Down Mankwe Way
Where the Pilanesberg National Park shows us the wow factor
The old African elephant bull, standing under the shade of a gnarled marula tree, gently À the side of his neck to create
À a sign perhaps of his contentment.
Then he bent his hind legs, rolled onto his side and, oblivious to my vehicle parked a few metres away, and that he was blocking my access to the campsite in the Pilanesberg National Park, promptly fell into a deep sleep.
I had arrived a little earlier to carry out some conservation work with the North West Parks Board, and had been on my way to set up tent in the small research camp when this encounter happened.
For me, it’s always a privilege to have such a large and highly intelligent animal trustingly lie down nearby and go to sleep, particularly when we live in a world where humans are creating such devastation among our wildlife and wild areas. About 40 minutes later the bull awoke, raised himself up, shook himself off, gave me a beady eye and wandered away.
Dusk had fallen by now, leaving me to pitch my tent under a star-studded sky. Soon I was asleep, but was awoken intermittently throughout the chilly night by the coughing of a nearby leopard, the hoots of Spotted EagleOwls and the liquid sounding calls of Fieryneckedand Rufous-cheeked Nightjars.
In what seemed to be the blink of an eye,
the darkness of the night was broken by the tentative chirrups of an eager bird, and within minutes the dawn chorus erupted.
Coqui Francolin (3 on checklist), Natal Spurfowl (8) and Cape Turtle Doves were the most recognisable of the birds. Around camp, Marico Flycatchers (6), Masked Weavers, Grey Go-away-birds, Familiar Chats, Dark-capped Bulbuls and Southern Boubous were quick to investigate my presence. A troop of vervet monkeys were also watching and I made sure everything was packed away and zipped up, out of sight.
work took me across the reserve from Manyane to the Bakubung entrance gate, allowing me to pass through diverse habitats that included rolling, boulder-laden hills interspersed with open grassland and dense woody areas. At each of the causeways, Lesser-striped- (5), Redbreasted(10) and White-throated Swallows were busy carrying small mud pellets to build their nests.
In some patches that had been recently burnt, Kalahari Scrub-Robins, Crimson
Groundscraper Thrushes (9), African Wattled Lapwings, Rock Buntings, Sabota Larks and Capped Wheatears scoured the ground in search of exposed insects.
But a few millimetres of rain had fallen the previous day, and grass shoots were already
pushing through the blackened earth. Even a scrub hare was eagerly taking advantage of the earth’s revival.
Down onto Mankwe Way, I passed through open grassland, between herds of impala, blue wildebeest and Burchell’s zebra. Rufous-naped Larks (1) displaying from the top of small boulders or termite mounds made repeated, loud calls before doing a small hop into the air
$ À of African Quail-Finches, and sprinted away when aggressively mobbed by a pair of Crowned Lapwings. Swainson’s Spurfowl, Neddicky, African Stonechat and Rattling Cisticola were also sighted in the grasslands.
At the end of Mankwe Way there is a range of hills and I had to slow right down to negotiate the sharp bends. There ahead, perched in a tree, was a pair of Short-toed Rock Thrushes (2). Even better, while watching them, was to see a pair of klipspringers scampering out of sight over the crown of the hill.
Off to one side, a Brown Snake Eagle
RIGHT: About 40 minutes after dozing off in the road in front of Peter Chadwick’s vehicle, this African bull awakes, raises himself up, shakes himself off, gives the beady eye and wanders away. BELOW: There might be a good sighting of the small population of tsessebe at Pilanesberg National Park. BELOW RIGHT:The reserve offers a wide diversity of habitat – open grassland, dense woodland and rolling hills.
ABOVE: A yellow mongoose suns itself in the late afternoon, keeping close to its burrow for an escape, should any danger appear. ABOVE RIGHT: A light mist hangs over the Pilanesberg valleys as the sun rises between its hills. RIGHT: Combretum seeds wait on their branch for the wind.
ABOVE: Lions are plentiful at Pilanesberg and there are a number of large prides that are regularly seen. BELOW: In the relatively small park (580km²), giraffes are a common sight, particularly around Mankwe Dam.