A Mabalingwe tale about elephants: a game ranger’s story.

The great and majestic giants of the bushveld with their mighty size, columnar legs and great strength have long been the topic of mythical folklore on the African continent. The myths and tales, passed down by generations, about these gentle giants stretch far and wide; weaved into African traditions, beliefs and modern-day symbolism. The origin of some of these myths has become ambiguous over the years and cannot be credited to a single tribe. Nonetheless, these stories add to this magic aura around the largest living mammals walking the earth today – the great African elephant.

As legend has it, these powerful beasts with their ‘wisdom sticks’ or tusks can tell the exact time and place of their death. It’s exactly for this reason certain African tribes believe old tuskers are often seen without their herd, preferring to find a hiding place to die, thus maintaining their dignity, as they wish to die alone and in peace. It reminds one of the novel by Dalene Matthee, ‘Kringe in die bos’, a story about Oupoot – the legendary elephant bull that breaks away from its herd and forms a powerful bond with Saul Barnard, the woodcutter. Saul aims to protect the elephant and the surrounding woods of Knysna, and by doing this he finds his truth.

This brings us to the next myth, with its origin in Kenya and the Kamba tribe. The Kamba people believe elephants were once humans who changed into elephants as a result of magical ointment that was rubbed on their teeth. They believe that it’s for this reason elephants are so intelligent, but also why humans have such an unusual connection with them.

Mabalingwe, too, has a legendary tale about elephants. Here is that story, told is as seen through the eyes of Game Ranger, Carl Swartz:

I have had my fair share of sightings of elephants on Mabalingwe Nature Reserve, and each time the experience is dreamlike. It’s so unreal how you can recall the specific mood, bushveld-smell in the air, that hair-raising moment where one becomes one with nature – it just leaves you in awe.

With each new elephant sighting on the Game Rangers’ radar, there is always that ‘eureka’ moment, the adrenaline rush and funnily enough, an exact course in how the events unfold. This time it played out exactly like before…

It always starts with a call from another Ranger:

Carl Swartz: “Yes, tjomma, howzit going?”

Game Ranger 2: “Lekker, lekker friend. Listen here, I have the elephants in front of me.”

Carl Swartz: “Okay, cool man, can you tell me where they are?”

Game Ranger 2: “Ja, dude! Do you remember that place I almost poked my eye out with the two-way radio’s atenna, well it’s about 500 metres past that, close to a rock that looks like elephant excrement?”

Carl Swartz: “Yeah, yeah.” I would usually reply, realising that no one else would be able to find this mentioned location based on those directions.

And off I go “racing” at 25 km/h to get to this precise location. At this moment the excitement in the vehicle is buzzing, whilst I am sweating bullets – thinking of the possibility of being too late and the elephants disappearing into the bush again. 


I finally arrived at the location, but no elephants in sight. This is where the doubts creep in – am I too late; did we scare them off; am I at the right location?

I call one of the other rangers: ring…ring…ring…

Guest: “Is it true that elephants are scared of mice? And do they really get drunk on Maroelas?” I hear from the back of the vehicle.

Carl Swartz: “Huh?” startled I react, before answering the guest (If you would like to know the answers to these questions, please book a Game Drive with Carl Swartz.)

Game Ranger 2: “Hello, Carl, you there?” meanwhile, on the line.

Carl Swartz: “Hello. Yes, can you hear me?”

Game Ranger 2: “Yes, ‘yster’ – do not move. Where are you now?”

Carl Swartz: “Next to that rock you mentioned.”

Game Ranger 2: “Okay, cool! Drive towards the dam where you fell in that one evening, turn right, then left and you will see them!”

+/- 10 minutes later

Carl Swartz: “Ladies and gentlemen, please remember to keep noise levels down; in front of you, you will see a herd of elephants.”


A few minutes later…

The elephants started taking an interest in us. The herd heading closer to the vehicle. Not aggressive, just curious. Several of the elephants greet us by shaking their heads and lifting their trunks. The lady behind me suddenly grabs my shoulder tightly, squeezes it and in a panicked state whispers:

“Let’s go, let’s go.”

Carl Swartz: “Ladies and gents, please do not be afraid. These elephants smell fear and that will make them nervous.” I calmly explained.

