“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 …….


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.

“Tuskers and Trunks”

As we move into 2015 at pace, one of this years undoubted highlights at Nyumbani will be the introduction of a further elephant herd from a neighbouring reserve to boost our current population. It brings not just even greater opportunity to observe these amazing creatures around the Reserve, but further genetic diversity to our current population. Currently we have a single mature bull and 14 strong breeding herd on the Reserve and we are rewarded with regular sightings of these animals on Nyumbani. They clearly have always held an affection of the south east section of the Reserve and thus are often found helping me with the bush clearing on the farm as they are more than partial to uprooting the occasional tree!! Sadly, many people view this as a reason to excessively limit the number of elephant on their properties, but these animals play a huge part in ecological cycle of the land and whilst there are casualties in respect of some of the trees, this in turn provides habitat for other smaller mammals and reptiles and in due course, returns further nutrients to the soils. Serious habitat degradation only occurs when confined populations of elephants are improperly managed. Definitely not the case on the Blue Canyon Conservancy.

DSC_0127 (1) The basic unit of elephant society is a breeding herd which consists of a “family group” of related adult females with their accompanying offspring. The group is led by the oldest female, the matriarch, whose role in the survival and wellbeing of the herd is considerable. It’s acknowledged that the survival rate in calves is greatly enhanced by the attendance of older and more experienced matriarchs. The Blue Canyon Conservancy also has a dominant bull who only joins the family group when one of the resident females is ready to breed. Male society in elephants differs from that of females considerably. The young bulls will stay with their mother until they reach adolescence in their early teens. At this stage they will be expelled from the herd, albeit reluctantly. What then follows is a difficult period for these young males when they will tail the herd from a distance, with any attempt to rejoin firmly rebuffed by his mother. Eventually the expelled young males will come into contact with the dominant bull in the area and he will take on the role of “askari”, a protector and teacher of “good manners”!! As soon as the young bull is ready to mate he will also only rejoin a herd for the purpose of breeding, preferring the company of one of two other males for the rest of the time and perhaps in his latter years, he will become mostly solitary. DSC_0299 Elephants are not territorial animals but in essence operate over what is known as a “home range”. They will move considerable distances throughout their home range in their quest for both food and water. The knowledge of feeding ground and especially water sources in the dry barren months sits with the matriarch and the other senior cows, hence their role in being pivotal to the long term well being of the family group. The herd is very attached to their home range and is very reluctant to move to new habitat even when the local food supply is low. This is therefore the fundamental reason for the preference of our own herd for the south eastern corner of the reserve. Whilst we do see occasional wider movement of the herd, it is minimal and therefore the introduction of a further herd is key to the wider distribution of the species across our 16,000 hectares. When food and water are available most herds move up to about 6km per day but in the drier months this can increase to 40km or more, depending upon the ability of any young calves and their ability to keep up with the herd. Bulls will cover a much greater distance in search for food, water and also receptive females … up to 200km in some recorded instances. Water is not as critical as many people believe and whilst, by choice, elephants will go to water every day and consume between 70-100 litres of water, in drier conditions they will sometimes go for up to 3 days without drinking. A large bull will drink up to 100 litres at one time and up to 250 litres per day!! That’s quite some thirst!!

Most of our guests are surprised to find out that an elephant can have a very varied diet, very much dependent upon local conditions and ranging from nuts, leaves, grass as well as tree branches. Now we can begin to understand the benefit of having that versatile trunk which is capable of picking up a single nut off the ground with a finger like action, to shredding leaves from the branch of trees or ripping up roots. Given their comparative size, they eat surprisingly little; around 5% of their total body mass, on average around 200kg of food matter per day. In all, elephants can spend up to 16 hours per day feeding and such frenzied activity naturally has it’s consequences … the expulsion of up to 155kgs of dung every day!! DSC_4149_HDR In 2014 we witnessed the birth of our first calf here on the Blue Canyon Conservancy. It was quite a moment when we were at last allowed to get our first fleeting glance of the youngster as it busied around underneath it’s mother, surrounded by the protective wall of it’s older siblings and carers. Elephant cows typically are receptive to breeding when they reach 10-11 years and what then follows a successful mating is a pregnancy of some 22 months. What then begins is a bond between mother and calf that can last for 50 years. DSC_4208 For me, elephants remain the quintessential image of Africa. No holiday or visit to Africa can be said to be complete without witnessing the beauty of these majestic animals. Maybe you will be able to join me at Nyumbani this year when we introduce our new herd? It will be the experience of a lifetime that is for sure.

