Like the quick transition from night to day, Summer has arrived literally overnight. Winter this year (May to August in our part of the World) was harsh by normal standards, in that it was bitterly cold in the early mornings, and as soon as the sun sets in the late afternoon, again time to wrap up really warmly. Our guests were treated not only with hot water bottles in bed at night, but also on game drive, which made all the difference.
The rainy season usually starts in October, and we cannot wait! Our last rainy season was well below our normal annual average of 550mm, and as a result the veld is now exceptionally dry. Being in the bush, we are totally reliant on underground water for Lodge needs and can see from our boreholes that the water table has dropped significantly.
Although this is a harsh environment, it is amazing to see how well the wild animals are doing. The browsers and grazers (Kudu, Gnu, Impala, Zebra etc.) are all in great condition - no ribs showing, well covered, shiny coats. You often wonder what it is they find to eat at this time of the year! Let there be no doubt as to how amazing Nature is.
The dry season has it's up-side, and can result in some unusual sightings at our waterhole. Klipspringers, one of the smaller buck species, whose name literally translates as "rock jumpers" are designed by nature to live on the side of rocky hills and mountains. Their feet and hooves are shaped so that they always appear to be standing on "tip-toes" and they are extremely agile jumping between rocks. These small buck are almost never seen on flat ground.
Because of the general shortage of natural water at present, the family of four Klipspringers that live in the hillside behind the Lodge have had to visit the waterhole. This they do on a regular basis now, and always drink right in front of our new Hide, giving guests the amazing opportunity to snap a close-up of these seldom seen animals.
Adult elephants need to eat approximately 200kg's of food per day to stay healthy, and at this time of the year feed more and more on trees. They will eat the softer branches, leaves and thorns, but the outer layer of bark on thicker branches and stems is full of nutrients, and is a favourite.
At the back of the waterhole in front of the Lodge are three large sweetthorn acacia trees, which have been growing strongly for several years now. One has met it's demise and it has been interesting to watch. One elephant will get the idea of starting on the tree, and obviously others in the herd will follow suit. As different herds came to the waterhole, they too would have a go at this particular tree, until there was nothing left besides the bark stripped main trunk. Perhaps it is the scent of previous elephant activity at the tree, or the smell of freshly broken branches, but without fail, every herd that passed by would have a share in that tree.
All of the dryness, dust, damaged trees will soon be forgotten with the first good rains. It truly is a miracle to see how, even after such hard times, the bushveld comes to life, almost in an instant.
The Reserve, although extremely large at 76,000 hectares, needs to be managed very closely by the Ecologist and Park Managers to ensure a balance in game species. This starts with the annual Game counts to establish what is in Madikwe, followed by a series of calculations and projections for each species, including projected new births, and expected mortalities as a result of predators.
The balance between predators and prey species is vital, so that ultimately prey species can sustain themselves. This year has seen the introduction of almost 4,000 herbivores to help re-gain the balance, and will be followed by simular numbers again next year.
The other side to this coin is keeping predator numbers in check in relation to the habitat and available food sources. Lions were the biggest imbalance in terms of predators, and numbers have been reduced by re-locating to other parks in Southern Africa. Fear not, although numbers have been reduced, lions are still seen regularly on game drive and at our waterhole.
Recent visitors to our waterhole have been waterbuck, a species that occurs in Madikwe, but has never seen before in our part of the Reserve. This was a special treat for us, and glad to say they have now become regulars here.
Waterbuck have a very oily skin, partly to offer some protection when they spend time in water. Unlike most other buck species that flee when under threat of attack by predators, waterbuck usually stay somewhere close to water, and run into water and stay there if under attack.
We saw the practical side of this a few evenings ago when two wild dogs (African painted dog) chased the waterbuck near the Lodge. The waterbuck ran straight into the middle of the waterhole, with just it's head and neck out of the water, and stayed there until the dogs gave up the hunt.
Not so lucky a couple of mornings later was an Impala ram that was chased into our electric fence by wild dogs, who then set about eating their prey. Because there were only two wild dogs involved, they were unable to finish the Impala. As soon as they had their fill, the dogs disappeared, only to return that evening to carry on where they left off.
Their feast was relatively short-lived, as a huge elephant bull, making his way to the waterhole took exception to the dogs, and chased them away. The remainder of the Impala carcass never went to waste, and was finished off, bones and all by hyenas.
Elephants, as illustrated above, hate having other animals around near a waterhole, and in their space. I guess when you are the largest animal around, you can call the shots,and it is often great fun to see even the youngest elephants practising the art of chasing away anything else that comes down to drink.
This big elephant bull lost the battle of the chase. A large herd of buffalo had come down to drink. The elephant took exception, and while he managed to cause some disturbance with the buffalo, was simply outnumbered, and having made his feelings clear, had to wander off, without losing too much face!
Our last newsletter was dedicated to the story of The Hide at the waterhole at Bush House; the idea behind it, the construction phase and the fun we had with that through to ultimate completion.
The Hide has turned out better than we ever could have imagined from a guest experience and photography point-of-view. Comments from guests have been amazing, and many have had "a once in a lifetime experience."
How about the guests who were sitting in the Hide, elephants drinking immediately in front of them. One of the elephants noticed or smelt humans around, sucked up a trunk of waterhole water, and sprayed the guests through the front opening. Bet you have never had a shower from an elephant!
Then there was the ultimate Lion experience. One of our American guests rightly said that he wasn't going to waste time sleeping, and was down in the Hide on his own very late one night. He was sitting in the dark, watching the floodlit waterhole with the front grill closed. A pride of lions arrived for a drink, and decided to investigate the Hide. The guest took a video with his mobile phone of the lions peering in at him right up close and personal through the front grill. The short clip is on YouTube, and for certain, this gentleman will remember that experience for the rest of his life!
Another overseas guest, who has become a regular with us, said to me today - "I felt as if I could have reached out and touched that elephant", as well as the guest who wrote on Trip Advisor "Have you ever seen an Ellie's Belly or been so close you feel you could almost touch it."
As we said in our last newsletter, it is difficult to put such experiences into words. There is only one solution ………
Come and experience the Hide at Bush House for yourself!
Gordon & Sue.