Pear And Ginger Cake

The cooler weather calls for comfort food, and this Pear And Ginger Cake is most certainly comforting, but closer to decadent! It’s not difficult to make either, and it will wow your family and friends into a a state of bliss.

  • ¾ cup sunflower oil
  • 190g treacle sugar
  • 2 slightly beaten, large free-range eggs
  • 190g Nutty Wheat wholewheat flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 3 washed, cored, fresh pears, cut into chunks (do not peel)

Method

  • Preheat oven to 160 degrees centigrade
  • Grease and dust a 22cm cake tin with flour and line with baking paper
  • Whisk the oil and sugar together until well combined
  • Gradually whisk in the eggs
  • Stir in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, spices and pears and mix well
  • Pour the batter into a baking tin and smooth out
  • Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean
  • Cool completely in the tin, then turn it out

This delicious cake is best served as a dessert with fresh, whipped cream. If you want to put a true Makweti spin on it, try it with a cinnamon ice cream. Unbelievable!

Pear And Ginger Cake Made At Makweti

A Game of Thrones: The Lions Share

By / 22nd May, 2019 / Wildlife At Makweti / Off

Lions, males in particular, have gripped the human race with fear, admiration, respect and misunderstanding for centuries. They are depicted as ruthless killers with an insatiable appetite for prey, and a blood lust for killing. They appear in many religious forms as symbols of power and strength, and are synonymous as symbols of status, wealth and social standing in cultures throughout the world.  

Richard the Lionheart, Kind Richard I of England, who ruled from 1189 to 1199, was revered as a great soldier and brave crusader. The man eaters of Tsavo, probably the most notorious of wild lions, who were responsible for a number of human deaths in Tsavo, Kenya in 1898, were feared by hundreds of railway labourers. Revered or feared, lions have fascinated humans since the beginning of time and continue to do so today. So much of what we believe and know about lions is fed to us in sensational style with little fact or insight into what is real. For all these reasons, good and bad, lions have ultimately earned the title as the King of Beasts among wild animals.

This blog post came about as a result of the questions we are often asked about the two current dominant male lions on the Welgevonden Game Reserve and the interesting stories behind them. In writing this story, it was clear that a lot of information on lions needed to be clarified so that more of the fact could be brought to the fore without the glitter around the sensation.

Tembe Male

Lions: Panthera leo in General

Lions are in no doubt the top predators in Africa, followed by leopard and spotted hyena. They are the largest of the African cats with males weighing between 180kg and 220kg, and females weighing between 130kg and 150kg. Males stand up to 1.25m at the shoulder. Once widespread throughout all of Africa into Asia and parts of Europe, there is probably no other species whose distributional range has shrunk over historical times to the extent as shown by the lion. They are now extinct in Europe, with the last specimen killed in AD100 in Greece. They persisted in Palestine until about the 12th century.  The Asian lion is restricted to the Gir Peninsula in North-west India, with numbers reduced from 300 in 1953 to about 190 in a 1970 census. Through conservation efforts in India, they are now probably around 530 (2015). Lions are extinct in all other areas of Asia forming their original distribution.

In Africa, lions are extinct in the north and in many areas, poor records were kept of their shrinking numbers and ranges. In the Southern African sub-region, extensive records are kept of this change. Lions were once common in all of South Africa including near Cape Town until around 1860, but they have now been reduced to only occurring in reserves where they have been re- introduced. The last naturally occurring wild lion populations in South Africa are in the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi National Park. Combined in these two Reserves their numbers are around 2,500.  Heavily persecuted by man, there are today fewer wild lions in the world than there are white rhino.

