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Side portrait of buffalo with large horns

The Buffalo Boss

By Game Drive, Sightings

Out here in the bush, we don’t take ‘the bull by the horns’, we take ‘the buffalo by the boss’.

Not literally, of course! That would be a death sentence, which many a lion has experienced when taking on a buffalo. This beast charged its way into Africa’s iconic Big 5 because of its size, unpredictability, and general moody temperament. In fact, they are known for simply charging without warning – just imagine an 800kg male buffalo running at you at 50km/h!

Considering that they are so bad tempered, it’s not surprising that they are referred to as an ‘obstinacy’ of buffalo when in a group. They generally live in large, protective herds that, together with their characteristic bosses, makes challenging their stubbornness an unwise idea. Quite an apt collective noun, we would say.

Buffalo with large buffalo boss stands in grass looking at camera

And, as if they couldn’t get any more hardcore, the pair of horns that adorn their heads gradually fuse together into a thick, helmet-like growth at the base. This particular feature is unique to the Cape buffalo because all other types of buffalo, like the Asiatic water buffalo and American bison, generally have horns that grow separately on each side of the skull.

What defines the buffalo boss?

The horns are thick, solid bone and are fully formed by the time the buffalo reaches five or six years old. Younger bulls will often still have hairs on their horns. The bosses will only become hard at around eight or nine years of age. Buffalo are dimorphic which means there is little difference between the male and the female. The one fairly conspicuous difference between the two is that female buffalo have narrow horns that are, on average, about 10 to 20% smaller than the males, and they do not grow a boss.

Buffalo with big buffalo boss and birds on face looks at camera

For male buffalo, the boss signifies coming of age. At around the same time the boss forms around the male buffalo’s skull, the bull becomes eligible to compete for breeding rights, consequently becoming the herd bull and passing along his genes. And, while in their reproductive prime, male buffalo spend a significant amount of time ‘in the ring’ and need a strong boss to protect their brains.

As buffalo get older and their reproduction peak pass, male buffalo are usually chased from the larger herds and either form bachelor groups or live out the rest of their days alone. These elderly buffalo males are called the dagha or dagga boys – dagha is the word in isiZulu for mud and refers to these buffalo spending many hours wallowing in pools of mud.

People on game drive watch buffalo standing in water drinking

Now that you know a bit about the buffalo boss, it’s time to see one in for yourself in real life! Contact us to enquire or book a Big 5 safari in the great wilderness of Manyoni Private Game Reserve.

Best collective nouns for animals on safari

By Game Drive, Safaris

On an African safari, if you have a knowledgeable game ranger, you are likely to learn all sorts of new and interesting information about the animals you see. One of our favourite bits of information to share are the collective nouns used for some of the species.
A collective noun is the name given to a group of animals. While many are common and well-known (like herd, flock, or pride), there are many lesser known but fantastically descriptive terms used to describe African animals.

Elephants

A group of elephants is called a ‘memory’ of elephants. This is in reference to their strong family ties, intelligence, and reputedly long memories.

elephants

Zebra

Sometimes the most interesting animals on safari aren’t the large predators, but the more common species that manage to capture our imaginations. Zebra are one of the most strikingly beautiful animals in the African bush and it’s not difficult to see why a group of zebra is called a ‘dazzle’ of zebra.

 

Giraffe

Giraffe are another iconic African species and always a firm favourite with our guests. A group of giraffe is called a ‘tower’ of giraffe, as their heads can often be seen sticking high above the trees on the horizon.

giraffe

Rhino

A personal favourite here at Rhino River Lodge, the term for a group of rhinos is a ‘crash’. It is particularly apt for black rhinos as at they generally come crashing through the bush towards you and then crashing right back away again as soon as they investigate what you are.

