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