It is hard to imagine that we are half way through the year, when it still feels like we celebrated new year’s yesterday. I now know why people always say that time flies when you are having fun! The winter is finally here and we had a few very crisp mornings and some chilly evenings.
The sightings were absolutely out of this world and we’ve had so many wonderful sightings. We were very fortunate to tee the wild dogs on a regular basis. Their den is just outside our traversing area and they move through our area on a regular basis to hunt. They will move though the area almost every 2-3 days, in search of food. Unfortunately, they do not stay very long, as they need to go and feed the alpha female, who is patiently waiting at the den. Zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, kudu, nyala and so much more were also out in their numbers. The night life was also out and about and we saw a lot of porcupines, civets, genets and even a pangolin.
The leopard dynamics in the area are still changing. There is a lot of changes happening amongst the males and females in the area. Salayexe is still expanding her empire and moving all over the show. It was really hard to find and follow her, as she was on the move the whole time. The only time that she was sitting still was when she had a kill. There are two young ladies still moving around in Salayexe’s territory and that is Nchila and Tiyani. Although these two ladies are family of Salayexe, there is no love lost between them. Salayexe will not tolerate any other female in her territory, even if it is family. Nsele was seen only once this month, without her daughter. Nsele is looking great and she is very healthy. I think it is not going to be too long before she will have a new litter of cubs. Moya and her cub have really surprised us, as they moved into the area on a regular basis. It is great to see these two beautiful cats moving in the area. Both are super relaxed with the vehicles moving around them. I just hope that she will stay clear of her aunt, Salayexe. Shadow and her cub were also seen this month with an impala kill. The cub is still very shy, taking after mom, and does not like a lot of vehicle movement around her. It will still take a while before the cub will become more relaxed with the vehicles. Although these two cats are so elusive, they are still very beautiful. Nchila is becoming a really beautiful cat. She still hasn’t found a territory of her own yet, but she is still looking around and weighing up her options. Nchila had another run in with her grandmother, Salayexe, and this time it was serious. Salayexe did not pack out any tea and cookies, as she made sure Nchila understood who the boss of the area is. We will have to wait and see where this young cat will end up. Tiyani has moved back into her mother, Salayexe’s, territory. Like a naughty teenager she does not respect the boundaries and rules. Once again, these two cats had another fight and like all the other times Salayexe came out on top again. Tiyani is really oblivious to the danger that she is in as she continues to stay in mom’s territory. Tingana is still spending the majority of his time on the eastern part of his territory, which is understandable. Overall Tingana is very healthy and in great shape. It is only time before Tingana and Anderson will meet again. Anderson is still expanding his territory more east, taking more and more of Tingana’s territory on the western side. This male is still looking absolutely fantastic. Although he has been more like a ghost this last month, we still had some great sightings of him.
We had such great sightings of these big cats this month. Just when you think it can’t get any better, it does. There is a lot of changes about to happen in the near future regarding the lion prides in our area. We were so fortunate to see the tailless female and her two cubs for the first time. It was such a wonderful surprise when the call echoed over the radio about the tailless female and her group having been spotted. Unfortunately, they did not stay very long before moving south again, out of our traversing area. Her twin sister and her group have spent a lot of their time in our traversing area. This might be due to the continuous changes of the lion dynamics between the male lions in the southern part of the park. With all these changes happening, it might cause the Tsalala females to move back north. The Tsalala pride is looking absolutely great and the 15-year-old twins are doing a great job in keeping the rest of the pride safe. The Styx pride is also looking great and we also saw them a few times this month. They were also seen deep in Tsalala territory. This pride is eating really well and the cubs always have full bellies. The Styx females killed two aardvarks the one evening, so you can just imagine the mixed emotions from the guides and guests when we saw this. Unfortunately, lions do not have a certain food criteria, as anything will do to feed themselves and the cubs. It is good to see that the Birmingham males are still spending a lot of their time with this pride. The Nkuhuma pride is also looking great and very healthy. We were so fortunate to see this pride so often this month. This pride has spent so much time around our lodge area and even more south than that. The pride has moved all the way to our southern boundary, which is very far into the Tsalala territory. It really looks like this pride wants to expand their territory more south, but with the Tsalala pride moving back north, we will have to see what happens. The 4 Birmingham brothers are also moving more and more south and west. They are slowly moving into old Majingi territory, but doing so very cautiously, as they were chased out a few times by the Majingi males. Everything is connected in some way and if the Birmingham males take over this area, it will mean that the Tsalala pride will be in the line of fire. At this stage, the only thing that we can do is wait and see how this story will unfold.
