THE BIG 5 OF THE PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE
20 minute read08 Apr 2020
The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is the fourth largest game reserve in South Africa and home to the Big 5. It’s found in North West Province, west of the city of Pretoria. A leisurely 2-hour drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria means its accessible to local holidaymakers and international tourists pressed for time.
The beauty of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is it’s in a certified malaria-free region. Malaria is a serious disease contracted from the malaria-carrying mosquito. Families with young children opt for Pilanesberg because there is no risk of malaria.
Accommodation in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve ranges from affordable self-catering units or camping sites in a large resort to luxury safari lodges situated in remote areas with exclusive access. It’s ideal for a 2-day safari holiday or stay longer to explore the area. The world-renowned Sun City Casino & Entertainment Complex is an easy 20-minute drive from the Park so add an extra day to your itinerary to fit in a fun day in the sun at this incredible resort.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve is known for its dramatic landscapes and abundance of game and birdlife.
It lies nestled in an ancient volcanic structure which is circular in shape and rises from flat savanna grasslands. The unique landscape is formed by three concentric ridges or rings of hills; the outmost has a diameter of about 24 kilometres.
The mighty Elands River flows south of the Pilanesberg and the Park itself is renowned for its man-made dams which attract game and birds to its lush banks. A popular activity includes game viewing at one of the many bird hides in the reserve which gives visitors a chance to stretch their legs and spend time soaking up the peace and tranquility of the bushveld.
The name “Pilanes” is derived from a historic figure, Tswane chief Pilane, and “berg” means mountain in Afrikaans; although the dominant landmark is not a mountain but is in fact an alkaline ring complex.
There’s so much to do and see at the Pilanesberg Game Reserve; within its borders and the surrounding region. We’ve picked the Top 5 in each category to provide you with interesting information to kick start your safari holiday in South Africa’s favourite game reserve.
TOP 5 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE
It’s not a mountain
The mountain or “berg” as the Afrikaans-speaking population call it is a striking feature of the game reserve. However, it’s not a mountain; it is the Pilanesberg Alkaline Ring Complex. The striking mountain you see on a visit to the Pilanesberg is part of a vast circular geological feature; the remains of the crater of a long-extinct volcano which is the result of eruptions that occurred some 1 200 million years ago.
The geological marvel is one of the largest volcanic complexes of its type in the world. There are a few similar alkaline volcanic structures found elsewhere but the Pilanesberg game reserve can lay claim to being located on the largest of them all.
The vast circular geological feature is the crater of a long-extinct volcano and the result of eruptions some 1,200 million years ago. The rare rock types and formations make it a unique geological feature and a sought-after destination for geologists. Distinct types of syenites occur in the crater area, including several rare minerals.
The crater was formed 2 000 million years ago. At its peak, the volcano stood majestically some 7 000 metres in height. Volcanic eruptions occurred, and lava spewed out over several decades. The crater collapsed, and ring fracturing occurred around the volcano.
Magma squeezed into these fractures which resulted in several “onion rings” which is a visual manifestation of rocks of different ages. Over millions of years, erosion stripped away the volcanic crater and reduced its height.
What we see today is not so much a volcanic crater but a cross-section through the magma pipes that occurred at great depths below the mountain’s summit.
The first inhabitants were the Tswana tribe
Traces of Tswana habitation that have been found in the Pilanesberg area by archaeologists date back to 1 750AD and some traces found in the surrounding region date back to 1 300AD. The Tswana tribe occupied the territory between 300AD and 600AD.
The Tswana tribe moved away for a while for a reason archaeologist can’t explain and returned in 1 200AD. There are also many Stone and Iron Age sites found throughout the Pilanesberg, making the area a fascinating region to explore if ancient history interests you.
The first Europeans to arrive in the Pilanesberg area were a handful of traders who travelled to the region in 1892 from Cape Town. Robert Schoon and William McLuckie were accompanied by a missionary by the name of Robert Moffat. The famous Big Game hunter, William Cornwallis Harris, was known to have hunted in the Pilanesberg in the late 1930s. He reported on the troublesome tsetse fly problem that plagued the valley at the time and kept inhabitants away.
Hendrick Potgieter brought the first Voortrekkers to the Pilanesberg in 1839 and settled them near Phoken. The lush valley was soon planted with crops such as citrus, winter wheat, tobacco and coffee which thrived in the temperate, frost-free climate of the north-western region.
Mining exploration began in the early 1850s and vast quantities of coal, iron, copper, cobalt and gold have been found in the region giving rise to the mining emporium that dominates the economic landscape of the North West Province.
Operation Genesis broke world records
In 1969, the idea of developing the Pilanesberg into a recreation and nature reserve was proposed by members of the University of Potchefstroom. Politicians supported the concept, but it was only in 1979 that the Pilanesberg Game Reserve was established.
The dynamic property magnate Sol Kerzner had by then had made a bid to own the land surrounding what is now Mankwe Dam to establish his fantasy casino and entertainment resort. The late Lucas Mangope, president of Bophuthatswana, refused his application in anticipation that the land would fall into the proposed game reserve. Kerzner went on to build the world-renowned entertainment resort on leased land bordering the south of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.
Buoyed to get things started, Mangope embarked on a mission to rehabilitate the land that would become the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. The area had been used for intense commercial farming and then handed over to rural farmers; the land had been neglected and was degraded and depleted. Alien plants were removed, eroded land was rehabilitated, derelict homesteads and outbuildings were knocked down and an old fluorite mine was dismantled.
Then began the largest movement of animals ever attempted at the time. Dubbed Operation Genesis, 6 000 animals were relocated to the Pilanesberg at the cost of R1.5 million. An additional R1.8 million was spent on buying the game. Years later, Operation Phoenix would surpass the record where 10 000 animals were relocated to the Pilanesberg’s sister park, Madikwe Game Reserve.
The animals which arrived early were held in holding areas adjacent to what is now Manyane Camp as the finishing touches were put to erecting the fences and building dams. Over 200 animals died because of either stress or the cramped conditions; otherwise, Operation Genesis was regarded world-wide as a resounding feat.
The number of animals in the Pilanesberg were kept to 50% of the maximum carrying capacity to allow the area to rejuvenate naturally. From the late 1980s, numbers have increased significantly. Lion were reintroduced to the area in 1993; wild dogs were reintroduced in 1999. Both species are carefully managed through conservation breeding programmes.
It’s not a South African national park
Contrary to widespread belief, South Africa’s favourite game reserve is not a South African national park. The wildlife sanctuary is managed by the North West Parks Board (NWPB) and not the national government. As of April 2018, NWPB falls under North West Development Corporation (NWDC) which falls directly under the Premier of the North West Province.
The Pilanesberg region has been home to two main tribes who have for decades inhabited what was formerly an independent homeland, Bophuthatswana. The Pilanesberg area was proclaimed a national park of Bophuthatswana in the 1970s and 52 farmers were bought out and relocated.
The town of Pilanesberg was leveled to create the national game reserve and all that remains of the old dusty town is the Magistrate’s Court, which now serves as the Pilanesberg Information Centre. The only other sign of its former inhabitants are graveyards that lie nestled in thick grasslands and can only be seen when controlled burning takes place.
The game reserve was originally viewed as the national park of Bophuthatswana, although it has been referred to as either Pilanesberg Game Reserve or National Park since it was founded in 1979. The late president of Bophuthatswana, Lucas Mangope, was instrumental in establishing the wildlife sanctuary but he was disposed of in a coup by the old government and the ANC and put into what was otherwise known as protective custody.
Bophuthatswana was reincorporated into South Africa, but the reserve has remained in the hands of the local tribes.
The name Pilanesberg is rich in history and has not been changed by the new government of South Africa. Chief Pilane’s grandfather fought with the British against the Boers and had a reputation for being invisible. He was compensated by the government of the British Colony and given land for services rendered.
The northern corner of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve was originally owned by the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela tribe. The southern part was originally farmland owned by Boer farmers that settled there from the 1860’s; they were responsible for building Houwater Dam (now Mankwe Dam) which is a dominant feature in the reserve. These farms in the south were bought by the government in the 1960s.
The Bakubung tribe settled in the area, having arrived from the nearby town of Ventersdorp. The area was then declared an independent homeland as an area for members of a specific ethnicity and called Bophuthatswana which means “gathering of the Tswana people”.
Chief Tsidmane Pilane from the Bakgatla tribe came to an agreement with the government of Bophuthatswana that their mountainous region would be included in the new reserve. Sixty families were moved to a new town to the east of the reserve under the care of a tribal authority.
Pilanesberg growing in size and popularity
The Pilanesberg Game reserve is an area that spans some 572 square kilometres. Its size increased from 552 to 572 square kilometres as part of a 10-year plan to establish a wildlife corridor between the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and Madikwe Game Reserve. There continues to be several additions of land as private owners opt to drop their fences and incorporate their private game farms into the Greater Pilanesberg region.
Black Rhino Game Reserve is a private reserve that has recently been incorporated into the Pilanesberg Game Reserve on the north-western boundary. Its sweet veld vegetation complements the Pilanesberg’s predominantly mixed sour veld. This in turn attracts a wide variety of game which can safely traverse between the two protected regions. Sightings of the Big 5 are common and the private concession is well-known for its incredible wildlife and birds.
The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is easily accessible from South Africa’s two major cities; Johannesburg and Pretoria. It’s an easy 2-hour drive to the game reserve or visitors can opt to fly-in as the Pilanesberg Airport is close to the reserve. Coupled with its close proximity to South Africa’s favourite entertainment destination, Sun City; the Pilanesberg Game Reserve has grown in popularity. It was recently voted South Africa’s #1 game reserve in a recent tourism poll.
BIG 5 WILDERNESS ZONES IN THE PILANESBERG
Pilanesberg Game Reserve lies nestled in an ancient volcano setting which is not actually an old volcano but rather an alkaline ring complex which was produced by volcanic eruptions some 1 200 million years ago. It is renowned world-wide for its unique geological features and rare rock types.
The Pilanesberg region has survived decades of erosion which has created an incredible landscape of rocky hills and lush savanna grasslands, interspersed with thickets, wooded gorges and barren open plains.
The game reserve lies in a transition zone between the dry Kalahari Desert and the lush Lowveld bushveld. Unlike the Kruger National Park, these two unique eco-zones merge seamlessly to create a unique eco-zone which supports a variety of game. There are over 132 species of trees in the reserve and at least 68 species of grasses.
The typography of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is a visual feast; from syenite koppies, thick forested ravines, scrub bushveld, rolling grasslands and lightly wooded areas. At the centre of the park stands Thabayadiotso, the “Proud Mountain” which has been created because of volcanic eruptions and extreme erosion.
There are 5 distinct eco-zones in the Pilanesberg created by the typography of the game reserve:
These slopes receive more sunlight and are hotter and drier than the south-facing slopes. As a result, the vegetation on the northern slopes is vastly different to the southern slopes.
