Monkeys in South Africa

Did you know there are over 250 species of monkeys around the world?  Quite a number, and when you consider the size of South Africa, only 2 of the 250 come from there.   These are the Vervet Monkey and the Samango Monkey.  Of the two species, Samango monkeys are not wide spread or common in South Africa as they tend to reside in the coastal forests of Kwa Zulu Natal, Eastern Cape, and the Afromontane forests of Mpumalanga.

Just like in the human world the female Vervet monkey is fiercely maternal.  She remains constantly with her young offspring, staying loyal to them for as long as she remains useful.  Unlike the male, who mates, then roams about from troop to troop, in different social groups throughout their years.

Like us, they are pretty affectionate and tactile creatures; I don’t mean by giving a nice cuddle or kiss.  No, their affection is displayed in their grooming rituals where they take the time to work through each others coats of fur, removing parasites, dirt and other bits.

So, whilst you are on your game drive keep an eye out for these funny little monkeys.  They can sometimes be elusive due to their many predators as they are vulnerable to Leopard, Caracal, Servals, Baboons, large Eagles, Crocodiles and Pythons, and more.

So many wonderful animals that make up the diversity of amazing game drives.

Sandra Stuart – Executive Support, Nyumbani Estate

Nyumbani Estate – Boma Camp update

We are very excited to be able to share with you the first part of the Nyumbani Estate development. The venture is to develop a private residential estate set in a big game safari reserve. The development will consist of no more than 18 luxury private residential 3 – bed homes, all serviced by a main lodge. The properties is being sold off plan, which means all aspects of the project has already been conducted; feasibility, architect, surveyors, design, planning, costs, legal, financial and preliminary marketing. The venture is ready for the next stage of development and marketing.

As with any high value product, we believe the best message to be delivered is the one that comes right out of the product itself. For that reason, we decided to develop a Boma Camp holiday opportunity on the Estate that could be utilised as a beautiful, rustic, private safari experience; prior to any infrastructure development of the estate. As you can imagine, this creates some challenges, but we have overcome them, the main ones being water supply, electricity and similar practical solutions for a land prior to formal development. Our solutions fall in line with the ethos of the venture. What is a ‘Boma’ Camp? A Boma is an enclosed area where people come together to share company, enjoy good food, experience outdoor living whilst having some form of protection usually via a wooden fencing within a camp. We have utilised that concept to create a Boma Camp setting for two well-presented double bed chalets, set against the backdrop of the Klein Drakensberg (Afrikaans for small dragon mountains) mountain range. Serviced by very comfortable, earthy and decadent lounge, dining and appropriately placed facilities to ensure your needs are accommodated without being too intrusive to your yearning for a natural experience and interaction in the Wilds. We believe in low-impact intrusion to land development, we believe in complimentary conservation with wildlife and humans. We believe creating a quaint, homely, fully serviced and very private Boma Camp in the Bush; will provide anyone who desires to experience the Nyumbani Estate in its infancy, whilst possibly considering purchasing a Nyumbani Estate private home off plan. This will be the best and most perfect opportunity for you to consider. You can enjoy a 3 – 5 day stay on Nyumbani Estate Boma Camp, with a real back to nature experience in a fully self-contained bush camp setting. The Estate will be high-end and fully managed. The Boma Camp offers a different, more discerning interaction on the Estate and in Safari. See video of the Boma Camp under construction on our Facebook page: Boma Camp construction

Maxine Smith – Executive Director – Nyumbani Estate

Love ‘in’ Safari ….

If you consider a honeymoon and the fact that it is one of the most indulgent, expensive holidays you may ever have. It will be over-loaded with high expectations and one of the most important decisions you can ever make as it is usually at the ‘let’s make a great impression’ stage of the relationship. It really puts the pressure on the question of “where do we book for our honeymoon, darling”?

