Sunday, October 27, 2013

KwaCheetah Breeding Project – Nambiti Private Game Reserve – Jeremy Williamson

I was fortunate to recently revisit the KwaCheetah Breeding Project in the Nambiti Private Game Reserve near Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal.

Since our last visit, the Katz Cafe and Curios has been opened. Des and Elizke Gouws have created a super venue to enjoy the Cheetah, then relax with real coffee or some other beverage and a snack. A “full house” breakfast at R45 is really excellent value, the KwaCheetah Burgers seemed amazing value at R65. Then there is the Serval Wrap, toasted sandwiches and salads. Desserts and Kiddies meals too.  Having experienced the food at Cheetah Ridge (formerly known as Woodlands Lodge) I would say the flavours would be excellent. We were so tempted when we saw what other guests were being served but we had just left one of the Lodges in the reserve, where the food had been wonderful and our late breakfast  made it just too soon to try any of these tempting meals here.

Des gave an introduction of the aims and objectives of their Breeding Project, to the assembled guests and then we all visited Vega the leopard.

Saved and hand reared lovingly from a very small cub, he will be a difficult one to release. Interaction with him is now only through the fence as he is already one powerful cat.

We all then walked up to the cheetah enclosures.

Notice the non retractable claws

The cheetah on the other hand amaze me – from being the most cuddlesome of animals to instantly transforming into this ‘efficient hunting machine’. Des and Elizke are getting all the younger cheetah to learn how to hunt,  the older ones are already making kills on a neighboring property which has a variety of antelope. It’s seems so incredible that they are taken there, released from the vehicle and their nature changes to that of ‘hunter’ and off they go at great speed to catch themselves something to eat!

Kill and a meal and then back, all lovable to Des and Elizke, who take them back to their large pens at the KwaCheetah Breeding Project across the road. It will be wonderful when the first of the cheetah are released to the wild. It looks like the breeding environment and methods  that they are using is working. The cheetah are certainly breeding well. These cats are so vulnerable in the wild, being so persecuted by lion in particular, and then the drastic reduction of their natural habitat and free range, that projects such as this and of course De Wildt, are doing so much to save the ever reducing numbers of these magnificent felines.

The entrance fees charged for visiting this project go some way to assist in the considerable food and veterinary bills – only the best venison for these guys. It is particularly fortunate that the patron of this initiative, Mr Rob Le Sueur has other game farm property where the food for the cheetah is sourced.

One is able to visit this facility independently of visiting a Lodge in the Nambiti Game Reserve as a day visitor, whilst guests at the various Lodges are able to visit whilst staying there. It might be more convenient to visit the Cheetah project on the day of arrival before checking into the Lodge or on departure. The 11h00 interaction is ideal for this.

Photographers, this is a wonderful opportunity to secure some good pictures of this normally fairly elusive and shy cat. One is taken into the large enclosures where one is able to then interact with the incumbents. This does not apply to Vega the leopard though.  I don’t think Des enters there too often any more.

All photographs by Jeremy, Lana and Lee Williamson

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Elephant Rock Lodge – Nambiti Game Reserve - Jeremy Williamson

Elephant Rock Lodge is a luxury 4 star Lodge in the Malaria free, Nambiti Private Game Reserve, situated in the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal near Ladysmith.  What a lovely friendly, comfortable venue to escape to for a few days.
 Brick under thatch Chalets each with own private bathrooms and view deck look out over the bushveld and a waterhole well placed to watch animals coming to drink during the day.

Elephant Rock Lodge's cosy lounge

We had a hippo blowing bubbles and threatening any new arrival with a yawn-like display of his rather formidable teeth. Kudu sparring on the bank and birds securing nesting material, clouds building up and hanging promisingly low, spring definitely in the air.

Belligerent Kudu at the water-hole, as viewed from our deck

One enters the Nambiti Game Reserve at one of the two gates, for Elephant Rock Lodge it’s the southern Woodland’s Gate. Security check and the Lodge is notified, proceed to the nearby covered parking lot where a vehicle from the Lodge comes and collects you.
A beaming smile preceded Stephanie’s welcome and we were bundled on board the game viewer vehicle with our luggage and off to more friendly welcomes from our good friend Lee-Ann and Steve, a refreshing drink and Tanya then gave us an intro to the Lodge, activities, facilities and timings.

One of the Family suite rooms
We were in the family suite, two rooms with an inter-leading door if necessary, the deck separated by a screen making it suitable for two independent couples or a family. We were family so the door was opened and convenient. Private bathrooms en suite and a rather romantic double outdoor shower.

Me time
Through to the bar for a rock shandy, out on the view deck was our luncheon ‘spread’.