“Predator or Prey”

I was recently privileged to attend an exhibition in Hoedspruit town by my good friend Warren Carey, a wildlife artist of outstanding talent whose work is considerably in demand internationally. He titled his exhibition “Predator or Prey” and was joined in the exhibition by international film maker Kim Wolhuter whose dramatic films on the predators of Africa have graced the screens of homes the world over, and whose grandfather was the game ranger legend, Harry Wolhuter who survived a lion attack in the early days of the Kruger National Park. It was a memorable night, one that gave us locals a perfect excuse to get together and enjoy a glass of wine, some food and to swop recent bush stories. As I wandered around catching up with friends, the talk of lions, leopards, wild dogs, and hyaena filled the walkways of the town and it made me stop and think how lucky we all were to live “inside” our own wildlife documentary!!P or P Invitation3 Print

Predators inhabit the darkest corners of our nightmares. From an early age; books, films and documentaries instill a fear of these animals and a belief that to co-exist with them threatens our very safety. We’ve developed both an instinctive fear and, in equal measure, a fascination of these animals that has lead to them being the most sought after species by our safari guests. This primeval fear, many anthropologists believe, dates back to the days of our hunter gatherer ancestors who battled for their own survival alongside them. It is a primeval fear that derives a curiosity that is hard to resist. It’s the very thing that engenders such a fascination of the “big cats” by our safari visitors during the year.

Here on the Blue Canyon Conservancy we are blessed to have a thriving general predator population. Yes we’d all love to have more lions, who wouldn’t, they are such magnificent animals and an undeniable draw card for residents and lodge guests alike. But it’s important for us to consider the bigger picture and the development of the conservancy’s long term plan in understanding why today, our lion population is limited to a single (very handsome!!) male and his three female companions. So why is this the case, and what is the optimum carrying capacity of lions for the Blue Canyon’s 16,000 hectares?DSC_3899

In considering the answer to this question one needs to look at the history of the BCC and the success of our plan to date in establishing strong populations of general game species. The current lion population was introduced to the conservancy in late 2008, joining us from their previous home in Madikwe Game Reserve in the North West Province. This introduction, alongside the elephant introduction from the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, signaled the birth of the conservancy proper, even though the internal fences between the constituent farms of the BCC had been removed a number of years previously. In the intervening years the general game had gained the freedom to cross previous boundaries and to wander further afield in search of better grazing and browsing. With the absence of apex predators, our wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, kudu, and impala numbers had begun to grow at pace and the landscape as a result had begun to alter with the effects of increased general game activity. The introduction of predators such as lions allows the natural control of these growing populations, far better than having to regulate the same with human interference.

That said, when I first to drive throughout the reserve in early 2010, what was an immediate surprise to me was the relative absence of hyaena. Sure, there was the occasional call which remains the quintessential sound of the African night around your campfire, and also an occasional sighting, but for the most part they were noticeable by their absence. Furthermore, when I came across evidence of leopard kills they were almost always on the ground, and not hoisted into the branches of trees as you would expect. But this is not an accident and indeed it represents strong evidence of low hyaena numbers in the area. If leopard are not being subjected to “pressure” from scavenging hyaena they instinctively kill and eat their prey on the ground, moving on at their leisure. In these circumstances, it’s a nice life for a leopard and also promotes a secure environment for them to raise their cubs without fear of loss to marauding hyaena.DSC_3346

So what has this got to do with our lion population I hear you ask? Put simply, lions and hyaena are eternal enemies. Furthermore, hyaena often struggle initially to establish themselves in an area where there is much lion activity. Lions will seek out and kill hyaena cubs and, if opportunity presents itself, will even target adults. Likewise when hyaena populations are strong enough they will too will seek out lion cubs and instinctively kill them, and use their strength in numbers to target adult lions also.DSC_3469

