Magical moments from May

The month of May has been a confusing one, especially with regards to the weather. We are still experiencing warm summer-like days, but the temperatures are certainly dropping as soon as the sun sets.

Life in the bush has slowed down and a calming silence has taken over the landscape as the birds and insects have moved on to warmer areas.

It has been a very long wait to see a cheetah in my area again and what a surprise it was stumbling across this young boy. The plan for the day was to head out and track the Othawa lion pride, but while passing by an open clearing, the setting sun illuminated this gorgeous youngster posing in the short grass.

One bird species that does not feature often is the Ostrich. I came across a group of three and noticed that the male was in his breeding plumage. This can be seen by his pink beak and shins.

One can never go wrong with this stunner, a Lilac breasted Roller. As the bush starts to dry out during winter, these birds offer a nice pop of colour to the slightly dull surroundings.

The biggest highlight of the month was the announcement of the Mhangene lion pride with their newest set of cubs on a wildebeest kill. Four of the females entered the area and proudly showed off their nine cubs.

Trying to view nine little busy bodies in long winter grass is not the easiest thing. Just when you think you are able to lock onto one, they run around and join their siblings.

The cubs found great amusement in fighting over the tail of the wildebeest. A tug of war match quickly ensued.

This youngster seemed to be the smallest one of the litter.

As cute and cuddly as they appear at first sight, they quickly remind you of the natural instincts they already possess.

Each lion cub is already jostling for dominance and their place within the pride.

Some of the cubs took a laid back approach and knew that mom would still provide them with quality milk to drink.

Autumn takes over April

The onset of cooler mornings and evenings as well as shades of yellow, orange and brown taking over the landscape indicate that Autumn is in full swing.

Bird calls have slowed down and last seasons babies are growing up quickly. Yet there is always something new and interesting to see out in the wild.

I still find myself fascinated with chameleons and every chance I get to see one I most certainly will stop to marvel at their bizarre movements. I found this flap-necked chameleon fast asleep on a branch one evening while making my way back to the camp.

I also love how this species seems to have a smiley face as it’s markings.

While driving along a gravel road, my tracker swiftly turned around and told me to stop the vehicle. I wasn’t exactly sure why. I hopped out onto the road and I saw something most peculiar. A fresh water crab must have started traveling from the Sand River towards one of the nearby water holes. I have not seen one of these crabs around here before and I was definitely not expecting to see one on the road.

I don’t think it had seen a vehicle before either and stood with its pincers out as if to block and protect the road.

One thing to really look forward to during autumn and winter are the gorgeous sunsets. As the bush starts to dry out, dust sediment takes to the sky and acts as a vibrant filter to make those colours pop. I enjoyed a special sighting of the two Othawa lionesses playing under this colorful sunset.

Two sightings that I missed this season was new born zebra and new born giraffe. This is one of the earliest images that I managed to get of a youngster. Before you know it, the babies grow up so quickly and cute season is over.

One leopard that really has been putting on a show is the Tisela female. It seems as if each time I see her she is sitting in a tree.

The Plains Camp male lions have also been parading around the area and have given us a vocal display for the last few nights.

Plains Camp and Ximungwe lions on honeymoon

It has been a crazy month monitoring the movements between the various lions around the area.

The two dominant Plains Camp male lions keep patrolling their newly acquired area in the west. Most nights are filled with the incredible sound of their mighty roars.

The younger Ximungwe lioness finally gave birth to her first litter in a thicket along a sandy river bed. It is uncertain exactly how many cubs were born. A day or two later I found the two large males patrolling the river and they seemed to be hot on the scent of another lion. I am not sure whether the Tumbela male had visited the den already. All of a sudden the two males sprinted down stream and ended up startling the females at the den. There was an enormous commotion and once all the chaos settled down, all four lions came out from the den. Since then the Ximungwe female has not returned to that area.

After a few days the larger Plains Camp male has returned to the area with an enormous belly. This meal will keep him moving for a couple of days.

Turns out a good meal served him well as the Plains Camp boys finally met up with the Ximungwe girls again. Following her loss, the younger Ximungwe lioness is in oestrous again.