Wildebeest

The term for a group of wildebeest (also known as gnu) is a ‘confusion’ of wildebeest. This probably originates from the noise and confusion that happens in large migratory movements of wildebeest, like the Serengeti’s great migration, but we think it could also refer to the rather comical appearance of the animal. Described by entertainingly by Ambrose Bierce as “an animal of South Africa, which in its domesticated state resembles a horse, a buffalo and a stag. In its wild condition it is something like a thunderbolt, an earthquake and a cyclone.”

wildebeest

Buffalo

A group of buffalo is aptly referred to as an ‘obstinacy’ of buffalo. Considering their bulky bodies, stubbornness and tendency to stay in large, protective herds, this is a prime example of a collective noun that takes its inspiration directly from the characteristics of the animal being described.

Rhino-River-Lodge-buffalo

Hippo

Spending their days lazing in the water, and nights grazing on the river banks, a group of hippos is fittingly called a ‘bloat’. While this may sound a little funny, coming across a bloat of hippos out of the water is no joke as hippos are widely considered to be the most dangerous animal in Africa.

Rhino-River-Lodge-hippo

Memories, dazzles, towers, crashes, confusions, obstinacies and bloats! We’ve got them all at Rhino River Lodge. Start planning your safari to see them for yourself.

Originally published at Africa Geographic.

Tips for Taking Children on Safari

By Game Drive, Safaris

Tips for Taking Children on Safari

Written by Shannon Airton

What? Take children on an African safari?

The notion of taking kids on safari may seem both enticing and impractical. You imagine the exciting wildlife encounters, the iconic photographs you’ll take, the quality time spent with family and the lifelong memories you all will cherish. Then your kid throws a tantrum at the supermarket and you reconsider, thinking “If we can’t get through 30 minutes of shopping how are we going to survive a safari in Africa?” It can seem insurmountable. However, the question you should be asking is “Is it worth the challenge?” And to that, I can tell you that the answer is: “Yes, without a doubt”!
While this type of family holiday certainly has its challenges, with a little knowledge and preparation, you can all have the trip of a lifetime.

Here are my top 5 tips for taking kids on safari:

  1. Choose your destination wisely

For very young children, I believe the number one consideration is diseases and the preventative medicines that are required for protection. After a consultation with your doctor you will be able to make an informed decision on the destination that would best suit your family. Don’t despair, there are many areas in South Africa that are outside of the malaria-zone and are free of tropical diseases, like Rhino River Lodge!
  1. Select your accommodation carefully

Self-driving, self-catering safaris may seem a safe option (being able to contain screaming kids in your own private car sounds comforting, I know), but this sort of holiday can be hard work for parents. On the other end of the spectrum, high-end luxury camps aren’t necessarily the most appropriate place to take kids.
  • Look for a family friendly establishment and
  • read the reviews to see if people with children have had positive experiences.
  • Try to find accommodation with a large range of activities available on-site or close by.
  • I also highly recommend booking a camp with a swimming pool which will help you fill those long leisurely hours in-between game drives (and expend extra energy).
  1. Slow down

In my opinion long hours in cars, driving between destinations day after day, does not make for a memorable holiday for little ones, or for adults for that matter. Be realistic about your expectations. When you are at your destination don’t expect to be able to (or for your kids to want to) join in on every available activity. Give yourself enough time at each destination to be able to enjoy all aspects of the safari and not feel like you are missing out if your kids want to skip a game drive. Personally, I think the magic number is 3-4 nights per destination depending on your child’s temperament and the number of activities on offer.
  1. Start early by engaging your children with the idea and purpose of the trip

Once the trip is booked, start to pique their interest in where you are going and what you will see. Do safari themed arts and crafts. Buy them a children’s guide book to the animals of the area. Take them shopping for their own binoculars or camera and have them start to practice using them beforehand so they are ready when they arrive. Your imagination is the limit on this one.
  1. Always be prepared.

