Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The mighty Big 6 birds of the Kruger - The Martial Eagle

Martial Eagle
Martial Eagle in flight. 
The Martial eagle is the largest of all eagles found in Africa and weighing 3 - 6.2kg (6.6 - 13.7lb) making it the fifth heaviest eagle on the planet. They live in open and semi-open areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

This eagle’s upperparts are a dark brown colour, their bellies are white with black streaks and they have grey specks on their head and chest. They have pure white legs with large, powerful talons.

The Martial eagle can reach a length of up to 96cm (38in) and has an impressive wingspan of up to 260cm (8ft 6in). The females are larger with more specks than their male counterparts.


As mentioned they live in sub-Saharan Africa, making home in open or semi-open habitats. Their numbers are greater in protected areas such as the Kruger National Park and other nature reserves.

Martial Eagle
Martial Eagle nest.
They make nests in areas such as woodlands, savannah regions with trees and thorn bush environments. Their territories range in size, from less than 10km (6.2mi) distance to more than 1000km2 (390sqmi).


They bathe daily in order to keep their feathers clean and working efficiently.


The Martial eagle has exceptional eyesight being 4 times better than a human’s eyesight. It is with this excellent eyesight they are able to spot prey 3 to 5 kilometres away.

Martial Eagle
Martial Eagle.
They are on top of the avian food chain and have no natural predators with humans being their only threat.

Their diet consists of a wide range of prey, such as other birds including guinea fowls, francolins and bustards and mammalians mainly hyraxes and small antelopes. They also eat carnivores like mongoose, serval cats and jackals. This eagle will munch on reptiles including large lizards and even some snakes.

This large eagle hunts for unsuspecting prey usually by circling the skies above their territories and stooping suddenly to catch their meals. They have also been known to hunt from a perch although not often.


Martial eagles form monogamous pairs when reaching sexual maturity at 5 years of age. The pair mates during the dry season in their geographic area. A pair of Martial eagles tend to only mate once every two years. The male performs a somewhat subtle mating dance for the female by flying in circles. Although rare, the females will sometimes join the male for a dance in the skies, grasping their talons to one another’s. 

They build their nest in a large tree often placing them in the main fork of the tree standing at least 6 metres (20ft) high off the ground.

Martial Eagle
Martial Eagle chick.
The female usually lays only one egg, sometimes two eggs and incubates the egg for 45 to 53 days. The female remains in the area with the egg or young chick while the male hunts and brings prey to the nest. After about 50 days of daddy duty, the male is seldom seen while the mother hunts and brings the prey to the nest herself.

Martial eagle chicks practice hunting alongside their parents and learn to fly. The time comes to fly the nest for good usually after 6 to 12 months and find their very own territory.

Did you know?

The Martial eagle can knock a grown man off his feet and is said to have such powerful talons capable of breaking a person’s arm.

They live on average up to 16 years and a maximum of 30 years in the wild.

Monday, 28 September 2015

An Epic spring tour

The first spring tour of 2015
Thomas and Claudia Mawick. 

Four couples set off for the first tour of the spring; two couples, who were returning clients, from Germany, Thomas and Claudia and Heidi and Werner, while Jona and Dick were welcomed from Holland then Philp and Lee joined from Australia.

The first adventure stop was the famous Kruger National Park for the 8 day safari tour, followed by a tour exploring the magic of Cape Town and afterwards Philip and Lee continued on the 5 day Garden Route tour.


A pair of rhinos were spotted in a battle against one another. Thomas described the rhino battles as, ‘’Amazing how two gigantic rhinos pushing back and forth, with horns colliding, are so quiet. I would have expected to hear panting or something, but nothing at all apart from the sounds of horns striking.’’

Ntombi the cheetah. 
The couples were impressed with the house cheetah Ntombi at the private Game Reserve. They embarked on a safari walk and wheel with the game ranger; after a 3 minute stroll the shadows of Ntombi’s brothers were spotted. When the brothers arrived the ranger stroked them and they headed off, wheelchairs and cheetahs, into the reserve.  

That evening a magnificent Kudu was seen standing in front of Thomas and Claudia’s


The three couples visited Jessica the Hippo and Thomas found it to be ‘’Just incredible, we never thought that it was possible to get as close to a hippo, to feed or kiss one. ’’

The famous Big 5, which include the lion, rhino, elephant, leopard and the Cape buffalo, were also spotted among many other wildlife!