Common trees found on the northern slopes include the red bushwillow and the live-long tree. Red bushwillows thrive in the rocky, sandy soils and are prolific in the area. They have four-winged seeds which are slightly toxic but were used by rural folk as a tonic to cure stomach upsets. The ‘live-long’ tree grows up to 8 metres in height and is recognisable by its creamy-yellow flowers that appear in early April. The tree produces tasty purple-black fruit which the birds and browsers love.
The south-facing slopes are cooler and receives less sun, so the vegetation retains moisture. This is ideal for tree species such as hook thorn, beech, wild pear and buffalo thorn. The mountain cabbage tree species flourished for over 140 years in the area when elephants were absent. After elephants moved in, this species is now restricted to the highest hills.
The lower lying areas in the alkaline ring complex that makes up the Pilanesberg Game Reserve become waterlogged in summer. The extra nutrient and water creates what is known as ‘sweetveld’ (sweet grasslands) that grazers love.
The savanna grasslands are dominated by sweet thorn, umbrella thorn, karree, leadwood, tamboti and buffalo-thorn trees.
Common game found in the open grasslands include zebra, wildebeest and tsessebe. There is more food per hectare in this eco-zone than any other habitat in the reserve which can sustain large herds of game.
Over decades, the water from waterlogged areas evaporates leaving behind iron-rich minerals. These nutrients bake in the hot sun and become a hard layer of rock which locals call ‘ouklip’. A thin layer of soil builds up on top of the ouklip, but it is not deep enough or rich enough to support large trees and lush vegetation. Trees struggle to take root through the hard ouklip layer but grass species flourish.
Valley and hillside thickets
Pilanesberg Game Reserve is known for its thickets of sweet thorn and black thorn which occurs in brak soils in the valleys and rocky outcrop surrounds. Outcrops of red syenite have weathered into red-brown boulders that support thickets dominated by lavender fever-berry, large-leaved fig and red balloon trees. This is a smorgasbord for hungry browsers.
Thickets provide less food per hectare than the open savanna grasslands and only attract browsers who enjoy the leaves, thorns, fruit, pods and bark. Thickets also provide refuge from predators and are favoured by small herds of game who rely on camouflage for their protection. Several species of antelope will hide their young in the thickets until they are strong enough to join the small herd.
Four types of thickets are found in the Pilanesberg; gully thickets, which are remnants of ancient forests that have survived dry periods; termitaria thickets, which are extremely rich in nutrients from the food and excrements of termites which are attracted to these areas; riverine thickets, which thrive as a result of underground and surface streams and waterline; and break-of-slope thickets, which form because of vital minerals and nutrients found in water collected at the bottom of a slope.
BIG 5 FAMILY-FRIENDLY ACCOMMODATION IN THE PILANESBERG
The Pilanesberg Game Reserve offers a wide range of accommodation catering for local visitors looking for budget-friendly self-catering accommodation to international tourists looking for a luxury safari experience staying in 5-star lodges.
Here’s where you can stay in the Pilanesberg if you’re wanting family-friendly accommodation that doesn’t wreck the budget:
A 3-star resort with self-catering accommodation in brick chalets and canvas safari tents; suitable for families and groups of friends. Bakgatla Resort also has a large camping and caravan site and picnic facilities for day visitors. The resort is managed by Golden Leopard Resorts.
Bakgatla Resort is set at the foot of the Garamoga Hills and is ideally positioned to explore the main attractions of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, including Mankwe Dam and Thabayadiotso (Proud Mountain).
Bakgatla Resort has all the facilities expected of a family-orientated resort, including a large swimming pool, children’s playground, onsite restaurant, convenience store and laundromat. The resort caters for large groups and special events, with onsite conference facilities and catering.
The self-catering brick chalets sleep 5 people; with a double bed in the main bedroom and 3 single beds in the loft. Each unit is air-conditioned and has a kitchenette, small lounge, private patio and braai (barbeque) facilities. The canvas safari tents sleep 2 people; with a small kitchenette and en-suite bathroom.
Bakubung Bush Lodge
Bakubung means ‘Place of the hippo’ and was named as the lodge overlooks a large waterhole that is home to a resident pod of hippos. The modern lodge offers guests stylish accommodation in the heart of the Pilanesberg where game is plentiful and bird life is prolific.
Bakubung Bush Lodge has 76 rooms; catering for single travellers, couples and families. Each unit has is air-conditioned with an en-suite bathroom, coffee and tea-making facilities and a large flat-screen TV with a satellite channel. The rooms are beautifully decorated with quality linen and finishes; boasting panoramic views of the waterhole and surrounding bushveld.
The lodge offers 24-hour room service and caters for conference groups and special events with a business centre onsite and Internet lounge with free Wi-Fi. The lodge is built in a horse-shoe shape which means the rooms, spacious sitting area and outdoor deck have a view over the water hole where hippos, elephants, lions, antelope, zebra and giraffe are regular visitors.
There is something for everyone visiting Bakubung Bush Lodge; including a sparkling swimming pool and a poolside bar, children’s play area with volleyball and tennis courts, an onsite arcade and game room and a miniature golf course. For a bit of pampering, book a session at the world-class spa at Bakubung Lodge.
Daily game drives in an open safari vehicle can be arranged if you’d prefer to explore the Pilanesberg with a professional guide. Bush walks with a guide can be pre-booked through the receptionist. Kids not going on game drives with their parents can join the Junior Ranger programme for a fun morning’s entertainment.
A daily shuttle service takes guests to Sun City, a world-renowned casino and entertainment resort which is only a short 20-minute drive from the lodge.
Evenings are spent enjoying dinner in the restaurant or you can order room service. The lodge hosts a bush braai (barbeque) every Wednesday and Saturday which offers overseas visitors a taste of authentic African cuisine enjoyed in the bushveld under starry skies.
Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge
Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge is a 4-star luxury safari destination located in the heart of the Pilanesberg Game reserve. The stylish lodge overlooks a large waterhole with an impressive underground bird hide which offers guests a front row seat of the stunning bushveld and excellent game viewing.
The lodge has 90 rooms; 54 rooms have twin beds catering for single travellers and couples and 36 rooms have double beds. On the property, there are 54 self-catering chalets which are members of a Timeshare scheme.
Kwa Maritane boasts an elegant restaurant and bar with award-winning chefs at the helm or you can order room service which is available 24/7. Guests staying at the lodge on Wednesday and Saturday are treated to an authentic African bush braai which is an al fresco dining experience enjoyed under the stars.
The lodge specialises in hosting large events such as weddings, conferences and conventions, dinner dances and banquets. They also have a specialised team which manages product launches and team-building and incentive tours. Guests have access to free but limited Wi-Fi in the Internet lounge and business centre in the main reception area.
Other onsite facilities at Kwa Maritane include a medical service on call, a fully-equipped gym and a world-class spa. Treat yourself to a Thabayadiotso treatment or a manicure and pedicure while watching game visiting the waterhole. The spa also boasts a rasul chamber and hydro pool.
Outdoor activities include spending time in the underground bird hide which is equipped with a live webcam or lounging in the lush gardens which boasts 2 swimming pools with a slide and a baby pool, 2 flood-lit tennis courts, mini-golf course, trampoline and children’s play area.
Young kids not joining their parents on a morning game drive can join the Junior Rangers Programme which is suitable for children aged 6 to 12 years. It’s a supervised morning with educational activities like game drives, bush walks, birding, picnicking and film shows.
Daily game drives with a professional safari guide can be pre-booked through the receptionist if visitors prefer that to the self-drive option through the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner is served at the Kwa Lefakeng Restaurant which overlooks the waterhole and the Rock, which is a stunning rocky outcrop. Enjoy delectable buffets and carveries in the restaurant or opt to eat out on the terrace.
Manyane Resort is located right next to the main entrance gate to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. It offers budget-friendly self-catering accommodation in brick chalets, studio rooms or canvas safari tents. It’s most popular as a camping and caravanning destination for local holidaymakers. The camp site is electrified.
A brick chalet at Manyane Resorts sleeps up to 4 people; is air-conditioned and has a kitchenette, small lounge, bathroom and a private patio with braai facilities.
The canvas safari tents sleep 2 people; with a small fridge for self-catering visitors.
A studio room sleeps 2 people; with a shower and bar fridge for self-catering visitors.
Manyane Resort offers the full package for families with children; large swimming pool, children’s playground with mini-golf, onsite restaurant, convenience store and laundromat. The resort caters for large groups and special events with onsite conference facilities and catering.
Please note: Manyane Resort is located right next to a large residential settlement and complaints of loud music and noise are common on TripAdvisor reviews.
Pilanesberg Tented Safari Camp is a quaint option if you’re looking for a more rustic safari experience. There are 8 safari tents nestled in a wooded thicket which look out onto the Pilanesberg bushveld. Each unit sleeps 2 people; with linen provided, mosquito nets and basic camping facilities. Visitors make use of communal bathroom facilities
The safari tents are positioned around a fire pit; with a lounge and dining area set up under a large tent. A continental breakfast and an evening braai is included in the rate, prepared by staff and the camp hosts.
Enjoy a relaxing break at the rustic Pilanesberg Tented Safari Camp which gets you close to nature and away from the busy holiday crowds at the bigger resorts.
BIG 5 LUXURY LODGES IN THE PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE
Buffalo Thorn Lodge
Buffalo Thorn Lodge offers luxury self-catering accommodation for the exclusive use of its guests in the stunning Black Rhino Reserve which has been added to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve in recent years. The lodge has elegant free-standing suites, sleeping a maximum of 10 guests.
Each unit has a King-size bed with quality linen, air-conditioning, a luxury en-suite bathroom and a lounge leading onto a private deck with a jacuzzi bath and outdoor shower. There is a mini bar fridge in each unit and complimentary coffee and tea-making facilities, as well as a large flat-screen TV, home theatre system and digital satellite channel. There’s a Wi-Fi hotspot available in the lounge area.
Guests take over the whole lodge for an intimate safari experience, with a professional safari guide on hand to take guests on pre-booked daily game drives and bush walks. Other facilities on the property include a sparkling swimming pool, outdoor dining area and open-fire and gas braai (barbeque) facilities. The kitchen is fully equipped with modern utilities and the lodge is fully serviced by staff that come in daily.
Black Rhino Game Lodge
Black Rhino Game Lodge is located in the Black Rhino Game Reserve which is a private concession in the Pilanesberg National Park. The lodge is for the exclusive use of guests and no day visitors are allowed in the reserve and at the lodge.
There are 18 luxury suites nestled in a stunning Tamboti forest; each with air-conditioning, an en-suite bathroom, large flat-screen TV with a satellite channel, coffee and tea-making facilities, mini bar and a private patio that overlooks the beautiful bushveld.
The open-plan lounge and dining area in the main lodge lead out onto a shady timber deck with a sparkling pool which offers guests a respite from the heat and excellent game viewing. Enjoy delectable meals catered for by a private chef and spend evenings under the stars enjoying authentic African cuisine.
