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

A Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Bushwalk in Photos…

Sometimes you don’t really need words…

Or at least not that many.


gorgeous little fungus


got a thing for fungi


pure beauty


when palms make you feel small


just sit


or lie down


but always looks up


let new spaces tak e your breath away


touch the fungus gall – i love fungi too much


let colours take you away


do a tamboti sunset


peer into a scorpion hole


let the mozzies eat. theyre hungry too. love.



but dont touch these ones. ouch.


and the next morning do it all again. with rhinos. theres one there. honest.


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.

When Good Safaris Go Bad…


the sun will rise…

I’ve gone wild for the fabulous guests I’ve had this past month.  Like, really wild.  They’ve been awesome and are probably some of the best I’ve had. Tick bite fever aside, I’ve been on a pretty big high this last month. But as I’ve learned, safaris can’t always be cookies and fairy lights all the time.  They should be though, right?

Well, the safari I’ve just concluded proves that safaris can suck. Not only can they suck, but they can be hurtful and downright abusive too. From the outset, my last safari was miserable. It stayed that way throughout and finally culminated in the senseless deaths of countless caterpillars. I won’t go into details, but it made me question everything we do as guides. Are the ecological benefits of what we do, really enough to justify the damage we cause? Because sometimes I think they aren’t.  How much environmental harm is done just so that somebody who doesn’t want to be there can photograph the back of a buffalo’s head with a camera phone?

Is our ecological impact really worth it?

I’ve turned to ‘friends in the know’ these past days and put the same question to them. And the general consensus seems to be that as safari guides we’re the lesser of many evils. Unintentionally, we cause damage and harm to the animals and environments we love every time we lead a safari. But if we weren’t there, then who would be? Another less ethically-minded guide? Or worse, no guide at all? Or even worse, people intent on destroying our wild? Because it could happen.  All too easily. It’s something I’ll be left thinking about for a long time to come.

That safari is over (thank goodness!) and I’ve donated the income I’ve made during this awful safari to the Lepidopterists Society of Africa, who do brilliant work in butterfly conservation. You can find them at Take something vile and turn it into the most beautiful thing possible. Dirty money, transformed into butterflies. Yeah, that works for me 🙂

So let’s end this on a lighthearted note. I’m always looking for a positive, so the following is a list of actual things I did to cope with my bad safari, as it was happening…

Top 5: Guide’s Guide to Surviving a Bad Safari

1. Pick it Up: Keep tabs on every time a bad guest does something to upset you. For each instance, stop and pick up a piece of garbage from the roadside. Use their negativity to clean up the environment. Win!

2. Drinking games! Carry a flask of hot chocolate. Every time they shout ‘STOP!’ take a swig. Double it up when they shout STOP when you’re already stopped. With the engine off. I’ve had so much hot chocolate in the last 48 hours that my teeth feel like they’re disintegrating.

3. Breathe: It’s what we do best. Zone out. Meditate on each breath.  Notice the infinite colours your eyes are picking up at every given moment. At least until someone shouts ‘STOP!’

4. Thought Experiments: Imagine you can confiscate each of their cameras. What would you do with them? Because I’d donate them to science. Have you ever wondered how close you can get a Canon lens to an active volcano before the glass shatters? I certainly have. Or what depth can you sink a Nikon body to the bottom of the ocean before the pressure is just too much and it collapses in on itself?  I wonder… And really, how does a Samsung bridge camera cope in zero-gravity? Why not send it on a space mission and find out?  NASA’s next launch happens to be in just a couple of days, on March 22nd.  I even looked it up.  That’s how serious I was.

5.  Good old medicinal uses:  Start talking about the medicinal uses of trees. All the trees. The guests aren’t listening anyway, and it’s great practice. “So those trees that are obscuring the nyala you’re attempting to photograph with futility, are Magic Guarris. You can use them to treat constipation… diarrhoea… yep, not sure how that works either… abdominal pain… convulsions… toothache… leprosy…” See how far you get before someone shouts “JUST GO!”

Until the next safari, LOVE.

we’re all equals here…

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…

E is for ‘Enthusiasm.’ Or rather, ‘Enthusiasm!!’