Being the most sociable of the big cats, lions live in prides ranging from 3 – 30 individuals. Pride size is dependent on the area and the typical prey they hunt. Prides typically consist of between 1 – 4 adult males, a number of adult females (one of which is dominant) sub-adults and cubs. Adult males are highly territorial and will spend much time defending their areas from stranger or rival males. They can spend 3 – 4 days away from the pride in doing so. Lions will take medium-sized prey, which is again dependent on the area and the pride size. They will hunt and kill every 3 – 4 days and may go longer in areas where food is sparser or during seasonal changes. A male lion requires about 5kg of meat daily and a female about 2.5 – 3kg daily to survive. There is no set breeding season, and adult females will give birth to 4 – 6 cubs after a gestation period of about 110 days. Cubs will suckle from any adult female lactating in the pride, and births are often coincidental within the pride to ensure maximum food availability for the cubs.

Of Kings And Queens

The lions of Welgevonden Game Reserve have a history like most royal families – filled with hope, change, toil and survival. In our lion blog post from September 2018, the current lions of Welgevonden were introduced to readers, giving a clear update on the current lion population on the reserve. From this story rose two new kings, and this is their story.

The Tembe male (above), king of the north, central, west and eastern areas of the reserve was born in February 2012. He was born into a lion population in Northern Natal at Tembe Elephant Park, hence his name.  At the time of his introduction to Welgevonden Game Reserve, it was necessary for a young male of almost dominant age to be introduced to the reserve to assist rebuilding the lion population following the disease outbreak in late 2015. He was introduced in July 2016, and after only one day in the temporary housing boma, he broke out to start exploring his new home. He quickly took the park as his and became a great wanderer. He is now referred to as the Tembe male and is the dominant male in the Western Pride. He has fathered all the cubs born on the reserve since his introduction of which only one daughter of his remains in our current population. His royal blood line will not be carried forth in male offspring on the reserve yet, as the five sons he has fathered have since been relocated to other reserves to assist with the metapopulation genetic dynamics of lions in Southern Africa. The Tembe male is well-known for covering a lot of ground quickly and this is most likely due to the lack of other dominant males on the reserve and in the area. Welgevonden Game Reserve borders two other reserves, which have lion populations, Marakele National Park and a private reserve. He is easily recognised by his predominantly tawny mane with dark fringes closer to the neck and a short crew-cut hairstyle.  He is a tall male, taller than his rival and has a long, narrow face.

The Dinokeng male (below), king of the south, was born in April 2010. He was born on Welgevonden Game Reserve but when he was approximately two years old, was relocated to the Dinokeng Game Reserve close to Pretoria. This was as part of a lion management programme introducing males into areas to mimic dispersion of males in natural lion populations.  He was later returned to his home, Welgevonden Game Reserve, in February 2018. Having left when he was a young male, he was undoubtedly unsure of his new surroundings and made his way to the south of the reserve in what can only be described as homing instinct in lions. Dinokeng Game Reserve is relatively close to Welgevonden, about 100kms away. It was not until some months later, that Dinokeng and Tembe made contact and their territorial boundaries were laid down. Dinokeng dominates the south of the reserve with the Sterkstroom River valley forming the ‘official’ border, where Tembe dominates the northern, central and eastern areas.   Dinokeng is recognised by being a larger, heavier set male with a thicker mane with more dark hair than tawny. He is not as tall as his rival and walks with a slight stoop. He has a distinct long, dark fringe.

Dinokeng Male at Makweti

It is both fascinating and humbling to watch these two kings fight for dominance both physically and intellectually.  They constantly push each other to test the limits and are seen taking reconnaissance trips into their rivals’ territories from time to time. In what can only be typically ‘royal’ this Game of Thrones never ends.

Jessica and I were out on a late afternoon drive last year in November when such a saga was witnessed. We were in the central areas, deep in Tembe territory and having picked up on lion tracks, we were fervently searching for their owners. We narrowed their location down to a small section near Sekgwa Plains and eventually saw one of the Western Pride females on her own moving south, she was location calling and seemed anxious to find either her sister or the now 1.5 year old cubs of the pride. We lost her eventually as she headed into deep bush but decided to circle around to another area having picked up on male lion tracks, which we assumed must be Tembe, possibly with the other Western Pride female. We headed to an area where we knew they frequented and on rounding a corner came across the other said female with the male. Low and behold, this was Dinokeng not Tembe who we assumed was around! This was interesting, as we were certainly well out of the Dinokeng’s territory and here he was not only having stolen ground but was seducing a rival male’s female.