If you research this question, you will come up with reams of paper calling you to lingering romantic sounding destinations such as; Maldives, Malaysia, Thailand, Bora Bora, Panama, Caribbean, Zanzibar, Cook Islands etc., the list is long. On that list, (if you stick at your research long enough), you will come across Cape Tow, South Africa. That in itself surprised us, but what was really shocking to us was the complete omission of South African Safari as a high on the list of honeymoon destinations. This intrigued us immensely because all you need to do is park yourself up at either Eastgate Airport, Hoedspruit, or the Hendrik Van Eck Airport, Phalaborwa (both South African Safari based airports) to watch the plane come in and see how many couples walk off, hand-in-hand, beaming smiles and with shiny new wedding rings of their fingers; a lot! We can say in all honesty that we rarely experience a safari interaction that does not have at least one honeymoon couple there. We would even go as far as to say ‘if you weren’t married when you first experienced your first safari, you will come back to your second as a married couple’.

Why is this so, well, there is an element of the romantic safari being one of the tourism industries best kept secret. We believe this is so in order to preserve that ultimate decadence of exclusivity, that exceptional dedicated service that makes you feel that you are the most important thing ever to that Lodge or that Game Ranger; as you are being taken around with due care and attention in making sure your experience is the best ever. We are talking of that unique personal greeting when you arrive of having something special, of one of your favourites likes. It may be having lavender scent on your face towel in your arrival pack (when your favourite scent is Lavender), or your favourite soft drink to quench your thirst in the heat of the African sun, or knowing to place you on the front of the vehicle (because we just happen to have taken the time and effort to find out that you get motion sickness if you sit at the back of the vehicle, especially on the back axel). It will be these kind of ‘special touches’ that come with the best of safari’s that gives you that second ‘falling in love’ feeling. It wasn’t enough that you fell in love with your partner, you will fall in love all over again with an African Safari, of that, we can guarantee!

As you disembark the airplane you have already shaken off the stresses and worries of your daily life and routines. As you take the drive from the airport to the Safari destination you will experience a deep and rich sigh. This is not a sigh of anxiety but one of that “aah, this is so beautiful’. In fact, prepare to be WOW’d, but in the most laid-back and natural way from things like; as you drive out of the airport “is that a Giraffe”? or, “oh my, what a stunning view”, as your eyes take in the breathtaking scenery. All this and you are still in transit. The next WOW is arrival at your luxury Lodge or Camp as you take in the splendour of the location, the accommodation and the hospitality. All of this, yet nothing will prepare you for your first experience of predatory game in their natural surrounds. Or, of the first sighting of a large lone bull Elephant as you are being driven through the Reserve. Whilst you may have grown up with images of Elephants, nothing will prepare you for the size of them, how quiet they walk through the Bush, how you can see nothing but trees and bush one minute then POW, an Elephant or a herd of Elephants is suddenly there ahead of you. Nothing will prepare you for that first sighting of Lion (the Kings of the Bush), or the athletic Cheetah, or the majestic Leopard.

When in love, you may be familiar with the whispers of sweet nothings in your ear from your lover. On Safari, you will experience the whispers of the Bush, as everything talks to you through the whispers of trees, of the birds as they busy themselves with their nest building or mating calls or hunting; of the Impala or Kudu or Waterbuck in rutting season, of the Cicada beetle in the summer season as their wings rub against each other or the frogs singing their mating calls.

Then you experience the pleasures of love through food. Exquisitely prepared cuisine enriched in flavours and so carefully prepared and decorated. South Africa has some of the best cuisine and the best wines in the world. Or the amazing sounds of African music and sight of African tribal dancing.

As our heading implies, there is ‘Love’ and ‘Loving’ when it comes to Safari in South Africa, it is one of the most romantic of destinations we can ever think of, in the world.

Maxine Smith – Executive Director – Nyumbani Estate

“Beauty or the Beast? – You decide”

Friend or foe?

Cute or ugly?

Hunter or scavenger?

So many safari visitors view the Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) with a negative mind set. Wildlife documentaries and Disney movies DSC_0493.JPGhave just hardened that perception in many people’s minds. But how much of what we perceive about the Hyena is actually true and just why should we give them a little bit more time and respect when viewing them on safari. It is not without reason that those of us who live in the bush for long periods at a time have come to treasure those moments spent visiting a hyena den site, watching the antics of the new born pups as they come to terms with the new sights and smalls of their African home.

