Newsletter Header

April 2021 Newsletter

Hello and welcome to’s second newsletter! Before we dive into the fun, we would like to thank you for your positive response to last month’s newsletter. Connecting with you is important to us, and so far, newsletters seem to be another great way to bring you closer to the action. Right, enough with the mushy, let’s get to it! A lot has unfolded since we last used the written word to update you, our virtual pack, on all things wildlife. At the end of March, you were told to hang on and ready yourselves for an exciting month, and exciting it has been! From ground breaking broadcasts, to visitors, to road trips and trips down memory lane, this month’s update has it all. Take a breath, recharge your coffee mugs (or wine glasses) and join us as we discuss the highlights for the month of April.

Live Virtual Conservation Experiences

Last month was one for the books as yet another world first was achieved by! On the 20th of April Brent, Wuim, Bryan, and Matthew hitched the Badger to the Green Mamba (Wium’s bright-green Land-Rover) and set off to AndBeyond Phinda for the world’s first live broadcast of an elephant relocation. 

Moving any wild animal is a mammoth undertaking, this is only amplified when the wild animals being transferred hold the title of ‘largest land mammal in the world’. As most would assume, the bringing together of wildlife and sophisticated technology is always an interesting challenge. One factor that the team needed to anticipate, and subsequently be one step ahead of, is the hiding place that the unique sand forest on Phinda provides. While the sand forest is a wonderful home to many special and rare species, it is also an excellent cover for elephants who choose to elude helicopters. Luckily the team involved did their homework and decided that it would be best to track and locate the animals from the ground before giving the helicopter pilot the goahead for liftoff.

Once the elephants had been located and darted, the team could begin the process of moving them into the crates. Here again, the helicopter and skilled pilot were vital, after all, no mortal can move a three-ton animal without specialized equipment. Once in their crates, it was time to transport this little herd to their new home. The only catch is that, between the ellies and their new home, stood 12 hours of dusk to dawn driving.

Brent, Wium, Bryan and Matthew kept their spirits high and their brains alert on their all-night road trip by doing what they do best, entertaining us! Periodic live streams were fed to our various social media platforms, including a four-man-band carpool karaoke. Thank goodness they have other talents because the performance they gave may or may not have reached frequencies high and low enough to communicate with the elephants in the convoy. 

Before midday on the 30th of April, five tired and confused giants had taken their first steps onto the soil that is to be their forever home. After months of planning and a long 36 hours of gruelling work, there is no reward like watching wobbly elephants step out from the confines of their travel boxes.

As epic as the live broadcast was, this trip also held personal significance for presenter and CEO, Brent Leo-Smith.  As part of the founders of Phinda, parents Kevin and Greer Leo-Smith, raised Brent and his brother, Dylan in the very same home that the team stayed in for the duration of their visit to the reserve. As if this is not enough to warm the heart, Brent’s father, Kevin Leo-Smith, was vital in the introduction of Elephants onto Phinda in 1992. How unique it is to have two generations of Leo-Smiths contributing to the reintroduction of elephants into the various wild spaces of South Africa.

Featured photo by Andreas Nusch

News from the Den

The den has been a hive of activity this month as we welcomed friends, both new and old, into our home. April began with a visit from a past intern of ours, Bavu Vilane, who thought he was coming for a vacation. It should come as no surprise that no sooner than Bavu had unpacked, he was put to work cleaning live cameras and making spontaneous cameo appearances on AWL. It’s always lovely to reunite with extended members of the pack, particularly those as delightful as Bavu. 

In the second week of April, we had the pleasure of welcoming the Widdows AKA the ‘Birding Big Year’ family into our home. Craig, Christine, Wrenna, and Finn are a remarkable young family who have devoted 2021 to touring South Africa in search, you guessed it, birds! The main reason for their visit to the Lowveld was to seek out species like the Pel’s Fishing Owl, Southern White-faced Owl, and the Bushveld Pipit. While birding remained a top priority throughout their stay, bush business halts for no man (or fam, in this case) and the Widdows family found themselves in the right place at the right time as they were able to accompany the team on a lion darting endeavour.

A sensory explosion occurs in such situations and can be somewhat overwhelming. Wrenna and Finn, with an accumulative age of no more than six years, were little champions! Wrenna, who is the older of the two, was absolutely fascinated by the procedure and, according to her mom, has not stopped talking about it since. It was an honour to share frontline conservation with enthusiastic and pliable young minds. As much as an adventure like this taught the youngsters a thing or two about wildlife, having them along taught us a thing or two too. For example, the backbench of the Badger serves as a more than an adequate crib, the sound of lions feeding on a wildebeest carcass can be a soothing lullaby, and children are never too young to become little conservationists. Follow their adventure on Instagram on @our_birding_big_year_2021

Added to the excitement of visitors and road trips, we had the joy of celebrating two wonderful men in our team. Both Charles and Bryan celebrated their birthdays a little further from home. Our CFO and unsung champion of all things office-related, Charles Collocott, celebrated his birthday over the Easter weekend with a trip to a place very foreign to bush folk, the beach! Bryan Joubert, our lusciously-long-locked lead cameraman, received an extra injection of excitement on his birthday as it happened to fall on the same day that the crew departed for their groundbreaking Phinda elephant relocation adventure. We wish both of you many happy returns!

Conservation Corner

A conversation highlight this month, second only to our epic elephant endeavour, was the darting and doctoring of a lioness on Rietspruit Game Reserve. 

Habituated lions are known for loafing around and being lazy. In theory, this should make darting them a fairly effortless process… Or so you might think. The lioness that required the surgery must have received a tipoff as she was most aloof and inaccessible. After much anticipation, a few changes in tactics, and a decent dose of ‘numb bum’ syndrome that accompanies the waiting game in such situations, our lioness obliged. 

