01 DECEMBER 2008

January really is a pleasant month out here. There is some rain here and there and the days are hot, hot, hot. My kind of weather really.

It is still very wet here. There are continual onslaughts of African storms separated from each other by a couple of sunny days. There are the most amazing flowers popping up everywhere and new seedlings have sprouted. The reserve looks amazing and all the animals are happy… especially the predators. All the new young that have been born the past couple of weeks have provided an almost continual feast for all the predators. The best survival strategy of the predators is to pick off the weak, sick, injurd and young animals. They provide less of a challenge to kill and the likelihood of getting injured from the prey fighting back is minimal. I haven’t seen a skinny lion in weeks now and I have also not seen many carcasses. The bones of the young are soft, nutritious and are therefore not to be found. Despite the carnivorous feast, there will be enough young that make it to adulthood to replenish the population… or so it should be.

It always amazes me how animals can live, survive and even flourish right underneath our noses and remain un-seen. Miraculously, and I really mean miraculously, three cheetahs have broken into the reserve and made themselves at home. Firstly, Madikwe Game Reserve has one of the best predator proof fences in Africa. How did they get in? Secondly, where did they come from? There is nothing but farms and community land surrounding the reserve. So yes, it is a miracle and yes there are a couple of questions tat need to be answered, but in the meanwhile I’ll just enjoy these majestic animals.

Some of the other arrivals to the reserve have been traveling here from far, far away. They will stay for a while and then turn around and go back to where they came from. Yes, they are guests, but of the feathered kind. I am still gob smacked when I think of how far these creatures travel. I sometimes catch myself trying to imagine what they could have seen on their somewhat perilous journey. Now with Google earth, I can better perceive the journey they have taken, but it is still mind blowing how they cn travel these enormous distances, how they could navigate the best route to where they are going and how they know when to start traveling to arrive at the optimal time at their destination. (I hope that came out right). The other day I saw a flamingo!!!!! This is an arid savannah for crying out loud??!!? Look, I’m not going to complain but it sure does bring up some interesting questions. There must be a reasonable explanation for this but I’ll have to do a little extra studying and I will let you kow when I answer my (for the moment) nemesis question. Nightjars, some of the bee-eaters, coursers, cuckoos and many more birds are arriving daily so birding is great at the moment. And on that note, I need to get back to birding now so I’ll update you again next month.

Greetings from Africa.

01 NOVEMBER 2008

Rain, rain, rain !!!!!!!! wonderful rain!
This month was marked by lots of rain and the changes it brings. Not only did the bush feld change from dry, seemingly dead vegetation, to lush green vegetation that makes it appear that we are in the middle of a botanical garden. More importantly, there was a change in the behavior of the animals. They are so relaxed that it seems that they were hand reared. Due to the abundance of water the animals can now move to more remote places that they were unable to visit during the dry season because of a lack f water. These pastures are loaded with high quality palatable browse and forage because of a lack of animal activity for more than 5 months in those areas. The animals are now in great physical condition. Good condition means more confidence and this in return gives us fantastic game viewing for us homo-sapiens.
It’s a case of having quality sightings rather than quantity sightings. The game is more dispersed than normal so we have to cover greater distances to find game. But rather than slowly moving away upon the approach of a game drive vehicle, they simply carry on with their daily business of eating, sleeping and mating (which is pretty much all they have to do).

Another great development this month is the splitting of the wild dog packs. As mentioned in previous rangers reports, one of the two wild dog packs were decimated by a pride of lions. Of the three that survived the slaughter, one died of its injuries. The remaining female and male were then moved to a boma for “safe keeping”. The hope was that they would mate and raise a litter before being released back into the reserve. This is good in theory but not quite what the dogs had in mind. In wild dog socety, the pack of dogs is led by an alpha female and at her side is the alpha male. The alpha female will only mate with the alpha male. The two dogs that made it consisted of the alpha female and a mere “regular” male dog. Technically he would now be the alpha male, being the only male… but she knew that he was not and did not mate with him, (poor chap). The idea was then to release them back into the reserve to see if the release of the alpha female would instigate some of the males in the other pak to join her. By krikey it worked. Four of the males from what we call the Dwarsberg pack broke free and joined her. Whether she will mate or has mated with them is still un-clear. All we can do now is to cross our fingers, or as we do it in South Africa, hold our thumbs and hope for the best.

