With the festive season upon us and the end of the year approaching the Garonga Safari Team have looked back on the last 12 months and want to share some of our highlights with you all! We hope that you enjoy them as much as we did and we want to wish you all the best for the festive season and a very happy new year!
Jaff – Guide
For me my favourite thing about 2020 is that this is the first year that the buffalo have come and found the Garonga side of the reserve. I have been working here since 1997 and since that time we have not had buffalo here. After many years working to breed buffalo for the reserve, we released them into the reserve in June 2019. It was only in February this year when they first explored far enough into the reserve to find Garonga! I remember I did not have guests that day and it was in the early morning meeting when our hospitality manager told me that she had seen buffalo on her way into work that morning. I couldn’t believe it, I kept asking if she was sure that she had seen buffalo and that maybe could they have been wildebeest? She kept saying she was sure, but I was suspicious – she had come to work before the sun was fully up and in the dark I thought she had maybe mistaken the wildebeest for the buffalo. Then at around 10’o Clock that morning she called me urgently on the radio. I had to get to the main area right now! I rushed to come down thinking there was something wrong and there the whole herd of buffalo were at our camp waterhole! I could not believe it. They now spend a lot of time in and around Garonga, they have found our grass and they love it. It is exciting for me because it is easier for us to find them whilst they are up here and having them close to the lodge gives us a chance to spend more time with the buffalo and I am interested to seeing how their habits change as time goes on. They do of course move back south again but usually quite quickly they come back up here again. They must really enjoy the vegetation we have up here. I do cultural walks for the lodge and now I must be even more alert because we have the buffalo here!
Johnson – Guide
One of my highlights is a cheetah sighting that we had this year. One recent morning my tracker Phineas and I found tracks for two young cheetahs close to our own boom gate and they were heading East along our fenceline. Getting excited, we started to follow. After we passed Boulder’s Road the tracks headed into the bushes, Phineas and I left our guests in the vehicle and started to track them on foot. We tracked them for plus or minus 20 minutes and the tracks ended up heading back to the fenceline – so we went back to the vehicle and continued driving along the road. When we were about to get to Sunset Road we found them lying on the side of the road! We were very happy to have had a successful time with our tracking. The guests were very happy as they had really wanted to see cheetah during their stay. We started to settle into the sighting enjoying viewing the cheetah. We called in over the radio so other stations in the area could come and join us. While we were still watching the cheetahs, approximately 10 minutes later, we had a great surprise – the wild dogs arrived in our sighting! It was very interesting to see the different species of carnivores together in one sighting. The Wild Dogs were interested in and challenging the cheetahs and the cheetahs were doing exactly the same to the Wild Dogs! They looked like they wanted to fight each other. They kept pushing each other until the Wild Dogs lost interest and decided to run away from the cheetahs! The guests had such a special sighting and were very happy to have had the chance to see such unusual behaviour! When the Wild Dogs ran away we followed them until we couldn’t see them anymore and then we went back to the cheetahs who hadn’t moved at all!
Sophie – Guide
It has been difficult to sift through the amazing things that I have seen this year and to choose just one highlight to share with you, but the more I started to think the more one wintery morning began to stand out. Before I tell you what it is, I should confess that I am a sucker for baby animals. Take something that is supposed to be larger, miniaturise it and bam I’m in love. Don’t get me wrong it is not just the size that wins me over it is the behaviour. Baby animals are discovering the world, every day they see or smell something new, and because they get most of their nutrition from their mother’s milk they have time and energy to expend exploring their boundaries. This is typically when you see something magical take place.
In early March the reserve received amazing news. One of our white rhinos had had a calf! I was so excited about the incredible sightings we would have with our guests and then, of course, the national lockdown began. During the lockdown, we spent a lot of our time assisting the anti-poaching team, either checking our fences or following up on potentially “at risk” animals. So it was that one morning in early May, to my delight, we were looking for the female and her calf. Whilst we headed towards the last area where she had been sighted we came across the herd of buffalo who were happily resting and ruminating in one of the open clearings in the reserve. A herd of buffalo is always interesting to watch but on this day we had a mission. We passed through the herd and continued to look for tracks when suddenly something caught my eye. On the far side of the clearing there was the female rhino and her tiny calf! I was thrilled, she was finally out in the open so we would get a really good view of her calf. We approached carefully and were treated to a wonderful sighting of the calf gambolling alongside her mother. This had the potential to get very interesting – the rhinos were slowly moving towards where the buffalo were resting. It soon became apparent that the calf was in the mood to cause some mischief, she noticed a buffalo bull who was separate from the herd and moved over, as bold as brass, to investigate! The bull was not phased by the calf but the female rhino was careful to remain only a few steps behind the calf and he was giving her a wary stare! The calf seemed entirely oblivious to this and was convinced that, in spite of her diminutive size, it was her that the buffalo bull was afraid of. When things got too close for comfort the female rhino gave a soft warning snort and the buffalo raced to get away, running straight into a bush in his haste! The calf thought this was beyond brilliant and decided that her next target should be the entire herd of ruminating buffalos! I can only imagine what the calf’s mother must have been thinking! As they approached the herd, the younger buffalos saw the adult female rhino coming and immediately jumped up and ran off but the older buffalos seemed reluctant to move from their comfortable spots and the calf came almost nose to nose with another large buffalo before her mother came through and chased the herd off!! Combining some of my favourite elements of my job, baby animals and animal behaviour, this sighting has to take the prize of my 2020 highlight and is one that I will remember vividly for years to come! Check out the action for yourselves in the clip below!