While the larger brother is busy mating with the females, the smaller brother does not stand a chance. He often moves off and goes on a territorial patrol.

It seems as if the Ximungwe female cannot dodge the boys at all. The Plains Camp male is head over heels for this female and has been on her tail for the past few days. They have been spending a lot of time on the warm airstrip as the autumn nights start cooling down.

Hopefully her next set of cubs will make it through and the Plains Camp males can start to secure their territory.

Marching through March

Taking a slow drive through the Kruger National Park is one way to ease into a new work cycle. Elephant traffic jams and halting for hyenas do not seem all that strenuous.

I managed to enjoy a fun walk by from this lone hyena just before I exited the park. Another vehicle passed by me and asked whether I had seen any wild dogs (aka painted wolves) in the immediate area. I had not, but wondered whether this hyena was en route to the wild dogs. The vehicle moved on and I continued following the hyena. It did indeed lead me to the wild dog pack. As it was midday, the wild dogs were resting in a Tamboti tree thicket and visibility was not great at all.

When you start your work cycle and one of your first sightings back is a gorgeous male leopard chilling in a tree, you know that things will pan out well. Hlambela had eaten the day before and simply needed a moment to rest and work off his catch.

It has been incredible spending time with Hlambela over the past 5 years. He truly has given countless moments to marvel at his good looks.

I have not witnessed so much chaos with regards to lions as I have been over the past few months. The two Plains Camp male lions have marched into the area and they show no signs off backing out soon. They have spent countless hours with the two Ximungwe lionesses and it seems as if they want to take over and control the pride. As soon as it seems as though they will, the leave again. This has caused chaos as the young Birmingham male and the Tumbela male sound move around the area undetected.

Coming from the Kruger National Park, these males have fought their way to where they want to be. Though they carry a few battle wounds, they move around with confidence.

Another great moment spent with Tisela as she posed on a termite mound at eye level as the sun was fading. She picked up on the scent of some impala nearby. I watched as she carefully positioned herself in long grass with a row of Red Bushwillow trees ahead. Unfortunately she waited until darkness fell and I lost visual of her.

The bush comes full circle

It seems like I have come full circle with regards to seasonal changes in the bush. I started my wild adventures as the 2015/2016 droughts took effect and have now experienced my first set of floods.

The rains have subsided and the rivers are slowing down. It was incredible to see the bush respond to the amount of water moving about. A lot of our gravel roads were damaged and destroyed, but thankfully very little infrastructure damage.

I have finally managed to get my camera out again and started enjoying sightings in drier conditions.

The Boulder’s leopard cub is growing up at an alarming rate. I spent the last day trying to track her down with no luck. She eventually decided to grace us with her presence the next day, casually posing ontop of a termite mound.

Another leopard that has been stealing the show recently is Tisela. She has been moving around the greater lodge area. She has grown on me and I always have a unique connection with her as she was born just after I arrived in the area.

The past two days I managed to have separate sightings of her moving through the bush and heading back to where we assumed she may have a meal stashed in a tree. The next day we managed to locate where she hid her meal, but she lost it to her brother, Hlambela and then to her father, Ravenscourt.

The general game are absolutely loving life at the moment. The rains have flushed a new growth spurt and food availability is sky high. Sometimes while watching general game, they may instantly change their behaviour. These impala caught wind of something and as I moved further down an open area I found what they were alarmed about.

Two spotted hyenas were tugging into an impala. They too seemed a little on edge. I cannot confirm whether they scavenged it from another predator or hunted it down themselves. They kept moving off the meal and then returned to it.

I have thoroughly enjoyed a morning spent with Thamba male leopard. Every time I see him, it feels as if he has doubled in size. He marches around with all the confidence in the world and does not hesitate to put on a show.

Starting off with 2023

The New Year has started off at an incredible pace and life in the bush has been busy. Thank you for all the support during 2022. I appreciate all the likes, comments, views and shares. I hope that 2023 brings another great year of safari and bush memories for everyone.

The year started off with some great summer rains. As a result many of the ponds and pans filled up, bringing in a chorus of frogs and toads. Even the pond in the lodge showcased some of our frisky frogs.

I have had a few interesting sightings to start the year off and quite a few of them have been first timers for me. I drove past a herd of impala and something caught my eye. One of the females had something on her head. On closer inspection I noticed she had a set of horns. The horns were bent over and very thin and misformed. She was in top condition otherwise and this didn’t seem to bother her at all.

Another spectacular first for me was witnessing this sighting of an African Rock Python constricting and then starting to swallow a young impala. The light was fading and I did not want to disturb the snake while laying in such a vulnerable position. The next morning the snake had moved off from its position.

One thing that I have not been short of the past few months has been the switch ups in lion dynamics. The Plains Camp male lions have swiftly swooped into the area and they show no signs of leaving soon.

A post simply feels incomplete without giving Ravenscourt some airtime too. He is still marching forward and dominating the majority of the western section.

This magnificent male leopard has been spending a considerable time on top of termite mounds. From a viewing point of view, this places Ravenscourt at eye level and creates such a unique viewing experience.

There has also been an influx of large elephant bulls into the area. These gentle giants command respect and I am fortunate that they grace me with their presence in a cool, calm and collected manner.

There has been a hive of activity around the termite mounds recently. With the rising temperatures, the termite mounds have been left uncapped. I have had amazing sightings of various birds of prey pinching off the exposed termites.

Thamba has been patrolling the area adjacent to Ravenscourt’s territory. He has filled out nicely and still has not had a major clash. I do not get to see this stocky male leopard too often, but every sighting with him has been a treat.

Boulders leopard presents her cub

As personalities go, there are a few leopards that love parading around and others love to lurk around in the shadows.

The Boulders female leopard lies in the middle of this scale. I have had the pleasure of sitting an entire game drive with her, but I have also had days where I want to pull my hair out trying to track and find her.

These days finding her foot prints are a little more exciting as there are an extra set of tracks accompanying her. Boulder’s has another cub that is growing stronger by the day. The youngster is starting to follow mom around while it moves between different kills.

I recently managed to view the cub for the first time and it was a spectacular introduction. As I arrived into the sighting, the youngster nestled itself in long, dry grass. It peered at me with the most inquisitive eyes.

Mom had made a small kill and the cub eventually moved towards where it was stashed away. Most of the food was already consumed by the time I had arrived. The youngster looked at the meal and dismissed it as if it only was interested in the good stuff.

Once it got bored with its mangled meal, it moved on towards mom. It thought that practicing stalking in the driest, strawlike grass was a fanastic idea. Clearly stealth is not its speciality quite yet. Before the stalk even began, Boulder’s noticed the shenanigans and gave the cub “the look”.

The cub changed its tone and in typical cat –like fashion, it went over and greeted her with great enthusiasm.

I look forward to my next tracking session and creating new memories with this duo.

Othawa lion pride enters a new era

The Othawa lion pride has provided us with a roller coaster of emotions over the past few years.

I have only been in contact with the pride since early 2018. At that stage the Othawa Male lion was only starting to come of age. One of my favourite moments with him was hearing him roar for the first time. This coincided with the arrival of the Matimba males.

After the young Othawa Male left the area, the Matimba male lions took over the pride and sired their first Othawa cubs.

The 2020 lockdown period provided a few interesting surprises. After not seeing the Othawa male for many months, he finally graced us with his presence again and showed off his good looks.

After a long and hard lockdown period, the Matimba male and Othawa pride managed to take down a buffalo. I was extremely fortunate to witness the entire encounter from start to finish.

Soon enough the pride dealt with the arrival of the Tumbela male lions. They kicked out the Matimba male and took control of the pride. One exciting moment of any take over means that there will most likely be a new litter of cubs to look forward to.

In the meantime, the young Othawa Breakaway female arrived back in the area after a leave of absence. She has struggled to reunite with her pride, but has since joined forces with the single Ximungwe lioness.