Dr Rodgers, from ProVet Wildlife Services, who also gave Brent his first stiches as a child, darted the individual with an expert shot and within minutes the team had set to work. Procedures of this nature are minimally invasive, even so, they can be fairly unsettling for a wild animal. With this in mind, the comfort and safety of the lioness remained a top priority throughout the affair. While it is impossible to mitigate every stressor, the swift and precise work of the team meant that the lioness was awake and staggering back to the pride in no time. 

Rietspruit lioness by Brent Leo-Smith also conducted virtual safaris in aid of two UK based conservation organisations. Brent, and special guest, Grant Beverley, the Endangered Wildlife Trust‘s painted dog guru, host a live drive to try help raise funds and awareness for the ‘Remembering Wild Dogs’ book that is to be released later this year. The book, from which all proceeds generated, will be donated t various wild dog conservation efforts, is composed of images of wild dogs that have all been captured by well-known wildlife photographers. Efforts like this ‘Remembering Wildlife‘ series are a conservation godsend and was great fun to spend the afternoon chatting about our mascot species and learning from the wealth of knowledge that is Grant Beverly.  

Remembering Wildlife

The second virtual safari was for the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation. Each year, the Foundation holds an international children’s art competition, Global Canvas, which aims to inspire children to think about the environment and wildlife. The final of this year’s event was held online due to Covid, but were delighted to host a virtual safari as a part of the event to help bring wildlife and the wilderness to life for over a hundred children and schools. The feedback from attendees was how much the children had enjoyed Brent’s safari, being able to watch wild elephants behaving naturally in their habitat was a highlight of the online final, and a fantastic way to engage the children taking part.

Animal World LIVE

AWL is out beloved bi-weekly live wildlife talk show, where we cover topics close to our hearts, light hearted and serious, while taking questions and comments from the audience.

Brent and Yuka kicked off the first AWL of April in their usual teasing fashion (we’ll let you guess who was teasing who). The discussions of this show were meant to focus on one of the most iconic species in the bush, the lion. Lions did feature and inform the conversation but the real show stoppers were our two new pups. Our ‘puppies’ as we’ve affectionately termed Dylan and Matthew, made their TV debuts during this episode. True to form, Brent, made sure the newbies felt the pressure by putting them on the spot and asking them to give their best renditions of various animal calls. The calls might need some work but the entertainment value was top notch. 

The second AWL for April was hosted on the 17th of the month. This chat pulled back the curtain on more than just our behind-the-scenes camera operations and equipment maintenance. The conversation evolved from behind-the-scenes chatter to lion management in closed reserves, the harmfulness of captive breeding facilities, and other controversial yet necessary discussion points

An Intern Out & About – Dylan Carvalho from EcoTraining

Dylan Carvalho

April had some extremely exciting and interesting occasions for me, including the darting of a lioness, and setting up the 180 camera at the hyena den. With one half of the pack in Phinda and the other staying behind at Pridelands, I won’t lie, I certainly enjoyed the space and quietness in the house. Even more than that, I enjoyed using the opportunity to film with the old Sony Camera that was left behind. Since we have much more skilled cameramen in our team, I usually don’t get to use one of the ‘Big Guns’, but my desire and passion for film persists, and using this piece of equipment was very exciting for me.

After our entire filming crew had gone, I started to embrace using this unique camera model. Once I had dusted some cobwebs off this camera, I started to learn the settings and get it ready to film sightings. It was a great thing that I familiarised myself with this big gun as I had the best encounter of my entire stay! It was Twinspot, the young male leopard, that has become popular in Pridelands. We spotted him just next to the road and he stared at us with his captivating eyes. Excitement rose and I got the camera ready as quickly as I could. I was amazed at how relaxed he was, although he was no further than 5 meters away from us. We could tell quite easily that it was Twinspot, as this individual was familiar to us already. We could not have spent more than 5 minutes with him, but when such a beautiful leopard lays close to you, a few minutes feels like a small eternity. The very first day I got to use a camera to film, I found myself filming one of my favorite animals. Leopards to me are just magical and every time I see one I am in awe. They are so secretive and elusive, and I guess that adds to my desire to see and study them. My dream to be involved in wildlife filmmaking and documenting has finally become a reality. Now with great patience and high hopes, I await my next encounter with Twinspot, a Leopard I have fallen in love with.

Twinspot by Yuka Ota

What to look forward to in May

The May dawn was littered with surprises and potential, and so far has not disappointed. For now, we are sworn to secrecy but know this much, we have embarked on a journey to try and write the final chapter of a story that began more than two years ago. Let’s hope that life and nature does deliver a sweet ending to this story.

We will also begin publishing Scientific Names Explained videos once again on our YouTube channel and the app. These fun and informative pieces will be written and presented by Dylan, with Matthew on camera, directing, and editing. We’re looking forward to the learning from them.

Further than this, we are running a Virtual Safari Package Special until 13 June. Pay 6 seats at USD 39.00 each, and receive the other 4 seats free, to share and exclusive safari for you and your friends. Reply to this email ( to book yours or find out more.

AWL airs on YouTube on 8 May and Saturday 22 May. The 8 May episode has since passed, and was an action packed recap of the elephant move, and some thrilling, or slithering, behind the scenes close encounter. Watch it here.

Thank you also to our generous Patrons and our sponsors – LedLenser SARogue Outdoor GearUntamed Brewing Company – as well as Pridelands Conservancy and Kwenga Lodge, where you will find our ‘dog den’. And of course, to all our supporters for running with the pack.

Be sure to keep an eye on the app, as well as on YouTube, Instagram on @painteddogtv, and Facebook.

A special thanks to

Follow her journey on Instagram @vicvic_craddock2.0 and TikTok @vicvic_craddock2.0

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *