24 June 2019

It is was very encouraging when I found this Crowned Lapwing scrape, or pebble nest, in the middle of the road, therefore clearly barricaded with rocks by a fellow guide. It reaffirms that all the guides in Madikwe, are committed to and conscientious of conservation. The parents called nervously nearby as they staid close to the nest, instinctively protective, by also habituated to the fact that this large noisy animals never mean them or their nests any harm.

For me personally this is always a great find, as Lapwings , and other scrape nesters, lay camouflaged eggs to counter the exposed basic nature of the nest. And it is this canvas in the form of an egg, which exhibits some of natures finest artistic creations. The cryptic coloration visible on the egg is achieved through a pigment gland in the ovary of the bird. As the shell calcifies during its formation, it is rolled over and over while the pigment gland dots it intermittently to achieve a cohesive distribution of dots of different sizes and shades, to ultimately blend the the egg visually with is grainy stony surroundings. 

It is also interesting to note that Lapwings are precocial breeders. Meaning the offspring are immediately mobile after hatching and capable of feeding themselves. Therefore the female’s reproductive process is physiologically adapted to lay larger eggs, in an effort to hatch a stronger and more developed chick. for this reason they lay fewer eggs, than the alternative nesters who choose more protected and inaccessible nesting methods, in an effort to afford more protection. 

29 May 2019

For someone who hasn’t been on a photographic safari, the images of this male leopard feeding on his impala prize might seem like surveillance footage, obtained through extreme measures employing sophisticated surveillance equipment form a safe, distant location. For some time ago, roughly 70 000 years, it was not too uncommon for a fellow Sapien to be the unfortunate meal draped in the fork of a tree. Our very design attests to this macabre fate, with opposable thumbs, flattened scapulas and long slender limbs, the purpose of which, by design, was to enable us to climb trees in a strategic effort to avoid predation.

Yet here we are, sitting in an open game drive vehicle with nothing but the blue skies and one of our ancestors’ worst nightmares above us, a mere 20 feet from the latter, who seems totally oblivious to our presence as he feeds. The first time you experience this absolute privilege, it can be unnerving, even overwhelming, as millions of years’ instinctive programming tells you that this is your arch enemy, yet here you are looking each other straight in the eyes, for brief exhilarating moments, with your guide reassuring you that the situation is perfectly safe and under control. How exactly did we get to this counter intuitive truce???

In theory it all started 70 000 years ago, when we somehow figured out how to create and manipulate fire. This amazing feat changed the rules of our engagement with our entire world. The physical element of fire itself proved to be a deterrent against our predators at night, and brought us down from the trees. But more consequential was the cooking of food. By breaking down the composition of most of our foodstuffs with heat, we reduced our feeding time by an estimated 75%, and also preserved food for longer by killing off bacteria. Which freed us up to explore, learn, improvise and adapt faster than any other animal on the planet. And within a few millennia we turned the tables on even the most formidable of our predators, and alienated the rest of creation through our ascension to the top of the food chain. Thus the last 70 millennia has instinctively programmed all life on earth that any sort of conflict with man ends badly for it.

So how did we get to us photographing this magnificent male leopard? One of the fundamental principles of biology is that all organisms respond to irritability. Irritability in this sense has a broader definition, referring to any and all kinds of stimuli in the environment which an organism might encounter or experience. This is of course one of the fundamental drivers in evolution, or the hypothesis thereof, as it suggest that animals adapt to their environment, firstly through behaviour, and then if required, physiologically. In the case of our relationship with predators, it changed form predator and prey to an uneasy truce expressed in avoidance. We would hunt the same prey, but if pitted against each other, the human would walk away victorious, statistically. Albeit through teamwork and employing technology, which evolved from bone tipped spears to tools sporting ballistics which can drop an elephant where it stands, and can be wielded by a single entitled Homo Sapien.