At this point, a nervous energy has erupted, with guests asking question after question, and the elephants moving closer and closer. It is at this exact moment when the matriarch stops and out comes a little calf. The chaos all of the sudden turns to “ooh’s and “aah’s”. She has come forward to show off the newest addition to the herd. She cautiously guards him, as the calf steps forward, wild trumpet, lots of scuffling and pushing – as if he’s the alpha male. As suddenly as they appeared, they disappeared into the bush. Thereafter, it was a moment of complete silence – a simple act reminding us about the human characteristic these majestic creatures possess, but also a reminder of their gentle nature.


In closing, let us be reminded of the elephant tusks in South Africa’s coat of arms that represent wisdom, strength and eternity. Let us be wise and safeguard elephants and African folklore, surrounding these incredible beings, for years to come. Let us show the strength to protect elephants for future generations. And let us work together to ensure that elephants are alive and thriving for the rest of eternity. Let the legend live on…

A guide for amateur photographers

That utter dismay of returning to base camp only to find all the photos you snagged of that pride of lions are out of focus, have poor lighting or, the pride looks suspiciously like a tree. These are all too familiar moments that amateur photographers experience. Let’s face it – very few of us have the time or the pricey equipment it takes to set up in a make-shift hide for 6 hours a day, lying in wait of the perfect shot; and then still return home to fancy editing tools to make our images look like a million bucks.


Our hearts lie in capturing the moment so that we can relive the day at a later date surrounded by family and good food, sharing stories late into the night. But wouldn’t it be great to hear a, “Wow! Did you really take that photo?” rather than a, “Are you sure that’s a hippo? It looks like a rock.”


Without further ado, here is your guide to awesome wildlife photos:

  1. Get your camera set up right at the beginning.

All those images you’ve taken where you swear there was an impala in the scene, but in the photo, there isn’t? Or the bright light white-washes your photo so you might as well delete it. Maybe your camera has an auto flash you forgot to turn off and now that brilliant blue kingfisher is a grey fleck in the sky above you. This is what needs to change. Keep in mind that your subject will likely not stand still for prolonged periods of time, so get your camera set up to higher shutter speed, use a telephonic lens if you can, and turn that flash off permanently!

Egyptian Geese landing on the water
Photo by: JB Vorster
  1. Let’s plan!

The wildlife in South Africa is most active early morning or late afternoon/evening. This is why so many game reserves offer drives at these times – it’s to maximise your chances of spotting big cats in action or hippo’s grazing out of the water. So whether you book a guided tour or decide to pack some “padkos” and hit the road in your own vehicle, do so at these times. If you are specifically looking for shots of one species try researching their habits and find out when and where they’re most active.

Impala at a watering hole
Photo by: Linda McBride
  1. Set the scene.

First and foremost, you will want to find a spot where the background compliments your subject. Think of the space they are moving in and capture a large portion of that behind the subject. Think of a lone leopard wandering along a road, or a pod of hippos just peeking out of the water at a dam. Picture the shot beforehand, the colours, the foliage and the animal in unison. Commit to the perfect shot and position yourself and your camera in-line, or in eye contact with the animal to really get those gazes front and centre in your images. Have you ever seen that National Geographic photographer belly down or on their haunches? Yes – that is what we mean. Then have patience! Take a bunch of photos from different angles and spend some time following the animal.

Hornbill in a tree
Photo by: Shanice Faber

And yes – editing gives images that “wow” factor, but you don’t need to spend your savings on some software for photos you aren’t planning to earn an income from. These images are for your collection, so find a free picture editor that will help spruce up your photos and voilà! You’ll be a master photographer in no time.


If you’re looking for something a little more in-depth try signing up for this free course.


And don’t forget to send us your awesome shots: yourresortstory@vrs.co.za

Mabalingwe Sunset
Photo by: Karen Steenkamp

12 Best Sounds of the Bush

Journeying into the bush, across South Africa, isn’t only about seeing wild animals in their natural habitat – it is about the whole ecosystem and the plant life and biome which are the foundation of the habitat, it is about spending time with loved ones to create special memories and to get away from the bustle of the city, and it is also about experiencing the bush, undisturbed by man, and listening to the music of nature. Thinking back on wonderful times spent doing just that inspired this list of the 12 best sounds of the bush:


Crackling Fire

Fire cracking

How peaceful the sound of flames licking wood, while you get comfortable in a camping chair around the boma, is. At the start of the breakaway, it signals relaxation and at the end of one, the feeling of being grateful to have spent time in the veld. Crackling logs and shifting embers are the perfect background noise to families talking and laughing by the glow of the fire – this sound holds a special place in our hearts.

