16 MARCH 2004
Once again our Guests, Solly and I were on a mission to locate buffalo, and we were doing a good job of checking all possible hiding places around Tlou dam. But we were having no luck, the only clue that they were around were their tracks, we took our last option and took a road that cuts right through a really thick Sickle Bush (Dichrostachys cinerea) stand. I am not sure who saw him first but the excitement was unanimous. On top of a dead Leadwood (Combretum imberbe) was perched a young male leopard, he was obviously up there to enjoy the first rays of sun we had had in four days. Both the leopard and us being surprised to see each other, sat there staring at each other until the leopard had seen enough of us and he slowly slipped down the tree. With the buffalo forgotten for a while we left the area to have a sun downer and left the leopard to enjoy the remaining sunshine of the day.
14 MARCH 2004
Our Wild dogs are a highlight of any stay at Mateya and in the Madikwe Game Reserve we have two packs, one numbering 11 dogs and the other 22 dogs. And when sighted they are often on the move and hunting so with each sighting you expect some excitement, if you can keep up.
With our aim on this drive to locate the wild dogs we headed to their last known location from the evening before. Not long into the drive I heard over the radio that both packs had been sighted, both in the same area. The larger of the two packs had made a kill; it had caught a waterbuck close to the Marico River, while the smaller pack was being seen, then lost and seen again, and then crossed the river as it searched for prey. With three vehicles keeping contact with this pack, we decided to head towards the larger pack that were stationary. As I pulled onto the river road out stepped a large male lion (NE pride male) and ahead of him was the other one, they were on a direct track towards the wild dogs, obviously in search of an easy meal. As they approached the wild dogs, they broke into a trot, the wild dogs at this stage took flight in all directions, I managed to see a blur of one of the dogs and they were gone, not wanting to get into a tangle with a fully grown male lion (Most predators if given the chance will try to kill other predators, one of the reasons is to reduce competition).
Our wild dog sighting ruined we enjoyed a great view of the lions as they milled around looking for the waterbuck remains. The larger pack was once again sighted 500 meters up the track moving parallel to the river. We approach them from behind as they were getting a safe distance from the lions; they all became very interested in the bush between the river and the road, suddenly they all dashed away from the bush as a female lion exploded out of the thicket, with a stomach turning grumbling growl. We tried once again to locate the wild dogs, with out success; we did however see another female lion in the area. The wild dogs through all this managed to avoid any direct contact with the lions, which may have resulted in a fatality. But their bad day continued into the afternoon when I heard that the same pack had killed a wildebeest, but this time the two pride males got there before they could start feeding. It was not surprising that they moved away from the river the next day in search of safer hunting grounds.
12 MARCH 2004
Here in Madikwe we have one of the largest populations of elephants in South Africa, so it is not surprising that you would expect to see them regularly, sometimes however the opposite is true and they all seem to disappear. But today this definitely was not the case.
Taking the road west, heading to Tlou Dam (Tlou is the Tswana for elephant) with the intention of finding a few elephant and hoping to locate our elusive buffalo, we had not gone more than a kilometer from the lodge when out in front of us were two large bull elephants. They where both heading west and were spaced about 500 meters apart, as I approached the elephant in the rear, I noticed that he was in a state of musth (A state of heightened aggressive and sexual behaviour), by the excretions wetting his back legs. After watching him for 20 minutes from a respectful distance, I had to turn around and take an alternate route to the dam because he was not in a hurry to go anywhere. On the alternate route Solly and I were concentrating on picking up a few signs of the Buffalo when a cracking of branches to the south of the road were the first signs that a few more elephant were close by. We moved further along the road to a point where it rises slightly and we sighted the breeding herd making their way towards our new position, there were about 15 elephants in this herd. We
were not there long before one of the females made it clear she was not too happy with us being there, by shaking here head making her ears crack against her body. Taking the hint off we went to check if there was any activity at the dam. On approaching the dam the road was very wet and my vehicle was sliding around a lot, so once again I had to back track and choose an alternate route. Heading up along side of Tswene Tswene Mountain two more bull elephants were feeding on either side of the road, both with no intention of hurrying off either. So after watching the two picking their way around the various bushes and fresh grass
shoots, I had to retreat once again. At this stage I had only one option open to me and this was to take the route I had got here on. Because of this I expected to come across the same breeding herd we had pasted earlier, and as expected we did, however the bull that was in musth had also arrived and even though we could not see much we knew he was causing some tension in the herd, by the loud trumpeting and crashing about that was coming from the thick bush. And then out of no where the big bull came blundering out of the bush and disappeared behind us, and a minute later he had circled around and came blundering back, head and tail up, my first thought was that he was heading our way, but he crashed back through the bush towards the herd. With the sun set and the noise of the elephants fading we moved off with me hoping I did not have to turn around again.