The buffalo sightings were not that great this month, as there is still no sign of the big herds. We have seen a small group of about 20-50 individuals making a quick appearance before moving on again. It is always great to see a herd of buffaloes and it doesn’t matter if it is big or small. Buffalo herds will always vary in size, this is due to the area and food and water supplies. Once again, the old dagga boys came to our rescue this month. It was still a challenge to find them, before the lions. As soon as buffaloes realize that lions are on their trail, they quickly disappear again. Unfortunately for the buffaloes, the majority of the lion prides in the area specialize in hunting buffaloes.
We once again had very memorable elephant sightings this month. These big heavyweights are moving all over the area. Elephants do not have a fixed territory like lions or leopards, but rather a home range. The breeding herds that we saw this month was only between 10-20 individuals. We saw a few different herds quenching their thirst in front of our lodge. It is great to see all the babies in the herds, which mean that the herds are doing well and that they are healthy. There were not a lot of big bulls in the area this month, but we still had our fair share of big elephant bull sightings. One big elephant bull really stood out from the rest of the bulls we saw. We were very fortunate to see the bull on more than one occasion. His body size was absolutely mind blowing and although he did not have very big tusks, he was still a giant amongst giants.
This month’s special sighting was to see a young pangolin on drive. What made it even more special was that we saw him on four different occasions. Pangolins are very secretive animals and they are mostly nocturnal as well. This young male walked around in day time and he was so relaxed with the vehicles. It was so nice to see him so many times in this month, let’s hope we can continue this lucky streak in July.
Did you know?
Pangolins are the only mammals in the world, covered in scales.
See you out on the game drive soon.
Note from the webmaster: We’ve been working on upgrading the Big 5 Blog the past few months, and for this reason we have not been able to publish our regular manager- and ranger reports. We apologise for this but hope that you will enjoy the flood of news that has reached you the past two days, as we catch up with all the outstanding newsletters.
And so we have reached the halfway mark for 2017! Hot summer days are something of the past and we are enjoying crisp winter temperatures! This month, we placed the patio heaters back into the boma and guests are also enjoying the blankets and hot water bottles on game drives. Temperatures have been dropping day by day and we are now in the full swing of winter.
Although the bush can get very dry and pale during the winter months, there is a rainbow of colours around the lodge. The bougainvillea bushes and aloes are in bloom. The gardens are painted with strokes and blotches of orange, pink, red and yellow. The aloe flowers also attract the most amazing birdlife, making them just a little more special.
This month we started a new maintenance project at the lodge. Our old bar is getting a makeover. The structure as it stands today was built in 1993. This building used to be the original bar and dining area. Nowadays the old bar acts as the games room, where guests can relax and enjoy a game of foosball, table tennis or pool. Hendrik and his maintenance team have already made loads of progress. The floor and walls have been stripped and covered with a fresh layer of paint. Old lights have been revamped for an authentic look and are shining a bright new light. Watch this space! Our fresh new look, with a few exciting additions, is coming in July…
In order to be a qualified guide at Elephant Plains, the guides need to pass an advanced rifle handling assessment. This is known as ARH in our industry. The qualification is valid for three years. This month, Morné and Louis and Dawie Lombard reached the line where it was once again time for them to renew their ARH qualification. This assessment is made out of multiple range, speed and accuracy shooting. It consists of a simulating hippo charge, accuracy and timed shots on two different buffalo targets and general aiming skills. Morné, Louis and Dawie all passed their assessments with flying colours. The examiner was very impressed with their shooting skills. Congratulations guys! To fire that many accurate shots does not lie in everyone’s barrel!