The Blue Canyon has continued to enjoy the strong growth and territorial expansion of it’s hyaena population over these past few years. When I first started working across the reserve the frequency of viewing and indeed the sound of their iconic calls, was few and far between. Given the overall low density of our lion population it was the perfect time to give the hyena that were already ensconsed in the reserve, the opportunity to prosper. Lions and hyena are eternal enemies. Each species will seek out the young of the other and in nearDSC_3346ly every case will kill the youngsters to protect their own growing families. We are now getting regular, almost daily, sightings of these animals and have discovered their dens on a number of occasions which has allowed some very special viewings for our home owners, visitors and lodge guests. Once the animals become habituated to the vehicles the youngsters in particular will sniff curiously around the vehicles in a very relaxed manner and allow for fantastic game viewing opportunities. We take great care to ensure that no more than 2 vehicles are present in the area of the den at any one time and these must be parked at a sensible distance from the den itself, allowing the animals to approach the vehicles only when they feel relaxed enough to do so.

So what do we know about these incredible mammals …

The spotted hyena is one the most highly gregarious of all carnivores; it can live in groups containing up to 90 individuals, and exhibits the most complex social behaviour. The society is characterised by a strict dominance hierarchy. The entire social life of a clan is centered around the communal den. Some clans use particular den sites for years whereas others may use several different dens within a year or even several den sites simultaneously. We have already seen one clan return to their den site of last year to rear their cubs this year. DSC_3469The dens are not excavated by hyenas, instead they have usually been abandoned by other species, mostly warthog, aardvark and bat-eared foxes. This structure of small channels underground has been considered an effective anti-predator device which protects pups during the absence of their mother. The structure of dens does not normally permit the access of adult animals, so pups must emerge at the den entrance to have contact with their mother who is often found lying at the entrance with older brothers and sisters etc. Spotted hyenas live in a society in which clan members do not remain together continuously, but instead frequently forage alone or in small groups. Clan members co-operate in communal defence of the territory, of food resources, and the den site. Females are dominant over males, and even the lowest ranking female is dominant to the highest ranking male. Although males typically disperse from their natal clans when they are between two and six years of age, females usually remain in their natal clan. “Social politics” among clan members are very important in hyena society, with individuals regularly forging alliances and coalitions. Unlike many other social species where all group members are usually seen together, spotted hyena clan members frequently wander alone or in small groups and only sometimes meet in large numbers. This occurs at kills, at the communal den, or when clan members rally together to defend individual carcasses or group territories

The picture below shows a typical stand off between two hyenas. The one on the left is “winning,” as indicated by its forward-cocked ears. DSC_2834Note the ears of the hyena on the right are flattened back, and its mouth is open in a defensive display.

The highly social nature of the spotted hyena has led to the evolution of a wide variety of vocalisations. The best known spotted hyena vocalisation is the whoop, which can be heard over several kilometres. Spotted hyenas can recognise each other individually by their whoops, at least within their clan. Whoops can function as a rallying call to gather scattered clan members together to defend territory boundaries, food resources, and the communal den. Mothers whoop to locate their wandering cubs and some animals whoop to recruit hunting partners. Whoops are also used as a form of individual display, particularly by animals of high rank. Adult males whoop more frequently than females, and top-ranking males put more effort into vocal displays than lower ranking males. Another well-known vocalisation is the laugh or giggle, which is a signal of submission. A submissive individual giggles to signal to its partner that it accepts a lower status.

As we travel around the estate, more especially when we are on foot enjoying our walking trails, we see evidence of the fact that spotted hyenas scent mark their territories by pasting a secretion from the anal gland onto grass stalks, as well as defecating in communal latrines. Keep an eye open also during your safaris for the tell-tale “white stools”, evidence of the high concentration of calcium in the hyena diet from the consumption of large quantities of bone material.

What surprises most observers is the extent of co-operative intelligence and problem solving ability demonstrated by hyenas. In fact, recent tests involving lions and hyena undertaken by one of the resident film makers in the BCC, Virginia Quinn, showed that hyena far out perform their feline counterparts in both intelligence and inter species co-operation. Indeed further studies have showed them to be able to outperform chimpanzees also. Also, spotted hyenas have been recorded as using  deceptive behaviour, including giving alarm calls during feeding when no enemies are present, thus frightening off other hyenas and allowing them to temporarily eat in peace. Cunning indeed!!

