The Pilanesberg Ark
A Profusion of Other Animals
Operation Genesis returned Pilanesberg to a pre-agricultural condition and supported and re-introduced many species quite apart from the ‘first division’ Big 5. They are just as exciting and satisfying to encounter as their more glamorous neighbours.
On the ground – giraffe, zebra, cheetahs, hyena, jackals, wild dog, impala, kudu, springbok, wildebeest, water buck and many other antelope. In the trees, baboons and vervet monkeys. In the water – hippopotamus, crocodile and terrapin. In the air, over 300 species of bird ranging from vultures and eagles to kingfishers.
Plus, many pretty wild flowers, plants, shrubs, trees and insects.
AND NO MALARIA RISK
Pilanesberg is one of South Africa’s most noteworthy birding destinations with a huge variety of habitats home to some 300 avian species. Larger birds include vultures, eagles and the ground-dwelling Secretary Bird; there are fabulous long-tailed Widowbirds and Whydahs. Weaver Birds and their hanging nest baskets are found everywhere. Other particular favourites must include the Go-Away bird with its distinctive and memorable cry “more lager” or is it “work harder”? and the delightful Yellow-Crowned Bishops that fluff themselves up in flight to resemble nothing so much as big bumble-bees. The reserve is dotted with excellent hides, at lake dams and other locations, but many varieties can be seen in the open from the safari vehicle.
To be seen in and around Lake Mankwe and some other watercourses, these prehistoric semi-aquatic reptiles are opportunistic top predators; a very aggressive species they are capable of taking almost any animal within their range. Their diet consists mostly of different species of fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals. They are agile, ambush predators that can wait for long periods for the right moment to attack even the swiftest of prey.
These gregarious, semi-aquatic mammals can be readily found in the lakes, dams and pools of Pilanesberg where they can submerge, with sandbanks where they can bask in the sun for periods of time. An adult Hippo can stay underwater for up to 6 minutes and more before coming up to breathe. Hippos actually walk underneath the water on the bottom of the dam or riverbed. They also need enough grazing grass in the immediate area. Threatened, hippos can be aggressive and they can run at 30 kph.
The white circle ‘target’ on its rump is a noteworthy feature as are the male’s elegant twisted horns. These large antelope normally graze close to water and also have very strong scent glands that produce a turpentine-like scent that can be smelled even by humans.
Blue Wildebeest or Gnu
Wildebeest are large, heavy and highly gregarious, usually found in herds of about 20 to 30 mainly females and young with a bull as leader. Territorial bulls defend the cows around their territory; however cows tend to move through various territories. Blue Wildebeest often mingle with zebras, but also with giraffe and impala as well – these species are normally more alert to danger than are wildebeest.
Blue Wildebeest or Gnu
This smaller antelope is the national symbol of South Africa. They are highly gregarious and move around in large herds, favouring drier areas. Herds consist of rams and ewes with young lambs and sub adults and bachelor herds (young and old rams). When disturbed, springbok start running, bounding and leaping repeatedly into the air with stiff extended legs, the bounds reaching 2 to 3 metres in height – this is known as “pronking”.
These impressive animals, with equally impressive horns (males) can be found in a very wide habitat range including hilly areas, slopes of mountains with trees, woodlands, bush thickets, riverine areas, bushveld and wooded savannah areas. Easily recognised by the ‘white paint drip’ stripes on their flanks, Kudu have acute hearing, with large ears, and can easily jump 3m high fences.
Impala are very common throughout Pilanesberg. They are gregarious animals forming herds ranging from 6 to 50 or more, depending on the time of year. During the winter mating time (March to May) one territorial ram gathers a herd of up to 50 ewes and defends and protects them from other males. Impala can jump about 3 meters high and further than 12 meters. They prefer savannah woodland and Acacia thornveld, preferably near water. They are often found in the company of animals such as Blue Wildebeest, Zebra, Giraffe and Baboon.
These smaller, long-tailed monkeys have distinctive black faces and white brow lines. They also have excellent colour vision enabling them to pick ripe fruit from unripe and, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, the males have brightly coloured genitals. Vervets feed omnivorously on fruit, flowers, leaves and insects.
Cape (Chacma) Baboon
Baboons are amongst the largest of all monkeys and there are many gathered together in troops at Pilanesberg to sight and enjoy. They have dog-like faces, big canine teeth and distinctive hindquarters. Big males look truly majestic. Baboons are completely omnivorous, spending most of their time on the ground. They feed on lizards, insects, worms, birds, eggs and new-born young of other species. They also feed on just about every part of a tree and eat grass, seeds, rhizomes, berries, mushrooms and fruit.
Cape (Chacma) Baboon
African Wild Dogs
Reintroduced into Pilanesberg in 1998, numbers of this valuable, much endangered, lost habitat species have successfully increased, although they are a comparatively rare sighting. Even in small pack numbers they are highly effective predators (much more than the big cats) that work together to bring down considerably larger prey.
African Wild Dogs
Small attractive canine animals, Jackals live in pairs that form long term bonds and establish territories, but more often than not scavenge and hunt alone, mainly at night. They are cunning and very adaptable. The protected safe environment at Pilanesberg means that they can often be seen during the day; this is not the case elsewhere where hunting is encouraged.
Brown Hyenas are rare, perhaps only 10,000 individuals remaining in the world. They are mainly nocturnal and are most often seen at dusk and dawn but are also often seen on cool overcast days. They live in small clans of family members with an Aplha male and Alpha female. Brown Hyenas are primarily scavengers, the occasional hunt providing only 20% of their diet. They have no mating season and all members of the clan bring food back to the cubs and defend the clan’s territory.
These highly attractive, distinctively striped equines are also a very common sight; each animal’s markings, including brown ‘shadow’ stripes between the black, are as unique as a human fingerprint. Easy recognition of individuals from within the same herd may be an explanation but research has also indicated that the powerful patterning confuses biting insects. Research also says that the animal is actually dark with an overlay of white stripes.
Zebras are highly sociable animals. They live in family groups (small herds) of about 3 to 10 zebras consisting of a few mares, young zebras and an adult stallion. Larger herds are sometimes seen but these are usually different herds grouping together temporarily. Sometimes bachelor herds are formed by a few stallions only. They are also gregarious, mixing with wildebeest, impala and giraffe.
Giraffe are a fascinating and fairly common sight within Pilanesberg, preferring open woodland and shrub savannah with enough trees that have palatable leaves, especially acacia. Giraffe congregate in herds of up to 20 animals and usually one territorial bull is present. They are often found with Zebra, Blue Wildebeest and Impala, can run steadily at speeds of up to 55 kph for distances and can deliver a very powerful fast kick with front and back feet.
There are numbers of cheetah at Pilanesberg and you may be fortunate to catch a glimpse of one or two of these beautiful cats. It is the fastest of all mammals and can run at a speed of more than 100 kph when charging over a short distance. They are mainly solitary hunters, sometimes in small groups, catching prey by running them down. When hunting and running after prey, their long tails act as a rudder to steer them and to keep perfect balance. When prey is caught, it is devoured very quickly, as the Cheetah’s natural enemies regularly take prey away from them.