This is when having a very specific conservancy management, detailing your strategy to maintain the effective predators and prey population balance within your conservancy management plan comes to the fore. In our case it has been necessary in the early years of the conservancy to encourage the establishment of larger general game concentrations throughout the reserve, whilst at the same time artificially holding down the number of apex predators, specifically lions. In doing so, we have also been able to encourage the growth of our hyaena population in clans throughout the reserve, without too much persecution from lions. This has been a steady process, with not too much success in the early years, but in the past 2 years we have been delighted at the extent to which our hyaena population has flourished. Sightings are now common place in some areas where they have become accustomed to the sight and “smell” of our game vehicles are are incredibly relaxed around our guests. There numbers appear to be increasing over the seasons and as a consequence, guess what?? Leopard kills have appeared in the occasional tree!!

If we think of the establishment of predator densities on the reserve in terms of a pyramid, with lions sitting at the apex of the pyramid, we can safely concur that our efforts to establish a flourishing population of lower ranking predators such as hyaena, leopard, wild dogs etc have been extremely successful. The density of general game has provided excellent “non competitive” hunting grounds for these secondary predators, all of whom are well established now and breeding cooperatively.

The next stage of the predator management plan will inevitably involve the re-introduction of a new lion “bloodline” in terms of potentially new females and a possible young male coalition. This takes time, and isn’t an overnight win which sometimes frustrates those people in search of lions, lions, lions!! But wildlife management is about keeping the focus on the bigger picture and we should all currently focus on the fact that the nirvana that has been created by our farm management team has delivered a habitat that will ultimately become a playground for a diversity of wildlife, including multiple lion prides and coalitions. What we have now, already, is a wildlife watching experience that represents the true diversity of incredible species that South Africa has to offer.

So what are you waiting for? Why not come and pay us a visit … I guarantee you will begin a love affair with this place that will mean you just have to own a home here!! I would love to have the opportunity to show you around “my office”!!.

“Rhinos and Racehorses – A Conservation Success Story”

First of all … Happy New Year!! Everyone associated with Nyumbani wishes you, your families and loved ones the most prosperous of times in 2015. We hope that the year brings you many blessings and for those yet to visit us here in South Africa, we hope to get a chance to meet with you in our piece of African paradise during the year.

Here at Nyumbani, conservation is at the core of everything we do in terms of the estate development and as such we are delighted to be associated with Rhino Revolution who we have adopted as our conservation partner. They have proved a formidable force in the protection of rhino across the Province and especially in the Blue Canyon Conservancy where their efforts have been a huge factor in the continued protection of our rhino population. Our Estate Manager, Chris Martin, is the CEO of the non-profit organisation which is really leading the way in demonstrating how effective community involvement can be in combating rhino poaching.

Rhino Revolution Logo copy

Rhino Revolution was founded in 2011 by concerned community members alongside rhino owners at a time when the slaughter of rhino had taken a horrific rise in the Hoedspruit area, Rhino Revolution publicly sounded the call that rhino poaching will NOT be tolerated any further. With a regional population of only 400 rhino remaining the Rhino Revolution “movement” presented a strategic plan which underscored a long term vision to protect and grow the population of rhino to a sustainable number and in doing so provide a natural environment where their safety could be secured. The plan sought to address both the short term need to save the rhino alongside a much broader and deeper educational need to demonstrate to the broader community the value of wildlife to the economic development of their home province. It’s message is simple, demonstrate the sustainable income to community members from wildlife tourism which in turn increases the overall distribution of wealth in rural areas.

Tim Parker Leads the team into action.

Tim Parker Leads the team into action.

One of the innovative ways in which Rhino Revolution seeks to protect the rhino within the Blue Canyon Conservancy has been by introducing ex-racehorses from the racing stables of Lisa Harris Racing in Harare, Zimbabwe. These horses are being used in riding patrols to track poachers and to continually sweep the reserve for snares. It is here that Nyumbani has been able to make it’s greatest contribution by making land available within the Estate for the creation of a “Fly Camp” to house the horses and anti-poaching unit whilst on overnight forays around the Reserve. Head Ranger, Tim Parker, heads the anti-poaching unit on the Blue Canyon Reserve and on a daily basis his rangers head deep into the bush on a mission to deter even the most ardent of poachers. “The horses offer a lot more diversity than just walking. The height advantage for tracking plays a huge factor, you can cover a lot more terrain, you can get into broken ground where vehicles can’t get to. They’re silent when you’re walking, and the big factor is that you don’t get tired because the horses are doing the work for you.” Champion racehorse trainer Lisa Harris brought the horses to South Africa from Zimbabwe more than a year ago to help Rhino Revolution in its fight to protect rhinos in the area. Since the launch of Rhino Revolution’s mounted anti-poaching unit, not a single rhino has been lost on the reserve. In a discussion recently with Lisa Harris she highlighted that the poachers are very aware that they’re here … and they’re a little bit scared of these big horses. Racehorses have an undeserving reputation as these big fearful things and so poachers are quite nervous about encountering them.”