Another major shakeup occurred when the Birmingham and Nkuhuma male lions entered the scene. Their first order of business was to evict the Tumbela male. Unfortunately during one of their encounters they managed to get hold of an Othawa juvenile.

Within the last few weeks, increasing pressure from the Birmingham coalition and the arrival of the two Plains Camp male lions, an unfortunate shift in the pride dynamics developed.

Another encounter with the opposing males resulted in the loss of the two elderly Othawa lionesses. This was a day that was inevitable, yet we feared for the future of the young Othawa mother and her youngsters.

For a short period the single Othawa mother and the five juveniles crossed over to another area of the reserve. There was talk that one of the young females was missing and a few days later the young male was preyed on by a hyena.

The Othawa pride has finally returned leaving us with one adult and three young females. The Tumbela male lion has not provided any support to his pride over the past few weeks. It is unclear which way the dynamics between the various males will unfold.

For now the Othawa lion pride keeps moving forward. As long as they are able to dodge the competing males, the young mom has a chance to raise the juvenile lionesses to adulthood.

What has your most memorable moment with the Othawa Pride been?

Basile spends intimate moments with her cub

Who would have thought that a tiny rocky outcrop could stir up so much emotion?

One of my favourite female leopards, Basile, has moved her den yet again. This time she has used a set of rocks that I have driven past countless times before. Behind one of the boulders a little cove opens up, leading up to a bunch of nooks and cranny’s for the cub to hide in while mom is out.

I have waited patiently to spend an intimate moment with Basile and her precious little cub. Luck was on my side and she granted me an opportunity.

When I arrived I could see Basile in full view. The cub was still suckling so I sat quietly and waited for the youngster to finish up. Mom was alert and attentive to any surrounding sounds that infiltrated the space around her.

Soon after feeding, the adorable cub turned around and went to go lay close to mom, also taking in the sounds emanating from its environment.

As with all cats, grooming is an essential part of the day. Mom proceeded to comb through the fuzzy fur of her son. With long strokes she ensured that she cleaned the cub’s entire coat. If you thought that this moment could not get any cuter, the baby got up and started grooming mom too. Is it just me or can you see mom smiling too?

Once the necessary morning routines have been completed, the next order of the day is of course play time. As successful and stealthy as Basile is as a huntress, she possesses an equally playful and caring side as a mother. Mom knows all too well that the white tip of her tail sparks far too much curiosity in the inquisitive eyes of her little boy.

As she started flicking the tail around, the little cub took no time to practice its instinctive hunting skills. The cub crept closer and pounced upon its helpless victim.

I have witnessed leopards apply the greatest degree of patience. Not only when they are hunting and stalking down their prey, but even tolerating their cubs when they too would love a little nap. Once the cub got bored with moms tail, her twitching ears seemed to be the most fascinating thing. The best ways to play with mom’s ears – bite and chew on them of course!

Having already lost one of this litter’s cubs early on, I trust that Basile has finally learned to take better care of this blue eyed beauty and keep him safe from harm.

Adventures at the hyena den

If there is one animal that looks as if it is always up to mischief, it has to be young hyenas at a den.

I am currently fortunate to witness a set of two hyena cubs moving freely around an active hyena den. Most of my encounters with these rascals seem to be catching them in the middle of some kind of game. Their endless supply of energy never seems to fade.

I have seen them since they were little and they are growing at an alarming rate. Besides their curious nature, it is always fascinating to watch the colour changes on their coats. There is also a period where their legs grow faster than the rest of their body. This disproportionate shape adds to their adorability.

The cubs know all too well that there is a limit to which they may explore their environment. Their den is situated within a large termite mound. The entrance is a large hole that leads deep inside, providing them with ample cover for when danger strikes or when mom is out looking for a meal.

The most entertaining part of spending time with these little ones is watching how inquisitive they are with the presence of a vehicle nearby. Sometimes I get lucky and they venture along a well-trodden pathway towards the vehicle. They may sniff my tires, stare blankly at me wondering what I’m doing there. Then they turn around and run straight back to the termite mound.

Have you ever had the opportunity to spend some time with tiny hyena cubs?