There are so many similar stories and more, of these rivals, which is best experienced in person.  

Q&A – Our Lions Giving Perspective

We are asked many questions around lion behaviour. Answering these in respect to our male lions helps paint a clearer picture for this reserve.

  • Do Male Lions Hunt?

In short, of course they do! Male lions hunt quite often. Male lions will typically leave their pride when they two years old, as the dominant male of the pride puts pressure on them to move on. Until they are around 5 – 6 years old, they will become nomadic or lodgers in other dominant male lion territories, avoiding trouble. During this period, they will need to hunt for themselves and will take any prey they can, often warthog or similar size animals that they can surprise or catch in an opportunistic situation.  However, males continue to hunt into adulthood as they will need to eat even when with the pride. When patrolling territory, they will hunt for themselves as this can be 3 – 4 days at a time. Tembe in particular hunts wildebeest, ostrich and zebra quite successfully on his own.

  • Why Do Lions Roar?

Lions roar for a number of reasons, and this only forms part of their communication ensemble. Males will typically roar to announce presence in that particular area of their territory. It also serves to warn any potential rivals in the area or within earshot that they are near and this area or territory is occupied or taken. Males will also roar to inform their prides that they are near, informing them that they have returned to the area. They will locate the females and pride by scent. A male lions roar is heard by other lions up to 8kms away. Humans can hear their roars from about 4kms away. Females will roar with males when they are with him, this is a sign of support to them and the pride dominance. Females will not usually roar outside of the males’ presence. On this reserve, I have not heard females respond to either of the males roaring. In saying that, I have been with Tembe before, where he roared a number of times and after an hour the Western Pride with their then 6-month old cubs came to join him.   Tembe has a reputation of being a great wanderer and he covers huge ground. We are often asked why this is the case as in many other reserves. Male lions do not cover so much ground within their territories.  We have discussed this at length and my theory on this reads; I believe male lions will roar expecting some kind of response. As a result of fewer rival males on the reserve, the Tembe male grew into a habit of investigating by foot whilst roaring, all the time expecting a response. In this way he discovered the reserve quickly and learnt the area well. The only response to his roars came from the rival males on neighbouring reserves, and so he continues to cover a lot of ground to ensure this remains the case. In other areas where there is a higher density of male lions, roaring receives a response in a shorter time and so less area is covered. I have yet to test this theory.

  • Why Are Lions The “King of the Beasts”

This is a great question, and one that is not easily answered. There are many other species that could fit this role, but for some reason it is the lion who holds the reigning crown. Perhaps it was due to the fact that historically, as mentioned before, they were widespread in the old world and were the large predator in most areas.

I think the answer to this question is best answered by perhaps the oldest living race of people today, the San. In Laurens van der Posts book, The Heart of the Hunter; Dabe, his San aid on his return expedition to the Kalahari answered this question in true San style. I quote from this great read:

“Had I noticed he asked, how everything in life had a place of its own? For instance, the springbok had their pans, the eland and the hartebeest their great plains, the jackal and hyena, the lynx, the mongoose and the leopard each have a hole of his own, the lion though, could come and go and eat and sleep wherever he liked. Even the locusts had their grass and the ants their mounds of earth – and had I ever seen a bird without a nest?”

True to their great wandering behaviour, lions come and go as the please and hence deserve the title of king.

I remember as a child listening to a cassette tape over and over again on the calls of African wildlife and of course being captivated by the early morning call of a lion roaring. It has stuck with me for 35 years. “The dawn greeting of the king of beasts rings clear across grassland, woodland and vlei.”   There is nothing quite like listening to the roar of a male lion on a dawn patrol of his territory. This precise picture is exactly what we think of when we think of Africa, and there is no place complete without the lion.