Children of all ages are welcome at Black Rhino Game Lodge. Children 12 years and older pay the full adult rate and are permitted on game drives. Baby-sitting is available for younger children.
aha Ivory Tree Game Lodge
aha Ivory Tree Game Lodge lies in a natural amphitheater in the northern corner of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, surrounded stunning riverine bushveld and a hazy mountain range in the distance. Apart from excellent game viewing on guided safari tours, guests can enjoy a range of outdoor activities which include archery, air gun shooting, interactive drumming and riding quad bikes.
aha Ivory Tree Game Lodge has 67 tastefully decorated luxury rooms; ranging from exclusive suites which boast every conceivable luxury to standard rooms decorated with African décor and offering ultimate comfort and luxury.
A favourite attraction at aha Ivory Tree Game Lodge is its acclaimed Amani African Spa which offers guests a truly decadent pampering experience. It’s a banquet for the soul and senses where therapists use a unique blend of brands from their Africology range.
Enjoy a 5-star dining experience in the lodge restaurant prepared by private chefs or experience an authentic bushveld braai (barbeque) at the boma where traditional African cuisine is served under the
Morokolo Game Lodge
Morokolo Game Lodge is situated in a remote corner of the Black Rhino Game Reserve on the northern slopes of the Pilanesberg mountain range. It offers exclusive accommodation in stunning bushveld surrounds. Morokolo is the Setswana name for the indigenous Num-num tree which grows in the bushveld surrounding the lodge.
The lodge has 8 spacious luxury suites and caters for a maximum of 20 guests. Each suite is stylishly decorated with air-conditioning, an en-suite bathroom and a comfy seating area which leads out onto a shaded private deck. There is a well-stocked mini-bar in each room and coffee and tea-making facilities.
The main reception leads out onto a stunning outdoor patio with a sparkling pool and jacuzzi. The air-conditioned lounge offers guests a respite from the heat and entertainment for guests such as a bar with a large flatscreen TV, pool table, board games and reading area. Enjoy delicious meals served by a private chef in the lodge restaurant or out on the shady patio overlooking the bushveld.
Morokolo Game Lodge can be taken over by a whole group for a private event or for a business conference. It has an open-plan area which can be set up with conference table and seating for up to 12 delegates.
Guests enjoy daily guided safari tours in open safari vehicles with a professional safari ranger and bush walks can be pre-booked. The area is rich in game and birdlife with regular sightings of the Big 5 around the lodge.
Tshukudu Bush Lodge
Tshukudu Bush Lodge in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is a stunning lodge located in a unique setting on a hill slope. Guests must climb 132 steps to reach the lodge which means it’s not an option if you have physical challenges and for children under 12 years.
The lodge has 6 spacious luxury sites for a maximum of 12 guests; each individually decorated and well-appointed to make the most of the panoramic view of the game reserve. This bushveld hideout blends seamlessly into the environment, nestled among rocky outcrops and wooded thickets.
Luxurious features include sunken bathtubs and a private deck overlooking a permanent waterhole. Game viewing is excellent in the area and sightings of the Big 5 close to the lodge are common. Tshukudu Bush Lodge is renowned for its exclusivity and superb personalised service.
Each suite is air-conditioned and has an en-suite bathroom, open-plan lounge with a fireplace, fully-stocked mini-bar and tea/coffee-making facilities.
Meals are enjoyed in the lodge restaurant or on the outdoor deck. Enjoy authentic African cuisine under the stars prepared by a private chef.
Tshukudu Bush Lodge can be taken over by a whole group for a private function or conference. There is a small boardroom onsite which can accommodate 12 delegates.
BIG 5 THINGS TO DO IN THE PILANESBERG GAME RESERVE
The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is home to the Big 5 (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard) and abundance of predators and antelope. Birdlife is prolific; the reserve has a number of well-appointed bird hides for birding enthusiasts.
The best time for game drives in the Pilanesberg is early morning and late afternoon. This is when it’s cooler and the game are more active. Predators generally hunt at dusk and dawn.
Visitors to the Pilanesberg can drive in their own vehicles to explore the expansive 57 000 hectares of pristine bushveld or they can opt to join a guided safari tour in an open game vehicle with a professional ranger.
There are a number of designated picnic spots in the Pilanesberg reserve where you can stretch your legs and look for game and birds at the waterhole. Or you can stop at the Pilanesberg Information Centre for a respite from the drive; stretch your legs, freshen up and enjoy a light meal at the restaurant.
Most resorts and safari lodges in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve offer guests the opportunity to go on a guided bush walk with a professional ranger. This is an opportunity not to be missed as it provides guests with a different perspective of the bushveld.
Learn more about the different habitats in the game reserve and the animals and birds that are commonly found in each. Study grasses and animal tracks while soaking up the peace and tranquility of the African bushveld.
Hot-air ballooning over the Pilanesberg Game Reserve
Visitors who get a chance to sail over the Pilanesberg Game Reserve get a bird’s eye view of the Pilanesberg Alkaline Ring Complex and the incredible habitats which are home to the Big 5 and an abundance of antelope and predators.
A hot-air balloon safari in the Pilanesberg are run by a professional independent operator and are one hour long. The rate includes sparkling wine after landing and a full English breakfast, and you’ll receive a first-flight certificate at the end of the experience. Transport to and from your lodge can be arranged.
Visit Sun City
Sun City Casino & Entertainment Resort is an iconic feature of the Pilanesberg and world-renowned for its fantasy architectural design and facilities.
There’s no other resort in South Africa that offers as much entertainment and variety of accommodation as Sun City. Guests have the option of staying in self-catering Timeshare units at the Sun City Vacation Option or one of 4 hotels on the property that range for luxury accommodation at the original Soho Hotel to ultra-luxury at the magnificent
Palace of the Lost City
Activities range from surfing and sun tanning at the Valley of the Waves with its artificial beach and waves to gambling, dining out, sipping cocktails at a sparkling pool, walking through lush tropical gardens and playing golf. Visit Waterworld with the family before heading off to the crocodile park, children’s playground and animal world.
Visit Predator World
If you want to get closer and more personal to lions and other predators, visit Predator World which is located a short drive from Sun City. Qualified guides take you on a safari tour of Predator World and share interesting information about the animals you see. Predator World is home to lions, cheetahs, leopards, African servals, spotted and brown hyenas, meerkat and one Bengal tiger.
Enjoy light refreshments and a meal at the restaurant before heading back to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve to see their cousins in the wild.
THE BIG 5
The Big 5 is something you’ll hear often on any safari tour in Africa. Who or what are the Big 5 in Africa?
This was the term given to five wild animals that hunters feared and treated with absolute respect because of how dangerous and unpredictable they are. Today, the term relates to five spectacular animals that visitors to a game reserve want to see and tick off their bucket list.
Elephants are the largest land mammals in the world. Herds are highly sociable and dominated by the oldest female elephant, called the matriarch. A mother elephant gets lots of help from the other “aunties” in the herd who together raise the baby. A young male elephant stays with the herd until he’s about young adults (15 years old) and then will leave to live with other bull elephants.
Elephants are herbivores; they only eat plants, grass and fruit. They visit waterholes and rivers often during the day and love to splash and roll around in the water. They use their long trunks to spray mud onto their backs which protects them against harsh sun rays.
A full-grown adult elephant needs a lot of water each day; the equivalent of 275 1l bottles of coke. They use their trunks to suck up water which is an incredible part of their bodies; it’s extremely sensitive and needs to be protected.
Elephants are known for their amazing memory and they’re one of a few mammals on earth that will grieve when one of the herd dies. An elephant will live up to 60-70 years in the wild if not slaughtered for their tusks by poachers selling to the illegal ivory trade.
A buffalo might look like a lumbering cow in the bush but hey are one of the most feared animals in Africa. These large beasts are one of the Big 5 which is a term hunters used for wild animals they dreaded having a personal encounter with in the bush.
Cape buffalo are bovines and closely related to the cow family. A bull can weigh up to 900 kilograms which is why they earned themselves the nickname “the black death”. What makes a buffalo most dangerous is its horns; females have hook-shaped horns and males have what look like a helmet. What they call the ‘boss” is the middle part of a bull’s horns that have grown together and connected in the middle.
Buffalo are herbivores, meaning they only eat leaves, grass and foliage. They’re mostly found grazing on grassy plains with few trees, which is a partly defense mechanism against predators like lion. You’ll often see buffalo close to waterholes and rivers. This is because they need to drink at least once a day. Like elephants, they use mud as a sunscreen.
Leopards are part of the cat family; a female is called a leopardess and a baby leopard is a cub. Females are slightly smaller than males. The easiest way to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah if its your first time on a safari tour is leopards have rosette patterns on their fur, which are markings that look like small black roses. The colour of their fur and rosette markings help leopards to blend into their habitat; either resting in tall trees with thick foliage or stalking prey on the savanna plains.
A fascinating feature of leopards is their ability to spring high into the air to catch prey like grouses and francolins which take off in a panic when they spot a leopard. A leopard can leap up to 6 metres into the air. They’re agile hunters and fast runners; they’re also great tree climbers and swimmers.
Leopards are solitary animals except during mating season. They spend most of their time in trees; sleeping off a big meal or surveying the plains for a potential meal. Leopards are carnivores, which means they mostly eat meat. They’ll eat anything from rats and birds to small antelope like impala. They hunt at night and rest in trees during the day.
A leopard carries its prey up a tree and lodges it in between strong branches until it is ready to eat. This is its way of keeping its food away from scavengers like hyena and jackal. A leopard will graze for awhile on a catch and then rest.
Cubs are born blind and only start to see 10 days after birth. They’ll live with their mothers between 2-4 years and learn everything they need to know from her.
Leopards are highly threatened in Africa due to loss of habitat and illegal poaching for their fur.
Lions are known as the Kings of the Jungle but it’s the lioness (female) that rules the African bush. They do all the hunting and child rearing while big Daddy lounges in river beds and under trees waiting for his next meal. A pride of lions usually consists of 10 to 15 animals; usually a dominant male with a few female companions and young cubs.
A lion needs up more than 8 kilograms of meat a day and a lioness needs about 5 kilograms a day. The pride only starts hunting at dusk and will be on the prowl until dawn. A lionesses can run at a speed of 80 kilometres per hour and will travel long distances over the course of the night to find food to feed their pride. Their favourite meal is zebra and wildebeest.
There are five different species of rhino in the world and Africa has two; the black and the white rhino. The main difference between the two is their lip which is adapted to their preferred habitat: a black rhino has a sharper, hooked lip which it uses for browsing on tree leaves and shrubs; the white rhino has a flat, broad lip which is suited for grazing grass.
The rhino is the second largest mammal after the elephant; a white rhino can weigh over 3 500 kilograms. They are instantly recognised by their striking nose horn which is where they get their name. Tragically, rhinos are being poached to near extinction because of the illegal trade in rhino horn.
Rhinos have a very large body but a small brain. They don’t have good eyesight and rely on their sense of smell and hearing to pick up danger signals. You’ll find white rhinos grazing in open savannah grasslands in small groups of 3 or 4; black rhinos are more solitary animals and prefer to hide out in thickets and riverine forests.
A group of rhinos is call a crash; which is an excellent term to describe the sound they make when they come crashing through the bush. They’re called white and black rhino but both species have a grey hide.