Yes, you are probably going to have to pack a little heavy for this trip. Many safari locations and game parks  are remote and do not have access to the same goods you can buy at home. Bring along anything special your child requires that will make your life easier. This includes anything from medicine to a stash of travel-proof snacks your kids like. The last thing you want is a child crying “I’m hungry” mid-game drive. If your accommodation doesn’t provide a children’s activity packet, then look up some activities on the internet.
Watching your child’s face light up the first time they spot a wild lion or excitement as you track the footprints of a rhino is incomparable. These days, children are more disconnected with nature than ever before. Family holidays that encourage them to connect with the natural world are good for their bodies and souls. You may even find when children disconnect from the digital world they begin reconnecting with their families. So, while at first a safari may seem an unlikely suggestion for a family holiday, the safari experience is about connecting with nature and one another, and is best shared with those you love the most.
Written by Shannon Airton, Mom, Owner and Manager at Rhino River Lodge
Previously published on Things To Do with Kids

First time safari tips from rangers in the know

By Game Drive, Rhino River Lodge, Safaris

For the first time safari traveller, going on safari can be an overwhelming prospect. Often considered a bucket list trip, expectations are high and the territory is unfamiliar and a little intimidating. Here we offer some advice to help prepare safari goers, courtesy of the guys who know the business best – game rangers! 

We asked Rhino River Lodge’s rangers, Kyle, Alex and Ryan, to share with us their top safari tips.

Here are a few of their recommendations:

1. Bring binoculars
It’s the number one piece of equipment that guests forget to bring along that substantially improves the safari experience, and it’s just as important as your camera! Not many people own a great pair of binoculars, but if you are planning to go on safari, now is the time to invest in a quality pair. Even when sightings are fairly close, binoculars allow you to take in details that would be missed with the naked eye. Ranger Alex mentioned bringing binoculars in the answer to every question he was asked about giving advice on safari… their importance shouldn’t be underestimated!

rangers-binoculars

2. Keep the noise down on game drives
Guides know that guests’ excitement can reach epic levels at amazing sightings but by keeping quiet and sharing the excitement later, you can actually improve your sighting by not disturbing the animals. Also, keeping quiet during the drive itself will increase the number of sightings you have as you do not startle animals before you are able to approach them.

Heidi-Watson-game-drive

3. Slow down
When planning your itinerary make sure you take time to enjoy each place. Ranger Kyle says, “Try and stay in each place for at least two nights. That gives you enough time to relax and enjoy every aspect.” The last thing you want during a safari is to get bogged down in the logistics of transfers, settling bills, packing and repacking. Spending a little extra time at each spot will make your trip much more enjoyable.

poolside-on-safari

4. Let go of expectations
Just relax and enjoy! All three rangers listed this as the number one piece of advice for the first time safari goer. Letting go of expectations and simply living in the moment is the number one way to increase your enjoyment of the whole experience. In the words of ranger Ryan, “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to see big game. Take pleasure in just being out in the bush! The fresh air, the wind in your hair as you travel in an open vehicle, the warmth of the sunshine on your skin, the bird sounds – it’s a delight for the senses. But all too often people forget this as they burn their eyes scanning the horizons for elusive animals. These sightings should be a bonus, not a requirement!”

refreshments-on-safafri

No two days on safari are ever the same and our rangers have their own ideas of what a typical day on safari involves:
Kyle says, “A typical day on safari would be having a good time out in the bush – enjoying the sunrise and sunset, listening to all the different birds, and looking for all the interesting things that we do not get to see everyday (like dung beetles in a rhino midden rolling balls of dung or female lions teaching their new cubs to hunt and catch their food).”

Heidi-Watson-lions-at-night
Copyright Heidi Watson

Alex believes guests can expect, “A variety of flora and fauna, from big sycamore figs to small bushes, from the big five to smaller creatures like dung beetles and ants. It all makes a day of safari exciting.”

Heidi-Watson-sunbird-feeding

For Ryan a typical day on safari involves, “Great scenery, sunshine, plains game, birds calling from tree tops, butterflies fluttering around, flying insects buzzing past your face, a sky full of stars, warthogs fleeing in a cloud of dust, vultures soaring miles above our vehicle – basically the time of your life!”

Claire-Birtwhistle-warthog
Copyright Claire Birtwhistle

So, while it is impossible to predict what guests will experience while with us, if you’re following the sound advice of our rangers, you’re setting yourself up for a successful safari!

Originally published on Africa Geographic.

