Battle-scarred General

Another shot from my recent trip to Kruger National Park. Sorry for the quietness and lack of posts of late. The Internet has been few and far between and the bush has been keeping me busy and away from the computer…happily I may add!

This older male lion and his brother were kind enough to be in the open, near a road, while on an overcast morning during our trip. I am happy with how the photo turned out and feel it is not ‘just another pportrait’ but would be thrilled to have feedback from all of you.

©Noelle van Muiden - rvmwildphoto.com

©Noelle van Muiden – rvmwildphoto.com

‘Battle-scarred General’ – Noelle van Muiden of RvM Wildlife Photography

Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 55-300mm lens: 1/640sec, f/10, 300mm, ISO 1000, Flash did not fire

Website: http://www.rvmwildphoto.com
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How to Climb a Tree (if you are a leopard)…

Step One: Bound gracefully through the tall grass…

Climb I

Step Two: While bounding through tall grass make sure to stop and pose for the Safari Paperazzi…

Climb II copy

Step Three: Gaze up, mouth agape, in perfect leopard glory and find THE perfect climbing tree…

Climb III copy

Step Four: Go to base of THE perfect tree and make sure to pose, looking up, so the Safari Paperazzi can understand this is YOUR perfect tree…

Climb IV copy

Step Five: Start to climb tree…

Climb V copy

Step Six: Make sure to pick the most dense place to climb tree so as to confuse and upset the Safari Paperazzi who wish to capture THEIR perfect photo of you and YOUR perfect tree…

Climb VI copy

Step Seven: Keep up on climbing, eluding the photogs and their long lenses, he he he he!…

Climb VII copy

Step Eight: Think to yourself that this IS infact THE perfect tree…

Climb VIII copy

Step Nine and Ten: Find the perfect resting place in tree and make sure to give the Safari Paperazzi one last chance at THEIR perfect photo and then take a nap. You have earned it!

Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 55-300mm lens: 1/250sec, f/9.0, 300mm, ISO 400, Flash did not fire

Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 55-300mm lens: 1/250sec, f/9.0, 300mm, ISO 400, Flash did not fire

Thandi's Son IV

Climbing photos Copyright Roel van Muiden of RvM Wildlife Photography. Last two photos of Thandi’s Son Copyright Noelle van Muiden of RvM Wildlife Photography

Life is Hard if you are a Wild Dog Pup

Usually I only post personal sightings and photos. However, my husband had a remarkable, yet difficult, sighting the other day and I wanted to share the story with you all…

Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 55-300mm lens: 1/1250sec, f/9.0, 150mm, ISO 400, Flash did not fire

Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 55-300mm lens: 1/1250sec, f/9.0, 150mm, ISO 400, Flash did not fire

A while ago now, when the large pack of Wild Dogs was still denning, a pride of lions was found in the near vicinity of the den site. Evidence around the den showed that the lions had actively tried to get into the den to get at the pups. It is believed that predators will try and kill each other to get rid of competition or with younger lions it is just a case of chasing and catching. Just like a domestic cat at home.
There were no adults around the den, they might have fled or were out hunting. Normally the pack would leave babysitters behind to take care of the pups, the arrival of the lions might have chased these baby-sitters off leaving the pups to shelter deep inside their den.
These den sites are usually old Aardvark holes and as new species (warthog, hyena, honey badger and so on) take over these holes they modify them to their needs. So the pups would have been remodeling down there creating small passages and holes they can hide in. These clearly worked as the lions eventually left and went to sleep about 150 meters from the den.
After me and my guests visited the sleeping cats we went past the den site, just to show how close the lions were. When we got there the wild dog pups had gotten over their fear and just came out of the den, and as youngsters do they started playing right away. With all the noises that go with that we were getting worried that the lions might hear them and come over to investigate. Then something unexpected happened, one of the pups got the smell of the lions and started following the scent. The rest of the group of eight followed and so did we. They went right up to the path the lions followed into the bush and kept following. At this point I asked all the vehicles in the area to stop their engines and keep quiet, we did not want our presence to influence what might happen. Unfortunately the pups never realized that the smell they followed was leading them to danger, nor did the lions make a noise that scared the pups off. We did not see the confrontation but heard it from about 50 meters and it did not sound good. We could hear the screaming of pups and the growling of the lions. Then two of the pups ran past our vehicle towards the den site, another guide in the area spotted four other pups running in another direction. When the dust settled we went forward to see what had happened.
We found the lions. Unfortunately they were standing over two of the pups. So two of the pups were definitely dead and the other six managed to escape the lions but were not out of danger yet as the only safe place would have been going into the den.
It was only the next morning that we found the adults with four of the pups as they arrived at the den site. For nearly ten minutes they were vocalizing and pawing at the edges of the den until finally the last two pups came out.
So in the end the lion’s visit cost the lives of two of the pups, but the rest of them learned a valuable lesson. They will now fear lions and will stay away from them thus allowing for a better chance of their and heir potential offspring’s survival.