A rhino battle!
‘’The tour with Alfie and Charles was a pleasure. Everything was perfectly organized! The tour was also perfectly balanced between safari drives and periods of rest, so we had a very relaxing holiday. All accommodation was fully accessible and perfect for wheelchairs. These experiences we will never forget.’’ - Thomas and Claudia Mawick

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The mighty Big 6 birds of the Kruger - Saddle-billed Stork

Saddle-billed stork
Saddle-billed stork
The Saddle-billed stork is the tallest of the storks, although not the heaviest, standing at a height of 150 cm (59 in). These glorious storks have a pair of extremely long legs, black in colour. Their neck, head, back, wings and tail are a shimmering black while the rest of the body and the flight wings are pure white. They come equipped with a massive bill which is red with a large black stripe across and a yellow shield called a ‘’saddle’’. The youngsters are a browner grey colour.

The sexes of the saddle-billed stork can easily be told apart, females have yellow irises while males have black irises and drooping yellow wattles.

Sadly these magnificent storks are endangered in South Africa and it is still not known exactly why their numbers are dwindling.


They live throughout parts of sub-Saharan African from Sudan though Ethiopia to South Africa including several Western African countries. In the rainbow nation of South Africa, Saddle-billed storks make home in the north-eastern parts of the country along the waters of the Kruger National Park.

Saddle-billed stork
Saddle-billed stork in flight. 

They are usually silent birds except for what is known as bill-chattering during breeding season.

These storks fly the skies with their neck outstretched, and their heavy bill plunging at belly height.


They feed mostly on small animals such as fish, frogs and crabs as well as small birds and reptiles. Saddle-billed storks search for a meal by travelling over water sources and using their sharp beaks to attack their prey.


A pair of Saddle-billed storks start a monogamous companionship for life. Both the male and the female work together to build a large nest, made out of sticks, in the top branch of a tree on the water’s edge of wetlands. The female stork will lay one or two white eggs weighing 146 grams each.

The eggs take 30 to 35 days to hatch after which both parents take feeding duties of the chicks. The young birds flee the nest after another 70 to 100 days for a life of their own.

Did you know?

These birds do not migrate being very territorial and staying in the same area for years.

Saddle-billed stork
Female with yellow irises and male with black irises.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The mighty Big 6 birds of the Kruger - Lappet-faced Vulture

Lappet-faced Vulture
Of the over 500 species of diverse birds found in the Kruger National Park, six of them are referred to as the Big 6 Birds of the Kruger National Park.

Vultures are New World vultures or like the lappet-faced vulture fall into the group of Old World vultures. The lappet-faced vulture falls into two subspecies; the African vulture and the Arabian vulture. The lappet-faced vulture is the most powerful of all African vultures with the strongest beak.

The lappet-faced vulture is so called due to its fleshy folds of skin, known as lappets, on the sides of its neck. They have a wingspan of up to 280cm and are 115cm in length. 

These vultures are blackish in colour with white thigh feathers and a white bar running across the edge of their under wings which are visible when flying. The African subspecies have black feathers on top lined with brown and their underside can range from white to brown while the Arabian subspecies are brown in colour on top.

The lappet-faced vulture has a reddish to dull pink in colour bald head. A bald head is easier to keep clean than a feathered head as spattered blood and small specks of flesh would be difficult to clean off. 

Close up of a lappet-faced vulture

These vultures live in the dry savannah or thorn bush areas in the plains of Africa and can also be found in the semi-arid desert. They prefer open land with a scattering of trees and little grass cover. These vultures build a private nest in their pairs away from other vultures.


Lappet-faced vultures are usually silent and stay with their partner although sometimes gather in numbers at watering holes or at the site of large carrion.


Vultures are well-known for being scavenger birds. They are opportunistic feeders, finding their food by sighting carrion from their perches or watching other vultures. The lappet-faced vulture is the most dominating and aggressive of all the African vultures and other vultures will back off of a carcass if the lappet-faced vulture affirms itself. 

A lappet-faced vulture will often wait for other vultures to finish feeding on a carcass so that they can strip apart the remnant skin, tendons and other tissues that the other vultures cannot eat. Lappet-faced vultures eat freshly killed smaller mammals, birds and reptiles sometimes even attacking young and frail live animals. They will also raid the nests of other birds in search of their young to feast on.  Vultures have been known to eat the remains of dead human bodies.

After a feast the lappet-faced vulture finds a watering hole nearby to wash any off their face and neck. Vultures have super strong stomach acid which eradicate bacteria which would kill other animals if ingested.


They start to breed from the age of 6 years old and most vultures mate for life. The female lays 1 or 2 eggs at a time which are nurtured by both parents and the young vulture hatches after spending 54 to 56 days in the egg. 

Lappet-faced vulture landing.
The youngster usually leaves the nest between 124 to 135 days old but sometimes stay under their parents care for up to a year or more. Each pair may have one to three nests and are used over and over again.

