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Written by Isaiah Banda

The arrival of summer could not be more apparent now  the flush of green revitalising the landscape as the ground saps up every bit of moisture present. The sweltering heat forces animals across Mabula to flock to the waterholes and gullies that still have water so that they can replenish their fluids and cool off. With scorching daytime temperatures and the humidity on the rise, a few thunderstorms have brought us over 70mm of rain. This has made the bush come to life.

flush of green replenishes the Mabula landscape

Elephants love water.

Elephants spend their days dousing themselves in a revitalising and refreshing shower of mud and water at our waterholes. Currently the Nyathi and Croc dams.

One day, during the hottest part of the day while guests were enjoying a siesta, or swimming, I decided to take a drive to one of the dams. I chose the Northern part of the reserve at Nyathi dam, which has a hide. The plan was to see which animals would show up at the dam to drink. I stayed in the hide for almost one hour with no activity.. But, as I was about to leave, I heard branches breaking on the other side of the hide… Elephants.

They all emerged out of the bush,highly mobile, heading straight for the dam. I have seen many animals coming to the water to drink. But elephants are the most facinating. They get so excited when approaching water and walk at a fast pace as if they are competing to so see who gets there to drink first.

They all started to drink. What was interesting was to see how they used their trunks to stir up the water before sucking it up to put inside their mouths. Each day, elephants eat up to 300 kilograms of food and drink up to 150 litres of water. They will drink water at almost any time of the day – but I did not expect them to come down to the water during the hottest part of the day like that.

This was the best time of my day to spend time with elephants seeing them swimming and throwing mud on their body to cool down from a heat that was about 35 degrees.

Elephants are exellent swimmers. The moment you watch them approaching waterhole and getting inside the water, they get so exited that they make you want to join them and swim with them. I was so tempted to join them, something came into my mind and reminded me that they are wild animals and we need to cherish every moment watching them swim and entertain us.

Cheetahs front with an incredible sighting.

The abundance of predator’s sightings this month takes shape on the cheetah front with an incredible display of strength and agility as the coalition brings down an adult waterbuck. The mother cheetah and cubs showed their grace and beauty in several sightings bringing down impalas few times on different area.

We have been extremely fortunate in the past few years to have been tracking down and finding a female cheetah and her cubs and the coalition. We are so fortunate here at Mabula to have a relatively healthy population of cheetahs on the reserve, with the cheetah being an animal that is quite small, sometimes can be very difficult to find them. We have been very lucky on every safari that we go out and will not come back to the lodge without having a sighting of a cheetah, either being male coalition or cheetah mother and cubs.

Best areas for us to see cheetahs are in the more open plains, grassland areas, surprisingly we have had some best sightings of them on the modjadji area which is more of thick and dense bushes. We had beautiful sightings of the female and cubs around South East by the quarry.

We will often find them sitting tall on fallen logs or pronounced termite mounds as they try to gain elevation to scan the region for any prey or threats. I have been very lucky to follow them while walking and hunting on the Sourthen side of the reserve.

The global population of cheetahs is around 6,500 to 7,100, according to a list of threatened animals from the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Currently, cheetahs are found in the wild in several regions in Africa. South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the global population. The last four decades have seen a decline in cheetah populations of about 50%, as well as a significant reduction in the historic range of the species.

Here at Mabula, cheetahs are at the bottom of the predator hierarchy. This means that they need to navigate through their home range while staying out of the way of leopards, hyenas and wild dogs. Fortunately, because they are most active during the day – the time when most other nocturnal predators are generally sleeping – they are able to keep a low profile.

Knowing how low their reproductive success is, it’s always incredibly special to come across a mother cheetah with cubs. The litter will stay with their mom for about 18 months before leaving her to navigate towards their own range.

Cheetahs have suffered multiple genetic bottlenecks in the last 100,000 years. In this current’s rapidly changing climate, it’s unclear if or when another bottleneck event will occur for these cats and how they will adapt. Judging by how they have already survived two near-extinct events, I have the highest hopes for this incredible species!

