Photo: Wild Dog… deep in thought

Just look into those eyes… I wonder what it’s thinking? Deep, existential stuff, no doubt… Maybe it understands that it’s one of the very last of its kind. 

But whatever it’s thinking, it’s probably thinking about a heck of a lot more than its buddy below is. I think this one’s a bit special. I’ve always got love for the underdogs.

Hoofnote: Only a tiny fraction of wild dogs will ever be lucky enough to breed and pass on their genes. Only the alpha males and females are worthy of the privilege. Something I understand far too well. Love.

Crocodiles: The Hot Sex Edition

We saw a crocodile on game drive this morning! Isn’t that fun? We don’t see them often, so it’s a pretty big deal.

But did you know…

… That temperature determines a crocodile’s sex? Yep, the temperature that the crocodile’s eggs sit at in the nest will determine if those hatchlings are little boy crocodiles or little girl crocodiles.

It’s called ‘temperature dependent sex determination.’ Or TSD. It’s a reptile thing.

It’s been shown that boys (‘crocomales’) incubate within a really tiny temperature range; between 31.7 and 34.5 degrees C. Any colder than that, and you’ve got girls. Any hotter and you’ve also got girls.

It means that within a single nest you’ll have a cool female:male:female sex ratio.

Conclusion: girl crocodiles are hotter. But colder. But hotter.

I drew an exquisite diagram showing exactly how this process works.


artistic genius. i take all the credit for this.

Hoofnote: As is TSD wasn’t enough to make crocodiles interesting, you should also know that crocodiles are the only animal in South Africa that see humans as natural prey. When they eat us, it’s fair game.

This morning’s game drive sightings:




White rhino





Woolly necked stork

Gorgeous bush shrike

Black backed puffback

Safari Moments: the Lemon Breasted Dung Beetle

Here’s a safari classic from a far-too-recent game drive.

Me: “Ooooh look! There’s a dung beetle crossing the road!”

*pull up alongside dung beetle, hop out and pick him up, after all, he’s not busy doing any important dung beetly stuff*

Me: “Dung beetle!”

*hold dung beetle up proudly, a la Mufasa presenting the future king – guests take photos*

Me: “Isn’t this dung beetle just brilliant?”

Guest: “What is this?”

Me: “It’s a dung beetle. They spend their lives rolling poo around.”

Guest: “And what do you call it?”

Me: “It’s a dung beetle.”

*guests keep taking photos, I keep praising the dung beetle’s resilience and usefulness*

Guest: “What animal is this?”


Guest: “Ah, so it’s a small bird.Like a canary?”

Me: “Yes.”

Me: *puts dung beetle down on the nearest pile of poo. Drives away.*

you wonder why we need signs like this?

South Africa Needs an Easter Bunny

Happy Easter! Or at least I think it’s Easter. They don’t tell safari guides about things like this and we’re left to figure it out for ourselves.

I’ve always loved Easter the most. Who doesn’t live for the morning of Easter sunday, when you scour the house for tiny, metallic easter eggs tucked into weird corners and crevices? Oh right, South Africans. Because South Africa doesn’t do Easter. At least not properly. A few days ago, I was in town shopping specifically for Easter eggs, and I couldn’t find a single one. The closest I got was a bar of imported Thornton’s chocolate, which isn’t even remotely Easterish. Let down? For sure.


this was my easter chocolate this year. i feel sorry for me.

I just wanted a bunny.

But did you know that bunnies don’t go down well in other parts of the world? When I spent Easter 2010 in Australia, they were campaigning for the ‘Easter Bilby.’ Why? Bunnies are an invasive species who have largely displaced the indigenous bilby. I ended up not only with my very own Eater bilby, but a chocolate Koala as well. And you know what? I’ll take that. Because it’s so much better than what I ended up with this year.


easter bilby! love it.

South Africa doesn’t do bunnies either. Instead, they do individually wrapped, gooey inedible chocolate marshmallow blobs that they call ‘Easter eggs.’ I propose we need a bunny. And much like the Australians have done, I think our bunny should be something indigenous and kudutastic.

So here are the contenders:

Scrub Hare

An iconic South African. We see a lot of them on on our safaris. But we see so many because they’re really common. And they eat their own poo. Do we really need a chocolate version? Probably not.

bunny rating: 2/10


image by Bernard Dupont and used under creative commons. because i’ve never got a good scrub hare photo…


How about an Easter aardvark? An aardvark weighs up to 65 kgs, which is so much chocolate. Its thick tail and chunky body would work really well. They eat termites, so there’s the option to fill the hollow chocolate shell with something like little honeycomb pieces that look like termites. They also go by the name ‘ant bear,’ and I would definitely eat an ‘Easter ant bear.’

bunny rating: 9/10


i’ve only ever seen one aardvark and I didnt photograph it. so this is taken from ‘Smithers Land Mammals of Southern Africa’ 1986.

Elephant Shrew

Why not? It’s in the ‘Little Five,’ which is way cooler than the ‘Big 5.’ ‘Easter Elephant Shrew’ also rolls off the tongue quite nicely. Their noses are super cute. But… those spindly four toed feet and their long, thin tails won’t translate well into chocolate. I want my Easter bunnies hollow, yet robust. It’s a no go for the elephant shrew.

bunny rating: 4/10


taxidermy elephant shrew? heck yes! image by Miguel Mendez and used under creative commons

Riverine Rabbit

You only find this critically endangered lagomorph in the Karoo desert of South Africa. It’s so rare because we’ve destroyed much of their former habitat with our agricultural practices. Surely, this is the South African bilby counterpart. Raise awareness for one of our most endangered species by eating a representation of it once a year? I love it! Also, it’s fairly big and would work nicely in hollow chocolate form.

bunny rating: 9/10


i doubt i’ll ever get to see a riverine rabbit. this image is also from Smithers 1986

Spring Hare

Spring hares are simply fabulous. And the name is also fitting. Spring. Except it’s not. Easter in South Africa comes in Autumn. These kangaroos of the Kalahari would make a great easter bunny. And yet, they suffer the same downfall as the elephant shrew; the spring hare’s long tail that allows it to balance while it hops about, is likely to break during the shipping process if it was made from hollow milk chocolate. But still, it’s tempting…

bunny rating: 6/10


i have tons of springhare photos from my kalahari days, but they just arent good! image by Revolutionrock1976 and used under creative commons

In conclusion? I think South Africa definitely needs an Easter Riverine Rabbit. The opportunities for conservation through chocolate are endless. But let’s also go for the Easter aardvark, and make it our own truly South African Easter bunny.