BIG 5 PREDATORS IN THE PILANESBERG
African servals are sleek and elegant, with the longest legs of any cat relative to their body size. Their toes are elongated which makes them highly mobile. They have unusually large ears which makes them efficient hunters where they use sound rather than sight at times to catch prey, and they have a special bony skull structure which also aids its sense of hearing.
Serval are part of the cat family. They’re easy to recognise in the bush; they have yellowish/orange-coated fur which is covered in black spots. This marking is good for camouflage in the thick bushveld. Each serval has its own distinctive markings, no two servals have the same pattern. Its tail is short and covered in black rings with a black tip.
Another way to recognise a serval is by its huge ears and long legs which are disproportionate to the size of their body. Its ears act as radars because they rely largely on their hearing to hunt. They can even hear small rodents and rabbits moving underground. They’ll hunt day and night, depending on what prey they’re going after. They live off rodents, bush squirrels, fish, frogs, snakes and small birds.
Domestic cats have a success rate of 10% when stalking and catching prey; servals have a 50% success rate which makes them very successful hunters. They’ll even leap into the air to catch flying birds or grouses taking off in flight.
Servals are solitary animals and only pair up during mating season. They are highly territorial and will use pee on and scratch trees to mark their territory. The females create a safe den when they are ready to give birth and will usually have one to three cubs.
The cubs are born blind and only open their eyes about two weeks after birth. They drink milk for the first five months and after that will join their mother to hunt. Cubs stay with their mother until they’re one years old and then will lead an independent and solitary life.
Fortunately, serval numbers have steadily increased over the past few years as they have been under threat from loss of habitat and hunting. Their main threat in the bush are leopards, hyenas and wild dog. Their long legs make them fast runners, reaching speeds of over 45 miles per hour in a chase. Only a cheetah is faster than a serval in the African bush.
The black-backed jackal is a predator commonly found in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. It is named after the dark fluffy patch running down its back which looks like a white-flecked saddle. It looks like a fox in the bush and has similar habits.
Black-backed jackals hunt in pairs or a pack of up to 4 companions; usually starting late afternoon until dusk. You can hear them when they’re on a hunt because they have a high wailing call which builds up to a loud chorus when they’re very excited. They are a nuisance for lions and leopards because they often follow in their wake on a hunt and yap like little dogs when excited.
A unique characteristic of jackals is they are monogamous and form life-long bonds with a partner. Youngsters from one litter stay on to act as helpers for the next litter, often suppressing their own breeding instinct to stay on and protect the litter. They’ll remain with the pack until they’re one year old and then branch out on their own, joining friends in the area.
Unfortunately, jackals are the most significant vectors of rabies and have been associated with epidemics that appear in four- to eight-year cycles. Their existence is also threatened by loss of habitat and at the hands of humans; caught in snares, poisoned or killed.
Cheetahs are the racing Ferraris of the wild. This is the fastest land animal with the ability to accelerate from 0 to 100 kilometres/hour in 3 seconds, which is faster than most super cars. They reach speeds of between 112 and 120 kilometres/hour in short bursts and can cover a distance of 460 metres in one chase.
Unfortunately, cheetahs use up all of their energy in this massive burst of speed and need to catch their prey or else they go hungry because it takes them some time to recover. A cheetah uses is long, muscular tail like a rudder. Its flat shape helps control their steering and keeps them balanced when they’re bolding through the bush.
A unique feature of the cheetah species is they have a semi non-retractable claw; like a dog claw and not a cat claw. They use their claws like cleats on a rugby boot; giving them loads of traction as they take off a great speed. Their pads are hard like tyre rubber which helps them get a better grip in a chase.
A noticeable difference between a cheetah and a leopard if this is your first safari tour is cheetahs have what looks like a long black tear mark running from the inside corners of their eyes to the outer edges of their mouth. It is believed that the tear mark acts like the black marks football players use under their eyes to cut down on glare. They also work like sight on a rifle to help the cheetah keep a prey in sight during a chase.
A leopard has black rosettes on its fur; cheetahs have solid black spots. The spots are also found on their skin; the black fur grows out of the black spots on their skin.
The cheetah is the fastest land mammal and at full speed their feet will barely touch the ground; covering the ground with large strides up to 6-7 metres between steps. Unfortunately, cheetahs can’t keep up this great speed for long. If they don’t catch their prey in the first short chase, it takes them awhile to recover their strength which means dinner is delayed for a while.
Cheetahs are carnivores (meat eaters) and love small antelope like impala, duiker and steenbok. When they catch their prey, they kill it by biting into its neck and cutting off its air supply.
Cheetah cubs are the cutest; they have a gorgeous mantle which is long scruffy hair running down from the back of their neck to the base of their tail. The idea is the mantle makes them look like a small honey badger who are fearsome creatures; it helps them blend into the grass where they can be kept safe from hungry lions and hyenas.
A mother cheetah gives birth to anything from 2 to 8 cubs but sadly the survival rate of young cubs is dismally low; many don’t survive the first year. The cheetah is highly endangered with less than 8 000 cheetahs left in the wild.
Two species of hyena are found in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve; the spotted hyena and brown hyena. Both species have powerful jaws which compensates for their lack of claws. They have non-retractable nails which are suitable for running and making sharp turns, rather than catching prey.
Hyenas are highly sociable and live in a pack with an alpha male and alpha female. They live in open savanna grasslands and live off a diet of literally anything; from birds and rodents to small antelope and snakes as well as what they can scavenge on. Hyenas are both hunters and scavengers. They are also cannibals and will attack and eat other hyenas, especially young hyenas.
Hyenas are nocturnal animals; setting off at dusk and hunting until dawn. They are highly territorial and mark their territory with white droppings produced in the anal gland. It is foul smelling and lets other hyenas that wander into their territory that the place is occupied.
Hyenas are best known for their laughter; this is a cackling sound which alerts other hyenas that food has been found. Their worst enemies are lions and wild dogs and there is often tension in the bushveld when the three species cross paths.
A female hyena gives birth to between 2 to four cubs which she’ll keep hidden and protected in a den. They’ll drink milk from her for 12-18 months but supplement this with meat from 5 months. Often young cubs will fight each other to establish dominance in a pack and get the best feeding spot; sometimes these fight end up fatally. If they survive their childhood, hyenas can live to the ripe old age of 25 years in the wild.
BIG 5 PILANESBERG REGULARS
Hippos are massive and one of the most dangerous animals in the wild if encountered unexpectedly on land or disturbed in their territory. The name comes from the Ancient Greek word for ‘river horse’ but there is nothing sleek and slim about hippos.
Hippos spend the day submerged in waterholes or large pools in rivers; keeping low so they don’t get sunburnt. They secrete an oily red substance which looks like blood but is actually a skin moistener and acts as sunblock.
An adult hippo needs to resurface every 3-5 minutes and you’ll spot them in a river pool because you’ll hear them snorting and see them blow bubbles. A hippo can sleep underwater and will rise to the surface and breathe with out waking up. They’re highly territorial in water and will fiercely protect their territory from other hippos.
Reproduction and birth both take place in water. A baby hippo arrives weighing some 45 kilograms at birth and suckles underwater by closing its ears and nostrils. A female hippo has only one calf every two years. She’ll have her baby away from the pod and then rejoin her family for its protection against lions, hyenas and crocodile.
Hippos come out of the water at night to graze on grass. They can walk up to 10 kilometres from their pool in search of nutritious grazing. They have short, stubby legs but can still clock up great speeds if need be in a chase; reaching a speed of 30 kilometres an hour over a short distance.
Hippos will spend up to five hours grazing and can consume over 60 kilograms of grass at night. This is actually not that much considering how massive they are. Hippos are classified as a vulnerable species mainly because of loss of habitat from agricultural and land development.
Giraffe are the tallest mammals on Earth and look slightly prehistoric. Just their legs alone are taller than the average human. They are fast runners and can clock up a speed of 40 kilometres an hour over a short distance. They can cruise at 15 kilometres an hour over a longer distance.
Giraffes have short necks which are too short to reach the ground, so they have to spread their front legs wide or kneel on the ground to drink water. Fortunately, a giraffe only needs to drink once every few days as most of the moisture they receive is from the plants they eat.
They spend most of their lives standing up; they even sleep and give birth standing up. You’ll find them roaming the dry savanna grasslands or browsing through wooded thickets. They prefer to stay out in the open, so they can keep an eye on the veld for lions who are their main enemies.
Giraffes are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. They love acacia trees and use their long necks and long tongues to reach the tastier leaves on the top of the thorny trees. A giraffe tongue is a whopping 53-centimetres long. They eat all day and will chop up to 45 kilograms of leaves and twigs every day.
You’ll often find giraffes in the company of other antelope and zebras. They are excellent spotters because they’re so tall and alert their companions of lion, wild dog and hyena when they spot something in the bush.
There are a few species of zebra in sub-Sahara Africa and Pilanesberg Game Reserve is home to the Burchell’s zebra. They are instantly recognised by their striking black and white stripes; otherwise they look like small horses in the bush. You rarely see a zebra lying down in the bush; they sleep standing up.
Zebras are herbivores and life on a diet of grass and less often eat shrubs, twigs and leaves. They spend their days hanging out on open savanna grasslands and stay away from wooded thickets because this makes them vulnerable to predators like lion, hyena and leopard.
Zebra have excellent eyesight and hearing and usually respond very rapidly when hearing or spotting a predator creeping up on therm. They’ll shriek and squeal to let their companions know to flee. They fool a lioness in chase by running in a zig-zag motion. When one zebra is caught by a predator, it can usually rely on its mates to form a circle around the hunter and try to chase it off.
Each zebra has its own unique black and white pattern; it’s like their own personal fingerprint and no two zebras have the same pattern. They live in herds of up to 1 000 and a young zebra foal will imprint on its mother’s distinctive pattern as soon as it can stand up and see straight. A male zebra is called a stallion and a female is a mare.
Impala are called the ‘fast food’ of the bush and found in large herds on the open savanna grasslands. They are a yummy snack for lions and a fairly substantial meal for a solo leopard and cheetah or small pack of wild dog and jackal.
They have a tan coat with distinctive white and black markings. A unique feature of an impala is the white fluffy undercoat of its tail; when fleeing from a predator or merrily leaping through the bush, the white underpart is clearly visible. This helps youngsters to keep up with their mothers in the bush and the rest of the herd to regroup after a scare.
Impalas live in herds of only one sex; you’ll get groups of females and their young and separate bachelor herds. They only merge in mating season in the rainy months. A female impala can delay the birth of her foal for a few days and weeks and tends to drop her young during a heavy rainstorm. The rainwater washes the scent of blood away and gives her a few hours breathing space to hide her new baby in thick shrubs. It’ll stay there for up to 4 months until it is old enough to join the herd.
When threatened or chased, impala make a loud noise which is the signal to run. They leap high into the air which confuses predators; sometimes jumping 33 metres in length and 3 metres high. Its main enemies are lion, wild dog, cheetah, leopards, hyena and pythons. A large python can swallow a fully-grown impala in a matter of minutes.
Male impala are large than their female companions and have large, wide horns. They are herbivores and mainly live on grass with the occasional snack of leaves and shoots. They are not fussy about what they eat and can survive dry periods by adjusting their diet to what is growing in the bushveld. Baby impalas will suckle from their mother for up to 6 months. Female babies stay with the herd and the males will leave when they’re about one year old to join a bachelor group.
