- Hannes du Plessis – artist of the painting, thank you for the information into your inspiration and creativity when depicting this magnificent elephant displayed at Makweti Safari Lodge.
- Andre Burger – COO of Welgevonden Game Reserve, who found Mandleve’s carcass in the Kruger National Park. We are grateful for your input of this memorable day.
- Mandleve Painting – Neil Davison
- Dining area, fire place, painting – David Ross
- Personal observations by the author on Welgevonden Game Reserve and other Reserves in Southern Africa
- Mammals of the Southern African Sub Region, J.D Skinner & R.H.N. Smithers, Second Edition, University of Pretoria: Mammal Research Institute, Pretoria, 1990
- Smithers Mammals of Southern Africa: A Field Guide, R.H.N Smithers, Third Edition, Southern Book Publishers, Johannesburg, 1996
- Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa, Chris & Tilde Stuart, Fourth Edition, Struik Nature, Cape Town, 2007
- Beat about the Bush – Mammals, Trevor Carnaby, First Edition, Jacana, Johannesburg, 2007
- Bark extracts are used to treat upset stomachs
- Smoke made from burning roots is inhaled and used to treat pneumonia
- Leaves, dried and crushed were used by the San people as a perfume
- The charred and powdered bark is used to treat bleeding gums
- Cold leaf infusions are used to treat eye ailments in animals
- In Namibia the trees are used as stock feed for cattle where areas are very dry
- The flexible branches are used for basket weaving and construction of roof trusses for grass and other huts
- Personal observations on Welgevonden Game Reserve and other Southern African Reserves
- Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa, Braam van Wyk, Piet van Wyk, Struik Publishers, Cape Town, 1997
- Keith Coates Palgrave Trees of Southern Africa, revised and update by Meg Coates Palgrave, Struik Publishers, Cape Town, 2002
- Photographic Guide to Trees of Southern Africa, Braam van Wyk, Piet van Wyk, Ben-Erik van Wyk, Briza Publishers, Pretoria, 2000
Ladies and gentlemen, in the left corner weighing in at 69kg, standing at 2,36 meters tall and in ivory trunks introducing… and in the right corner weighing in at 73,5kg, standing 2,33 meters tall and also in ivory trunks, introducing one of the greatest match ups of all time, ever recorded.
While this may seem like the introduction to a middleweight boxing match, it’s far from it. Let me explain. This story has three key parts, as the title would indicate, all culminating in a magnificent piece of art that is displayed in the dining area at Makweti Safari Lodge.
Makweti Safari Lodge
Makweti Safari Lodge has a number of unique characteristics, which sets it apart. The unique, authentic and original pieces of art within the camp are special to the Makweti family, and each has its own story.
One cannot enter the main lodge and enjoy a gourmet meal without noticing the painting depicting an elephant with a tear in his left ear. It is the topic of many conversations around the dining table, and it sparks much interest as a result of the artwork itself, the story behind it and the subject: Mandleve.
This majestic painting spans the wall above the fire place and is magnificent. When designing the dining area at Makweti Safari Lodge, this painting was so special to the owners that the stone wall itself was measured and built so it would accommodate the painting in this exact spot.
The Elephant – “Mandleve”
It’s the 1980s, Kruger National Park, and ivory poaching is rife throughout Africa. The general public has little interest in matters not concerning them, but they needed to be informed of the plight of elephants in Africa, and in particular here at home in South Africa, in the Kruger National Park.
Dr. Uys deVillers Pienaar, the then Chief Warden of the Kruger National Park, commissioned the park to publicise the largest elephant bulls in the reserve each carrying tusks that exceeded 50kg each. His intentions were to raise awareness around elephant poaching and generate public interest in the park, while also highlighting their conservation efforts in protecting these incredible animals. The “Magnificent 7” were born. Named after the 1960s classic film, the “Magnificent 7” were recorded as the largest “tuskers” in the reserve at the time. The original seven were named after areas of the reserve they frequented or were descriptions of particular characteristics or behaviours of each animal. They were Dzombo, Joao, Kambaku, Mafunyane, Ndlulamithi, Shawu and Shingwedzi. They were instant heroes and reached much local and global fame in a short period of time. Unfortunately, this limelight didn’t shine for long and by the mid-80s none of them were left roaming the Kruger National Park. Dzombo was killed by poachers on the Mozambique border and Kambaku eventually suffered from the results of a septic bullet wound and had to be put down. The rest died of natural causes.