With all the rain that we’ve been having the roads have been taking a beating from both vehicles and animals. Making a rut in the soil by vehicle can be fixed quite easily but then you have some other more challenging fixes. One of these is a road on the “plains”. The road is mainly composed of black cotton soil which swells when you add water to it, this also makes it very mushy and very slippery. One huge elephant bull, while we weren’t looking, had a ball walking on this road leaving craters wih a diameter of more than 50cm (that is about 20 inches) wide and 25 cm (10 inches) deep. Not only did he walk for more than a mile on the road, he also zig zaged across the road making the possibility of mere continuation of the road alongside the existing one a nightmare!!!!!! There are so many trees to cut down, debris to move, man hours and cost involved, that we had no choice other than to fix it. With pick-up trucks, sand and shovels and lots of cursing, we managed to fix the road, as best we could,although it does feel a bit like driving on a train track

01 OCTOBER 2008

October tends to be a much more stable month in terms of weather. Calm winds, pleasant mornings, warm days and cool nights. Great weather really. With the windy September behind us, the gentle breezes and warm weather is a most welcome occurrence. The clouds don’t get blown away so quickly and have time to develop which means one thing… rain is inevitable ? and we almost had some or we had some. I don’t really know? There was one night when a grand total of about 10 drops of rain fell upon the parchd soil of the arid savannah we live and work in. I guess that it could not really be considered rain but technically water fell from the sky, which means it did. A debatable subject I guess?
Once again… an amazing month. The warmer temperatures call all the reptiles and arthropods from hibernation, the animals are more relaxed because they know the rain, the deciding factor of life and death, is on its way. And with the rain the promise of fresh, nutritious food and more water is almost granted. You can really notice this in their behavior.
This month, I guess, is marked by death as well as birth. One afternoon we went on drive and watched lions (two males, three females and three cubs) at a waterhole. They were playing happily until a zebra came down to the watering hole for a drink. The one female quickly whipped her tail and looked at the cubs, telling the cubs to lie still and be quiet. She then got up and circled around the back of the dam , to avoid detection, and stalked the zebra. About thirty seconds later we saw the zebra run down he dam wall and then we heard the cries of a zebra with a lioness latched onto it’s throat. We drove over and found it still kicking while the other lions approached and started tearing at the helpless animals body. It was dead in two minutes (quite quick for a lion kill).
The next day we found a different pride of lions on a zebra kill a t phofu dam. They must have felt slightly uncomfortable with the vehicle because not long after arriving the one adult female dragged the carcass deep into some thick bush leaving us nothing to see.
The next day we found five sub-adult lions in some scrub. We watched them for a couple of minutes and then we noticed that they all crouched and stared intently in one direction. We couldn’t see anything at first but about half a minute later we saw a young warthog merrily jogging straight towards the lions. We couldn’t believe our eyes. He didn’t see the lions. He came closer and closer and suddenly, about fifteen meters away from the lions, shot off like a scud missile. He didn’t see them, so hemust have smelt them.
That same night while talking about that sighting we heard something outside the lodge. No mistake about it that it was the sound of buffalo. After going outside we had some difficulty spotting it. The reason for that was that it was not standing up. It was laying on its side with a pride of lions jumping all over it. We got straight into the game drive vehicle and went over there to go and have a closer look. The lions finally killed it and started feeding so we went home, knowing that we would have lion in front of the lodge for the next couple of days because a buffalo bull is quite a big meal. It was too big to finish off in one sitting. The lions were here for three days. Because of the waterhole in front of the lodge and the lack of water elsewhere in the bush, lots of animals come to drink at the waterhole. It was quiet for a while in terms of plains game because of the lions, but rhinos and elephants have nothing to fear from the lions. They usually came to the open clearing in front of the lodge,chased the lions off and drank their water. After their departure, the lions would return only to be chased off again two or three hours later by a different herd of rhinos or elephants. Quite comical to watching the animals considered to be “the king of the bush” running for their lives !!!!!
There was lots of death this month, but also lots of life. With the approaching rain, lots of the animals are dropping their babies. The birth of a new generation of animals that will have to battle the elements and evade predators. There is a lot of exciting days ahead with all the new babies, for they will have to learn the hard way how to live. Lessons learnt will include fighting for territory, fighting for females, dealing with death of those close to it and staying alive themselves.
In the process of watching the animals live their daily lives, we get a lot of insight of how we live our lives, and I am looking forward to sharing this exciting time both you and the animals that we have the privilege of watching.

