Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nambiti Wildlife Sanctuary – Jeremy Williamson

Rob Le Sueur has achieved some amazing accomplishments, one being the conceptualising and establishment of the Nambiti Game Reserve at Elandslaagte near Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal. Here we have a Big Five game reserve with in addition, cheetah. This Game Reserve is fast becoming a real asset for this Province. 

The fortunes of the cheetah in the Game Reserve have, as in so many other private game parks, been subjected to the impact of the other key predators in the reserve, and sadly, the healthy population of cheetah has declined, with only one male remaining. I am sure that this is what has prompted Rob Le Sueur to investigate the possibility of increasing Africa’s cheetah population, with his new initiative to breed these so endangered big cats, at Nambiti.

We recently visited Des and Elizke at work,  and can see that this appears to be a responsible attempt to secure the future of all the cats in their care. Large safe enclosures house the increasing population of orphaned / abandoned / confiscated felines.

Des on the left discussing his project with guests

Des and Elizke Gouws have been entrusted with the day to day operation of the centre – quite a handful, what with having to Manage the lovely adjacent Woodlands Lodge in the Nambiti Game Reserve, as well.
The new enclosures  are all situated within a 30 ha fenced area, electrified – on the outside - to keep the lion away. The lion have already caused the demise of enough of these beautiful endangered cats. Inside this enclosure, are a number of fenced pens, which will keep the various species apart and will be used for the breeding of cheetah and rehabilitation of the other cats.

Lana with Storm

Des has already had success and 4 cubs have been born as a result of this project. Quite something for such early results – these cheetah must be happy in their environment.
On the occasions I have visited, the animals appear to be in superb condition. I believe that Des takes great pains in securing fresh, appropriate venison for the cats, which in turn has all necessary supplements added. This is where most of the money from visitations goes to, the care and proper feeding of the inmates. Well inmates indeed, but for some, for not too long a period before they are properly rehabilitated and set free in a suitable environment.

Nambiti Hills Head Ranger Brett Hoy and cubs

Lee Williamson interacting with a serval

Lana and I accompanied Des and Elizka on a training hunt with Sky and Storm – to see how the cats we had been caressing, and they, so tenderly responding, became  hunters in the long grass - this showed us that rehabilitation should certainly be possible !  The two bailed out of the back of the bakkie and we all immediately started towards some distant wildebeest.  

Still a fair distance away the two would crouch, move forward and try and close the rather considerable gap between themselves and their intended prey. The wildebeest were rather skittish due to a dog poaching attack earlier that morning, so the normal stalk and chase did not work too well on this occasion.

Free ?

It did a few days later though, to positive effect, when they caught their first impala. Pets – no, hunters in the wild, yes! This can and does work.

Cheetah on the run - on the chase
Lana Williamson commiserating with Sky after the unsuccessful chase

Then to the hand reared leopard cub. This one I am not too sure about. The future of Vega is not as yet finalised, but he could be destined for release when he is a little more capable of fending for himself, especially against another territorial male leopard out there. Such a magnificent animal, we really need to do all we can to stop the leopard persecution.


Vega stalking Des

The Wildlife Sanctuary is adjacent to the Woodlands car park which makes for easy day visitor access. Most of the Lodges in the Nambiti Game Reserve endorse this project and can make arrangements for their guests to visit – this is normally during the after breakfast break from normal Lodge activities. All relatively new a concept, so there are still numerous logistical matters to be ironed out. How would guests from other Lodges participate in one of the cheetah walks? Or would that be only for guests at Woodlands?
A coffee house with possible meal facilities is presently under construction at the facility, and having had the pleasure of enjoying the food and coffee at Woodland Lodge I am sure that standard will prevail here  too.
So in principal, all looks good for the future of this initiative, and in time, with the successful release of some of the cubs, as they grow old enough to fend for themselves, the continued success with producing healthy cheetah cubs and the rehabilitation of the other cats, so the success of all this hard work will be able to be fairly assessed.

Caracal cub
Serval's 'eyes'

 The serval are interesting - Des was explaining how the distinctively marked ears are also used to deter predators  sneaking up from behind. Predators normally freeze on being seen when hunting, well if they start getting close to a serval and those ears pop up, they could so easily be thought to be eyes in the heat of the stalk, and the predator freezes and the serval gets away. Evolution is amazing !

