Tembe Elephant Park 2010

I looked for our last Tembe trip and found I hadn’t written about it, so here goes, a Tembe retrospective.

We hared off to the elephant park on the  Mocambican border with Jon and Dizzi Taylor. December 2010, so the kids had just turned 13 and 9.

Tembe ele bums-001

Aitch wasn’t well, but game as ever, she got fascinated by the close-up views we had of ele feet and ele bums and used the camera’s rapid-fire setting liberally. I made .gifs of her series of pics:

Our guide Vusi kept driving right up one ele’s bum and eventually it got agitated and turned round, to the kids’ consternation. It just shook its ears at him, but to this day – full knowing that I’ll insist ‘No it didn’t!’ – they’ll say “Remember when that elephant tried to kill us?”

Tembe ele approaches Tom   Tembe with Taylors Tom Ducks

Another kids’ meme that has survived the years is Jonathan leaning inwards as we passed thorny branches intruding onto the track. To this day whenever we drive past a branch Jessie will lean inwards against my shoulder and laugh, even though we’re in an enclosed vehicle!

Jessie, ever the champion spotter, pointed out this beautiful Vine or Twig Snake Thelotornis capensis on the path in camp.

Vine Snake Thembe

Tembe Elephant Park

On one drive we were able to compare a rare black rhino footprint with an unusual white wino foot:

Tembe with Taylors (1258)

Our last game drive was one too much for Aitch. She asked to be taken back to the Lodge and we finished the drive without her. Back pain from her cancer that had spread to her bones meant she reluctantly skipped a drive – something she would never normally do, so we knew it was sore! She had been a champ all along, full of good cheer, but this did turn out to be her last game drive.

Tembe Sunset

footnotes – what we learnt in 2018:

  1. Vusi is now camp manager. He gave a lo-o-ong speech before supper *yawn!*
  2. The painted dogs we saw in the boma were released but the project was not a success. They caught them and shipped them elsewhere. Then one bitch who had wandered off returned and gave birth to 15 pups! So Tembe has painted dogs in the boma again!


Meals On Wings

Flying ants! An alate emergence as we toffs call it. Whattapleasure.

The birds and frogs went crazy. A golden mole must have got carried away too as we found him swimming in the pool this morning, poor fella. Jessie scooped him out and he was soon burrowing his way under the grass.


Hottentot golden moles eat worms, insect larvae, crickets, snails, slugs, and spiders. The moist environment and dew provide them with the amount of water that is needed. They’re cute, without the huge teeth of mole rats:
Golden mole
Top pic shows how a few of the new infrequent fliers found their way in to Jessie’s bath water!


This Familiar Chap

I was moaning how Cape Wagtail numbers seem to have diminished and wondering if lawn poison did it.

Well, to be fair we also have to mention the apparent increased influx of a new (ish) city and suburban bird: The Familiar Chat. Years ago I used to look for them around old cattle kraals and other rural places, and occasionally big suburban gardens on the edges of towns.

Lately I have seen them in my garden in Westville, in my ole man’s garden in Lincoln Mead, Pietermaritzburg – where they’re nesting under the eaves – and now also on the roof of my shopping centre in Montclair – where I was bemoaning the missing wagtails.

Welcome, chaps!


pic: wikipedia ( I see it was taken by Frenchman Bernard DuPont in Camdeboo national park – love the pinpoint focus – detail you would easily miss – thank you Bernie!)


African Greybeard

I’m coming down to Durban to buy a parrot. Where’s Overport? asks the ole man.

Then the ole lady phones, all worried – as ever. Can you tell us how to get to West Road in Overport, Koosie? I say I’ll try, phone you back. I need to hatch a plot. I phone back and say Come to my place for lunch, I’ll leave work early and I’ll take you, it’s not easy to find. She sounds dubious but she’ll try that.

She phones back, amazed. He saw sense. We’re coming for lunch, she says, relieved. She can’t see, he can’t hear, so she was dreading looking for a small parrot in a strange haystack.

