by Derrick Nyathi and Kaizer Mathebula, guide and tracker at Garonga
It was one of those mornings where the bush was alive and bristling with activity. We could barely move without seeing animals.
After a few days of careful tracking, we had found a young female cheetah. We enjoyed a lovely relaxed sighting where she was lying down, looking to all the world like she was fast asleep when, suddenly, her head popped up. With her incredible sense of hearing she had heard something moving through the bush.
Gone was her lazy demeanour as she was up and stalking through the bush in one single movement. To us it was a mystery what she had heard; a cheetah’s hearing is far more acute than a human’s and we could neither see nor hear what she was following. Whatever it was though was clearly something delicious!
Whilst we were following her, she put on a burst of speed and disappeared! And so the search for her began again. We picked up her tracks and then in the background we heard the impalas’ alarm calling so we had our direction and raced off! Unfortunately, as a young cheetah, she was still learning to perfect her hunting technique. She had detected a bachelor herd of impalas, stalked them excellently but had gotten ahead of herself and become exposed.
Like their big cat predators, impalas also have fantastic senses. As an animal that is on everyone’s menu, they have to be constantly on alert and luckily for the males that morning, they had spotted the hungry female cheetah as she approached them. After spotting her they sounded their alarm call, which let both the cheetah and us know that the impalas had seen her and the jig was up!
At this point, the cheetah had no choice but to move off as the noise was likely to draw the attention of other predators. That could be very dangerous for the cheetah because any of those predators entering the scene would see her as competition for food and attack her.
Looking sad that she hadn’t managed to catch herself a tasty breakfast, she skulked off into the bushes to try her luck somewhere else.
One morning in mid-January, on a game drive with guests, we spotted some tracks of the two dominant male lions of the Garonga pride but didn’t follow up as they were walking in a very thick area that we decided was too dangerous for us to venture into.
In the afternoon, we set off with the idea that we would drive around the area where we had seen the male lion tracks. As we left the lodge it started raining so I turned around to the guests to tell them that with the rain the chances of us trying to track the two male lions would be extremely difficult as the rain ages and washes the tracks away.
We went to the area where we last saw the tracks of the male lions but couldn’t see if they had crossed any road; at this point, the tracks no longer looked like tracks but just a bunch of raindrops. An elephant bull had been called in on the radio and we had already decided that if our gut feeling wasn’t right after checking one last road in that area, we would go to the elephant bull.
As we were driving, Stuart, and his amazing ability to spot animals from miles away, turned around with a huge grin on his face saying “Lion! Males! Two of them!” As you can imagine, the guests were so excited, and I was shocked that without tracking we had still managed to find these male lions!
As we drove a little closer Stuart smiled and said, “and the Garonga pride!”.
We sat in amazement as the six cubs played with one another, the mothers looking up from time to time making sure that the older cubs, that are about seven months now, were not being too rough with the younger cubs that are now around four and two months old.
The males got up a few times to change their position, which allowed us to take some fantastic photos.
It was a wonderful drive after all, even if we did get a little wet and saw very few impala!
This is the last of the blog series “Behind the Scenes” that has featured the 12 teams working collectively ensure Garonga’s continued success. This is the hard work that guests often don’t know about but get to experience the results first-hand at the safari camp.
WildWeb, owned and managed by Paul Changuion, is a Web Design and Digital Marketing Agency based in Durban, South Africa. They have represented Garonga Safari Camp for many years now, and are both a highly experienced team and personable group of people to work with.
In 2000, Paul turned his love for the African bushveld into his dream company – WildWeb. Paul has vast experience in online marketing of safari operations in Southern and Eastern Africa.
We work with all the teams at WildWeb, as they manage and maintain all our web-based platforms and online content. They are responsible for our website design and maintenance, digital marketing – including blogs and social media – and generally keeping together any web-based information such as on TripAdvisor and online itinerary builder, WETU.
Website Design & Development Team
Jono Bouwmeester: Jono brings both technical know-how and design flare to his position as Head of the Design and Development Team at WildWeb.
David Reynolds: Also a long-standing member of the WildWeb family, David is the SEO guru of the company and supports web design and maintenance by installing all updates to keep Garonga’s website up-to-date.
Shannon Govender: Shannon is a designer and front-end developer at WildWeb. With over 10 years experience in the advertising and media industry, he is an expert in graphic and web design, printing, animation and game development.
Mystic Mendes: As a Level 5 Programmer, web development runs deep in Mystic’s veins. So when he’s not at WildWeb, he’s either dreaming about programming or updating himself on what’s new in this field.
Digital Marketing Team
Kelly Robertson: A travel enthusiast of note with a deep love for all things content, Kelly heads up the Digital Marketing Team from her base in Johannesburg.
Anna da Graça: Anna has a strong background in public relations, events management and strategic marketing development. Having been born and raised in England, Anna brings unique insight to inform Garonga’s online presence.
Nelli Rose-Innes: The master of paid advertising at WildWeb, Nelli looks after Garonga’s online presence, particularly making sure more people find out about us. She keeps abreast of all online information trends so that we stay ahead of the curb.
Claire Birtwhistle: Claire is a professional photographer with a penchant for safari photography – check out our galleries to see some of Claire’s work. Along with her creative talents, she is also well-versed in strategic marketing across digital platforms.
Elrika Geyser: With a Public Relations Degree and marketing experience under her belt, Elrika is equipped to create authentic content and managing winning social media campaigns.
Megan Lewis: A complete word-nerd with a background in communications, public relations and marketing, Megan is in her element when exploring different countries or writing about all things travel.
