Paradise Camp Blog | Transfrontier Africa | Michael Scholl

Paradise Camp Blog

Boreholes, Big cats, Bull Elephants and British Classics

It’s been a busy last six months at paradise camp. The project continues to flourish and the data being collected is becoming ever more valuable. The mammal population dynamics study continues along with a few recent additions to the volunteer program.

Transfrontier Africa are currently over-seeing a water points survey and a bore hole study throughout Balule, measuring the bore holes and hopefully identifying an ideal time to pump during a 24 hour period. There has been little rain over the last eight months and our last rainy season proved a disaster. The ground water level is therefore terribly volatile. 

A predator study has also been introduced, focusing on Lions. Volunteers are currently recording all the kills that our resident prides make. Recently the York pride, our largest pride of lions with sixteen individuals, made five kills in the space of a week. Our volunteers were lucky to experience four of these kills at close quarters and were able to gather valuable data. The giraffe still remains the chosen prey species for these particular lions. 

Leopards are also being seen around the camp and volunteers regularly hear our resident male calling at night. Two male cheetahs are also being seen quite often. Becoming more used to the presence of vehicles these two males are often seen resting at the sides of the tracks around the reserve. 

Perhaps as a result of the lack of rain the elephant population, for the most part, moved out of our research area. We were regularly seeing herds of fifty plus up until two months ago. However recent volunteer groups have been recording good elephant sightings around the Olifants river and even around paradise camp. The elephants are making a strong come back. Transfrontier Africa along with the Save the Elephant foundation based in Kenya are currently involved in a population dynamics census throughout the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR) and the Greater Kruger National Park. We have, at present, identified five Bull elephants who regularly visit paradise camp and thrill the volunteers. The breeding herds are also making an appearance, keeping the bulls happy! This valuable work has now become a permanent addition to the program. 

Two white rhino bulls have also staked claim to an area that we regularly traverse. As a key stone species for the Savanna forest biome it’s nice to see them making a come back. 

The erosion control continues. Recent groups have made excellent progress when it comes to battling the ever present donga issue. A donga is another word for an erosion gully. Teams of volunteers have also been sent to various areas of the reserve to remove some alien invasive species. The Prickly Pear seems to be the most apparent. However, Transfrontier Africa and project volunteers have removed some two hundred individual plants. Although there are many more to deal with it’s a healthy start. 

The camp itself has had a few make-overs. Our Australian volunteers have worked wonders with the kitchen area and the bathrooms. Paradise is becoming ever more honey badger proof much to the delight of the team. 

Last but certainly not least is the addition of another Land Rover to our ever-growing fleet and the team continues to fly the Land Rover flag. We are the proud owners of four landys now, two overland safari vehicles and two game-viewers for use within the reserve. Both our game viewers run on petrol making them quieter and less intrusive to the surrounding wildlife. Those of you who have been on the project before will be happy to know that our 1976 series three land rover is still operational and has become quite a feature within the reserve.

The hunting habits of lions

Transfrontier Africa focuses its research on both advising management decisions as well as measuring or demonstrating the effectiveness of those decisions and actions within our section of the Greater Kruger National Park.

For some time now, there has been speculation regarding the impact that the four lion prides that operate within our study area, may have on the other animals. There is fear that they may be targeting the Blue Wilderbeest (brindled gnu) and that this may cause their population numbers to drop below the threshhold for a viable population. A recognised management technique in such circumstances is to provide "feed lots" of a plentiful prey species for the lions and therefore take the pressure off the current target species. The idea mooted by the management authorities is to provide buffalo carcasses on a regular basis for the lions. The SAVANNA Project, initiated by Transfrontier Africa, has been provided with the opportunity to provide information from field research, which may substantiate or discredit this hypothesis.

It is essential to understand how lions operate and especially those in the given study area. For example, lion prides rely on the females of the pride to provide the food. Males are too busy patrolling their territories and defending them and their harem against intruders and secondary predators such as hyena. Males often form "coalitions" in order to be more successful in this regard and may kill from time to time. So, if you have a big pride with many females then they will, hypothetically, have a higher hunting success rate. This also depends on the influence of secondary predators and scavengers as well as the availability of prey and landscape (thick bush vs open plains etc.). So, if the pride is big and can hunt successfully as a result of the big hunting team (females), then they will also need to hunt prey species that are large enough to feed the whole lot, or kill frequently. Now, the prides of Balule include the Yorke Pride that is 17 animals strong. This is our biggest pride and seems to have the biggest influence with the highest number of kills to their credit.

The other thing to remember is that lions train their cubs in the art of hunting their preferred prey. So, if giraffe are on the menu, the cubs will be trained in the art of hunting giraffe and they will train their cubs, and so on. This is not to say that they will starve to death if giraffe move out of the area. They have secondary choices as well. It is a bit like going to a restaurant, during your 1 hour lunch break, and asking for your favourite dish; the waitron admits that this will take some time and you will have to wait for your tea. You have a second choice that you may be less happy with, but is still acceptable. Lions are the same. They do not often hunt unless they are hungry and therefore NEED to feed. They work in a window of time when hunting success is optimum. They are primarily crepuscular or nocturnal hunters making use of the poor light and the element of surprise. If their number 1 choice is not available, they will not sit back and say, "ok, lets try again in the morning". They move onto the next species, and so on. They are just as opportunistic as the rest of the animals that frequent the African Savannah. Having said all of that, one must also take into account how prey species move with the different seasons. It would be suicide to specialise on a species that moves out of the area during the dry winter months, and not be able to fall back on the"hamburger and chips" species.

So, we have embarked on a mission to discover which species are being targeted by which pride of lions, and when. It is also important to monitor the size of the prides and dynamics within the sex and age classes of each. It is interesting to note that the other game census work that we are conducting shows a small increase in the numbers of Blue Wilderbeest for the study area and therefore, we are a bit sceptical about the hypothesis being bantered about from the start. Our work has shown that the Yorke Pride is doing most of the killing, with two displaced males from the Kajima Pride being responsible for the odd warthog now and again. Preliminary results (and this is a long term study) show that the chosen prey in winter is by far giraffe. Warthogs have been targeted by the smaller prides and splinters of the Yorke Pride. Female and young buffalo have also been taken and we had our first wilderbeest kill two days ago!

In order to gather this information we still conduct our routine gamedrives on the standardised routes and should a lion kill be reported by any of the lodges and rangers, we will respond. Furthermore, we monitor the radio and log any reports of kills made outside of this time. Volunteers are now lucky to observe lions on kills, from the back of our open Land Rovers. The information is relayed over the dedicated "game drive channel" and captured on our spreadsheets. In the space of 10 days, we have a sample of 10 kills already!!! It will be fascinating to see how the trends develop and we arequite excited to be involved in this survey.

© / Michael Scholl Copyright 2012 for TransFrontier Africa and Craig Spencer