01 SEPTEMBER 2008

The first week was slightly quiet because of the windy conditions (as explained in the August rangers report), but we still saw a lot of game. We had to spend a little more time to find animals but we did find them and had great sightings. This is also the time when we had, what I would consider, one of the best months of game viewing of my entire career. This is no joke.
One afternoon we went out on game drive and drove straight into a herd of elephants. We spent some time with them and judging from their movements my tracker and myself came to the conclusion that they were on their way to drink some water. We went to the dam and after waiting and birding for about two minutes they arrived and had a drink of water, splashed about and played around for about fifteen minutes or so. We then left the dam heading north away from the dam where we encountered two male lions sleeing in the grass right next to the road. We spent some time with them and then decided that sleeping lions are not the most eventful of sightings so we decided that it would be best to return a bit later when they would become more active carried on moving north.
We couldn’t go for more than 200m before finding more animals. It was absolutely amazing. We made our way to a place called Kolobeng dam where we found six white rhino’s drinking water, (It is not common to six rhinos in one location). They were shortly joined by a couple of giraffes and some impalas. Two lanner falcons sat in a dead tree next to the water hole looking at all these animals like they too were guests, gob smacked by the sight of all these animals drinking around one waterhole. After abot half an hour or so we decided that the only thing that could make this day better is to watch the sun setting with a glass of wine in one hand and ‘biltong’ in the other.
I went to a big open area for the sundowner because the area is open so we can keep an eye out for any mean and nasty’s that would want to interrupt our lovely sundowner, and besides that, there is also an old elephant carcass there. The elephant died of natural causes and the bones that are left over are great for the guests to see for themselves what we were talking about on the game drives. Like the honeycombed skull and the teeth grows from the back forwards rather than down like most other animals.Upon finishing a great bottle of wine (Meerlust Rubicon 1998) we slowly made our way back to the lodge. On the way we saw a large spotted genet, an African wild cat and the last thing I was ever expecting to see here… a cape fox !!!! This was the first cape fox spotted in Madikwe game reserve since it’s establishment fifteen years ago. It was not even on your species list for the reserve, and guess what? WE SAW ONE !!!!!!!
Heading back to where we saw the lions earlier that day we ran into a leopard and spent more than fifteen minutes with it before it disappeared slowly and majestically back into the bush. Leaving from there we found the two male lions but they were not alone. There was something else with them. Approaching closer we found that they had killed an impala and were feasting on it. This is quite a small prey animal for two fully grown animals to share so there was quite a lot of growling, scratching and aggresion between the two. They finally managed to rip the impala in two and lay back facing each other eating their meals. We then felt that we had quite an appetite too and went back to the lodge for our meal.
What a day !!!!!!!
One night we were at the lodge having our pre dinner drinks when the staff called us, because they were afraid to go to the guest rooms to do turndowns. We went onto the deck to see if we could see what might have spooked them, and then we saw it. Eight African wild dogs feeding on an impala inside the fence that runs around the lodge near suite 1. Needless to say, we all grabbed our torches and went down to suite 1 to have a better look. We stood about 30m from the wild dogs while they were feeding. Whata sight. We close the main gate to the lodge a night time to stop animals from entering.at the gate there is also a cattle grid to stop the animals from entering but at full stride this can be cleared in one leap. While being chased the impala saw a gap in the fence ( the gate ) and came in, followed closely by the wild dogs. The wild dogs killed it, ate it and then got up and left through another gate we opened once we learnt that they have paid us a visit.
I will always look back at this month in the future and think “wow, can we be so lucky”.

