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The Lowveld is lekker: living next to Kruger

This blog was written by Menina Nightingale, a Bushwise student who’s currently studying at our Kempiana campus where we train future field guides in collaboration with the Southern African Wildlife College

3 min read

Imagine being able to say that you live just outside of Kruger National Park. Our campus is on a reserve that’s part of the Greater Kruger National Park, so we can nip down to the Orpen Gate and go for game drives on the weekend. Just in case we don’t do enough of that during the week!

The author, relaxing in a game viewer while watching a resting pride of lions near Kruger.

This also has its perks for planning adventures for our off weeks. Being right next to Kruger, I jumped at the opportunity to drive down to Sabi Sands with Jos, another Bushwise student. We were desperate to get some of the epic leopard sightings the area is so well known for. After four weeks of hard work studying for the final Bushwise exam, a week off to explore “the Sands” was much needed. 

Sure enough, the Sands met our expectations with leopard sightings that were out of this world! The whole of our first morning was spent in awe with a beautiful female, Kuchaba, rasping endlessly for her cub. The following days we were lucky enough to find her cub, a few other leopards, and even a male, Marieps. Nine leopard sightings and five different leopards all in one off week! Unreal. It’s fair to say that Sabi Sands definitely lived up to its expectations.

A leopard doing a Flehman grimace; where it looks as if it’s snarling but it’s actually tasting the air for pheromones. 

After the most relaxing week along the Sabi River near Kruger, it was time to get back to business, and start my week as camp manager – kicking it off with mock assessment drives at 6:00 on Monday morning. Everyone has been hard at work preparing for this week over the last few months and with mock assessments through the week and FGASA exam on Saturday,  the nerves were definitely noticeable.  

The mock assessment drives act as a practice run before our real drives next week. It was a quiet week for mammals, but – much to some peoples horror (or dread) – the birding was amazing. 

A leopard standing on a hill overlooking the landscape in the Greater Kruger. 

Those that had morning drives had a great morning chorus to practise their bird call identification. We are also beginning to get all the migrants back – which is both very exciting and a bit daunting, as it adds to the birds we need to be able to identify. As it is the start of the mating season for some of the birds, we’re also beginning to see some flamboyant displays. 

An absolute highlight for me this week on a drive was getting to see the first red crested korhaan display dive of the season! As part of their mating ritual, the red crested korhaan displays both his brilliant red crest, from which his name is derived, but also an incredible aerial display. 

A red crested korhaan standing in a sandy road. 

This begins with a series of indicative clicks and high pitched vocal calls before he flies straight up into the air. Once up in the air, he stalls and locks his wings and falls to the ground. Right before he hits the ground, he flaps his wings to catch the fall. The bravest male, who will most likely find a mate, is the one who waits the longest to catch his fall. 

There was much excitement in the car for the rest of the drive back to camp. In between drives, we spent most of our time studying to get ready for the FGASA theory exam. A lot of flash cards were made and several late night study groups were had. After all the hard work, it was worth it to get through the exam, crack open a few beers, have a braai and watch rugby. 

A Bushwise student carefully moves a common platana (frog) from the campus swimming pool to a pond, where it belongs!

The weekend ended with two reptile surprises and an amphibian rescue. A common platana was having a morning swim in the pool. With much hilarity, we executed a relocation mission back to the pond. 

A day later an alarming big spotted bush snake found its way into my and Daisy’s room. Keen to keep our distance, Ricardo, Trevor, Daisy and I tried to calmly talk it out of the room, but it ended up on my bed instead . Thankfully, he did eventually make his way off the bed and out of the room. 

In the very same afternoon a rock monitor lizard unexpectedly joined the lunch queue. Now that winter is coming to an end, we’re clearly getting all the reptiles back! What a week! The Lowveld really is lekker.

Imagine a week where you see leopards, rare birds, reptiles and more. This could be you – and soon – if you apply for a course with Bushwise.

Words and photos by Menina Nightingale (red-crested korhaan image by Louise Pavid)




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