Last month, our trapcam was back at our resident hyena den, just west of our airstrip. I am now convinced that their favourite early morning activity is to lie around in the shade, doing as little as possible. What happens at night is another story, though. Busy bodies move around the den from dusk to dawn. The biggest count we’ve had at the den is 28 individuals and the range from old, to young, to very small black pups.
Staff birthdays were few and far apart at the lodge this month. We celebrated only two birthdays during June. Remember celebrated his birthday on the 7th. Those of you who have visited the lodge recently would know him as the bubbly personality at front of house, assisting during check-ins. We are so proud of him. He started off as a waiter, then a barman and now he is a real busy body in our reception, keeping all the ladies on their toes. On the 26th Dudu celebrated her birthday. Dudu is part of our housekeeping team and also makes a big difference in the scullery, never missing a spot on a plate or glass. I hope you both had wonderful birthdays. To all our readers who celebrated their birthdays during June, I hope your day was filled with happiness and laughter.
I am very excited to announce that we will soon introduce our new menus. The chefs are hard at work, mixing and matching several options to get just the correct dishes paired and in place. So far, so good. With some final touches and adjustments to make, our new menus will soon be complete. Watch this space.
This month, head chef Mia, shares a recipe for some deliciously Éclairs. Be careful when baking these, you might just over-indulge!
250 ml Boiling water
125 ml Butter – cut into blocks
2 ml Salt
4 Large Eggs
500 ml Fresh cream
75 ml Icing sugar
1 ml Vanilla
300 ml Icing sugar
75 ml cocoa
15 ml soft butter
30 ml water
Put the water and butter in a pot and bring to the boil.
Add the flour to the water mixture.
Stir until the dough forms a ball. Remove from the heat and mix for 1 minute.
Let the mixture cool for about 5 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time and mix after each addition.
Pipe the dough onto a well greased baking pan. Leave some space in between for the éclairs to expand.
Bake at 220°C for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 180°C and bake for another 25 minutes.
Prick each éclair when it comes out of the oven, let it cool.
Whisk the cream until soft peaks, add the icing sugar and vanilla. Fill each éclair with the cream mixture.
For the chocolate topping, sieve the icing sugar and cocoa together. Add the butter and boiling water until the correct consistency.
Spoon mixture over the éclairs, serve and enjoy!
Makes about 30 small eclairs.
Serve and enjoy!
All the best till next month
Winter has arrived and the bush is wearing its winter attire once again! We have the blankets and hot water bottles back on the game drive vehicles and game viewing has been spectacular! The trees and grass are not as lush anymore, which gives you a better view of all the amazing wildlife living around us. We’ve had a wonderful month at the lodge with guests from all over the world. If you have some last minute safari plans, be sure to contact our reservations office for some last minute availability during our winter special rates. Come and enjoy an evening around the fire in the boma with us and witness the most beautiful night sky Africa has to offer!
In the middle of May Etienne, Marlet, Anel and I once again took on the journey to Durban, to attend the annual Tourism Indaba. Our stand, tastefully decorated in crisp white and wicker, drew a lot of attention and we received loads of compliments. Thank you to each and every one who visited our stand. We met with loads of our well-known agents, but also got to meet a few new and upcoming ones. I am sure we will have many more years of good business relations with all of them.
With winter creeping up upon us, we see more and more activity at our waterholes. This month, the trapcam was placed on the road next to Leeukuil pan. There was a lot of traffic on this specific road during the time we had the camera up. We captured this beautiful waterbuck bull, gracefully moving towards the pan.