If you’ve watched the movie Lion King, you’ll have fallen in love with warthogs. They’re the ugliest and cutest creatures you’ll find in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. They look like mud-soaked pigs covered in bumps on their weird elongated faces which look like large warts.
Warthogs are covered in sparse bristles and they have a scraggy main. They have a long tail which ends in a wiry tuft. Game rangers call them ‘bush radios’ because their little tails stand straight up when they’re running which looks like a radio antennae.
A warthog has 2 pairs of tusks; the upper tusks are longer and curve toward each other. These are used for fighting and to ward off predators. They may be short and squat, but they can clock up big speeds in a chase; running up to 50 kilometres per hour over a short distance. When threatened by lion or leopard, they will dart into a burrow; exposing only their sharp tusks to the ugly outside world.
These scruffy bush hogs are herbivores; mainly living on grass and a diet of underground tubers, bulbs and roots which they dig up with their snouts and shorter tusks. A funny characteristic of a warthog is its eating habit; it crouches face forwarded on padded knees to eat grass like a holy man on a prayer mat.
Warthog have very poor eyesight, but they make up for it with an excellent sense of smell and hearing. They’re noisy little creatures and you’ll hear them snorting and grunting through the bush, particularly during mating season. A group of warthogs is called a sounder; it’s usually a small group made up of mom, dad and the kids. Female warthogs give birth to up to 4 babies; each one has exclusive use of its own teat. Even if one baby dies, the ‘free’ teat is never used by the other babies.
BIG 5 PILANESBERG LARGE ANTELOPE
The blue wildebeest is also known as a gnu and belongs to the antelope family. It’s an odd-looking antelope and a common sighting on the open savanna grasslands of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. Lions love wildebeest and they’re an easy source of food for bigger predators like hyena and cheetah. Fortunately, they have a high production rate and you’ll find large numbers of them in game reserves in South Africa.
The blue wildebeest is one of the largest antelopes found in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve; it has a large, oblong-shaped head and built with a strong upper body which makes it look out of proportion and slightly lopsided. Its hindquarters are slender; it has a mane like a horse and both males and females have curved horns.
Wildebeest are herbivores and spend their days grazing on short grass. They need to drink water at least every second day so you’ll often spot them near or at waterholes and rivers. Wildebeest live in large herds which are made up of a mix of males, females and youngsters. The large herd structure provides greater protection against predators.
The wildebeest species is most famous for its mass seasonal migration in central Africa which is a fascinating spectacular and draws hundreds of avid wildlife enthusiasts to the Serengeti Masai-Mara. Up to 2 million animals move clockwise around an enormous ecosystem which is driven by ancient instincts to find fresh grazing and water. This migration includes wildebeest, zebra and gazelles and an assorted cast of crocodiles which lie in wait at the river crossing points to gorge on the moving masses.
Wildebeest herds can grow to around 150 during the mating season. The dominant males perform spectacular antics to impress the females and they’ll urinate and defecate to mark their breeding territory and to keep other males away. They also attract females by rubbing a scent produced in the preorbital and interdigital gland into the ground.
Females give birth to one baby which is delivered in the middle of the herd. Females drop their babies in unison, with 80% of calves born during the same 2-3 weeks just before the rainy season. Calves can walk as soon as they’re born; and are able to run with the rest of the herd within a few days. They’ll suckle milk from their mom for the first four months of their life but also start grazing on grass within 10 days of being born.
Eland are the second largest antelopes found in the Pilanesberg Game Ranger and one of the most impressive in stature and good looks. They have an orangey-brown coat which slowly turns greyer with age. A rough black mane is a stand out feature as well as a beautiful pair of horns.
Vertical white stripes run down their sides, they have dewlap (fold of skin) under the throat and the fur on the top of a male eland’s head is quite dense. Both males and females have tightly spiraled horns.
Elands are herbivores and they spend their day browsing in semi-arid regions in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve sticking to wooded thickets and shrubveld around rocky outcrops; enjoying a diet of succulent leaves from flowering plants which are high in protein. They supplement their diet with a selection of tubers, pods and seeds. They are primarily browsers but will eat grass in the dry winter months.
Eland do not need to drink that often as they get most of the water they need from the leaves and tubers they eat. In times of drought and the dry winter months, they can conserve water in their system by increasing their body temperature.
During the mating season, eland converge on the lush green grasslands where food is more plentiful. Males spend their time testing the females and chasing them around until they are ready to mate, which can take a few hours. A male will mate with a few females; often locking their big horns with other males in a nasty fight for the right to mate.
Females give birth to one calf at a time. She’ll leave the herd to give birth and rejoin it a day later when the youngster is able to stand and follow its mom.
A herd of gemsbok is an unusual sighting in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve because it’s not their home ground. Gemsbok favour hot, dry areas and more commonly found in the arid reaches of the Kalahari and Namib Desert. The reason they’ve adapted to living in the Pilanesberg is because of the unique eco-system of the game reserve where the dry Kalahari Desert merges seamlessly with the lush Lowveld vegetation.
Gemsbok are herbivores and browsers; they enjoy a diet of leaves and fruit and get most of the water they need from the plants they eat. They can withstand temperatures reaching up to 45 degrees Celsius and can survive for long periods without fresh water. They conserve their energy by spending hours standing still in the shade.
Gemsbok are large antelopes and a striking sight on any safari; their colouring is a beautiful tan/light brown with prominent black and white markings on their face and legs. A bold black stripe runs on the lateral sides of their body. Its most impressive feature is its horns; their long horns are straight and almost parallel and serve as a deadly weapon to protect themselves from predators. They’ll impale a lion which is why they usually keep a weary distance from elands.
Because they are habituated to dry desert conditions, eland are most active at night. From the age of 5 to 6 years, eland males become territorial and will keep to a territory of around 10 square miles. They mark the area with dung and will lock horns in a nasty fight with another male who enters its territory. Fights between males are vicious and often fatal for one of them. Fortunately, they have thick skin on their necks and shoulders which helps prevent serious injuries during a fight.
Gemsbok live in herds of between 10 to 40 animals which are made up of one dominant male, their female companions and youngsters. The lusher the vegetation in the area, the larger the herd. A female gemsbok gives birth to one baby and will hide it in dense grass during the day to keep it safe from predators.
A baby eland joins the herd in the evenings to browse for food, but it depends on milk from Mom for the first 6 months of its life. Its little horns start growing at 6 weeks which is about the time you’ll start seeing it out and about with the bigger herd.
The greater kudu is a magnificent species of antelope and a real crowd pleaser. It’s instantly recognised for is majestic stature and striking pair of long, spiral horns. In early years, kudu were hunted for their horns which were used as traditional trumpets for tribal dancers.
Kudus stand 1-and-half metres tall; the male is larger than the female. It has visible white stripes down the side of its body and white spots on its fur. A dark mane runs down the length of its spine. Its fur is a blueish-grey brown which provides it with ideal camouflage in its preferred habitat.
Kudus are herbivores; they will eat a combination of grass and roots, leaves, fruit and tubes. They can survive long periods without fresh water as they get most of the moisture they need from the food they eat. Watching a kudu eating is quite comical; it chews, swallows and then regurgitates what it is eating and then repeats. So, you’ll see lumps of food going up and down its neck like they’ve swallowed a rat that’s trying to escape.
Kudu hang out in small groups which made up of a dominant male, a few female companions and youngsters. They communicate by making a gruff, barking sound. Kudu males are territorial and don’t like to share their herd with other males; they get into nasty fights with other males which are often fatal for one or both of the males when they lock horns and sometimes can’t be separated.
Female kudu give birth to one baby; she’ll leave the group and isolate herself and the baby for at least two months. The baby kudu is kept hidden in thick grass for the first 5 weeks until it is old enough to join its Mom to browse for food. Young kudu grow rapidly and can fend for themselves from six months, although they’ll stick close to their Mom until they’re old enough to venture out on their own.
Sable antelope are beautiful animals and highly sought-after on a safari tour in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. They are instantly recognisable for the majestic stance, stunning deep-black pelt and magnificent curved horns. They are not listed as endangered, but sightings of sable antelope are rare and special in most game reserves.
Sable have an elongated, elegant head with pointed teeth, sharp claws and a long tail. They spend most of their time foraging for food in open savanna grasslands but are also agile climbers and will seek refuge in rocky outcrops when predators are close by. They’ll rest in well-hidden burrows in thick riverine forests or inside the roots of large trees during the day and only come out to graze in the evenings (crepuscular species).
Sable antelopes are carnivores (meat-eaters); they live on a diet of weasels, hares, rodents, fish and slugs. They’ll eat berries or seedpods to supplement their diet if food is scarce. Sable will travel up to 10 kilometres a day in search of food; using a keen sense of smell and hearing to find prey and to avoid predators.
Sable are solitary and territorial animals; they occupy a territory of up to 16 square kilometres and mark their territory using secretion from a gland in their abdomen. A sable male will aggressively fight with other males to protect its territory and keep them away from the females in the area. They have a unique courtship ritual which usually involves jumping and running to attract attention.
Female sables give birth to one baby in a nest built in tree holes using grass, moss and dry leaves. Babies are born blind and covered in a thin fur; it stays in the next for the next for the first few weeks to keep them safe from predators and only join the herd when they’re old and strong enough to fend for themselves. The female sable stays with her baby in the nest and the male brings food back for both. A baby sable with suckle milk for the first 6 months but is old enough to eat solid food from about 7 weeks.
BIG 5 COMMON ANTELOPE IN THE PILANESBERG
This duiker is called the common duiker because it enjoys the widest distribution of all African antelopes. It’s also called the bush duiker, Grey duiker or savanna duiker. The bush label is incorrect however, as duiker prefer to hang out in open savanna grasslands and tends to avoid riverine forests and wooded thickets.
The name ‘duiker’ comes from the Afrikaans word for ‘to dive’. This is a description given to the delicate antelope because of its habit of ducking and diving into bushes when it feels threatened. Duiker live on a diet of leaves, fruit and seeds and are also known to eat carrion and insects. The can go extended periods without water because they get most of the moisture they need from the food they eat.
The common duiker is a petite and shy antelope which usually lives on its own or with a female companion during the mating season. Their fur varies from dull grey to reddish-yellow depending on the region with white under parts; only males have short horns.
Common duiker are a delicious snack for leopard, cheetah, hyena and wild dog. They’ll escape being caught by taking off at a great speed and confusing the hunter by ducking and diving into bushes. It’s a resilient species and a cute sighting on a safari tour.
Bushbuck is another common species of antelope seen in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. They’ll alternate hanging out in riverine forests and wooded thickets to open savanna grasslands. They have adapted to living in both moist and dry climates and will seek out areas wherever food sources are abundant and nutritious.
Bushbuck are easy to identify in the bush; their fur has a yellow, reddish and brown patterned colouring and tends to be darker if areas with dense forests. Its ears, chin, tail, neck and legs are covered in white, geometrically-shaped markings and it has dainty legs and hooves.