Initially there was concerns around how the horses themselves would adapt to their new surroundings, particularly given the presence of predators on the Reserve. “It was a new environment for them, so they were seeing animals that they’d never seen before. Walking in terrain that they’d never walked in before. But they settled in remarkably well,” Tim Parker commented to me recently

Here at Nyumbani we are just delighted that we have been able to help out the team in such a practical manner. Indeed in recent weeks we have just undertaken a rebuild of the stables themselves and the building, surrounded by it’s lion proof fence is now a highly secure base. In the bush camp area were the rangers overnight after a long day in the saddle, we have installed solar power to ensure they have access to basic electricity for communications, lighting and for cooking. One of your highlights during a stay at Nyumbani is inevitably a sighting of these majestic animals that pre-date mankind itself. Only by applying the strictest of conservation philosophies do we have the capability to ensure that we, as a species, now don’t outlive the the rhino itself.

IMG_3036In 2014, Chris and Tim combined forces to undertake the dehorning of all the rhino on the Blue Canyon Conservancy. Guests were treated to “day safaris” during which they were able to work alongside the ground crew in undertaking this exercise. The opportunity to touch and feel such a magnificent animal was, for many, a very emotional moment in their lives. Large and ferocious looking, nothing could be further from the truth as these white rhino are in fact very relaxed and docile animals which are very trusting of humankind. Sadly this has been a contributing factor in their demise.

If anyone would like any further details on the work of Rhino Revolution, please drop Chris Martin a line here at Nyumbani and he’d be delighted to answer any questions you might have. In the meantime, our team of “War Horses” continue to defend our reserve from anyone who would wish to disturb the tranquility that is Nyumbani and the Blue Canyon Conservancy.


“The Night of the Pangolin”

Undoubtedly, the highlight of most guests’ safari in Africa, is the sight of a wild African lion on the hunt, or a herd of elephants moving majestically across the plains. These are the truly evocative African images that we all fall asleep thinking about. They shape our dreams of that first, or indeed next, safari in Africa. The popularisation of wildlife documentaries the world over has allowed people to witness, intimately, some of these majestic scenes and in doing so romanticises the view of a safari holiday in Africa. For me and my guiding colleagues on Nyumbani, the same holds true, but we dream also of sightings, of the rarest nocturnal animals, the one’s we know we have little chance of ever seeing. The joy of being able to share such a special sighting with your guests is immeasurable. But this is a story not so much of never giving up … but of never saying never!! You truly just do not know what will be around the next corner.


For me, my nemesis has always been getting my first sighting of the elusive nocturnal Pangolin (Manis temminckii). So elusive has been my search for this animal over the past 20 years, that I began to believe it only existed in the place where unicorns live. My hopes and dreams were only kept alive by the very rare occurrence when a ranger colleague of mine, often on the way home from a boozy braii in the bush, stumbled across one in his path. Their descriptions of the elation they had in seeing this animal only served to ignite jealousy in me, and furthered my desire to find one myself on day. There are only 4 species of pangolin (also known as scaly anteaters) living on the African continent. Southern Africa, has only the one species which is ground dwelling, lives in burrows and forages only at night for ants and termites.


