01 DECEMBER 2004
Hello there everyone hope you are all still following our website up-dates on the animal sightings we have been having. This past month we have been quite busy with guests.
Well to start off, the general game viewing, example impala, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest has been at its best. There are so many baby impala and wildebeest running around now that it makes you just want to watch them for hours on end as they explore their new found surroundings at there mothers side.
We have had about 200mm of rain this season and everything is looking so beautiful and green.
Well my main story today is about the big and the small, the African elephant and the African wild dog, which is South Africa’s most endangered carnivore. We went off one afternoon and decided to go Phofu dam in the south of the reserve where the wild dogs had been hanging around for those past few days. An hour and a bit had past when we finely reached the dam and all was quite, except for a few wildebeest near to the waters edge. We drove around the dam when another vehicle called us and said the wild dogs where in some thickets to the north of the dam. As we started to approach they started to become a bit active as by now it was just after six in the evening and the temperature had cooled down a bit. We then started to follow them, numbering around 28, the adults leading the way and the youngsters following and playing at the same time, when all of a sudden the whole pack took off after the wildebeest that where near to the dam and then we lost visual of the pack as they headed off into the thick bush. We sat there for awhile and listened but could hear nothing.
So we decided to go back to the dam and have a sundowner. As we were finishing our drinks they appeared out of the bush about 300m from us and stood there. So we decided to pack up and go and investigate when we heard this thundering crack of an elephant pushing over a tree. He, the elephant, must of then caught wind of the wild dogs that where near to him and did not like this at all and started trumpeting at them and even charged out of the bushes at the bewilded wild dogs. We sat there for about 15minutes as the elephant and wild dog played a cat and mouse game with each where the elephant did most of the chasing and trumpeting as the wild dogs would run circles around the elephant.
This just shows that bush is so unpredictable, and what a pleasure it is to see the interaction between two different species of animal.
01 NOVEMBER 2004
Earlier this month, I was at Derdepoort (The General Dealer at the Border to Botswana) filling up my Land Cruiser with petrol, when I met up with a friend of mine from Madikwe. He asked what I was doing tonight and I happened to be planning on an early night, but he said they were off to collar a male lion in the south of the reserve, so I gave up the idea of getting to bed early. We arranged to meet at Mateya at about 5:00pm.
5:00pm arrived and we headed south to meet the ecologist and to find the lions. Finding lions is not always that easy and finding
specific lions is even harder, but with the help of what is called a call up box, we increased our chances a bit, but no guarantees. Basically a call up box is a set of speakers you play a CD of pig squeals very load through and hope the lion hears it and his instinct takes over and he heads for the noise hoping for an easy meal.
At our first spot we played the CD for 20 minutes but with no luck and trust me pig squeals for that long is a bit unpleasant. We headed to a new spot a few kilometers down the road and played it again and once again no luck. Finally we head to a third area and once again nothing, so by now I was definitely not getting to bed at a respectable hour. We then decided to head back to the first spot just incase and as we approached we saw eyes in the spot light and presumed they were impala, but as we got close it turned out to be six lions and the young male we were looking for was there.
Now the tricky part was to dart him with a drug called Zoletil and get to him to load him onto the vehicle and try to avoid the remaining five lions and all of this in the dark. The ecologist managed to dart him alright but he then moved close to the other adult female lions, however the ecologist was able to move his vehicle so that the lionesses moved away enough to park next to the male. Now as one of us kept an eye on the remaining lions, six of us loaded this three year old dead weight male lion who had just eaten probably weighing close to 190Kg with to say the least a few grunts and groans.
Once loaded we moved off to fit the collar which is used to keep track of him and his movements and the pride he is with and to monitor what he is feeding on and all other behaviors, for research. It is amazing to be right up close to a lion and to compare your hand with his huge paws and to pull back his lip and to look at his massive canines. It is also a bit disconcerting when you are all standing around and he starts to wake up a little, but by this time the work was done and we were just taking a few photo’s, anyway we quickly moved away and waited for him to recover before we headed home for a short nap before the morning.