Only male bushbucks have horns; they are sharp with a single twist at the bottom. It’s a fearful weapon when needed to protect itself against predators. They are a solitary and shy species; usually active during the night but you’ll spot them during the day on a safari tour resting in the shade.
Bushbuck are herbivores and spend a big part of their day grazing on grass. They supplement their diet with fruit that fallen from trees as well as tubers, tree bark and shrubs. They don’t need to drink fresh water that often because they get most of the moisture they need from the food they eat. This includes fresh dew on leaves and water in tubers and roots.
For some reason, bushbuck do not tolerate insect-eating birds sitting on their backs and as a result, are often covered in ticks. This makes them susceptible to diseases transmitted by insects, particularly a deadly disease called rinderpest.
Bushbuck are not territorial and will wander around a small home range which overlaps with the home range of other bushbucks. When threatened by a predator or frightened by a noise, bushbuck freeze or drop to the ground and lie dead still in the thick grass. They sometimes produce a series of hoarse barks as a weak from of defense.
They’re not fast runners but they can escape being caught by jumping high into the air or leaping into water because they’re good swimmers.
A female bushbuck gives birth to one baby a year and may have up to two pregnancies a year. After the baby is born, the mother eats the placenta and dung to remove all smells which attract predators. The baby bushbuck is kept hidden in thick vegetation for up to 4 months while the mother is foraging for food. It only joins it Mother when it is strong and old enough to fend for itself.
The mountain reedbuck is a medium-sized antelope and a graceful and shy animal. Its fur is mostly grey with a reddish-brown hue on its head and shoulders. It has long, narrow ears and a fluffy white tail and visible white underparts. Males have curved horns.
The reedbuck is a herbivore and spends its days grazing on open savanna grasslands. It needs an adequate supply of water and is commonly found near or at waterholes and rivers. As their name suggests, they prefer a mountainous habitat and are usually found grazing on mountain slopes or resting in the shade in thick wooded thickets.
It runs with an unusual rocking gait with its tail up and its white underparts clearly visible. They live in small herds of up to eight in a group, but the herd grows during the breeding season to up 30 animals. When disturbed, a large group will disperse and regroup later.
Rams are forced out of a herd when they’re about a year old and they set up small bachelor herds. When old enough, they’ll challenge the dominant male in the herd for territory and his females. There is usually one dominant male in each herd.
There are 8 species of hartebeest but the most common one found in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is the red hartebeest. They like to hang out on open savanna grasslands or sparsely wooded thickets.
The red hartebeest is easily identified by its short tan, golden and reddish-brown fur which is covered in long hair. It has an elegant elongated head, narrow face, pointy ears, humped shoulders with a downward sloping back and long, thin legs.
Both males and females have long, curved horns. They are set close together and covered in rings on the bottom half. Males are territorial and aggressive during mating season. They mark their territory with their own dung to warn other males to stay away.
Their natural enemies are jackals and cheetahs as well as lions, hyenas, leopards and wild dog. They might look clumsy and lopsided but they’re fast runners; reaching speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour over a short distance when chased by a predator.
Red hartebeest are herbivores and active during the da. They live on a diet of grass but will graze on shoots and leaves during the dry winter months in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.
A female hartebeest gives birth to one baby a year. She’ll leave the herd and give birth in dense bush. The baby is kept hidden for the first two weeks while it is weak and fragile and only joins the herd with its mother when it is stronger. Baby hartebeest depend on their mother’s milk for the first 4 months of its life and will stay with its mother until the age of 3 years. After that, male hartebeest are forced out of the herd and set up small bachelor group in their own territory.
Tsessebe are larger antelope and easily identified by their distinctive horns which are shaped like halfmoons. They have a dark faces and purple patches on their shoulders. Their withers and upper body are reddish-brown.
Tsessebe are herbivores and spend their lives grazing in open savanna grasslands. They like grass which is sweet and fresh and will gravitate to burnt areas to graze on fresh grass shoots. Tsessebe play a vital role in a game reserve ecosystem because they eat a wide range of grass species but tend to only eat the leaf, and not the stems. They need to drink often and are commonly found near or at waterholes and rivers.
Tsessebe are social antelopes and live in small, close-knit herds with a dominant male, 6-10 females and youngsters. Young males are forced out of the herd and will set up bachelor groups which often consist of up to 30 animals.
BIG 5 LARGE BIRDS IN THE PILANESBERG
The Goliath heron is a large wading bird found in dams, wetlands and rivers in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. You can’t miss them; they’re large birds. In fact, it’s the largest heron in the world.
A Goliath heron stands at over 1.5 metres tall and has a wingspan of at least 2 metres. It takes off slowly and looks quite cumbersome when in flight. Unlike other herons, it does not fly with its legs held horizontally; it drags its legs through the air.
This heron is covered in slate-grey and chestnut feathers; its head, face, back and sides are a rich chestnut colour. It has black streaks across its fore-neck and upper breast and black streaks on its lower breast and belly. The Goliath heron has a black beak and black streaks running for its eyes to its bill.
Goliath herons spends hours on the banks of rivers and dams hunting for large fish; it tends to ignore small fish and survives on 2 or 3 large fish a day. It’ll supplement its diet with frogs, rodents, lizards, snakes and insects. It’ll also happily scavenge on carrion.
The Kori bustard is a large bird and a favourite sighting among bird enthusiasts. It’s one of the heaviest birds you’ll find in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve; it has an amazing capacity to fly regardless of its size, but it tends to avoid flying if possible.
An unusual but common sight is seeing a Kori bustard with a handful of bee-eaters riding on its back as it strides through the grass. Bee-eaters hitch a lift and snack on insects that are disturbed by the Kori bustard. A Kori bustard survives on a diet of seeds and lizards, as well as other small delicacies it finds on the ground.
Kori bustards have a polygynous breeding habit; one male displays to attract several females and then mates with all of them. He leaves the females to care for the eggs and young by themselves. Female Kori bustards build a nest on the ground and incubate the eggs, often going days without food. When the chicks hatch, its mother brings them food that she has softened so it’s easier for the babies to eat.
The saddle-billed stork is a large wading bird and a striking feature on river banks and at dams and lakes. It tends to stick to wetlands and floodplains.
This stork is large; an adult stands at about 150 centimeters and has a wingspan of about 270 centimeters. It’s the tallest of the stork species but not the heaviest; it’s lightweight compared to its peers. Females are a lot smaller than the males.
It’s easy to spot a Saddlebilled stork in Pilanesberg Game Reserve; it’s plumage is striking with an iridescent black head, neck, back, wings and tail and the rest of the body pure white. It has a massive red bill which has a black bank and yellow frontal shield. Its legs and feet are black, and it has funny pink knees.
The only way to tell the difference between a male and female Saddlebilled stork is to look at its eyes; the female has a golden yellow iris and the male’s is brown.
In flight, the Saddlebilled stork keeps its neck outstretched. Because the bill is so heavy, it tends to drop below its belly which makes it look very odd when it’s flying.
Saddlebilled stork enjoy a diet of mainly fish, frogs and crabs but they will supplement their diet with birds and small reptiles during the dry winter months.
The secretary bird is large terrestrial bird of prey with extraordinary features. It gets its name because of its unusual plumage; it has a crest of long feathers at the back of its head which look like quill pens used by clerks in the 19th century. Others say the name is derived from the Arabic word "saqr-et-tair", meaning hunter-bird, which translates into French as "secretaire".
The secretary bird is endemic to Africa and usually found stalking elegantly across open savanna grasslands. It is a bird of prey and lives on a diet of rodents, snakes and small mammals. It has extraordinarily long legs and it has to bend its legs to forage for food and drink. The lower half of its legs have heavy scales to protect them when walking through thick bush and scrub.
A secretary bird stands out in the bush not only because it is tall but because it has a distinctive body shape and gait; it has long crane-like legs, an eagle-like head with a noticeable hooked bill and rounded shoulders. Its wingspan is over 2 metres.
Even though it is such a large bird, it does fly when it needs to; its two elongated central feathers stick out beyond its feet during flight. They can also run fast, and local people have nicknamed them the ‘devil’s horse’. They run for a distance with their wings outstretched and take off slowly to get airborne.
Secretary birds spend all day on the ground foraging for food but roost at night on the top of Acacia trees. They usually return to the same tree each evening as the sun sets.
The marabou stork is a large wading bird and is part of the Ugly 5. It’s a very unusual looking bird and often looks like it’s been in a big fight and come off second best.
It’s huge; a marabou stork stands 150 metres tall and has a wingspan of over 3 metres. It has a bare head and neck, a black back and white underparts. It is easily identified not only because it really is an ugly bird, but it also has an unusually large bill, a pink gular sack at its throat and a neck ruff. Juveniles are browner and have a smaller bill; only reaching full maturity when its 4 years old.
The marabou stork makes a big fuss during mating season; putting on a bill-rattling show to attract a mate. It makes a weird guttural noise which comes from its throat sack. The female will lay two or three eggs in a nest that is usually built close to a river or wetland where food is more readily available.
The marabou stork is mostly a scavenger and its naked head and neck has been adapted to digging into old carcasses; even walking into the cavernous stomachs of dead elephants, rhino and buffalo. A bare head is easier to keep clean than a fluffy head, so nature has done a good job in giving them such weird bald heads. You’ll usually find marabou storks in the company of vultures and jackals; all hanging around kills to see what they can scavenge.
Marabou storks supplement their diet by scavenging for small mammals (dead or alive), reptiles and snakes. It’s also dig around termite mounds, fish in rivers and hunt for grasshoppers, caterpillars, frogs, rodents, crocodile heads, new-born chicks and bird eggs. Anything and everything goes down its gullet when a marabou stork is hungry.
BIG 5 BUSH BIRDS IN THE PILANESBERG
There are 26 different species of this beautifully coloured bird. They’re a delight to spot in the bushveld considering most bee-eaters are migratory and have probably travelled thousands of miles to their favourite breeding spots. Only the Africa Little bee-eater travels short distances between the rainy and dry season.
They are easy to identify by their striking plumage, slender bodies and elongated central tail feathers. They have long, curved beaks with a sharp point designed to impale insects. You’ll often find them clinging onto near vertical cliff places using their sharp claws.
Bee-eaters mainly eat flying insects which, as you can guess, bees are their favourite. They’ll also catch wasps, hornets, dragonflies and other larger insects. They seize them in short dashes and then take them back to their perch to eat them. The European bee-eater is known to remove the sting of an insect by hitting it on a hard surface and then wiping the insect on the surface to remove the sting. Bee-eaters feed on about 250 bees or insects a day.
Bee-eaters live in colonies and often nest in holes dug out of the sides of cliffs. Breeding pairs create long, vertical nesting burrows which they’ve excavated in earth or sandbanks; usually along river banks. Each tunnel is about 1 meter deep with a nest chamber at the end. Bee-eaters pick one mating partner in a lifetime and return in consecutive years to mate, resurrect their burrow and care for the young.
A clutch is made up of 2-9 spherical white eggs – depending on the species – which are laid at 2-day intervals. Both parents share the task of keeping the eggs warm and feeding them when they are born. They feed them on insects which they teach them to catch on their own until they are able to take care of themselves.