So many snippets of information could be learned at such a venue and it is hoped that  from children to adults, who have not been exposed to our wild cats, can have an opportunity here, to learn more, and possibly see that protecting and conserving these lesser known animals for the future, could benefit all. For those who are already au fait with Africa's cats, what a lovely way to really get close to these very endearing animals. Maybe its already nearly too late to get close to Vega. He plays rough.
We wish them well.

Photographs by Jeremy, Lana and Lee Williamson – what a team !

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Nambiti Plains Lodge – Jeremy Williamson

Nambiti Plains Lodge is ideally situated  in the central sector of the Nambiti Game Reserve on the northern slope of a hillside overlooking a vast open savanna plain. This has to have one of the finest outlooks of all the Lodges in Nambiti, especially as one is regularly able to see a variety of animals right there in front of the Lodge, whilst relaxing and enjoying being pampered by the staff. Well it is a 5 star Lodge you know!

 Unfenced and with a water-hole just meters from the main deck and pool area, we enjoyed the ‘resident’ zebra, waterbuck, a massive eland bull, warthog and then, at luncheon on the second day, a rather relaxed visit by the largest of the elephant in the Game Reserve, BFE came for drinks, well his from the saline swimming pool. Not sure he would have enjoyed the G and T’s on offer, he seems to love this water though!  He casually strode up to the pool, sending the zebra and eland on their way, and then rather unobtrusively snuck his trunk over the edge of the pool and sucked in 8 odd liters of refreshing clean sparkling water,

 ... raised his head and emptied his trunk into his mouth – what a smile!  

Three long slurps and he was off to wreck havoc in the veggie garden or Brent’s recently repaired wooden walk-ways. Was it the Buffalo that broke the pathway the night before? This is Big 5 country and unfenced. We returned to our divine chicken schnitzel and salad.
On  the front deck is a beautiful fig-tree which was fruiting whilst we were there and consequently full of birdlife. Some avid birders had just left the Lodge and had recorded 60 different bird species around Nambiti Plains Lodge, we did not do so well but really had fun trying.

Common steppe buzzard overhead !

 We were met at the Memorial Gate car park by Chris, an amiable ‘pom’ who really loves the bush and enthusiastically shared much with us for the three days we were there. A slow 10 minute drive brought us to the welcoming smile of Brigette, assistant to Brent and head chef. Brigette delights in producing fine fare for her guests and really goes the extra mile in securing the right accompaniment for her dishes. She has a herb and veggie garden going, in order to add that something fresh and special to her gastronomic delights. We were introduced to this charming Lodge and then taken to our rooms.

 As my daughter Lee was accompanying us on this visit, we were offered the family suite.

One of the Family Room suites - what a view !
 This is a good one, as it is really two totally separate suites, each en suite, which merely enjoy a common entrance foyer. This suited us, as we were adjacent and close, it would work equally as well for two couples who were travelling independently and did not know one another.
The rooms are a delight. Very spacious and with pretty much all one would expect of a Five star venue.

As per so many of the venues in the Nambiti Game Reserve, the bath is located in the bedroom area, open plan,  this applies to some extent to the other suites at Nambiti Plains, although in those units the bathroom is more remote from the sleeping section. Our vanity and shower were in an alcove behind the magnificent large bed with the toilet through a door beyond that.  

All the other suites are similar in layout and decor
 The rooms are large rondavels and the bed sits forward, offering the most wonderful  panoramic outlook over the expansive deck

 with sun loungers and a table and chair set, to the bushveld beyond. Ideal spot to sit with me binocs and birdlist.

The doors folded back giving a lovely inside / outside feel. ..... and there were multiple opening windows which let the cool night air and sounds in.
Our gastronomic journey started at precisely 14h00 on Wednesday the 5th of December 2012. A drumbeat summoned  us,  and from the kitchen arrived this tomato and thyme tart, the pastry so crunchy.. mmmm. Most beautifully presented, but photographs could not do justice to the aroma’s and flavour here. This followed by homemade ice-cream topped with a locally available wild berry, Umsobo compote – delumschious !

So to the game drive. A rather luxuriously appointed Land Rover Safari vehicle with easy access drop side, bucket seats, chilled water in flasks, cooler box full of Sundowners, enthusiastic guests and guide and we were off.
I marvel at the species diversity in this game reserve,

 which coupled with the density of these animals here, makes for such intense game viewing.  

