As the sun slowly rises over the horizon the dawn chorus of a new day starts. Crested Francolins call in duet and the birds of prey start to warm up, desperately waiting to catch a morning commute with the rising thermals. For those of you who have visited us before during February, you will know the feeling. It’s a feeling quite impossible to describe. It’s the moment when a wild place steals your heart unexpectedly. It’s all those small encounters and experiences that create this home-away-from-home, your special place. Mabula.
This month we invite you to fall in love in Mabula. Whether you’re on Honeymoon or with family or friends or travelling solo – allow the magic of safari to sweep you off your feet.
If herds of elephants roaming through terminalia thicket making their way to Mvubu dam; nights sequinned with a million stars; and spotting lions across a clearing on Serengeti plains, playful jackals on kieviets plain, in the dawn light isn’t romantic – then we don’t know what is…
Let me share with you our safari moments and experience this month.
Best giraffe sighting ever.
Sitting in silence and observing the behavior as well as mannerisms of these colossal creatures is without a doubt something to cherish and remember for years to come.
A truly humbling experience is to be in the presence of one of Mabula’s many giants. Being up close to a giraffe allows you to focus on some of the finer details on this animal, whether it be the structure of the patterns on their fur or the bumps that seem to grow all over their head.
These are calcium deposits that develop as males get older, the idea is that the deposits make the head heavier so when fighting they can swing it with more momentum as well as protect the head while “necking” with another bull.
Luckily for us, being up here in Mabula Game Reserve allows us the opportunity to view these giants very frequently, on a daily basis. Seldomly from afar, but for the most part extremely close, sometimes even making regular appearances in and around kiviets plain around the lodge, drinking at Pitsi Pan, where guests have oppoturnity to veiw them and see how tall they are from ground level. If you get the opportuinty while taking a walik around the lodge parameter, use it to enjoy every moment with them.
Due to their relaxed, docile nature as well as how accustomed these specific animals have become to us guides and our vehicles on the reserve, it has enabled us to appreciate these animals even more and allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of their social structure and the daily tasks that they undergo for survival. Something that resonates with a lot of people.
As majestic, prominent and dignified as giraffe are, they also play a principal role in maintaining the ecosystem around them as well as keeping these ecosystems in balance. They browse the foliage that other animals cannot necessarily reach, which in turn promotes growth of forage and opens up areas for themselves and other smaller browsers to make use of. In other words, this means that by protecting giraffes, we are protecting other species too. Their lives are so intertwined with acacia trees that some specific seedlings do not germinate until they have passed through the giraffe’s digestive system.
Not many of us are aware of the concern surrounding the giraffe population today, but over the past few years, due to habitat loss, poaching, disease and war, the population of these famed creatures has taken a turn for the worst. But through amazing conservation efforts in reserves like Mabula, these amazing giants continue to grow and prosper, despite all the challenges they are faced with in today’s world. Nonetheless, we have been loving having these large ‘Journeys of giraffe’ out on Mabula clearings.
The elegance and grace of Mabula’s giants.
No one can argue that watching a herd of elephants or even just one lone bull is fascinating – not only in terms of observing their behaviour but also admiring their unique physical features. From their sheer enormity in size, the dexterity of their trunks, the complexity of their skin, the stunning long eyelashes, the list just goes on.
The Elephant sightings have been absolutely spectacular on the reserve this month. Elephants are amazing in that they are always doing something, if it does not involve water, they will also be seen roaming through the open crests, enjoying the marula fruit or any other lush vegetation and grass available. Watching them follow each other or mimic the older ones is also a favourite.
When elephants are at waterhole, either Mvubu or Ngulubi dam are always amusing in summer. They need to drink on a daily basis up to 150l of water, but with the heat of summer around, they will take any opportunity to use the water to help cool themselves down. Watching them throwing water into their trunks to spray behind their ears or scooping up a pile of mud to throw on their backs is always great fun. And it was not long that they were in the water.
Occasionally being lucky enough to watch them fully immerse themselves in the water and swim or roll around in the water playfully climbing on top of each other it is something you can watch the whole day and not want to leave. We have wathced elephants swim on one of the dams, and all you hear on the safari vehicle from everyone’s mouth is why did the finish swimming so quick. Unfortunately they have to go and eat up to 300kg to remain healthy. I guess if they stay in the water and swim day and night we will enjoy it and even forget to go for our own dinner, however it will not do good for them to swim and entertain us without eating. I always feel so special when I see my guests appreciating every moment they get to see these animals while out on safari. You will never get tired of seeing these creatures everyday, because they are always doing something.