But then in the last century, a new awareness of our interaction with our environment has awakened in man, or at least in some of us. And suddenly our attitude towards and interaction with the environment started evolving from bonafide consumer to conservationist, with still a lot of unbalanced consumption perpetuating regardless. Large tracts of wilderness was set aside and protected to exist in its natural state, with as little as possible interference from ourselves. And in these protected areas the animals, as explained in the principle of irritability, started adapting to our new role as observer, as opposed to arch enemy. Obviously it is a slow process, 70 millennia of instinctive programming can not be undone in four decades, but learnt behaviour can trump instinctive behaviour to some extent in such a short time. And we can see this in the way animals started behaving towards people in a vehicle, once we stopped hunting them. It differs from specie to specie, but anywhere from 20 to 40 years after you desist from accosting animals in a specific area, they learn that people in a vehicle behave neutrally in their immediate environment. This obviously requires patience and discipline form the operator’s side, being methodical, disciplined and systematic in the way you approach animals in their environment. Giving them time and space to accept this strange animal, with people on its back, to approach it without fear or depredation. Yet they still see, smell and sense people. Which is stating the obvious, but many guides and operators in the safari industry claim that animals see the vehicle as one passive and harmless creature, thus not recognizing their age old enemies on its back. Why then, when you stand on the deck of your safari suite, would elephants walk right up to you and drink from your swimming pool? Surely they do not see yourself and the lodge, as one “animal”? No, back to the principle of irritability, the animals have learnt that when people are in a vehicle, or in the lodge’s confines, they behave neutrally. And this trusting behavioural state animals have adopted, is called being habituated, as opposed to tamed. As the latter refers to a behavioural state of an animal which has no instinctive fear of humans any more, making it, for the lack of a better word, dangerous. And that is why this, habituated, male leopard will look straight into your eyes for a life changing moment, and then off into the distance again as if you weren’t there. As long as you stay inside the vessel of habituated trust, namely your game drive vehicle, and behave in the way your guide tells you to.

22 April 2019

Although we can never guarantee a sighting of any specific animal, it is safe to say that no safari in Madikwe would be complete without a giraffe encounter. And fortunately Mateya lies within a Senegalia and Vechellia rich biome, and we have several perennial water sources which means giraffes flourish here. There has been a scientific, and somewhat of a semantic debate, over the speciation of giraffe for a long time mainly due to insufficient research. Until a recent study conducted by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, it was commonly accepted that giraffe consist of one specie and arguably nine subspecies. But said study, focusing purely on genetic material, strongly suggests that there are four distinct species, namely the Southern, Masai, Reticulated and Northern giraffes. Where the semantics come in is with the the definition of the word “specie”, being a group of organisms that can exchange genetic material and interbreed. Although the four suggested species can interbreed under captive conditions, they do not do so in nature where their respective distribution overlaps. Thus the argument has not been concluded yet.
In Madikwe we see the Southern giraffe, and although it is a common sight, the specie as a whole is listed as vulnerable, with a 30% drop in numbers in only the last thirty years.

Mahiwa Brothers

This image is of one of the three Mahiwa brothers, a young and upcoming coalition which we are privileged to view more frequently around Mateya. Male lions born within roughly two years of each other, in the same pride, will almost always stay together for life. And although these three boys are only four years old, at least two years away from their prime, they are displaying stoic character as they explore the sphere of their influence. But, as always with the ebb and flow of nature, this new found success comes at a price to others. The legendary two Linjalo males are retreating in front of the youthful advance, signalling the end of their long and exciting reign.

For interest’s sake, Mahiwa means to give, in Tswana, as they are truly a gift to us guides and our guests. It is not often that three brothers survive into their prime. And Linjalo means wedding, as they, as subadults, curiously joined a wedding held out in the bush years ago, to much excitement and unnecessary panic from the wedding guests. We do not name the animals in Madikwe, out of respect for their wild nature, but we do name coalitions for practical reasons, like tracking and monitoring.

