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Mabula Private Game Reserve has been a captivating sight this month, filled with vibrant life and breathtaking beauty. We’ve experienced freezing mornings, warm winter days, and chilly nights. As always, the reserve is brimming with wildlife and birdlife, and while the grass has thinned out to allow for improved game viewing, the remaining flora is just stunning. It’s been an enchanting time indeed.

One afternoon, we were treated to a remarkable sighting of an Aardwolf. We watched it scent-marking and darting around the Rainmeter plain, eventually disappearing into an Aardvark hole.

Admiring flora and fauna around the lodge

This month, I explored the lodge area on foot in search of something intriguing. I received a warm welcome from the resident Nyalas and Klipspringers. The Nyalas stole the show with their thriving population – it has been such a joy to witness their numbers grow rapidly over time.

The birdlife around the lodge is truly remarkable. When you stroll to Mvubu deck, you’ll be greeted by various birds serenading you with their beautiful songs and melodies. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is; a leisurely walk around the lodge always rewards you with this delightful experience.

I could identify a few birds during my walk, and I snapped a few pictures before they flew away.

I was amazed by how many birds I saw in just an hour. I was even lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a tawny eagle.

Tawny eagles, like most eagles, are versatile carnivores and skilled hunters. They have a varied diet comprising fresh carrion from recently deceased animals. Additionally, they consume insects and prey on smaller creatures like hares, lizards, and snakes. When the eagle spots its prey, it swiftly dives from its perch and captures it with its sharp, powerful talons.

A striped kingfisher peers down at some prey. These pretty little birds are often in trees with thick cover, so it was nice to see one out in the open.

A crested francolin, a ground-dwelling bird, has much more to worry about and will give off a sharp warning call upon sighting a mongoose.

Do lions hunt giraffes?

A lion’s diet consists primarily of large mammals, including blue wildebeests, common zebras, African buffalos, and gemsbok.

But what about giraffes? Do lions hunt giraffes?

Yes, they do! However, they typically prefer smaller herbivorous mammals that are easier to catch. Adult giraffes, being exceptionally tall, pose a challenge for lions to bring down. Depending on the size and composition of the pride, they may succeed in hunting a giraffe, but it requires immense effort. Giraffes certainly put up a respectable fight, kicking in all directions, making the hunt even more demanding. With an average weight of 1500kg, their strong hooves can be lethal for lions, easily breaking a predator’s skull or back.

Also, besides their height and sturdiness, giraffes are social animals, and they find additional safety by living in herds. However, their social bond is less strong than other herd animals. Hence, many giraffes live outside the groups, and it’s these lonesome giraffes that a lion pride may target.

Recently, guides and guests were treated to a special sighting when they came across our pride feeding on a giraffe bull on Rooibos loop road.

Did you know that lions usually kill their prey by strangulating or going for the victim’s neck with their powerful jaws when hunting other animals? When pursuing a giraffe, on the other hand, lions are forced to attack its hind legs. After inflicting many bites and scratches, the giraffe becomes less resistant, allowing the lions to pounce on its back.

While the adults did all the hard work, cubs will always be cubs. The adorable little ones were playfully jumping up and down and chasing each other, waiting for the adults to work their way through the giraffe’s thick skin.

The hunt (pictured above) was an adult male giraffe, taken down by two females, one male, and two cubs. A sizeable meal – it’ll be interesting to see how long it feeds the pride, especially now that the winter chill will keep the meat fresher for longer.

For many animals, life in the wild is challenging. Surrounded by adept hunters, day-to-day survival is like a game of chance – particularly for young animals still not steady on their feet.

African wild dogs still roam the Mabula Game Reserve.

African wild dogs are an endangered species – Africa’s second most endangered carnivore.

Threats to the African wild dogs’ survival include disease, habitat loss, and a high infant mortality rate due to competition with larger predators, including lions, leopards, and hyenas.

Did you know African wild dogs have the most structured social order of all carnivores? They live in packs led by a dominant male and female called the Alpha He and Alpha She. All the other members of the pack are subordinate to the alpha pair.