01 AUGUST 2008

The major part of august has been eventful to say the least !! Being a dry month here means that the animals are more concentrated around the waterholes and this, in turn, means that finding animals proves to be less of a challenge, because you have a better idea of where to start looking for them. Needless to say, we saw loads of game.
The buffalo sightings have been amazing. They generally hang out in the thickets here, which make them quite difficult to find, but this month, they drink water mainly at night so we quite often found them at one of the dams. I must admit that it proves a challenge in terms of photography, but seeing 150 – 250 buffalo’s drinking water at one time is an awe-inspiring sight.
The one afternoon we went out and saw two bull elephants fighting at one of the waterholes. This was not a serious fight but rather two boys being boisterous. The bigger of the two was trying to push the smaller one into the water. Slowly pushing the smaller bull inch by inch towards to the water. It was noticeable that the smaller bull did not want to go for a swim and was fighting back as hard as he could, but to no avail. Once his back feet got to the edge of the mud at the waterline, his efforts to stay dry peaked. But again, it did not help. Once he lost his grip with his back feet the outcome was inevitable. He was pushed like a sled into the water with no effort at all. Elephants are very intelligent animal and quite naughty at times, which was proven to me once again that day… After his triumph over the smaller bull, I noticed the naughty expression on the bulls face as he approached my vehicle. He now wanted to push my vehicle into the water as well !!!!!!! Knowing that this was not a fair fight (6 ton elephant against a 2.5 ton vehicle), so I decided to move further away from the water, which luckily worked. He lost interest and moved away.
Again the waterhole in front of the lodge was constantly packed with animals with daily visits from elephants, rhinos and giraffes. The one day we also had a visit from a Sable antelope. This was very special indeed because we don’t often see them. They were introduced to the area but didn’t breed to well. It was later found that Tampans, which is a very colorful type of tick, were concentrating themselves around the mammary glands of the females, which caused a lot of swelling. Therefore the calves weren’t able to suckle properly and died. No population growth combined with predation makes this a rare animal to find so we were lucky to see it.
The one main indication of the change of season is the late August and early September winds. It is nice to know that the rain is coming but it does prove slightly challenging in terms of game drives. The wind interferes with the animals hearing and smell so therefore they head into thicker bush to conceal themselves more against the elements. This is also valuable in terms of survival because, it proves more difficult for predators to sneak up on them. But the change of season also means that many of the migratory birds are coming back. The sound of a calling nightjar is beautiful and they call all night long. Lots more eagles around and birding is becoming much more exciting.

