Thursday, February 21, 2013

An Update on the Lions at River Bend Lodge

Our last Blog devoted solely to the Lions was in June we thought we should share a few images which have been taken lately.

The Lions are free roaming on 14 000 hectares at River Bend Lodge and were released in September of 2011.

The male Lions manes have darkened considerably since their release as can be seen in these photographs.

Click on an Image to view a larger version. All Images the property of River Bend Lodge and may not be used without permission.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


 A ramble on Prickly Pears!

Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 tells us there is a “Time for Everything”…and without sounding flippant, in the Eastern Cape, now is the ‘Time for Prickly Pears’. And this many thorned fruit is important to hundreds of people who wake up early every morning in January, February and into March each year to harvest the fruit, wipe on the grass to remove the thorns from the fruit, and heap them into containers of all sorts. The day is then spent on the side of the road…holding up the fruit to passing motorists in the hope that they will stop and buy some of the fruits of their labours. For all…this is an important source of income.

Prickly Pears flower in late Spring

Wire hooks are used to harvest the fruit

A morning snack


Picking the bush which is used to rub the thorns off the fruit


Rubbing the thorns off

Hoping to make some sales

The fruit is full of tiny thorns which detach very easily from the fruit....but not human hands!! The white powdery substance is Cochineal referred to below.

Preparing for consumption...avoid the thorns!

Like all true cactus species, prickly pears are native only to the Western hemisphere; however, they have been introduced to other parts of the globe. Prickly pear species are found in abundance in Mexico, especially in the central and western regions. They are also found in the Western United States, in arid regions in the Northwest, throughout the mid and lower elevations of the Rocky Mountains such as in Colorado, where species such as Opuntia phaeacantha, Opuntia polyacantha and others become dominant, and especially in the desert Southwest. Prickly pears are also the only types of cactus found to grow natively far east of the Great Plains states”.

Thorns...fruit...and Cochineal

“The first introduction of prickly-pear into Australia can be definitely ascribed to Governor Philip and the earliest colonists in the year 1788. Brought from Brazil to Sydney, they remained in Sydney for 50 years, until they were brought to New South Wales to a farmer's garden in 1839. The farmer's wife gave cuttings to neighbours and friends, who planted it not only in their gardens but also as hedgerows. So began the Australian invasion that caused major ecological damage in the eastern states. They are also found in the Mediterranean region of Northern Africa, especially in the most northern nation of Africa, Tunisia, where they grow all over the countryside, and southern Europe, especially on the island nation of Malta, where they grow all over the islands, and can be found in enormous numbers in parts of South Africa, where it was introduced from South America.

Prickly Pears belong to the Family Cactaceae Genus Opuntia. The spread of the plant to Australia was a result of the insect Cochineal which hosts on the plant and is an important part of the dye industry.

The cochineal (/kɒtʃɨˈniːl/ koch-i-neel or /ˈkɒtʃɨniːl/ koch-i-neel; Dactylopius coccus) is a scale insect in the suborder Sternorrhyncha, from which the crimson-coloured dye carmine is derived. A primarily sessile parasite native to tropical and subtropical South America and Mexico, this insect lives on cacti in the genus Opuntia, feeding on plant moisture and nutrients.
The insect produces carminic acid that deters predation by other insects. Carminic acid, typically 17–24% of dried insects' weight, can be extracted from the body and eggs then mixed with aluminum or calcium salts to make carmine dye (also known as cochineal). Carmine is today primarily used as a food colouring and for cosmetics.”

Cochineal...showing where the dye is derived from.

Traditionally cochineal was used for colouring fabrics. During the colonial period, with the introduction of sheep to Latin America, the use of cochineal increased, as it provided the most intense colour and it set more firmly on woolen garments than on clothes made of materials of pre-Hispanic origin such as cotton, agave fibers and yucca fibers. In general, cochineal is more successful on protein-based animal fibres (including silk) than plant-based material. Once the European market discovered the qualities of this product, the demand for it increased dramatically. By the beginning of the seventeenth century it was traded internationally. Carmine became strong competition for other colourants such as madder root, kermes, Polish cochineal, brazilwood, and Tyrian purple, as they were used for dyeing the clothes of kings, nobles and the clergy. For the past several centuries it was the most important insect dye used in the production of hand-woven oriental rugs, almost completely displacing lac.It was also used for painting, handicrafts, and tapestries. Cochineal-coloured wool and cotton are still important materials for Mexican folk art and crafts.

The Dye Industry in the late 1700’s was controlled by Spain and Portugal and, according to some sources, the the reason that Governor Philip took it from Brazil to Australia was to create a supply of the source of this dye for England.