31 DECEMBER 2015

December ranger’s report:

Total rainfall for the month: 7mm. (0.27inc)
Average daytime temperature: 39’C. (102’F)
Maximum Daytime temperature: 45’C. (113’F)
Average night time temperature: 23’C. (73’F)
Minimum night time temperature: 18’C. (64’F)
Sunrise: 5:22AM
Sunset: 6:52PM

And so the last month of 2015 has come and gone. As can be seen on the stats above we’ve had an extremely hot and dry December month. It seems like we are still very much in the grip of the El Nino weather pattern that has affected most of Southern Africa. The little bit of rain that fell in November luckily brought most of the trees out of their dormant stages and they started pushing out leaves. Good news for the browsers like giraffe, kudu and black rhino. But as for the grazers, the tough times are far from over. It seems like the buffalo are the most affected by the drought at this stage. They are losing condition and the amount of buffalo killed by lion is a testament of how weak they are getting. No less than 15 buffalo kills have been recorded in a 5km radius around the lodge. Weather experts say we might start seeing some rain towards the end of March. As tough as a drought is for us with our human emotions to witness, it is and has been for a very long time how nature controls numbers and to make sure that only the strong genes survive.

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 As much as the herbivores are struggling, it is now the time of the predator and the scavenger. We’ve had some amazing sightings with our guests over the last month. From guests seeing a pride of lion kill a buffalo in front of camp to wild dog hunting. Predators feeding on their kills and scavengers fighting over the scraps. Brown hyena and leopard involved in a tug of war with an impala.

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The Matata lioness has had her cubs in the Tswane hills and Francois was lucky to get a glimpse of her carrying one of the cubs to a new den sight. Something a lioness would do with her new born cubs every now and then before another predator or scavenger smells the sent build up.

The pack of wild dogs that became known as the “southern pack” because they’ve been hanging out in the Dwarsberg mountain range in the south of the park has been operating more towards the central and eastern sections of Madikwe. Great new for us in the north eastern section. We’ve seen them quite a few times during the month and they even made a kill a few nights ago in front of camp to the amazement of our guests.

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Even though the lambing season started very late, it seems like most of the impala and quite a few wildebeest has by now given birth. Without fail, they always bring the quite factor to a drive.

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We at Mateya hope you had as good of a festive season as we did here in the bush and we wish everyone a prosperous New Year filled with happiness.

Until next time…

The Mateya team.

OCTOBER & NOVEMBER 2015

October Ranger’s report:

Summer is in full swing here in Madikwe and it’s been the hottest, driest month I can recall. Temperatures has been souring into the high 30’s and low 40’s (98-110 ‘F) on a daily basis. We are also still awaiting our first decent rain for the season and the draught is making life for the animals of Madikwe very tough. Animals have to cover large distances on a daily basis to get to water and back again to feeding grounds afterwards as most of the vegetation around water sources are completely exhausted.

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As for the game viewing, typical to Madikwe the sighting has once again been amazing. As can be expected, the few waterholes that are left are normally very productive. Elephants are seen at the waterhole and around camp on an almost permanent basis. Much to the delight of our guests that can just look up from their decks and you’re almost guaranteed to see an Elephant somewhere. Zebra, Giraffe, Impala, Kudu, Baboon and Wildebeest will also frequent the waterhole during the day.

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We’ve had a few very good Buffalo sightings during the month. One afternoon a very impressive heard of approximately 250 Buffalo came to drink at the camp waterhole. One night on another occasion we found ourselves caught in the middle of a herd as they were moving south over the road we were heading home on. There was a fairly bright moon so we decided to switch the vehicle and all lights off, sit still and just enjoy the sounds and smells of a herd of Cape Buffalo walking around the vehicle. Magical…

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One the Lion front we here in Madikwe are always very lucky with amazing sightings. 100% of the guests that visited Mateya this month had at least one Lion sighting during their stay, most of them more than once. The Keitumetsi pride in the north east currently consists of 2 fully grown females, of which one seems to be pregnant, and 3 sub adult cubs. With the 2 Lenyalo males occasionally joining them. We hope to see some little cub footprints in the sand soon.

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We had amazing sighting with both Leopard and Cheetah during the month as well.

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Two beautiful male Cheetahs arrived during the month from another game reserve and can also now call Madikwe home. A big male Leopard was rescued from a wire snare he was caught in outside of the park. His wounds were treated and he too can now call Madikwe home. We are looking forward to see them out there.

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Until next time…

The Mateya team.