We welcomed a new but somewhat familiar face at the lodge this month. Dawie Lombard joined our ranger team just before the month said its last goodbyes. Dawie actually gained some practical experience at Elephant Plains in 2009 as a young student guide, fresh out of EcoTraining. It’s great having him back at the lodge and almost feels as if he never left, but just went on a very, very long holiday. Welcome back Dawie!
As always, we had some staff birthdays to celebrate. I celebrated my birthday on the 3rd and just the following day, Oom Etienne Swart had his special day. Although Oom Etienne lives in the Free State, his birthday is still special to us. To all our readers who celebrated their birthdays in May, I hope your day was filled with happiness and laughter!
Our recipe for the month is a creamy chicken sensation. These chicken phyllo cups are very easy and great for lunch. If you prefer to make a big pie instead of the single portions, just line a big pie dish and fill with the creamy chicken.
Creamy Chicken Phyllo Cups
1Kg Chicken breasts, cut to small pieces
Salt and pepper
Garlic & Herb spice
1 cup Frozen peas
1/2 cup Chopped spring onions
1 Roll Phyllo pastry
Melted butter to brush
Fry chopped spring onions in oil till soft. Add the chicken and fry till cooked but not dry. Add the frozen peas and fry till soft.
Spice with salt, pepper and Garlic & herb spices.
Make a basic white sauce, about 500ml, and add to the chicken.
To make the Phyllo cups
Cut Phyllo pastry in 10cm x 10 cm squares. Layer 3 sheets on top of each other. Place the pastry squares in a muffin pan and brush the sides with melted butter. Bake for about 5 minutes at 180°C till the sides are brown. Set aside to cool down.
Once cooled, fill the phyllo cups with the chicken mixture.
Makes 12 individual portions
Serve and enjoy!
All the best till next month.
Wild photo of the month by Paul, Sue and Mark Johnstone
April was another perfect month at the lodge. The bush and surrounds have changed a bit after the rain we had. The trees and grass transformed from a pale brown, to green overnight. One can still see that we are heading into winter, but the fresh green colours out in the bush were a huge relieve. At one stage, I was getting a bit depressed with the winter look that came too soon. Game viewing was magical and we had many groups at the lodge. They enjoyed the daily sightings.
African wild dogs by Louis Liversage
Now that winter is creeping up on us, we have changed our daily schedule at the lodge. We have moved our morning game drives 30min later, now departing at 06:00 and the afternoon drives depart 30min later, at 15:30. With daylight changes, we need to also change our schedule to ensure the best possible game viewing experience for all our guests. The morning game drives start off quite chilly, but then heats up towards the end of the morning drive and the afternoon drives are the direct opposite. You do not feel the need for a jacket at first, but just as the sun sets behind the mountains, a warm fleecy jacket is more than welcome! For those who will be visiting the lodge in the next month or two, please remember to pack those scarves and gloves. Should you not have space, you can also buy them from our winter stocked Curio Shop!
It is that time of year again, show time! April and May are two very busy months in the tourism calendar. The World Travel Market took place 19 to 21 April in Cape Town and our lodge was again represented by our marketing representative, Samantha Chatham at her Somewhere South stand. Soon Etienne, Marlet, Anel and myself will travel to Durban, to attend the annual tourism show, Indaba, on the 16th, 17th & 18th of May. The show is held at the International Convention Centre in Durban and we are very excited to present our wonderful product once again. During our time there, we make the most of every second, to meet up with all the familiar faces in the industry. We enjoy spending some face to face time with our agents and to also get to know new and upcoming agents and tour operators. If you are attending Indaba this year, feel free to visit our stand at any time, ICCG02. Hope to see you there!
This month the trapcam was placed at Bushcamp Pan. We caught this small tower of giraffe one afternoon. They are often sighted on our driveway towards the lodge. The young ones can get very curious sometimes. It almost looks like this one spotted the camera and posed for a family portrait with its mother.
