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Southern Ground Hornbill
Written by Isaiah Banda

Every beginning a new month is so special that we can’t help but continue the amazing sightings on the reserve for our guests. Undertones of the golden winter light are sneaking through as we enjoy one stunning sunset and sunrise after another.

Although temperatures are beginning to drop rapidly, we have been blessed with another bout of rainfall of over 100mm this month, much more than last year same time, which will help top up all the waterholes, saturate the soils and cause the seep lines to flow again. All of which will hold us in great stead as we enter the drier winter.

With the cooler mornings. We take you through impala rutting season on Mabula. Black Backed Jackal wildest song of the bush. We have had some great sightings of lions. Also take you through some interesting facts about elephants. Buffaloes’ herds are starting to congregate together for the coming winter months. Was great to have Gemsbok sightings.

Photos credit – from our guest Freddie Taylor

Eating Machines of Mabula.

Elephants can be described as either eating machines or manure manufacturers, depending on their activity at the time. Elephants are non-ruminant herbivores. They do not chew cud, ruminate or belch as ruminant animals. Instead, they produce methane gas, lots and lots of gas. Properly equipped, a car could travel 20km on the amount of methane produced by one elephant in a single day. Elephants may feed for up to 16 hours a day. One elephant can consume as much as 300kg of food in a single day. This amounts to a yearly quantity of more than 109500kg of food for one elephant.

The normal daily water consumption for an elephant is 150L which amount 54750L of water per year, luckily we have enough water holes on the reserve for these gentle giants to drink. Elephants digest their food with less than 50% efficiency. The massive amount eaten coupled with an inefficient digestive system means lots of manure. An elephant defecates from 12 to 15 times a day, a daily quantity of 100kg. This adds up to a yearly quantity of over 38590kg of manure per adult elephant.

Generally, the size of the ears is directly related to the amount of heat dissipated through them. Elephants usually lives in a hotter, sunnier climate. Here at mabula temperatures can rich over 35 degree celcius and needs larger ears to aid in thermoregulation. Although ears help to regulate body temperature, they are more effective because the ears are larger. Flapping the ears helps to cool an elephant in two ways. In addition to enabling the ears to act as a fan and move air over the rest of the elephant’s body, flapping also cools the blood as it circulates through the veins in the ears. As the cooler blood re-circulates through the elephant’s body, the animal’s core temperature will decrease several degrees. The hotter it is the faster the elephants will flap its ears. On a windy day, however, an elephant may find it easier to simply stand facing into the wind and hold its ears outward to take advantage of the breeze.

An elephant may also spray water on its ears using its trunk, which also will cool down the blood before it returns to the rest of the body. Large ears also trap more sound waves than smaller ones. The ears of an African elephant are enormous. Each ear is about six feet from top to bottom and five feet across. A single ear may weigh as much as 45kg. When an elephant is angry or feels threatened, it may respond by spreading its ears wide and facing whatever it may perceive as a threat. The additional 10 feet ear span tacked on to an elephant’s wide body makes an already imposing animal look even bigger than it may usually appear.

This diamond shape led taxonomists to name the genus for African elephants, “Loxodonta”, which in Latin refers to this diamond shape. There is no real tooth socket. As a molar is formed and utilized by the elephant, it passes through the jaw from back to front in a conveyor belt fashion. There are only four molars in use in an elephant’s mouth at any one time, but an elephant may go through six sets of molars in it’s lifetime. The final set typically erupts when the animal is in its early forties and must last for the rest of its life.

After these last sets of molars wear smooth, an elephant will have difficulty chewing and processing food, which in turn begins to contribute to a decline in the animals overall well-being. Ultimately the progression of teeth can dictate the length of an elephant’s life. There is so much to talk about with elephants. But for now I will leave it here. On your next visit to Mabula be sure to ask your guide to share with you these interesting facts about elephants while on safari.

Impala rutting season on Mabula.

During the start of the winter season Mabula and this time of the year when the days get shorter and the nights get longer, the impala ram’s testosterone levels escalate, and they begin to fight for territory and dominance over female herds.

