The Jock Safari Lodge concession is located in the southwestern corner of the Kruger National Park, one of the largest game reserves in Africa. The concession is a mere 6 000ha slice of the vast 19 500km2 national park, one of South Africa’s most extraordinary natural assets. Its location at the confluence of the Mitomeni (Shangaan for ‘jackalberry tree’) River and Biyamiti (Shangaan for ‘place of many trees’) River is an important part of a region known for its wealth of cultural resources.
Incredible game viewing can be experienced all year round and while the mammal and bird species seen during a safari at Jock may take centre stage, few people leave without being in awe of the magnificent trees that adorn the river banks and granite rocky outcrops.
Trees form an integral part of the ecosystem, providing food from their leaves, fruit, bark and roots as well as shade in the hot summer heat. Certain mammal and bird species would not exist without trees – one of them the ground hornbill which makes its nest in the giant jackalberry. The ground hornbill was recently listed as ‘vulnerable’ at the end of 2018 on the IUCN Red List, one of the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species.
Under the ownership of the CALEO Foundation, the foundations main purpose is to preserve and protect this wilderness while providing guests staying at Jock Safari Lodge with the opportunity to experience and appreciate nature in its purest form without creating any negative impact to the environment. Conservation of the region’s wilderness areas and the dedication to maintain biodiversity demonstrate respect for the environment and assist it to thrive.
Often seen growing on top of the granite rocky outcrops in the Kruger, the candelabra tree, or Euphorbia ingens, looks like a succulent. Its candelabrum branches, which grow upright, are segmented by pairs of spines running along the ridges of the segments. It produces small, greenish, yellow flowers on the ridges of the topmost segment of every branch from autumn to winter. The fruit, a round three-lobed capsule, turns red to purple when ripening. The candelabra tree grows to 7m and is the deadliest of the euphorbia that occur in the Kruger. Its milky latex is extremely toxic, but is often used by locals to stun fish, allowing them to be caught by hand. Black rhino will at times feed on the tree and its small flowers attract many insects and birds. There is a beautiful specimen at the main entrance to the Main Lodge at Jock Safari Lodge.
Skeletons of old leadwoods, Combretum Imberbe, remain standing for hundred of years after the tree has died. The name refers to the hard, heavy wood. Today, the tree is protected and, while it makes excellent firewood, it isn’t used anymore in the camps in the Kruger.
For many, childhood memories of the Kruger revolve around rest camps and picnic spots smelling of the leadwood stumps smouldering on the braai. Elephants feed on young trees but seldom feed on the larger ones. The tree is ideal for birds like eagles to make their heavy nests in. It is also very common to see the large nest of the buffalo weavers in an old leadwood. The leadwood tree at the entrance to Fitzpatrick’s at Jock is one of the finest specimens in the area.
A canopy of jackalberry trees shields the camp at Jock’s from the harsh sun. These large trees are common in the Kruger and are often the most visible large tree seen when driving along its rivers. Baboons, kudu, nyala and monkeys love their fruit and often spend the day around the jackalberry, Diospyros mespiliformis, when its fruit is ripe. It also attracts huge numbers of birds, such a starlings, pigeons and brown hooded parrots.
You often see the jackalberry growing out of termite mounds because baboons sit there, eating the fruit, leaving the seeds behind to grow out of them. The fruit is edible and its medicinal value has long been recognised by local tribes.
Leopard often use the thick branches of jackalberries along the banks of the Mitomeni and Biyamiti Rivers to lie in when it’s hot as the temperatures in the shade of the branches can be up to 10ºC cooler.
One of the most common trees in the woodland savanna, the deciduous knob thorn, or Acacia nigrescens, is an important feature of the ecosystem as mammals such as giraffes, elephants, kudu and impala feed on its leaves while monkeys and baboons eat the flowers and pods. In areas where there is a heavy concentration of elephants, many mature knob thorn trees are being destroyed. An elephant bull will stand for hours pushing and pushing until the large tree collapses, following which he will feed on the succulent top leaves and then move on to another tree.
The most characteristic feature of the tree is its armour – woody knobs with thorns on the branches that protect the tree against over-grazing when it is young.