01 JULY 2008

Once again, another exciting month here at Mateya Safari Lodge. The month started off on a very good note when we went out on drive and saw a herd of about 70 elephants or so drinking at one of the water holes. They had with them a little baby of no more than 2 weeks old. He/ she (it is always difficult to sex them at such a young age) was having a lot of difficulty trying to figure out how to get water into its mouth by using the long thing hanging off the front of its face. After a long struggle, it finally gave up trying and resorted to an age old technique of drinking water which is reserved for experts only… it is done by simply sticking the whole face into the water and drinking until you run out of breath and remembering to stand up out of the water before drowning occurs. He had successfully had a drink and looked quite impressed with himself. He was running around excitedly and trumpeting advertizing his achievements with all the other elephants until he had a lapse of concentration and managed to step on his trunk at full stride. It was not the most elegant of summersaults that I’ve seen in my life but it was a worthy effort non-the less ?
The wild dogs are denning again, which is a stressful time for us rangers. We have 2 packs of wild dogs here and both of them started denning at about the same time. The one pack was attacked by lions at their den and lost 2 adults and all the pups. We are uncertain of the other pack’s outcome so far. The den is inaccessible by vehicle and looking for it on foot is also not advisable because it might force them to move to another den. We have no idea if they have had puppies or not, or weather they are all accounted for. We saw them a while ago and only counted 13 of them where there should be 16. We hope that the other 3 are at the den babysitting the new pups rather than the alternative of them being killed by other predators. Time will tell but until then we must wait and see.
With it being winter, there is a shortage of water so the thirsty animals constantly utilize the waterhole in front of the lodge. This is great for us though. We have had the most amazing sightings in front of the lodge. There is a group of four white rhinos here every day as well as elephants and the lions are here at least once a week. We have fantastic game viewing throughout the day here and there is always something interesting to look at from the comfort of the front deck and from the guest rooms. If it is peace and tranquility you are searching for, it is easy to find it here while looking at all the life that roams about the front of the lodge.

01 JUNE 2008

Before we get to the DETAILS of the safari experiences for this month, I would like to inform everyone that we re-varnished the decks this month and they are looking gorgeous.

This month has been absolutely fabulous in regards to sighting. Funnily enough the best sightings for the month did not happen on Game drive but at the lodge. It is now officially winter and quit a lot of animals have been visiting the waterhole in front of the lodge for a drink. I’m not just talking about general game but some of the more interesting animals too.
One day at breakfast time just as everyone sat down for breakfast after spending the better part of the morning looking for the Wild Dogs they appeared out of the tree line and came charging towards the waterhole, what an experience 16 Wild dogs drinking and playfully chasing all the herbivores around like it was a big game. Of course breakfast was delayed a bit so we could get all the guests on a vehicle so we could get a bit closer and take some beautiful photo’s before the dogs disappeared into the sickle bush thickets again.

Elephant, rhino and the stunning Eland are at the lodge almost everyday, spending time around the waterhole. The best sighting of the month must be the lions. While on game drive the lodge radioed us and told us that the lions were at the lodge. On arriving at our waterhole we where blessed to see a huge male lion drinking water not bothered by our appearance. To top that after he had his fill of water he stood up and let out a deafening ROAR right in front of the vehicle, what a humbling experience to sit their and listen to the King marking off his territory with his unseen family answering back from a distance. A Lion symphony of note, but nothing could prepare us for the next morning.

While waiting for the guests one morning to have coffee before the drive as the sun was just starting to chase away the darkness we could make out four ghostly figures. On closer inspection and to our delight it was four Lions two big males and two females. What a way to start the morning having coffee at the comfort of the lodge with four lions brilliant. After we got on the vehicles for a closer look to our delight another Lioness arrived with three12 week old cubs, a better gift from the bush no one could ask for.

Till next month keep dreaming of Africa!!!!!!

