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