The sightings we had on tonight’s safari were some of the best I’ve had in a long time. They were downright kudutastic! It began with the giant bull elephant standing next to the road dismantling a sickle bush as only an elephant can. He was followed by the HAPPIEST RHINO I’VE EVER SEEN, rolling about in a fresh mud wallow (it was raining – a lot). Just twenty minutes into the drive, I never expected it could get even better. But wait! Further down the road, a flash of red streaked through the rain from the tamboti thicket on our right. Narina Trogon! It posed next to the road, making for the best sighting of this elusive bird that I’ve ever had. Not done yet, we also had a herd of damp elephants crossing the road just a few feet away and soon after, two stunning male lions who broke my weeks long ‘lion drought.’ End it all with a pale Walhberg’s Eagle scaring the socks off a group of Senegal lapwings. Pretty amazing, huh?

But here’s the kicker. It’s not great sightings that make a great game drive. What makes a great game drive is the magic happening inside the car. The vibe. How everyone reacts to the natural miracles happening all around them . The enthusiasm. Enthusiasm!

Let’s go back to the start. That first elephant. He was huge. We were practically in his shadow. You can imagine how excited I was.

“Guys!” I whispered as loudly as I dared, “Isn’t he fantastic! This is the elephant that likes to come up to the lodge and cause a little chaos every now and then. You can see how happy he is just by looking at his swishy tail and…”

That’s when I noticed that no one was listening. At all. Everyone was talking amongst themselves and not about the elephant. Indeed, no one was even looking at the elephant! Rather they were looking down at cameras, phones or out the other side of the car. And I was thankful for them, because what they were doing was better than the one guest who was simply giving me a death stare. Awkward.

I tried to continue. “…and just watch the way he’s using his trunk to…”

I looked up again. No change. No vibe. No nothing. I spoke louder.

… He’s using his trunk to strip the bark from…”

*Phone* *Camera* *Conversation about airconditioning units* *Vacant death stare*

“He strips the bark to get down to the sunglasses popcorn typewriter. Shall we move on?” And we did.

The rhino down the road wasn’t much different.

“Oh my goodness you guys! That’s the happiest rhino I’ve ever seen! He’s been waiting for the mud bath for months! It’s just so dry here and…”

And I couldn’t hear myself speak. Because everyone else was speaking louder. And again, no one was looking at the rhino. Death stare? You betcha.

“… and, and well, now he’s having a mudbath. Ginger pancake. Shall we move on?

My absolute glee at the Narina Trogon was met with silence. My original death starer was joined by five new ones. I still couldn’t help myself and had launched into a speech about the trogon’s beauty and rarity, but trailed off mid-way. “Um…shall we moved on?”

But it didn’t get me down. I was on fire. The elephants, the trogon, the rain. I was loving every minute of this safari, and I was determined to spread that love around. Fix the vibe. Each new interpretation was delivered with increasing enthusiasm. But even the lions couldn’t muster any enthusiasm in these guests. With the exception of one, who’d never seen a lion before, the rest simply acted disinterested. I don’t know if they even glanced in the lion’s direction in the ten minutes we were parked. More death stares. Ouch.

It wasn’t all silence though. While we were watching a kudu, one of my guests announced that it wasn’t a kudu. It was.

A guide’s job isn’t always easy and tonight proved that. Enthusiasm on safari is borne of a number of factors and not all of them come together nicely when we need them do. Expectations certainly play a big part (I told you to leave them behind!). And as much as I like to think that guests always feed off our passion and excitement, it’s just not how it works all the time.

But it’s how I’ll work all the time.

When my guests are a little difficult, the best I can do is be me. And me is enthusiastic. Naturally. Yep, I get excited about senegal lapwings and the weird noises they make; go a little crazy for that cloud that looks like a tube of toothpaste; look that kudu right in the eye and have a private giggle about how big its ears are; marvel at the elephant next to me.

Why all the enthusiasm? Because. Because I’m all too aware that there will be a time when that elephant ten feet away is the last one I’ll ever see. And I don’t know when that’ll be. If that isn’t enough on its own, then just consider that every single moment of a safari no matter what’s happening, is finite, unique, brilliant, special and certainly never to be repeated. The wild is an endlessly amazing place and that’s something to be enthusiastic about!

