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The pangolins of Manyoni: A conservation success story

We can say with certainty that seeing one of the pangolins of Manyoni Private Game Reserve will be one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life. In just three years, the adult Temminck’s ground pangolins of Manyoni now total 14 and, to the absolute joy and pride of all, four pango-pups were born on the reserve last year. It is a huge triumph for pangolin conservation in Zululand, where the species has been locally extinct for almost 70 years. Accounting for about 20% of the entire illegal wildlife trade, pangolins are now the most trafficked mammals in the world. They are highly sought after for their meat and scales, which are made of keratin – the same material as your finger and toe nails. Rehabilitating and rewilding the pangolins of Manyoni The team at Manyoni work closely with the Zululand Conservation Trust, African Pangolin Working Group and the Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital to establish a viable population of pangolins in the reserve. With the help of the South African Police Service (SAPS), the pangolins are confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade, arriving at the veterinary hospital in poor health due to the stress, dehydration and malnutrition suffered while with poachers. Once they have made a full recovery under the intensive care and nursing by the dedicated vet team, the pangolins begin a ‘soft-release program’ in Manyoni and other designated reserves. Each day, their dedicated ‘pangolin shepherd’ takes them out into a part of the reserve most suitable for them to explore and encounter ant and termite mounds. If necessary, their shepherd will show them how to break into the mounds, where they will then use their long (up to 70cm), sticky tongues to slurp up the juicy ants. During this first phase, the pangolins are monitored intensively to ensure they acclimatize, are able to find suitable food and gain enough weight before they are released fully. The soft release also provides an important and unique opportunity for research as little is known about these intriguing creatures. It takes two months on average for pangolins to be ready for the ‘hard release’ when they will go into the reserve equipped with a tracking device to allow the team to monitor and protect them. The pangolin walking experience This ground-breaking conservation program is resulting in a thriving – and growing – population of pangolins in Manyoni. It is providing a second chance for previously poached pangolins and contributing to the survival of the species. The pangolin program is financed solely from donor funding through the Zululand Conservation Trust. The tags, telemetry equipment, veterinary costs, vehicles and fuel, and salaries for the pangolin monitoring team are all vital but extremely costly. You can help give rescued Temminck’s ground pangolins another chance at a happy life by booking a pangolin walking experience. This is an amazing opportunity to see a pangolin first-hand as you walk with a pangolin and its shepherd during a monitoring session. Please note that this activity costs R1000 and is subject to availability. If you would like to add the pangolin walking experience to your stay with us, we suggest booking it in advance to make sure you don’t miss out. Enquire further with our Reservations Team when booking your Rhino Sands safari or book directly with the Zululand Conservation Trust here.

A South African guest’s guide to birding in Manyoni

manyoni private game reserve - vulture

Brian Roberts recently got to add some real beauties to his ever-growing bird life-list during his second safari at Rhino Sands. We asked him six questions about his experience birding in Manyoni, tips and tricks for beginner birders and photographers, and of course what have been his favourite sightings while in Manyoni. Please give us a brief background about who you are. I am a born and bred KZN North Coaster. I attended Umhlali Primary School from 1973 to 1979, my wife is also a graduate of Umhlali Primary School but she finished MANY years after me! I work in the corporate property world and spent the 12 years prior to Covid commuting to Johannesburg for three days a week. If there is a positive to come out of the dreadful pandemic, it’s that it introduced the world to virtual meetings, and this has greatly reduced travelling for me and given me so much more time with my Luelle (my wife), Josh and Meg (kids). How did you get interested in birding? On the 23rd of March 2020 we were locked down as a country. I am a bit ADD so there is no way I could just sit around doing nothing. I decided then and there that we live in a fantastic eco-friendly estate, and I was going to make it my mission to see how many bird species I could see from our front veranda. I am colour blind and decided that it would make sense to take photographs of the birds that I saw so that I could identify them post the sighting without having to remember distinguishing features. I had always had a camera but had also always only shot on auto. I did a photography course in lockdown to help me take better photos of the birds I saw. Both my birding and photography hobbies are a direct result of being forced to sit on my veranda for those six months or so. Once we were allowed out, I just continued to add birds to my list but could now walk around the estate and as the rules were relaxed, I could continue adding to my list at wonderful places like Rhino Sands that catered for us locals in the midst of the pandemic. What do you think birding adds to the safari experience? Birding enhances your awareness of the surroundings. There are over 400 bird species in Manyoni; if you add the cheetah, the pangolin and a few of the other beautiful species to the famous Big 5, there are probably 15 to 20 animals that the average safari guest will be looking for. As fantastic as the rangers are, it is often completely out of their control as to whether you see the animals. Birds, on the other hand, are always there. Birding adds an entirely new dimension to the experience. There is ALWAYS something to see. I liken birding to fishing, I am a keen fisherman explain to people fishing is the experience of being outdoors, catching a fish whilst fishing is a bonus. It’s the anticipation of the catch that is so thrilling and appealing. Birding to me is walking around my estate or driving around the reserve, you are constantly aware of your surroundings; be it grassland, sand forest, watering holes, whatever the environment, there is always the possibility of seeing a bird. Birding is what I love, seeing a bird is the bonus. What are the most remarkable birds (or simply your favourite) you’ve seen while staying with us? There are so many remarkable birds at Manyoni so I will make it easier for myself and limit my answer to the remarkable birds we have seen at the Rhino Camp site itself. We have seen pink-throated twinspots; a female narina trogan who came to watch us eat lunch; I watched a grey-headed bushshrike pluck a chameleon off a tree in front of our room; we have seen an orange-breasted bushshrike as well. One of my favourites was a very good sighting of a female black buckooshrike – the black cuckooshrike is one of the few species where (IMHO) the female is so much more attractive than the male. There is an abundance of birdlife around the lodge, it is difficult to make a ‘short’ list of the great birds. What tips would you have for the beginning birder? Birding goes from “there is a bird”, to “there is a yellow bird”, to “there is a village weaver”, to “there is a juvenile male village weaver in non-breeding plumage”. Everyone starts at “there is a bird”. Persevere! Birding is all about practice. Do not be scared to ask silly questions, I am yet to meet a birder that knows everything. Birders crave new information and birders love to share knowledge. Try your hardest to ID a bird from the many books and many apps. It is the awareness of the distinguishing features that help you learn. If you’re always asking someone else for ID help you are not teaching yourself to pick up those small distinguishing features. Any gear or equipment recommendations for the first-time safari goer? Binoculars, a camera (it doesn’t have to be a fancy one), a bird book or app, and of course a place to record your bird list. They say that everyone likes to collect things, a bird list is a collection of birds you have seen. A life list (what birders call their list of birds) and a trip list add that little bit of competitiveness to the hobby, not necessarily to compete with others, simply to compete with yourself. I also find it increases the enthusiasm of the younger generation! Any photography tips for guests on safari? I am a birder first and a photographer second. There is nothing more satisfying than a great shot of a rare bird but the opportunities to get these shots are rare. I have tried to train myself to look first, take an ID shot second,

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