30 SEPTEMBER 2015

September marks the start of spring and was another great month with relative moderate temperatures making it very comfortable out on game drive. We where also lucky to receive our first precipitation for the season, not to much, but every bit helps during this dry spell that has gripped the whole country.

 Game viewing has been fantastic again, with limited water available for the general game making it much easier for the predators to locate their prey.

The lions have not disappointed seeing them on kills, mating and even a few hunting attempts witnessed by guests. A few individual female lions by the look of it have already started looking for potential den sites so we will expect them to show of their new cubs within the next few months…exciting times ahead!

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The cheetahs were also seen on numerous occasions and they are doing very well, on a number of occasions they were also seen with kills. One morning we worked hard tracking them but to no avail…later the afternoon we returned to the area to continue our search only to find that they made a kill during the mid day and finished it within a few hours and was resting in the shade close by. We were also lucky to find a brown hyena den site and on a few occasions watched the sub-adults interact, truly a privileged to be allowed a glimpse into the lives of these elusive and shy creatures.

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This time of the year is also very exciting for the guests interested in birds, with the migrants starting to return for summer the bush comes alive with beautiful bird songs and species to be seen.

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Again guests was very lucky to see a pangolin on a afternoon drive, what a truly special animal to see in the wild… rarer than that you can’t get!

Until next time…

The Mateya team.

31 AUGUST 2015

The winter has flown past and spring is upon us, the bush is still very dry and water scarce. The wildlife sightings though has not disappointed with some truly amazing sightings experienced by our guests.

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I will share with you a few of these incredible moments; the predators have been doing very well as they normally do during the dry periods of the year with the general game being relatively easy to find for them, close to or in vicinity of the few available water sources.

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One such sighting was seeing a coalition of four male cheetahs, at work chasing down and catching a sub-adult zebra right in front of us! Seeing the chase was incredible and one just can’t fathom the cheer pace of these animals. When we arrived in the sighting they were resting late morning under a big marula tree and we all thought this was where they will spend the rest of the day but little did we know they had other ideas…a few minutes later they started moving again and soon after spotted a herd of zebra, the chase was on in an instant and they chased the herd of zebra right past our vehicle. One cheetah just managed to avoid the kicking hoofs of a zebra to the face; which could have been fatal for the cheetah, but in the end they managed to catch one!

Seeing a full on hunt like this is as raw as Africa can get and the guests was in awe sitting there as the cheetah went about suffocating their prey and within minutes it was all over.

The wild dogs have also provided some amazing sightings during the month with their eight new pups and on a few occasions we were fortunate enough to spend some time with them at the den site. The “cute factor” just doesn’t get better than this and seeing these little ones find their feet and running around the vehicles as if we are not even there is just so special and what a privilege it was seeing them. Soon they will be big enough to accompany the adults and leave the den site making it very hard again to find them.

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All in all some great sightings during August, also including a few rarities like Aardvark, African Wildcat, Spotted Genet and even an African cuckoo hawk.

Until next time…

The Mateya team.

31 JULY 2015

Total rainfall for the month: 0mm (0.00 inch.)
Average daytime temperature: 21’C (70’F)
Maximum daytime temperature: 30’C (86’F)
Average nighttime temperature: 8’C (47’F)
Minimum nighttime temperature: 2’C (36’F)
Sunrise: 06:55 am
Sunset: 17:48 pm

A couple of cold front hit the southern parts of South Africa during the month, pushing some cold air our way. So for the first time this season we’ve had a few days that felt like winter and the gloves and beanies had to come out at last.

The nice thing about the cold front is that some of the very shy nocturnal creatures like the Aardvark and Pangolin will be too cold during the night when they are normally most active to go about their business of finding termites to eat. So with a bit of luck you might get a glimpse into the very illusive lives of these extremely shy animals during the daylight hours.

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Philip, Paul and their guests was so lucky to get a once in a lifetime sighting of a female Pangolin with her baby late one afternoon. Most guides are lucky if they see a hand full of these amazing animals in their entire career. But to see a baby…

I thought I’ll share a little information about the illusive Pangolin since so few people get to see them.