01 OCTOBER 2004
The past month we have had some great drives and we have been seeing a lot of game and some great birds now that summer has arrived. And as usual we have been stopping for sundowners to stretch our legs and enjoy a cocktail or two as the sun dips below the horizon and the storm clouds that are threatening to bring the much needed summer rains.
But the last two nights we have had our elephant friends as company. The first evening after a hot afternoon as we were about to stop for our break I heard over the radio that three cheetah had been seen at the drift on the Marico river, so we raced off to find them, a female and her two cubs. We crossed over the drift to the eastern side where we found them lazing on the bank of the river. With in minutes the guide who had just left radioed to warn us that a large herd of elephants was almost on top of us, heading to the drift to drink. So I crept up the side of the river bank to find about 16 Elephants milling around waiting to move down to the river. So I got out of their way and we had a great sighting of them all walking past and then drinking at the river as the sun went down and then was finally gone, while we sat dry mouthed unable to get back to the western side until much later when the elephants had finally finished, and by which time it was too late to stop for our sundowners, because we would not have made it back to the lodge on time.
Anyway the next night I was determined that we would have a sundowner and to make up for missing the previous night I headed for the Saddle which is on the Western side of Tswene Tswene mountain, which is an awesome spot raised above the northern plains of the reserve looking over the Enselberg mountains that rise up from the plains and looking out to the west and north and further into Botswana. This time we managed to get the drinks pored and the snacks out when we heard the trumpeting of elephants a few meters north of us in a thicket, so Sydwell and me had to rush to pack everything up before they got to us. So with wine glasses in hand and a bottle between the guests we went to get a look at our uninvited guests. As it turned out it was by far my most spectacular sundowners, with the breeding herd of elephants enjoying the new leaves of a few Acacia trees, and the guest enjoying a glass or two of wine, while the sun set behind the elephants silhouetting them and the acacia trees and turning the sky a multitude of shades of pink and orange.
01 SEPTEMBER 2004
What’s happening with the African Wild dogs?
For those of you who have been following Andrew and my stories regarding the wild dogs, I have a few more interesting things to add from this past month.
Well with the larger of the two packs (the Madikwe Pack) it has been confirmed that this pack has split. The main part of the pack is numbering around 13 to 14 dogs plus the pups and the break off pack should be around 8 dogs. This has now lead to the debate on what will be done with these dogs because at this stage the park is not big enough to cope with all of these wild dogs. We are all waiting to hear what the Parks Board decide is their fate (relocation seems the answer).
And also of interest or maybe disbelief by those who have been keeping a close eye on the Madikwe pack , the pups which we reported last numbering 8 has now been confirmed to be 15 pups, which is awesome. The pack over this last month are still sticking to the mountainous areas of the reserve to avoid other predators as much as possible but I am sure in October they will start to adventure further a field.
While the Madikwe Pack has given us a few surprises, the Tswasa Pack has been keeping relatively quiet and there have not been any surprises from them, they are still 11 adults and 10 pups strong and have also been limiting their movements to the Tweedepoort Escarpment.
So in total Madikwe have 58 wild dogs which are close on 2 percent of the wild population in the world, incredible.
If you have any wild life questions please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
01 AUGUST 2004
Interesting Bird Behaviour
Hello there once again, this month I have something for those bird enthusiasts.
Have you ever been sitting at waterhole waiting for those lions to appear from the thickets near by, or for a herd of elephant to come rushing up to the waters edge to get a drink of water, but nothing like that happens. Instead your attention is drawn to a type of bird feeding on something in a nearby tree. After a closer look at it you find out that it is a Gabar goshawk (Macronisus gabar) feeding on a Cape Turtle Dove (Streptopelia capicola).
Firstly the Gabar goshawk is a smallish raptor and fairly common resident to the area and about the size of a feral pigeon. They feed mainly on small birds up to the size of francolin, insect’s reptiles and small mammals. It’s usually found in pairs. They use
tree canopies as cover before pursuing after a suitable prey i.e. in this case a Cape Turtle Dove. Hunts from a perch or on the wing catching prey from the ground or in flight, and is often seen hunting birds at waterholes.
