When someone mentions the word “Hyena”, which thoughts and images come to mind? Scavengers, skulking thieves and ugly looking things? How about cute and cuddly, fascinating, curios or even misunderstood creatures?
Whichever side you may take, one thing is for certain. Hyenas, as with most animals, produce adorable babies.
Hyenas will often use large termite mounds as the base for their dens. They are fantastic at digging deep into the ground, but may often utilize previously dug out mounds where aardvark diggings occurred. These structures may be used for multiple seasons or as temporary housing until a more suitable den is found.
I recently stumbled across a hyena sunning itself on top of a termite mound. On closer inspection I noticed some movement from another tiny lifeform. It was a newborn suckling from its mother. Without trying to disturb the two, I used my binoculars to get a better visual. My eyes could not believe how tiny this little one was. It was hands down the youngest hyena I have ever come across. The little one was still struggling to keep its eyes open.
As the babies grow a little older their confidence levels soar and they develop a keen sense of curiosity. It does not take much to grab their attention. If you sit quietly and patiently near an active den, you may find youngster constantly popping their heads out of the ground to see who has come to pay them a visit.
After spending a few weeks inside the safety of their dug out holes, their sense of adventure kicks in. They will slowly start exploring the immediate surrounds of the den. This opens up a whole new world for them and triggers previous underutilized senses, especially their sense of touch and smell. There are so many new textures to become acquainted with. Something as simple as a broken branch or twig can entertain a youngster for quite some time.
As tempting as venturing far and wide may seem, the little ones know that they dare not move too far afield. Danger may strike at any given moment.
Being one of the dominant carnivore species comes with great responsibility. Female hyenas make magnificent mothers. They are highly protective and caring. Besides keeping a constant eye out for lions and watching over the base, they will make time to play with the youngsters which often results in great entertainment. At times mom’s tail becomes a chew toy, whether voluntary or not. During other times mom simply becomes a trampoline while she basks in the warming, morning sun.
If there is one call that is synonymous with the sound of Africa, a sound that quickly shatters the silence of the bush, it has to be the infamous call of a spotted hyena. The cacophony of nervous chuckles and eerie laughs generated by these hyenas will be etched in your memory for ever. It may be enough for you to lie awake at night pondering whether they are indeed skulking scavengers or simply misunderstood creatures.
There is no doubt that lions are extremely powerful predators. Sometimes it might be hard to fathom just how strong and efficient these animals might be.
I recently had an encounter of a lifetime with a resident lion pride. The Othawa lions and the Matimba male were resting at a large dam. All of a sudden there were three old male buffalo that arrived for a late afternoon drink. The buffalo had absolutely no idea that there were lions just a couple of meters away. They headed down to the water with their backs turned to the lions.
The lions could not believe their luck. Without wasting any time, the females got up from their slumber. The young Othawa lions also got up and started moving together with the females. This was the first time that I have seen the youngster’s even attempt to hunt or join a hunt.
As the lions crouched down and calculated their next move, a large elephant intervened. The elephant gave one big headshake and this immediately made the buffalo look up. One of the buffalo turned around. He almost stood face to face with lion pride.
Adrenaline kicked in and the buffalo ran straight towards the lions. I am not sure who got a bigger fright, the buffalo or the young lions. They all scattered. The buffalo locked onto its target and ran after one of the Othawa females. The rest of the pride ran after it and tried their best to encircle the large buffalo.
It was only at this point that the Matimba male lion realised that his nap had been interrupted. He got up to see what all the fuss was about. It was a little comical to see him just standing there, taking in the whole spectacle. With clearly no end in sight, the Matimba decided to step in and show who is really boss.
There was an initial scuffle and the Matimba managed to grab hold of the buffalo’s back. The buffalo thrashed around wildly, like a scene out of a rodeo show gone wrong. The buffalo managed to break free and dashed towards the dam wall. The pride of lions followed in hot pursuit. By this time the elephant and the other two buffalo had fled the scene.
The lions were able to catch up to the buffalo quickly. This time around, the entire pride jumped in and every member had a role to play. One of the Othawa females managed to grab the buffalo by the mouth and tried to suffocate it. The Matimba male jumped onto the back, trying to break the spine, while the older of the young Othawa males tried to pin the buffalo down from behind. The youngest of the Othawa lions started to dig into the hind legs.
It seems that they had finally managed to get a good grip on their prey. The buffalo gave all it had and managed to fling off the female in the front. He managed to get the tip of his horn into the female, but not causing any major injury.
This was the first time that I had seen the Matimba make any effort or attempt at using his strength and power as a male lion. I had instantly gained new respect for the old male lion. He was not going to give up his hard earned meal.
After a great deal of struggle, the lions managed to successfully take down the buffalo. They spent the next three days feasting along the water’s edge. This ordeal provided a great learning curve for the young Othawa lions and the Matimba male held onto his legacy as a power not to be trifled with.