Josia – Guide
If you have met me before you might expect that my favourite sighting of 2020 was a sighting of the lions because lions are my favourite animal. If I can see lions on every drive then I am a very happy man! But there were too many unbelievable lion sightings to choose between so just like being in the bush is unpredictable, so is my 2020 highlight! During the lockdown we spent a lot of time working on the roads around the reserve to clear any overhanging branches. We enjoyed this work a lot because we could see what a difference it was making. One day the magic of the bush was stronger than ever. It was unbelievable, while busy doing our bush clearing we heard a big disturbance close by and immediately went to try and find out what it was. I was hoping it might be lions that were making all the noise. When we got closer we found that it was not lions, instead we were blessed by a stunning male leopard sighting with a fresh steenbok kill! A steenbok is one of our smallest antelope so the leopard was probably taking it to some thick bushes to feed on instead of taking it up a tree like they do with bigger animals. It was great seeing a leopard dragging its carcass into the bush (leopard are secretive and very scared animals) we just missed to see when he made a kill, but that must have been what we heard. Sometimes we will see a mark on the road from where a leopard has dragged its kill across but to get to see the leopard actually doing the dragging is very special. To have a leopard sighting like made me feel very blessed because you don’t spot leopards easily!
Kaizer – Guide
Recently I saw something that I have never seen before in the 6-7 years that I have been working at Garonga! Seeing something brand new has got to be my 2020 highlight! In the rainy season we see different animals to other times of year. I had guests who were South African and, South African guests typically prefer to see the smaller things and learn about our “mutti” including things like our traditional uses of the trees. My guests had been already to Sabi Sands and told me that they had seen everything except for cheetah and lions (because lions they had only seen in the far distance) and asked if it would be possible to find them. My tracker Glandstone and I worked hard and found for the guests the cheetahs and the lions in our first drive together. The second drive we went on with them, they told me now they have seen the Big 5 they are interested to see the smaller and different things that we have in the bush. After a few minutes from leaving the lodge, 7-10 minutes from the camp at Tortoise pan I found 4 tortoises making a line or a queue as they were heading to the water! There was a big one at the front, two middle ones behind it and a baby one at the back. The guests were so excited to see something so unusual, and for me it was so special. Can you imagine working somewhere for 7 years and still finding something that is brand new? The guests wanted to have a closer look so I checked that it was safe and then jumped down with the guests. When we started to approach a bit closer to the tortoises they started to change in all directions so we moved back to the vehicle whilst the guests were excited taking lots of pictures! I will definitely remember 2020 being the year that I found something in the bush that I had never seen before.
Bongi – Tracker
My favourite sighting this year happened right in front of the camp. My guide Sophie and I had been trying to follow the tracks for the lions in the morning but had no luck. It looked like the lions were moving around a lot, maybe they were hunting. On our way back at the end of the morning drive we saw the breeding herd of buffalos in the place where we sometimes do a bush breakfast for guests. We sat with the buffalos and Sophie told the guests that they must watch the camp waterhole because most probably the buffalos would come to drink during the day. Before we left the camp some of our guests have told us they have seen the buffalos at the camp waterhole when they lions came also to drink. This was not long ago when the guests were enjoying their lunch so we decided to go there to see if we could find them. When we got to the waterhole the buffalo herd was at the water. We were hoping to see the lions in the open area where the guests have seen them.
Whilst we watched the buffalos some of the strong bulls were staying behind the herd and they were standing still and sniffing and staring into the bushes. Sophie said this was showing they had seen something dangerous. Now we knew the buffalo have seen something dangerous – it must have been the lions! We started moving around to see if we can see the lions. We moved slowly towards the thick bushes where the buffalo were looking trying to see the lions but we had no luck. We could not see through inside because it was so beautiful and thick with thick grass and leaves so the lions could easily hide inside without us seeing them. So we decided to wait and see if they came out while we were waiting, the buffalo was like the protector of the herd he didn’t want to go. Then the whole herd came back running with no sound to call them. They sniff around, sniff around and now there is nothing coming out. We ended up deciding to try the pathway to check if the lions had gone out the other side to get to the river. When we got out the lions came out behind us and starting to move back towards the thicket! From where we find them we tried to follow but we realised that they will appear on the open space where we started and we went to the other side to wait for them. We set the vehicle up and the lions came straight towards where we were waiting. Now the herd of buffalo had moved off. The lions were brother and sister and the female starts to play with her brother and starts playing and scratching her claws on the trees there and suddenly decided to try and climb the tree but she didn’t manage it very much! It seemed like the lions are very keen on trying to catch one of the buffalos – they are opportunistic and so if they had the chance they would have loved to have caught one! This sighting made me gain some experience on seeing the lions like seeing the buffalo sniffing around and then seeing the lions showed me that this is what their behaviour is showing us. This made me understand the experience that when we see the animals we must not just watch them for enjoyment but we must use watching them to learn the reason for what the animal is doing – this will help to keep us safe! This was my favourite thing that I learnt in 2020 and I will not forget it!