The impala breeding season, which is known as the rutting season reflects a time when all the male’s energy is directed towards impressing the females. This time of the year is probably the best time to see impalas as there is lots of action amongst the herd during the rutting season.

Male impalas leave their bachelor herds to establish their territories. This is a very tense time as the rams are very aggressive towards other males. To impress the ladies, males show off their strength, agility, and overall health by jumping and leaping around. They also chase the females around, hoping to get their attention– it sure is tough in the animal kingdom.

At first, it is very much just for show, but as the time go on, the fights get more serious and aggressive until the rutting season reaches its peak. Males will hold their heads low to the ground and lock their horns and push each other around. During the fights with other males, their horns can get damaged or even break off. The horns of an impala ram do not grow back, don’t be surprised if you happen to come across a one-horned impala here on Mabula!

Males are heard making a loud snorting and grunting noise that stems from their nasal cavity. The dominant male usually runs around chasing off other males but also herds his females using these sounds. It is hard to believe that the grunting sound comes from such a beautiful antelope. One can easily mistake this sound for that of a predator if you have not heard it before!

Once an impala ram has taken over a territory and has claimed his spot amongst the females, he then has the duty of attempting to mate with as many females as possible. While doing so, he still has to be on the lookout for other males and defend his territory from other bachelors who may want to steal his ladies.

Victorious males can take over a herd of approximately 50 females. He will attempt to mate with all the reproductive ewes and will never mate with the same female more than once. Mating usually happens over a short period which is roughly over two weeks. Due to mating taking place so close together, the females are usually pregnant at the same time and will give birth around the same time. This successful breeding strategy is what contributes to their large numbers.

For a ram, this is not the best time of their life. With all the fighting, defending their territory and mating over a few weeks, the majority are either dethroned from their territory or killed in a fight. A male’s condition will also deteriorate during the rutting season. With all the mating and fighting it’s no wonder that there is no time to eat or groom. The number of ticks on a male’s body increases which means that they lose their condition quickly.

This weakens the ram and gives his competitors the opportunity of taking over the herd to get their genetics into the mix. Predators use the rutting season to their advantage. Rams become an easy target when they are tired and distracted so they don’t always notice or hear a predator sneaking up on them.

Some males can remain dominant in the herd for up to eight days before being pushed out by a stronger male. The male who has been pushed out of the herd won’t just sit back. He will start to feed and condition himself before trying to compete for his herd again. It is a tough job trying to impress the ladies! When a new male takes over a herd of females, it allows for the spread of genetics, which prevents inbreeding and ensures that only the strongest genes are passed on to future generations.

Once the rutting season has ended, we see the impala rams tolerating one another again as they re-form bachelor herds. Males usually stay together in bachelor herds with other males, while females stay together in herds with their young. After a six-to-seven-month gestation period, the females begin to have their babies. This is the start of the “cute season” which is generally around late November through to January each year.

The reserve comes alive with all the new-born running around so it is something very special to witness. Who could resist the sight of a tiny and cute impala lamb! With the arrival of all the babies, predator activity naturally increases, so who knows, you may get to see a lot more action than you expected! You may even be lucky enough to witness a hunt.

Next time you are on safari here on Mabula, look out for the impala. You may have seen them a few times on your safari drives, but you never know, it may just be worth sticking around and watching the herd for a while. You never know what could happen!

Lions of Mabula – Did you know that even Lions Like To Cuddle?

Lion snuggles look adorable, but they betray evidence of the often-violent life that lions lead. Cuddling may help to reinforce friendships that become necessary to protect a lion’s territory from intruders. Life is tough, if you’re a lion. Male lions are always at risk of being killed by groups of rival males, or, if they’re lucky, exiled from their prides.

Lionesses, meanwhile, always face the possibility of having their cubs killed when a new male coalition takes over their group.

Our pride, which is the core social grouping of lion life, is made of six members, including the offspring’s. While the males are usually related to each other, they’re unrelated to the females. Females can give birth at the same time or on different times and the cubs are nursed communally if birth occurs at the same time between the females.