Lion dynamics seem constant for the time being.

Lionesses and cubs keep roaming around the whole reserve hunting, they were successful several times with males joining them up on a kill.

We were very fortunate to come across our pride on the centre of the reserve. They were all together with the sub dominant male who is always walking on his own most of the time. Lately these males have been fighting a lot which resulted in one male deciding to stay on his own.

What made the whole experience so wonderful and enjoyable was to find them busy feeding on a carcass that they might have killed just few hours before we arrived on the sighting, a wildebeest kill. Lions will kill after few days depending on what they have killed and ate. Prior to them killing this wildebeest, they killed a zebra which made them rest for about three days.

There is one thing I like when watching lions feeding on a carcass. The commotion, the growling, the aggresiveness, to name a few. That also comes with injuries among members of the pride which may heal by themselves, sometimes they might lead to animal being darted and treated for the injuries. Fortunatley on this carcass non of them got injured to lead to be treated.

This might be that when they killed this particular wildebeest they had just killed and ate a zebra, that most of the family members were not that hungry. They were taking turns in feeding. Dominant male and cubs were feeding together at the same time.

When lions are on a kill, they get very aggressive, and they get aggressive with each other, as food is their source of life. When they have killed something, there is a hierarchy that comes into play, where the more dominant lions will feed on the kill first.

So in all cases, the male lions will feed first, as they always dominate over all the females because they are bigger, and are more dominant. They will feed until they’re happy and when they’re a bit fuller, they will allow other lions to come join them eventually.

Then you’ll generally get the next set of dominant lions moving in, which will likely the dominant females, but with them having that parental role, they will also allow their cubs to feed when they are not fully finished. Some of them will even allow their cubs to eat before them, depending on how much food the females have had.

If they have not eaten, the cubs are not going to be able to hunt for their own food. Without the mothers the cubs will die, so the mothers also prioritise their lives, and make sure that they eat.

Most of the time, when lions vocalise or roar they do it to say, “this is my territory, my space, if you disagree with me, come and challenge me,” so in this moment where they had made a kill and with them being so aggressive over the kill, the testosterone levels rise and begun to roar. I think they were vocalising to say, “this is our space, our area. If anyone disagrees, come challenge us.”

This month we have been blessed with lions’ sightings. One morning during the month, the agenda was to head out and find some lions. We were four guides spreading out to look for any signs of what happened through the night, we found tracks of our pride. As we followed the tracks, we were rewarded by finding the pride with cubs huddled up together on 45 degrees close to bottom Serengeti plains.

They constantly picked up their heads, looking and smelling in one direction of Bottom Serengeti Plains, indicating that they will start moving anytime. Bottom Serengeti is always full of plains game which includes zebras, wildebeest, and impalas to mention few.

After few minutes they stood up and headed for Bottom Serengeti plains, it was still early in the morning and son was not hot. Good time for them to carry on hunting for another hour before temperature rises.

At this stage of the lion cubs’ lives, they are gaining experience and helping their mother to hunt already. As we witnessed with our guests, when they came across a wildebeest, the mother stood still and the cubs followed suit – wagging of tails and ear flapping was their way of communicating; and they headed off in different directions, circling their prey.

As the cubs chased, the mother was waiting at the right position but unfortunately, the wildebeest ran the other way. Even though they could not make a kill, the cubs have improved their skills and eventually will make kills without the help of their mother

It is very interesting that as soon as lions realize that their prey have seen them, they ignore them completely and lie down. Herd of wildebeest went as close as 30 meters from male lion and he just ignored while they were alarm calling at him. For lions is not worth trying to catch something that already see them, the prey will runaway anyway and they would have waisted their energy.

Following up on the pride after their failed hunt on a wildebeest. The pride had successfully managed to kill a zebra in the heat of the day and all members were well fed.

While lions have a distinct advantage at night, they will not pass up an opportunity to hunt even in the heat of a very hot day.