Lounging area on the deck
 A generous meal for the 5 guests – savoury samoosas, salads, crumbed chicken wings, sausages – lovely.  Whilst at lunch, the dinner menu was presented. Such a good idea, gave me a chance too, to anticipate me dinner that much longer. There were choices, with mine being the mushroom baskets as a starter, then grilled Venison fillet with a red wine and Black Cherry sauce, roast potatoes and seasonal veg, followed by Pecan Nut Pie and Ice Cream.  The meal and in particular the venison was outstanding. Imagine this lot accompanied by some fermented grape, did the Pecan not become a tipsy tart?

I love lady Rangers, just have a problem seeing them lugging the loaded drinks cooler box to the vehicle, well at least it should be a tad lighter returning it. Out on the game drive with Steph, there was quite a good variety of game to be seen, we rejoiced at watching a variety of wildlife.

The Nambiti Park authorities have decided to remove the horns of all rhino as a deterrent to the country's horrific rhino poaching problem, something has to be done, and they have also improved their anti poaching security too.

Elephant herd in the distance plus two old ‘Dagga Boy’ Buffalo  - 3 of the Big Five so far, but the lion, normally fairly frequently seen, eluded us on this drive.

We instead, enjoyed some lovely antelope and giraffe sightings and then joined a hippo that was in the drink at Weaver Dam, whilst we enjoyed our drink and marvelled at the flamboyant sunset.

Sundowners to the night sounds emerging from the bush, we cupped our hands to our ears to amplify the whistles, croaks and grunts, quite amazing ! Imagine the benefit to a Kudu’s hearing with their large ‘ear trumpets’ Was that the roar of lion in the distance - Yes, awesome.

Kudu Bull in the gloaming - pretty.
 Dark, and back to Elephant Rock Lodge by spotlight, warm towelets, delicious sherry, a glowing fire and merriment from the bar. Some “late arrival” guests had missed the game drive departure time and were commiserating in their cups – well maybe not commiserating. What a lovely group we turned out to be. All having the best of times, in the luxury of this lovely venue. Super food, wine, companionship and game viewing. I can do this.
Early start after teas, coffee and rusks, then out on the network of roads searching for that sighting, a coffee break and then more game viewing and interesting dissertations from our guide, to return to a groaning breakfast table.

Red Hartebeest with young
The young of Hartebeest are pale in order to better blend with the grass and hide, it doesnt take long for them to be up and mobile with mum.

Kudu Cows
Young male waterbuck
Then it’s me time, interspersed with a break for lunch , more me time and then back out into the bush. Interesting Bush too – Tugela Thicket vegetation incredible biodiversity; including savannah, thornveld, riparian bush, acacia trees and extensive grasslands that suggest the open grass plains of central Africa and vast herds of wildebeest.

Serengeti look-a-like
Black-headed Heron enjoying its meal
A lone ostich, sadly their chicks are very vulnerable, in particular to jackal
Me time activities - To relax on the view deck with THAT view – laze in the swimming pool, or indulge in a Spa treatment, or visit the Kwa Cheetah rehabilitation and breeding project nearby. On a clear evening, the lack of intrusive light affords a fantastic opportunity to appreciate the night sky. One can even go fishing in one of the numerous dams during the day, this with the guidance and accompaniment of the Rangers, as there are some seriously wild animals out there. The Lodge is fenced and relatively safe, but not so the dams. Yes Nambiti has the Big Five as well as Cheetah, with the various leopard being seen more frequently of late, they are however still quite elusive, as in most Game Parksin KwaZulu-Natal. It’s really only in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve where, in my opinion, one can be relatively assured of seeing leopard, and there in the Sabi Sands, one normally gets to see these cats well. 

Elephant Bull enjoying an evening dust bath

 There is however no reserve I know of in South Africa, where one is able to get the high standard of game viewing and Lodge services, at the prices charged by these Lodges here in the Nambiti Game Reserve.  Elephant Rock Lodge is one of the very best value for money destinations in that Game Reserve. I wish we had been able to stay an extra night and take advantage of their 50% discount for a third nights stay. Now that is good value! (Not available during peak season of 13 December 2013 to 10 January 2014.)

We did find the lion, late afternoon of the second day, there were three of them with the male rather interested in one of the ladies. 

The Nambiti Game Reserve is well placed for those wishing to make more of their visit to the KwaZulu-Natal midlands. The Battle-fields of the Anglo-Boer War are really close, with the site of the Battle of Elandslaagte on  the property. Ladysmith with its many battle sites is only some 20 minutes away with the various sites of the Anglo-Zulu War a little further to the north. West of Nambiti Private Game Reserve is the uKhahlamba Drakensberg, a World Heritage Site, with its numerous  accommodation venues to suite most tastes - and those magnificent mountains.
The Amphitheatre at Thendele, Royal Natal Park

Photographs by Jeremy, Lana and Lee Williamson