The spotted hyena is the most carnivorous member of the family Hyaenidae from which it comes. Unlike its brown and striped cousins, the spotted hyena is a predator not a scavenger. Spotted hyenas hunt as much as lions despite continually being mislabeled as scavengers, often even by ecologists and wildlife documentary channels. The spotted hyena is very efficient at eating its prey; not only is it able to splinter and eat the largest bones, it is also able to digest them completely. Spotted hyena can digest all organic components in bones, not just the marrow. DSC_9437Any inorganic material is excreted with the faeces, which consist almost entirely of a white powder with few hairs. They react to alighting vultures more readily than other African carnivores, and are more likely to stay in the vicinity of lion kills, as well as hanging around lodges and camps where they learn quickly that humans are generally poor in disposing of unwanted foods. A single spotted hyena can eat at least 14.5 kg of meat per meal. Although spotted hyenas act aggressively toward each other when feeding, they compete with each other mostly through speed of eating, rather than by fighting as lions do. When feeding on an intact carcass, spotted hyenas will first consume the meat around the loins and anal region, then open the abdominal cavity and pull out the soft organs. Soon enough, the carcass is disassembled and the hyenas carry off pieces to eat in peace.

Hopefully now, you will understand and appreciate more the intelligence and complexity of this adorable African carnivore. Ignore the media representations and form your own opinion when on safari. Like me, you will soon be capitivated by the antics and the solidarity demonstrated by these most family orientated animals. I just adore them!!

“A Blue Jewel in South Africa’s Conservation Crown”

When creating and launching the Nyumbani Estate concept, it was paramount to all of us involved that we find somewhere really special to be our home. Southern Africa is awash with private National Parks, Game Reserves and concessions but for Nyumbani the search was exhaustive. We wanted to ensure that our home was an outright “special place” … special to those of us who work here, and special to those of you who will live here. We found that place … nestling between the small town of Hoedspruit in Limpopo and the majestic northern arm of the Drakensberg mountains. It is known as the Blue Canyon Game Conservancy and if DSC_6957ever there was a place that be called the “garden of Eden”, it is this beautiful and tranquil place we now call home.

The reserve boasts a diversity of flora and fauna fit to grace our TV screens in a David Attenborough natural history epic. What’s more, the reserve up to now has resisted the temptation to over commercialise the location and so offers the most peaceful and tranquil place to either live, or to take a magnificent holiday in the African bush. With only 3 lodges currently existing on it’s 15,000 hectares, one of the things you can be guaranteed is that when you go out on safari here, you and your Ranger will have the place to yourself. Imagine that, a place in the heartland of South African wildlife conservation, adjoining the Kruger National Park, where you can roam to your hearts content and never see another soul. It truly is magical and an opportunity to stay here in the Blue Canyon is every naturalist’s dream.

photo (1)At the onset of the new millennium, the Blue Canyon Conservancy was born in the mind of conservation visionary, Mr Trevor Jordan who shared that dream with his trusted friends and neighbouring landowners. Together he believed they could create something special. He had long maintained a vision to join the Kruger National Park in the East with the Drakensberg mountains to the west. In essence this dream would allow for the free movement of Africa’s iconic species from summits of the Drakensberg mountains to the surf of the Mozambiquan beaches. What an amazing concept!! As a Game Ranger new to the Lowveld myself, I remember many years ago sitting and listening to him outline this conservation vision, not some whimsical ideal, but a genuine determination and steel eyed stare underpinned his passion for the concept. You could not help walking away feeling inspired, your brain spinning from the possibilities of the creation of wildlife corridors that would allow the recreation of historic elephant migratory paths which had long ceased to exist due to the incursions of mankind into these wildlife regions. In the intervening years, Trevor has become a trusted friend … and I don’t believe for one minute that this will be an idle dream. Already he has spearheaded the introduction of white rhino, black rhino, elephant and lion.  As we seek to conserve the wild areas on our planet, conservationists need to be bold, they need to dream and they need to dare!! In doing so, Trevor and those like him across South Africa have created iconic wildlife conservancies such as Thornybush Game Reserve, Phinda Game Conservancy and other legendary conservation strongholds that have become legendary the world over.