Much love and Easter ant bears, Safariosophy.

I’m Feeling Really ‘Ticked On’

I love that every living thing on our planet is here for a reason. From the massive to the microscopic, everything has evolved into their own fabulous little niches where they’ve adapted to thrive and pass on those genes of theirs. Even if we might think those genes and their carriers are somewhat annoying…

Some people might argue that there’s no place for the irritating little mosquito buzzing around our ears. But there is! Without mosquitos, the animals that eat them and their larvae would suffer, as would the things that eat the things that eat them, and the things that eat those. And it’s not the nicest thing to think about, but mosquitos and the diseases they transmit play a huge role in ‘thinning out’ weak populations of animals, preventing over crowding and making sure that only the traits of the very fittest animals get to carry over to the next generation. They’re an integral part of the ‘web of life’ and the exact same thing can be said of, well, everything.


isn’t she pretty?

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a walking safari and this little sweetheart caught my attention. She’s a bont tick, and isn’t she darling? I nearly couldn’t pull myself away. I was mesmerized, and quite rightly so. For her to make it to that bush where I photographed her, she’s had a heck of a life.

Let’s start from the very beginning where she would have been one of thousands of siblings from the same mom. She would have been born a rather tiny little nymph and would have had to wait patiently somewhere near the ground for her first host animal to come along. She was very small and there’s a good chance her first host was too. Maybe she attached herself to something like a hare or a rat. I’ve even seen ticks latched onto insects. After a tasty blood meal on that first animal, she would have fallen off and waiting for the next, bigger animal to pass by. After hitching a ride and stealing plenty of blood from that one, she would have fallen off again and moulted into an adult on the ground. And here’s where I found her; an adult tick waiting for a nice big host to walk by. Big like a buffalo. She’d attach herself to that buffalo, eat some more blood, find a hot boyfriend somewhere on that buffalo and then fall off to lay a few thousand eggs. Lifecycle complete. I wished her well. But I didn’t want her on me.

I think that ticks are still kind of misunderstood. They’re actually eight legged arachnids like spiders and scorpions. Their abdomens tend to be soft, so they can expand when they’re full of our blood. Or a buffalo’s blood. Or a tortoise’s blood. Or a lion’s blood. They’re not too picky. Any blood will do. And A LOT of ticks will attach themselves to one animal. Something really big like a giraffe or a buffalo might have as many as 20,000 ticks; more if it’s not feeling very well. Even the little guys like impalas are likely to have a good few thousand ticks crammed into every crevice. You’ll have seen oxpecker birds picking at ticks on animals, and they do help somewhat, but they’re just no match for such numbers.

The best thing about ticks is the fact that their mouthparts are called a ‘gnathosoma.‘ How can you even begin to dislike a creature that has something called a gnathosoma? You can’t. Although this week, I certainly tried.

I’ve spent nearly the last two weeks with tick bite fever. Tick bite fever is a nasty bacterial infection that happens when you’re bitten by an infected tick. And it sucks. Because of where my bite was, the infection went straight to the glands at the top of my right leg and rendered me completely useless. I usually go about my day at the pace of an ADHD-afflicted honey bee, but with my tick bite, I was forced to slow. Right. Down. In some ways, it was a real blessing to experience life at a gentler pace.

I could have lived with my tick bite, if walking slow with an achy leg was all that happened. But by about day four, the fever started to kick in. The worst headaches I’ve ever had were accompanied by whimpers of ‘I hate everything’ over and over again any time I was forced to crawl or limp anywhere. It’s the sickest I’ve been in a long time. Around this time, the middle of my tick bite started to go black. Ew.

Please don’t let your safari or your trip to Africa get screwed up by tick bite fever. Take precautions if you know you’ll be walking. Tick bite fever can be prevented by using a good bug repellent when you’re out in the bush, but I haven’t seen a bug repellent that actually works on sale in South Africa since 2008, so it’s best to bring your own. The big symptoms show up 5-7 days after being bitten and most people don’t know they have it until then. The real tell-tale symptom is the black mark in the middle of the bite. If you’ve got that, you’ve probably got tick bite fever. Luckily, it’s easily treated with antibiotics (although I maintain mine did nothing) and can even be left alone to run its course. It should be over in less than two weeks. I’m going to hold it to that, because I still feel terrible!

Despite all this, I think I love ticks even more. This little episode has given me a deeper appreciation of their resilience, their diversity, their beauty and above all, their gnathosomas.  Love.

this is my tick bite. i know. pretty gross…

The Truck and the Tortoise: an excerpt from Dung Beetle Soap Opera

Preview time! The following is a snippet (because I adore the word ‘snippet’) from my next book, ‘Dung Beetle Soap Opera.’


different day, different tortoise…


“How cute is that? Look! We’re being charged by a tortoise!”

Yep. I was right. We were indeed being charged by a tortoise. A leopard tortoise to be exact. You’d be amazed at how quickly they can ‘run’ when they want to. In this case, the tortoise wanted to move because we’d suddenly pulled up to a dam in those hottest few minutes of the day, thus indadvertedly presenting the tortoise with an irresistible piece of shade.  Before I’d even brought the vehicle to a stop he was racing for us and the cover we promised. It was sweet.

“He’s gone under!” a guest observed as the tortoise slid from view and disappeared under my driver’s side door of the Land Cruiser.

We all moved instinctively to the left side of the vehicle expecting the tortoise to reappear again and make his way down to the dam. He didn’t. Minutes past and it became obvious that he’d made himself quite comfortable down there. It felt good to be of some assistance in providing the tortoise with some shade, but we couldn’t spend our whole game drive parked with a tortoise underneath us. I couldn’t safely move away either. The prospect of crushing him wasn’t one I wanted to entertain. Until he moved, we couldn’t move.

“I think that turtle’s gone to sleep, Ella,” another of my guests offered. “How you gonna get him out?”

Turtle. Ugh. Not a turtle. The names ‘turtle’ and ‘tortoise’ still get used interchangeably, but I can’t blame anyone for that. When I became a guide, I learned for the first time that the critters I’d been calling ‘turtles’ my whole life aren’t actually turtles at all. As a child, I even kept a collection of pet turtles. Except they weren’t turtles. It seems my mom had it right all along. At the time I thought a ‘terrapin’ was just the European way of incorrectly referring to turtles. I’d snap at her every time she talked about my little friends as ‘terrapins.’ “They’re NOT terrapins! They’re TURTLES!” at which point I’d storm out of the room like only a nine year old could.

Nope, they were terrapins.

From now on, let’s start calling them all by the correct names. Here’s how: Firstly, everything that we would describe as a ‘turtle’ belongs to the order chelonii. Within the chelonians, there are three distinct families, the tortoises, the terrapins and of course, the turtles.

So… turtles. Good place to start. A ‘turtle’ is what we’d call a sea turtle. Living in our world’s oceans with their giant flippers. Think Finding Nemo. Most of us will never get the chance to see a real turtle in the wild.  They’re divine.

But we’re much more likely to meet a tortoise. A tortoise lives on the land and just as in cartoons, it can pull its head and limbs safely within the confines of its shell – something a turtle can’t do. Instead of having flippers, it has sharp claws which give it traction as it moves across the land. Tortoises are very common in South Africa, where we have fourteen species of them. However, you’re most likely to see the uber-common leopard tortoise. Like the one sitting under my car.

Now on to the terrapins. One of the easiest ways to make a quick distinction between a tortoise or a terrapin is to look at where it is. Is it on the land? Tortoise. Is it in a body of freshwater? Terrapin. But not always. Leopard tortoises have been known to swim if they really need to and all terrapin species move across the land from time to time looking for better food or water. So failing that method, look at their feet. You can’t go wrong with their feet. Both have claws, but the terrapin’s feet are webbed. It’s a bit sad to think you can’t call them turtles anymore, isn’t it? Teenage Mutant Ninja Terrapins? Doesn’t really work…

So there you have it; three different chelonians adapted to three different lifestyles. Tortoises on land, terrapins in fresh water and turtles in saltwater.

I explained these distinctions to my guests. It took a bit of practice, but they got it in the end. Hopefully they’d never call a tortoise a ‘terrapin’ again…

That addressed, now I could get on to the matter at hand. How I was ‘gonna get him out….’

Let’s Talk… Really Bad Hair Days

A bit of a silly one today. Because I’m in that kind of mood. And I’m seriously dehydrated…

A few months ago, I had a bad haircut. It was really bad. All these weeks down the line and it’s finally starting to right itself. Nature always does. And during those darkest days of bad haircut, I sought refuge in nature. I turned to it; searched for answers. And in it I found… Countless examples of really bad haircuts. Nature is all about bad haircuts. Really.

Take this guy. I’m talking about the one in the middle. The one with the fluffy mullet.  See how his own brother on the left doesn’t want to be seen with him? And the other guy on the right is opening mocking him? Bad hair will do that.


any excuse to post this photo. it’s tie die. and owls.

Or take this unfortunate impala . He walked right through a golden orb web spider’s web. And now there’s a giant spider hovering above his face. Fortunately for the impala, even through the spider has what we call ‘aposematic colouring’ that makes it look all dangerous, it’s actually pretty harmless. And that’s good, because it’s not going anywhere soon; the golden orb web spider is renounced for how strong its web is. It’s like fishing line, and once it’s stuck to something, it’s going to stay stuck.  Can it get much worse?


(face removed in order to preserve dignity)

Actually, it can. If you’re this tree. It’s a broad leafed coral tree (Erythrina latissima) and easily one of South Africa’s more spectacular trees. Unless of course, it’s just been attacked by an elephant. Like this one.  Most of our trees have got serious defenses.  If they’re not covered in nasty thorns, they’re usually either exceptionally toxic or terrible tasting.  Not this coral tree though.  Apparently, it’s just all-round inviting.  Huge, delicious cabbagy leaves and not spikes to get in the way?  Fabulous.  That’s why they’ve been decimated in game reserves.


after the elephant apocalypse…

Fortunately for every one of us, tree included, it gets better. The owl will grow up and lose the awkward down fluff he needed to keep warm as a chick. The impala will walk through another bush some other time and dislodge his hitchhiker. The tree’s trunk is still intact too, and wasn’t ring-barked by the hungry elephant,  so even though it could take years, it’ll also outgrow its terrible haircut.

But there’s one case (okay, lots but we’re simplifying this) in nature where it doesn’t get better. Ever.

The giraffe.

We can tell the difference between male and female giraffes in te field by looking at their horns – their ‘ossicles.’ Males, like the one below are generally bald. Why? Well, being boys, they like to mindlessly smack each other with the tops of their horns. If you do that too many times – and they all do – you eventually wear off what little hair you had to begin with.   Shame. And this is one haircut that’s never growing out…

bad hair. forever.

Hoofnote:  Okay, giraffes don’t ‘mindlessly smack’ each other.  Almost nothing in nature is without a point and giraffe boys fight for the right to mate and enhance their species.  It’s very noble, but they still look silly.

How many sea turtle e-newsletters can one person sign up for? Many.


the beach of many turtles…

Note:  I wrote this one a few days ago.  It’s just been waiting for an internet connection.  Last night I as playing darts at home, not turtle tracking. Anyway…

So remember yesterday how I was going on and on about ghost crabs? How ghost crabs were my new favourite thing in the world? How I encouraged everyone reading this to go out and there and ‘find your ghost crab;’ ie find something you’d never considered before and fall in love with it?

Well, last night I found my ghost crab. And it was a sea turtle. Yep, that’s right. Ghost crabs are, like, SO yesterday.

When I arrived at Thonga Beach Lodge a couple of days ago, I’d actually forgotten that one of the things that draws so many visitors here and indeed to this whole stretch of remote Northern Natal coast at this time of the year, is sea turtles. Unlike a lot of the people who come here, a ‘turtle tour’ has never been on my bucket list. I’ve never seen a tour advertised and thought, ‘oh my goodness, I need to do that.’ I’ve always known about sea turtles, but like tigers and pandas and sloths, they’re just so unfamiliar to me. I’d never seen them, never stayed up at night thinking about them, never wanted to join any sort of sea turtle club or get sea turtle e-newsletters. Sea turtles just weren’t ‘on my radar.’

So it’s quite by accident that I ended up on a ‘turtle tour’ last night. After a delicious dinner of ostrich fillet, espresso creme brulee and a rather large tequila based cocktail, my lovely dinner companions and I were escorted down to the beach where a Land Cruiser stood waiting for us. Before we’d even climbed aboard, the night had already been made for me. The milky way splashed above our heads, the waves were breaking next to us, the ghost crabs were scuttling about, the tequila. I didn’t even need turtles. And as a safari guide, I knew I couldn’t go into any sort of wild experience with expectations. So I dropped them. And just loved instead.

We started out driving to the south for a few kilometers, but reached the end of the concession without any sign of turtle activity, so we turned around. As we drove across the smooth beach, hundreds and hundreds of ghost crabs crossed our path. Some rushing towards us, some rushing away and some just standing in our path waving their little pinchers defiantly in our general direction. I admired their spirit.

When we reached the lodge again, I figured that was the turtle tour over. We went, we didn’t see, end of tour. Not so! Our guide seemed more determined than ever to find us some turtles and he sped past the lodge. Not more than a hundred meters past the lodge’s beach deck, he spied some fresh turtle tracks. We ground to a halt in the deep sand and jumped off excitedly. Sadly, we’d missed the hatchling turtles emerging from their nest and running to the sea. Looking at the tracks, it seemed that many of the turtles had made it, but with all those ghost crabs around, some of them wouldn’t have reached their destination. I immediately fell out of love with ghost crabs. I had no idea they just hung around turtle nests waiting for the poor little dudes to hatch and then it was all ‘surprise, we’re here to eat you…’


hatchling leatherback turtle

Following the tracks backwards up the dune, we located the nest and found one ‘straggler.’ A little loggerhead turtle, one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen in real life, struggling to free himself of the nest. He tried hard, but it seems he just wasn’t strong enough to lift his head, let alone pull himself down to the surf. My heart broke when we had to let nature take his course and leave him to the crabs. Less than one in a hundred hatchling turtles survives. He wasn’t going to be the one. As I climbed back onto the Land Cruiser, I had tears in my eyes. ‘Turtle tracking really sucks,’ I thought to myself. But I had to come to grips with the reality. Each turtle has so many babies (sometimes more than 1000 in a season), precisely because it’s so darn hard for them to take to the sea. If they managed to hatch at all, and climb out of the nest, they’re met by ghost crabs, or honey badgers, or mongooses or if they hatch during the day, they have to deal with hoards of birds as well. The few that make the short journey across the sand have to contend with all the fishes who swarm in anticipation of a turtle dinner. And that’s all in the first 10 minutes of hatching! If you survive all of those obstacles and make it to open water, you’re still in open water. And there are a million other predators there (including other turtles) who’ll see to it that only a teeny, tiny percentage of hatchlings will ever get to grow up and live out the near-century long lifespans they’re capable of.

Back to turtle tracking. We left our doomed loggerhead in search of others. And a few minutes north, our guide suddenly came to a stop and turned off the lights. ‘You can get down,’ he offered. And we got down to find ourselves surrounded by countless baby loggerhead turtles flapping about in every direction. They were everywhere! And you know what wasn’t everywhere? Ghost crabs. By some miracle, this nest hadn’t attracted any ghost crabs. Yet. Fresh from my leatherback heartbreak, I was determined to see each and every one of these turtles make it to the sea. We all were. We stood at the edge of the ocean, where the water just lapped at the sand and waited.

There were so many turtles that we just had to stand still for fear of standing on one. And when we stood still, they came to us. Clumsy turtles bumping into ankles and walking over toes. I fell in love. After all, I had a giant spot in my heart that the ghost crabs had recently vacated. My heart was ready for turtles. Waves would come and take buckets of turtles at a time. Some were totally shocked at the sensation and just kind of went limp and rolled around in the foam, while others just got it right away and surfed out to sea like little flipper-laden pros. And over the course of half an hour, they were all gone into the deep, black ocean. Maybe one will survive to come back to this beach one day and lay her eggs, but it’ll be long after I’m dead. That was really something to think about.


touched by a loggerhead hatchling

I wanted to give the turtles all kinds of advice for this new world they’ve entered because it’s no longer the place that’s nourished their ancestors for the last few hundred million years.