When I get home they’re on my stoep and Jess has given them tea and Tommy is busy cooking lunch for everybody – pasta carbonara. My children! Bless them! I had told them I’d love it if you’d give them a polite hello, but you needn’t stay, just make your excuses and go. They decided to completely exceed all expectations and charm the old bullets. Proud of ’em!

Off we go to meet Sumie who has three baby African Grey parrots in a box. His grandfather breeds them in Utrecht. Dad had said he wanted to choose his own. We check them out on the tailgate of my bakkie in West Road Overport. Dad picks one and now I think, Here comes the bargaining. R2500 says Sumie. No way says the ole man and shuffles off to the front seat of my bakkie. He comes back slowly with the bird magazine in his hand, stabbing his finger at Sumie’s ad: R2300, moaning Now I have wasted my time coming all the way from Pietermaritzburg. Sumie says to me I thought I wrote R2500! To Dad: Fine, Uncle Pieter, R2300 says Sumie.

And the food for free, says the ole man. That cost me R100, Uncle Pieter, I’ve just fed them, so give me R80, says Sumie. It’s my birthday on Friday (true), counters the ole man, You should give it to me as a gift. How old you’ll be? asks Sumie. Ninety Five says the ole man (true) so they settle on R50.

Now they debate who’s box is better. Sumie has a shoebox – it’s wider. Ole man has a box some electronics came in – it’s deeper. Ole man realises if he takes Sumie’s box he gets both, so he settles on Sumie’s shoebox.

We go back home to eat Tom’s delicious pasta lunch, followed by ice cream and coffee, and off they go back to Maritzburg. The ole man changes into second too soon up the steep hill. He would have hated it that I heard that.


And I didn’t take a single photo! Damn! Well, here they are with great-grandkids:

Gogo Mary & Great_Grandkids (2)

And I just thought: When last did I post a recent pic of my favourite children? Here they are willingly posing for me:


Return of the Wagtails?

For years I would watch a large flock of Cape Wagtails settle down for the night on a low tin roof above the parking area on the roof of my shopping centre, Montclair Mall south of Durban. They would gather in a long line under a roll of security barbed wire. Its just visible, arrowed next to the little grey lift tower far right in picture. True, its a long shot, but I wanted the clouds to show.

Montclair mall roof barbed wire.jpg

The ugly wire gave them a safe place to roost. The most I counted was sixty six of the lil guys.

Then they disappeared. For the last six years or more I saw none of them. Not one. My guess is poison on people’s lawns have put paid to them. Poor buggers do such a good job cleaning up people’s lawns but we humans are impatient! We prefer mass murder to waiting for little feathered tuxedo-clad workmen to neatly pick off the offending insects and grubs one-by-one.

This week one lone waggie made a comeback on the roof! Let’s hope a recovery is starting!


Cape Wagtail – Mocilla capensis

Wally Menne – R.I.P

Dammitall, I can think of a lot of people whose death would be good for the environment. Wally Menne is not one of them. His is a seriously sad loss for our environment.

Trish worked with Wally at BotSoc and at the big annual plant fair he was so instrumental in organising. The indigenous plant fair was huge in getting more indigenous plants out into gardens all over KZN and in spreading the word and popularising the planting of plants for a reason other than looking pretty. Azaleas are pretty but we all started to need to plant things that fit better into the local soil, insects, birds, etc biosphere.

We all knew that plantations are sterile and suck up water, but Wally gave me this book and taught me the real dangers of plantations:

Wally Menne gave me this book and taught me about the plantation industry

He told me about the plantation industry’s influence on governments and their insidious PR calling themselves “forestry people” and representing themselves as the stewards of forests when they were in fact the enemies of forests and grasslands. They sponsor bird books and create little nature reserves while destructively expanding into precious biodiverse areas, ruining them forever. They “capture” prominent environmental bodies by sponsoring them and wining and dining their representatives. Insidious. “State Capture” is old hat to them. Wally as always said it exactly as it was: He likened their use of  the word “forestry” to the Nats’ use of terms such as “separate development” or “mother tongue education” to put a pretty face on apartheid.