Glandstone – Tracker
For me my favourite sighting from this year is from just a few days ago. With our South African guests my guide Kaizer and I had an amazing sighting where we saw a whole crash of rhinos together. These animals are very endangered so seeing a group of them is very special. After seeing the rhinos, it was just after we had left the sighting I noticed some dung beetles – there were many many of them on the rhino dung! It was the first time for the guests to see so many in one place together – it was also the first time for me, it must have been because the dung was so very fresh! It was such an interesting thing to see that Kaizer and I checked the area was safe and then took the guests down from the vehicle to have a closer look. When we were watching the dung beetles it was so exciting, we had some beetles busy rolling and making balls and some were busy trying to steal the balls other beetles had rolled! There were some beetles that seemed to give up and fly off and then change their mind and fly back! The other dung beetles were busy mating – it was the first time I had seen this. There was so much happening it was amazing for me to watch. They were all busy with the dung and rolling balls trying to make a ball before the other dung beetles got the dung! Later that evening we went to have sundowners at a place called Paradise lookout, after such an amazing afternoon the view was the perfect way to end the day.
Phineas – Tracker
For my favourite sighting I remember an amazing one. The other day two guests came here for Garonga and they were asking to see the lions. I found the tracks close by the Garonga airstrip, I stopped my guide Johnson, and I tried to follow the tracks. He is trying to see the buffalos so I stop him and I follow these tracks and find they are heading more north towards Harry’s way. I follow a little bit, heading more along the road, before I left the road I keep calling to Johnson to tell him I saw the tracks and where I saw them. When I stopped to the curve of the road I saw the lion lying down just looking at me the lion has been hearing the voice coming from the radio. I stood very still and saw all the Garonga pride are lying down there with two tiny cubs so I pretend like I didn’t see the lions and Im going a little bit backwards and a little bit backwards until I find the open area to stay in safely waiting for Johnson. I keep calling my guide Johnson to say I have found them and I wait for him to come to the sighting. When Im staying a long time there the two sub-adult young males start to stalk me! One is coming straight to me and the other one is coming to the bush and hiding in the bush. I tried to chase them, first the one coming to me and then the other one. When this didn’t work I decided I needed to try to climb up the tree. The other male is starting to get the whole pride to circle me. The lioness and the two cubs are lying on the road now. Luckily my guide Johnson is coming, and is asking me saying “Phineas where are you?”. I say “Johnson keep coming I see your vehicle”. Johnson keeps saying “Where where?” I say “keep coming Johnson” and then he finds me – Im up the tree! When he realises this he drives close to the tree I come down and quickly jump inside the vehicle. The lions were very interested in the tree and even after I am back in the vehicle they keep staring at the tree. This is something that I will never forget – to be stalked by those young male lions and luckily I am very good at climbing!
Mpho – Tracker
I want to share with you my favourite sighting since I am working here at Garonga. It is my favourite sighting because it was so exciting and there were so many different species who were there together. My guide Jaff and I heard on the radio that the two big male lions had killed a giraffe! We were very excited to go and to show our guests. On the first day the lions ate the inner-stomach while we were watching. The following day we saw the tracks of the whole pride of lions coming from south to east and we followed the tracks, the tracks began pointing to the east and we kept following and stopping to listen and I heard a hyena calling so at that time we went straight to the carcass and found all of the lion pride together sharing the meat! It was very different when the whole pride was there than when it was just the two big male lions. While we were watching the lion pride feeding, the jackals, hyenas, and also vultures (with different species like lappet faced vultures, white backed and hooded vultures) came to join the sighting to see if there was anything for them to eat. None of the other animals could eat from the giraffe carcass while the lions were busy there so they had to wait. The hyenas did not want to wait and tried to steal some meat while the lions were busy. One of the big male lions was not happy with this and tried to chase all of the hyenas away! What I found so interesting was to see the lions sharing the meat and all of the sounds they made – and also the hyenas trying to take the meat so the sight of the big male trying to chase them all away!
We hope that you have enjoyed reading about some of our favourite moments from 2020 and that you have many of your own as well! Finally we would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! We hope that 2021 will bring even more incredible moments and that you will be here to share them with us!
The Garonga Safari Team!