Did you know?

They are able to shred a small antelope carcass to the bone within 20 minutes.

The species is listed as vulnerable.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Inspiring model with a difference

Madeline Stuart has recently burst into stardom in the fashion world. She’s modelled in a photoshoot for Manifesta’s fitness clothing line and has a limited edition handbag created by EverMaya in her name called ‘The Madeline’. She has appeared in a photoshoot for Triple L Designs and is the face of GlossiGirl Cosmetics. Maddy has graced the articles of many well-known names such as People, Daily Mail,Cosmopolitan and more.

A wholehearted 18 year old from Brisbane Australia, she got dedicated to a healthy lifestyle over a year ago and lost 20 kg’s in the process. Her before and after photos went viral around the world, she also dazzled the world with her long flowing red locks and gorgeous smile. 

Madeline is not just your average model, she’s spirited and pleasant and just happens to have the condition, Down syndrome. She is the world’s very first professional adult model with the condition to be signed to a modelling agency.

She’s set to walk the ramp for New York Fashion Week on 10th of September, the 2nd model with the condition to strut down the catwalk, after Jamie Brewer. The fashion world is slowly becoming more inclusive with models such as Tess Holiday, an American plus-size model, Chantelle Brown-Young, a model with the skin condition vitiligo and Melanie Gaydo, who has ectodermal pysplasi, having broken into modelling with an impact.

Madeline has become an online sensation in both the fashion and inclusive world, since launching her social media pages 3 months ago, with over 460 000 fans on Facebook and thousands of Instagram followers. And that number is most likely to climb even higher! Maddy who is said to love the camera ‘’ is on a mission to help change the way people look at and discriminate against disability through social media’’, according to her mother.

She has been nominated for the young Australian of the Year award and Pride of Australia. Madeline is to be presented as Model of the Year at Melange 2015, which is the biggest diversified fashion show in the States.

Back home she has her supportive boyfriend, Robbie and when not hanging out with him, her friends or mum, she can be found dancing with her dance troupe.

She’s an inspiration to all and proves that dreams do come true. A young woman who we can trust to make a mark in the world for the better. 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Rarely seen creatures of Africa - The Nyala antelope

Male nyala
Male Nyala. 
These cautious and characteristic antelopes can live up to 19 years in the wild if not caught by predators or succumbing to illness. Their natural predators being lions, leopards and wild dogs while baboons and birds of prey hunt their young.

Both have a vertical white stripe running along their back, several white stripes along their sides and a white mark between their eyes. Males are much larger than females and have a distinctive pair of spirally horns with no pigment on the tips. They have a longish mane of hair running down the back of their necks, down their throats and chest area. The males are grey in colour and have bright yellowish legs while females and juveniles are reddish brown.


These antelopes are native to southern Africa, found not only in South Africa but in other countries such as Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.

Nyala’s live in the dense bush or on the borders of forests close to water. They are not territorial animals often sharing the same water source or grazing in the same area.


Nyala’s are attentive and wary antelopes, who make a sharp, high, bark-like sound to alert others in the group to danger approaching. They will also react to the alert calls of other animals such as impalas, baboons and kudus. These antelopes have a white under tail marking which they display as a warning sign to others.  

Females form groups often with related members whereas adult males prefer to live alone. Herds usually browse and drink water together in their groups for safety. Their groups may range in size from two to ten antelopes, sometimes breaking up and forming again.


These antelopes have a herbivore diet munching on a variety of foliage, fruits, flowers and twigs and grazing on fresh grass during the rainy season. The males use their impressive spiralled horns for digging, while both sexes use their hooves to dig up their food. They prefer to eat in the cooler parts of the day; early mornings or late afternoons. Nyalas’ are never far from a water source as they need a daily drinking session.

Female nyala and offspring
Female Nyala with offspring. 

Females reach sexual maturity at a year old and males at 18 months of age. They breed throughout the year but mating takes place mostly in spring and autumn. Males compete for dominance using their horns in fights. They may also thrash bushes with their horns before or after fighting to demonstrate strength.

The mother gives birth to a single calf after a gestation period of 7 months and keeps them in hiding for 18 days. The calf will stay by their mother’s side only leaving when the next calf is born, but often never straying far.  

Did you know?

They are shy animals

Have large ears with great hearing but poor eyesight

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

All about South Africa's Casual Day

Casual Day 2015
Casual Day is the country’s leading fundraiser for persons with disabilities. The day has been celebrated on the first Friday of each September since the year 1995. This year it falls on Friday the 4th in the spring month of September. You too can partake in this worthy cause by buying a sticker from participating stores or NGO’S for only R10. There are 5 different stickers to buy this year, making a colourful collection. The theme for 2015 are all things spring – so dress up and think flowers, butterflies, bugs, Hawaiian t-shirts and more! Spring into Action.