We miss you Wally and we need someone to stand up in your huge shoes. Ain’t gonna be easy. Most of us are easily swayed by persuasive bullshit and a book launch or a ribbon cutting at a new little nature reserve (which incidentally has no real protection).

Tonie Carnie wrote a stirring obituary for Wally in The Daily Maverick.

Lloyd’s Camp, Savuti

We flew on from Oddballs east out of the green delta across the dry Kalahari to Savuti:

We flew on to Savuti

The flight was a bit bumpy in the hot clear air and Aitch started to go green about the gills but we landed before she resorted to any lumpy laughter. At the strip we were met by pink-cheeked Emma the Pom in an open game drive vehicle. She was the camp chef – and the airstrip fetcher that day. She drove us right up an ele’s bum at a waterhole en route.

Just three of us in the vehicle. The last time I had been to Savuti was in 1985 when I’d arrived in a crowded old Land Rover full of Kiwis, Aussies, a Pom and a Yank on a budget overlander. We pitched our tiny tents in the public camping area and the eles bust the water tank.

Sixteen years later, luxury! Emma took us on to camp and fed us overlooking the famed Savuti channel. After Oddball’s roughing it: YUM!!


Jenny and Lionel Song hosted us. She was a honey, he was lion-obsessed. And we had Texans with us, so we did a lot of lion-chasing. ‘Myomi’s pride’ was the focus. Gotta have names.

So first thing in the morning we’d hare off to where the lions had last been seen and at last light (its a national park, so you can’t be out after dark) we’d hare back to camp. Once on the way we saw two ratels (honey badgers) skoffeling around and at least we did slow down to watch them awhile.

In Lionel’s defence he was doing his job, the Americans were repeat guests who worked for Southwest Airlines based in Dallas – world’s biggest carrier at the time. They were delighted when he gunned the Cruiser after a lioness as she started sprinting at a giraffe. She and five others brought down the giraffe and that was it, we spent the rest of the day watching lion lunch.

The good thing is a vehicle is a great hide so I could scan around for birds too. While doing so I saw two ears above the grass some 100m off. A cub watching and waiting. It stayed right there till the pride leader looked up and made a funny high-pitched bark and they (three of them) came running straight onto the carcase and started making a nuisance of themselves. When we left they had hardly made a dent in the huge female giraffe.

Next morning we drove straight back at first light and all that was left was a blood stain on the grass, a chewed head nearby  and scattered bones! Two males had arrived and they were lying there the size of dirigibles. Eight round lions and three bloated cubs. They looked like the animals from Rollin’ Safari:

Roolin Safari

Botswana Oddballs Savuti (7)

Savuti Botswana (1)

In camp Lionel, teasing, said to a guest who asked about the Lloyd of Lloyd’s Camp: ‘You should meet Lloyd, pity he’s not here. He’s 6ft 4in tall with long black hair tied back in a ponytail”. Yeah, right! Lloyd Wilmot’s a legend in deeds, but not in stature.

I love the one guest comment after yet another exciting Wilmot Safari: “While the Lloyd is my shepherd I Wilmot fear…”

It was 2001 and the Savute channel was dry, so the only waterholes were supplied by boreholes. The Savute flows with water from the Linyanti river. It apparently flowed in Livingstone’s time, around 1845, then was dry in 1880 and remained dry for over 70 years. It flooded again in 1957, dried up again in 1982, flowed again in 2008 and the marsh flooded fully in 2010. This was documented by Dereck and Beverley Joubert in their films Stolen River and Journey to the Forgotten River. Mike Myers tells how the whole dynamic of the region changes depending on what’s happening with the water. I heard in Maun how Lloyd Wilmot had found a crocodile (crocodile carcase?) high up in the rocky hills above the marsh around 1982 after the channel ceased to flow.


skoffeling – rummaging