We also had some birthdays at the lodge this month. On the 3rd Simon celebrated his birthday. He is one of the gardeners who keeps the lodge surroundings in tip-top condition and assists with general day to day maintenance. On the 13th, Etienne had his big day. The love and pride Etienne has for the lodge is bigger than anything I have ever seen. He is an inspiration to all of us and a wonderful boss to work for! Short on his heels was Janine, who celebrated her birthday on the 18th. Janine is well known in our reservation department. Then, last but not least, Joyce celebrated her birthday on the 30th. Joyce is one of our cleaners who makes sure that her rooms are always comfortable and cleaned to perfection. Happy Birthday to all of you! I hope you had wonderful birthdays and may you enjoy many more at Elephant Plains! To all our readers who celebrated their birthdays during April, we hope you also had a fantastic day, filled with happiness and laughter!
As we are slowly moving into winter, the recipe for this month is perfect for any occasion. Should you need something quick to add to an afternoon tea, or are planning a dinner,Vinegar pudding will never let you down. Although the name sounds a bit strange, you will be pleasantly surprised!
210 g Flour
100 g Butter
20 ml Apricot jam
200 g Sugar
250 ml Milk
5 ml Bicarbonate of soda
For the Sauce
250 ml Water
200 g Sugar
50 ml White vinegar
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Mix together the flour, sugar, butter and bicarbonate of soda.
In a separate bowl, beat together milk, apricot jam and eggs.
Lastly add the milk mixture to the flour mixture.
Keep the dough aside and finish the following sauce:
Bring to boil in saucepan the water, sugar and vinegar.
Pour sauce in an ovenproof deep dish. Pour the dough into the sauce and bake in the preheated oven, for about 45 minutes or until light brown in colour.
Serve with warm custard.
Makes one large or 12 individual puddings.
Serve and enjoy!
All the best till next month
With the impala rutting season in full swing, there is no shortage in the action department. Broken horns, bloody faces and puncture wounds on their bodies are only a few signs of the fights this month. These bloody battles can even be heard late at night, as the sound of males rutting and the clash of horns echoes through the night. The sightings were just out of this world and we were again so fortunate to see the African wild dogs this month. We also had great interaction between the wild dogs and the hyenas that kept us on the edge of our seats. The night life is just getting better and better as the temperature is changing. With the winter chill upon us the African civet, genet, porcupine and even caracal was out and about and they start much earlier in the evenings to look for food. The average maximum temperature for the month was 29°C and we had 13mm of rain.
If one would ask me to describe the leopard sightings this month in one word, it would be spectacular.
Salayexe was seen a lot this month and she expanded her empire even more this month. She has the biggest territory of all the females in the Northern Sabi Sand Wildtuin. Salayexe is all over the show as she tries to patrol her enormous territory. At this stage, there is no another female in the area strong enough to challenge her for territory.
Tiyani, was seen a few times this month moving back and forth into her mother’s territory. She is growing in confidence and moving more into Shadow’s territory as well. Tiyani killed an impala male the one day and hoisted the kill into a big marula tree. The impala male would normally feed her for a few days, but it did not happen this way. The smell of a fresh kill was picked up by her mother and she homed in towards the kill. Salayexe made sure Tiyani knows who is the boss and who the kill belongs to. After Salayexe had her fill she came down the tree and moved on again. Tiyani was pushed more south into Moya’s territory. Tiyani is a survivor and a fighter, so I am sure that we will see her again in the near future.
The young Ingrid Dam female was also seen a few times this month moving around. She is still in the area that belonged to the late Kwatile. It is always great to see this young female moving all over the show. It will be awesome if she can settle down in that area.
Nchila was also seen a few times this month. This is a beautiful female and it is great to have her back in the area. The only problem here is that she is currently in her grandmother’s territory. As we all know too well, Salayexe does not like any intruders in her territory, even if it is family. Like Ingrid Dam and Tiyani, Nchila is also looking for a place to call home and being 3 years old now she will start looking for a male soon. The other problem is that her father, Anderson is still the dominant male in this area so things might still change.