Wild dogs den for the first time on Mabula Game Reserve.

And let’s not forget the wild dogs, a pack of four and unknown number of pups, with pack leaving pups at the den area to go and hunt to bring food for the pups and baby seater. We are all waiting patiently to see the pups emerging out of the den and beginning to roam the reserve with the pack.

One of the best Wild dogs sighting this month was when we were out on the reserve with our guests looking for leopard on the Western parts of the reserve at the area called Golf course which is Modjadji area. Area that is very rich with leopard sighting currently. To our surprise we instead found our would dog pack which just caught a kudu cow, and they were already busy eating.

It was amazing to watch them feeding on the carcass with an aim of taking some of the meat with their stomach back to the pups at the den which was about 4kms South of their kill location.

We have noticed that lately they have been targeting kudu cows, and impalas. Perhaps for the kudus it is their way of preparing life with pups which will be mouth to be feed and share a carcass.

As soon as their stomachs were full, they started trotting back to the direction of the den. I then decided to drive around and see if I can get them on telegraph extension where they were going to cross to get to the den.

My guess was right as they did exactly that. We only waited for few minutes and then they arrived and crossed the road. What a sighting we had. Even though we missed the kill with just few minutes, nonetheless it was worth taking a drive into that area.

General Game sightings on the reserve.

On the general game front, as the new grass shoots break the cover of the ones that went before them, the zebra and wildebeest begin to flock back to the open grasslands.

During the winter months we have seen zebras and wildebeest spending time on the mountainous areas and parts of the reserve where they don’t usually use during the summer. Zebras and wildebeest are very good friends and mostly see them together when we find them.

Giraffes have also not shied away this month. We found them all the time enjoying succulent fresh leaves that dorn many a tree. We were treated to towers and journeys this month with more than one giraffe together, at one stage we saw more than ten together.

That is not something we see everyday while out on safari. Probably the reason is the new aggressive growth after the rain.

Currently acacias and sickle bushes are dominating the reserve with new shoots of growth and everywhere on the reserve where you find an acacia tree, it will be accompanied by more than one giraffe feeding on the leaves. Girafes normally eat 2% of their body weight which works out at atleast 18kg of food per day to remain healthy.

One afternoon we were very lucky to find two giraffes bulls necking against each other. This continued for almost an hour until one of them decided he had enough and giving up. Necking behaviour in giraffe takes place only in all male herds. When the animals are in a head to head posture the intensity is either high or low, but when animals take up a head to tail posture the actions are always of high intensity and appear to have greater sexual significance.

The significance of necking is that, these ritualized actions form an important sexuo-social bonding mechanism whereby a hierarchy is created amongst the males, and movement between strictly bachelor and mixed herds helps to maintain contact between the sexes in this polygamous mammal.

Male giraffes whip their necks around, using their heavy skulls like clubs. The longer and thicker the neck, the more likely a giraffe is to win a fight. Giraffes that are successful in fights are more likely to breed and produce offspring.

The hippo’s nose, ears, and eyes are on the top of its head.

Whether it’s watching them leave the waterhole at dusk during sundowners, enjoying the young ones swimming around like fat babies in armbands as they interact and snort their contentment, the hippopotamus is a big part of Mabula safari drive scenery and is an essential part of every safari experience.

The bellowing sound of hippo contest often fills the night air at Mvudu deck pond, while the gentle “wheeze-honking” from main dam and ngulubi dam is almost part and parcel of the Mabula experience.

Most of us take this for granted but to see hippos in such great abundance is something to be greatly appreciative of. For them to flourish there are two essential requirements: water deep enough to submerge in and nearby grassland, both of which are plentiful at Mabula.

We had a wonderful sighting on Ngulubi dam. During this time of the year they spend the whole inside the water as the heat is rising each day, reaching up to 31 degrees celcius on the reserve.

Klipspringers show their faces on the reserve.

