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Win either The Bedside Ark by David Muirhead OR Elephant Dawn by Sharon Pincott

The Bedside Ark
Win a copy of David Muirhead’s new book titled The Bedside Ark – valued at R160
Basing his accounts on accurate, true-to-life detail, but always looking on the light side, author David Muirhead captures the weird and wonderful lives of his subjects, investigating their often exaggerated reputations, their habits, weaknesses, armouries and modi operandi.


Elephant Dawn
Win one of two copies of Sharon Pincott’s new book titled Elephant Dawn – valued at R260
Powerfully moving, Elephant Dawn is the complete, unforgettable story of one woman’s remarkable and life-changing association with the Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe.

Breaking the Grip of the Rip


Most of us love the beach. We feel that hot sunshine on our bodies, the tangy smell of the ozone hits our senses and that surf looks so good. All our instincts kick in, and we dive into those waves with carefree abandon! How many of us are aware of the possibility of getting caught up in a rip current at that moment.

I began my quest for finding out about these phenomena by going up in a glider to get a clear view from the air. I was stunned when once shown how to spot them, to see how many there were along just one stretch of beach. My respect for the sea grew in leaps and bounds. I began to understand exactly what a rip was, how it operated and above all, if caught in one, ways to survive it – and above all, that Knowledge is the key! In fact, rips are responsible for an estimated 80% of all rescues performed by lifeguards.

What is a rip?

Rip currents are narrow currents of strong flows of water (think of a river) which run from the beach back into the sea, constantly form-ing at different places along the shoreline throughout the day. Often they move slowly enough to barely be detected and are not a risk – but some are.

The flow of a rip current is usually around 0.5 metres per second but can be as fast as 2.5 metres per second. That is faster than any of us can swim.

However, although rips can reach a width of more than 45 meters they are usually no wider than 9 meters, so it is in many cases not too difficult to escape from.

The pull of the current also fades out completely at the head of the rip (as can be seen from the picture below), outside the zone of the breaking waves, so there is a definite limit as to how far the swimmer will be taken out to sea by the flow of a rip current.
Although rips are not always easily detectable to the eye, stronger rip currents can give off some visible signs, which once you recognize, will become more identifiable.

How to spot a rip

Rip currents are most dangerous twice a month - a few days before and after the full moon and new moon.

They are usually strongest near the surface of the water moving swiftly away from the shore, cutting through the lines of the breaking waves.

Don’t be fooled by a calm sea. It is often the calmest, most enticing looking area along a beach that can be a rip. Look for a break in the pattern of the waves: the water often looks flat where the rip is, in contrast to the lines of breaking waves on either side of the rip.

Look for

  • Break in the incoming wave pattern
  • Channel of churning choppy water
  • Line of moving foam, seaweed, or debris moving seaward
  • If you see it moving out and away from the shore, it is caught up in a ‘rip’. This will be in contrast to areas of breaking waves, where floating objects will be being pushed back to the shore.
  • An area having a notable difference in colour - The rip usually differs in colour from the surrounding water; it is often more opaque, cloudier, or muddier, and so, depending on the angle of the sun, the rip may show as darker, or lighter, than the sur-rounding water.
  • A rip – turquoise water – flows parallel to the beach before flowing out to sea.

What to do

  • Don’t panic
  • See which direction the rip is taking you: - Is it straight out - or at an angle? Once you have determined this: Swim to the right or left of the direction of the flow, never against it.
  • If you cannot swim out to either side of the rip: - Float and go with it. Rip currents are fairly narrow so you should be out of the “rip” in no time. Then: You can then either swim back to shore or let the waves help you back in. Some basic but critical facts which could make the difference between a great day at the beach, or you or a loved one unnecessarily paying the price with their lives – a risk never worth taking:
  • Lifeguards or surfers are the best sources of information. Obey instructions. If not available:
  • Take a few minutes to observe surf conditions before entering the water. Rips can show specific characteristics, which by careful surveillance, you should be able to identify.
  • Avoid the “it won’t happen to me” syndrome
  • Stay at least 30 meters away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist alongside these structures. They are also strongest near rocks.
  • Polarised sunglasses help to spot a rip by cutting down the glare and reflected sun-light on the ocean’s surface.
  • Don’t swim at night. You cannot see rips as in daylight.
  • Never swim alone.