The Pangolin looks prehistoric and is unmistakable. The whole upper body and tail as well as the sides of the legs are covered by triangular, overlapping horny plates. The eyes are small and the ears are just slits in the side of the head. The legs are short and heavily built; the forefeet have a nail on the first toe, curved claws on the second, third and fourth toes, and a short claw on the fifth. All five toes of each hind foot have a small nail-like claw. The tail is long and heavy, concave on the inside to accommodate the body when alarmed. Average total length of males is 81cm and weight 13kg, total length for females 87 cm and weight 6kg. The tail is slightly less than half the total length. Diet consists mainly of ants and termites. Single young are born after a gestation of 139 days. The young will first take solid food at 4 weeks.

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Photo Credit: Carmen van der Berg

Pangolin are ssolitary and mainly nocturnal, with occasional daytime activity. Hides during the day in burrows, holes, or piles of vegetation. The Pangolin walks on its hind legs and the front feet rarely touch the ground. It locates ants’ nests by smell and scratches them open with its claws. It licks up the ants with its long (25-40 cm), round, sticky tongue. The tongue folds into a pouch in the mouth when not extended. Pangolins have no teeth. As a defense mechanism the pangolin rolls up in a ball with its head protected by its tail. The scales have sharp edges which can inflict deep cuts as the pangolin slides its tail sideways across its body. The young ride crossways at the base of their mother’s tail; when they are older they ride lengthways on her back. If threatened, the mother rolls up around her offspring, enclosing its head and most of its body.
Until next time…
The Mateya team.

01 JUNE 2015

The month of May here in the southern hemisphere means autumn, the month where summer goes over into winter and quite often it can be a very chilly month. This year it was different as we still had days with maximum temperatures in the mid thirties (+-95’F). The night and early mornings was cool, but beautiful warm days. Our last chance to get rain for the season also came and gone with the end of autumn. A very dry winter lies ahead for the inhabitants of Madikwe.

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Some of our guests this month got involved in conservation work that needed to be done in the game reserve. They sponsored the darting and fitting of satellite collars for a male cheetah and a female buffalo. These collars were fitted for scientific purposes to help ecologists and scientists understand these animals better. Things like movement between night and day, winter versus summer, distances males travel versus females are amongst the things being monitored for about a year before the collar are removed again. What an awesome experience being able to get so close to these wild animals and being hands-on involved in the conservation of an endangered species (cheetah) in a beautiful game reserve like Madikwe. Thank you Mark and Thabang for you contributions.

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The sightings during the month were good as always. Animals start to gather around larger water holes as the amount of surface water starts to decline. Elephant and buffalo sightings are amazing around these water bodies this time of the year.

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We followed Munye, a young male leopard that occupies a territory east of camp, one morning as he was looking for breakfast. He briefly stopped for a second, smelled the air, tilted his head a few times left and right as he tried to pinpoint the sounds and scent he was picking up. Next moment he took off like an arrow from a bow, diving into a small raisin bush. When he stood up he had a scrub hare in his mouth. It was amazing to realize just how acute these animals’ senses are. We never heard a sound, but without seeing the hare, he knew exactly where he was.

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The north eastern pride of lion was successful with a few kills during the month and we were lucky to see them feed on these. The three Madimo’s, a young nomadic coalition of males, were also feeding on a buffalo carcass east of camp for almost a week. We witnessed a big power display between them and 6 hyenas one night on our way home. The sounds that come from such a battle will surely stay with the guests for a long time to come.

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Good news on the cheetah front. The female cheetah Madikwe received a couple of months ago has been released from her quarantine boma (enclosure). She has been roaming Madikwe completely wild for over a week now and has been reported feeding from an impala carcass that she killed herself. We are all keeping our fingers crossed that she does well here with us and that we can look forward to amazing sightings with her and hopefully some cubs.

Until next time…

The Mateya team.

01 MAY 2015

April has flown past in a hurry and the temperatures are dropping fast as we are heading into winter. The bush is still very dry and with a little boost of rain during the month, which will probably be the last rain for the season, we are preparing for a very dry winter for the animals and ourselves.

