Marc’s Tree House Lodge and Kruger NP

Marc’s Tree House Lodge, located near Kruger NP, sits along a small river running through their reserve. The lodge has built their breakfast area beside this pond, which attracts a lot of birds and animals to entertain the guests early in the morning.

In particular, there was this African Giant Kingfisher, who fished over the pond. She would swoop over the water, and when she spotted something, she would hover, flapping her wings furiously, until the moment she dove into the water. Several times she came up without anything, but she persisted, and finally nabbed breakfast.

Breakfast was so big, however, that she had a real struggle trying to eat it! The fish looked to be fully half the size of her. She tried several times to fit it into her mouth, but it just wasn’t going to fit down her throat. It looked for a while like she was trying to bite it into pieces, but of course, she doesn’t have real teeth. Then she took to hitting it on the branch. As if just catching it wasn’t hard enough! In the end, the fish finally broke apart and she got a good mouthful. Makes me glad to be a human, though.

Giant-sized breakfast!
The monkeys who hung around the pond were very quick to spy unguarded food.

A troop of monkeys danced in the tree branches. They were very fast, and one morning, I lost an apple I’d planned to take with me. Someone asked if I had any mosquito repellant. I took things out of my day pack to reach the repellant, one of them was my apple, which I placed on the table where I was sitting. I was sitting, right there! One of the monkeys dashed right down, picked it up, and bounced off to a tree branch by the pond. It was over in seconds! And, of course, he took a couple of minutes to look at me and gloat before he ate it….

Vervet monkeys like these are “Old World” monkeys like the Golden monkeys we saw in Rwanda. It’s a large label as Old World monkeys are found from Africa to Asia, although Vervets were introduced to Florida sometime in recent (500 years) history, so now they are there, too.

Watching for the next lapse of human attention.

Vervets in particular, as nonhuman primate models, are used to study genetic and social behaviors of humans. These monkeys display human-like characteristics such as hypertension, anxiety, and alcohol dependency. And I can add apple-thievery to that list.

Antelopes might be interested in eating apples, but I don’t think apples are on their menu, and they aren’t clever enough, anyway. There are seventy-one species of antelope in Africa. Twenty-one of them live in Kruger NP. Because there are no fences between the NP and the reserves, animals wander into the lodges’ reserves, and sometimes into the lodges’ grounds. Luckily, this rarely includes predatory animals, although one should always pay attention when walking around, especially at night. But less aggressive animals, such as these Nyala, often come by and are welcomed as peaceful visitors. Nyala are part of the antelope family.

A male Nyala
And female Nyala.

Banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) are found from the Sahel (the transitional area between the Sahara Desert and the Sudanese savanna) to South Africa. They live in savannas, open forests, and grasslands, eating mostly beetles and millipedes. However, they are carnivores, so their diet also includes small birds, snakes, and their eggs, rats, and sometimes fallen fruit. Banded mongoose are a very social species, and live in packs of up to twenty animals.

Banded mongoose came to visit and to check the ground for possible food. They feel safe here, so no one was playing sentry or sounding alarms.

Mongoose are well-known for their ability to kill snakes, but they can also be killed by snakes such as the black mamba or cobras. Those snakes generally kill in self-defense and do not eat mongoose. Larger snakes, such as pythons, can kill and will eat mongoose. Other predators are hawks, marabou storks, leopards, and jackals.

Banded mongoose making their way up from the stream running by the lodge, looking for beetles and millipedes.

Game-viewing was the order of the day. We were assigned by the lodge to vehicles according to our destination, and today I was going to visit Kruger NP. Africa is all about wildlife for most tourists. During my year in Africa, I have seen a lot of wildlife, but I always get caught up in the excitement of those who are seeing these animals for the first time.

When you go on a game drive, it is always exciting to spot the first “really African” animal!
Blue-headed guinea fowl lack the attitude of lions and elephants, but they are fun to watch. As you can see, the group has its outliers, yet the central cluster moves in relative synchronicity.
The giraffes paused from eating to look at us.
But, as we are no threat to them, they immediately returned to their more important business of eating.
A mother-daughter pair checks out the humans, one out of caution, one out of curiosity.
These elephants were part of a larger line walking on the other side of the stream. The baby is not very old, probably under a half year.
“Greater kudu,” or “Ghost of the Africa bush” to some. You can distinguish them by their gray hide and spiraling horns on the males. Antelope horns are all hollow. Females do not have horns.
Elephants love a mud bath! It helps keep them cool and cuts down on flies and other airborne pests.

The big cats – lions, leopards, and cheetahs are the most popular animals to spot. You can rely on your driver and guide to put a lot of effort into finding these because it means bigger tips. If they don’t find these, it’s not because they didn’t try!

The unidentified glob hanging from the tree is a leopard’s aging kill that he or she stashed in the tree so other animals wouldn’t steal it. Finding a kill like this often means the leopard is also in the tree. We waited and waited, but no leopard appeared. We went off to search for other animals (including a leopard,) and re-visited this tree twice during the day. Nothing. We discovered later from another driver that the leopard was at the base of the tree, resting against the edge of the small ravine where the tree was. We couldn’t see him or her from the road. I am not sure how he knew this, but our driver believed him.

No definite idea what the animal was, but the consensus was that it was a small species of antelope – a pretty safe guess.

This is a saddle-billed stork, a bird I was becoming familiar with since first seeing it in Amboseli NP in Kenya. The way they stand in the water and fish reminds me of the blue herons that I would see on Whidbey Island.

Water is a reliable animal magnet. On the other side of the bank, a small herd of zebras crossed paths with a small herd of gazelles. I found the comings and goings of the animals interesting from a social point of view. Predators were always viewed with caution by the animals that they hunted, although, if the predators were not hungry, the others were comparatively safe.

A random giraffe walking through. Probably a barely mature male.

Baboons here, where they have not been fed by tourists, are not the nuisance that they were in the parks near Cape Town. They are still dangerous, however – they are very strong and have big teeth, and they can become very excited if they feel threatened. But, they are fun to watch because of the way they interact. Younger, older, male or female, they aren’t above snatching another’s food or plaything, and sibling-style arguments ensue. Their babies are especially cute and animated.

When we spotted a group of lionesses, things got exciting. It appeared that they were stalking an animal that we couldn’t see, probably an impala, the “fast food for lions,” according to our driver. There were several female lions spread out, but not randomly.

We watched them, along with several other vehicles, for some while, but eventually they stopped stalking. Their posture relaxed, and the pride gathered up together, so we knew it was over.

The photo below was taken with my telephoto lens maxed out. They were too far away to try and capture the whole group. When lion prides hunt, they are successful about forty percent of the time, but this hunt fell into the sixty percent remainder.

Water bucks are another species of antelope, recognizable by their horns and especially by the white ring around their hind ends. They are pretty large, bulls being about 1.4 meters tall, females a little smaller. Water bucks are gregarious, living in herds of about thirty animals, although the herds are fluid – individuals float in and out frequently. They are grazers, but when the ground cover is too thin, they will also browse on the bushes. Water is important to them, they live near permanent water sources, and when danger comes around, they use their strong swimming skills to take refuge in the water. Predators are who you would expect – lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, and wild dogs.

Female water buck.

Elephants are always fun to watch, and these were very close by.

It was the end of the day, but we stopped to watch a small drama at this artificial water hole. The zebra, understandably wary of the hyena, is waiting patiently near the water hole, but out of reach for the hyena, who is standing in the water getting a good, long drink.

Finally, the hyena walks away, and the zebra can get a drink in peace. As the hyena gets closer, we were able to see that she is very pregnant.

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