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by Mandy Rutherford

If you’re planning safari vacation near Cape Town, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is sure to pop up in your Google search, but what many don’t know is that Sanbona is so much more than just a five-star Big Five experience.

Sanbona is officially a Stewardship property. In addition, it is also a formal protected area. Both agreements were made between Sanbona, CapeNature and the Department of Environmental Affairs and it means that Sanbona will protect and conserve the land, the biodiversity found within the protected area, and actively conserve and manage endangered species on the reserve. 


As a conservation-orientated reserve, besides ensuring you have the best stay possible, we continuously participate in field research to ensure that the land and free-roaming wild animals are managed and protected to the best of our ability. And to assist us, we use a number of camera traps dotted throughout the 62 000 hectares that make up Sanbona.

Camera traps are specially designed cameras that are placed into the veld to capture photos of animals as they move past the camera.  These cameras can either be set to record photos or videos at a set time interval [seconds, minutes, hours] or can be triggered by movement.  The cameras play a vital role in identifying and recording activity of more secretive animals that one would otherwise rarely see.  It allows us to monitor general game, leopards making their way through the valleys, brown hyenas at den sites or on kills, the endangered and secretive riverine rabbit, and other nocturnal creatures.

We make use of different cameras for different projects at Sanbona.  Larger cameras are used on Ecological Management sights and take 180° photos to show which animals are feeding outside the plots.  Cameras with a black flash are used for more sensitive nocturnal animals such as riverine rabbits, whereas cameras with a white flash gives a more detailed photo, perfect for identifying leopards.



‘A’ is for Aardvark, the first word in the English dictionary.  This illusive creature is one that many experienced safari goers long to see but seldom do.  Aardvark are predominantly nocturnal, although they have been spotted during the day during the winter months when their prey is more active.  They are insectivores – an animal that feeds on insects, worms, and other invertebrates – and devour up to 60 000 ants and termites in a night with its 30cm-long sticky tongue.  During the day they escape the heat in their underground burrows.

Bat-eared Fox


These Bat Eared Foxes were caught on camera as they were returning home after a night of foraging.  These little foxes, with their large ears and narrow snouts, eat a variety of insects, small rodents, reptiles, small invertebrates and fruit.  Their activity is dependent on the seasons, with them being more nocturnal during the summer months, gradually shifting towards being diurnal [active during the day] during winter months.

Brown Hyena


This Brown hyena is carrying a carcass possibly back to a den site or just to a quiet corner to eat in peace.  Brown hyenas are solitary hunter-scavengers but will den together especially when females have pups.  Although they are often thought of as predominant scavengers, they do hunt for themselves as well.  Their prey ranges from small rodents to springbok and baby antelope, insects, reptiles, scorpion, spiders and birds.  They are also known to eat fruit



Cape leopards are smaller and more elusive than savanna leopards [although the same species] and are known to have larger home ranges, crossing over mountain ranges and reserves.  As these elusive predators are seldom seen we have to rely on remote camera traps, placed in some of the large gorges of the Warmwaterberg mountain, to identify individuals living on or moving through Sanbona.  In 2019, 5 leopards were identified and seen on camera traps a total of 15 times.  Through the use of these photos, we can positively identify these individuals by comparing their unique pattern of rosettes.

Riverine Rabbit


The critically endangered Riverine rabbit is a small, [approximately 52cm in size] grey to reddish-brown rabbit with large scooped ears, a dark brown band running alongside its lower jaw, white rings around its eyes and a grey-brown fluffy tail with a dark tip.  Sanbona is home to a small subpopulation of riverine rabbits and has been involved in their research since 2006 when they were first sighted here.  Camera traps have been used to identify and monitor areas in which they might occur on Sanbona, and although research has been ongoing very little is still known about these illusive nocturnal animals.



With their little ears wiggling above the water, and unpredictable moods, these large chubby creatures always catch the imagination of both local and international guests.

The hippo, or “Zee-paarden”, was the first animal recorded in Jan van Riebeeck’s journal after he arrived in the Cape in 1652. Hippos were once abundant through vast parts of Southern Africa, wherever rivers were deep enough to contain them with grazing close at hand.  They readily moved between pools of watercourses as water levels and grazing fluctuated, climbing over mountains in search of suitable habitats further afield if the need arose.  Today only a few pockets of hippopotamus populations remain in the Western Cape, from Rondevlei Nature Reserve just outside Cape Town through to reserves such as Sanbona in the Klein Karoo.

This hippo was spotted at night roaming far from his watering hole to find grazing.

So next time you’re at Sanbona, be sure to keep your eyes peeled. You just never know what steps out in front of you or what is watching you from the safety of the thicket.

To Book a safari getaway, chat to our Reservations team about our package deals on offer between May and September 2020. Choose from a Family Safari, a romantic Special Occasion package, a Karoo Retreat perfect for detoxing from for you digital devices and a Stay Four/Pay Three offer.

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