THE MILKWEED LOCUST
At this time of year you might run into an army of these large, bright-yellow and black hoppers in Lapalala. They are the nymphs of the green milkweed locust (Phymateus viridipes), also known as the African bush grasshopper. During the growth stage, the nymphs start to move around in sizeable swarms. They eventually turn into large, green locusts with red wings which appear particularly striking in flight—usually seen between January and April.
AVERAGE TEMPERATURES & RAINFALL
SEPTEMBER Rainfall = 1 mm Min temp = 11.5 °C Max temp = 26.5 °C
UNDERSTANDING OUR ELEPHANTS
We were privileged to receive a visit from field guide, Wikus Potgieter, who shared his insight into the behaviour of our new elephants, and guided our interaction with each herd to optimise their habituation to vehicles and people. Wikus, who currently works at the Tintswalo Safari Lodge at Manyeleti Game Reserve, has been a field guide for 24 years and has over 18 years of experience in studying elephant behaviour. He specialises in understanding and interpreting the different body postures of elephants, and how people should correctly respond to these signals during an elephant encounter in order to make it a positive experience for the elephants.
Wikus spent a couple of weeks at Lapalala, observing and interacting with our Touchstone and Makalali herds. His findings suggest that the Touchstone herd still shows behaviour related to past experiences (before they were introduced into Lapalala). This correlates with their history, given that the original animals from the herd were orphaned following large-scale culling operations in the Kruger Park during the early ‘90s, and were then moved to a reserve where elephant hunting took place. An important positive finding, however, is that the elephants did not show any signs of aggression. The recommendation, therefore, is that we give them time to settle and get accustomed to our reserve over the next two years, so that they can learn that vehicles and people don’t necessarily mean “danger”. The Makalali herd is extremely relaxed and only showed positive behaviour during encounters, which will further aid the habituation of the Touchstone herd (as elephants do learn from each other as well).
We have learned a lot from Wikus and look forward to his return visit for a follow-up study on the progress of the habituation of our elephants.
HYENA BREEDING DEN
Hermann’s field rangers/rhino monitors made a very special discovery in the Tholo Plains area. They found an active brown hyena den with fresh tracks of pups and plenty of signs of family life, including fresh urination and food remains. A first trial with camera traps revealed two fluffy and mischievous youngsters that were quite intrigued by our cameras and, after a good few chews, eventually came to the conclusion that our casings are not edible and that it’s safe to sleep right in front of them.
PALALA RIVER CROSSINGS
In order to improve accessibility between Elephant Pools and Tholo Plains as well as between Lepotedi and Lapalala East, two new river crossings have been built by Lapalala’s environment team. Up until now, the only way to cross the Palala River, which runs from our southeast boundary to our northwest boundary, was over the Palala Bridge. Now, the two low-level river crossings allow more access along the river during the dry season and in summer when the river is not in flood.
THE CUCKOO HAS LANDED
One of our early summer visitors to arrive this year was the Klaas’s cuckoo (Chrysococcyx klaas). This spectacular, iridescent green bird is fairly common in Lapalala and can be heard throughout summer. In Afrikaans, its onomatopoeic name (name that imitates the sound) is meitjie, pronounced as ‘mei-kie’.
One of our biggest (and also our oldest) buffalo bulls, Horatio, has been translocated from the 1000 ha Mooimeisiesfontein buffalo enclosure to the main reserve. The impressive bull, originally from Elandsberg in the Cape, arrived in Lapalala in 2016 as our first breeding bull. He is now beyond breeding age and we noticed that the younger bulls in Mooimeisiesfontein had been giving him a hard time; chasing him away from the herd and injuring him. Horatio can now spend his last years in the lush thickets and forests of the valleys of Lapalala East.
CAUGHT ON CAMERA
A beautiful pair of African hawk eagles (Aquila spilogaster) decided to sit in front of this camera trap during our survey. This large bird of prey and true eagle is identified by its heavily streaked white underparts. It is fairly common in Lapalala throughout the year — often seen in pairs, due to their strong pair bond. This species particularly likes to be around cliffs and hilly terrain, of which Lapalala has plenty to offer.