 The animals are relaxed as well and generally do not scamper off at first sight of the vehicles.  Some are even .. is it curious?  We had to back away from this rather large pachyderm as he continually approached our vehicle. Did we notice a bit of a swaying arrogant motion, was the temporal gland running? Oh yes and a dribbling too, he was in musth and slightly belligerent.

 We departed, leaving the elephant to do what elephant do, to find instead some peaceful white rhino and a variety of antelope along with zebra and giraffe. This game reserve has beautiful topography. To stop for sundowners overlooking the beautiful valleys of the Tugela loweld and the rolling hills of Zululand with a glass of decent wine, snacks and idle chatter, a dream – this is Africa.

 We learned that the reserve had received permission to have black rhino and that some would be arriving during 2013, great news for this marvelous game reserve which has already proved its genuine Big Five status with the recent more regular sightings of leopard. The Black Rhino expansion project in conjunction with our Province’s Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife organisation has already had wonderful positive results in the Zululand Rhino Reserve and at Phinda. Here’s hoping it happens here too.

The weather had been changeable and even rather chilly, especially on the ‘open’ safari vehicle, so what a pleasure to return to the lodge, to be welcomed by that smile, a most delightful glass of sherry and a glowing fire on the hearth. Dinner was another triumph for the Lodge, outstanding!
Imagine a prawn pate, topped with prawn tails and herbed toasties as a starter, followed by ostrich fille in a Merlot sauce with potato fondant and veg. Ending with spiced baked pears with honey and lemon. The following evening’s dinner was just as exciting, - have you had cream of biltong soup to start?  Then fish and ending delightfully with a divine Tiramisu for dessert ! We are way out in the bush and to have this, is incredible.

There is something romantic in a large bed,  be draped  with netting, creeping in through the secret entrance, to soft pillows and duvets and crisp sheets. The night sounds through the open windows were lost to us until that magic internal clock of mine prompted by the dawn chorus of birds, woke us minutes before our Ranger knocked on the door.

What a day! Early morning game drive with oodles of wildlife,

 back for the most sumptuous of breakfasts and then Chris asked if we would like to go fishing? Yes really, for the enthusiasts the dams and even river fishing can be excellent. Bass and yellowfish can reach a decent size and the Lodge would gladly prepare your catch for lunch or dinner, should you wish. Then there is the Le Sueur Cheetah project that has recently been initiated by Mr Rob Le Sueur, the man behind the creation of the Nambiti Game Reserve and now honing his skills on improving the lot of cheetah, as well as some other unfortunate wild cats. Some 40 minutes drive away to the south of the Park,  the Lodge will gladly take you to the recently established centre where one is able, for a fee, to engage with the cats there, learn something about their plight and thus contribute to their future.

This serval was particularly friendly
Lana, Lee and I had visited the centre en route to Nambiti Plains Lodge, so rather opted to visit one of the scenic highlights of the Nambiti Game Reserve, one of the waterfalls on the Sundays River. We had a look at the Cascades on the way

The Cascades from a distance
 and then scrambled on the cliff edge over huge boulders for a peep into the gorge.

Quite lovely with guano marking the cliff face where a nest of Bald Ibis was, then more evidence where a Cape crow had home. Not only scenic, for the route was again full of wildlife and as we had ventured to the northern sector of the Park,  we learned that the authorities had set up a restaurant here. “Brigette, not to worry”, this was for carcases and bones for the now seemingly thriving vulture population.  All settled in a large Acacia siebriana - the Paperbark Acacia, we saw two lappet-faced vulture, many Cape and was that a white-backed?

We also saw yet another antelope species on this route, a family of mountain reedbuck

 and were there loads of warthog ?, plenty, most with a trail of flag waving hoglets.
There was hardly time after luncheon to relax, before we departed on the afternoon game drive. Amongst other sightings, we had a mattress of lion, stir, shake and then yawningly begin their preparation for their nocturnal food procurement program.  

Amongst the yawning, defecating and urinating, the lady of the crowd attracted the attention of one of the males, reacting in a rather vivid display of phlemming. 

On approaching her urine deposit, he closes off the airflow to his nose and by breathing in through his mouth, curling back his lips, he thus allows her sexual condition be determined by her scent reaching his Jacobson's Organ, which is a sensory device located on the roof of the mouth, specialising is sensing pheromones. It is also called the vomeronasal organ.