“Be careful what you eat,” I whispered to the last one. “Taste the jellyfish before you swallow it. There’s this new thing called plastic… and watch out for big, scary fishing nets… and be careful where you come up for air… and…”  And I felt so helpless. Here we were in the midst of one of earth’s most ancient animals and we’d really screwed it all up for them.

A lot of the ‘wildlife tourism’ in South Africa is based on the idea that in order to want to conserve something, you need to make some sort of physical connection with it. It’s said that you need to touch a cheetah, trek with the gorillas, feed a vulture, come eye to eye with a great white shark or be kissed by an elephant. Being ‘kissed’ an elephant isn’t just un-ethical, it’s super gross. Don’t do it. Anyway, the places who offer any kind of animal interactions justify what they’re doing as being vital to the conservation process; let someone touch something and they’ll start caring about it.

Until last night, I thought this was all a bit rubbish, really. Not much more than an excuse. But now I see it. Now I’ve touched it. Now I’ve fallen in love with it. Now i’ve already signed up for turtle newsletters and bought turtle books. Now I look at plastic on the beach in a whole new light. Now I care. Now my soul’s on fire for sea turtles. And now I want to conserve. I don’t just want to conserve, I will conserve. I’ll make that effort, I’ll learn about what I can do (and share it here). I’ll spread the word, I’ll send people on turtle tours. I’ll come back and see them again. Many times. Life’s not actually the same as it was yesterday. My few short days on the beach have been an eye opener. And a heart opener. The ocean is a whole new world and one I’m about to learn a lot more about… Love.


I tried to recreate the experience with the chocolate on my pillow. I still ate it.  Because tequila.


Am Reading… Between The Tides, In Search of Sea Turtles by George Hughes


beautiful book…

I’m so in love with this book! After my trip to the beach, I fell madly in love with all things sea turtle. In an attempt to learn more, I scoured the internet for for any great looking books, but couldn’t find any! Then as I was checking out of Thonga Beach Lodge, I found this little gem tucked away in a dark corner of the gift shop. How lucky!

George Hughes is a frequent visitor to Thonga and I hope to catch up with him one day.

Can’t wait to love my way through this book.

More on sea turtles to come very soon at Safariosophy, once I’ve been further endowed with some of Hughes’ wisdom and knowledge (and once I have time to get down to some serious writing.)


it’s even signed – how cool!

An Accidental Indian Ocean Sunrise…

So this morning, I got up deliciously early with one objective in mind. I wanted to go and chase (and photograph, maybe) ghost crabs. I didn’t know what a ghost crab was until I arrived here at Thonga Beach Lodge on the pristine northern KZN coast yesterday. I’d heard the name, but not met the crustacean in person. And I’m in love. Madly, wildly, crazy in love. I’m sure there’ll be more about ghost crabs to come in future posts.

Every time I tried to photograph one, they quickly tunneled themselves deep into the sand or caught the next wave and vanished. Probably because they knew I didn’t really want to photograph them; I wanted to hug them and squeeze them and love them forever. Smart crabs.

Anyway, the best I could do was this:


ghost crab… legs

What I wanted to do, was this:

ghost crab… legs

 And I accidentally glanced up while chasing crabs, and saw this:

sunrise over the Indian Ocean…

There’s nothing quite like discovering something new that gives you boundless joy. What’s your ghost crab? Go find it today. Love.

Dung Beetle Soap Opera: special sneak preview chapter!

So the book has a name, and in celebration, I’m excited to post an entire chapter from ‘Dung Beetle Soap Opera.’  Happy reading, and feel free to leave any feedback, here on out there on Twitter…


Welcome to Your Room. Mind the Flatties.

A safari means different things to different people. For some, it means a long, solitary drive out to the middle of nowhere, pitching a tent and cooking cans of corn on a gas cooker while listening to hyenas whooping in the distance. For others a safari means staying in a stately home in the African bush and being waited on by a large staff who also know how to orchestrate postcard perfect animal sightings. For most, a safari is somewhere in between these two examples. Depending on what you want out of the experience, you can spend R200 a night to be on safari or you can spend R100,000 a night to be on safari. The primary leveling factor is that the animals don’t care what you’ve spent. The budget camper will witness the same wild spectacles as the tycoon who arrived at their lodge in their own helicopter. There’s another leveling factor between classes of safari that a lot of people don’t think about. There seems to be this idea that money can buy a totally sterile pocket of tranquility to return to after a game drive spent at the mercy of Africa and its creatures great and small. Surely the corn camper has to deal with hoards of creepy crawlies, but if I stay at a an expensive lodge with sliding glass doors and indoor pools, there must be some protocol in place to protect me from cockroaches, right? Nope. Let’s talk about that great safari equalizer – bugs in rooms.

The cheapest of safari accommodations are actually the most ‘critter proof.’ Didn’t expect that, did you? But think about it. What is a tent, if not a tiny glorified mosquito net? You can be completely sheltered if you want to be. Whatever gets in a tent is usually due to user error. You just have to forget about the things that are underneath you. I’ve packed up my tent to find that massive colonies of termites and ants have taken up residence under my ground sheet. As have centipedes and scorpions on occasion. I was once woken up in the night by a squirmy movement by my pillow to find that a dozen giant millipedes had used my tent as shelter from a light rain. It’s yet to happen to me, but snakes also love to snuggle up to the warmth created by a body in a tent. I once had to remove a puff adder from under the tent of some fellow campers. It happens. But whatever occurs outside your tent, occurs outside your tent. Inside, you are cocooned from all that. If you’re squeamish, camp in a tent. The smaller the better.

