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Jun 20

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Pilanesberg Day Trips

Pilanesberg Day Trip

 

Zebras at Pilanesberg Game Reserve

Zebras at Pilanesberg Game Reserve

The car smelled like frothy cappuccino when I stopped at Melrose Place Guest Lodge at 6:00. I had no idea who to expect. The American couple booked at short notice and I didn’t know if I should’ve brought classical music or punk.

Jenn and Daniel were in their early twenties, from New York City, and this was their first time in South Africa. They’ve arrived at their hotel the previous night only, well after reception staff at their hotel have left, so my face and the chilly morning air was their first experience in South Africa. Damn that must have sucked.

The usual breathtaking view of the Hartbeespoortdam was hidden by thick fog, the drive to Pilanesberg coloured with chatter about spiders, travelling, and living in Brooklyn New York.

After coffee at Manyane we met our guide, Nelson, and quickly scrambled for the best seats in the open roof game vehicle (evil laugh). We were an interesting group with people from Spain, America, Holland, and India. Being a warm, sunny day the animals weren’t shy to show some skin.

Game Drive!!

Game Drive!!

A warthog family paraded across the road, tails raised like antennae. They use the black hair at the tip of their tails as a following mechanism.  They’re omnivores and mostly active during the day. In Afrikaans we have a saying, “hulle is skoon mooi van lelikgeid”, meaning that they’re so ugly they’re almost cute.

Every so often the thorny monotony of Sweet thorn (Acacia karroo) and Umbrella thorn (Acacia tortillis) trees were broken by a splash of red berries. The buffalo thorn, Ziziphus mucronata, had lost its leaves but the berries were still attracting a variety of bird species. A Cape bulbul (often called a “bottergat” in Afrikaans, literally translated as butter bum) flashed her yellow behind. A male giraffe curled his long, black tongue around a thorny Acacia branch, stripping it of its leaves. It’s not long before he decides to move on to the next tree.This is because the trees ‘talk’ to each other by releasing airborne pheromones warning other trees of impending danger, resulting in an increase in leaf tannin rendering the leaves toxic to browsers.

Giraffe

Giraffe

Coffee and wee’s at the Pilanesberg Centre. Vervet monkeys are naughty and it was entertaining watching the surprise on a non-suspecting tourists’ face when a monkey suddenly appeared at his elbow, grabbing handfuls of sugar just to scoot a few meters away where it sat on its blue bum sucking the sugar from the wrapper. Vervet monkeys are a nuisance in the restaurant and can become quite dangerous.  It is a headache within the management of reserves that has yet to be solved. Unfortunately, being opportunistic omnivores and highly intelligent, vervets will always try to get food the easy way.

Ok. So, when asked which animals they would most like to see that day, almost everybody answered with the Big Five. Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo. I must confess. As a Nature Conservationist it’s just the weirdest thing to admit; but I don’t care. I have to carefully think every time someone mentions the Big Five. Aaaargggh crap, what are they again!?

Watching Toktokkies mating

Watching Toktokkies mating

 

I see the bulbul on the wait-a-bit tree. The dragonfly on the sundew flower…just before it gets caught and digested by the insectivorous plant. The neon greens’ and the velvet smooths’ of different leaves. The solid gold patterns in a raucous toad’s eyes; the fragile detail on the tiniest of shells.

 

Um. Oh ja, the Big Five. Sure. We saw elephants. Amazing animals. Elephants spend more time eating than doing anything else. Addressing some controversial issues; yes, elephants are destructive and wasteful feeders, but given that confined populations are properly managed, the long-term ecological effects could even be beneficial. Young elephants are such kids; mock-charging antelope (must be the boys and tomboys), spraying each other with water, having mud fighting contests, and practicing their fighting skills in trunk fighting and pushing.

*Note to self: In a serious charge an elephant will tuck its trunk under its chin. Find a tree. Read “Fiela se kind”; Dalene Matthee gives some pretty decent advice on the types of trees you should climb when chased by an elephant. It will, obviously, be helpful only if you live in Knysna. Hmm. Never mind.

White Rhino

White Rhino

The African Fish Eagles were nesting in an Acacia tree at Mankwe dam. We watched as the one flew off, barely skimming the water surface with the very tips of its wings, returning with more nesting material. A crocodile basking in the mid day sun had to be checked out with noccies to make sure it wasn’t a rock. Sacred ibises flocking in front of and around it didn’t make the identification process any easier. Another croc, with only its valved nostrils and eyes sticking out of the water, drifted close to the reeds. Everybody was looking at the Impala on the other side of the game vehicle. First time in South Africa, how are they supposed to know that an African fish eagle is (to us) way more fascinating than Impala? Maybe they know something we don’t.