28 FEBRUARY 2004
After a very wet February where we had 145mm of rain taking this rain seasons total to 580mm, Solly and me were having a difficult time tracking the animals, who were doing the reasonable thing and lying low during the rain storms. But anyway luckily for us the sun did eventually show itself and we had one of those fantastic late summer days where the air is crystal clear and you can smell the damp grass as the day heats up. So with our spirits lifted we headed out to the Madikwe plains. Things started off quietly, so I was doing a lot of talking, when Solly spotted a Rhino, which after maneuvering we discovered it was a White Rhino as it emerge from behind some bushes and then another, followed by her calf, so we had a great view of the three of them as they ambled past us, cropping the grass as they went. After they had disappeared out of sight we pushed on turning down
one of the roads on the eastern side of the plains following some cheetah tracks. We managed to get 300 meters down the road when it became clear that it was still too wet to go on I was about to reverse when once again Solly, stopped me when he spotted some ears flickering in the grass. It was the four resident male cheetahs lazing about enjoying the afternoon sun. By now the sun was beginning to slip down towards the horizon and we headed off to the surprise cocktail sundowners we had planned for our guests. As luck would have it a herd of buffalo had other plans to let us watch the sun set so we enjoyed yet another fantastic sighting.
22 FEBRUARY 2004
We got up early on Sunday the 22nd February, had a cup of coffee, and then left for our early morning game drive, at about 6:20am. The guests where leaving after lunch that day and had not seen any lions, which they dearly wanted to see. The night before lions had been seen on the Madikwe Plains. Solly (tracker) and I knew that the best chance of seeing lions would be for us to try and follow up on those from the night before. Once we got onto the Madikwe Plains, we saw a lot of general game, such as giraffe, warthog, blue wildebeest, springbok, but no signs of lion yet. Whilst driving the north western corner of the Madikwe Plains I suddenly stopped, reversed and saw the first signs that lion had been in the area. It was the tracks of four sub-adult lions which had been seen in the area the night before. I turned the engine off and myself and Solly got off the vehicle to have a closer inspection of the tracks and try and determine a general direction. After a minute or so we both looked at each other and said “north”. We then set off following the tracks in a northerly direction for about a kilometer when Solly said “Stop the tracks have turned off the road somewhere here”. Again we both got off the vehicle and started looking for clues of which direction they might have moved off in. Solly then called me and said “Look, they have gone in this direction, east”. The tracks were now heading east on a small game path. We knew that about five kilometers away, as the crow fly’s, there was a dam with water in. We thought that the lions could be going to that water to maybe drink and rest there through the heat of the day. We then decided to carry on up the road and take the first turning that went east; it was only about 400 meters to that turning. As we turned I said to Solly “Look carefully for any tracks crossing this road”. We drove slowly down the road with both Solly and I looking for tracks. We hadn’t gone a couple hundred meters when a lot of excitement erupted from behind me and a guest saying “Look lion, lion!!!” I immediately stopped the vehicle and on closer inspection saw that they had killed an adult zebra. It looked like the kill happened in the early hours of the morning as half the carcass had been devoured. With all the excitement on the vehicle and chatting amongst the two guests, I sat there and thought to myself, it is such a greet feeling and personal satisfaction to both the ranger and tracker, to be able to find tracks of an animal follow them and at the end be rewarded with a very good sighting. After that thought we sat at the sighting for about 30 minutes and watched as the sub-adult male lion munched his way through some of the juicy steaks provided by the poor zebra. This meal should’ve kept him satisfied for about 3 to 4 days. Tracking is just one of the small thrills that, as a guide and tracker, enjoy and like to share with guests joining us on a safari in the Madikwe Game Reserve. Andrew Linton
