughly enjoyed their game drives to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi nature reserve, thankfully it is only a 35 minute drive from Umkhumbi Lodge so they didn’t freeze on the way to the park in the open game vehicle. 3 of the big 5 were spotted, and despite seeing multitudes of animals they were eluded by the cats.
As much as they enjoyed the game drives, they were more than happy to delay the start of one to have a cooked breakfast with us on the lappa.
They met Donald Schultz, the star of Wild Recon and Venom Hunter, and helped him on a snake release.
Luckily the girls didn't swoon into the snake box
They jazzed up all the snake enclosures for us – good for the snakes, not so good for the one feeding them! Now, Mr King Cobra… where are you hiding?
They went and played with elephants, including a little baby one! You never forget the feel of behind an elephants ear…
…or his tongue for that matter!
They got lots of hands on (well, hexarmour-gloves / snake-hook) experience with the snakes here at Umkhumbi Lodge and next door at Zulu Croc.
Even little Ollie helped to show the Zulu Croc visitors some of the stars of the show.
Making more friends!
Feeding time at Zulu Croc was also a chance to help out.
They went on a game drive at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi (35 minute drive from Umkhumbi Lodge), saw 3 of the big 5 (Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo) and even managed to see 3 Cheetah run in front of the car!!
But then, even better, they got the chance to hear one purr, not to mention snuggle up with it at the Emdoneni cat rehabilitation centre which is only a 25 minute drive away from Umkhumbi Lodge.
Mum, can we keep him?
Then there was the estuary cruise at St Lucia, Becky loves hippos and had never seen one in real life before – her smile was even bigger than Ollie or Lyndsay, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the hippos long enough for a picture!
You can't see it, but the smile on her face is huge!
There was no such thing as too close to the Hippos as far as Becky was concerned.
Thar' be hippos off the starboard bough!
Trees were delivered to a school building site to be planted with the students.
Lyndsay tree hugging in the back of the cruiser
They were joined by Gareth from Zulu Croc and our newest crew member Eliz when they went Rhino tracking at Falaza game reserve.
They even rescued Amorello – the restaurant next door to Umkhumbi Lodge – from a giant python.
Phew! That was hard work!
But, help was on hand!
In fact, lots of help was on hand!
They made new friends.
Issie and Carl at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi
and I quote "We got a really good picture of Gareth!"
Then Becky tried to kill him, poor guy!
But what holiday would be a holiday without a little romance…
Well, so much for the students being eager to get back to civilization! No one wanted to leave, and a few even wanted to stage a sit-in!
"Oh no, we won't go!" The girls stage a sit in
Gone were their fears, and nightwatch (the mere thought of which had sent shivers down each and every spine in the group) was something to be relished and looked forward to! So much so in fact, that Johannes didn’t sleep at all the first because he had not heard any animals sounds on his nightwatch. He just had to hear them all!
Read the Clouddog nightwatch diary.
As part of the environmental awareness course, each of our student groups experiences and assists in the skinning and dissection of an animal – usually an impala. The reason behind this is that it further reinforces to the students that there are many different forms of conservation, and that sometimes the animals that you work to protect will over-populate an area if not managed. In other words leaving them in their large numbers will damage the ecosystem overtime till it is not fit for any animal.
It sounds gory at first suggestion and without fail everyone will cringe at the thought and yet when presented with the opportunity will end up with their hands covered in blood (and occasionally, some up to the elbow), the Clouddog students were no exception to this. Indeed it was the quiet ones in the group who dived in to disembowel and skin with relish! I hasten to add the dissection is not glamourised, it is overseen by a professional and the students learn about both the positioning and function of each of the organs within the body.
The impala dissection is not just about bush skills and conservation however. In the UK and the US e.t.c. people have become very uneducated about food. Many children do not even realise that chips are made of potatoes – never mind knowing that potatoes are vegetable, or even that they grow in the ground. This experience makes children see food in a new light, they don’t just take for granted that it appears in the shops – they now understand where it comes from and how it is produced. Some students find that the impala dissection element of the program also gives them a new accomplishment, this is because the Impala is not just an educational tool, but also dinner. Many of our students will have never had to take part in preparing a microwave dinner never mind seeing the transformation from animal to dinner.
It is always hard to explain why this part of the course is a necessary and fulfilling one for the students. There is something about it that gives you a renewed respect for the animals whilst having a humbling effect. It really is something that you need to experience before you can understand the importance and relevance of it.
All of Tommy’s teaching paid off and as the students remembered to walk in silence and observe the tracks on the ground they were fortunate enough to spot Cheetah tracks. Working as a team with all eyes and ears working as one, the group were able to track the Cheetahs to the very spot they were sitting. It is very rare to see Cheetah (even rarer than seeing Leopard) and yet laying there in front of the group as they broke through the bush and out into the open were TWO Cheetahs. Despite being wild these Cheetah obviously didn’t feel threatened by the group as they shot them a mere cursory glance and carried on dozing in the sunshine.
We couldn’t of course leave them without a proper bush night out, one where your shovel, matches and white gold (toilet paper) are now classed as luxury items. Don’t get me wrong, they still had their rollmats, sleeping bags, and even blankets for company as they slept around the campfire near a dam – Hippopotamus and Giraffe walking within metres of them.
They were all too eager to get into their warm sleeping bags for bedtime, grumbling of course when it was time to disengage from their little pockets of warmth for nightwatch. Bigger grumbles however were to come in the morning as each student buried their heads further and further into their blanket cocoons as they hide from the rising sun. William the lead guide merely grinned as he broke into song and dance delighting the students with such Disney classics as “Hakuna Matata” and “The Morning Report”. Which sounds all very lovely, until you realise he was singing the songs very loudly over the head end of each sleeping bag until the occupant was begging for mercy!
I would love to be able to inform you at this point that our leaders were offering backing vocals and dancing to accompany William on his quest – however I have a sneaking suspicion that they too were snuggled up to their blankets – with the exception of Tommy who stopped feeding his iced Cappuccino addiction to join in!
Like most antelope Nyala are shy creatures and aren’t very comfortable in open-spaces. They tend to only venture into the public eye as they drink at waterholes. Usually exclusively browsers, the Nyala feed mostly on fruits, pods, twigs and leaves.
Like a growing number of people, Nyala prefer their own company – although they can be found in family groups of around 10 people.
It is easy to distinguish between adult males and females. Females tend to be slightly smaller than the males at around 90cm and do not have horns. Like their young, the females are a reddish brown (almost copper) colour with the white vertical lines on their backs.
Standing at 110cm the males have shaggy dark brown fur with a white line under their eyes and white patches on their chest and belly. Like humans male Nyala grey with age. They have loosely spiralled horns (approx 21 to 33 inches long with yellow tips) and a long fringe on their throat and underbelly – which does make them look a little scruffy. Like the females the males also have white vertical markings on their backs which look as though paint has been dribbled over them.
Nyala have a different dominance display to impala. Generally docile they rarely fight aggressively, with back mane fully erect they circle each other slowly whilst using their horns against objects or even the ground in an attempt to intimidate. The erect hair on back and fringe helps the bull to appear larger, aiding in his intimidation.
Nyala breed at any time of the year with their peak seasons being Spring and Autumn. After a gestation period of 8-9 months The newborn lambs are hidden for the first 3 weeks with the mother returning only to feed and relocate them. When the lamb has got used to its legs and is able to keep up with the rest of the group it joins the herd.
Females mature at 11 to 12 months and males at 18 months (although males are not socially mature until around 5 years of age).
It would appear that Chelsea has indeed found herself a little underground home.
Two days in a row now we have spotted her sunbathing and then – when she realises we want a photograph – gets camera shy and hightails it into a nearby termite mound.
Now, I realise the pictures aren’t very good, but she is much quicker than my lens (or me!). She is disappearing into a termite mound behind the branches dead centre of the shots. Practice makes perfect, so better shots coming soon.
Yesterdays sighting revealed a nice bump which was not there today, we can therefore safely assume that she is settling in well and making herself right at home by decimating the mouse population. Which I am sure the nearby Pineapple farmers will be most appreciative of!
It has been decided among the crew that Gizmo should be rereleased. However we have decided this time to release him without the transmitter. He is just a little too small and whilst he is doing fine in captivity with the transmitter in place we have our doubts about how well he will be able to cope after release. So, we have made the decision to pop him once more into the care of Susanne (our project veterinarian) and then monitor his convalescence before releasing him once more into the wild. Free to remain unbothered by humans pestering him when he is soaking up the midday sun.
‘The Colonel’ (as Tommy is referred to by the students) picked up the Clouddog students at the end of their cultural tour at Eshowe, and was pleased to find them ready and waiting. Everyone had even followed instructions and packed their small trail rucksacks the night before, so all that was left to do was travel to Zulu Nyala where they were to leave their remaining comforts behind for a real bush experience.
Ok, so we lied a little, we gave them proper toilets!
Luxury base camp!
It is worth mentioning here that miracles can happen! On arrival at the game reserve Georgina (for the first and possibly only time of the whole trip) was the first one ready to roll!
All the students were a little apprehensive at being out in the wild, and then extremely wide eyed when they met their bush guides – but the students all pulled together and whispering words of reassurance to each other marched off into the wilderness.
So here we leave them under the capable eyes of their leaders and the two gun wielding guides (William and Peace) provided by the game reserve.
Well folks, it’s been a few days since we gave Lucas some breathing space to settle into his surroundings – and we’re pleased to say that he is still in the area. He is the one snake that we thought might move out of the area but there he was sunning himself, presumably happy for a small break in the cold weather that we have been having here in Hluhluwe.
Chelsea the Black Mamba is in her winter home (meaning that she is currently underground somewhere sheltering from the chill – presumably dressed in pyjamas and drinking hot chocolate with movies).
Vader the Forest Cobra has decided to explore beyond his termite mound, but is still staying in the vicinity – I can’t blame him from returning to the same spot, the sunset from his spot is beautiful!