01 DECEMBER 2009
“Aaah”, “oooh”, “cute” is a few words we’ve been hearing a lot off from the back of the game drive vehicles during the last month. The bush is full of babies wherever you look. The impala females have started lambing a little over a month ago after a six and a half month gestation. The wildebeests also started a few weeks ago after their little longer eight and a half month gestation period. Warthog, lion, zebra, elephant, rhino, jackal and giraffe babies are also seen regularly even though they aren’t seasonal breeders. Because of this abundance of young pray animals around our predator sightings have also been outstanding this month. Leopard, lion, wild dog and hyena has regularly been seen feeding on the plentiful youngsters around. Saving energy is what it is all about for most animals, but especially so for predators. Taking down young, old or injured animals is generally easier for the predators and in the same time keeps the gene pool strong for the animals prayed upon. Average day time temperature for the month was around 37`C with some days going into the low forties. We’ve had very little rainfall during December, but January looks more promising.
Mateya Ranger Team
21 NOVEMBER 2009
Yesterday afternoon we left the lodge on our game drive in search of lions. We drove around for about 40 minutes seeing elephant, rhino, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and impala, but no lions or their tracks to follow up on. After an hour we eventually found two female lions with their adolescent cubs, but the sickle bush thicket they were lying in was so thick we couldn’t get close enough for decent photos. Twenty minutes later we left with them still sleeping and my guests still wanting to get decent photos of lions. As this was my guests first and only game drive with us I was getting worried that I might not get them those lion photos they were so wanting.
Five minutes later a radio call came in from Philip at the lodge. “Werner, you won’t believe it, nine lions killed two wildebeests right in front of the camp.” Needless to say I turned right back heading back to the lodge. Once there we were rewarded with a wonderful sighting. The lions were feeding on both wildebeest carcasses right in front of the camp. The light was perfect, it was nice in the open and the lions were very relaxed with the vehicle there so we could get close enough for good photography. We spend the rest of the afternoon sitting in front of the camp until the sun went down. When we had no more light left it took me two minutes to drive the very satisfied guests back to reception.
01 NOVEMBER 2009
We have had quite an interesting month, weather wise! The temperatures varying from 42 degrees (`107 Fahrenheit) to a maximum of 16-Celsius degrees in the last few days, and not even to mention the RAIN! The grand total of rainfall for this month so far is a 166 mm (6.53 inches), with a 100 mm (4 inches) coming down in 3 days!
Not withstanding the high rainfall, the game sightings have been excellent!! We have already had a few sightings of newly born Impalas & some exceptionally good viewing of Jackal pups at the den, providing for very good photographic opportunities! The arrival of the Impala youngsters so early (first sighting was around the 18th of November), normally they are born during the first half of December, is a very good indicator that the Impala feels that the veld conditions are ideal for the youngster.
Shai had a great sighting of a female Leopard in a Marula tree feeding on an Impala kill!! He was on the way to one of the entrance gates to meet quests when he spotted tracks of a female leopard. He started tracking the female and after a while his persistence was rewarded when he found her in a tree with a kill, extremely relaxed!! Shai viewed her for about 20 minutes and had to leave her there, still in the tree enjoying her dinner, to make his way to the gate, where he picked the guests up. Needless to say, it was a very quick turn around!!! I can’t think of a better way to be welcomed to Madikwe than viewing a Leopard in a tree with a kill, after just arriving 10 minutes earlier!! The guests were particularly pleased to have such a rare sighting, as this was one of the reasons for their visit to Africa!
01 OCTOBER 2009
We had an amazing game drive yesterday morning!! It all started out with the routine morning tea & coffee at 05H30 on the main deck, looking out over the water hole, which seemed all quite. Little did we know that soon we were going to be witnesses to a spectacular action packed morning around the water hole!!
All three game drives left soon after the morning gathering on the deck, to go and explore the bush and see what we can find. Not more than 10 minutes into the drive Werner called us and said that his tracker has just spotted 6 wild dogs running up the road. Needless to say, we turn around and made our way back to the area he was operating in, and joined him where he was viewing the wild dogs. The 6 wild dogs continued to run on the road in the direction of the lodge and then they spotted a huge group of buffalo, about a 100 animals. They then dashed off after the buffalo, running with the normal body posture, tails in the air and leaping over the long tufts of grass. The buffalo must have been so surprised that wild dogs will dare chase after them that they too took of at a speed!!