But what about the bigger animals? Surely lying on the ground under two bamboo sticks and a thin strip of polyester doesn’t provide much protection from things like hippos and elephants. Yet strangely it seems to. Over the years, I’ve slept in my flimsiest of tents while elephants and hippos have tiptoed quietly past. White rhinos have grazed inches from my face while I lay safely in my tent savouring the moment. I’m sure that there have been less peaceful instances involving small tents and large mammals, but for the most part, tiny tents work. Or at least they work until you fall asleep with your tent flaps opens. Hyenas are famous for dragging people from open tents. Keep the tent closed and all is well.

Most of the time.

When I was still working in the kalahari, our local ground squirrels had figured out that in order to access the food that silly people left in their tents, they simply had to eat their way through a little bit of unpalatable fabric. Jackals soon learned the same thing. And elsewhere, baboons and monkeys don’t need to chew their way into your tent. They simply have to unzip the zippers. Unless you’re cunning and put locks or cable ties on your zippers. Then the baboons and monkeys will chew their way through your tent. Nothing is safe. Not even cars. We definitely aren’t the only primates who know how door handles work. Which brings me neatly to the next grade of safari accommodation.

The safari tent. If I wasn’t so poor, I’d opt to spend most of my safaris in structured safari tents. These are robust, permanent tents usually erected on small platforms. They range in luxury from completely basic to extreme ‘Out of Africa style’ opulence. In my opinion, a safari experience doesn’t get much more authentic. These tents are usually open to the elements in some place, whether it be a bathroom under the stars or a front door with a big gap underneath it. You can forget about keeping bugs and snakes and things out of your safari tent, but it shouldn’t matter. If you chose to stay in a safari tent, you’ve chosen to stay in the wild and intertwine yourself with it. If you wake up with a genet on your pillow, it’s a bonus. Whatever wanders or slithers into your room, is just as likely to wander or slither out before you even notice it.

The final category of accommodation I’m going to discuss is the ‘luxury chalet.’ The lodges I’ve worked at, including Salasentle, have been comprised of luxury chalets. A ‘luxury chalet’ covers any number of closed up house-like structures. I’ve stayed in ‘luxury chalets’ which have been little more than dank shacks with indoor bathrooms. At the other end of the scale, I once did some freelance guiding at a giant modern mansion on the banks of the Crocodile River where a week’s stay ran effortlessly into six figures. But I’m going to talk about the luxury chalets at Salasentle, which are typical of the five star chalets that luxury safari guests are most likely to come across on their African adventures.

Ironically, the more cash you spend on a safari, the more likely you are to share your sleeping space with things you might not like. You love your fancy little house in the African bush? Do you like that it’s always perfectly warm in the winter and cool in the summer? You’re not the only one. Do you find that you don’t want to leave? Well, your room’s ‘permanent residents’ don’t want to leave either. And unlike you, they don’t have to. Ever.

It’s a scenario that repeats itself over and over on almost every safari. Upon being shown around their luxury chalets for the first time, new guests usually dart their eyes around, paying only the briefest of notice to the perks their room affords. Plunge pool? Fine. Outdoor shower? Yeah, whatever. Twenty-four hour butler service? Okay. By the time you’re showing them how the complicated lighting system works and how to access the fifteen million channels on their flat screen TV, it’s obvious they haven’t heard a word you’ve said since walking into the room. Without fail, their eyes are frantically scanning the walls the entire time. And again without fail, they always seem to find what they’re looking for.

“What’s THAT?” They’ll interrupt as they point to a spot somewhere up near the roof. Inevitably, their finger is outstretched towards one of two things: a gecko or a ‘flattie.’ (Okay, not so inevitably. Once, I discovered that a horrified guest was pointing up at a two meter long rock monitor lizard in the roof beams. And there was the time a dassie was looking down at us from the top of the wardrobe. Oh yeah, and that time when the guest noticed a particularly large spotted bush snake wound around the base of their lamp. And those are only my personal experiences. You’ll find plenty of guides who have walked into a chalet with new guests only to come face to face with a black mamba. But we aren’t talking about those things. We’re talking about the things you’re most likely to find in your safari dwelling. And those are geckos. And flatties.)

What on earth is a flattie? Say it out loud right now. “Flattie.” What comes to mind? Probably a few things. The dictionary says that a flattie can refer to shoes, fish, boats, housemates, police officers and ‘ahem’ certain women – like me. Oh dear. But ask any safari guide what a flattie is and they’ll all start rattling on about spiders. Ask me specifically, and I’ll start jumping up and down and telling you all about the cutest spiders ever.

I love flatties. They’re spiders belonging to the family Selenopidae. It’s a beautiful name derived from the greek goddess of the moon. Her name was Selene. Why the link? Apparently flatties have eyes that look like half-moons. I like that. In spider books, flatties are properly called crab wall spiders. But ‘flatties’ are easier to bond with than a ‘crab wall spider’ is. What’s to love about a spider? To begin with, they’re completely harmless. Completely. Just like 99.99% of the spiders that we share our planet with. Like their slang name infers, they sit completely flat on whatever surface they’re on. They love to squash themselves under rocks, flatten themselves up against trees and most of all, cling to bedroom walls. Of all the spider species that live in your luxury chalet, the crab wall spider is by far the most ubiquitous. You’re far less likely to see the potentially dangerous violin, sac and button spiders that are definitely living in the curtains, under the chairs and in the cracks in your bed frame. So naturally, the flatties get the most attention. They can be big too, with the biggest I’ve seen almost as wide as my outstretched hand. But big is good. The bigger a spider is, the more the prey it can take. The more a flattie eats, the less you’ll have running across your floor or flying into your face while you try and sleep. They’re specialist bug eaters. And they tend to respect your personal space too. A flattie wants to stay on its wall. It doesn’t want to sleep next to you on your pillow or nestle itself between your toes. It’s not interested in wrapping itself up in your hair and yet it eats the things that do. Flatties in your room are a win-win scenario, but try explaining that to the panicked wide eyed tourist taking stock of how many spiders they can see from just one vantage point in their room.