Lambing Season Kill

Cheetah and Cub on Kill I

*All photos ©Noelle van Muiden and taken with Nikon D80 with a Nikkor 18-105mm lens and Nikon D7000 with a Nikkor 55-300mm lens.

On a recent trip to Cheetah Plains, (Sabi Sands), we were fortunate enough to come across a cheetah and her nine to ten month old cub. Previously in the week she had been seen with two cubs but one had since vanished, presumed dead. The female was busy zig-zagging her way through some dense scrub. We circled around into an open area where a large herd of impala were gathering at the far end. Occasionally she would stop and sit up, still as the bushes she used for cover, and check on the impala. The wind was in her favor and the cloudy skies lent to a slight summer chill. Good weather for hunting! The impala herd vanished from sight and she, and her curious and playful cub, made their way to the opposite direction.

Cheetah and Cub on Kill VII

We angled our vehicle and managed a few good shots of the two of them making their way towards our vehicle and then behind us. Their direction, if followed, would take them into contact with another herd of impala. The lambs have been dropping in the area for a couple of weeks already and the pickings of young and supple flesh are good for predators like leopard, lion, and cheetah. Her cub is of an age where she will catch a young impala and then let it go so the cub can learn to hunt. Practice makes perfect. We were hoping for such a sighting but as well all know the Bush will give us what it will.

Following her, no walking slowly down the road, the cub leaping up on the mother’s back from time to time and then veering off to smell the roses as it were, and then coming back once again to plague his mother with love. One can imagine humans and their youngsters having a similar interaction on the way down the street with a child running up and hugging his mum and then running off to look at an interesting bit of this and that and then coming back and asking, ‘When will we be there? I’m hungry!’

As she rounded a bend there was the herd of impala, impervious to the threat that now pricked her ears up, and then back and slunk low. The cub on high alert but careful not to bother the mother as if he knew that one wrong step from him would cost them their much desired breakfast. We stopped the vehicle and watched, breathe baited, as she weaved through the trees. Her strength and skill evident as was the enthusiastic and almost as silent rear guard of the cub. Then came the snorts and stampede of the impala as she broke her trot and broke into full speed, weaving through the short shrub after her anticipated prize.

Starting the vehicle and racing after her the impala leapt into the road and stopped, turned, and stared. There they both were, sitting straight as statues. We came closer, thinking maybe she had failed, and as we approached, just mere meters from them, she lifted her paw. Bleating and screaming the young lamb tried to get away. The cub chased after in a parody of what his mother had just so carefully achieved. Hunger and the ineptness of her offspring lead the mother to turn and chase down the lamb, now bleating for his life, and catching it by the throat next to our vehicle. The bleating stopped the cub raced to his mother and danced around her as she dragged the almost lifeless body towards the shade of a small tree some fifty meters away.

There she lay down panting and avidly looked around for any possible threat to her, her cub, and their meal. The alarm calls of the impala and the bleating of the lamb could bring any leopard, lion, spotted hyena, wild dog, or other leopard into her area to steal the kill and possibly harm her cub. The cub, glee visible in his eyes and demeanor, played with the carcass as a house cat plays with a mouse or bird. The lifeless form was flung from side to side. Picked up and dropped again and again, then dragged in his mouth from one spot to the next until he hunkered down to start to feast. The cub looking up every few seconds to scan the area. After about fifteen minutes the mother joined the cub. The two of them feasting is not the loud, snarling, hectic feed of lions try to eat side by side, but a much more calm and relaxed mother and cub sharing a well deserved meal. It took them maybe thirty minutes to finish off most of the meat.