The pangolin has no teeth, just a long 25cm sticky tongue to collect their prey after they have dug them from the ground with their strong sharp claws. What is peculiar for a mammal, is the fact that they don’t have loose hair covering their body, but have scales made from keratin which provide them with an armour plating which makes them look like reptiles in appearance. This tough exterior provides a unique protection for the pangolin as when under threat, it merely rolls itself into a tight ball to protect it’s softer undersides. When it is mobile, it often walks on it’s knuckles or its back legs, using it’s long tail for balance, thereby preventing wear and tear on those critical digging claws. Sadly, it biggest threat comes from man. Firstly they are poached extensively for their scales which are used in far eastern medicines. The South African population has been decimated as a result. Where they have not been poached, they have fallen victim to the electric fencing that surrounds game reserves as they attempt to burrow outside the confines of the reserves. A few months ago I was guiding a young couple on safari, on the anniversary of their wedding a year ago to the date. An amazing Brazilian couple who had already fallen in love with Africa within just a few days of arriving. I had been photographing 2 male cheetah earlier that day and I thought it would be a very special privilege to be able to share the experience of walking with these special creatures with this devoted couple. The smiles on their faces were reward enough for any guide and we left these special animals to enjoy our sunset over the Drakensburg with a vintage champagne to toast their continued happiness and a long life full of adventures. Long after dark, as we neared the lodge and a welcome return home for dinner, the radio crackled into life and it was my good friend Pierre, who was also guiding clients that evening on the reserve. The news that he had found me that elusive pangolin had my heart racing. But what of my guests? Had they even heard of a pangolin before? How did I convince them to turn around from the warmth of the lodge fireplace and head back out for a 30 minute drive south to check out this creature? I need not have worried. As soon as I told of my story, of my 20 year odyssey to see this elusive animal, they wanted to share the adventure. As we drove up to the sighting, Pierre’s vehicle was backlighting the creature which lay stationary, curled up tightly in the middle of the track. It gave the whole experience and unearthly appearance. Something quite extra-terrestrial in a way. My quest was over. I had my first pangolin sighting and I got to share it with people from the other side of the world who left me the next day with a vision of the beauty of Africa that went way beyond seeing a lion or an elephant. I heard them the next morning regaling their pangolin story to their fellow guests with as much excitement as I had done the night before when I retuned to the lodge.


Chris Martin … elated with his first Pangolin!!

So when you join me and my team for your safari at Nyumbani Estate, remember this story. Every bend in the road holds the possibility of the greatest of surprises; you can never relax and let down your guard; never get too complacent … because just as you do, just as you think that Mama Africa hides away her greatest secrets, she lets you into her most intimate nocturnal domain and leaves you with a memory that goes beyond priceless!!

“Weaving Your Way into your Lady’s Heart”

Many of you will have been glued to your TV sets in recent weeks, following the latest David Attenborough series, “One Life”, produced by the BBC Natural History Unit. Each year we marvel at the quality of the camera work produced by the team and the intimate way in which they open up the natural world for us all to appreciate in a way in which has never been done before. The standard produced by the team as a whole sets the bench mark for wildlife film making the world over and, as a result of their work, people the world over have come to explore Africa, fallen in love with our landscape and grown to appreciate deeply our flora and fauna; all without leaving the comfort of their armchairs. The BBC team are frequent visitors to the Hoedspruit area, and have even been known to do location work on the Blue Canyon Conservancy. Indeed, last year I was treated to an “inside view” of how they produce these nature epics, when the BBC came to town looking for a likely location for the filming of the “weaver nest building sequence” that was featured in Episode 2 of the series. After having failed to locate a suitable nesting site during the previous week, I received a call to discuss a possible location that the film crew might use as they were down to their last week of scheduled filming. A location on the edge of the Blue Canyon Conservancy seemed the logical choice as I was able to show the team some nesting Southern Masked Weavers hard at work on the construction phase of their nests. The rest is history, and the extreme slow motion film footage, have you not seen it as yet, is unmissable!! DSC_3261 One of the great joys of my early morning summer forays around Nyumbani, is stopping for coffee at one of my favourite dams. Generally, most rangers have been working since way before dawn, and when I kick back and sip on my coffee my friends and family in the city are just hitting the snooze buttons on their alarm clocks!! Here, before the heat of the day has taken a hold, I have time to think, soak up a bit of the peace and quiet that Nyumbani has to offer, and generally nearly always find myself doing a bit of birdwatching. But on an early summer morning, peace and quiet is a rare commodity in the weaver colonies at the water’s edge. It’s the time of the year for breeding and attracting a mate, and for the strikingly colourful weaver the only way in which to secure the “prize” female is to demonstrate your house building skills. There’s no substitute for poor DIY skills here at the dam, you’ll just end up with nothing more than a lonely life with no son and heir!! DSC_3897 The male of each species use their intricate nest weaving skills to secure his lady of choice. Whilst each species has a design unique to themselves, in essence each of them share an incredible capacity to weave the most intricate of structures. When their new home is completed, the male then hangs upside down at the entrance flapping his wings excitedly trying to attract his female to inspect his handiwork. Females fly by surveying the best options available to them on the “property market”. A quick inspection confirms all her criteria have been met. Those that fail the test, have their nest destroyed and knocked from the tree. Watching their hard work floating away across the dam must be somewhat heartbreaking. The male that she deems to have the best home building skills is the one which she will select. The strength and firmness of the nest is the key criteria as this will ensure the safety of her clutch of eggs and the ensuing offspring. The final “furnishings” to the nest will be supplied by the female who will line the nest with soft materials before laying her eggs. An interesting study was commissioned to determine whether nest building is a skill that these birds learn, or whether it is an innate skill they have from birth. Guess what?? Hand reared birds were able to build a fully functioning nest from the outset without mentoring from older birds. It showed also that over time the birds refined their technique to build a more sturdy structure but it’s incredible that chicks are born with the nest building skill imprinted in their DNA!! I’m glad that when I completed my home on the Blue Canyon Conservancy that my wife concurred that it was a nice structure and didn’t proceed to pull it down!! Nevertheless, all Nyumbani homeowners should be aware that sign off for all prospective homes on the reserve is the absolute preserve of the of the lady of the household!!