It is always amazing to see them get in the water and begins to swim. I think they are even better swimmers than me. Elephants live in matriarchal groups with anywhere between a few to a few dozen individuals, all led by an older female. Within this group, there is the matriarch, her sisters, their offspring and even the next generation of offspring. It’s a multigenerational society and they do everything together – from feeding or mud wallowing to helping raise each other’s young.
Elephants have fantastic long term memories, which plays a critical role in their cultural lives. Having the ability to remember and recognise both friends and enemies. Elephants will travel extremely far in search of water. They have a great acuity of smell, detecting water sources up to 20 km away. Isnt that amazing? I personally think it is remarkeable. Imagine if we can do that.
Elephants can also sense underground water sources, and will dig holes to find underground springs in times of drought. Mabula has lots of waterholes which supply them with water during summer and winter months, they don’t have to walk a long distance in search of water. However when they are around the lodge they dig out water pipes and drink fresh water from the borehole.
Mother lioness and cubs and pride update.
Over the past few months it’s been very special watching the cubs of our lion pride develop and growing. Our lions’ cubs were the first sighted on safari in September 2021 on Lake Kyle gully where the mother was hiding them. Lionesses prefer to den in the gully as it is safer for the cubs for the first eight week since it is critical time for their survival.
Over the past couple of weeks this month, there have been even further exciting developments. If you rememeber last year in April new males were introdused on the reserve as part of getting new genes and bloodline on our lions. During that time one of our young lioness decided not to join the males and stayed alone. She has been walking alone for almost a year and everytime avoiding males when coming close to area where she operated.
Beginning of this month she decided to join the pride. She chose a better time of the year to join the pride on a month of love. I think it was a great move by her. It is this time that she made me realize that even animals knows that it is indeed the month of love. We all thought that males are going to attack her and injure her, but istead they showed her love and accepted her back on the family. It is great to see all of them together, hunting together as one complete pride. All the guides are very happy to see her back with the pride. She is one of the most relaxed female around safari vehicles. We are all looking forward to see how the situation will unfold between her and males going forward. She has already taken her role back as a striker of the pride wheich she used to occupy this role prior introduction of new males. These cubs are already learning a lot from her when it comes to hunting prey.
Mother cheetah, cubs and resident cheetah male update.
Five months ago these cheetahs cubs were born on the southern side of the reserve close to the area called Danie Joubert. Since then they have explored all the corners of the reserve and all three are doing very well.
It is always a great privilege to spend time out in the field and immerse yourself in nature, whether it be stoping at sundowner spot with your favourate drink of your choice, listening to the bush around you or out in the field watching animals go about their business, it is always special and something that we should never take for granted. But, with so much time spent in the bush, a single moment of magic amongst many is difficult to choose. So what is this single moment of magic I’m referring to you might ask? Well, have you ever had one of those moments, where everything comes together right in front of you without you doing anything, or putting in very much effort at all? Well… this was one of those moments. We decided to follow cheetah male on the Northern side of the reserve along Top Road. With tracks on the road we realized that female and cubs might be ahear of himand he was following them. He was busy marking certain bushes along the way as part of his taritorial patrol. Whilst doing so, cheetahs often use termite mounds and fallen over trees to not only mark their territory but also as a vantage point to scan the area for any other predators or prey that may be near by.
We had been with this particular cheetah for about half an hour. Looking ahead I saw a female and cubs. The male decided to go off the road and lie down, we proceeded to the female and her cubs to we can have a sighting of them.
Looking close to her, I saw a fallen over tree and, in discussing the options with the guests, made the call to drive little past the cheetah in the hopes he would jump up onto this fallen over tree. It was a big call, but she was looking in the direction of the tree and, understanding cheetah behaviour, I thought we stood a decent chance of him jumping up and posing for us one last time before sunset. In the meatime cubs were busy playing up and the karee the female was sitting.
She took her time looking into the direction of the tree and the sun continued to set. It was a race against time, would we get to see him on the fallen over tree before darkness. Would my plan work out? These are all questions rushing through my mind.
Well, this is the time when as a guide you feel like a hero, for predicting the right behaviour. Cheetah approached the tree, jumped up and posed absolutely perfectly! It was an incredible moment and even though it only lasted a minute or two, was a great way to end and incredible day out on safari. A moment and a memory that my guests and I will carry with us for many years to come.
Bulky beasts of Mabula.
It’s fascinating to spend time observing these bulky beasts as they go about their days. As bulk grazers, buffalo have an important role to fill in the reserve ecosystem. They convert long grasslands into shorter grassy environments which are better suited to other grazers. Buffalo dung is also an extremely good fertilizer, restoring much-needed nutrients and nitrogen to the soil. This helps seeds germinate and plants grow.
