From out of the reeds

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.

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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.

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The water monitor casually walked past me and then moved further into some thick reeds.

Painted Wolves fight for their food

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hungry hyenas find a hippo

The dry season certainly creates barriers for certain animals, especially when water is involved.

Some days the bush is relatively silent. Some days there is a hive of activity. Then there are those days that sound like a war zone has just erupted. I came across a scene that was a first for me. Two hippopotamus bulls had a territorial dispute and unfortunately the fight ended up in the death of one male.

By the time I arrived a large clan of spotted hyenas had already tucked into the carcass. A great deal of the clan were already sleeping with their bellies full.

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It is always fascinating to see how quickly an animal gets devoured when the scavengers arrive. Between all the hyenas and vultures it does not take long to clean up the area.

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The vultures usually have to wait their turn until the hyenas move off from the carcass. There is a distinct pecking order among the various vulture species that may line up and wait their turn.

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Little Blue Eyes

Over the past few weeks, my favourite female leopard had been spending a great deal of time around my lodge. Her visits seemed to be for a very different reason.

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Basile lost a litter of cubs in December. Shortly afterwards she was seen mating with Ravenscourt again. Fast forward two months and her swollen belly confirmed she was indeed pregnant again. I could simply not wait until she produced another litter.

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There are a few viable den options around my lodge, either in the river, a thick drainage line behind the lodge or a rocky outcrop not too far away.

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Word went out that she decided to use the rocky outcrop as a den site. Finally the day arrived. She gave birth to two little ones and kept them there for six weeks and then moved them closer to the lodge.

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I have had a few glimpses of the tiny cubs. They are still too young to determine the gender of the little ones. One of the siblings has the most gorgeous blue eyes and spends a lot of time playing and interacting with the mother.

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I do hope that Basile has learned from her previous failed litters and manages to raise these cubs successfully.

Reign of the Matimba’s

It has been just over a year since the Matimba brothers crossed over into my area of the reserve. What a roller coaster ride it has been for them.

The two aged brothers arrived from the eastern parts of the reserve. When they arrived they looked worse for wear. They must have been pushed out by younger males looking to expand their territories.

Their physical appearance told a very clear story about the struggles that they have been through. Within the first week the two lions managed to kill a buffalo.

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This provided great nourishment to their ailing bodies. Not long afterwards they managed to hunt down another buffalo.

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One of the major turning points in their survival was finding the Othawa pride and being accepted amongst their ranks.

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A few months later they managed to mate with one of the younger females and sired a litter of three cubs. They have done a great job at protecting the vulnerable cubs from the Mhangene pride, Styx pride as well as the Othawa male who has left his original stomping grounds.

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The Othawa pride has made numerous kills to which the Matimba boys claimed the bulk thereof. This has undoubtedly been their saving grace. However age has caught up with them and they are quickly nearing the end of their days.

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A cub no more

It is fascinating to watch what changes when you assign time to the bush. It is just over a year ago since Schotia female leopard had a set of cubs. Unfortunately one passed on at a young age, but the other one survived.

I have not seen the young male cub for a few months. The mom and her youngster were recently spotted on a kill. When I made my way to the sighting I was expecting to see a young, juvenile male leopard. I was shocked.

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The juvenile had grown extremely quickly since my last encounter. He has grown taller than his mother and has filled out well too. I watched how the two felines climbed up a tree and feasted on their kill. Schotia already ate her share. The young male wasted no time taking control of the carcass. He spent about 10 minutes readjusting the carcass, trying to get a good position to feed from.

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During his feast, mom selected a large, flat Marula branch on which to take a nap. When she arose from her slumber she had to contend with a very cheeky youngster. The juvenile did not want to share the meal with his mother. He kept growling and hissing at her.

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Schotia’s youngster will most likely stick around for a few more months before going independent. I wait in keen anticipation to hear what he will be named once he leaves the safe care that his mother has provided over the past year.

Marula Feast

If you have ever tasted the delicious fruit from the Marula tree, you will know why the animals go into frenzy for the fruit.

The small, oval shaped fruit start to grow around December. The tree will drop the fruit, unripe, around mid to end January. The fruit will then ripen on the ground with the heat of the sun.

Once the fruit starts to change from green to yellow, it attracts an array of animals like monkeys, baboons, kudu, and bushbuck only to name a few. Humans have also taken to the flavour and have gone so far to make a creamy alcohol from it.

I spent some time with a troop of chacma baboons who came across a late harvest of fruit. They spent most of the morning sifting through the ripe and unripe fruit.

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It was interesting to see how the various members of the troop interacted around the feast. Some of the larger members seemed to dominate the bounty.

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On the outskirts, younger males were seen chasing each other around. They are still in the process of establishing dominance between each other.

A mother with her baby kept to themselves and foraged on whatever they could get.

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Khokovela and her cub

Finding new leopards is always a thrill. That excitement increases even more when there’s a new cub to be seen.

Khokovela has kept her little cub safe for a few months now. I have missed all the previous opportunities to see the little one. Finally my time came.

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When I arrived at the sighting I found mom close to an impala kill. The youngster was hiding in long grass. I sat patiently for a while. From the grass I heard little squeaks calling out to mom. Mom responded and the little cub came rushing out.

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It takes a while for cubs to get accustomed to the vehicles around them, but when you give them enough space and time they eventually settle down. The cub got rather curious and started to explore its environment. It moved over to mom and started grooming ticks off her.

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Khokovela has moved her territory further off of my traversing property. Hopefully I’ll get to see more of her together with her gorgeous cub soon.

A Growing Pride

Nothing is constant and everything changes. Luckily there has been an exhilarating change in the bush.

The young Othawa lioness has come of age. I was deeply excited when I heard that she was pregnant for the first time. All I had to do was to wait around 110 days to get word about new lion cubs. After a 6 weeks settling in period, I could go searching for them.

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Lionesses will usually steer clear of the pride for a few weeks after giving birth. It was just a matter of time before she introduced them to the pride.

Unfortunately I missed the introduction itself. What I did get to see was her parading her cubs proudly after stashing them in a thicket while she was hunting.

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I managed to get the whole litter shuffling along, following mom through an open clearing and down the road. The cubs wasted no time when they passed by a mud wallow. They lapped up water as fast as they could. The mother was on a mission to take them to the safety of the pride.

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She produced a litter of 3 cubs. They are still too young to confirm the genders. The young cubs have integrated successfully within the pride. Their energy is typical of growing cubs. I have had plenty sightings of them playing, learning new skills, feeding and interacting with various pride members.

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Standoff

When you are in a densely populated leopard area, it is only a matter of time before they start to clash.

It has been a long while since I’ve seen Hlabankunzi. She used to hold territory around Leopard Hills and has started making her way back. Unfortunately she got forcefully removed from her last territory by her own daughter, Scotia. Hlabankunzi came off second best. Her right ear got ripped off and she sustained an injury to one of her paws.

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She has aged a lot, but at 13 years old, Hlabankunzi still puts on a good show. As I left a sighting of her recently, I was called back only to see another leopard stalking Hlabankunzi.

As I came around the corner I saw Boulders female trailing Hlabankunzi. Boulders has become one of the dominant female leopards in the area. I assume she was heading back to her two cubs that she hid away while hunting. Unfortunately Hlabankunzi found herself in Boulders’ territory. She was completely unaware of Boulders’ presence.

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Hlabankunzi moved up onto a termite mound to rest for a while. Boulders snuck up behind her and calculated her next move. Hlabankunzi eventually caught sight of Boulders and both females immediately started growling at each other. Neither really wanted to get injured. Boulders must have realised that she still had hungry cubs to feed so she just moved out of the area.

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I’m not sure how much time Hlabankunzi still has left, but at least she managed to survive another day.