Vanessa du Plessis leads the pack as project leader of Casual Day and happily gave some information about the yearly fundraiser.

What inspired the concept of Casual Day?

The National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in SA, launched Casual Day along with a group of national organisations representing various disabilities with a view to becoming financially sustainable. The list of partners have grown to an exciting variety of 12 organisations - South African National Council for the Blind, South African Federation for Mental Health, Deaf Federation of South Africa, Autism South Africa, Down Syndrome South Africa, National Association for Persons with Cerebral Palsy, South African National Deaf Association, National Institute for the Deaf, Alzheimer’s South Africa, QuadPara Association of South Africa and the South African Disability Alliance.

The concept revolves around choosing a theme for the year and raising donations via a sticker. The idea is to devise a campaign where the public can dress up, but that also carries a deeper message of the project, hence Spring into Action – for persons with disabilities. By allowing donors to create their own interpretation of the theme ensures passion from all participants. The concept is also broad enough to appeal to children and adults from all walks of life.

Last year the project raised R28 million for persons with disabilities, bringing the total over 20 years to R222 million!

How are the Casual Day ambassadors chosen?

Casual Day ambassadors are all volunteers who have expressed an interest in self-advocacy. Goodwill Ambassadors are chosen because they:

- Demonstrate an active commitment to the promotion of disability awareness.
- Exemplify good citizenship and are passionate, courageous, inspiring, caring, principled,  credible and capable of acting as influential advocates for disability.
- Demonstrate leadership in their professions and a willingness to use their professional prestige and networks to promote the cause of disability.
- Represent positive role models for young people in particular.
- Are articulate and genuinely interested in the issues and willing to learn more through briefings and field visits, sometimes those involving difficult circumstances.
- Ability to reach specific audiences, including young people. Factors such as age, current following and previous work are considered.
- Reputation and integrity. Casual Day looks for individuals who share the same goals and ideals.

Are there any plans for the future of Casual Day?

Casual Day is in its 21st year and I have recently come on board to devise new and exciting ways to ensure the projects sustainability into the future. Without letting go of what was successful in the past – the sticker, the theme and the raising of donations directly from the public – we will be looking at extending the brand into other areas. Watch this space for exciting developments!

How did you get involved with the Casual Day project?

I was recruited by the National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in SA, the owner of Casual Day. As the Public Relations Officer and later Deputy Executive Director of the National Council for the Blind, I was involved in the project as one of the national beneficiaries during the projects’ inception in the 90s. It was natural fit for me to come full circle to take on a major fundraising project for the disability sector.

What feelings does being project leader bring out in you?

While working with South African National Council for the Blind (SANCB), I was fortunate to participate in Project Renewal identifying the ‘poorest of the poor’ of blind citizens to ensure SANCB was meeting their needs. This was a pivotal life changing experience.

With over 20 years’ experience in the fundraising space, I relish this opportunity to ensure the sustainability of one of the best-loved brands in South Africa. It is a challenge for me because its funding model is unique. It does not fit within the traditional fundraising model where, for example, the donor pool includes only big corporate, government departments and high net worth individuals who bequeath money to organisations. Casual Day raises funds from the general public and has become one of the most established and well-loved brands in South Africa, raising donations from around 2.5 million South Africans.

In your own words how would you describe Casual Day and what the project entails?

It is a massive undertaking as we market and dispatch millions of items each year from our warehouse in Edenvale – sometimes 2000 parcels go to our participants. Our task is much more than selling stickers and merchandise.

At the core of the organisation is creating awareness of the human rights of persons with disabilities – 365 days a week. With the world economy in turmoil, there is a decline in funding for public benefit organisations from corporations and government departments. We must apply our minds to enterprise development and job creation for persons with disabilities and promote their independence from the need for funding. We can only do this by ensuring education and economic upliftment for persons with disabilities.

It is very important that we communicate the social impact of the funds. Each of the national beneficiaries and the 300 schools for learners with disabilities that raise funds through Casual Day have their own story to tell.

Casual Day 2015
The National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in SA runs a range of projects and programmes, including the Children’s Programme, which has wrapped up a major research project to identify the status quo of children with disabilities. Results show that the majority of children with disabilities are outside of the school system. Another programme focuses on the provision of specialised wheelchairs to children as there is a huge need for wheelchairs for children with multi-disabilities, meaning children with more than one disability as would be the case in a child with cerebral palsy. A major focus of NCPPDSA is also the accessibility of public buildings and transport.

Casual Day is a fun concept but its underlying concept is a very serious one.