Tracking turtles on SA’s north coast

Under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, most turtles are listed as vulnerable, near threatened or critically endangered. Of the marine turtles listed as vulnerable, iSimangaliso’s protected coastline has five species.

This World Heritage Site’s pristine beaches are one of the last significant nesting sites in Africa for loggerhead and leatherback turtles. The number and rate of hatchlings produced on iSimangaliso’s beaches are some of the best in the world. Poaching is rare, natural predation is low, and the nests are well protected.

To conserve these shy giants of the sea, the Department of Environmental Affairs, together with iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, is working with the Park’s surrounding communities to conduct turtle monitoring over 220km of iSimangaliso’s coastline.

Local community members are employed from October to March each year to monitor nesting, numbers and sizes of leatherback and loggerhead turtles on the 56km stretch of beach between Kosi mouth and Mabibi. With less than 100 nesting females coming ashore each year, iSimangaliso’s leatherback turtles, are rarer than Black Rhino.

The turtles of iSimangaliso, have received significant conservation attention, producing a noteworthy increase in the loggerhead turtle population since the start of the turtle monitoring programme. The challenge for the iSimangaliso Authority is that once turtles leave the Park’s shores and swim across the high seas, they are extremely vulnerable to threats such as longline fishing methods, pollution and harvesting.

The project is a Department of Environmental Affairs flagship programme that shows how sustainable livelihoods can be developed through conservation.

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Somkhanda Community Game Reserve welcomes a new herd of Elephant

Somkhanda Community Game Reserve welcomes a new herd of Elephant

Somkhanda Game Reserve, owned by the Emvokweni Community Trust (ECT) and co-managed with the Wildlands Conservation Trust, achieved a significant milestone when Somkhanda welcomed a herd of 11 elephants recently which were donated by Nambiti Game Reserve. This is the first time that two rural communities have worked together to extend an elephant range.

Wildlands and the ECT worked with the Elephant Rhino and People Project (ERP) over the past year to identify a suitable herd for Somkhanda. ERP, funded by Group, actively identify elephant herds that are under threat and find them new homes. They have invested over R 250 000 in the capture and translocation of this herd to Somkhanda.

The introduction of the elephants will underwrite the financial and ecological sustainability of Somkhanda. It represents a key step towards establishing the reserve as a Big 5 reserve, essential from an eco-tourism investment and development perspective, whilst re-establishing the ecological processes that are so important in savannah systems, allowing them to be healthy and functional systems.

Under suitable conditions, elephants can breed very rapidly, with populations in fenced reserves often becoming larger than is ecologically sustainable. Such was the case at Nambiti, who recognised the need to reduce their population size. This became an opportunity for Wildlands and ERP to assist in the translocation of a small herd from Nambiti to Somkhanda.

The process of obtaining the elephant has been carefully considered and planned by the Emvokweni Community Trust, the Wildlands team and its partners, ensuring that all necessary infrastructure and approvals were in place. Wildlands has worked closely with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to finalise the Somkhanda Elephant Management Plan, secure an Adequate Enclosure Certificate and secure the permits for the capture and relocation. When introducing elephants, it is important to introduce an entire breeding herd, as they have a very strong social and family structure, that needs to be maintained at all times. Conservation Solutions recognised globally for their expertise in elephant capture and translocation, were contracted to manage the capture and relocation process.

“The introduction of these elephant represents a key milestone for the Emvokweni Community Trust, underwriting their ability to harness and benefit from South Africa’s flourishing wildlife and eco-tourism economies,” commented Wildlands’ CEO Dr Andrew Venter. “From a personal perspective, the capture and introduction process has been one of the most humbling and emotional experiences of my life. Africa’s elephants are under threat, with over 100 being poached every day. Across the continent, communities and conservation organisations are fighting to stop this poaching and save this iconic species from extinction. The Somkhanda introduction represents a small, but incredibly important step in this fight.”

“We at Nambiti are very positive about the move of some of our elephant to Somkhanda and their future there,” said Clarke Smith of Nambiti.