The cattle egret is a common sight in the bushveld and usually the companion of herds of animals which it tags along with to feed off insects and grubs disturbed by the animals. It is a stocky white bird with thick neck, sturdy bill and a hunched posture. The cattle egret has a plume of fluffy feathers on it buff which is prominent in the breeding season.
The cattle egret feeds in dry open savanna grasslands, catching insects and small vertebrate prey. They remove ticks and flies from game such as buffalo and wildebeest which is beneficial for them.
It nests in a platform of sticks in trees and shrubs, usually near waterholes and rivers. Birds of prey and snakes often raid their nests.
Francolins are members of the pheasant family and look a bit like bush chickens with short tails. Males have spurs on the back of their legs which they use for fighting. They are mostly seen foraging on the ground for insects, seeds and edible vegetation but they do fly fast with whirring wings over a short distance.
Francolins have a hooked upper beak which it uses for digging at the base of shrubs; looking for tasty grubs and bushveld insects.
Francolins found in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve include the coqui, crested and Natal francolin.
This species is an incredible find on a birding safari tour of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. If you’re lucky, you’ll see it in the middle of a spectacular aerial mating display which is its stand-out feature. The male korhaan flies straight up and then tumbles down in a dramatic fashion before gliding in to land. It has a bush red crest which makes the occasion more dramatic.
You’ll find korhaans foraging for food in open savanna grasslands; living off a diet of small reptiles such as lizards, geckos and bush snakes. They also snack on butterflies, bees, wasps, locusts and ants which they catch in the air.
Its nests are built on the ground with straw and leaves; placed under a thick bush to protect them the young from predators. They are usually found in small family groups although male korhaan branch out on their own during the breeding season.
You’ll find the black korhaan and red-crested korhaan in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.
The kori bustard is the heaviest bird found in Africa that is capable of flying. It is mostly grey in colour with a black crest on its head and yellow legs.
An unusual but fairly common sight in the bush is a kori bustard walking along with bee-eaters hitching a ride on its back. The bee-eaters catches insects that cling to the bustard’s back and those disturbed by the bird walking through the bush.
They are heavy birds so spend most of their time foraging for food on the ground. Their diet consists of seeds and lizards and other small edible mammals or vegetation.
Kori bustards are polygynous; one male displays to attract several females and he mates with all of them. He leaves the females to care for the eggs and young by themselves. Often females go days without eating when they are sitting on eggs in the next. When the chick hatch, the female kori bustard brings food to them which has been softened in their gullet to make it easier for the chicks to eat.
TOP 10 COMMON CAMP BIRDS IN THE PILANESBERG
Blackheaded orioles are striking birds with a bright yellow body and contrasting black heads and flesh-coloured beaks. They are mostly found in dense shrublands or wooded riverine forests; preferring acacia trees and broad-leaved woodlands.
They make a beautiful sound which sounds like babbling water, accompanies by imitations and whistles. Blackheaded orioles forage for small fruit and also snack on large insects. They love caterpillars and grubs.
Cape turtle dove
The Cape turtle dove is also known as the ring-necked dove. You’ll see this species of dove in abundance in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and its birdsong is a familiar sound in the bushveld; it makes a penetrating and rhythmic three-syllable crooning sound. It is easy to identify; with a semi-collar of black feathers on the lower nape of its neck.
It prefers open savanna grasslands and lives on a diet of seeds and small natural grains. Like all doves, they depend on surface water and congregate in large flocks at waterholes in the dry season to drink and clean themselves.
This striking bird has earned itself the nickname Jacky Hanger because of its habit of impaling its prey on acacia thorns which it does to store food to eat later. It is easy to identify; with a black upper body and white underparts with a characteristic white ‘V’ on its back and a long back tail with white outer feathers. Its bill, eyes and legs are black.
They are solo birds preferring their own company; usually busy hunting for insects and small mice which it spots from a perch on top of a small tree or shrub. It’s found in a wide range of habitats; from acacia thornveld to wooded shrublands.
The forktailed drongo is very easy to identify; it is a glossy black bird with a long, forked tail. Its bill is black and heavy, and it has red eyes. Females are a little duller than their shiny male partners.
The Forktailed drongo has short legs and sits very upright on its perch; catching flies or small insects flying in the air or small prey off the ground.
The glossy starling is a beautiful bird with striking plumage. Its head, throat and back are a stunning blue colour and it has vivid orange eyes and black legs. They look a lot like a starling but prettier.
Glossy starling mainly forage on the ground and in foliage looking for small fruit, seedpods, insects and small invertebrates. They’re found most often in woodlands, riverine forests and open savanna grasslands. Glossy starlings made for life and only change partners if one dies; they build nests in a hole in a tree trunk and lay up to 6 blue eggs.
Everybody loves the hoopoe species and its call is a popular soundtrack in the Pilanesberg bushveld. This quirky looking bird has bold strips, a long, curved beak and a funky hairdo.
It gets its name from the Latin term ‘upupa’ which describes its call; it makes a loud ‘oop’ in sets of three. It also says ‘char’ for a warning and babies say ‘tii’ when they want food. The hoopoes beak is its most important feature; it uses it to spare its food which it then tosses up into the air and catches. It also beats its prey on a rough surface to remove wings, legs and other parts.
Hoopoes don’t make typical nests; they nest in holes in tree trunks or on sandy cliffs. The females stay inside the hole with the eggs until they hatch. The male hoopoe brings food back to the female and chicks. The female and chicks let off a weird secretion which makes the nest stink. This puts off predators and keeps them away from the nest.
Hornbills are a quirky feature of the bushveld and instantly recognisable for their thick, long, down-curved bill which is brightly coloured and sometimes has a casque on the upper mandible.
You get two species in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve; the yellow-billed and the red-billed hornbill. The yellow-billed hornbill is the most common and usually seen scavenging in the rest camps and lodge gardens.
Hornbills are omnivorous; living on a diet of fruit, insects and small animals. They cannot swallow food as their tongues are too short to manipulate it, so they toss it back down their throat with a jerk of their head.
This species is a favourite among bird lovers and a beautiful bird to spot in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. It is known for its beautiful plumage; with a large green head and a striking combination of brown, violet and greenish-blue feathers.
Lilac-breasted rollers favour open savanna grasslands and are often seen perched on electrical or telephone wires or on the top of dead or dry trees. It lives on a diet of grasshoppers, beetles, lizards, crabs and other small amphibians. It picks its prey off the ground and takes it back to its perch to eat.
Lilac-breasted rollers make unlined nests in tree holes or in termite mounds. They sometimes take over nests belonging to woodpeckers and kingfishers. They lay up to 4 white eggs which both the male and female incubate; sharing the task of foraging for food and feeding the young when they’re born.
Rollers get their name from their spectacular courtship ritual which involves a fast, shallow dive from high above and a rolling, rocking motion accompanied by a loud raucous call.
The male pin-tailed whydah is instantly recognisable; it has a black back and crown and a spectacularly long black tail and bright red beak. The female and non-breeding males are duller and don’t have the long tail extension.
This species is a brood parasite which means it lays up to 4 eggs in the nest of other birds; mainly waxbills and finches. Its eggs are also white, so the other bird doesn’t suspect a thing. A whydah does not destroy the hosts eggs like the common cuckoo; it just leaves the eggs in the care of the other bird. A baby whydah mimics the gape of the host’s fledging.
The male pin-tailed whydah is territorial, and one male will mate with several females in his small group. He puts on an incredible courtship display which involves hovering over the female and showing off its tail. It produces a distinctive call which sounds like rapid squeaking and churring.
The red-billed woodhoopoe is a common feature in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and has become habituated to living in built up towns and cities. They are usually heard rather than seen in gardens; with a distinctive cackling cry that goes on for ages.
They usually nest in a hole in a tree or in abandoned barbet nests. They lay up to 4 blue eggs and the female is left alone to incubate the eggs and feed the babies when they’re born.
Red-billed woodhoopoes are found in open woodland and savanna grasslands. They live in areas with large trees which is their preferred habitat for nesting and rooting. The live on a diet of insects which they scratch out from rotten wood and in crevices in the bark.
BIG 5 EAGLES IN THE PILANESBERG
Black-breasted snake eagle
The black-chested snake eagle is a large bird of prey with a dark-brown head and chest. The female has the same colouring as the male but its slightly larger.
You’ll find the black-breasted snake eagle in various habitats; as long as it has open terrain to hunt and large trees to perch and nest in. It gets its name from its diet which is made up mostly of snakes, as well as lizards, frogs and other small mammals.
The African crowned eagle is known as a ‘hunting machine’ and hunts prey which is usually bigger than itself. This includes vervet monkeys and duiker.
It has a long tail and broad, rounded wings. These two features are a great combination for agile and rapid hunting techniques. The male and female crowned eagle hunt as a pair; one will distract a monkey and the other one makes the kill.
The crowned eagle has brown, mottled feathers which makes it well camouflaged; sitting silently inside the tree canopy instead of on the top like most other eagles.
It kills its prey using its powerful feet and massive talons; usually fatally wounding it with one blow. You’ll learn to recognise the males call after a few sightings; a loud ‘kewee’ which it gives out to let other birds of prey know they’re in his territory.
The crowned eagle makes a large messy nest which is made from large sticks. It goes back to the same nest every year, fixing it up and adding more sticks so the nest become bigger and bigger over time. Some nests are about 2.3 metres wide.
The female crowned eagle lays 2 eggs and is left alone to incubate and care for the babies when they are born. The male crowned eagle brings food to the nest while the female is sitting on the eggs and brings food for the babies. The stronger chick will usually kill off its weaker sibling, so a breeding pair usually only has to feed the one baby.
The crowned eagle is classified as a threatened species due to loss of habitat.
The brown snake-eagle is a fearless bird of prey which is capable of killing and carrying of snakes over 2-metres long. It sits perched on top of large trees surveying the bushveld for its prey. When it sees a snake, it swoops down and seizes it behind the head; crushing its spine with its powerful talons and beak.
If a snake turns on it, the brown snake-eagle flaps its wings violently to confuse the snake. It has heavily-scaled feet to protect it against snakebites. They do often fall prey to their own prey and are often blinded by spitting cobras or crushed by a python.
The brown snake-eagle always swallows a snake had first; the tail-end which is the safest bit is saved to feed to its chicks. A baby brown snake-eagle is capable of swallowing a snake that’s up to half a metre long.
It addition to snakes, brown snake-eagles live on leguaans, chameleons and other small reptiles and mammals. They are often seen in woodland areas and in trees around rocky granite outcrops.
The African fish eagle is an iconic bird species which is known for its distinctive black, brown and white plumage and beautiful call. It lives on a diet of fish but has also been known to go for small water birds and even flamingoes.
It is classified as a kleptoparasite meaning it steal prey from other birds and will scavenge on dead animals caught by other eagles and predators. They’ll eat their catch on the ground next to a river or waterhole. You’ll always see them nesting in trees on the banks of a water source and usually in pairs; they hunt early morning and late afternoon and spend the rest of the time perched on the top of a tall tree.