The creation of the Blue Canyon Conservancy was the first step in the dream to create what could become one of the largest and best protected wildlife refuges in Southern Africa. Trevor was joined by Dr Joos Scheepers and the Steinberg family, two of the largest landowners in the vicinity and together they, as the reseDSC_4685rve’s “Founding Fathers” began the process of creating the conservancy as we know today. Other landowners were won over and dropped their internal fences and today we see the results of their collaboration, and a conservancy that is set to become the jewel in the crown of South African Conservation. The conservancy membership is a dynamic body of landowners with a determination to succeed but it is going about doing so in a steady and ecologically sensitive manner. The members are supported by Tim Parker of Game Management Services, who executes the actions required from the conservancy’s long term strategic plan, and Mr Kevin Leo-Smith the founder of Phinda Game Conservancy and Conservation Africa who is providing on the ground ecological consultancy, having made his own home on the conservancy itself. It is in Tim’s hands that the ecological biodiversity of the reserve rests first and foremost. Veld management strategies and the management and introduction of species are the core responsibilities of Tim and his team. Added to that is the responsibility for protecting particularly the endangered species on the conservancy, especially as the wave of butchery, brought by the poaching syndicates satisfying the demands of the Far Eastern markets, continues to cripple the Limpopo province’s wildlife populations. With the community “coming together” of all our law enforcement agencies and anti-poaching units the task has been made far more unified than previously, if not any easier.

DSC_4208So what of it’s fauna, after all, that is the main purpose of anyone’s visit to this nirvana. From 2008 onwards, the conservancy began to flourish. The Trustees began with the introduction of a lion pride from Madikwe game Reserve in North West Province, and an elephant family group from the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Later this year we will introduce our second elephant herd from Thornybush Game Reserve which then delivers a firm foundation for a vibrant population of these magnificent creatures. Aside from guaranteeing memorable elephant encounters, these animals will be a huge aid to the ecological management of the reserve providing “natural bush clearing” in those areas that need it most. DSC_3899Our modest lion population has continued to enjoy the “fruits” of their new location as general game numbers across the reserve are very healthy, providing all our predators with nature’s larder in abundance. Retaining a modest lion population in the early years has allowed other predators to prosper without undue persecution from this apex predator. Wild dogs have become a regular sighting on the reserve and their numbers grow streakily as the BCC continues to provide ample potential den sites in a safe and protected environment. When one considers that this is perhaps the most endangered carnivore in Southern Africa with a national population of just over 400 individuals, to have a resident pack that we can enjoy viewing of on a regular basis is indeed a privilege. Continue reading

“Conservation Heroes”

DSC_1880 (1)Recent months have been a difficult time for many reserves in the Lowveld as they have strived to combat the scourge of the poaching epidemic sweeping through South Africa. Its a human disgrace. Nyumbani Estate is proud of the work undertaken by our anti-poaching team and is proud of it’s association and support of Rhino Revolution, the charitable foundation that has done much to support the work of the Reserve’s AP Team. The team currently have their operational base on the Nyumbani Estate property where we provide stabling for their horses also used in anti-poaching patrols.

But for many people, especially those outside of Africa, the story of these men and women across South Africa that risk their own lives in support of our wildlife, is largely unknown. What follows is an all to common story in many reserves in South Africa, it’s not any one specific reserve, but the story is commonly recounted around the Lowveld towns. From the anti-poaching heroes perspective, here’s what it feels like to to be a part of their world ….

“A loud “crack” pierces the still of the African night …. clearly audible are the high pitched screams from an animal taking it’s last breath. Their resounding echo chills you to the bone and a hushed silence now prevails around the bush. Another statistic is added to the greatest scourge in conservation in our lifetimes, another rhino lies dead, brutally mutilated for the sake of man’s greed. One more step is taken towards extinction by the last truly prehistoric mammal on African soil … the Black Rhino and White Rhino will soon be merely a book reference or “Google search” for the next generation of our children. It’s a conservation disaster, it’s a human disgrace.”