Why do Zebra’s have stripes? Think about it. The second every single Zebra in the herd starts running it must be helluva confusing for any predator with all those stripes going around. Then again, there is this theory that it might help predators to single out an individual and focus on hunting just the one. I am way too cool to google it to make sure, just take my word for it. One thing I do know is that the stripes most definitely have an effect on Zebras. They will use this visual input to bunch together in anti-predator tactics. (Ok fine, if you think about it, all kinds of predators capture zebra successfully, making me think that if there is a dazzle effect or some distortion of predator perspective, it isn’t very effective).

Red Balloon Tree

Red Balloon Tree

The drive back to Johannesburg was interrupted by stops at KFC and garages for snacks and coffee. I was telling them about spiders, and as we drove into Sandton, Daniel said in his American accent, “UM, I THINK THERE’S A SPIDER ON MY WINDOW”. I asked Daniel about its colour and size, and as I mentioned that less than a handful of South Africa’s venomous spiders are a danger to humans (totally true, by the way), I suddenly stopped talking mid sentence. I reached for my empty cappuccino cup while keeping my eyes on the road, and made a halfhearted attempt to confine the little bugger (road safety first). He was too fast for me (yes, with those massive boxing gloves, definitely a he), and, knowing what I’m dealing with, I didn’t force it. I let it go, at the same time telling them that this is one spider they don’t want to be bitten by. But, if they kept still and didn’t accidentally squash it against some or other body part, they’ll be perfectly fine. It was a long-legged sac spider, Cheiracanthium furculatum.

Sac Spider

Sac Spider

For some or other reason the chatter dried up in a matter of seconds. I wonder why.

Suffice it to say I checked them both at the hotel, assuring them that sac spiders run in fast bursts and they would have seen it had it been on one of them. Jenn hesitantly asked “So where is it then?”. I replied matter of factly that it was probably still in my car. They were horrified but I just laughed. I’m not fazed. If I know my clients are safe and happy, a cytotoxic sac spider running AWOL in my car doesn’t even feature on my worry-scale.

Daniel, Jenn, and me

Daniel, Jenn, and me

 

 

Interesting animal facts

  • Hippo’s can’t jump. (They can however swim and stay underwater for up to ten minutes at a time).
  • Lions hate swimming.
  • A group of giraffe is called a ‘journey’.
  • Spiders DON’T EAT PEOPLE!

 

 

 

Some of the fauna and flora encountered:

Birds

  • African fish eagle
  • Pied kingfisher
  • Grey heron
  • Blue waxbill
  • Pin –tailed Whydah
  • Cape turtle-dove
  • Cape glossy starling
  • Red-billed oxpecker
  • Burchell’s Coucal
  • Southern yellow-billed hornbill
  • Grey go-away-bird
  • Swainson’s spurfowl
  • Helmeted guineafowl
  • Crowned lapwing
  • Blacksmith lapwing
  • African sacred ibis
  • Common ostrich
  • Cattle egret
  • Great egret
  • African darter
  • Red-knobbed coot
  • Yello-billed duck
  • Egyptian goose
  • Dark-capped bulbul

 

 

Animals

  • Elephant
  • White rhino
  • Hippopotamus
  • Giraffe
  • Blue wildebeest
  • Waterbuck
  • Kudu
  • Impala
  • Zebra
  • Springbuck
  • Black-backed jackal
  • Warthog
  • Vervet monkey
  • Chacma baboon

 

 

Reptiles

  • Nile crocodile

 

Trees

  • Buffalo thorn ‘Ziziphus mucronata’
  • Red Bushwillow ‘Combretum apiculatum’
  • Sweet thorn ‘Acacia karroo’
  • Umbrella thorn ‘Acacia tortilis’
  • Red balloon ‘Erythrophysa transvaalensis’
  • Beech Faurea saligna’
  • Karee ‘Rhus lancea’
  • Tamboti ‘Spirostachys africana’
  • Wild olive ‘Olea europaea’
  • Wild pear ‘Dombeya rotundifolia’
  • Camphor bush Tarconanthus camphoratus’
  • Leadwood ‘Combretum imberbe’

 

 

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.souladventures.co.za/2014/06/20/pilanesberg-day-trips/


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