Tonight’s safari sightings:


White Rhino




Narina Trogon




Grey Duiker


Senegal Lapwing

Wattled Lapwing

Walhberg’s Eagle (the pale, pretty morph)


A Sad Safari Fact: The single-use water bottle


big scary monsters are not cool. say ‘no’ to plastic bottle monsters…

Yesterday afternoon, we were watching a herd of elephants cross the road. Big elephants, little elephants, playful elephants, serious elephants; all kinds of elephants. And there were a lot of them. Anyone who has ever had the privilege of waiting at an elephant ‘road block’ knows the joy these giants send hurtling through your heart. But one of these elephants wasn’t just going to cross the road. She was going to prove a point and stir something in me that’s been simmering for a while now.

Somewhere around the ‘third wave’ of elephants crossing the road, a young mother emerged from the guarri bushes to our right carrying a plastic bottle in her trunk. Ceremoniously, she dropped it right in the middle of the tar road, watching it as it bounced about and settled to a stop before she carried on. It’s like she was saying, ‘this crap is yours — have it back.

She was right. Good girl.

For a few weeks now, I’ve wanted to write about one of my big safari hates – the dreaded single use plastic bottle. Ugh.

It’s still the standard at safari lodges across the country to issue each and every guest with a crisp, unopened 500ml plastic bottle of water at the start of each game drive, in addition to the backup bottles we carry in hot boxes and cooler boxes. Average that out at two bottles allocated per guest, per game drive. If I have roughly six guests on each drive, that’s twelve bottles of water per drive, twenty-four a day and a hundred and sixty-eight every week. And that’s just me! I’m one guide in a team of many. One lodge among hundreds of others doing the same thing. How many bottles is that? A lot. And that’s a problem. A huge, blue, plastic problem.


enough of this…

I came across a blog article posted by the excellent team at Jenman Safari’s earlier this week. It’s brilliant and can be found here at Jenman Safaris.  Some of what I’m going to share here is taken from there, because they’ve beaten me to some of the points I wanted to make. Great minds think alike…

So take these following considerations to heart before you accept a plastic bottle on safari:

Africa’s recycling programs… They’re not what you’re used to in Europe and the Americas. They come with limitations and remember that plastic is non-biodegradable and isn’t just going to disappear.

Plastic is forever… Kind of. Mostly. It breaks down into little pieces that damage the soil and gets eaten by animals. It might even ensnare them. It’s a horrible way to die, with plastic wrapped around your neck or clogging up your stomach… In short, plastic is going to last for hundreds of years.

Most of the water is wasted anyway…. My guests usually just take a sip or two of their water, before discarding the bottle. Most of the bottles I remove from my car after game drives are almost full, but with the seal broken. It’s really hard to take when we’re going through such a horrible drought. I can’t bear to let the water waste, and often use the leftovers to clean my car or water my plants.

Isn’t a safari FOR the environment… And yet we’re happy to drink from silly water bottles? I don’t think so.

Honestly, just say NO. These bottles really suck.

Now what can you do?

Carry a reusable bottle… Nearly every lodge will be more than happy to keep your personal water bottle topped up with lovely, fresh, clean drinking water.


my personal hydration team: plastic, metal and glass… aren’t they fabulous?

Put a little pressure on your safari lodge… Ask them about their recycling program and what they really do with all the plastic bottles they’re using. Ask them for big containers of drinkable water that you can fill your own bottles with. Ask them if they sell snazzy reusable water bottles. Ask, ask, ask. If enough people do, maybe they’ll get the picture. Don’t be afraid to mention these single-use bottles in feedback forms. Feedback forms are gold. Lodges take notice of them.

What am I going to do as a safari guide?