“A group of hardened, “DSC_2031battle scarred” men have spent the cold night searching the thick impenetrable bush, the least of their worries are the lions who lurk in the shadows watching their every move, another kind of predator, the human kind, is still out there and to avoid capture they will kill in a heartbeat. Early morning, tired and cold, our weary men come across the butcher’s shop left behind by the poachers. It’s a scene indescribable to civilized people. In the centre of the blood soaked earth lies the bloated remains of last night’s victim, a fDSC_2036emale white rhino. She died in agony at the hands of the poachers axe, her hysterical calf lies trying to suckle from her lifeless body. It’s a pittiful sight, but not an uncommon one to these men who are fighting a war on the ground in the name of “conservation” and whose every effort and sacrifice goes largely un-noticed by the rest of the world.”

While “politicians” debate the merits of Trade versus Anti-Trade, while landowners squabble over the merits of retaining rhino stock on their reserves and quibble over the budgets required to protect their animals, there is a group of men who selflessly risk their lives in the name of conservation. They go largely un-noticed, largely unappreciated and lay their life on the line to protect Africa’s iconic wildlife for a modest paycheck. It’s time that these guys get their moment in the spotlight ….. the men and women who protect our reserves, care for our wildlife, protect our lodges and homes. Thousands of people the world over reel daily at the horrors of poaching splashed across social media. The mutilated animal images have become common place. It’s time we honour those people who put their life on the line daily to support our ideals of conservation, who do the job most of us wouldn’t dream of doing and whose level of professionalism is largely unappreciated. They are the faces that you don’t see on social media.

DSC_1596Recently, I spent a day with the Anti-Poaching Team on the Blue Canyon Conservancy at their operational base on Nyumbani Estate. By anyone’s measure, it was a hot day!! For the guys in the team, about to undertake one of their regular training exercises, it was about to get much hotter!! What immediately strikes you is the level of dedication and professionalism of the team. As the poaching syndicates have increased in sophistication, so have the training demands on the team in order that they can stay on step ahead in the war on poaching. Training exercises during the day were mentally and physically testing.

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Good old fashioned drill, which many people will remember from military service days, still remains the hallmark for instilling discipline and teamwork within the unit. It was clearly a matter of personal pride for the team that they completed the drills efficiently and with a demonstration of team work that the military themselves would have been proud.

The team are all professionally accredited and approved by the South African Police Service for firearms use. It should be remembered of course that the use of firearms is only for their own personal protection. In South Africa, poachers are apprehended to be dealt with by the legal system. There is on “shoot on sight” policy whicDSC_1604 (1)h whilst being humanitarian, provides scant protection to the AP units in the field who have to be fired upon first before they can return fire. It is because of this that these training exercises need to focus on the ability to operate covertly in the bush and to apprehend offenders before an animal is harmed and before human lives are in danger. Being stretched physically and mentally, and then having to do your job in apprehending poachers is a truly admirable and brave skill in itself. It’s testament to the quality of training, the ability to gather quality intelligence and the level of skill within the teams themselves that nearly all incursions are defused before firearms are used in anger.

Land owners, home owners, and lodge owners within the Blue Canyon Conservancy have a huge debt to pay to the team. Their operational efficiency and the outstanding professionalism ensures our homes, our investment, our lives and our wildlife remain safe. They ask for little in return, but our respect and our support especially when the team is in need of small inexpensive equipment items is a small price to pay. If you can help and are willing to help in any way drop me a line here at Nyumbani Estate.

“Everyone associated with Nyumbani Estate are proud of each and every one of you. We salute the real heroes of wildlife conservation”

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“The Birth of A King”

Ask anyone coming on safari for the first time what they are waiting with baited breath to see … and almost without exception they will respond “Lions”!! Always a highlight of any safari adventure, what is extra special is the opportunity to view new born lion cubs in the wild. There is nothing more cute, and at times it seems absolutely impossible that something so small and defenceless can grow into the largest carnivore in Africa, with the temperament and ferocity to match.DSC_1634

The latest and most exciting news coming out of the Blue Canyon Conservancy is the birth and growing health of our long awaited lion cubs. We believe they are now at an age of about 14 weeks and all 3 individuals are reported by our field teams as doing fine. Sightings are, at this stage, only occasional, with the lioness still keeping an ever protective and watchful eye on her new charges. Most of our evidence to date is what we are gleaming from tracks (spoor) and from details taken from the kills the pride is making across the reserve.

