Greetings everyone and a very warm welcome to 2011 from all of us here at the Bush house and we hope that all of you had an excellent festive season.
For everyone that has been to Madikwe before during the winter and summer season will know exactly what I am talking about when I speak of the “transformation”. One could notice certain changes in the bush during the spring months but now a whole different bushveld has unfolded before us with a blanket of lush green stretching as far as the eye can see. With most of the trees in flower, lush green grasses and the clean air and every insect you can possibly think of, this all provides for a spectacular place to be in this time of the year.
We have had a fair amount of rain over the last month and this has provided us as field guides with also a fair amount of challenges out on the reserve. Along with lots of rain also comes lots of mud and all the roads with soil that is blackish in colour that get more than 7mm of rain on it become un – drivable, so we become fairly limited to where we can drive but never the less, the reserve still provides us with excellent game sightings.
Dams and seasonal pans have filled up providing good spots for animals to drink just about anywhere and we have had brilliant sightings of elephant and rhino using the muddy patches for wallowing and this of course provides some good entertainment.
Upon arriving at one of the most used dams in the western section (Thlou dam) the one morning I was greatly surprised to see seven Marabou storks there. These large and rather scruffy looking birds are known as the undertakers in the bird world for their fierce looks and scavenging habits and are commonly seen in the Kruger national park. Some storks migrate across the equator but the Marabous are residents in the country and move according to the seasons and in response to changing conditions. A great find!
Lion activity has been very interesting as of late. As we know lions are highly territorial, especially mature males. The southern territory is basically divided into the eastern and western sides with the “Naledi” males in the east and the “Kagala – Etali” males in the west. Around mid December last year there was a huge clash between these two opposing sides with the “Naledis” proving to be stronger and thus seem to be extending parts of their territory further west.
As a result of this the “Kagala – Etali” males were all of a sudden seen in the northern side of the reserve a long distance away and the males which usually occupy the northern parts were seen far down on the southern boundary of Madikwe. It will be very interesting to see how these mighty beasts sort out their territories, hopefully in the near future.
One of the female lions from a pride up in the north had been seen drinking water alone and quite regularly here at the Bush house around late November and it became clear that she was pregnant. Then after not seeing her for a while, all of a sudden she was spotted behind our lodge next to the fence with three brand new cubs. She was also seen hunting at our waterhole and coming to drink again for long periods. The one night we all got a huge surprise when she showed up at our waterhole with her three cubs, it was truly an emotional moment for all who were there. She then disappeared for a while leaving us all guessing where she had gone too and then on the 9th of January she was spotted in a thicket and eventually came out into the road but this time unfortunately she only had two cubs with her.
A lioness will leave her pride to go and give birth in an isolated area with dense thickets and will return to the pride with her cubs within 6 – 8 weeks. During this time, she will keep moving her cubs around to avoid them being killed by other predators and possibly other male lions which might be intruding into the territory. Plus she also still needs to hunt and drinks lots of water to ensure milk production for the cubs, a very tough task and one that deserves much respect.
One sighting that is worth mentioning happened early December last year. My guests at the time were very keen for us to respond to some wild dogs that were spotted close to a waterhole in the east and the easiest way to get there was via the main roads but I decided to take an alternative and more scenic route. On the way, one of the rear tyres on the vehicle had gone flat, so we got delayed a little and I was hoping to get there before it got too dark. The timing turned out to be perfect as we had encountered the dogs moving to the waterhole and joining a male white rhino which was rolling in the mud at the waters edge. The wild dogs were very curious at the rhino’s activities and it was truly a magical experience.
Now on a slightly different note, as most of us are aware that rhino poaching in South Africa has reached an all time high with over three hundred rhinos killed last year county wide. Unfortunately for Madikwe, we had lost our first rhino late November last year. Words cannot describe the feelings of anger and sadness that we all felt upon hearing the tragic news. The issue is one of huge concern and with everyone being more observant and alert to strange activity’s, we hope to win the war against illegal hunting of our precious wildlife both on our countries reserves as well as on the black market where the trading of rhino horn is taking place.
To end this letter off on a more positive note and focus a little on the smaller animals on Madikwe. Quite often people get too distracted and lured by the Big 5 that it is easy to miss the smaller creatures.
Driving along towards the south, I had turned my head for a second as I spotted some Kudu antelope to my left side when one of my guests had noticed three little dark brown animals dash across the road. She described them to me and immediately I knew what they were so I reversed the vehicle back a few meters and spotted one individual that was yet to cross the road and my suspicions were confirmed that it was a group of dwarf mongoose. We could hear the others calling from the other side for their mate with very high pitched squeaky chirps. Another great find!
Well everybody that is all from my side. I wish all of you a prosperous new year and hope to see you soon.
P. S: This female leopard thought she had to make an appearance just before completing this news letter. I have remembered some of our past guests who said that they will return one day for a sighting of one of these beautiful cats.