Commit… I’ve made a cool ‘Earth Day’ commitment here at WWF South Africa to stop using these bottles. The only bottles I’ll make use of are the waste bottles I find in my game viewer. You can do it here: WWF South Africa: Earth Hour

Set an example… In my pre-game drive brief, I’m going to encourage my guests to use reusable bottles if they can, rather than taking a single use bottle.


change has to start with me… this morning’s sugar packet told me so. or at least I think it did…

Re-use… This is what my bathroom floor looks like. I can’t bear to throw out the bottles I find in my safari vehicle. So I fill them with tap water and store them for the day the water or electricity is turned off. No matter the circumstances, this girl can always wash her hair!


the bottles that guests leave behind in my car… most with just a sip or two missing. they’ve got a second life, making sure i’ll have water on the day we don’t have water…

It CAN be done. I read a research paper recently, profiling a safari lodge in Amakhala Game Reserve that put a stop to plastic bottles a few years ago. Instead, they began issuing guests with reusable bottles on arrival and encouraging them to fill up at a cool fountain whenever they needed to. What happened? Well, guests love their fun, branded lodge bottles that they take home with them. The lodge saved almost 60% of their water costs. Guests love that the lodge is doing something environmentally awesome and basically everyone has won.

Let’s see what we can do…

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.

Coffee with Milk, Sugar and a LION CHARGE


same viewpoint, very different day

 It was a Sunday morning. Last Sunday morning to be exact. And a confession… I wasn’t actually enjoying my game drive. My guests were on their last drive of their two night safari with me and the pressure was on. For the past couple of days, we’d seen scarcely more than a giraffe and half of my guests had given up hope of a ‘big-ticket sighting’ and had opted rather to stay in bed that morning. It happens.

But the guests who’d come on that final safari wanted lions. Nothing else would do. Not even the whole pack of wild dogs we’d found scattered across the road in front of us.

“Are those dingos?” asked one of my guests.

“Definitely not!” was my reply. Every guide can relate to the ‘wild dog problem.’ As guides, we get pretty darn excited when we’re lucky enough to stumble across a pack of wild dogs. They’re Africa’s rarest predator (bar the Ethiopian wolf, but those live super far away) as well as Africa’s most successful hunter. They catch nearly 80% of the animals they chase, which can’t even be compared to the lion’s paltry 30%. Wild dogs take things to the extreme; their intelligence is unsurpassed, as is their body odour. Their pack structure is unique among the big predators, with only the alpha male and female in a pack being allowed to breed. Who raises those privileged puppies? Everyone.

So what’s the ‘problem’ with wild dogs? The problem is that even after you’ve explained all of these magnificent things to your guests, they still don’t care. I’ve had very few sightings with international guests where those guests haven’t asked to leave. And Sunday was no exception.

“We want you to go,” came the request from the back, just as the dogs were beginning to psych themselves up for an early morning hunt.

“Um… are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes,” they laughed. They actually laughed. Like the joke was on me. Silly guide, stopping to watch dingos…

Very reluctantly, I pulled away. I’d been on my way to a lion sighting that had been called in just up the road from the dogs. Other guides I’d passed had reported that while there were lions there, they were really, really far away. But still, they were lions, and I needed lions.

As I pulled into the viewpoint, I did indeed see the lions, but my usual enthusiasm had waned somewhat. I kept wondering what the wild dogs were up to. What they were chasing, what the puppies were playing with, what cool noises they were all making.

As I unlatched the door and freed my guests, I casually mentioned that there were lions down in the riverbed and encouraged them to go and join the crowd that had gathered on foot at the viewpoint to watch specks of lions through their binoculars. I stayed back to make the coffee. And to grumble to myself about my seemingly ungrateful guests.

‘Grumble grumble grumble… hope they’re happy now… grumble grumble… got their lions… grumble.’

By the time I’d made and neatly lined up five coffees (OCD conquers all), the crowd had dissipated, making their way back to their cars and leaving. My guests sauntered back as well. As I handed out the coffees, Mr. Wild-Dogs-Are-Boring came up to me.

“How were the lions?” I asked.

“They were okay,” he said, “but what I really liked the most today, was those wild dogs. They were a treat for us. I can see why you like them so much.  Thanks for showing  them to us.”

I’m the sort of girl who’s won over easily. I also forgive pretty quickly. Say the right thing and I’m a friend for life. The situation turned around instantly.

‘What fabulous, sweet guests!’ I thought to myself. And I really meant it. See? Easy.

“Let’s go see those lions again,” I offered with a smile. Coffee cups in hand, we strolled back over to the viewpoint, all of us together. But the lions had gone. No doubt, gone off into the reeds, not to be seen again that day.

“Oh well, we got to see them nicely,” I said with a shrug of my shoulders. I took a few steps closer to the edge to have one last scan for the lions, when a million things suddenly happened all at once.

…guests screamed

…I turned to look at guests

…they’re running away

…a coffee cup hits the ground

…a hat flies into the air

…I see a flash of brown fur

…for some reason I think ‘babboon’

…dust showers my legs

…baboon is running straight at me

…does it want my coffee?

…there’s no way I’m giving it my new Stanley mug

…its growling at me


…it’s a lion

…It’s a LION

…instinctively turn away


…It’s a lion charge

…can’t run from a lion charge

…muscle memory kicks in

…”STOP RUNNING!” I shout at my guests

…I stand still

…instinctively go to chamber a round in my rifle


…I’m holding a coffee mug

…lion is less than two meters away




…guests still running

…”STAND STILL! NOW!” I scream

When I say those things happened all at once, I really mean it. The thoughts all came in a nanosecond. I suppose that’s what everyone means when they talk about how a lion charge gives you ‘tunnel-vision.’ Or maybe that’s not what it was at all.

So all of that happened instantly, but everything else that followed took FOREVER. We weren’t done yet…

…hands into air

…show my hands to the lion

…step back

…take another step back

…keep showing her those hands, like it’ll help somehow

…”We’re cool, this is cool,” I say to the lion

…the car is SO far away


…the car is SO SO far away

…”STOP RUNNING!” I scream again

…guests ran, so they’re already at the car

…lions hold ground

…I’m scanning everywhere for more

…she can’t be alone

…watches every baby step I take to the car

…The car is SO SO far away

Eventually I get to the car and stand dumbfounded at the door, the lion has followed me but she’s now 20 m away, with her head poking out from behind a bush.

“GO GO GO!” My guests are shouting at me.

Calmly, I tell them that we’re safe now. They’re on the car, we’re all out of danger, but they’re still panicking.

“JUST ****‘ing GO!”

I survey the scene. Lion. Between us and her, are a coffee cup and a rather nice hat. My coffee setup is still on the truck’s tailgate. With both eyes on the lion, I climb down and quickly pack away our coffee and snacks. We’d have to sacrifice the hat and wayward cup. The guests protested the whole time.


Once I’m back in the drivers seat, still staring at the lion, I radioed the closest guide to tell her what happened. I probably didn’t need to, but then after an emergency, you really feel like you should do something. Anything. At least she could warn others to not get out of their cars at the lookout. And she did. Like a champion.

My guests were finished. Klaar. They wanted out. No more safari for them.

“Back to the lodge, NOW.”

“Are you sure?” I asked for the second time that morning.

“YES! GO!”

At that point, we were more than an hour away from the lodge. I used the long drive to debrief the guests and try and make light of what was actually a pretty traumatizing event. It worked. Thankfully. By the time we got back to the lodge, we all had a huge new repertoire of inside jokes and anecdotes.

I’m still trying to process the whole thing. It’s three days later and this morning we had coffee again (different guests) at the same spot. I could still see the lion’s skid tracks, where she’d stopped just short of me. What I’d estimated as 2 meters on the day, was actually even closer. After visiting that viewpoint so many times in the past, the whole place looked oddly different with this new memory strewn across it.

Lots of lessons were learned on Sunday. I’ll definitely be less complacent at drinks stops in the future. But I do love how all of those simulated lion charges that we have to practice before we can walk in the bush, really paid off. My muscle memory kicked in big time when I needed it. What scared me, was the lion charge itself. It had happened from such close quarters, with absolutely no warning. She also charged from down a steep hill, up towards us, which isn’t ‘typical’ either. Nor did she turn and flee when it was all over. Really just goes to show that anything can happen out here. But hey, we’re all still here and I think I’m a better safari guide for it.


not the lion, but one of her pride-mates, so it counts

Hoofnote: Actually, let’s not play with nanoseconds. Do you know what a ‘nanosecond is?’ A nanosecond is to a second, what a second is to 32 YEARS. All that stuff that took place in a single moment, actually happened over billions of nanoseconds. Love.