Eventually, the males leave their pride and create their own coalitions, while the females usually stick around with their sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins, and grandmothers. Once they form a coalition, the males might try to acquire an existing pride by fighting with its resident males. If they win, the new coalition takes over, gains more territory, and usually kills off all the cubs. They can then begin mating with the pride’s females. Now, it’s their turn to protect their pride and territory from a hostile takeover.

There are two most obvious affiliative behaviours that occur among lions are head rubbing and licking.

Head rubbing is when one lion bends its head towards the head, neck, or most often, under the chin of a second lion, and nuzzles up against it. The behaviour provides not only tactile stimulation, but it may also play a role in sensory communication. It isn’t yet clear why, but lions often rub their heads on surfaces before scent-marking them with urine, suggesting that compounds that occur on their heads are somehow involved in olfactory communication. Licking has hygienic benefits, to be sure, but might also fulfil the same social purpose as grooming among primates and other mammals.

Head rubbing is mostly done by the males. Coalitions engage in high-risk cooperative behaviours, such as territorial defence against nomadic coalitions. Because the numerical odd against intruders is a good predictor of the outcome of a fight, larger coalitions can stay longer in a pride and can enjoy higher per capita reproductive success.”

Since males must always be ready to defend their pride from interlopers, it makes sense that they would constantly need to ensure close bonds with the other males in their coalitions. Having a tight-knit group makes the male coalition more likely to win a fight against a group of trespassers, and, in turn, this increases the probability that their cubs will survive to adulthood.

Lions’ cuddles are more than just cheerful or friendly interactions. No, they’re far more tactical. Lion snuggles betray evidence of the often-brutal life facing lions on the savannah. Indeed, for a lion death is always around the corner. And the best safeguard against death is having good friends.

On safari, one of the best sounds to hear, will always be the long deep call of a territorial male lion. There are so many questions it evokes in guests on safaris when they hear them roar, like why lions vocalise and why they’d want to let everyone know of their presence? The answer for this one is simple, dominant male lions will vocalise when on a territorial walk to often alert other males who are not part of their pride or coalition, about them being on patrol, hoping to ward them off. Or even ask other males when they roar by asking “Who’s Land is this”? And when they are not answered they will answer themselves by saying “My land, my land”.

Another reason for a lion’s calls is communication, either between males in a coalition or females in a pride. When lions separate from one another, be it for a long or short period, they will call out to one another. This is more of a soft, light call known as “contact calling”. Lion vocalisations can travel a fair distance depending on the area and the terrain. Lions can hear a call up to around 10 kms away whereas for us humans it is generally around 6-8 kms.

Big cats, such as lions, have a small chain of bones collectively known as the suspensorium. This runs from deep within the ear on both sides to smaller bones at the root of the tongue and close to the windpipe. The suspensorium in lions is elastic and allows for freedom of movement, and this allows for a much deeper and louder call resulting in a roar. Only true big cats have this ability to vocalise with a deep call, such as lions and leopards. For many guests to hear a lion’s roar out in the wild is a dream, but it is certainly one that can become a reality

Wildest song in the bush, but hauntingly beautiful sounds.

A lion’s roar or hyena’s whoop are considered “iconic”. But the song of the jackal is one of the wild’s most hauntingly beautiful sounds, easily on par with spine-tingling wolf howls in other parts of the world. As dusk descends, the haunting lupine melody of the continent’s most underestimated carnivore cuts through the air and raises goosebumps on the skin.

Nearly anyone on safari they will tell you it is likely to encounter a black backed jackal at some point, often around a lion kill and very seldom at the centre of attention, however here at Mabula they are very common on Safari.

Although they are expert opportunists and masterful lurkers with iron-clad stomachs capable of handling everything from rotten carcasses to berries and even lion faeces. As underappreciated species go, jackals are very close to the top of the African safari list. Without the rarity factor, they are generally overlooked or dismissed. This is unfortunate as they are fascinating, intelligent, social and, on occasion, clownish creatures. Besides, any animal that dares to snatch the scraps out from beneath a hungry lion’s nose should be entitled to automatic respect.