The Cape Turtle Dove is a wide spread common resident and can be found solitary, in pairs or in flocks of several hundred close to water. They are mostly seedeaters but also feed on insects. These seedeaters are generally seasonally gregarious and you generally find larger flocks of them during the dryer times of the year when seeds are abundant. During the start of the wet season the large flocks generally decrease in numbers due to the fact the seeds on the ground will start to germinate. Seeds are generally small and dry, rich in carbohydrates, relatively poor in proteins. This is probably why they are frequently seen drinking at waterholes. Other birds often seen drinking at waterholes are your redbilled queleas and your sandgrouse species.
Well that is just a little bit of information on a few bird species that you could see the next time you decide to spend some time at a waterhole.
Till next time bye-bye
Andrew Linton (field guide)
01 JULY 2004
Update on Wild Dog den
Hello to everyone visiting us on the website. I just want to let those interested in the wild dogs that we have seen the Twasa pack and they have eleven pups, as Mike spoke about it in the June diaries, and the second pack, which is the Madikwe pack, we had no idea on the numbers of pups, but now we know.
With the Madikwe pack denning in the mountains the only way to see if they have pups and the numbers, would be to walk into the area of the den and get a good vantage point of the den and then wait patiently and quietly. This was done by one of the guides and he counted eight pups.
When approaching the den if a member of the pack see’s an intruder they will bark and this is their warning that you are too close to them and that you should keep a good distance away from them.
With the packs both having pups a lot of time is spent at the den site by the adults. If the adults have to go hunting they all leave the den except for the alpha female. On occasions one of the other females may stay back at the den just to keep a watchful eye on the den and the puppies. Often the pack may be away from the den from early in the morning and then return late in the afternoon or early evening.
Anyway we will keep you all updated on the goings on with the wild dog packs and how they fair in the near future. Cheers to everyone, for now.
01 JUNE 2004
Showdown at the Water:
As a rule we don’t encourage going out too late in the day, because we usually have our best sightings when the days are still cool. But lucky for us these are not rules written in stone and now that it is winter the days are staying cooler for longer.
So when we had a later start, I was a bit concerned that the local residence would be lying low. So my basic plan was to head off to Tlou dam and see if we could find any signs of activity from earlier in the day and follow up. So it was awesome to round the bend and see a large herd of buffalo numbering around 80 plus, heading down to the water in a dusty haze. Also I was relieved to have spotted them because I had been searching for them the past four days with no success. As we got closer four lions also came into view, we had not seen them earlier because they were crouched down eyeing out the buffalo.
We positioned ourselves so as not to influence any of the animal’s behavior and as we sat and waited for things to unfold a journey of giraffe ambled out of the tree line from the north and they spotted the lions due to their obvious height advantage. And to the lions dismay the buffalo were alerted to their presents. It was amazing to suddenly see the herd of buffalo close ranks, with the females and calves moving behind this defensive barrier of huge male buffalo, and then out of this line five or six big boys advanced towards the lions. The lions held their ground for a short time, but
they were soon intimidated enough to move off at speed as the buffalo bulls broke in to a trot towards them. The lions did answer back with a few growls but these were drowned out by the buffalo’s bellows and snorts. It was a very impressive sight to see these one ton animals advancing as group heads up looking down their noses at these four lion who knew they were out gunned.
The lions did finally stop their retreat on top of the dam wall were they got comfortable to wait patiently for a less formidable opponent, and the buffalo went back to drinking and soon disappeared into the tree line, while the giraffe threw caution to the wind and went to the far side of the dam to have their drink.
01 MAY 2004
Hello there to all those nature enthusiasts, and what do you know another month has passed us again. Time fly’s when you are having fun especially when you are in the bush.