Same organ that snakes use to determine where and what prey is about. The forked tongue collects the scent particles when out of the mouth and then these are analysed / identified when brought into contact with the two pits in the roof of the snakes mouth on retracting into the mouth cavity.

The whole behavior and communication amongst animals and yes, even amongst plants, I find fascinating. Chris expounded on how some plants can increase the tannin content in their leaves whilst being browsed and even, by releasing pheromones to the air, encourage neighboring plants to do like-wise. Probably why kudu and other browsers tend to feed up-wind? I have read how these pheromones can even be released through their root system communicating that way too. So it’s not only Prince Charles that talks to his plants, plants talk to one another too.

These are really very new young
and are able to pace mum

there are a few of these - the white-tailed gnu or black wildebeest
 One of the more interesting aspects of visiting the bush on a regular basis, as Lana and I are fortunate to do, is to learn about animals at a different plane.  Its great being able to tell the difference between the antelope, cats and the myriad of other animal and bird species, but we both  get such a reward from understanding what some of the animals are doing / even thinking,  when performing a particular action. This is where a private game Lodge and its teams of dedicated enthusiastic Rangers come in. We learn so much from these men and women, on each trip, and are so often humbled by the  experience.  

lovely to see all the young uns

so dainty

this is how its done
 I have found that the majority of Rangers at Nambiti Game Reserve Lodges are particularly interesting. That certainly adds so much value to ones enjoyment of the bush and its inhabitants. The people in such an environment are just so important, with the rangers, who spend from 6 to sometimes close to 10 hours daily interacting with guests, so often being the key front person. Far and Wild Safaris is so fortunate in having Keith Marallich as a guide, a man with vast knowledge and a wonderful personality. No wonder so many ask for him on their return overland Safaris.
A joy at Lodges is that the management take such trouble to enhance ones visit experience. I just love the surprise of a different meal venue, any change can and so often is a lasting memory to cherish. Nambiti Plains pays particular care of guests comfort, the wildlife experience and their meals. We are so please to have visited one of the special ‘jewels’ of Nambiti  and we all rated it highly. Recommended without hesitation!

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cheetah Ridge Lodge, Nambiti Game Reserve – Jeremy Williamson

 It’s all about the wildlife, or not so wild, wildlife at Cheetah Ridge Lodge (Woodlands Lodge) in the Nambiti Game Reserve near Ladysmith / Elandslaagte in KwaZulu-Natal. Imagine a baronial mansion set in a Big 5 Game Reserve with a wild cat rehabilitation centre as part of their commitment to our wildlife. The Lodge is so much like some found in Central East Africa. Slightly different to the other Lodges in Nambiti in concept, but such a wonderful wildlife experience with all the trimmings – 4 star – well yes, and within the South African Lodge structure grading, a top end 4 star too, with food way in the 5 star stakes, the game drives too, but that holds true for all the Nambiti Lodges.  The high density of wildlife here still gets to me in such a good way and the open plains full of animals, reminds me so of East Africa.

The Le Sueur Wild Cat Project is a relatively new initiative and is run by the Cheetah Ridge Lodge Management team, Des and Elizke Gouws. A  caring couple providing a very responsible rehabilitation centre that is about to move to its new, much expanded breeding enclosures adjacent to Cheetah Ridge Lodge.

There are presently a variety of our South African wild cats, serval, caracal, wild cat, a robust maturing leopard cub

 and of course the cheetah, which have already bread in record time, under their care. The cheetah must be ‘happy’ in this environment to have bred so readily.

Guests from other Lodges in Nambiti may also visit the young cubs and enter the enclosures to pet them too. The fee goes to towards the rather substantial food bill. Des is rather particular as  to what ‘his’ cats eat. They all certainly appear in good health and excellent condition. A rather wonderful activity opportunity for guests staying at Cheetah Ridge Lodge, which contributes to the funding of it, is for them to be able to participate in a 'free range run' with some of the cheetah, here the cheetah hone their skills and learn to hunt and fend for themselves. I have always been sceptical with regards to these ‘breeding projects’. Well, I must say my perception has changed. Here were two cheetah, Sky and Storm, who Lana and I could embrace, nuzzle up to, tickle and stroke, who, when out on the neighbouring property, also owned by Rob Le Sueur, would become the ‘efficient’ high-speed hunting machines  Cheetah are known to be – well these guys are still learning, but it’s all instinctively there.

Where are the antelope?