01 MAY 2008

With winter now approaching fast, we can see how animals, as humans get affected by the weather. It is not yet as cold as it will get, but with the sun rising later and later we have had to adapt our game drive times so as to fit in with the movement of the animals. They are also feeling the change in weather and are now moving later in the morning and earlier in the afternoon.
The sightings have been excellent and we have had by far the best month to date with regards to leopard sightings! Shai and myself have been fortunate to have a glimpse and share the secret life of 2 leopards during an afternoon game drive. We had guests in camp for 4 nights and we decided to head to the southern side of the reserve, with a mission of finding a leopard! We had sundowners close to one of the only waterholes in the south and after this Shai and myself continued with the leopard finding drive and as luck would have it, Paul saw eyes in the reeds next to the waterhole, we went to have a look and there not more than 10 meters away was a male leopard, just sitting watching us, makes you wander who is watching who!
Shai came down to the water and as he drove in closer the leopard got up and moved away, we both thought, “that was it, we have lost him”! But to our surprise we heard a growl to the right and an explosion of reeds, with the adrenaline pumping we set of to have a look what the cause of the chaos was, and to our amazement we saw a brown hyena running, tail between the legs and shouting for dear life itself. The male leopard had smelled the impala, the brown hyena must have killed it during the day, or so we thought! We watched the male leopard feeding off the kill. How can this get better, we thought, having seen all of this interaction it was difficult so tell who was more exited, the rangers or the guests. Shai and I just sat there, speechless!
Then Paul turned and said, “there are two leopards here!” I just looked at him with a dumb stuck expression, thinking how could this be possible? I thought about this for a second and told him that he must be mistaken, the words were not even out of my mouth and there both leopards got up and looked at me as if to say, “listen to your tracker, he knows”. Don’t know what was more of a shock, two leopards or the fact that Paul could spot the second leopard in the thickest of bush I have ever seen! It turned out that the female leopard killed the Impala and the Brown Hyena was just in the wrong place at the wrong time! The evening continued with amazing developments, spotted hyenas chasing the leopards off the kill and then the reverse, leopard chasing the hyenas off! It was like being part of a wildlife documentary, right in the middle of the action!
We had 9 more leopard sighting in the month, all being of high quality!
The elephants and buffalo sightings have also increased due to the fact of limited amount of water out in the bush, this leads to the movement of animals to and from the fixed waterholes, and high density of animal numbers around the water.
The lions have had extra additions to the prides with a minimum of 5 cubs for the two prides in our area. The males seems to have settled down after the territory disputes and the prides are no doubt happy about this as they don’t have to flee the territories for fear of there own life’s and that of their cubs!
From the ranger and tracker team, we wish to share our bit of Africa with you, come and experience the bush with us!

Philip Hattingh
Assistant Manager/Head Ranger

01 FEBRUARY 2008

February wasn’t a very busy month but the times we went out on drive the sightings were phenomenal. We saw lots of Lions, Elephant and Rhino. Buffalo were a bit scarce but after some hard work we managed to locate them, and at least one of our vehicles managed to spot the elusive leopard which is always an exciting treat for all. Speaking of rare sightings I nearly forgot that we also managed to spot the majestic and famous Madikwe Wild Dogs. General game viewing like, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Impala, and Kudu was as per usual unsurpassable with some of our vehicles even spotting some Gemsbok (Oryx). All and all our Game drives were excellent, with all our guests departing happy, but with a longing to return as soon as possible.

The best sighting we had must have been the wild dogs not only because they are so rare, but because of the action we saw. We got to the sighting and all was calm with the 15 dogs all relaxing under the shade of a big Tambotie. Suddenly all the dogs sprang to attention ears pointed forward and going into stalking mode. What an experience to see 15 Wild |Dogs all in hunting mode alert and ready for action. A couple of meters away a herd of kudus suddenly appeared out the thick bush unaware of the dogs 40 meters away from them. All was set for an exiting hunt. Suddenly the wind changed and immediately you could see the change in the kudus behavior. All the kudus stopped eating and stood stiffly looking towards the Wild dogs. Suddenly 2 of the dogs ran towards the kudus and the animals disappeared into the thick bush with the rest of the dogs following close behind. We didn’t manage to find the dogs again but we are sure they missed their target because all was quiet and no sounds were heard so the kudus can consider themselves lucky.

Another brilliant sighting we had although not too exciting were the Elephants. Sitting at the dam looking at some of our beautiful wading bird a herd of Elephants decided it was time for them to have a bath. Their we were with a breeding herd of Elephants of all sizes splashing and playing in the water. All relaxed enjoying life and being Elephants. We sat with them for nearly an hour before they turned their backs to us and slowly disappeared back into the bush from where they came.
That’s it for February see you next month.

Philip Hattingh
Head Ranger