Anyway back to the eastern pride. This pride spends most of its time in the eastern section of the reserve and it consists of two adult male lions which are about eleven to twelve years old, two adult females of about six to eight years old and their four cubs which are about six months old know. Well for the passed few weeks we have not been seeing the whole pride together, that is because the females have being very secretive due to the young cubs that are with them. The other reason is that that adult males, who have a territory to defend, have to move around in their territory and fend off other nomadic males who happen to move into these territories. This may be done by audio communication (roaring), olfactory communication (scent marking) or the hard way and that is to have a fight with the intruders. So to find the pride all together is a lucky and exciting time and this is what happened on one of those lucky mornings.
My tracker (Holden) and I and one guest left at about 6:45am, the sun hadn’t even risen yet, the outside temperature was in the low teens and the chill factor from driving made it even colder. But anyway we survived. 30 minutes into the drive we stopped for some lion tracks on the road when we heard the tail end of a lion roaring. We got a general direction and headed for it. We stopped again and listened, but heard nothing. There was a small dry stream bed near to the road so Holden and I decided to walk into it, to try and see if we could see any lion tracks in the dry stream bed and if so this could maybe give us some more clues on where these lions might be or might be going too. We had being gone for about five minutes when we stopped and heard a Crested Francolin (a type of bird common to the area); start sounding its alarm call. We stopped and listened for a while and then decided to move back to the vehicle. We got in the vehicle and drove about fifty meters done the road when Holden said “stop”. He stood on top of his trackers seat and pointed, and then said “there they are!!!!” As we were driving in closer to view the whole pride together, Holden then gave a small punch to the air, as to say “yes we’ve found them”.
A good sighting of all eight lions was what made that morning game drive so good.
15 APRIL 2004
Ask any Field Guide if he has been asked if animals get drunk from eating the fruit from the Marula Tree (Sclerocarya birrea) and 9 out of 10 will answer yes that sometime during their guiding experience a guest has asked. This is mainly due to a movie (no names mentioned) that was made some time in the 1980’s that depicted baboons and elephants drunk and stumbling around after eating Marula fruit. This movie was much staged and the animals were not actually drunk from eating the fruit.
It has been established scientifically the alcohol content of Marula Fruit and not surprisingly the decomposing fruit has the higher alcohol content. So in terms that we can relate to, to equal the
same amount of alcohol in a bottle of beer, you would have to eat 400 decayed berries which are about 6 kg or 7.5 kg of fresh fruit. Therefore a small animal like a baboon would find it extremely difficult, if not impossible to eat that amount of fruit, therefore drunk baboons is ruled out. But with elephants that consume about 280 kg of food per day intoxication is not completely ruled out. Elephants blood has been tested which showed high levels of alcohol-like substance, it is generally accepted that it does not
cause conventional ‘drunkenness’, but the high level of alcohol caused by fruit fermenting in the stomach may cause some unpredictable behaviour in individuals.
So basically what was depicted in the infamous movie will not be seen out here in Madikwe or anywhere else, but around February to March when the Marula Trees are baring fruit, if an elephants only meal is 280 kg of fermenting Marula Fruit he/she may display some behaviour that is out of character, but they won’t be seen stumbling down the road trunk in trunk.
02 APRIL 2004
Lately we have been seeing very large herds of elephants at the more permanent water sources. It has been great as you would be sitting at a dam doing some bird watching when all of a sudden these very large grey animals would start filing out of the bush to come and have an afternoon drink. Herds of up to forty or fifty would move down to the dam.
With the changing of the seasons happening from Summer into Autumn and now the rain season being over this could be why big herds are being seen a lot more at these dams.
The smaller mud wallows and temporary pans that had water in them through the rain season probably have now dried up. This has now forced the elephants to move to the more permanent water sources which are the big dams therefore allowing game drives to view the animals a lot more. These pans and wallows were in some areas where game drives couldn’t get to and therefore we couldn’t see the large herds of elephants.
Well, with luck when you come visit Mateya in the Madikwe Game Reserve you could be treated with a sighting like these photos taken by Mike (Guide at Mateya).