We lost sight of the wild dogs and buffalo, but they were heading towards the camp clearing and water hole. We then made our way to the clearing to wait and see if we could find them again. When we got there the buffalo were on the clearing and the 6 wild dogs were drinking from the water hole, after drinking they again decided to have a go at the buffalo, took of and chased them a few meter. What a sight, 6 dogs chasing a whole herd, but then the buffalo must have realized that is not normal, and some of the old male buffalo turn and returned the favor! What a turn around, from being very brave to tails between their legs, it was the wild dogs turn to retreat!!! This cat and mouse game continued for about 30 min, until the buffalo headed for the thick bush, leaving the wild dogs wondering what went wrong. The dogs stayed on the clearing for a while looking for anything to chase but to no avail!
This was the first time in 15 years that I witnessed wild dogs chasing buffalo, the normal prey for dogs would be kudu, waterbuck or impala, but to take on a huge herd of buffalo, when a pride of lions will have their work cut out for them! In hindsight we think they were just toying with the buffalo and would never have committed to the optimistic task of hunting the buffalo!
01 SEPTEMBER 2009
We welcome summer and the first rains to Madikwe Game Reserve!!! The temperatures have shot up in to the high 30 celsius degrees (95 – 102 Fahrenheit), and all the early signs of summer is here, with the first rain measuring 4 mm, not a lot but enough to settle the dust!
The Blue Thorns, Black Thorns, Bride of the Bush (Wild Pear), Smelly Shepherd’s Tree with their intense and very unpleasant smell to those not used to it have started flowering! Some of the wild flowers have also started to bloom like the Wild Hibiscus & Mountain Aloe only to mention a few.
After the dry winter these flowers bring with them the color and vibrance we all have been missing and waiting for, the animals too will enjoy this as the flowers and new growth is a welcome alternative food source.
01 AUGUST 2009
The last week here at Mateya catered for some of the best game viewing of the month!. We had sightings of elephants, buffalo & lions right in front of the lodge at the waterhole almost everyday and at night the elephants keep us company while we were having dinner on the deck.
On Wednesday morning, just after waking my guests up at 05H00, (nice and early in order to see the sunrise out in the bush!), I was having a quite cup of coffee out on the deck. Or so I thought, all of a sudden the impalas started give warning calls, this of course got my attention!! After the guests had a very quick cub of coffee, we headed out to the front of the lodge, trying to find the culprit who was responsible for upsetting the impalas!! We drove around the camp clearing but with no luck, and as a last resort we made our way down to the water hole. There out of no-where we saw it, a Leopard of about 14 months old, to our amazement she just looked at us and then continued to walk down to the waterhole for a drink. We stop about 20 meters from her and had a wonderful full view of her for 30 min!
What a GREAT way to start a safari!!
01 JULY 2009
A whole month has passed in a flash leaving behind the cold and un-pleasantries of the African winter and bringing the warmth of summer ever closer. A colleague once said, “We in Africa don’t really have a spring or autumn. Rather… one day you will wake up on either side of the year and find it to be either cold (winter) or warm (summer). There is no real or noticeable in-between”. Even in mid winter, here, the days are warm enough to walk around in shorts and a short sleeve shirt, so all in all mild compared to winters of the northern hemisphere, but cold enough for us. The animals are slowly losing their winter coats and the trees are starting to form new leaf buds. The winds are starting to pick up and the (female) animals look very pregnant. All signs indicative of the close proximity of an approaching African summer, apart from the fact that I woke up a few days ago and found it to be warm.
I really can’t say that it has been a particularly dry winter, because we had rain 3 times equalling about 160mm altogether, but the small pans and waterholes have dried up all over the reserve. This is not as bad is it might seem because the reserve has a hand full of waterholes that are artificially kept full. One of them being in front of our well-situated and comfortably built lodge. The view from the deck at this time of the year is always filled with the sights and sounds of animals that come to get their daily supply of liquid replenishment. Whether you sit inside and look out through the glass doors that surround the main lodge or relax reading a book from our library on the deck, there will always be an unobstructed view of the waterhole and all that happens around it. One of the most recent, memorable events was when a herd of elephants came down to the waterhole and broke it!!! I guess they were not at all impressed with the speed at which the water flows into the waterhole, so they decided to open the whole thing up to see if they could fix the problem. The only thing is that they forgot to close it back up and the next day there was a virtual dam next to the water hole. The buffalo’s seemed to enjoy the muddy mess it has created and have been here every day since. Perhaps they were showing us how to build water holes that appeal to animals??
The only detrimental effect that a lack of water, has on the bush, is the lack of good quality grazing and browsing in the immediate area around the places of precious liquid water. They feed on the way in and out of the waterholes, eating (of course) the most nutritious and palatable plant food. This can lead to all sorts of potentially negative effects. The animal highways (well trampled pathways) that form as a result of constantly walking the same route to the same point, following the path of least resistance, are the first areas where water run off will create erosion. Over grazing can cause long-term damage to the vegetation leaving it void of good quality food and making space for the pioneer species of plants (usually unpalatable, low grazing value plants) to take over the area. And the list goes on… Fortunately we have very capable staff on the reserve to deal with all the potential problems so the animals will always be ensured that we have done everything in our power to ensure their survival.
I hope that the animals can wait for a while; until the thunder and lightning dominate the sky and rain drench our parched soils once more. In the same breath I hope that you can come and visit us and share this unfolding story of Africa and the miracles that shape the landscape and future of our country’s people and wildlife.
01 JUNE 2009
Monsoon in June is the highlight of the month. OK , a slight over exaggeration but we had a lot of rain indeed (almost 100mm), and in the time we should not receive a drop. It might seem a tad strange but that would purely be because it is. The extra moisture in the air turns into frost in the mornings so, my concern now, is that the flora will be tricked into flowering and seeding, after which the long frosty winter will kill of the next seasons fresh growth. This is the worst-case scenario but a possibility non-the less. The likely hood is that all the animals (apart from the warthogs) will get through the winter just fine. The thing is that warthogs have very little body hair and they live underground (cold air sinks while hot air rises) so if there is a very cold winter, the piglets will have a challenging time to get to see spring.
Some good news on the other hand, is that the African Wild Dogs have recently had pups. Seven in total!!!!!!! This is great news, for the addition of any amount to a dwindling population of animals is always most welcome. Having only seven pups is quite conservative for a wild dog because, they can have up to nineteen at a time. Perhaps she was holding back a little for this is the first time that she has had puppies? Or perhaps she held back because there are only five wild dogs in her pack and feeding nineteen pups would put too much stress on hunting. Either way, I’m sure she has her reasons. I just hope she keeps them all alive. They move to a new den every other week, which is a trying and dangerous time for the puppies. The rest of the time the pups can relax in the safety of an underground den with a babysitter while the other adults are out hunting. Wild dogs are excellent caretakers and protectors of the pups so I’m sure that they will all survive.
I was blessed again to learn something from the Madikwe animals this month. This is not something new, but rather something I have always suspected but it is now proven to me. What I learnt makes me think that leopards will only present themselves to you when they would like to bee seen. The rest of the time they lay in the bushes laughing at us trying to find them. This is a statement, which I can make now, because of a leopard that killed a big warthog at our watering hole. Despite numerous visits to the dead warthog in the Tambotie tree there was not one time that we actually saw this leopard. About three days later, when there was no sightings of the leopard, nor any visible evidence that the leopard has been there feeding, Philip, the head ranger and assistant manager here decided to walk over there and have a good look at what was going on. He found that the leopard had indeed been there, feeding all that time. The funny thing is that where the leopard was feeding from the warthog is an almost impossible to get to angle. There are no branches on the tree that would allow for it to feed on that portion of the warthog at all. It is therefore the conclusion of the rangers & trackers here at Mateya that the leopard was sitting on top of the warthog and fed upside down on the carcass while not dropping a single piece of meat for us to see. We are also sure that the leopard fed in that position so that we could not see it from the road and every time it heard a vehicle it jumped down into some bushes and hid. The only time we saw that leopard is when it walked over to the watering hole for a drink where there is no cover. I’m sure it was taunting us.
01 MARCH 2009
March is always an interesting month, we say goodbye summer and welcome to autumn. The days are getting shorter and a distinct chill is in the air early in the morning. In some ways it helps us because now that the rain has stopped animals tend to gather around the water holes, which makes for good sightings.