“ERP are thrilled to have been able to partner with the Emvokweni Community Trust and Wildlands Conservation Trust, in securing the lives of the 11 Elephant,” said Dereck Milburn, Director at ERP. “We wish Somkhanda Game Reserve the very best for the future and we look forward to visiting the elephants at the reserve and partnering with Wildlands in future projects.” “A big thank you to ERP, and Nambiti Private Game Reserve for their support in enabling this project. Thanks to the Gumbi Community for supporting the introduction of the elephant and acknowledging this as a key development for their game reserve,” concluded Dr Venter.

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Creature Feature - Dung Beetle

No insect rose to such high eminence in the ancient halls of Egyptian religion as Scarabaeus sacer, the sacred scarab. The Egyptians believed that a cosmic scarab, a type of dung beetle, rolled the golden orb of the sun across the sky towards the west during the day and then trundled it through the underworld at night, attending to any necessary repairs and maintenance along the way. When the sun popped up in the east each morning, it was consequently as good as new. By David Muirhead

The connection between celestial mechanics and a small beetle rolling a pile of dung about is not so apparent to the modern mind. However, before pooh-poohing the idea, it is as well to note that painstaking and excruciatingly precise research has revealed that there is indeed a connection of sorts. Dung beetles apparently man-age to roll their ball in a straight line by orientating themselves relative to the sun by day and the Milky Way by night. They need to keep to the straight and narrow in order to make a fast getaway; rolling a dung ball around aimlessly is an open invitation to other beetles to try and steal it, and none of them wants that to happen.

Where there’s muck there’s money, so to speak, and there are hundreds of different species of beetles which make an honest living harvesting dung and a disreputable few who make a habit of stealing from others. They all prefer it fresh, and the drop-pings of herbivores and omnivores are especially preferred, having the best mix of nutrients. Hyena drop-pings, which are hard, white and mainly composed of calcium, can be safely ignored. Elephants provide a colossal bonanza and an especially large deposit quickly attracts hundreds and sometimes thousands of beetles within a matter of minutes.

Not all dung beetles go through the laborious business of making a ball. Some simply dine al fresco while others, of the genus Onitis, burrow a tunnel into the earth below or very near the dung pile, excavating an ample chamber at the end of it. They then selectively choose the most appetising items from the steaming pile above to stock their larder, just like you would presumably do if a supermarket fell on your head.


Birds of a Feather

How birds maintain their body temperatureStory and photographs by Don Cowie

Common sense tells us that when we are cold seek out the sun and when we are hot, look for some shade. However, we also know that it is not quite as simple as that in practise and birds employ many strategies to keep their body heat between the core 40-42 degree band that maintains life.

Many bird species adopt the simple process of sunning themselves, particularly in the early mornings when their body temperatures are at a low due to cold night time temperatures.

Doves are commonly seen ‘sunning’ themselves, lying on the ground their wings spread out to expose as much of their body surface to the rays of the sun as possible. They will also raise their wings alternately in an upright position while lying on their sides to warm the undersides. Birds such as herons and egrets can be seen perched on the tops of trees taking advantage of the early morning sun. Cattle Egrets fly off from their night time roosts in large numbers to their feeding grounds as soon as their body temperatures are sufficiently raised. Birds that spend a great deal of time in water such as cormorants and darters can regularly be seen with their backs to the sun wings outstretched their black feathers acting like solar panels soaking up the warmth from the sun. Black Crakes clamber up fallen rushes and sun themselves their wings drooping down to expose as much surface area to the sun as possible.

Many smaller birds such as manikins, finches sociable weavers and waxbills will seek shelter at night in their own nests or those of other species. Bronze mannikins will roost in their old breeding nests often re-lined with plant material for the cold months or will construct elongated tunnel shaped nests especially for roosting purposes, and many birds will cram into them at night huddling together to benefit from shared body heat. Numbers of black-cheeked waxbills will utilise the old nests of white-browed sparrow weavers or Buffalo Weavers communally at night for the same purpose. Species that utilise nests for shelter can benefit by 5-10 deg C above the external ambient temperature.


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