This initiative paved the way for future public interest in Kruger’s great tuskers, and since then, the emerging great tuskers have been identified and hailed as the greatest elephants of the Kruger National Park.
Mandleve, arguably the greatest tusker to earn this reputation, is depicted in the artwork on display at Makweti Safari Lodge. His tusks were the greatest of them all, weighing in collectively 142.5kg (315 pounds) beating the previous record held by Phelwana at 135.5kg. Mandleve was easily recognised by his large tusks but more so by the large tear in his left ear. ‘Mandleve’, a Tsonga word for ‘ear’ or torn ear’ is how he derived his name. He was also believed to be named after Louis Olivier, a senior official in the Kruger at the time Mandleve was around.
He died of natural causes and his remains were found on the 11th June 1993. His carcass was found on the power line road near the Paul Kruger Gate. He was believed to be between 55 and 60 years of age. Andre Burger, the current COO of Welgevonden Game Reserve, who was working in the Kruger National Park at the time, under Louis Olivier, found Mandleve’s remains while on a routine flight over the park. Andre recalls:
“I was asked one day to assist with the black rhino census in Kruger as the designated counter was not available. If I recall correctly, the pilot was Piet Otto, who had many thousands of helicopter hours in Kruger and knew the park and its animals intimately from the air. We were flying towards Paul Kruger Gate to start the count when Piet says we need to keep an eye out for Mandleve as the area along the Sabie River was the area he frequented but he hadn’t seen him in some time. I was excited at the opportunity of seeing this animal. Unfortunately, not long after we started counting, we spotted the skeletal remains of an elephant and Piet immediately identified it as the carcass of Mandleve, from the shape and size of the tusks. Piet immediately landed the helicopter and we loaded the tusks, which were flown to Skukuza while we were left abandoned in the bush. If I recall correctly, the skeleton carcass was only a few hundred meters from the road and only a few kilometers from Paul Kruger Gate. Later that afternoon, I took photos of the tusks in the back of a Hilux and they were too long to fit in the back of the vehicle. A sad day indeed.”
This beautiful painting of Mandleve was created by South African artist, Hannes du Plessis. The owners of Makweti Safari Lodge were intrigued by his artworks, and own three pieces produced by him. These paintings depict a kudu bull and two pieces of Mandleve, of which one is displayed at Makweti Safari Lodge.
The Mandleve painting at the camp depicts the elephant along a river bank, where he was frequently found. It includes an original photograph of ivory traders, which is indicative of the times when the Magnificent 7 roamed freely and the plight they faced with increasing poaching pressure on the larger tuskers. In the bottom left corner is a dung beetle, with the relief of a coelacanth fish to the right of it. The significance of these inclusions in the painting depicts the life span of elephants, being the largest land mammals with the longest life spans.
Hannes du Plessis was born in Hennenman in the Orange Free State in 1950. Educated at the Pretoria School of Art for advanced technical education, Hannes acquired the skills necessary to express his passion for life and the world around him. Working from his studio in Johannesburg, Hannes has been creatively involved in the arts since the late 70s. He believes that through observation, the spirit of a place can be portrayed, creating a narrative as you filter the visual experience through your own spirit and soul. In doing so, he aims to touch the heart of the observer. Hannes du Plessis’s naturalistic paintings are very well received. He has progressively made his mark on the international art market, with work in private and corporate collections throughout the world, including Japan, United States, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Great Britain and Australia. The work has evolved over the years in a meaningful way to display an integrity, maturity of style and technique, which underscores his commitment to his subject. Over and above his contributions to corporate and private art collections, Hannes receives commissions, parallel to his naturalistic work, for portraits of officials in government as well as a number of collectors and their families, producing some striking examples which reflect his intrinsic understanding of his subjects.