Telegraph extension on Ingwe rocks and rhino road on Mamba rocks are among my favourite places to explore whilst out on safari drive. Part of what makes this area so nice to drive around to get to lookout loop and christmas hill for beautiful sunset and scenic view of the reserve. In addition to being home to leopards, and hyrax, these rocks are home to some of the reserve’s most unique inhabitants – the humble klipspringer. In a nutshell, klipspringers are small antelope that have evolved to exploit a very specific ecological niche, namely boulder strewn rocky outcrops and rocky mountaneous area.

Klipspringers have very unique feet. Their hooves have been specially adapted to help them maneuver around the steep and slippery rocks where they spend the bulk of their time. Walking right on the tips of their hooves rather than using the entire surface area of the hoof. The tips of the hooves are cylindrical in shape with a grippy cartilaginous pad on the inside edge. The combination of the grippy pad and walking on the hoof-tips provide good traction and shock absorption allowing the klipspringers the ability to change direction quickly. The agility and speed of klipspringers help them to escape predators as well as access food and water that is inaccessible to other animals.

Due to the fact that klipspringers live on exposed rocky outcrops, they are not sheltered from the elements as much as other animals are. Whether it is intense heat, high winds, heavy rain, or frigid cold, there is little escape from the elements on top of the koppies. Thus klipspringers have developed an ingenious solution to their problems – hollow fur. Klipspringer’s hollow fur act as an insulating layer that protects the little antelope from the outside conditions, helps to regulate their temperature, and conserves moisture. Klipspringer fur acts as a shock absorber should they fall off a rock. The hollow fur definitely helps the klipspringers thrive in an otherwise harsh environment.

Klipspringers tend to form mating pairs that stay together for life. Finding a mate can be a difficult exercise, for these mountaineers, as they are not well suited to traversing the areas that surround rocky outcrops in search of a mate. Constantly moving between the koppies puts the little klipspringers at risk, therefore it makes sense for them to find one partner and live with them in one location for life. Once klipspringers have secured a mate and a territory, they can dedicate their energy to raising young and defending their little patch of land. Together the pair of klipspringers will mark, patrol, and defend their territory. Although unusual in the animal kingdom, klipspringers are a great example of how finding a mate for life is a very effective survival strategy indeed.

How much do animals sleep?

Earlier this month I have an interesting question from one of my guests while out on morning safari. How much do animals sleep at night or during the day? It was a question that I never thought I would be asked. I want to end my newsletter in answering this interesting question.

Each new dawn on safari is met with guides, and guests eager to start exploring and piecing together what events unfolded through the night. While we are sleeping, most animals are still awake. While we know that some animals are specifically nocturnal, meaning they are most active during the night, we also know that most diurnal animals aren’t sound asleep throughout the night either. Sleep is defined as the “natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored”.

Before I could answer this question, I had to think very deep so I can Animals’ sleep patterns are as diverse as the animals themselves so before we answer how much sleep they get; we need to look at how and why they sleep the way they do. All mammals including humans, sleep to save their energy and restore mental and physical energy. The amount of sleep a mammal needs however varies depending on several factors including age, body size, environment, diet, and the level of safety required while asleep

Giraffes are some of the most vulnerable animals when they rest. For wild animals, particularly those lower on the food chain – protection against predators is possibly the most important factor in how animals sleep and for how long. Enough about how much animals sleep.

A cheetah Tracking experience with the best in business.

Earlier this month I had a pleasure of joining some of the guests on a cheetah tracking experience, wow what an absolute incredible experience it was. This is one of the activities not to be missed when you visit Mabula. Do yourself a favour and book this experience.

The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted”

On safari, it is always important to expect the unexpected and always have your camera ready. It’s often when you least expect the action and sightings to happen that the unthinkable happens.

The bush has erupted with life and the trees have transformed from the dull greys to bright green with fresh leaves.  With all the new life, animals have responded and have been out in full force giving us another fantastic month of safari viewing experiences. With that said, enjoy this month highlights captured in photos on Mabula Game Lodge.

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

Images courtesy of: Isaiah Banda & Tshepo Loni.