African wild dogs are great communicators and understand their family roles. They help to clean up the natural environment by feeding on sick and dead carcasses. Furthermore, African wild dog packs have an 80% success rate when hunting. They can run long distances at speeds of over 70 km/h. Their hearing is impeccable, and they can effortlessly swivel their large, rounded ears as needed.

As much as there is a desire to help this mammal before it becomes extinct, it’s a challenge due to habitat loss and other threats, as mentioned above. Conservation is possible through education and awareness, including encouraging landowners to preserve the African wild dogs’ natural habitat.

Another exhilarating experience with a young male cheetah

Seeing a cheetah in the wild is a rare and exhilarating experience.

Recently, we set off on a morning safari, hoping to track down the herd of buffalo that had been sighted in the heart of the reserve at Soweto House and Buffalo Boulevard. Little did we know we would see much more than we’d bargained for!

As the drive began, I had just explained to our guests that a cheetah sighting would be unlikely since these beautiful big cats had been spending most of their time in areas of the reserve not accessible by vehicles.

Not long after I’d said this, we received word that a cheetah had been spotted (pun intended)! I couldn’t believe our luck.

 We got over there as quickly as possible but were still waiting. The cheetahs had moved into some thicker vegetation and disappeared. The vehicle fell silent. We knew they had to be somewhere close by, but the challenge was on again to find them.

Knowing how quickly they could cover ground while chasing after their prey, we started widening our search radius from where they had last been seen chasing impala towards Reginald Plain.

The big question was, was it a successful hunting attempt? Or would they retreat into the thicket to catch their breath?

We weaved through Dunhill Drive to get to Reginald Plain, keeping our fingers crossed for another stroke of luck… and there they were!

Their failed hunting attempt turned out to be our lucky day. They were resting in the shade of the trees working up the strength to embark on another hunt for their lunch.

We watched the exhausted coalition for a while, noticing how desperate they were for a nap but didn’t feel safe enough to close their eyes with us around. After taking a few pictures, we did the responsible thing and left them in peace to get the rest they needed.

Elephants spend the month roaming the Modjadji Mountain range on the reserve.

In June, we had to work hard to catch a glimpse of the reserve’s majestic elephants. They decided to spend most of the early mornings and afternoons on the Modjadji mountains, only coming down late in the morning after everyone had returned to the lodge.

We couldn’t get close some days, so guests had to put their binoculars to good use to admire them.

One morning after dropping the guests back at the lodge, I grabbed my laptop and headed out to wait for the elephants to emerge from the mountains’ dense vegetation. I knew they’d come down eventually, searching for a refreshing drink from Nyathi Dam.

It didn’t take long to hear branches breaking and twigs snapping, signalling their arrival. I chose the perfect spot! I had to reverse back a little so they could squeeze past me. At Mabula, the animals always have the right of way!

They were thirsty following their filling morning meal (there’s a lot more food available in the mountains during winter).

I followed them along Gum Tree road until they disappeared into the bush, taking a shortcut to the dam. I made my way there, too, hoping to catch them drinking and perhaps enjoying a swim.

They arrived shortly after me, as predicted. I admired them and breathed in the aroma that always follows an elephant’s visit to a water source.  A rich, wet, earthy smell, almost like petrichor – that unmistakable smell after rain.  It comes from the mud on their bodies mixing with the water.

Then there was an intense rumbling sound – the matriarch telling the rest of the family it’s time to leave. The faint noise of their footsteps could be heard as the giants disappeared into the dense bushes to the western side of the dam.

Another successful mid-morning with elephants in the bush ended with the characteristic midday sounds of nearby fish eagles on the hunt.

Diving deeper into a hippo’s unique digestive system

Did you know most animals, such as impalas, buffaloes, and giraffes, have a ruminant digestive system comprising a stomach with four compartments: the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum?