Guest Experience Highlight: Alison Langevad

By Game Drive, Rhino River Lodge, Safaris, Sightings, Uncategorised

Recently photographer, Alison Langevad paid us a visit at Rhino River Lodge. Here she shares with us some of the stunning photos that she captured during her stay with us.

We asked Alison to tell us a little bit about her photography:
“I enjoy both sport and wildlife photography. I first became interested in wildlife photography in 1995 while visiting Africa. My husband and I traveled extensively through Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Uganda. We were fortunate enough to spend time with the Mountain Gorillas in Zaire, and so my passion for African Wildlife and its conservation began. We have since enjoyed the splendours of Botswana, Namibia and most recently South Africa. For me, Africa has a way of reaching deep into my soul and through photography I hope to share this. I sell stunning images on my website www.alisonlangevad.com and have a Facebook page Alison Langevad Photography so people can indulge themselves a little each day.”

Alison found Rhino River Lodge through the recommendation of a friend, “I connected through social media with a local photographer.  After a trip last year where we spent a short amount of time in KwaZulu Natal then left for Kenya and Tanzania, he wrote me this most amazing long email of all the reasons we should of stayed longer in South Africa. He described all the wonderful places close by we could of explored and suggested them for the future. It’s people who are passionate about where they live that do the best promoting. Word of mouth is invaluable and now after such a wonderful stay at Rhino River, we can do the same.”

 

We asked Alison to share her favourite memory from her stay at Rhino River Lodge, “My favourite memory would be the look on ranger Ryan Andraos’ face when we found the elephants. He was such a fantastic guide. They hadn’t been seen for a long time and we found them on his birthday. It was a great, light-hearted afternoon.”

 

We asked Alison if she had a favorite safari subject to photograph, “I don’t actually have a favourite animal to photograph. I enjoy moments rather than things in particular. This makes every day on safari a good day because I’m never disappointed.”

 

 

Alison shared her advice for taking great photographs on safari, “The best thing you can do to get great shots while on safari is give yourself time. It’s not about the equipment because it is quite easy to get up close.  It’s about having enough days to discover these wonderful creatures and then allowing the extra time to watch things unfold. We have learnt over the years to stop dashing around and spend longer in each place. We had enough nights at Rhino River Lodge to enjoy amazing sighting and indulge in our guides deep pit of knowledge, and could of easily stayed longer.”

Thanks very much to Alison for sharing her experiences and gorgeous shots. Make sure to check out her website and facebook page for more of her photos.

Guest Experience Highlight: Terry Lewis

By Game Drive, Rhino River Lodge, Safaris, Sightings

Terry and his wife recently came to spend a night with us at Rhino River Lodge. He captured our attention when he posted the lovely photos he took during his stay to Facebook. We thought we would take the opportunity to share some of those photos with you along with a little bit of their experience at Rhino River Lodge.

Terry and his wife are locals, coming to us from the Durban area only about three hours away. Terry explains how he “discovered” Rhino River Lodge, “Our kids were all going to be away on the Friday night so I searched the internet for a place in Zululand that we could grab for one night. I have been to Zululand Rhino Reserve before so I am aware of the area and the history, but I had not stayed in the south of the reserve before. So I searched on Rhino, and by chance ended on your site. The online booking is a MUST as I took a chance and booked. We families follow really busy schedules while our kids are at school, so getting away for one night is really a treat for us. Being so close to Durban, one night is a good option as we can do it easily, and still drive through Hluhluwe-Imfolozi on the way home.”

 

We asked Terry what his favorite sighting was during his stay with us…”We were spoiled with Lion, Wild Dog, Buffalo calf, Zebra foal, Rhino calf. All were special. The most appreciated was the wild dog. We have never been so close and had so much time with a pack. They are in such good condition. But we also had some time to explore the dung beetle. I appreciated Alex (our Ranger/Guide) really made an effort to show us the stuff that we wanted to see. He is really enthusiastic, and has already learned a lot of the local knowledge of the bush.”