There are many theories as to how and why and when Prickly Pears arrived in South Africa. What we do know though, is that they have thrived in South Africa and are prevalent in most Provinces…not least the Eastern Cape.

There is no trace of Prickly Pears on Wolwekop....controlled by Elephants!

What is really interesting is how they have been completely eliminated in the Nyathi Concession (where River Bend Lodge is situated) by the Elephants. Anyone who has been to River Bend Lodge will recognize the photograph of the area around Wolwekop which was (until the introduction of Elephants) covered with Prickly Pears…..all eaten by the Elephants which ate the leaves and fruit whole!!! Thorns and all!!

Parma Ham and Prickly Pear 

We got to work in the Kitchen at River Bend and came up with this as a Starter with a very Local Flavour!!!

Links to sources.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Spotted Hyena Encounter

Darlington took some Guests into the Addo Elephant National Park (Main Park) earlier this week and had this amazing sighting...12 Spotted Hyena  (Crocuta crocuta)in one sighting!! Here is his description:

Early Morning Game Drive

"Waking up very early in the morning for a sunrise game drive can be challenging but sometimes can be a pay off if you are lucky. It happened somehow that our concession was wet so my guests and I had to go across the railway line into the Addo Public Park where there is abundance of elephants and ofcoarse the spotted hyenas which we do not have in Nyathi Concession. Naturally spotted hyenas and brown hyenas occurred in the Eastern Cape but since the starting of the Park in 1931 the spotted Hyenas were reintroduced in 2003 together with the lions as there were no carnivores since the proclamation of the park.
Fortunate enough I happen to be the second vehicle to enter the park and we had a light drizzle but comfortable enough to take photos and watch animals. I have been guiding in Addo Elephant Park for close to 8 years now and I have never seen 12 Spotted Hyenas in one place, little had I known this was my day. It started with one male standing in the middle of the road and with the Addo vegetation you won`t know who is behind the bush, after a few minutes all of a sudden the whole road was covered with them.
Spotted Hyenas are very social animals living in family groups which are normally called clans and its matriarchal position as it is in elephants. Females lead the clans and they always share the same dens. These animals are highly social animals living into a group of up to 15 members even more depending on the availability of food. They mark their territories by anal gland secretion, urine spraying and they have very distinctive dung which normally turns white when it dries out and as animals with strong jaws they are very canning animals just like wild dogs.
Being and experienced guide in  Addo I have never seen such a sighting and they are very difficult animals to spot as the vegetation plays it hard for visitors visiting Addo Elephant National Park. The only way to see these animals especially in Addo is to do a very early morning drive and check at the waterholes as they tend to drink very early in the morning before they go to their dens, luckily I happen to see this one and only biggest clan in Addo. According to sources from the last census of their population we have less than 20 individuals in the park so having a chance to see the 12 individuals this morning was such my lucky day so to say.
We also have a few individual Brown Hyena but the sightings of them are very rare the reason being that they are very solitary animals and very nocturnal. As compared to vocal Spotted Hyenas the Brown Hyena is very silent or not very vocal. Even though the Brown Hyenas are known to be seen more in the Kalahari the chances are more that they tend to roam around in places where their distribution does not occur.
I had a very good chance to spend about an hour following their behaviour and social structure from anal secretion to fighting , greeting ceremonies and urine marking. Amongst the clan there was a mixture of young ones and the oldest one I saw there seemed to be a male who had  an injured left right leg probably from fighting of he might have got injured from the prey he wanted to attack, their skills in hunting is not that proper as compared to lions which tend to kill their prey before they eat hyenas have got a tendency of eating their prey before it dies as most of their prey die from blood lose. They have got a very strong biting for which is their survival tactic in the bush whereas the lions have got good claws which helps them bring their prey.
While I was watching them they even tried to kill a leopard tortoise which just got hurt on its back leg but managed to secure its head straight in the shell. A lot of people believe that hyenas arte only scavengers but I have personally witnessed them making their own kills and sometimes take kills away from the lions as they take advantage of them moving in big groups.
This was my best spotted Hyena sighting ever since I started guiding in Addo Elephant National Park."
More sightings on the way
By Darlington Chaonwa

This is another group of Guests from River Bend Lodge being Guided by Steve Meihuizen...another of our Guides

(Photographs by Darlington Chaonwa. These Images may not be used without permission)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Interiors and Exteriors at River Bend Lodge

Whilst we are busy researching and collecting images for our next Blog....which is about something very Eastern Cape, we thought we would feature some photographs of Interiors and Exteriors taken at River Bend Lodge.
The Link to our Direct Booking is on our Website.....we look forward to welcoming you and your family.

(As usual....Click on an Image to view a larger version. All Images the property of River Bend Lodge and may not be used without permission.)