Much appreciation is expressed to Dr Jonathan Swart, resident Scientific Ecologist on Welgevonden Game Reserve for his input.  Thank you to Andre Burger and Greg Canning for providing information on the births of the dominant males we currently have on the reserve.

Picture note: Male lion tracks in the sand showing clearly the size difference between front (large) and back (smaller).

Words and images: Neil Davison

References:

  1. Personal observations by the author on Welgevonden Game Reserve
  2. The Behaviour Guide to African Mammals, Richard Despard Estes, Russel Friedman Books CC, 1995
  3. Mammals of the Southern African Sub Region, J.D Skinner & R.H.N. Smithers, Second Edition, University of Pretoria: Mammal Research Institute, Pretoria, 1990
  4. Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa, Chris & Tilde Stuart, Fourth Edition, Struik Nature, Cape Town, 2007

MTN Working To Help Save The Rhino

By / 13th May, 2019 / Wildlife At Makweti / Off

MTN Connected Wildlife is a first-of-its-kind solution that harnesses the powerful Internet of Things technology to help save the rhino.

From our experience, one of the best places in the world to see rhino in their natural habitat is at Makweti Safari Lodge, in the beautiful Welgevonden Game Reserve.

Makweti’s More-ish Muesli Rusks

One of the best things to come out of South Africa is the home-baked rusk. These “more-ish” muesli rusks made in the Makweti kitchen are nothing short of divine, and our overseas guests often can’t believe they’ve lived so long without knowing the pleasure of a rusk with morning coffee.

Now, no matter where you are in the world, you can bring the flavour of Chef Phillip’s rusks into your home with this easy-to-follow recipe.

Ingredients

1kg self-raising flour

1 cup cake flour (250 ml)

3 cups All-Bran Flakes (750 ml)

1 cup toasted muesli (250 ml)

½ cup toasted white sesame seeds (125 ml)

½ cup sunflower seeds (125 ml)

250g sugar

1 tsp salt (5 ml)

1 tsp baking powder (5 ml)

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

400g butter, melted

4/5 tbs sunflower oil (200 ml)

2 cups buttermilk (500 ml)

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 °C
  • Grease 2 medium loaf tins
  • Combine all the dry ingredients in a very large bowl
  • In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs, melted butter, sunflower oil and buttermilk, and mix well
  • Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture and stir until well-combined and sticky
  • Spread the mixture into the loaf tins and bake for 1 hour, or until the tops are golden brown
  • Remove from baking tin and cool on a drying rack
  • Using a serrated knife, cut the loaves into 3cm-thick slices and then cut into 3 slices lengthways
  • Place on an oven tray and dry overnight at 60°C in a fan-assisted oven or 80°C in a normal oven

Enjoy the aroma of freshly-baked rusks permeating every room in your house. Best enjoyed as you greet the day with a hot cup of coffee or tea.

For international measurement conversions, please consult this link: https://www.unitconverters.net/

The Elephant, The Artist and Makweti Safari Lodge

By / 24th April, 2019 / Wildlife At Makweti / Off

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.

Mandleve Painting

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.”

The Artist

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.

  • 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.

Photographs

  1. Mandleve Painting – Neil Davison
  2. Dining area, fire place, painting – David Ross

Text – Neil Davison

References:

  1. http://www.tuskersofafrica.com/tuskery/mandleve.htm
  2. https://www.kruger-2-kalahari.com/support-files/large_ivory_carriers_of_the_kruger_national_park.pdf
  3. https://www.countrylife.co.za/conservation/hail-the-high-mighty
  4. https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/elephants/about/tusks-ivory.php

Getting To Know Confidence Chau From Makweti

By / 5th April, 2019 / People Of Makweti / Off

It has been a while since we introduced you to a member of the Makweti family, so today we are only too pleased to get to know Confidence Chau a little bit better. Confidence is a member of the housekeeping team, and one of the reasons why everything always looks so pristine when you visit the lodge.