Cheetah and Cub on Kill VI

Cheetah and Cub on Kill V

Cheetah and Cub on Kill IV

Cheetah and Cub on Kill III

We were lucky enough to be positioned for great photos and I even managed to get the kill on film, which I will download and put with this story in the near future. What a great drive and an amazing, not often witnessed, sighting and interaction of such a beautiful endangered species!

Cheetah and Cub on Kill II

Insights and Updates on The Poaching War in South Africa

Black Rhino Feeding

*Names have been changed so as not to compromise any of the Anti-Poaching Rangers identities.

Socks. The number one item on their wish list is socks. ‘So the guys do not get Trench-Rot.’ *Steven Kruger blows the words out as if expelling demons, as we sit in the heat of the veldt, smoking cigarettes after a rifle training session. ‘Water dispensers – 25L, Training – Specifics on intel gathering, gas cookers, and night vision thermals. That is what we need.’

Steven has been doing Anti-Poaching full time and voluntary for nine years; first in the Balule Game Reserve and then the Klaserie Private Game Reserve. Both lie inside South Africa at the frontline of the poaching incidents. He earned a measly R1800 a month. There his main encounters in Anti-Poaching, ‘was shooting dogs.’ Stray, un-spayed dogs, that come through from the townships and villages surrounding many of the game reserves and National Parks.

The dogs bring diseases like Mange and Canine Distemper that threaten the wild populations of Black-Backed Jackal and Wild Dog. They can also bring in Tuberculosis (TB), which can endanger any, and all, wildlife. Steven takes off his sunglasses and hands me a smoke of my own. He tells me of how the lion and rhino poaching has increased over the past six years where he is now working after leaving the Balule. The elephant poaching as well.

One hundred rhinos were killed in South Africa in October 2013 alone. The latest numbers have the total number of rhinos poached thus far this year at seven hundred and ninety. A staggering four hundred and seventy-six of which were poached in Kruger National Park. The Black Market need for rhino horn, (used in Traditional Medicines in places like Vietnam and China and in ceremonial dagger horns in Middle Eastern countries), has driven the price to well over USD$30,000 per kilogram. Some reports say well over USD$65,000 per kilogram..

There has not been a rhino poaching incident on Steven’s current reserve since April 2013. Here he is a volunteer Anti-Poaching Ranger. ‘We are the reaction unit.’ When the kak hits the proverbial fan Steven, and several others like him, join the permanent Anti-Poaching team to sort the problem out. Field Guide by day Anti-Poaching Ranger. When asked who he encounters as Poachers, where do these people originate from, ‘Mozzies and Zims’ comes the reply as the smoke curls around his head.

Disdain has never been worn so well. Scorn and a resilience one does not see often outside the armed forces. No local South Africans involved in any incidences in his province, excepting the strong held suspicion of one local vet who used to work on the property. Not enough evidence but they know who he is he tells me.

The Poachers use ‘.375’s and .458’s [the same calibre rifles needed to be a walking Trails Guide in South Africa. Easy to use and easy to buy.] Kitted with homemade suppressors and making on average R300,000 – R400,000 per person per horn.’ A staggering amount of money considering these men would normally earn around R3000 – R5000 a month if anything at all.

South Africa is home to over eighty percent of Africa’s remaining rhino population with a mere twenty-five thousand left in number. The horn is made of the same keratin that makes up human hair and finger nails. With these staggering numbers of deaths, and the large sums paid to attain the horn, how can we stop this onslaught and save our National Heritage? As well as save the Continents last remaining stronghold of two ecologically important species, the Black and White Rhino?

None of this even starts to touch the poaching issues surrounding elephant ivory and now the threat against the few remaining wild lions. There are only seven viable wild lion populations left in Africa. Two, or three depending on the source, are left in South Africa. Lion bones are high on the priority list of many eastern Nations. Their meat is served in restaurants in The States and Europe.

These days, poaching is reaching almost epic numbers. Rangers literally risk their lives for the lives of animals like rhino and elephant and all they are asking for is socks. Canine units, special forces units, and traditionally trained anti-poaching units. These make up the front lines, and sometimes the last line, of defense for South Africa’s rhino populations.

With rhino poaching syndicates becoming ever more intelligent, cryptic, and stealthy, the upkeep of our Anti-Poaching Rangers is of upmost importance. Without them we do not stand a chance in stopping, or even curbing, the decline to extinction of these iconic animals. Steven agrees, more pay, more training, more socks.

*Matthew van Zyl wanted to be a farmer. Then a Field Guide. Now he is a permanent Anti-Poaching Ranger. Both he and Steven feel it is their duty to protect their National Heritage. Their countries’ special wildlife. Mat makes R6000 a month. Actually, he tells me, all his guys, across the board no matter the hierarchy, make R6000 a month. ‘We have to pay for our own food, medical supplies, pension, and medical evacuation out of that R6000.’

His men have to feed not only themselves but their families on R6000 a month. They are provided housing but it comes bare, no beds, no mattress, no couches, not even spoons and forks. Mat had to buy fridges out of pocket. ‘

If one of my guys needs medical help I am only allowed to drive him to clinic. I am not allowed to call on the reserve’s medical team as we are under contract. I will not be reimbursed if I pay for his medical treatment. Where would the money come from? We are a permanent unit but under contract to the reserve. They will not pay for medical evacuation or assistance.’ All of that is paid out of pocket.

The Anti-Poaching Rangers spend twenty days in the bush with their kit, paid for out of their pockets and consisting of webbing, water, an R1 rifle, and army rations and not much more else. They then get eight days of leave. No rest for the weary. If the team gets taken on a permanent contract they will be able to use the reserves medical back-up, but they were promised a year ago it would become a permanent contract and still nothing has materialized.

The Canine Unit both Mat and Steven work next to is fully paid for from private donations. A new vehicle, dog food, training for the dogs, but the men who work with the dogs and the men who work alongside these teams have to scrounge for their own food and beg for socks in their wish lists. Many people do not understand that an Anti-Poaching Rangers basic needs are hardly met, so they spend their donations on the dogs, thinking all the time that they are keeping South Africa’s wildlife safe. Steven and Mat both agree the Canine Units are useful and more than needed.

Mat needs not only socks for his team but more training. To date they need the following qualifications to become an Anti-Poaching Ranger on his team: Self-loading R1 competency, Anti-Poaching experience – ‘There are really only three providers of Anti-Poaching training with Protrack out of Hoedspruit and Quemic being the best two’ Mat states matter-of-fact as he cleans up finished rounds, doppies, from the sun parched ground.. – Big Five experience – ‘Like Guiding’ – survival experience and they must be between eighteen and forty years old – ‘Thirty-five years is better. Forty is a bit old.’

When asked if South Africa has been successful in rehabilitating Poachers into Anti-Poachers like in North Luangwa National Park, Zambia, Steven says no. ‘Not here!’ with a very decisive turning of his head. His hard lined lips say it all. ‘They disappear too easily into the communities around the park here.’ Mat explains. ‘In the Lowveld the parks are closer together and people speak to each other, but here, if they make it into the communities or over the border to Botswana, that’s it.’ Most of the Unit’s intel comes from community members but these types of reliable sources are few and far between.

Mats biggest wish after more socks and more training, ‘Salaries of R10,000 to R12,000 with Medical Aid and Pension.R6000 per month is not enough.’ To put this in context, Petrol Station attendants went on strike recently in South Africa to up their salaries to R6500 a month. That is R500 more than what Mat and his unit are making and Petrol Attendants only fill up your car, they do not put their own lives on the line in the heat, the cold, the dry, the wet, to save the lives of South Africa’s wildlife.

Why are they not being paid more? Why are salaries and benefits so low? How can we fight against the scourge of poaching with syndicates that rival the cocaine syndicates in South America in money, power, and resources? How can we expect someone who is earning so little and doing so much not to take a bribe? The easy answer, put your money where your mouth is. Support our Troops, as it were.

Donate to Anti-Poaching units and speak up. These guys do not go on strike. They do not complain. They carry on and do the dirty work the rest of us do not necessarily have the stomach for. And all to protect wildlife that can be seen on game reserves all over South Africa. An average guides salary is more than R6000 a month and he or she is the one who is taking overseas, and the local guests who can afford the lodges, to see the animals that Steven, Mat, and thousands of other men and women all over South Africa and Africa, spend days and nights out in the bush to protect.

A few days later I meet Mat and some of his men for a training exercise, Jungle Lane. They are shooting at manlike targets. ‘Two shots. To kill.’ *Charles, like Steven a volunteer Anti-Poacher, mumbles around his Stuyvesant Blue. He and Edger help Mat train the guys in weapon handling. It is over thirty-eight Celsius in the noonday heat and the young men, shiny faces smiling at my hello, are still soft around the eyes.

These are new recruits learning the ropes. They are in full kit, the sweat is pooling around the straps and seeping through their camo ensemble. Each taking their turn to half run, a bit hunched, leaning into their R1‘s as they shoot their pseudo-poachers. They earnestly attempt their drill. The only difference between this exercise and the real deal is that poachers shoot back and they shoot to kill.

I share a small silence and a cigarette with these men. With Mat, with Charles, with Edger and their new recruits. Lighting my cigarette, I look at these men. Black and white. South African men who decided that this is what they wanted to do. Whether as a heart felt National Duty, or as a way to feed their families, these men with kind eyes and big hearts. Paid peanuts if anything at all, have the resilience, or buddings of, that of a Black Mamba. They do all of this in thirty-eight degree heat to save rhinos, elephants, and lions.

The heat is stifling now. I glance at the small pup-tents and take a long drink of my now warm water. I look at these sweaty men. Some smiling at a small joke. Others in deep discussion with a trainer. I look off into the bush. The heat is rising in waves. I look forward to when we can find a seat free of biting flies and dusty wind.

And all they ask for is socks…

Whose Tail…

Streeeetch…Waking up is not high on any favorites list, that is for sure. Well, here we go again. Stretch, pause, have a nice look around. Amongst the sound of Southern yellow billed Hornbills clacking and a family of francolins hurriedly digging through the underbrush, you can hear long low guttural sounds coming ever closer. No, not the same as that of The Family ambling on their way, their soundless steps padded with time and purpose. The heat is almost unbearable. Flies attracted to any bit of moisture plague the eyes, nose, mouth. It is almost time.

Maybe just a bit longer. The guttural sounds have stopped. Stretch, yawn, slap flies, stretch again. The heat, unbearable, sticky, like trying to breath through water. High pitched screeches, long in the wind, blow past. Clear blue skies dotted with dancing forms on thermals from the heat of the day, give way to a flock of Red Billed Quiellas blowing past like dead leaves. Their pursuits in touch with one another down to the most minute change in attitude, longing, wind direction. They seem to float, to flit, but then become strong as they pick up speed only to flit, to float once more like dusty dry leaves. The sound is closer. It is almost time.

Stretch one more time. The heat is abating, moving lazily down the horizon into an explosive orange glow. The family of francolins has stopped rustling to call an alarm, cut short by lack of a threat, only to rise up again, and cut short. They go back to scratching in the parched dirt. You can almost smell the rain now. The cool wet lurid smell. The dirt seems to cry out in agony. The flies now pestering all over and the sound, that low guttural sound, is crawling ever closer now laced through with a low sing song noise. It is usually this way. It is almost time.

One more stretch. A quick bath and on to cleaning the work tools. Unsheathing each one by one, making sure to get every nook and cranny. You have accomplished much when you can look at a meal you have brought down for your litter and see the gleam of hunger in little eyes replaced by happiness, by satisfaction. The guttural sounds have stopped succeeded by the sing song noises. Bathing finished, tools sharpened, a bit of ‘Downward Dog’. The clicking noise starts as I roll-over, arise and slowly walk away, tawny fur catching the last of the light, towards the waterhole where The Family drinks, their long trunks extended into the crisp clear water. The sing song voices rise in glee, replaced with click-clacking and the guttural noise comes alive, following close behind as the wind picks up and gives hint to what will be brought home to the little ones tonight.

Last loooong stretch, ‘Downward Dog.’ Tools glinting in the sun. Click-click, click-click. Drops fall. The guttural sounds increase and float away. Rains here.