There is never a dull moment when a troop of baboons are nearby. This is especially true when the troop is stranded in the tree tops and a pride of lions are waiting for them at the base.
This scenario started off like many others do, tuning in and listening to what the bush is telling you. Some alarm calls were heard somewhere along the river. Baboons were calling frantically and continuously, which was safe to assume that a predator must be lurking in their immediate vicinity.
As I got nearer and nearer to the calls it soon became obvious what all the commotion was about. I saw one of the young Othawa lions at the base of a tree. It was desperately trying to figure out how to get to the baboons, who took refuge high up in a large, sturdy tree.
The young lion had exhausted all its options bar one. The only way to get to these baboons was to go up. And so it tried. If you have ever seen lions trying to climb a tree, especially inexperienced ones, it is quite a spectacle to behold. The feline did not even make it two body lengths up the straight tree trunk before it came tumbling down again. This set the baboons off even more.
Realising that this feat was easier said than done, the youngster moved on and looked for some other baboons it could try to get hold of. The baboons eventually found a gap to escape and ran straight towards the river, away from the lions. The other young lions of the pride just stood around and stared at what had just happened.
As fun and exciting as visiting nature reserves may be, there is no reason why you cannot enjoy a little wildlife in the comfort of your backyards.
The best way to attract a wide variety of birds to the garden is to have a great biodiversity within the garden itself. Different birds require different conditions. Some birds are seed eaters, fruit eaters, nectar feeders or insect eaters to name a few. Having a variety of trees and plants in the garden will likely attract different birds to your spot.
During the winter months, you can expect a great show of flowers from local aloe species. The sunbirds go crazy when they realise there are flowering aloes around. They can be quite vocal so it is unlikely that you will miss their arrival to your plants.
Other birds may eat some of your flowers, so try and make sure that you have a few of the same species around.
Some residential areas still have a local guineafowl population. Often overlooked, but the dotted feather pattern is mesmerizing. They will often dust bath and preen themselves in the sun.
Some birds like the Black-backed Puffback have very unique calls. So even if you cannot see the bird at first, if you can identify the call and wait patiently, you may be able to track it down and spot it amongst the branches.
Adding a bird bath or a little water feature is a sure fire way to attract some birds into the garden. Whether they come for a drink or simply just to splash around, most birds cannot resist a visit to the water feature.
I will never say no to a trip into the Kruger National Park. It has its own charm and there is always something to be seen.
I have never had great success with leopards in the Kruger. This trip was quite different. I passed a very large fever tree on a lonely gravel road. Draped over one of the branches was a large male leopard. He just glanced over in my direction and would give me a quick stare from time to time.
Early mornings in the bush is usually a good time to find some form of action. I decided to head down a gravel road yet again. After some time, I noticed some vehicles gathered around a tree just off of the road. I hoped that it may be another leopard. Sure enough it was. There was a young female leopard up in a tree. She had hoisted an impala kill. I spent a considerable amount of time with the relaxed leopard.
One thing that I thoroughly enjoy seeing in the Kruger is the large male elephants. I was very fortunate to have multiple sightings with various males, both near to the vehicle and a distance away.
The weather over the two days that I was there was rather cool, but pleasant. The sky was filled with clouds for the most part. I neared a hilltop and when I approached I noticed a troop of baboons on the summit. They were using the hill as a vantage point while they were enjoying their breakfast.
Kruger is a great place to partake in birding. There was still a great deal of birds around, even though the seasons are changing quickly. I even managed to tick off a new little bird, a Village Indigobird, in one of the rest camps.
Spending time in the bush is not only about seeing the Big 5 or hoping for kills or take downs. On my way back to the camp I had a black-backed jackal that refused to move off the road. It casually laid next to the road and watched as the last cars drove by.
I have never had a bad stay in Kruger and I look forward to my next adventure in the national park.
There has been an animal that has eluded me for a long time now. The best that I managed to get was simply a glimpse of its tail as it scurried into the thicket.
I recently spent some time in the Madikwe Game Reserve. I had never been to this side of the country before. I thoroughly enjoyed the landscape and the ruggedness of the area. There were a few animals and birds that I had been hoping to see. Luck was on my side and I managed to see what I came to see.
I headed out on drive one afternoon. After a very successful outing, sitting with a roaring male lion and big elephant bulls, we slowly made our way back to the lodge. Shortly after settling in, the guide reported that a giraffe had died from natural causes. He said that it was not far from camp and that we would certainly follow up in the morning.
This gave me hope that I may very well see that animal that kept eluding me.
The morning came soon enough and we headed straight to the fallen giraffe. As we arrived I saw the tail that I had once seen before.
We managed to spend a considerable time watching this brown hyena enjoy an easy meal. We gave him some space and he was quite content with us hanging around.