Almost every safari lodge will have stories to tell about guests who have noticed their arachnid housemates and refused to stay in a particular chalet, or worse, refused to stay at the lodge altogether. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people who have boarded planes back to their home countries upon meeting rooms full of crab wall spiders. As a guide, it’s common to be summoned to rooms to ‘remove’ the flatties. Can’t be done. The dudes can move. So quickly do they scurry across their walls, that they’re virtually uncatchable. And while a guest may insist that we spray them to death with Doom or hairspray or shaving foam, I hope no guides ever give in. A crab wall spider is an asset to any room. Because mosquitos are one of their favourite foods, you can see a flattie as a sort of free anti-malarial device. You’re welcome.

Instead of freaking out about the crab wall spiders in your room, try getting a good look at one instead. You’ll see one of the most beautiful and intricate patterns in nature plastered across its body. Look closer and you’ll see eight incredibly advanced eyes staring back at you. And no, it’s not going to ‘bite you.’ One thing most safari guests seem to have in common is their total fascination with anything they think has the potential to bite them.

The geckos in your luxury chalet aren’t going to bite you either. If you have dozens of geckos dotted all over the walls, count yourself as blessed. Do you know how much money people pay in other parts of the world to keep pet geckos? You have free ones. Enjoy it. If your chalet doesn’t have a television or wifi, use the geckos for entertainment instead. Lots of geckos in a confined space usually results in lots of gecko drama. If you’re lucky, you can end up watching something more gripping than Game of Thrones. And because your geckos are running about in your rooms, they’re gobbling up the other things you don’t want to see (that are there), like moths, mosquitos, flies, cockroaches and yes, even flatties. We won’t talk about the things that the presence of geckos in a room attract.

…Like arboreal snakes. I couldn’t resist. Sorry. Geckos = boomslangs.

What I’m trying to say, is that on safari you’re extremely unlikely to be hurt by animals in your sleep, no matter what accommodation you’re in and what you’re sharing that accommodation with. In my time as a safari guide, I’ve had guests seriously hurt by slipping in the shower, tripping down the step in their room that I meticulously warned them about and banging their head on the low beam by their bed – that I also warned them about. Everyone has survived unscathed from the dassie on the wardrobe, the scorpion in the bath and the puff adder by the door.

I love that even if you’re on safari alone (like I usually am), you’re never alone. There’s the snake using you for warmth if you’re camping and the squirrels sheltering from the storm in your safari tent. Honestly, skip a game drive, lie back on your bed and experience the whole complex ecosystem of prey and predator that lives in each and every luxury chalet in Africa.

Hoofnote: Back when I wrote this, I mentioned that monkeys don’t have to rip through your tent because they use the zippers. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Not long ago, I was camping solo at Punda Maria in the far north of Kruger. I’m a fairly smart camper (after years of trial and serious error) and I don’t make silly mistakes like leaving food in my tent. One morning, whilst I was enjoying the much needed air-conditioner in the camp’s coffee shop, a whole troop of vervet monkeys took it upon themselves to enter my tent. Not via the zippers, but simply through the mesh. And not by ‘chewing through’ as I mentioned the could in their chapter. No, they entered by ripping the walls open with their sticky little fingers. And while monkeys can no doubt pass through some very small holes, these ones made sure they had the luxury of entering my tent through a very large hole indeed. To get to… absolutely nothing. My entire roll of emergency duct tape wasn’t enough to keep the gaping hole shut. So dearest monkeys, I’d encourage you in the future to use the opposable thumbs that evolution gifted you with and please just use the zippers next time you wish to enter my tent for no reason. Cheaper for me, less energy expended for you. We both win. Sort of.

August 25: Christmas Trees in the Kalahari

Happy Saturday! Struggling to find something worthwhile to do? Because Saturday’s should always be spent smiling, I give you, ‘Christmas Trees in the Kalahari’.

If you just click on the link below, you’ll get to spend your Saturday in the Kalahari. There won’t be any dust, like dust in your gearbox, or on your rusks, or in your hair, or up your nose (yes, it happens), but you’ll still feel like you’re there. If dust is important to you to set the mood, then go and gather some sweepings from under the fridge. You get the Kalahari vibe and a clean floor. Saturday win.

But please read this special Kalahari trip report and enjoy it. It’s 41 pages of beautiful storytelling and shockingly good photos! Proof that if you bring along the right attitude, the Kalahari will send out all its most delightful little friends to meet you. It’s written by wonderful people and I promise it’ll uplift and inspire and make you say ‘WOW’ every few seconds. It goes well with a tub of cookies and is the very best way to spend your Saturday.

Click Here! Click click click click! Do it! Click! (Sorry, rather jumped up on Med-Lemon at present):

A little preview… all photos taken by lovely Debbie Wright, on her camera which is NOT one of those big spiffy cameras. You don’t need a big spiffy camera to make beautiful things happen. Fact.


Three weeks of Lion sightings… (photo by Debbie Wright)


And all the smaller fuzzy animals, like Bat Eared Foxes and Caracals… (photo: Debbie Wright)


Very many cheetah hunts, including this one stalking in the road. (photo: Debbie Wright)


Leopards watching lunch walk by… (photo: Debbie Wright)


Leopards in pairs, not commonly seen! (photo: Debbie Wright)

Love Kalahari!

August 10: Happy Lions of the Kalahari

Tonight’s sunset drive guests wanted to see lions. Only lions. In fact, they even told us to drive by absolutely everything else. They were only here to see lions.