Confidence was born in Mokopane, which many local people might know as Naboomspruit. It’s a good 154kms from Makweti, which is now her second home. Confidence was born into a Christian family of four siblings. She has two sisters and a brother, and her father is a well-respected guide at one of the other lodges on the Welgevonden Reserve.

Wildlife and nature are in her blood, which makes her an asset to Makweti Safari Lodge. In her words, “I love nature itself and enjoy growing with what it brings working in this environment.” There is so much that it can offer a person, that words simply cannot explain.

Confidence enjoys meeting our guests from countries all over the world. She loves learning about their cultures and work experience. Mostly, she loves working with all the people who make up the Makweti family.

“My favourite thing is we are all different at Makweti, and we talk different languages and have different interests. We have to work as one happy team, which we do. Together we are one, experiencing the beauty of nature and the peaceful sounds of the animals.”

If that’s not a perfect description of the magic of the bush, then we don’t know what is!

Confidence is mum to a beautiful, young boy named Herbert. She is also engaged to be married to the love of her life, William. We wish her all the love and prosperity on this new journey with her husband-to-be.

Confidence Chau

Makweti’s Golden Crunchie Recipe

This recipe comes as a special treat. Those guests who have been fortunate enough to taste these crunchies straight from the Makweti kitchen, always request the recipe, and we stand by our promise to deliver it. The best part is that they are so simple to make, that even a novice in the kitchen can pull them off beautifully.

Ingredients

1 cup of desiccated coconut
1 cup of flour
1 cup of brown sugar
2 cups oats
250g butter
1 tsp baking powder
4 tbs golden syrup

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C
  • Mix the flour, coconut, oats and baking powder together
  • Melt the butter and sugar together, then add the golden syrup and mix
  • Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until combined
  • Press the mixture down into a baking tray, keeping the mixture about 1.5cm thick. Make sure it is even and pressed into the corners and sides
  • Place in the pre-heated over and bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown
  • Cut into squares while still warm and then leave to cool

Best served with a cup of tea or coffee, while overlooking a beautiful view!

The Night Stalker – The Aardvark

By / 16th March, 2019 / Wildlife At Makweti / Off

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

References:

  1. Personal observations by the author on Welgevonden Game Reserve and other Reserves in Southern Africa
  2. Mammals of the Southern African Sub Region, J.D Skinner & R.H.N. Smithers, Second Edition, University of Pretoria: Mammal Research Institute, Pretoria, 1990
  3. Smithers Mammals of Southern Africa: A Field Guide, R.H.N Smithers, Third Edition, Southern Book Publishers, Johannesburg, 1996
  4. Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa, Chris & Tilde Stuart, Fourth Edition, Struik Nature, Cape Town, 2007
  5. Beat about the Bush – Mammals, Trevor Carnaby, First Edition, Jacana, Johannesburg, 2007

Always Learning About Our Wildlife

By / 15th March, 2019 / Wildlife At Makweti / Off

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!

Neil Davison:

“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.

Warwick Tarburton:

“Hi Jonathan,

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.

Regards, Warwick”

Not only is that a first for Neil, but also for the reserve itself. What an honour to experience something so exciting!

Answering Some FAQs About Makweti

By / 1st March, 2019 / Uncategorized / Off

What Does Makweti Mean?

The name “Makweti” refers to the woody tree with the succulent branches and leaves that is characteristic in and around the camp and is better known as the Bushveld Candelabra, or Euphorbia cooperi.  It is believed that the local or traditional name in this region for the Euphorbia cooperi tree is “Makweti”, a Sepedi-derived name. Sepedi is one of the 30 recognised dialects of the Northern Sotho language group, which is widely spoken in the northern and western areas of South Africa. 

