The Sabie River is an important perennial river which rises in the Drakensburg Mountains, flowing through the Lowveld, the Kruger National Park, past Sabi Sabi and onward into Mozambique. The word ‘Tsave’ in the Tsonga dialect means fear – double the word and it means big fear. Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve derived its name from this magnificent river which borders our reserve, a river so feared to a large extent because of the number of large crocodiles which make this water source and the areas around it their home.
It is fairly common in the reserve to see crocodiles sunning themselves on a rock or stretch of river bank or lurking menacingly just below the water surface, only eyes visible, ready to propel onto unsuspecting prey. What is not apparent is the proliferation of these deadly reptiles in the river. Many years ago, one of the Sabi Sabi rangers had the opportunity of accompanying the pilot of a helicopter who was doing an aerial survey along the river, and he arrived back at the lodge filled with tales of the sheer number and enormous size of the crocodiles actually living in the Sabie River. Needless to say he, and the other rangers kept themselves and their guests a respectful distance from the water’s edge thereafter.
Despite their lazy-looking demeanour, crocodiles can move at great speeds when they attack. Those huge V-shaped jaws are believed to have the greatest bite force of all living animals (far more than a hyena) and are capable of bringing down almost any animal they manage to clamp onto – wildebeest, antelope, zebras, others crocodiles, even baby hippos. Their modus operandi is to grab the prey in their mighty jaws, and drown it by rolling it over and over under the water – the so-called ‘death roll’. Guests who have witnessed this describe an equal amount of exhilaration and repulsion; fascination and fear. As horrific as is this method of drowning and death, crocodiles – as with all other predators, need to eat to survive. They will sometimes consume up to half of their own body weight in meat at one time. Cold-blooded and armour plated, crocodiles have changed little since prehistoric times – modern crocodiles appeared around 200 million years ago. After being hunted almost to extinction in the 1950’s and 1960’s we are fortunate that their numbers are now steadily growing.
Appearing around 250 million years ago, tortoises and terrapins are another ancient reptile group which evolved a little before crocodiles. ”Touchable” tortoises – mainly of the leopard or hinge-back varieties – are found right across the reserve. They are relatively calm when handled – the greatest danger to a ranger who gently picks one up to show to his guests is that he may land up with a wet arm! Tiny terrapins are capable of surviving both in and out of water, and can be seen in waterholes, little puddles on the sand roads, on logs or rocks above the water surface – sometimes even resting on hippos’ backs. These little creatures can be surprisingly vicious and are able to inflict a nasty little bite.
They share the reserve with many other equally fascinating reptiles. Sabi Sabi is home to huge water and rock monitors, tiny skinks, geckos, chameleons, many varieties of snakes and protected pythons – the list is endless. Although not beloved by all guests, reptiles are nonetheless a very interesting species grouping.
Reptiles in all shapes and forms are an integral part of the Sabi Sabi experience and add immeasurably to the thrill of learning about the natural world that surrounds us.
This week we introduce you to a wonderful personality, Gift Khoza – Head Chef at Selati Camp. Gift, the only female Head Chef at Sabi Sabi, runs her kitchen with precision and flair….working with fresh, seasonal ingredients to produce mouth-watering dishes, to the delight of her guests.