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The sightings however did not disappoint and we have had some incredible and breathtaking experiences. The highlight during the month was seeing a leopard whom we call “Munye” on a few occasions. One afternoon drive we went out in mind to find the leopard that we also spend tracking the whole morning without success so we intended to follow-up on where we had his last tracks.

Just as the sun was setting we found him going about scouting for potential prey. We followed him until nightfall and all of a sudden he flushed a steenbok out of cover the steenbok got away making a speedy escape. Not five minutes later we watched the cat focusing on something in front of us, we switched of and waited for him to do his thing. He stalked slowly towards whatever he was hearing or seeing. We watched him closely with huge anticipation. Not a single sounds coming from the vehicle, everyone holding their breaths. A spotted flash jumped from its cover and within seconds it was all over. The leopard caught the steenbok and ended it with one bite behind the head killing his prey almost instantly!

The leopard took the steenbok straight up the closest leadwood tree and started plucking the hair from the prey and started feeding, out of reach of any larger predator that might steal his hard earned meal.

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The very next morning we set out to find some buffalo but our plans quickly changed when we picked up on cheetah tracks. Werner and myself worked together trying to cover as much areas and possible directions the cheetahs might have moved to; eventually Werner called me and said he found them…

We followed the four cheetahs for a while not expecting too much action from them seeing as they had full bellies and didn’t look too hungry or eager to hunt. Again with no warning they started chasing ahead of us and to our amazement they chased a female leopard up a tree right in front of us. So there we were sitting with four cheetahs and a leopard in a tree! The cheetahs lost interest in the leopard fairly quickly and moved on. The leopard wasted no time jumping out of the tree and running off trying to put as much distance from the cheetahs as she could. Truly a breathtaking two drives we have experienced!

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In all the sightings has been very good with great predator sightings and big herds of elephant and general game around the waterholes. What a month April was and we are looking forward to the next month, you just never know nature has in store.

Until next time…

The Mateya team,

01 APRIL 2015

Total rainfall for the month: 5mm
Average daytime temperature: 34’C (93’F)
Maximum daytime temperature: 40’C (104’F)
Average nighttime temperature: 19’C (66’F)
Minimum nighttime temperature: 14’C (57’F)
Sunrise: 06:25 am
Sunset: 18:15 pm

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And so the last official month of summer has come and gone. April in this part of the southern hemisphere spells autumn. During the month of March we’ve see very little rain and already the bush is slowly putting on its winter coat. The first trees to start changing their leaves from green to yellow seem to be the Bush willow trees. Most commonly grows on rocky outcrops and around pans. Its leaves are most commonly eaten by kudu, impala, steenbok, elephant and giraffe.

Some of the summer migratory birds like the barn Swallows have started congregating getting ready for their long flight up north to warmer weather.

Because of the low rainfall during the month the big herds of game are once again back in front of the lodge, using the lodge’s waterhole on a daily basis. Elephant being present most of the day to the great enjoyment of the guests. What can be better than having lunch while watching a herd of Elephant enjoying the water.

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We had great sightings of the spotted cats of Madikwe during the month. Both Cheetah and Leopard was seen on a few occasions. The Cheetahs even spend one full day on the lodges door step. That afternoon we followed them as they started getting active and we ended up seeing them kill a fully grown Waterbuck cow. Normally Waterbuck would be a little on the big side for Cheetah to take down, but because these four guys have worked out how to work together as a team, they have surprising success with bigger pray. Amazing to see these fleet footed animals in action.

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Some other highlights during the month…

– Leopard in a tree with a kill during an afternoon drive.

– Leopard in a tree with a kills with a Hyena picking up the scraps under the tree during a night drive.

– Pride of Lion roaring next to the vehicle as the sun went down.

– Brown Hyena cubs.

– 3 Male Lion on a fully grown buffalo kill.

– Lions cubs harassing a couple of Rhino while the adult still took a nap.

– Martial eagle feeding on a monitor lizard.

– Heard of Elephant taking a mud wallow.

– Spotted Hyena feeding with Cheetah on a kill

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 Until Next month…

 

The Mateya team.