 

 

When asked if he had any special memories from his stay Terry shared “As a couple we were able to enjoy a private weekend away, and partake in an activity that interests both of us. So our memory is the overall experience at a reasonable price.” That sounds like a great memory indeed!

Terry shared some great advice for first time safari travelers “My advice to first time safari goers is that the only way to really see game in a short time is to go to a private lodge as the rangers have a network that know the area. So a lodge like Rhino River Lodge is perfect for that.  A small digital camera is perfect for holidays, but if you want decent animal pics you need a good zoom, even a digital zoom will do. Another bit of advice is to pack clothing for all seasons, and you never know how cold those nights will be on the game drive.”

All-in-all Terry and his wife had some really wonderful game viewing, especially for a one-night stay. Our sincere thanks for sharing the photos and their feedback with us. We can’t wait until we get to have them back to stay again!

Interview with a ranger: Frances Hannah

By Game Drive, Rhino River Lodge, Safaris

Frances Hannah is our head ranger here at Rhino River Lodge. We love Frances for her sharp sense of humour and calm presence. Frances may be a ranger by trade but she is one of the best writers we know and writes some of the best bush stories in the business. Frances shared a little bit about herself with us in the following interview:

Frances off duty; simply enjoying spending time in the bush


1.       What led you to your position at Rhino River Lodge?
I did a nature training course at a training provider in the area, I wanted to stay in the region as it was the bush I was familiar with. An opening came up in Zululand Rhino Reserve (ZRR) and I was in the right place at the right time. I graduated on the Friday, came for an interview on the Saturday and moved in on the Sunday, and the rest is history!
2.       What is your favourite part of being a game ranger?
My office always holds a new challenge and you can never really know what’s around the next corner. I am constantly surprised by my surrounds and its movements.
Frances with guests on coffee break in the Msunduze River
3.       Any sighting on ZRR that stands out as your favourite?
It was cold and misty morning, we were on wide open plains and there were a few ostriches milling about in the open. I stopped, turned the engine off and was just taking in the setting, when like a domino effect all the ostriches started twirling in consecutive order. It was the most beautiful display I have ever seen and I’m not exactly sure why they did it. But the misty morning made it incredibly mysterious.
4.       You are a really talented writer, what do you find most inspiring as a subject?
When animals react to situations with a comical solution. I was once watching two lions laze about in the grass doing what lions do best: sleep. And all of a sudden a disgruntled black rhino appeared onto the scene and shook up the whole scenario by charging after a fully grown lion, the lion ran, tail between legs like a naughty school boy. I couldn’t wait to get paper to pen to describe the animals’ antics.
5.       Do you have a favourite animal to view on game drives? If so, why?
Black rhino, they are one of the only animals in the bush that are interested to see you. Most other animals will turn an eye, whereas the black rhino is all ears and coming straight for you at the slightest whiff or sound. Its exhilarating, keeps you on your toes.
6.       What do you love best about living in the bush?
Seeing the sunrise and sunset every day, the smell of potato bush in the evenings, the fact that when I call my family all they can hear is bird chatter. It’s an amazing lifestyle.
On a cheetah sighting in the Zululand Rhino Reserve
7.       Any books on Africa, nature, conservation that you found inspiring?
I have read a few books by game rangers, it’s amazing how many stories one accumulates by living in the bush, never a dull moment! A simple act of driving to work or changing a tyre can turn into a story retold by the fire for years to come. Man with the Black Dog and A Game Ranger Remembers are a few off the top of my head. But I appreciate any story that has me glued by the first page.

King of the Jungle

By Black Rhino, Frances Hannah, Game Drive, Lion, Rhino River Lodge

Stereotypes are way too simple, you know: black rhino are shy and retiring, the lion is the king of the jungle … ranger Frances Hannah explains that what you expect is not always what you get.
I was approaching a block of open plane grassland, the male lion and lioness were well hidden in the long grass but I could see the other vehicle on a sighting in the distance. I was making my way towards the other vehicle when a young black rhino bull stepped out of the thicket to my right and gave us a fantastic sighting, head held high, curious yet timid. Once he grew bored of our clicking cameras he moved back into the thicket of knob thorns and out of our view, or so we thought!