The inspiration of the Mandleve painting was to ‘capture the dimensions of the African bushveld and the essence of Africa’.
As magnificent as this great tusker was, so is the painting which depicts his lost spirit. It serves as a reminder to us of the true African experience, which is synonymous with Makweti Safari Lodge.
Special gratitude to the following people for providing more intimate insight into the painting, its story and to Mandleve.
Text – Neil Davison
Aardvark Orycteropus afer
It’s a dark, chilly Winter morning and not much is stirring around Makweti Safari Lodge. It’s 2am, and the only sound is of the soft padding of a nocturnal animal moving around the open area close to the waterhole. His long, tubular nose, close to the ground, his long ears pricked, listening intently. We have caught him in the act on our trip camera. A split-second, small, red glow, barely visible from the undergrowth is the only evidence of this animal’s presence.
This was the first of a few images we would capture of this night stalker close to and in camp. Late February 2019, it’s close to 2am and again, this nightly wanderer has been caught on camera moving close to camp, behind chalets 1 and 2.
This is the aardvark.
Ask most people what they know about the aardvark and the usual answer is little or simply “it’s the first word in the English Dictionary”?
This unmistakable mammal with its pig-like snout, long, tubular ears, relatively heavy build with an arched back, thick, muscled tail and stout legs with long, sharp, spade-like claws, is unique and simply unlike any other mammal in the region. It is widespread throughout Southern Africa, and in Sub-Saharan Africa it is widespread outside of the equatorial forest regions.
The aardvark is heavier in hind quarters than the fore. They have very thick, tapering tails and unusually heavy, powerful limbs. The body is covered in pale hairs, with the hair on the end of the tail and on the limbs being darker. Males in general are darker than females, particularly on the head. They are often colour-stained from the soil in the area they live. Those living in areas where the soil is redder, tend to be stained a brown-red colour. The nose is a muscular tube with incredible movement. The nostrils are densely covered with a mat of hair, which closes the nostrils in, and act as a dust filter. Below and above the eyes are lines of bristles and lower down on the side of the head, tufts of these sensory bristles are evident. These alert the animal to obstructions when burrowing and foraging and protect the eyes from damage. They have excellent hearing and smelling senses with relatively poor eyesight.
Males and females are alike and differences in size are not noticeable. In a study conducted in Zimbabwe in the 1980’s, the masses of males and females ranged between 53 and 51 kgs respectively. There are few birth records, but females will give birth to single young, weighing about 2kg. The gestation period is around 7 months. The young aardvark will follow the mother after a period of +3 weeks in the burrow. The juveniles will dig for themselves at 6 months.
Formicid ants form the large part of their diet, which also includes termites. They locate their food by scent and will then spend time digging into the nest with their large claws, often in several searching spots, eating as many ants possible using a long, sticky tongue. The tongue appears impervious to bites from their prey. Termites, when having had their nests broken into will deploy their “soldiers” who have large bulbous heads and a fair size pair of biting mouth parts. The acid substance stored in the termite head acts to deter the aardvark, who will then move on to locate a different site, failing which it would most likely destroy an entire colony. The aardvark has teeth, but little is understood as to why, as they do not masticate or chew their insect food. The long ribbon-like tongues and large salivary glands allow the food to be deposited close to the stomach. The breakdown process is facilitated in the aardvark by the presence of a muscular pyloric area, which acts much like a gizzard found in birds, where it grinds up the aardvarks food mixed in with the sand and soil taken in during feeding. In drier areas, aardvark will feed on wild melons or wild cucumbers. This will supplement their moisture intake. Feeding on these types of fruit, will warrant the need for their teeth.