Jeremy watching Sky set off

 The stalk, the sprint and then when right in amongst the Blesbuck or Wildebeest for the kill, their confidence seems to lag, as they now see just how large that prey is. Maybe start with something smaller, they will and do.  

I can see them !

Here I come

Rather here we come
Lana and I experienced one of these training exercises and guests will be able to enjoy this too, for a fee. An approximately 2 to 2,5 hour hunt for the cheetah, guests would follow and observe and then when the cats need to cool down after the chase, all would sit in the shade of a handy Acacia, Elizke would produce some of the tasty Cheetah Ridge’  fare with something to drink. We even gave the cheetah some water, Des slicing open a water bottle to make a  drinking receptacle for them. What an experience and photographic opportunity.

Lana and Storm interacting

Cheetah Ridge Lodge is spacious and very comfortable with an enclosed garden, safe for children, where  one can relax, or for the more energetic, have a game of tennis or just while away the time in the swimming pool with possible views of some wild animals grazing just beyond the fence. We had a herd of wildebeest, some impala with their new born and a number of kudu that melted away between the bushes.

Pool, tennis court and expansive gardens
Then there is the most endearing family friend resident at Cheetah Ridge, a rescued Suricate meercat that Des and Elizke and all female guests so enthusiastically care for. He loves the ladies but not too friendly with the men.

Zulu on sentry duty
I was lucky as he took to me too, but not with quite the bond that Lana and he, Zulu, seemed to have. He followed her around and when cuddled would hug her arm, angelic !

Ideally suited for familys, the 5 luxury suites plus a family suite which can then host 12 guests at Cheetah Ridge Lodge are all within the Main Lodge building which has a bar ( TV, DSTV's - rugby? - and dart board),

 three lounges,

snooker room (for more casual entertainment) ,

  a comfortable large veranda, those couches were so inviting,

and a number of dining venues which includes an outside boma with central fire and braai, a beautiful garden setting under the most enormous 110 year old fig tree teeming with birdlife. The bird calls beckoned and Lana and I searched in vain for the Red-chested Cuckoo that was calling so profusly, we found the Black-headed Oriole, guided by it’s beautiful liquid call and then the bird check list started to fill. I believe the Leopard cub, Vega is sharpening his tree-climbing skills here.

Breakfast after the morning game drive with real coffee - Cappuccino's on tap - I love it !

This was to be our luncheon venue too, delightful. We savoured the most delicious chicken croquette with a ‘skewered’ salad and new potatoes. This set the standard for the meals at Cheetah Ridge Lodge, amongst the finest we have enjoyed at any of the Nambiti Game Reserve Lodges. Now that’s saying something.

Our first night was to be a ‘Private dining experience’ with our meal on the upper deck just off our suite – super, we could just roll into bed !

Dinner for two
Turn down with chocolates and a foam bath decorated with rose petals, with Chrysalis shampoo and Duke and Forsyth luxury soap from Ireland.

Our suite
To give you an idea of the superb  cuisine our dinner starter was Salmon on a bed of sliced beetroot, caramelised onion, cream cheese with white wine sauce – fine dining starts here.
This was followed by an Ostrich fillet tower with the most tender ostrich fillets interspersed with layers of  mushroom, butternut, potato and onion – I salivate just thinking of that meal which ended with crème caramel and a decoration of Thai chocolate. Part of the decoration was a Porcupine quill. Lucky I licked it, it was a clever dark and white chocolate manufacture, so realistic. This Lodge has a very innovative kitchen with an extremely competent chef, she really does produce incredibly good quality meals. The ‘Braai’ we had on the subsequent night was one of the better ones ever. How does one make a braai stand out so ?  Well done Cheetah Ridge.

The game drives were as good as one gets in the Nambiti Game Reserve. Brad and Des were great guides, but they too just missed on the leopard sighting. He was hiding behind a bush and decided we needed to return to Nambiti before he would show himself to us.  It wouldn’t take much persuading.

Starting to stir after a day of cat napping

Then some general game

Nambiti has a very high density of Kudu

Loads of Blue Wildebeest too

Zebra gambolling in the background - so cute

then some more cats

What super wildlife sightings, well that is what it's all about really at Cheetah Ridge Lodge
The day we visited the cubs it was raining and the light really was too poor to do the photographs of the cats justice. I would love you to see what Des and Elizke are doing.  Next time hopefully we will have better light and the cats in their new home.

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson