August Change

This past week has heralded two significant landmarks – firstly, that interprovincial travel (and alcohol sales!) may re-open, and secondly the return of the yellow-billed kites. Coincidentally, the yellow-billed kites all started to leave South Africa right at the start of lock-down, and this past week I saw my first “YBK” of the season, just as South Africa moves to Level 2. Perhaps they know something we do not…

YBKs are synonymous with summer in South Africa and are found pretty much throughout Southern Africa. Like clock-work, they always seem to return to KwaZulu Natal around about the 8th of August (give or take a day or two), which to me is incredibly remarkable, given the vast distances they have to cover to get back to South Africa. They are an intra-African migrant, spending our winter months in the northern parts of the continent, and in particular in the Sahel region, including Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Chad and Sudan. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat almost anything, and I can remember as a child having Simba chips snatched from my hand while running at Charter’s Creek – with not even a scratch to show!

August is also a time of change, with the days slowly starting to get longer. It is also a fantastic time of year for game viewing, with the grass and bush being a lot shorter and less dense, enabling much easier visibility. The wildlife team typically start to conduct their annual game census over the next few weeks, with four estimation methods being used, being:

(i) total area aerial counts;

(ii) aerial line transect sample estimation;

(iii) road line transect sample estimation; and

(iv) Numbers of known individually recognisable animals such as black rhino and white rhino.

The population estimates from these four survey methods are then consolidated to derive a single best estimate for each of the species while factoring in introductions, removals and mortalities data. Current population estimates are then compared with previous annual estimates to provide insights into population trends over time. It’s a fascinating exercise and as you can imagine it’s not nearly as easy as it seems, with the smaller animals such as the duiker, bushbuck and steenbok, as well as the nocturnal animals, being very difficult to spot, whether from a helicopter or by vehicle. How often have you gone on a game drive and been told that you have just missed a leopard – timing certainly plays a vital role! With inter-provincial travel now open, longer days, great game viewing and the return of YBKs, what better time to go on safari! In the words of Greenday:

“It’s something unpredictable
But in the end, it’s right
I hope you had the time of your life”

Love from Thanda Safari


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