Relatively shy, almost strictly nocturnal mammals, they are seldom seen in the day and although common and widespread, remain mostly unnoticed except for the evidence of their nightly foraging activities. Heading out on morning drives we often come across their evidence of foraging from the previous night. Usually active from 9pm until early morning, where they will retire to their burrows to rest out during the day. Although a solitary species, the females are sometimes seen with single young, digging deeper burrows to protect them and their offspring. Males will often dig shallow burrows in which they will rest during the day. Newly dug occupied holes often have small flies around the opening of the hole. Activity in summer is strictly nocturnal, where the animals forage for formicid ants and termites. In Winter, feeding activity starts earlier and sometimes begins in the late afternoon as termites and ants go deeper in their colonies or nests during the colder parts of the winter nights.
Their front feet have four digits, with the hind feet having 5. Tracks of these animals clearly show 3 of the 4 front digits in the front foot track and 3 sometimes 4 in the hind foot track. The front feet end in large claws with sharp edges.
In the photograph I took of the tracks found on an early morning drive (below), 3 digits of the back left foot are clear (marked 1-3) with the 4th only just visible as a small depression (marked 4). The long arrow indicates the direction the animal was moving. The yellow arrow in this image shows 2 clear claw marks from the front foot, although the rest of the track is not clear, as the hind foot often overlays where the front foot was placed.
The photograph marked A (below), shows how well they are adapted to digging and shows how sharp their claws are, with the claw marks evident on the sides of the wall.
Aardvark appear to have 3 kinds of excavations, apart from the small exploratory diggings. The image with all the arrows shows various exploratory diggings in a small area.
The first excavation type are shallow diggings, deep enough to access the nest of their food. Usually in flat ground they can be deep enough for the head and shoulders of the animal to be covered, only sometimes deep enough to submerge the entire animal. These holes are not used for refuge and are not revisited.
The second type are dug ‘overnight’ and serve as temporary refuge holes. Usually dug by males, they are a couple of meters deep and are quite shallow. They may be used over a period of a day or 2 and sporadically revisited. They have a chamber at the end of the tunnel to allow the animal to turn around.
The third type of digging is a permanent burrow dug for the young to be born in. These burrows are dug quite deep, have extensive burrow systems and chambers and several entrances. The females utilise these burrows more, where the males are more nomadic within their home ranges and will tend to rest in burrows dug as described in the second type.
I particularly like the image I took where the hind feet and tail marks are clear in the sand excavated from the burrow (below). The hind feet (marked B and D) and the tail (marked C) are clear in the print this aardvark left at a burrow site near Andres Pan on the reserve. When the aardvark walks, it walks on its toes however when they pause, they will sink onto their haunches, as in this case showing the feet and tail prints clearly. When entering their holes, they do so head first as is evident in this image too.
Abandoned aardvark burrows are utilised by a variety of other species for shelter. Warthog, porcupine, honey badgers, reptiles and insects will use these open spaces. In the Kalahari where trees are in short supply, leopard have been known to use old aardvark holes to take shelter too. The little bee-eater has been recorded to nest in the ceilings of abandoned aardvark holes, burrowing their tunnel nests into the ground. I witnessed this on an afternoon drive late last year when we stopped for a break close to Sterkstroom Pan. A pair of little bee-eaters was flying in and out of this old aardvark hole and after a while stopped coming out. It was evident that they would spend the night in there. Having read about this behaviour before, I was pleased to have witnessed this first hand.
Photographs – Neil Davison
Text – Neil Davison
One can never know everything, and this is especially true for our wildlife around Makweti Safari Lodge and in the Welgevonden Game Reserve. The only way to evolve as humans is to constantly maintain the mindset of beginner’s mind, always being open and receptive to new ideas and information.
This is the exact stance that Makweti’s Neil Davison maintains as he sets about his daily work on the reserve. There is always something new to learn through observation, but also sometimes through discussion.
The following is a conversation that took place in February around a new and very rare sighting in Welgevonden that Neil was fortunate to capture. Enjoy the read!