Hippos are different. They have a 3-chambered stomach, and each chamber has a distinct purpose. Hippos are, therefore, referred to as pseudo-ruminants because while they don’t have a ruminant digestive system, they still enjoy the benefits of one.

For example, their digestive system practices microbe foregut fermentation like a typical ruminant system. This exposes the food consumed to micro bacteria, kickstarting digestion and allowing hippos to make the most of the energy given by the low-energy plant-based foods they eat daily.

Another difference is that hippos don’t chew the cud like many other mammals. Instead, they eat it in one go.

Chewing the cud helps to break down food so it’s easier to digest and absorb into the gut. Most animals with the ruminant system eat food that is difficult to digest, so they regurgitate their food continuously. The hippo is different. Firstly, it has no enzymes in its saliva to break down food in the mouth.

The food then moves down the oesophagus and enters the first chamber, where it’s ‘blended’ into a soupy substance before moving to the glandular stomach.

The glandular stomach’s role is to secrete enzymes, like pepsin, which breaks down proteins, and stomach acid, known as hydrochloric acid, which kills harmful bacteria and breaks down solids. It also connects the stomach to the intestines. The glandular stomach is the only compartment that has cardiac, pyloric, and fundic glands in its lining.

Hippos also have a small and large intestine. In the small intestine, all the fats and proteins are digested or emulsified by enzymes and absorbed. The large intestine absorbs the water that passes through it and excretes whatever bodily material is left over as faeces.

The fascinating zebra

Zebras are fascinating animals that have captured the attention of many guests on safari in Mabula. From their unique stripes to their social behaviour and intelligent nature, many aspects of zebras make them intriguing creatures. Zebras are highly social animals that form tight-knit herds and create strong, lifelong bonds with each other.

They’re also known for their speed, running up to 65 km/h, making them challenging prey for predators.

The Burchell’s zebra has faint stripes that are superimposed on the white sections of the coat. They’re known as ‘shadow stripes.’ These stripes usually extend to the abdomen and continue down to the hooves.

Zebras are highly sociable animals, and various species have developed distinct hierarchies within their communities. There are certain species in which a single male watches over a group of females, known as a harem. In contrast, other species live in groups but do not develop strong social relationships with one another. The latter can alter the structure of the herd and will switch companions every few months on average.

The group can maintain stability even after the family stallion has been displaced. Burchell’s zebras tend to congregate in sizeable herds and may form briefly stable subgroups within larger herds. This behaviour opens the door for individuals within the herd to engage with members of other groups. Harems allow the females to spend more time nursing their young and provide protection for both the mothers and their offspring.

Zebras are herbivores who graze grass and occasionally eat bush leaves and branches. They graze all day, clipping grass with their sharp front teeth.

Zebras make a braying sound when communicating with each other. It sounds like a combination of a horse’s whinny and a donkey’s bray. Each herd member can identify each other’s sounds since each individual has a different pitch.

Ectotherm and endotherm animals in Mabula

Ectotherms rely on an external energy source, for example, the sun, to raise their body temperature.

They have adapted in fascinating ways without warm blankets and hot water bottles! We are fortunate to view and enjoy these animals, especially during winter, as they spend the whole day basking in the sun’s warm rays. A good example is a crocodile.

Our safari guests keep their eyes peeled for crocodiles and monitor lizards soaking up the morning or late afternoon sun.

Endotherms, on the other hand, generate heat internally through their metabolism to raise their body temperature.

They will also take advantage of the sun during the early morning and later afternoon, but they are less dependent on it, and it’s more important to take in food to assist their metabolism.

Humans are also endotherms, so we fill you with warm coffee and rusks to help raise your body temperature on those chilly early-morning game drives!

The only thing better than that morning cuppa? Savouring a sundowner against the magical backdrop of a Mabula sunset, with the trees’ silhouettes decorating the horizon. We have special spots on the reserve to sit back, relax, and enjoy a safari sundowner while peacefully watching the setting sun and listening to the sounds of the bush.

I hope you enjoyed the update, and we hope to see you soon!

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