So it was settled. We’d travel far and we’d travel fast to reach a place where lions have been spotted this past week. The guests buzzed (loudly) with excitement (and vodka), telling each other that their guides were taking them to the ‘lion camp’. Not so much. If only the Kalahari really had a ‘lion camp’. But it doesn’t. And the truth is I actually see lions very, very rarely on my game drives. I wasn’t hopeful.

Speeding past some of the Kalahari’s most delightful animals wasn’t easy. I usually make a tremendous effort to ‘convert’ guests (especially the lion fans) to the small and exciting little animals that give this place its charm. But part of a guide’s job is to recognize when people can’t be converted. Tonight we were driving for lions and nothing but lions.

That’s why I was shocked to find lions tonight. It never works out that way.

The first lion started out as an odd looking clump of grass on the ridge to the right of us. It’s a miracle we even stopped to investigate! We watched him slowly make his way down the ridge towards us and the waterhole.

Big lion. Bigger yawn.

Kalahari lions are better than cookies. Fact.

As we moved forward to stay with him, we caught sight of a second, blonder lion much closer on our left! The two big males had noticed each other too and set their courses to intercept.

On his way to see his brother…

What followed was undoubtedly the most fabulous lion encounter i’ve ever witnessed! Even cookies couldn’t have made it better. Upon seeing his brother, the ridge lion broke into an excited gallop and the two eventually crashed into each other. They proceeded to rub and nuzzle one another, before dropping to the ground and doing little dances of happiness. Both looked completely overjoyed and I don’t think i’ve ever seen glee so evident in any animal.


I don’t know if they last saw each other a year ago or a minute ago, but they were absolutely thrilled to see each other now. They reminded me of my little Jack Russell, Matilda. Every time she sees us, it’s like we’ve been away for years (in my case it’s usually because i’ve actually been away for years). That’s love. And these lions had it too. The whole world should be like that. Love. Love and cookies and lions.

It was an incredibly special sighting and a sweet memory i’ll get to take away from the Kalahari.

Does it get much better than this?

Made sweeter by how short-lived it was. As the brothers were still getting stuck into their super-cute greeting ceremony, the voices behind us demanded to move on. “We want to go now. Take us to see the cheetahs”.


Sunset Drive Sightings:


And the ones we didn’t stop for…

Cape Fox
Black Backed Jackal
Bat Eared Fox
African Wild Cat
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Kori Bustard
Spotted Eagle Owl


I try as often as possible to tell people on my drives that aardwolf’s eat 300,000 termites each night. Because I never see aardwolfs, I have to find other ways to sneak in the little fact I love so dearly…

…“Bat Eared Foxes eat termites, but not as many as an Aarwolf does! An aardwolf eats 300,000 in one night”…

… “See this Brown Hyena? It’s kind of like a big Aardwolf, except it’s not at all and Brown Hyenas don’t eat termites, but Aardwolfs will eat 300,000 in one night!”

…“The African Wild Cat has distinctive stripes on it’s legs. You know what else is stripey? An Aardwolf. And Aardwolfs will eat 300,000 termites in one night!”…

Tonight, I got to tell my guests that “Aardwolfs will eat 300,000 termites in one night!”, except this time, an actual Aardwolf heard me say it. Cool? Very.

The drive hadn’t gone tremendously well to that point. While we’d seen a huge variety of nocturnal goodies (see epic list below), we’d also driven far afield in search of lions who weren’t there and my guests had disagreed with me at a Wild Cat sighting, insisting it was rather a leopard. They’re still convinced.

As I was starting to let my mind wander to the peanut butter cookies in my kitchen, I casually glanced to my right. And there was an aardwolf. Right there. Just meters from the truck, and staring back at me with a face i’ve only ever seen in mammal books.

I won’t go into my exact reaction. It involved a lot of gasping and squeaking. I told my guests that this was my first ever Aarwolf sighting and that they were lucky enough to see one of Africa’s lesser-seen safari stars. And of course I told them about the 300,000 termites. There were smiles all around, but I suspect they were more in response to my reaction, which progressed from gasping and squeaking to hand clapping and jumping up and down in my seat as the reality of the situation sunk in.

Seeing something new is always such a rush. Technically speaking, i’ve had two aardwolf sightings before this one. My most recent was by the side of the road as the truck I was in sped by at 140km/h, leaving me thinking, “goodness me, was that an aardwolf?”. My first sighting was on my field guiding course. I remember feeling like my life was complete, that I could die now that i’d seen an aardwolf. Perhaps a tad dramatic, but the feeling was indescribable. Only when we got back to camp did our photos prove the ‘aardwolf’ was in fact a Bat Eared Fox. But never mind, i’d still had the experience of seeing an aardwolf.

So tonight was extra special. You never even hear about aardwolf sightings in this part of the Kalahari. Everyone knows they’re here, but they’re a little like pangolins and black-footed cats– kind of mythical.

An unforgettable night.

Did I photograph tonight’s aardwolf? Noooo… but I do have a grainy 3 second video of a blurry blob moving up a sand dune. I did photograph this Spotted Hyena half an hour later, another animal I hardly ever get to see in the Kalahari.

Sunset Drive Sightings:

Spotted Hyena
Small Spotted Genet
African WIld Cat
Cape Fox
Bat Eared Fox
Black Backed Jackal
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl
Spotted Eagle Owl
Tawny Eagle
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Kori Bustard

The night drive was rather more sedate with less squeaking and hand clapping. The highlight of the drive was a Spotted Hyena just as we came in through the gate. Love that feeling of hopping back into the truck after locking the gate behind me, only to find that a large predator had been watching all along.

Night Drive Sightings:

Spotted Hyena
African Wild Cat
Bat Eared Fox
Cape Fox
Black Backed Jackal
Spotted Eagle Owl