“In February on a morning drive around Andres Pan I came across a bird I have not seen before. I identified it as a Eurasian Hobby, but was not completely convinced. I managed to get a photograph of the bird and decided to send it to Jonathan for verification as it would be an interesting sighting for the area for myself.”
Jonathan Swart is a Research Ecologist for Welgevonden Game Reserve. He came back to Neil with a positive response, also thinking that it was a Eurasian Hobby, but to be sure, he decided to send it to renowned ornithologist, Warwick Tarburton for confirmation.
Warwick was only too pleased to get back to Jonathan and Neil with his feedback.
Thanks for the e-mail and the interesting record. It is a Eurasian Hobby, yes, not yet fully adult as shown by the undertail coverts being mainly white, not chestnut. Seems from SABAP2 that it occurs very sparsely in the Waterberg whereas it was a regular summer visitor to the Nyl floodplain when we lived there.
Would Neil mind if we added his photo to the Waterberg website? And if he’s happy with this I’d need to have his surname to add to the photo.
Not only is that a first for Neil, but also for the reserve itself. What an honour to experience something so exciting!
The early summer rains have left the reserve looking spectacular this year. The rivers are in full flow, the floodplain areas in the central parts of the reserve are filling, and the flora has responded to this with great enthusiasm. The Makweti camp hasn’t been this lush or in such glorious splendour since February 2017, and the healthy diversity of plant life is amazing.
We are fortunate to stay in a camp that boasts a wonderful diversity of the trees found in the Waterberg region. Within the small footprint of Makweti, some healthy specimens are revelling in the Summer rain.
Kudu Berry (Pseudolachnostylis maprouneifolia)
The Kudu Berry is well known on the reserve. Usually about 4 – 6m in height, it can grow to 12m in areas with favourable conditions. It is recognised by light grey bark, which is fissured into segments of squares or rectangles. The leaves are ovate, sometimes curling inwards. Yellow petioles are clear at the base of the leaves. The flowers are small, greenish-white with a faint musky smell. It is best recognised by its fruit, particularly this time of year, but usually from May onwards. The small spherical fruit is green with faint white spots, falling off the tree whilst still green and ripening on the ground to a yellow-brown colour with a wrinkled exterior. These trees are monoecious representing male or female flowers on a single tree.
Just outside the reception area is a magnificent specimen of the Kudu Berry tree. It creates a green archway as you approach the Indaba Lounge from the main lodge area and provides valuable shade. This deciduous tree is a welcome relief for the Summer heat, but allows warming sunlight into the office during the Winter months.
It is browsed on by kudu and elephant and the Vervet Monkeys are often seen playing in it, raiding the tree of its abundant fruit. There are many specimens of the species in the camp, particularly around chalets 4 and 5.
Traditional uses of these trees include the following:
The tree’s name is derived from the fruit being popular with kudu. The Vhavenda people used to use an infusion of the bark and leaves to wash traps they set to catch kudu and other antelope for their meat and pelts.
This tree is a also favoured host for the larvae of the butterfly species Abantis paradisea better known as the Paradise Skipper.
It is an attractive tree all year round. In Summer it is lush and green and in full foliage, but it will change into a fiery wonder in Autumn or Winter, displaying a multitude of earthy colours.
Lavender Fever Berry (Croton gratissimus)
These trees are synonymous with rocky ridges and are in abundance within Makweti. They are a small shrub or tree with discoloured green and white leaves, although sometimes a bright orange leaf emerges too. The leaves themselves are striking features with silvery undersides and an aromatic scent when crushed. The flowers are small cream, golden-yellow in colour and occur in long spikes up to 15cm long. The flower buds develop in the rainy season, remaining closed and conspicuous during the dry season as rusty brown spikes. The flowers open at the first rains of the following rain season.
The tree provides browsing material for antelope and livestock. Elephant wondering into camp will often stop past chalet 4 and feed on the Lavender Fever Berries growing alongside the boma perimeter. There is a magnificent Lavender Fever Berry growing outside the kitchen on the pathway to chalet 3, with numerous specimens growing tall around the deck of the main lodge.