16 FEBRUARY 2004
After three days of brilliant game viewing, the guests decided to relax and have sundowners on the deck in front of the lodge instead of going on an afternoon drive. After a couple of gin and Tonics looking at the Zebra, Impala and Wildebeest coming down to drink at the waterhole and the end of a hot day and as the night fell just before going into dinner I got a call on the radio from Andrew our other ranger that went to drop a guest off at the airstrip, that a lion kill was in progress. After a short discussion we all agreed that dinner could wait, so we all jumped into the vehicle and drove off to the airstrip, were there were three sub-adult male lions and a female busy killing a young wildebeest. Once the wildebeest was dead the young male Lions began to fight over the kill, the affair became quite noisy and aggressive, at the end one of them walked off with the carcass. For the guests that have seen Lions a few times in their stay usually lying in a shady spot or sleeping it was amazing to see the interaction, the power and strength a lion possesses. After being with the lions for quite awhile we all started hearing our own stomachs grumbling and so we headed back to the lodge for dinner. Shai Goodman
08 FEBRUARY 2004
It was a crisp clear morning with the intermittent call of the monotonous lark, a few moments after sunrise, when out of the wet grass loped a Brown Hyena, who had a quick look at who we were and headed off into the Sickle Bush (Dichrostachys cinerea) on his way to finding a place to rest during the heat of the day. It was not long after this that the radio crackled with a sighting of two male Lions not far from us. We made our way there sliding through a few patches of road which the rain from the night before had made a bit tricky. The two males had the same idea as the Hyena, and also being full from their Eland kill, let us view them for a while before also disappearing into the thickets to rest after their feast.
Feeling quite satisfied with our game viewing, we went to check Twasa water hole just before stopping for a cup of coffee and a Rusk. But before we got there, another field guide had pre-empted us and had found the Twasa wild dog (one of Africa’s most endangered carnivore species) pack already at the water hole that gives them their name. They had been hunting and had chased a female Kudu into the waterhole (they have been known in Madikwe to do this to make it easier for them to catch their prey). By the time we arrived the Kudu had drowned and the adult wild dogs were milling around the waterhole not quite sure how to get the Kudu out of the water, while their pups rested patiently piled on each other next to our vehicle.
After sometime they managed to get the Kudu out and proceeded to feed hastily, just incase any other predators had become aware of the kill and were moving in.
By the time we moved off from the kill, the Wild dogs had almost finished the Kudu and were fighting over the remaining scraps.
Once again Madikwe had given us a unique experience, which we recounted over a cup of coffee and a Rusk under an Umbrella thorn (Acacia Tortilis) as the day began to heat up.
Mike Job (Field Guide)
11 JANUARY 2004
On the morning of the 11 January, we set out at about 6:20am on a walk. We decided to do a different route to usual and went along the mountain range “The Rant van Tweedepoort”. It was going to be a challenging walk due to the rockiness of the area. The rock in this area is mainly Dolomite which is a sedimentary rock which was laid down when this area was on the shore line of a large inland sea called the Transvaal sea before Gondwanaland broke up to form the southern continents we see today. About halfway into our walk we came to a small valley, which we decided to walk down to investigate. On moving down the valley, always looking and listening for signs of danger like elephants, lion and leopards, we heard a rustle in the undergrowth, about thirty metres ahead. We all stopped dead in our tracks. At first I thought, a leopard, but to our amazement and my first sighting in the reserve, a large bushpig came stumbling out, probably from its spot it had chosen for its morning rest. As he saw us he stopped for a few seconds to give us the once over, then moved off in a hurry and disappeared up the ridge and into some thicker undergrowth. So when you walk you never know what you may see for the first time!
Bushpig (Potamochoerus porcus) are associated with thickets, riparian undergrowth, tall grass and where water can be found and are usually nocturnal. They are generally reddish brown and their bodies are covered in hairy bristles and their weight varies between 45-85 kg. They are omnivorous and their diet varies from earthworms, to fruits and bulbs and carrion. They also like to wallow in mud, like their better known cousin the warthog.
Andrew Linton (Field Guide)
08 JANUARY 2004
Today instead of going on our usual afternoon drive we had supper early and headed out at about 8:00pm. At night we ignore all the diurnal species that we see and focus on looking for those nocturnal animals that are virtually never seen during day light, but do come out at night in search of food and maybe even a mate. We saw a number of Spotted Eagle Owls and a couple of juvenile White-faced Owls while we drove through Ambush Alley. Once we got to the top of the Tweedepoort ridge, Sam (Tracker) spotted some eyes low down in the grass and pulling up next to them we saw it was an African Wild Cat (threatened due to cross breeding with domestic cats). Once Sam put the red filter on to the spot light she continued foraging for food and we were able to observe for sometime before she disappeared out of reach of our light. Finally after being held up by a number of Scrub Hares, who seemed determined to get under the wheels of my Landcruiser we meandered our way down to Tlou Dam where we found a large herd of Buffalo numbering about 60, crowding to get a drink, as well as a rare Brown Hyena (Madikwe also has the more common Spotted Hyena) who surprisingly paid us very little attention and circled around our vehicle and went off to the west. I presume to carry on his search for food. With an electric storm threatening in the east to drench us, we headed back to the lodge. For the remainder of their stay afternoons were spent relaxing and the night drives that followed were just as exciting and we had a number of other great sightings of natures more allusive animals.
Mike Job (Field Guide)
02 JANUARY 2004
After having three days of superb game viewing and seeing all five, of the big five, with great sightings of elephant and the two pride males who hold the territory in the North East of the reserve, along with white rhino, buffalo and even though brief a good sighting of a female leopard out hunting early one evening, we had a day that some would call quiet, where the big five seemed to take a break. However the day gave us a number of other unexpected surprises. Because of things being quiet and as the morning was heating up I decided to head to Tswasa water hole hoping to find some game looking to quench their thirst. As we approached all looked quiet, until I stopped close to the water and turned my engine off, which startled a water monitor (Africa’s second largest lizard) and it headed for the relative safety of the water. As it reached a stump in the middle of the water hole one of my guests suddenly said to me “look a crocodile”. I raised my binocs to have a closer look and to my surprise it was not a crocodile but a large African Rock Python (can reach lengths of 6.5 m) The first thing through my mind was poor water monitor, he escaped from us to end up sharing a stump with a python. Luckily for the monitor the python uncurled itself from the log and disappeared below the water, seems it did not feel like being bothered either. After this surprise we decided to head back to the lodge for brunch and to have a rest. Halfway back we were given another rare sighting. This time only after passing a dead, but still standing Leadwood tree(Combretum imberbe) I got a glimpse of out the corner of my eye of a large raptor sitting in the branches, it was a Martial Eagle (SA Red Data Book Status: Vulnerable, mainly due to persecution by farmers) one of the largest eagles found In South Africa. He did not fly away even though we had stopped right below him. Sam pointed out there was something held in his talons, it was a young warthog, no older than a few weeks, this was the reason he was reluctant to leave. We sat there for a few minutes, with the eagle contemplating us suspiciously and taking the hint that we not welcome to stay for the eagles breakfast we move off in search of some fried bacon of our own. Mike Job (Field Guide)