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TThere is nothing more captivating than the African bush and SA's wildlife. And just when you think you're a boffin on the bush, you'll be amazed by some of the lesser known facts you'll learn while on safari.
One of the greatest safari destinations in SA is undoubtedly the Pilanesberg Game Reserve in the North West province.
We hear from two local guides, Juan Heydenrych and Lucy Mabaso, about some of the hidden secrets of this incredible part of our country.
Here are their 10 most fascinating facts about the bush that even South Africans may not know:
1. Pilanesberg is the only reserve set in an alkaline ring complex (of which there are only three in the world).
An ancient alkaline volcano fashioned the very hills that the Pilansberg and Kwa Maritane stand on today. Hence the lodge's name, which literally means 'Place of the Rock'. Fortunately, the volcano is long extinct, having erupted 1 200 million years ago.
2. In the Pilanesberg, traces of Tswana habitation are found, dating back to 1750 AD although many traces can be found in the Rustenberg area dating as far back as 1300 AD. Scattered throughout Pilansberg are various sites that originate from the Iron Age and Stone Age showing the presence of man in these areas.
3. Ever heard of the ground-breaking Project Genesis – the largest game translocation undertaken in the world?
In the early '80s, more than 6 000 animals from other parks were settled in the Pilanesberg. R1.5 million was spent on the game fence surrounding the park, while R1.8 million was spent on moving the game itself.
Today the area features virtually all the animal species of southern Africa, including lions, elephants, buffaloes, leopards, zebras, hyenas, giraffe, hippos and crocodiles, not to mention over 350 bird species.
44. When it comes to the best time of the year to safari April, May and September come out tops.
Wildlife is easier to spot during these months because there is less vegetation and animals gather around rivers and waterholes. There's also less chance of being caught in a storm while in the middle of a game drive. Skies are clear and most days are sunny. There are also fewer critters and a lot less mozzies to bug you while you’re counting stars.
10 Pilansberg facts
55. Game viewing can be compared to fishing.
You never know what fish you're going to catch but you can narrow the possibilities down a bit depending on what bait you put on the end of the hook. In this instance, rangers are the 'hook'.
You'll see far more on a guided safari than in your own vehicle. Rangers have the advantage of knowing their park backwards. They know which animals stay in which areas and how long they hang around for.
They're also have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to all aspects of nature, including mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, plants, grasses, soils and trees.
6. When it comes to successful hunts, the lion's share goes to the African wild dog.
They are Africa’s most effective predators, boasting an 80% success rate with hunts; far higher than the 30% rate of lions.
7. The average age of lions living in the Pilansberg is 12 years old.
Ketimetsi, a male lion who lived in Kwa Maritane, made news headlines last month when he passed away at the astonishing age of 17.
8. The best hotspots for a variety of game viewing?
If you’re keen to see a plethora of wildlife including elephants, rhino, lion, crocodiles, birds, leguaans and terrapins, head to Mankwe hide, situated on the edge of the Mankwe Dam (the largest body of water in the Pilanesberg), and Makuwani hide. But prepare to be patient as good things come to those who wait.
9. While at Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge and Bakubung Bush Lodge you may inadvertently encounter the Ficus wasp.
The Ficus wasp measures a mere 2mm long, so you'll likely be unaware that the chance meeting even took place. What makes this wasp so ingenious is the way it pollinates figs. The female wasp crawls in through a tiny hole in the bottom of the fig and lays eggs before dying. After hatching, the male fig wasp bites a hole through the flower wall and impregnates the hatching females. He then chops a tunnel for his pregnant pollen-dusted female to escape from the fig.
You'll be surprised to learn that while the Ficus trees that grow in the Pilansberg are not as big as you'd expect them to be, some are over 300 years old.
10. The term 'Big 5' has nothing to do with size.
The term Big 5 has nothing to do with size, or a giraffe would feature, as it is obviously bigger than a lion. It originally referred to the most sought after animals to hunt, based on the difficulty in hunting them: this made the Big 5 (most worth hunting) the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and African buffalo.
These five large African mammal species were known to be dangerous and it was considered a feat by trophy hunters to bring them home.
Contrary to popular belief the black rhino is part of the Big 5 and not the white rhino. Although much smaller than the white rhino (a ton or so lighter), the black rhino is more dangerous because of its more curious nature, keen eyesight and feisty attitude.
Thakadu River Camp is a Fair Trade Tourism-certified, 5-star lodge in Madikwe Game Reserve, a malaria-free park that brings social and financial benefits to the local Tlokwa community that owns it.
Pilanesberg National Park in North West, a short drive from Pretoria or Jo’burg, has many species of plants, birds and animals to delight visitors, including the Big 5 and sable antelopes.
Barberspan Bird Sanctuary 3 hours from Johannesburg in North West province is a utopia for birders and ornithological researchers: it is the seasonal home to 20 000 or more birds from 350 species.
Taung Heritage Route is part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and includes the site where a 2.5-million-year-old fossilised skull of a hominid child was found.
The Tau Game Lodge in the Madikwe bushveld has a world-class spa offering a variety of treatments and packages where you can relax and rejuvenate in an oasis of tranquillity.
North West offers honeymooners a range of contrasting experiences from Big 5 game viewing and safaris at Pilanesberg or Madikwe, to gambling at popular casino and holiday resort, Sun City.