Nsele and her cub was also seen a few times in the area and both are looking great. The cub has grown so much in size and in confidence. She is a great cat to view and a real poser for the camera, with so much confidence. Moya and her cub was also seen this month in our area. She was seen moving and sniffing around her aunt, Salayexe’s, territory. Moya has a territory on the southern boundary of Salayexe’s territory. Moya and her cub are looking great and it was our first time to see the cub. Thandi and Thamba was also seen a few times this month. Thamba has turned into a wonderful cat with a great personality. Thandi has done a tremendously good job in raising this cub and it looks like he might make it to adulthood.
Shadow and her cub was also seen this month. She has been moving the cub around a lot this month, to and away from kills. The cub is still very shy, but if you just wait a while you will be rewarded with an awesome sighting.
Hosana was also seen a few times this month and he is doing well for himself. We saw him with a big male impala kill in a tree. This just shows that he’s got the ability to hunt for himself. One good thing is that the area which he moves around in does not have a resident hyena clan to steal his food.
Tingana was also seen often this month. He spends the majority of his time in the centre of his territory and did not move very far west which was very confusing for us at first. After we saw Anderson scent marking all over the western part of Tingana’s territory, it made sense.
Anderson is expanding again and has already taken a big chunk of Tingana’s territory to the west. This big brut of a male has decided he wants more. With Anderson pushing more east poor Shadow also needs to go more east as the life of her cub is now hanging in the balance.
We had a big surprise this month, as half of the Tsalala pride came to visit us in our area. They did not stay for very long before they crossed out of our traversing area again to the core of their territory. This was great to see them again as they do not usually venture this far up because they do not have any pride males anymore. Fingers crossed that the little ones who were sired by the Matimba males will make it to adulthood. This will be difficult, but these females have showed us that it is possible to raise cubs to independence without a pride male.
The Styx pride is doing really well and the cubs are growing up very fast. The three females are looking absolutely great and doing really well in supporting the cubs and feeding them. It is great to see that the cubs are doing well and if all goes well the pride might grow with another four females. One good thing is that the Birmingham males are very involved with the Styx pride.
The Nkuhuma pride is looking great and it is a pleasure to view them. The female with the amber eyes is far pregnant and we cannot wait to see the new bundles of fluff. The rest of the cubs also look very healthy and they are growing really fast. The Nkuhuma females are moving more and more west and south, looking to expand their territory. This will be great for them and for us if they take over this area around our lodge.
The Birmingham males are also expanding and they are also moving more west and south with the Nkuhuma pride. Finally, they have started moving around again as a unit. Maybe just for now, as they are expanding their territory. Let’s hope that they will succeed in taking over this area that once belonged to the mighty Majingi males.
The buffalo sightings were absolutely great. We had a big breeding herd of about sixty individuals moving in and out of our area. They came into the area but did not stay for very long before they moved on again. This is common for herds, whether it is big or small. They all have one thing in common and that is finding enough food for all of them. Luckily for us we had a small bachelor group of buffalo bulls who stayed around our area. Once again this was short lived as the Nkuhuma pride tracked them down and killed one. This send the other males running and crossing out of our area for good. One would think that these guys are too big to be taken down by anything, but lions are the apex predators of the bush.
The elephants are back in their numbers and we had a great time with these gentle giants. Evidence of these big animals are scattered all over the roads. As the grass is getting dryer and less palatable for the elephants, they turn their attention more towards the trees and shrubs. For their big bodies, elephants consume a lot of vegetation each day. We had a few big males in the area as well this month. These big boys had one thing on their mind: finding the female groups to mate. We also saw a few younger males that were recently pushed out of their family groups. These young males will sometimes join forces with other young males, who were also pushed out of their herds by their mothers.
One crisp evening we were on our way back to the lodge after a wonderful drive. We came around a corner and there it was, a juvenile caracal! It did not give us any chance to get a picture before it went straight into the tall grass disappearing into the darkness.
Did you know?
Elephants have a really large appetite and can spend up to eighteen hours a day feeding.
See you out on the game drive soon.