Nestled into the easternmost part of Addo Elephant National Park, and run as a concession by a private equity group, Kuzuko Lodge is, literally, in the middle of nowhere in the Karoo Plains. The Karoo is a semi-arid area located to the North and East of the Cape Fold Belt, the mountain range formed when Antarctica and southern Africa collided during the assembly of Pangea some 260 million years ago. Biodiversity in this part of Addo is lower than that found in the more eastern part of the park, mainly due to the low amounts of rainfall. Scrub vegetation is punctuated with small, thorny Acacia trees and Shepherd’s tree (Boscia albitrunca), which was used as trail markers through the semi-arid landscape because of its bright white trunk.
Although the lodge is part of a concession to the Luxury Group, the 188,000+ hectares of land surrounding the accommodation are all part of Addo Elephant Park. Kuzuko rangers are responsible for maintaining the health and integrity of the area’s animals, from the oldest South African Leopard Turtles (Stigmochelys pardalis) to the youngest Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), unless the latter become the next meal of the predators which roam freely in the parkland. These include the African lion (Panthera leo), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), and Serval (or Tierboskat, Afrikaans; Leptailurus serval), among other, smaller felines.
Avis, Kuzuko Lodge’s domesticated Serval, as found, as the name implies, in the trunk of an Avis rental vehicle at the Port Elizabeth airport several years ago. Only a juvenile, Avis was hand-reared at the Kragga Kamma Game Reserve on the outskirts of the city until November 2012. At that time, the rangers decided to release Avis into the wild on its own. But, when the conservation staff at Kuzuko learned of this plan, they volunteered to take in the animal, radio collar the “beast,” and has kept close surveillance of him every few days. When Avis looks lean, the ranger’s provide an extra hare for him. When he’s aware of the prey, Avis turns from loving cat to wild animal, scampering off with his “kill” into the bush for a deserved meal.
This part of Addo Elephant Park, near the Darlington Dam in the Northeast, offers Africa’s BIG FIVE animals, although leopards are very seldom seen, being shy, nocturnal and secretive animals. In addition to Leopard (Panthera pardus), the four others highlighted on South Africa’s paper currency are: Rhino (Ceratotherium sp), Elephant (Loxodonta africana), Lion (Panthera leo), and African (Cape) Buffalo (Syncerus caffer).
In addition to the BIG FIVE, the park offers herds of various antelope including: Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis), Impala (Aepyceros melampus), Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus), East African Oryx (Oryx beisa), the Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), and the largest South African bok, Eland (Taurotragus oryx).
The National Park hosts two species, some would say subspecies, of Zebra (Equus). Yes, a zebra is a horse by another name, but with stripes, and the stripes give them away.
Burchell’s zebra (Equus quagga burchellii), a subspecies of the plains zebra, is the one with stripes that wrap around the animal’s hind legs. This subspecies once was common in wild herds, but the last wild herds are thought to have been decimated in the early part of the 20th Century. This zebra’s range once extended from north of the Vaal/Orange river system into southern Botswana and southeast to Swaziland and Kwazulu-Natal. Wild populations now survive in the northwestern and southeastern ends of its biogeographic distribution. It once was thought that this subspecies had been hunted to extinction as settlers migrated from Cape Town to Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia, before the country’s demise under the Mugabe regime.
The other species of zebra in the park, the Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra), which is distinguished by a white belly and found “wild” in the Western Cape province. It is the smallest horse and thought, by some, to be very rare. Horizontal stripes on the legs extend right down to the hooves, and the hind quarters are covered with broad black stripes. When hunting pressure in the 1930s dropped the subspecies populations to below 30 individuals, the South African Parliament who referred to the animals as “donkeys in football jerseys”, barely survived a vote to establish the Mountain Zebra Reserve in Craddock especially for their conservation and protection.
Cheetah populations in Africa are low, very low. Cheetah Outreach estimates that there are no more than 7500 individuals on the continent, with more than 10% (850) in South Africa. Believe it or not, only 350 of these are kept in protected areas, with the remainder roaming free in Limpopo, the North West and Northern Cape Provinces. The Cheetah population at Kuzuko was higher a few years ago, until 3 years of drought decimated their animal herds. To prevent an increase in the cat population which would place pressure on the herds, female cats were sent to another game reserve. The rangers expect to reintroduce breeding cats to the area in the near future.
As ubiquitous as squirrels in North America, the flightless Southern African Ostrich (Struthio camelus) can be seen everywhere across the South African landscape. They’re not easy to miss, particularly when they’re standing in the middle of the road ahead of you. These are large, gregarious birds that can outrun your vehicle, if they so choose. The ostrich is farmed around the world, particularly for its feathers, and the town of Oudtshoorn essentially grew up around the Ostrich industry. You can purchase, cheaply, ostrich feather dusters from a multitude of vendors lining the streets of the city. Ostrich is marketed commercially, is a very lean red meat, and very tasty. Mmmmm.
There’s nothing as spectacular as being away from the light pollution of South Africa’s cities, in the middle of a remote area, and letting your eyes adjust to the night-sky spectacle that emerges in front of you. Our Milky Way is prominent in this southern hemisphere sky, and all of our well known constellations from the northern hemisphere are upside down. Can you find Orion’s Belt? The immensity of the universe in which we live makes you ponder one’s place in the big scheme of things. A night’s view of the southern hemisphere sky allows one time to think and reflect. Such an evening is highly recommended.