While enjoying the interaction around the carcass, we heard echoes of the male lion from the previous night. Slowly but surely the calls increased in volume. The male lion was heading straight in our direction. The big question was whether he had smelled the giraffe or just patrolling his territory.
The brown hyena seemed to have the same questions on his mind. As the calls grew louder, the scavenger started getting anxious. It eventually moved off the carcass and did a big loop through the bush. The hyena could not pick up any signs of the lion, but decided to rather move off and head back home.
The New Year has started off very well in the bushveld. On 11 December 2019, our resident female leopard gave birth to two tiny cubs at the lodge. She moved them to another den soon afterwards.
After a few weeks of allowing the cubs to settle in to their new environment, I made my way to see if I could strike it lucky and see the cubs.
I found mom resting casually around the rocks at the entrance to the den. After a few minutes she started to get restless. Restless in a way I had not seen before. She started calling for the cubs. Then it happened.
One of the little ones peaked its head out from the safety of the den. Then it walked across a set of rocks towards mom. Basile kept calling for the second cub, but it seemed too nervous to come out. This was the first time that we noticed the cubs walking around unassisted. Mom did not want to wait around so she started to walk with the first cub.
As the two leopards made their way down the dry river bed, the other cub started screaming and crying frantically. Basile stopped, looked back and called for the cub left behind. It was evident now that she was moving den sites again.
Basile could not let the remaining cub make so much noise so she turned around and went back to fetch the other one.
The first cub was just as eager to fetch its sibling as mom was. The little one scurried up the rock and begged the other one to come with.
A short while later the other cub, still acting very shy and coy, made its appearance. The two siblings greeted each other playfully. Mom wasted no time and called them both to the riverbed. She continued walking and the cubs followed suit.
Basile has moved the cubs to a nearby hill with ample vegetation and rocks that the cubs can use as cover. I look forward to my next meeting with these adorable cubs.
A day spent in nature is always a day well spent. I recently spent a whole day in a nature reserve and could not believe my luck, even from the start.
I found myself driving down a main road, scanning the bush for game. I noticed another vehicle driving extremely slowly in front of me. As I moved closer, I saw the backside of a rather large animal. I immediately recognised it as a rhino. I asked myself, “why is this car so hesitant to approach the rhino”? White rhino are usually very tolerant of vehicles. Then it hit me. Could it really be?
As I got a view of the animal it struck me. This was not a white rhino! I watched in total awe as a Black Rhino crossed the road in front of me.
It was hands down the most relaxed black rhino that I have ever seen. It moved through a clearing and proceeded to move towards a thicket.
Curiosity got the better of him. A few minutes later it came back out from the thickets. It stood right out in the open, sniffed the air and just stood watching the vehicles for some time.
I most definitely did not expect to have this sort of sighting for the day. A sighting that I will remember for a long time to come.
The best way to experience the bush is on foot. That gives you the opportunity to experience the smaller things around you and to access areas that are not easily accessible with a vehicle.
I spent some time along the Sand River and watched a noisy Giant Kingfisher perch on a nearby tree. It then swooped down and caught a small fish. It flew a few meters away and settled on a rock. It struggled to flip the bird around and managed to lose its grip in the process. The fish landed on the rock and a Hamerkop came to steal the fish away.
During the scuffle between the two birds, another movement caught my eye. Not too far from all the action I saw a water monitor scurry off between the reeds. I noticed that it had something in its mouth.
I moved closer and waited behind a set of rocks. The monitor emerged from the reeds and provided me with great entertainment.
In between the battle of the birds, it managed to find this rather large fish. I am not sure whether the bird was already dead or not. The fish looked far to big to swallow and I could not help but laugh at the sight.
The water monitor casually walked past me and then moved further into some thick reeds.
Waking up before sunrise and taking in the stillness of nature is certainly one way to start the morning. The bush slowly comes to life as the birds start their morning chorus, the bugs start buzzing around and the sun slowly starts to rise.
This tranquil scene is quickly broken when a pack of painted wolves enter the scene. I recently watched a pack of hungry dogs run past my water hole with pronounced enthusiasm.
As I went out on drive I managed to relocate a few members of the pack. Three of them had managed to get a hold of an unsuspecting impala. It does not take a great deal of time for these carnivores to finish a meal.
It is no secret that these predators are highly successful in their entire operation. Unfortunately there are always scavengers waiting to capitalize on their success. Hyenas have figured out that these predators generally consume a few impala daily. As a result, some hyenas constantly trail the painted wolves. When the time is right they will simply run in and try to overpower the pack and steal the meal.
Luckily for the group of three, the hyena was a youngster and could not compete with its competitors. The painted wolves stood their ground and chased off the hyena after giving it a piece of their minds.
The trio quickly scuffed off their meal and responded to the contact calls of the rest of the pack, leaving the remnants of the impala to the vultures.