Spotted Hyenas

Guest photo of a hyena

There are few sounds as distinctive as a hyena laughing, a sort of odd high-pitched giggling that makes us picture a certain animated version of this creature, depicted as rather silly in a favourite children’s film about lions. But hyenas are actually rather intelligent and communicate using a number of sounds – some of which you may encounter while in the bush. The loudest of these sounds is laughter, which normally signals distress of some kind, and a whooping noise used to gather the clan. Hyenas also grunt and growl at one another.

Thunder and Lightning

Thunder and lightning storm

This just had to make the list. A thunderstorm swallows up the land, engulfs the sunshine, and pours down on the bushveld. A chorus of thunder and lightning, accompanied by the pitter-patter of large water drops smacking the ground starts and finishes within an instant. How incredibly powerful and dramatic these storms are, nourishing the bush and settling the dust before giving way to bright blue skies and crisp, fresh greenery to behold.


Guest photo of a hippo bellowing

Hippo’s are incredible creatures and can communicate above and below water simultaneously to determine territorial grounds and locate other members of the pod. Hippos send sound through their nostrils above the water, as well as vibrations through a fatty deposit on their necks below, while receiving messages above water using their ears, and absorbing the vibrations below water through their jaws. Most commonly heard are the bellows hippo’s make while splashing around in the water, another great sound of the bush.

Beetles and Crickets

Guest photo of crickets

Buzzing, chirping and stridulating of beetles and crickets – these sounds arrive with the setting of the sun, as the cool night air and twinkling stars envelope everything. It is lovely to sit in absolute stillness, if only for a few moments, to hear the insects of the bush rise from the grass and communicate with one another across vast distances. Many of these insects create these fascinating chirps by rubbing their legs together at different rates.


Guest photo of a hornbill

The sound of birdsong gently wakes you from sleep while on holiday, and unlike the harshness of an alarm, this sweet song is welcomed at the start of the day. When in the bush, a variety of bird sounds and chattering can be heard at different times of the day – a Fish Eagle soaring overhead, a hornbill startled from the road or an owl waking for the night.


Guest photo of a jackal

Jackals produce a loud call that breaks through the silence in the evenings as we sit about and chat, causing everyone to shush and listen carefully. Jackals bark and howl to communicate, piercing the cool night air. Their calls are used to communicate with mates, as well as other jackals in the area and can be used to signal territories.


Guest photo of an elephant

For the most part, the sounds we hear when in the presence of elephants are those of snapping branches and ears flapping to cool down in the heat, but elephants have a unique set of sounds you might be lucky to hear once in a while. Elephants trumpet to express emotions of distress, or joy if they are engaged in play. These creatures can also roar to intimidate unwelcome visitors. Mostly, however, elephants will communicate through vibrations in the ground and can sometimes rumble so loudly that the noise can be faintly heard.

Lion Prides

Lion roaring

A roaring lion or lioness in the dead of night can be frightening and awe-inspiring. Their call echoes far and wide and the sound can travel up to 8 kilometres. Lions roar to announce their presence to other large cats as well as to stake claim to their territory. Lions can also purr, like domestic cats, only this sound can make the ground feel as though it is trembling!


Ecotainer photo of a rooibok

A surprising sound of the bush would be that of an Impala alarm call. An Impala barks to alert others in the herd of danger and this sound can often seem like that a dog would make. Another sound created by these graceful antelope that needs mention is that of them running, or bounding across the plains. They push off from the ground to gain speed, and when a large herd take-off at the same time, their hooves contacting the ground can make quite the noise.

Frogs and Toads

Frog in grass

Taking a game drive in the evening can turn out to be a unique adventure, as many animals of the bush appear in the cool protection of the moonlight. Something you may not have noticed while on one of these drives is stopping by a watering hole or river, not for the sights of big cats, but rather to listen to the deafening croaking and chirping of the frogs. Frogs surface at night, when many birds have gone to roost and their music fills the night air to accompany the insects in the grass – a melody of the bush.


Guest photo of baboon in a tree

This one sure is a sound that could make you jump out of your skin if you weren’t expecting it! Baboon’s barks travel across the landscape and are a display of dominance and act as a location pin-pointer for others. Baboons make many other vocalisations such as: calling, grunting and howling, but barking, in particular, is the sound we mostly associate with this creature and the bush.

Naturally, every individual would have their favourite from this list of the 12 best sounds of the bush. Having the opportunity to experience any number of these incredible sounds is an absolute treat for many avid bushveld explorers, and we are so lucky to have many of these sounds, and others, to enjoy at Mabalingwe Nature Reserve.