Traditional uses of these trees include the following:
The trees are beautiful and with their striking leaves and general pleasing shape and aroma, they are used more and more in gardens. The scientific name of this tree means “most pleasant” as a result of its overall character and scent.
This tree is a favoured host for the larvae of the butterfly species Charaxis candiope candiope. better known as Emperor Butterflies or Leafwing Butterflies, of which there are many varieties.
Pride of the Cape (Bauhinia galpinii)
This striking shrub is prevalent all over the camp, and Makweti boasts many beautiful specimens.
You cannot miss them when walking to the main lodge from the Indaba, as they flank the pathway all the way down. Chalet 1 and 2 have an abundance of them growing along their pathways too.
This species is a low-growing tree or shrub that is a vigorous climber, favouring hot areas of the country, mostly in the north and north-eastern parts of South Africa. It has become a popular garden species, and specimens are now seen all over the country. They are drought-resistant and able to tolerate poor soils.
Easily recognised by its leaf that is divided about ¼ of the length of the leaf and its almost heart shape appearance. The flowers are a bright salmon to brick-red colour, with paddle-shaped petals that are clustered at the ends of the branches.
Traditional uses of these trees include the following:
This shrub is a favourite host for the larvae of another butterfly species from the Charaxis Genus, Charaxis jasius saturnus, commonly known as Emperor Butterflies or Leafwing Butterflies. They are also known to breed on these shrubs too, laying eggs on the leaves.
Words and photographs: Neil Davison
It is not often these days that you will head out on a game drive or outing in the bush without coming across the unique birds that are associated with several of the larger herbivores. Hopping around on the backs of buffalo, rhino or giraffe, these little brown birds with their distinct red bills and yellow ring around the eyes are an incredibly important species in the ecosystem. These are the red-billed oxpeckers.Read More
We’ve said it so many times and will continue to do so… life at Makweti is never dull and no two days are the same. There’s always something to see or do and we are frequently blessed with the most incredible sightings that any wildlife lover would wish for.
Walking around Makweti Safari Lodge during the day, one cannot miss the activity of the resident colony of little creatures living amongst and around the rocks, rooms and main lodge. This small ‘rodent-like’ animal is the Rock Dassie or Rock Hyrax.
These little mammals are nowhere close to rodents, other than in general appearance and their distant relatives’ evolutionary paths are linked to elephants and dugongs. They are unique little mammals and form the order HYRACOIDEAE within the mammal group. They have complex social structures, unique appearances, efficient daily feeding habits and digestive systems and live in well organised colonies with segregated areas for different daily activities.
For the past 18 years of my life in and out of the bush, I have been fervently searching for a jewel, and at last I have found one. It was late Friday afternoon when we were heading into a valley, south of the Taaibos River. Our attention was fixed on a cheetah female that we had not seen for some time and had been sighted about 10 minutes away from where we were. This is the female cheetah we featured in April this year on our blog. Her cubs left her on the evening of the 27th of June and became independent, and we have not seen her since then, although her cubs have been sighted regularly. I was keen to see how she was and if she was showing any signs of new cubs being born. But, I digress.
We are privileged to live in such an amazing environment and are reminded of this daily. Makweti Safari Lodge is not only home to our incredible team and a home-away-from-home for our guests, but we also share this space with several resident camp creatures.
On occasions at night whilst heading back to the rooms, guests will catch a glimpse of the shy Jameson’s Red Rock Rabbit, which lives amongst the rocks and boulders of the camp and surrounding hillside. Like the other species of the Lagomorph Order of Mammals (Rabbits and Hares), they are mostly nocturnal, although not exclusively.
Many guests are tempted to skip the morning drive and have the proverbial ‘lie in’, but few are willing to forego it in fear of missing out on whatever may be seen. Two days ago, one of our guests decided to skip the morning drive, but in doing so was fortunate enough to witness a cheetah kill, a mere three meters below the deck of their pool!