Digital Direct Team
Claire Long: Claire has extensive experience in the travel industry and has also spent time living abroad, which she brings to her position as Reservations Specialist for Garonga at WildWeb.
Jennifer Harmse: With a Diploma in International Tourism, Jennifer loves helping people realise their travel dreams as a Reservations Specialist. Along with Claire, you’ll probably chat to Jennifer at some point when booking at Garonga.
Garonga’s authentic online presence is aligned perfectly to our offline safari experience thanks to WildWeb.
Just when you didn’t think your safari could get any more relaxing, we go and prove you wrong!
Here at Garonga we pride ourselves on our motto of being a ‘Safari for the Soul’. While the Big Five game drives and encounters with wildlife is a huge drawcard, it’s only half the safari experience at Garonga. Equally important is slowing down the pace of life, nurturing yourself, and ‘resetting your system’, so to speak.
That’s, of course, why we offer the Bush Bath and Sleep Out Deck, which are complimented by luxurious accommodation and nourishing, hearty food. And it doesn’t stop there. A stay at Garonga isn’t complete without a visit to the Massage Sala, and not to worry, very few people come out without a bad case of ‘pillow face’.
We’ve upped the relaxation ante with two new features added to the revamped existing luxury facilities:
It’s time to get starry-eyed! We bring you the dreamy Star Bath – a whole new alfresco bathing experience. We’ve added a special touch to the original Bush Bath experience. Now you can get lost in the view of a dazzling African night sky as well as our very own galaxy of twinkling stars, all in complete privacy. Soak away your troubles, let go and look back on the sightings and experiences of the day with a glass of wine in hand. It sounds like bliss because it is!
Those already familiar with the practice of mindfulness and meditation, or those that just love a good stretch or daytime nap, will be excited to see our new Yoga Deck. An enclosed tented structure designed to allow air to flow freely, perfectly frames an exquisite view of the valley. You can step onto the mat and practice in privacy surrounded by only the peaceful sounds of the surrounding bush. If you’re lucky you might even get some of the local wildlife passing by!
Not forgetting our existing Bush Bath, which continues to be a much-loved feature at Garonga. It received the full luxury treatment and make-over with a brand-new freestanding bath.
If you’re looking to leave your troubles behind, completely unwind and indulge your senses, then we can certainly help you by offering the ultimate in soulful spa/safari experience.
The Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve (GMPGR), together with the Pidwa Wilderness Reserve forms the Greater Makalali Nature Reserve (GMNR), is a 22,000-ha game reserve situated outside Gravelotte in the Limpopo Province. The reserve has seven owners who have retained ownership of their individual properties but have removed fences to create a conservancy allowing game to traverse the entire extent of the reserve.
The reserve is home to the Big 5, with previously eradicated species including lion, elephant, rhino, hippo, buffalo, cheetah and hyena being reintroduced. Leopard, brown hyena and the smaller mammal species as well as the endangered ground hornbill and the many threatened and endangered vulture and raptor species are present on the reserve.
Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve Team
To run such a large reserve, we need a very special and motivated team. From mending fences to ensuring legal and environmental compliance and liaising with the Anti-Poaching Teams, the team has their work cut out for them – nothing is too small!
Protected Area Based Environmental Monitors
The EM programme was started by the South Africa’s National Department of Environmental Affairs in response to the challenges of high levels of unemployment adjacent to conservation areas, coupled with increases in the illegal wildlife trade. The programme aims to grow conservation capacity within South African National Parks’ (SANParks) protected areas including provincial and private reserves.
Four Environmental Monitors are deployed on the GMPGR through an integrated plan to assist with conservation support, including various projects and activities to maintain sustainability within the GMPGR.
Back to the Wild Programme
The Back to the Wild (B2W) Programme seeks the promotion and conservation of wildlife, fauna and flora, and the natural environment, including the ecosystem in and on the reserve land, as well as establishing a formal release facility for compromised and rehabilitated indigenous wildlife on the reserve land.
Over the years, the GMPGR has facilitated the release of several species from various centres on a small-scale. The capacity for release within GMNR has been greatly increased through the construction of six suitable re-wilding enclosures within a release facility, with the funding assistance of the Humane Society International. A slow-release process is carefully managed to ensure previously compromised and rehabilitated animals are successfully released back to the wild.
The B2W Programme is managed by Yvette Panos, who works together with Audrey Delsink Kettles, who is the Executive Director of Humane Society International: Africa, and Nicci Wright, the Executive Director of African Pangolin Working Group and an internationally qualified wildlife rehabilitation specialist.
Lydia Raganya and Annickiy Mafogo are the Environmental Monitors stationed at the B2W facility, providing the necessary dedication and care of the wildlife to ensure the success of this programme.
Anti-Poaching Unit: K9 Conservation
The K9 Conservation Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) has provided logistical backup and support to the GMNR since 2014, through the deployment of elite, highly trained and specialized working-dog units. The APU is based on the reserve permanently, patrolling both in vehicles and on foot. The field rangers and dogs are carefully selected and paired to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.
The Belgian Malinois, originally bred for herding purposes, have the perfect temperament, intelligence, dedication, agility and diligence to be anti-poaching K9 soldiers on the frontlines of anti-poaching efforts.
K9 Conservation’s primary function is to aid and assist the GMNR to counteract illegal hunting and wildlife trade by poachers and poaching syndicates. The exceptionally dedicated APU on the GMNR is led by Peter Wearne, who has been based at the GMPGR since October 2014.
For further information on GMPGR and GMNR or to support Back to the Wild, please contact us.
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