“The Arrival of Summer at Nyumbani”

The arrival of summer in the Lowveld Region surrounding Nyumbani is a time of great excitement amongst residents. The temperature has been building for weeks as winter fades to a distant memory, and boiling cumulus clouds build in the sky above the Drakensberg Escarpment to the West. Rain is on it’s way … and we know it is only a matter of time.

Plants appear in abundance and the grey and brown shades of winter in the Bushveld slowly begin to disappear. The chlorophyll in the plants restarts the process of photosynthesis and over time roots and stems are replenished to enable life to prosper even in the event that we have a drier than normal summer, and may indeed experience a drought. We associate summer with an abundance of beauty and splendor in the Bush. With increasing moisture in the soils we revel in the new carpet of grass that miraculously appears and the expanding tree canopies await the return of the migrant birds from North and Central Africa as well as Europe. The tress begin to produce their crop of fruits and seeds and thus the cycle of life repeats itself. Food is plentiful for mammals, birds and indeed humans alike.


Summer is a time when life returns to the bush. This week on my travels around the Nyumbani Estate, these first signs of the return of summer had a profound effect on me. As guides, we await especially the arrival of the new born antelope, specifically the impala young, as this truly represents the return of summer. During April most territorial males have established their patch to hold and defend from interlopers. They begin their display and advertise their territories to the surrounding females that, almost at once and in unison, come into oestrus. The sounds of explosive barking and grunting fill the April air as the process plays out.

Syncronised mating by the dominant male with the females in his harem then begins which gives rise 7 months later to an explosion in the number of fawns, which are all born within a 2-3 week period in November, just as the rains arrive in the bushveld. Mass birthing is a clever survival strategy for impala as the proliferation of new born confuses predators and ensures that a large proportion of the young survive their most vulnerable stage. No wonder then that the impala, despite being dismissed all to casually by visitors as a result of it’s extensive numbers, is viewed by conservationists as the “perfect antelope” Indeed fossil evidence suggests that the modern impala has remained unchanged for over 6.5 million years and indeed is the only indigenous South African mammal to have increased it’s numbers and broadened it’s range over the last century.


This is my favourite, most eagerly anticipated time of the year. The freshness of the veld and the air rejuvinates you as the dusty air of the winter is cleaned and you can smell the freshness of new life around you. As I write this blog entry, a Woodland Kingfisher has arrived on a tree branch outside my office window. He looks rested after his long trip down from Central Africa where he has over-wintered. His shrill call will be my constant companion as I journey across Nyumbani in the months to come.