Another critical role buffalo perform in the ecosystem is ‘tick management’. Buffalo are able to carry huge infestations of these parasites, which provides much-needed sustenance to the oxpeckers that are always seen hanging on to their hides. Without buffalo, tick populations can explode and have a negative impact on the other smaller animals on which they feed. Some smaller animals can even die as a result of anaemia caused by ticks feeding off them.
Come join us on a Mabula game lodge safari drive to get up and close to Mabula’s magnificent African buffalo. We are very privileged to have on the reserve and be able to see them every day.
Sassy in Stripes of Mabula.
With their amazing coat patterns and bubbly, playful personalities, zebras make for a mesmerising sight. Mabula is home to the Plains zebra, the most abundant of three species of zebra.
Unlike most antelopes, zebras are active and noisy animals which don’t make much effort to hide when predators are nearby. When a zebra spots a predator, it will often begin snorting and grunting to alert the rest of the herd. Even when confronted with the predator, a zebra may choose to fight off the attacker using its powerful backwards kick. If a zebra is attacked, other zebras circle around to help protect it.
Like all members of the horse family, zebras are ungulates. They walk on tiptoe on a single central toe, which is protected by the hoof. Zebras have four gaits – walking, trotting, cantering, and galloping. At full speed, a zebra can run between 50 – 60 kilometres per hour. Zebras live in family herds that typically consist of a dominant male (stallion), several females (mares) and their children. These family groups are called harems. Plain’s zebras also tend to integrate well with other grazers. They can often be seen coexisting peacefully with kudu, wildebeest, and impala.
Although zebras are some of the most commonly seen mammals seen on safari here on Mabula, no safari would be the same without their striking stripes, cute babies, and fascinating qualities
Mabula bodies of water have a life of their own.
Our dams are home to water birds, small aquatic animals, fish and the “Big Boss” of the water, the hippopotamus. The name ‘hippopotamus’ originates from Ancient Greek. The word means ‘river horse’.
We can agree with the ‘river’ part, but when thinking of animals similar to the hippo, ‘equine’ doesn’t quite spring to mind! Perhaps the Afrikaans people came a little closer with the word ‘seekoei’, which translates to ‘sea cow’. Although some may agree that the hippo is more similar to a cow than a horse, the closest living relative of the hippo is, in fact, the whale.
Hippos are able to peep out the water without exposing their whole head and bodies. Their bodies are designed in such a way that their sensory organs are situated on the top of their heads. This means that and they peer from the depths with only their ears, ears and noses sticking out of the water. You may be surprised to learn that even though hippos spend most of the day in the water, they are unable to swim or float. Rather, they stand or walk on surfaces below the water.
When underwater, hippos are able to hold their breath for up to seven minutes, although they usually come up to take a breath every three minutes or so. They are excellent sleepwalkers – even when they’re sleeping, they will instinctively rise to the surface every few minutes to breathe. When underwater, they can also close their ears and nostrils and ears to prevent water from entering. This means that hippo calves can suckle on land or underwater.
You’ll notice that a hippo’s eyes and ears have a pinkish tinge to them. This is due to a red substance they secrete which acts as a sunblock and moisturiser to their sensitive skins. It’s only at night that hippos leave their watery domains to feed on plants. They can cover up to 10km while grazing and guzzle down up to 35kg of grub!
If you’re lucky enough to be coming home from your afternoon safari at Mabula at precisely the right time, you may see the hippos leaving the water for the evening to graze. Seeing them out the water is fascinating, and you can truly appreciate why they are the third largest land mammal after the elephant and white rhino. And when there’s a baby in sight, be prepared for a cuteness overload!
Every sunset brings promise of a new dawn on Mabula.
As temperature start to drop, the clouds began to change colour, and soon the entire sky began to change colour from this incredible blue to a mixture of blue, red, orange, and yellow and as the sun slowly set, the colours grew brighter and within a matter of minutes, the entire sky has erupted with these warm colours, it is incredible to experience this. I keep trying to think of a way to explain what it looked like and all I can think of is an explosion of colour in the sky.
Sunsets to me resemble the end of a day and the soon to be beginning of a new day. No matter what the day brought, all it takes is a few moments to stop and watch and it’s like magic – a sense of calm, like time, has slowed down almost to a stop, and for those brief moments taking in the colours, the shapes of the clouds and the last warmth of the daytime seem to stand still, and everything is beautiful.
This I do believe is the best way to end a day on safari.
Until next time…
From Isaiah Banda & Mabula family.
Images courtesy of: Isaiah, Sharon, Marguerite, Frans and Tshepo.