Not to be confused with foxes, jackals are taller and stockier than the various members of the Vulpes genus, with longer, more obviously wolf-like facial features. As the name indicates, the black-backed jackal can be distinguished by the saddle of black that runs across the centre of the back, while the stripe of the side-stripped jackal is often indistinct.

As they are monogamous, there is minimal sexual dimorphism between male and female jackals. The bond between mated pairs is profound and may last for several years – usually the duration of their lifespan. The couples are almost inseparable and cooperate in virtually every aspect of their joint lives. This includes foraging and, on occasion, hunting cooperatively to bring down larger prey. In East Africa, jackals are renowned for a tendency to target Thomson’s gazelle fawns. One member of the duo will fend off the spirited defence of the mother while the other lunges for the fawn. There is even anecdotal evidence of jackals using a “fascination display” to lure prey or distract larger predators from their meals. They lie down and squirm comically, attracting curious prey close enough to grab or infuriating a predator to the point that it temporarily forsakes its kill, only for the jackal to leap up and snatch a bite.

The breeding pair will also join forces to defend territories against other jackals, and the death of one partner has dire consequences for the survivor, usually involving the loss of territory and subsequent displacement. Territorial boundaries are ignored when a large carcass is present, and not even the pair’s combined efforts are sufficient to deter trespassers. A successful couple will raise several litters of puppies throughout their lives, some of which will stay on to help their parents with the subsequent litter before dispersing. This we witness a lot on Mabula. We have lots of dens around the reserve and it is always a pleasure for each guide to see these pups grows up to an adulthood. The pups are born in a den, which is usually an abandoned aardvark or warthog tunnel, but the female may excavate the tunnel herself.

She remains with the helpless pups for up to three weeks or longer until they emerge above ground on wobbly legs. During this time, the male and any older offspring will forage for her and regurgitate food upon their return. As the pups grow and begin to explore, she will join forces with the rest of her family to provide for their voracious appetites. All family members will bravely defend the pups against predators several times their size, snapping and snarling at hyenas or dashing in front of lions to draw them away from the vulnerable puppies. Naturally, this means that having older offspring “helpers” has a direct bearing on pup survival, particularly for larger litters.

Why Are African Buffalo So Dangerous?

Generally, a herd of buffalo is fairly passive, and they will behave much like cows, all stampeding if one runs in the herd. It is the ‘dagga boys’, the older lone bulls that can be extremely dangerous. Lacking the protection on the herd, they feel that the best defence is attack. They are notorious for over-reacting and will charge at the slightest irritation.

Their body language is difficult to read. They show very few signs of aggression or aggravation before they charge, very rarely giving a warning charge. Once they are committed, they will follow through with the intent to injure or kill whatever has offended them. The sharp curved horns can be used as a battering ram and with a flick of their muscular neck and head they can easily send a human flying.

The differences between a male and female of the same species is known scientifically as sexual dimorphism. In many animals the difference is obvious, for example, a male lion with his large mane compared to the absence of a mane in females. With buffalo, however, it can be a challenge to tell them apart. Males are bigger than females but it can be difficult to differentiate at first glance. Both male and female carry the characteristic curved horns, but the shape and size of the horns can be the telling point.

African Buffalo are one of the favourite prey species for lions, being too large for most other predators. Lion have to use their size and strength in numbers if they are to have any chance against a buffalo. Making a formidable defence with their sharp horns and strong hooves, they pose a massive danger to lions and can really cause some damage. Often, herds will stand together creating a wall of horns, at which point lions have no attack.

However, if the herd loses their nerve and runs, the lions can take advantage of the chaos and confusion and single out an individual, usually the young or old.African Buffalo are gregarious animals preferring to live in herds for most of their life. On Mabula area like Rainmeter plains, long winding and dunhill drive are good areas to find buffalo herds. They are bulk grazers and need to keep moving. Having a home range means they can keep moving, which allows the grazing to recover whilst they are in other areas.