Lions are all over the place but the best sighting was when we came around a corner and 2 brothers came walking down the road. We pulled the vehicle out of their way and they calmly walked right up to the vehicle. What a sight, their black manes glimmering in the late afternoon sun, as they walked closer one could see all their muscles and what beautiful specimens, not one ounce of fat on them. When they were next to the vehicle the reality sunk in, all the scars on their faces show that they are wild and live a hard life, every scar has a story whether it was a fight to defend their territory or to defend their females and some of the scars come from hunts, one was limping badly but he’ll recover, they always do.
While we were sitting looking at these amazing specimens of lions in silence they burst out in an earth-shattering roar. How do you explain it to those that have never heard it in real life, the air vibrates, you can feel it in your chest maybe it is some prime evil fear that’s instinct to us. It was really amazing, nothing can compare.
On another drive we went hunting for wild dogs, we spent an hour looking for them, tracking them but they managed every time to avoid us and it was frustrating .We gave up hope and just as I was thinking my luck was out my tracker said look in the road and their was a Cheetah, what a surprise! The bush is wonderful just as you give up hope it delivers a gem. We approached slowly not to scare the gorgeous animal he at first was a bit skittish and walked away from us but with a bit of patience he calmed down completely and laid down about ten meters away from us. We spent about half an hour with him before we left.
Filled with excitement we headed back to the lodge ready for breakfast, Wild dogs forgotten. The next moment one dog and another and them the whole pack of 19 came trotting up towards us and just lay down in front and next to the vehicle. The smell of wild dogs filled our noses with the distinct smell of urine. When you look at these beautifully colored animals playing with each other like domestic dogs it is hard to believe that they are one of the most prolific killers in Africa. As we headed back to the lodge I was in awe, nothing beats the bush when you think all is lost it delivers something. It might not always be what you want but there is always something to see.
Till next month
The Mateya Rangers & Tracker Team
01 FEBRUARY 2009
This has once more been a “fabulously fantastic February”… the month of sun. Of all twelve of the months that zoom past us each year, February is definitely one of my favorites. I like the heat and believe me that this is the month that mother nature decides to turn on the sauna. That said; this was a nice and mild February for a change. I cannot recall that the temperature, even once, reached 40?C this year. The average temperature was a mere 32 to 35?C. I’ll have to chat to the weather man about this!!!!
The animals have really enjoyed the cool summer this year. The dams are still full and the grass (in some areas) is as tall as my vehicle’s back seat. Just the other day we watched a herd of elephants walking through the bush and as they started crossing the road we counted an additional 4 elephants that we did not see earlier. I was reminded how easily it is to miss something laying or walking through the long grass this time of year. For the next couple of drives I was paranoid that I was driving pastanimals all the time and I was unable to see them. It is a horrible feeling and the fact that my neck was in a constant cramp combined with the constant dizziness from the vigorous side-to-side motion of my head made my job seem like an actual job. It was hard work and lots of stress until I spotted a small lion cub approximately 70metres away from the road lying down underneath a tree in the long grass. Not bad hey ?!?!? All the fears of not seeing animals went flying straight out of the window from ther on. My neck sure is happy.
And the things that we did manage to see included:
• A bull giraffe with half his back ripped off by I don’t know what. It does not look like Lion claw marks. It resembles more a scar that would be left by being thrown with a circular saw-blade. A disc shaped patch of missing skin and flesh. Sure got me fumbling for words.
• Two Lanner Falcons were hunting and catching Red Billed Queelias on the planes. They would fly into the middle of the flock of little birds and come out on the other side with a bird in each talon. It was quite amusing seeing them trying to figure out how to land without using their feet 🙂 They eventually figured it out and opted for landing on the ground… coming to an awkward skidding stop, using the little birds as skates/brake pads.
• The lions aren’t doing much at the moment. They are full to the brim, stuffing themselves on veal. The little antelopes are just too easy to catch.
• Tshokwan (a big bull elephant brought in from the Kruger National Park) came to visit us at the lodge while we were having breakfast on the deck. He was spraying himself with mud and having a whale of a time until he suddenly came to the conclusion that he was not going to be invited for breakfast and left suddenly, with an arrogant little swagger in his step as he walked.
These are my personal best sightings for this month. The other Mateya rangers also saw many weird, wonderful and exciting things on their ventures out into the African bush. So come and visit and we’ll tell you all about them.
Till next time