The camp is built in an area of the Welgevonden Game Reserve that is referred to as the “Makweti Gorge”. This gorge lies north of the camp and is the area we look onto from our breakfast deck down towards the Taaibos River Valley.   This was covered in our blog on the Makweti Tree in March 2018.

Makweti Tree or Bushveld Candelabra

What Type Of Vegetation Is Found On The Reserve?

Makweti Safari Lodge falls within the Welgevonden Game Reserve in the Waterberg Region of the Limpopo Province of South Africa.  This game reserve forms part of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, which predominantly consists of vegetation known as savannah bushveld. The biosphere reserve is dominated by different bushveld types characteristic with mountainous savannah. The Welgevonden Game Reserve, which has vegetation dominated by sourveld bushveld and mixed bushveld falls within the core region of the 654,000ha Waterberg Biosphere Reserve. The biosphere reserve is home to 5,500 species of plants of which 43% are endemic to Southern Africa. It represents a considerable area of the savannah biome in Southern Africa, and is the only UNESCO-recognised Savannah Biosphere Reserve in the world.

The savannah biome is 1 of 7 recognised biomes of the world, and forms a large portion of Sub-Saharan Africa. Savannah is typically characterised as an African biome as the wide variety of mixed bushveld in savannah accommodates a multitude of herbivore species that form large grazing and browsing herds.

What Animals Come Close To The Camp?

We share the camp with a variety of local resident species of mammals, reptiles and birds. The resident Vervet Monkey troop are frequently seen and encountered.  The Rock Hyrax or “Dassies” live among the rocks in which the camp is situated.

From time to time these resident species are visited by a variety of other mammal species found on the reserve. Sitting at the Indaba Lounge, overlooking the waterhole, one will witness the daily interaction between warthogs, impala, Burchells Zebra, wildebeest, kudu and chacma baboons.  These regulars to our bushveld pub form the core of the groups of mammals seen at Makweti.

Elephant also frequent the camp looking for fresh water. Our waterhole supplies regular drinking water, but our swimming pools are also highly sought after. The pools found at chalets 2 and 4 are the number one choice for many elephant bulls.  

There is a resident leopard in the mountains around Makweti, whose territory extends east of the camp and north into the Taaibos River Valley.  She is shy and seldom seen, but we have caught her on camera and will often find her tracks on the road coming into camp. Jessica has been privileged to hear her on occasion on the hills behind the house.

Other night visitors who come into camp when all is quiet include brown hyena, honey badger, porcupine, civet and rhino.

Answering FAQs About Makweti Safari Lodge
Elephant at the waterhole

How Many People Work At Makweti?

We have an excellent team who work diligently to ensure our guests have the most amazing experience possible. We are privileged to work with such committed people and are proud of their achievements on a daily basis. We have been featuring our staff in our People Of Makweti blogs, so keep an eye on who is next.

Our team comprises of lodge manager couple, 2 x guides, 1 x administrator, 1 x head chef, 1 x assistant chef, 2 x kitchen assistants, 4 x housekeepers and 2 x grounds and maintenance gents.  

A total of 15 exceptional employees!

How Big Is The Reserve?

The Welgevonden Game Reserve measures 36,000 hectares in total. This equates to 88,920 acres or 360 km2. The reserve falls within the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, which is 654,000 hectares large in its entirety.

Welgevonden Game Reserve falls within the core of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, which is 104,000 hectares large. The Waterberg Mountain range is 14,500 km2. By comparison, the world-renowned Kruger National Park is 19,485 km2.

How Old Is Makweti And Welgevonden Game Reserve?

In 1987, the concept of a game reserve was born. With the commitment of the private sector in South Africa and local farm land owners, the Welgevonden Game Reserve was proclaimed a conservation area in 1993.   Pienkes du Plessis, the owner of the original farm “Welgevonden” had the initial vision of this ambitious conservation idea.

“I wanted to remove all traces of human activity from this landscape and reintroduce animals that had been lost to the area over time due to humans.”

In 1993, when the reserve was proclaimed, the internal fences between the farms were removed, conservation and land management activities were implemented, and a unique conservation area started to re-establish into its original state.

Shortly after the reserve’s official proclamation, development of the tourism model for the reserve was established, and in 1994 Makweti Safari Lodge was built, being one of the first lodges developed on the reserve.

Makweti Safari Lodge has remained a key player since, contributing to conservation initiatives and the promotion of the reserve and area as a whole for its significant ecological value as well as socio-economic significance.

Have All The Animals Always Been On The Reserve?

Yes and no. Of the 50 mammal species found on Welgevonden Game Reserve, all of them are indigenous and naturally occurring in this region.

In the early 1800’s, many species were hunted mercilessly with pioneers moving through this region. By the early 1900’s, many species were extinct from the area. On re-establishing the area to conservation status, key species were re-introduced into their natural environment. These included elephant, lion, white rhino and many general game species. Species such as kudu, klipspringer, impala, brown hyena and leopard would have occurred here naturally during the previous farming era, although in low numbers. Being protected under the conservation practices of the reserve, their numbers have grown considerably.

Although historically, many species would have been found here seasonally, moving into more fertile low-lying areas around the Waterberg range in the drier Winter months, they are now found all year round on the reserve where they are protected.

Spotted hyena were never re-introduced into the reserve as part of the Reserves Predator Management Plan, however, nomadic individuals from surrounding areas in the Limpopo, have re-established a small population within the reserve, regardless. This is exciting, as it shows that the conservation practices are allowing mammals, birds, reptiles and insects to move back into previously occupied areas on their own.

In November 2018, black rhino were re-introduced into the reserve, the first black rhino to walk in these hills for over a hundred years.

Why Does The Soil Differ In Colours In Some Areas?

The soils on the reserve are mostly based from sedimentary sand-stone rock, and as a result are relatively infertile, unable to hold the nutrients usually found in more clay or loamy soils. The Waterberg Massif has an abundance of iron and magnesium within it, which lends its colour to the resulting soils on the reserve. When exposed to water and oxygen, the iron in the rock and soils begins its oxidising process, resulting in the beautiful rich orange and red hues. Similarly, magnesium in its oxidising process results in the purple colours found in some areas.

How Many Key Species Are On The Reserve?

A game census is conducted most years around September, with a primary goal of establishing trends in animal populations, rather than to give a definite number of the species on the reserve. The numbers of each animal indicate changes in the ecological process within a seasonal change. For example: it indicates the success of animals birthing each year.

What’s in a number? Knowing the actual number of the species is of little ecological significance but following the trends year on year provides interesting insights into animal population dynamics, which are influenced by disease, drought, floods, rainfall and predator activity.

The rhino population is monitored closely and although we have a healthy population, figures are held secret to ensure their survival. The current rhino poaching situation in Africa is more than concerning and significant measures are always being taken to ensure these species are well protected.

What Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit Makweti?

The answer is simple – any time! Although the seasonal changes are noticeable, there is no single best time of year to travel to Makweti. Finding game in all seasons is a challenge we relish, and this makes it so much more exciting than having anything guaranteed.

Spring and Summer bring on the best in terms of the vegetation biodiversity, with plants flowering and fruiting and the reserve in vibrant, green splendour. Summer is a birder’s paradise with many migrant species returning to breed or simply overwinter in our warm climates as there’s an abundance of food available.

Winter brings everything we love about it: log fires, warm blankets, hot water bottles and the hearty fare that our Winter menus offer. The long Winter morning light provides great photographic opportunities and the wildlife look forward to the warm midday and early after sun as much as we do.

So, when is the best time to be Makweti? All the time.

References:

  1. Words and photographs: Neil Davison
  2. Personal observations by the author on Welgevonden Game Reserve
  3. All the colourful guests who have passed through our doors
  4. http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/ecological-sciences/biosphere-reserves/africa/south-africa/waterberg/