The older males tend to leave the herds and spend most of their time alone or in small groups.

They prefer to find places usually around water with thick bush to shelter. They are known as ‘dagga boys’, a slang term for mud, and refers to the fact that these old males enjoy much of their time relaxing in mud baths. The breeding herds are made up of females, youngsters and males that have not left the herd yet.

Gemsbok of Mabula.

It was also wonderful to see gemsbok one afternoon on the southern side of the reserve at blackbaas quarry. The Oryx genus is part of the larger Hippotraginae subfamily, also known as the grazing antelope. This subfamily includes Sables as well as roan antelopes. the gemsbok is the only oryx that is not vulnerable, endangered, or extinct in the wild. It is the largest species of the genus, with males standing about 1.2m at the shoulder and weighing up to 240kg.

Interesting part about gemsbok, are adapted to living in arid areas where daytime temperatures can easily exceed a sweltering 50˚C. A human exposed to such scorching weather would soon be awash with sweat in an involuntary physiological effort to cool down. However, the oryx does not have the luxury of wasting precious water on sweat unless absolutely necessary. Instead of fighting a losing battle, oryx metabolisms are adapted to run at higher temperatures than most other mammals. The body temperatures could increase to over 46˚C before they began to perspire. This is primarily due to the carotid rete – a network of blood vessels that essentially “trick” the brain’s hypothalamus into thinking the animal is cooler than it is.

Blood travelling from the carotid artery divides into fine blood vessels that run parallel to a network of veins carrying cooler blood from the oronasal passages. The arterial blood is cooled as it passes the cooler venous blood and then flows into the brain, cooling it slightly. The thermoreceptors in the hypothalamus typically respond to increased internal temperatures by triggering sweating and panting, which results in a loss of moisture due to evaporation. Even a small cooling effect on the receptors can conserve considerable amounts of body water. Thus, selective brain cooling is closely correlated to dehydration or lack of available water rather than external temperatures. This process is complex and is regulated by different physiological factors, including the salt concentration in body fluids.

In addition to the carotid rete, the kidneys of the oryx are specialised to reabsorb as much water as possible from the urine and oryx show greater water reabsorption levels from the colon. These methods, along with certain behavioural modifications and specialised feeding, allow some oryx species to survive without drinking for up to 10 months at a time! We are very priveldge to have these antelope on Mabula and also doing very well.

Sunset on Mabula.

Coming on a safari on Mabula is an amazing experience, you just never know what you’re going to see, which adds to the excitement of the whole experience. The bush is full of awesome sights, such as of course the animals, the spectacular landscapes and the views. One of my favourite parts of being a guide here in Mabula is getting to watch the sunset nearly every day and if you ask me it’s a must do. Especially with a glass of wine or gin and tonic in hand and some snacks.

But why exactly does the sky become a beautiful mixture of red yellow and orange? The light that leaves the sun as we see it is white, but light is made up of several different colours, these colours have different wave lengths in which they travel in, red, orange and yellow having long wave lengths and green, blue, indigo and violet being a short wave lengths. When these light waves enter the atmosphere they bounce off all of the tiny particles in the air. Because of the size of the blue light wave it gets scattered more than the rest, which is why the sky is blue when the sun is over head.

During the sunset however, the sun is much lower in the sky, so the light must travel through more atmosphere and in turn through more particles in the air to get to your eyes. Because the red, orange and yellow wave lengths size being longer it is less effected by the particles. So by the time the light gets to you during a sunset all the blue light has scattered so much that it is no longer visible and the red orange and yellow remain and the same applies for the sunrise.

So next time you watching the sunset, whether its in the bush at Mabula Game Lodge or back at your home take a quick thought to how amazingly beautiful it is.

That’s it for this month. We can’t wait to see what happens in May.

Until next time…
From Isaiah Banda & Mabula family.
Safari Greetings

Images courtesy of: Isaiah, Sam and guest Freddie Taylor.