As we have sought to establish the Conservancy with a wide ranging and strong population of general “plains game” (zebra, wildebeest, impala, nyala, kudu, giraffe etc), it has been necessary for us to “interfere” temporarily with the breeding insticts of our lion population using contraceptive techniques. Lions are prolific hunters and left to their own devices in the early stages of the conservancy would severely prohibit the proliferation of other species.

DSC_6022Lions are by nature highly social mammals. This very “closed family” structure is core to them being one of the most successful mammals in Africa and over a period of time, every lion within the pride develops into a core member of pride society. Lionesses have no real “breeding season” but females within the pride are able to syncronise their estrus (cycle) and thus be ready for mating and birthing at the same time. When females give birth to their cubs, the cubs themselves are able to suckle communally from the pride lionesses who have also given birth around the same time.Once the females reach the age of 4 years and enter estrus, which typically lasts around 4 days, the male will begin to copulate with the female approximately every 20 minutes for the entire period of estrus in order to induce ovulation. Once ovulation occurs the success rate for fertilisation is as high as 95% (one male was recorded as copulating 157 times in 55 hours!! … Quite a formidable task in anyone’s book!!)

Our core pride consists of a single male and 4 females. So now seems a good time to introduce you to our proud new parents …….

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Our new litter of lion cubs is of a standard and typical size, most females give birth 3 cubs and the interval between births is generally 20-30 months at which time the preceding cubs will be fully independent within the pride. Sadly, statistics show is that the survival rate of cubs is very poor, as more than 50% will die in the first year. Cubs are kept well hidden by the female during infancy whilst she goes off to hunt. They are unable to move independently with the pride until they are about 7 weeks old and are not weaned until they are approximately 7 months old.

This over reliance upon the parent for food and protection, whilst it generates strong bonds between adults and infants, exposes the cubs to the attention of predators such as hyaena and indeed other intruding male lions. Once they have established control of a pride by defeating the incumbent male, the new male will kill all the cubs less than a year old in order to bring the females within the pride back into estrus and thus produce his own cubs and secure his bloodline.

Only a few weeks ago I was treated to something very special indeed. I was able to take my leave from Nyumbani for a few days and visit neighbouring Kruger National Park. After all, It’s just a 20 minute journey away. Here, I was able to witness something so DSC_4375 (2)unique it is unlikely to be seen by most safari goers even once in a lifetime. Seeing a wounded lioness hobble across the road, it became evident from her wounds that she had been gored by a wildebeest whilst making a kill. But she was clearly lactating and producing milk for cubs which she was likely to have hidden nearby. Within seconds there was the excited “yapping” of youngsters hidden under a nearby bush. Just moments later, 4 young cubs appeared and I rubbed my eyes in amazement. All 4 cubs were different colours and one was a pure white lion cub, something that is so infrequent in the wild that recorded cases are confined to only one area in the world, the Timbavati Region of South Africa. The rarity of seeing such a cub at this age (4 to 5 weeks old) is such that the last recorded infant of this age was in 1968. Indeed only a few adults are even known to exist in the region as many people believe that their coloration makes then particularly prone to predation and even if they manage to reach sub-adulthood, stealth hunting may cause them come problems due to lack of camoflague.

What a treat!!

Whilst lions are top of everyone’s list of “must see” animals on a visit to Africa, they do very little except rest and sleep for up to 20 hours per day. Sometimes this can lead to a somewhat serene sighting, not a lot happening, but if you really immerse yourself in studying these amazing animals you will be rewarded with an understanding of one of the closest bonded social structures in the animal kingdomDSC_8448. You will have an insight into a world in which to survive to just 1 year old is a battle in itself, and to advance beyond that, particularly for male cubs, is an even greater challenge. No wonder then, when you have sight of your first proud fully grown male lion, you gaze in awe at his majestic appearance. The reach that point in his life he has survived the killing fields of his youth; been ejected from the pride by the age of 3 years; found comfort by bonding with other journeying males of the same age; hunted and provided for himself for years whilst building up the strength to challenge and oust a dominant pride male. That is a journey in itself ….. and one for a blog another day perhaps!! Watch this space for more updates on our new arrivals in the months to come.