The martial eagle is the largest bird of prey in Africa and regarded as the most powerful and efficient hunter. They can knock a grown man off is feet and have enough power in one foot to break a man’s arm. It has a massive wingspan, distinctive white legs and very large talons. Juveniles look very different to the adults.
Martial eagles live on a diet of guineafowl, francolins and bustards. They also hunt for hyrax, mongoose and small antelope such as steenbok and impala. In farmland, they’ll hunt for domestic goats and lambs.
They build their nests in tall trees that grow on steep hillsides or in a gorge. From this position, they can sweep off the nest for prey walking below. Pairs have up to two nests which they alternate using each year. The female is mainly responsible for incubating the eggs, but males will occasionally sit on eggs to give the female a break. She’ll hunt for her own food and does not rely on the male martial eagle to bring her food.
Martial eagles are commonly found in thornbush habitats and open savanna grasslands. They spend the majority of the day perched and usually limit hunting to late morning. Martial eagles rely on thermals while hunting so are not active in the late afternoon. They’ll soar for hours in updraughts. Most of their kills are a surprise attack; reaching great speeds and attacking for a far distance to surprise unsuspecting prey.
BIG 5 VULTURES IN THE PILANESBERG
The Cape vulture is endemic to southern African and mainly found in South Africa, Lesotho and Botswana and parts of Namibia. It favours nesting on cliffs.
Adult Cape vultures have a creamy colour with contrasting dark back and tail feathers. The adult is paler than the juvenile and its underwings are almost white at a distance. Its head and neck are almost featherless; with yellow eyes and a black bill.
The Cape vulture is classified as highly endangered and its numbers have been declining steadily mainly from loss of habitat and poisoning from pesticides used by farmers.
This species of vulture is found in patches throughout Africa. It prefers to live in dry savanna, thornbush, arid plains, deserts with scattered trees and open mountain slopes.
In the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, the lappet-faced vulture is usually found in open savanna grasslands with a few trees and minimal grass cover.
The hooded vulture is a scruffy-looking, small vulture with dark-brown feathers, a long thin bill and a bare head, face and neck. It scavengers on carcasses and closely follows lions, hyenas and wild dogs to scavenge on their kills.
The hooded vulture is listed as critically endangered.
The white-backed vulture looks like a typical vulture with down feathers on its head and neck, very broad wings and short tail feathers. It has a white neck ruff which contrasts with its dark plumage.
A large flock of white-backed vultures will soar high above the open savanna grasslands waiting patiently for a kill. They’ll come down and scavenge on carcasses leftover by lions, hyenas and wild dog. They give out a screech when they lock eyes on a carcass to let the rest of the flock know. They’re also very noisy when they’re eating.
White-backed vultures are classified ad an endangered species.
BIG 5 DANGEROUS SNAKES IN THE PILANESBERG
African rock python
The African rock python is the largest snake in Africa; reaching a length of up to 5 metres long. They kill their prey by crushing it. Food sources include dassies, hares, cane rats, birds and sometimes small antelope and warthogs.
African rock pythons are found in mixed woodlands near water. They are very good tree climbers. A rocky python is easy to identify; it has a long, stout body with blotchy patters which vary in colour from brown, olive, chestnut and yellow. It has a triangular shaped head and sharp, backward-curved teeth. It has a mark on top its head which is outlined in yellow.
The African rock python is a non-venomous snake and uses constriction to kill its prey. After the snake gets a grip on an animal, it tightly coils around it; causing asphyxiation or cardiac arrest.
The black mamba is one of the most poisonous snakes in Africa and the most feared by game rangers in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. They grow to great lengths; often up to 2 metres long. They strike fast and slither at a speed of up to 15 kilometres per hour.
Black mambas live on a diet of birds, rodents, dassies and other small mammals. They mostly found in dry bushveld areas; often moving into abandoned termite hills and animal holes. You’ll find them basking in the sun in winter on massive granite rocks.
The black mamba is a venomous snake; it’s extremely aggressive and kills its prey by injecting a potent neuro and cardio-toxic mix. It’s capable of killing more than 10 men in a period of an hour. Without proper and urgent treatment, the mortality rate of a black mamba snake bite is 100%.
Boomslang are highly venomous snakes which prey on bird’s eggs, small mammals and reptiles. The prefer to live in thick woodlands close to water sources. The rear-fanged species is one of the most venomous snakes in the world.
The name Boomslang comes from the Afrikaans term for ‘tree snake’ because it is a tree-dwelling species. It has very long fangs and can open its mouth a full 180 degrees to bite. It’s a timid snake and avoids human confrontation but when it bites someone, it is often fatal if the person cannot get immediate treatment.
Mozambique spitting cobra
The Mozambique spitting cobra is a scary snake and one of the most poisonous in Africa. It rears up two-thirds of its body when disturbed and displays its wide hood. It spits venom with incredible accuracy; usually straight into the eye of its prey or a human victim.
The snake uses its neurotoxic venom to cause temporary blindness; it’s bite causes severe tissue damage. If you are bitten by a Mozambique spitting cobra, get to a hospital immediately for urgent treatment.
Mozambique spitting cobra live on a diet of birds’ eggs, small mammals and reptiles. They are found in mixed savanna woodlands and usually hide out in hollow trees and abandoned animal burrows found close to water.
The puff adder cause more human bites an any other African snake combined because of its habit of lying motionless; camouflaged in leaves and bush. When trodden on, it releases venom that is extremely toxic. The puff adder is a fat, sluggish snake which grows to about 1.5 metres long.
It lives on a diet of rodents, birds and other snakes. It is found in various habits in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and is fond of lying in the sun to keep warm.
Puff adders move in a similar way to caterpillars; they’re also good swimmers and climbers. When disturbed, they hiss loudly and form a tight coil before striking in a sideways motion. A single bite can inject between 100 and 350 milligrams of cytotoxic venom. A lethal dose for an adult human is around 100 mg.
BIG 5 REPTILES IN THE PILANESBERG
Crocodiles are the closest living relatives to dinosaurs and have lived on Earth for about 240 million years. They have one of the strongest bites in the animal kingdom and kill their prey by closing there jaws down hard on an animal; then they will go into what is called a ‘death roll’ in water to drown their prey.
Crocodiles are carnivores and live on a diet of fish, birds, small antelope and small crocodiles. They cannot chew their food; they have 24 sharp teeth and tear apart flesh and swallow huge chunks of meat at a time. They’ll sometimes swallow small rocks or pebbles which aids digestion.
Crocodiles produce tears when they eat; hence the saying “crying crocodile tears’. This is because they swallow too much air which affects the glands which produce tears and forces tears out its tear ducts. They are often seen lying motionless with their jaws wide open. They do this to cool themselves down because crocodiles don’t have sweat glands.
The skin on a crocodile’s back is hard as bone but their underbelly is very soft. They have excellent eyesight, especially night vision. Crocodiles are like alligators but much larger; they have a V-shaped jaw and some of their teeth can be seen when the jaw is shut tight. Alligators have a U-shaped jaw and its teeth are not visible when its mouth is shut.
An interesting fact about crocodiles is the temperature of the next determines the gender of a baby crocodile. Higher temperatures produce male crocodiles; cooler temperatures produce female crocodiles. 99% of crocodile babies are eaten in the first year of their life; mainly preyed on by hyenas, monitor lizards and larger crocodiles.
The leopard tortoise is the 4th largest species of tortoise in the world and found most often in semi-arid grasslands and shrublands in southern Africa. It falls into the group of the Little 5 of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve; along with the rhino beetle, red-billed buffalo weaver, elephant shrew and ant lion.
A leopard tortoise has a distinct shell pattern; it has a yellow, yellowish-brown and reddish carapace (upper part of the shell) with black blotches and spots that look like the pattern of a leopard’s fur. It has a sharp, beak-like mouth which it uses to tear up and chew plants.
They are herbivores and live on a diet of grasses, mushrooms, fruit, succulent plants and prickly pear cactuses. They sometimes eat old bones to supplement the calcium they get in their diet. This keeps their shell in good condition and ensures they produce high quality eggshells in the nesting season.
When threatened, a tortoise releases urine and stored water. This puts predators off eating it but may result in it dying from dehydration if it cannot replenish the water in its system quickly enough. So, please don’t pick up a leopard tortoise if you see one in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.
A tortoise can survive 80 to 100 years in the wild. Their main predators are jackals, anteaters and wild dog.
The rock monitor is also known as a leguaan or a white-throated monitor. It’s the second longest lizard found in Africa and one of the heaviest. They can grow up to 2 metres in length, with a tail and body equal in size.
They have a bulbous, convex snout and a pink or bluish forked tongue. Their scales are usually a mottled grey-brownish colour with yellow or white markings. When threatened, a rock monitor will bite and lash its tail. It’s a vicious creature when confronted but its bite is not poisonous.
Rock monitors listed as threatened and are a protected species. You’ll find them sunning themselves or hunting for food in semi-arid regions, savanna grasslands, rocky outcrops and on river banks. They make their lairs in burrows or in holes in trees or rocky cracks.
Rock monitors survive on a diet of insects, millipedes, rodents, reptiles, birds and bird’s eggs. They’ll cover great distances to feed their large bodies; and they hibernate in winter.
The terrapin is a close cousin of the turtle and tortoise; all three are regarded as some of the oldest living creatures on the plant and can be traced back 180 million years to when dinosaurs roamed this Earth.
We only get one species in South Africa and that is the serrated hinged terrapin. It’s the largest hinged terrapin and possesses a unique feature; the hinge in its shell closes after it retracts its head for added protection.
Terrapins are found at water holes and rivers; often languishing in the mud or hitching a ride on the back of a hippo. They are carnivores and survive on a diet of snails, insects, frogs and fish. They’re also scavengers and will eat carrion (dead flesh of an animal) if food is scarce. Another quirky thing they do is eat ticks and parasites off buffalo when they are wallowing in mud.
When threatened, a terrapin lets of a foul-smelling substance to ward off predators. This is produced in a musk gland. They are ferocious creatures and not cute like their tortoise cousins; they have very sharp claws and a powerful snapping jaw. It doesn’t have teeth and tears off chunks of meat (and fingers) using its lethal jaws.
Females lay anything from 7 to 25 eggs at a time but sadly, many of the hatchlings are eaten by predators just before or after they hatch.
Water monitors are a powerful species of monitors and known for their strong leg muscles and sturdy body. They will pursue prey across land and underwater at great speeds over a short distance and are formidable hunters. Its body is covered in striking yellow patterning which serves as camouflage in reed beds where it likes to hang out.
Water monitors are carnivores and live on a diet of crabs, frogs, lizards, small mammals and birds. They have an insatiable appetite for the eggs of crocodiles, tortoises and terrapins; using their large claws to dig up nests and steal the eggs.
Female water monitors dig into a termite mound when it’s time to lay her eggs. She’ll lay between 40-60 eggs at a time; using the heat of the termite mound to incubate her eggs. Termites immediately repair the hole made in their mound which means the eggs have a warm, humid and safe environment to develop. There is no parental care and baby monitors must dig their own way out of the mound when they are born.