We carried on towards the lions; the male was sitting in eager anticipation; he clearly was waiting for something from the female that she was not willing to give him. As we were enthralled in the lion sighting I saw a dark figure come stomping out across the plane. Mr rhino was not putting up with coming second best and he was making a direct beeline for my vehicle. I changed gears to reverse, ready to get out quickly if needed, the young bull sniffed the air, he was out of range of the female lioness, but was about to walk straight past the male lion! My heart was beating as the ground between the rhino and my vehicle grew less and less. As soon as the bull got whiff of the male it was like a trigger went loose! The rhino bull turned suddenly to face the lion a mere 20 metres to his left and our majestic male lion became petrified and skulked low into the grass. The rhino bull gave one grunt and went full charge towards the lion! The male lion took off like a cat caught eating the pet budgie; the rhino was galloping behind him with no signs of giving up the chase!

The black rhino chased the male lion right out of the grassy planes, over the road and off into the next field where the rhino diverted off up the road. The male lion gave a few roars and moans, obviously feeling very foolish for being chased by a young rhino bull! When the male lion returned to his grassy rest spot, his ego bruised and reputation dented; he felt as if he needed to re establish his manhood, so he went up to the female with determination and all he got was a paw to the face and a very unwelcoming growl! Who did we say was the king of the jungle again??

The day we had a Big 4 sighting…

By Black Rhino, Elephant, Game Drive, Hippo, Leopard, Manyoni Private Game Reserve, Night Drive, Rhino River Lodge, White Rhino

It all started with a great black rhino sighting on our morning drive. It was a big bull, and he came right up to the vehicle to investigate us. I had to ask him very nicely to move away before switching on the vehicles ignition and getting ready to move off. He kindly obliged and moved off slowly, turning back at us every so often and just to check to see if we were still there. From there, we moved accross to Zen Zulu (our neighbours who we dropped fences with about 4 months ago) where they have these great open plains that the white Rhino love to graze. To our surprise, the open fields were full of Buffalo! There were about 3 different breeding herds and about 200 Buffalo in total, just grazing out in the open along with about 18 white Rhino scattered out amoungst them! After sitting with the Buffalo we moved off and spent some time with Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebeest, and quite a few Warthog with their new little piglets, we called it a day and headed back home to camp. What a busy morning!

That afternoon we headed out again, kind of thinking that the morning drive was pretty much it, and it would be hard to top. My radio cackled to life, and I got a call saying that there were some Elephant out on the open plains where we had seen the buffalo and white Rhino’s that morning. Off we went, although I wasn’t so convinced we would be able to see them as our breeding herd of Elephant is not the most social and they move pretty fast! Well, we never saw the breeding herd, but we did manage to find a solitary bull Elephant just wondering around seemingly aimless. We caught up to him where he was just standing around in an open field where he promptly fell asleep on his feet without a care in the world! Every now and then he would shift positions and rest a different leg, or flop his big heavy trunk over a tusk. His eyes were closed and I swear if we were any closer we would have been able to hear him snore. After leaving the old guy in his slumber, we went across to the dam where our resident Hippo hang out. In the evenings they are a bit more active than usual, just before they go out grazing. They were playing with each other and chasing each other, and just generally bonding.

On our way home that evening we bought out the spotlights and we did a bit of a night drive hoping to catch a few nocturnal creatures heading out for the night. On the main road, not even a kilometre from camp, one of the guests who was with me asked me to stop because he had seen some eyes. I reversed a bit and shone my spotlight over to where he was shining, and lo and behold, sitting right on the main road was the Little Leopard! We watched her for some time as she moved into a herd of Impala (they knew she was around as they all started alarm calling) and then slumped down into the grass. We pulled up in our vehicles next to her and watched her while she groomed herself and lazed around for a bit. We left her like that and called it an evening – we prefer to leave a sighting the same way as we arrive on the sighting, with as little disturbance to the animals natural behaviour as possible. 
That was the day we had a Big 4 sighting!