Rangers Diary: 1-7 January

Bateleur or Short-tailed eagle
Bateleur or Short-tailed eagle by Susan Simoneau (guest)

Sunday

Happy New Year everyone, we wish you all a great year! Let’s hope the animal sightings are as good this year as they were in 2011.

Things got off to a quick start this morning when we found tracks of a lioness going past the front of the lodge. We soon caught up with the lone Tsalala lioness on the airstrip, whose belly indicated that a hearty meal had been enjoyed during the night. As soon as the sun came out she found a nice shady spot and promptly fell fast asleep. We also came across one of our territorial rhino bulls sleeping on the road. It seems as if everyone was intent on chillaxing on this first morning of 2012.

It was extremely hot this afternoon, so we did what we always do when the mercury rises, we went to check on the waterholes. Our efforts were well rewarded! A large herd of about 40 elephants was drinking at one pan, while some rhino and buffalo were wallowing together at another. We were also lucky enough to find Karula resting on a termite mound. She posed beautifully for us, and we managed to get some incredible shots of her in the fading light.

We were just about to call it a day when we ran into the remaining three young Tsalala lionesses. They were on the open area in front of the lodge, making their way towards their lost sister. Unfortunately they came across a herd of waterbuck just before they got to the airstrip, which resulted in them changing direction and not finding their missing sibling.

Monday

Dark mane Majingilane
Dark mane Majingilane male by Susan Simoneau (guest)

For most people monday mornings are generally a muted affair, but for us it was adrenalin-packed with predators aplenty! We found the pack of nine Wild dogs in the northern sectors, where they were taking down impala lambs with their usual speed and precision. These endangered animals are widely regarded as Africa’s finest and most successful hunters. Their tactic is to ambush and surprise the impala, their prey of choice. The mere sight of the pack is enough to send the terrified buck fleeing in all different directions, which is exactly what the Wild dogs want. They spread out immediately, and in just a few short minutes will have laid claim to as many as three or four impala. This is what guests were privy to on this Monday morning! It was a real treat to watch, albeit at the expense of the impala herd.

We also saw the Styx pride strutting their stuff along with the dark-maned Majingilane male lion. After finishing off their nightly shenanigans (patrolling and hunting), they settled in the Tamboti tree-lined thicket close to a dam in our eastern traversing area. The three Tsalala lionesses also found themselves a nice shady spot near a dam, which happened to be not far from where the Styx pride had settled. On our way back to camp we stoped to watch three big male elephants feeding. They were completely oblivious to the predators in the area, not that they would have cared had they known mind you.

First off this afternoon we had a wonderful sighting of three buffalo bulls cooling off in a waterhole. Many of the guests commented that lying in the cool shallow water with a couple buddies seemed like a great way to spend a hot summer afternoon. A little further on from the buffalo, we came across a herd of impala casually grazing on the lush green grass that covered a large open area. While watching the impala we spotted Nduna doing the same, although his intentions were very different from ours. We were very excited to see him, as sightings of this male leopard have been few and far between since he started making moves to vacate his mom’s territory. Still relatively inexperienced, it was fascinating to watch him calculate his every move in order to catch himself a meal. We made sure to stay far enough that we wouldn’t interfere with his hunting endeavours, but unfortunately the ever alert impala spotted him anyway, alarm-called, and then moved off to enjoy the rest of their day. For young leopards, every hunt, successful or not, is a great opportunity to hone their skills.

The Styx pride and dark-maned Majingilane male were still lying under the cool shade of the Tamboti trees where we left them this morning. We stayed with them until dusk, when we had the pleasure of watching them slowly wake up and enjoy a good stretch. After heading down to the dam for a cool drink of water, they then set out on their nightly patrols. A magnificent end to a jam-packed day.

Tuesday

Karula's cub - Xivambalana
Xivambalana by Susan Simoneau (guest)

We were watching a herd of 30 buffalo sleeping on the airstrip this morning when we received news that there were Wild dogs on the open area in front of the lodge. Dogs trump bovines, so we sped off in the hopes of witnessing a hunt (there’d been a large herd of impala in the vicinity earlier). We were out of luck however, as the buck had since moved off. We did get to see the dogs though, which is always a real treat.

On leaving them we decided to go in search of some elephants, and found two bulls splashing themselves with mud at a small waterhole. From there we went east, where we were fortunate enough to see some great interaction between the Styx lionesses and Majingilane male as they stalked a herd of buffalo. The vigilant buffalo quickly picked up on the scent of the lions though, and in one swift motion turned on their would-be attackers like a tank brigade, causing them to beat a hasty retreat. Buffalo 1 – Lions 0. Just before heading back for breakfast we came across Karula and her young male cub, Xivambalana.

Our mission for the afternoon drive was to find a rhino (or two or three), and as luck would have it we discovered three of them wallowing in a shallow mud pool. On leaving them we rounded a corner and found two buffalo bulls also cooling off in a waterhole. With the requisite herbivore sightings under the belt, we moved on to see what we could find in the way of predators. Luck was on our side yet again, as we spotted Nduna lying in some thick brush in the same area. The Wild dogs were also seen again, this time further east of the lodge, while the lions were still in the same area as this morning.

Wednesday

The drive got of to a slow start this morning, but once things picked the spotlight was focused firmly on the cats. First we managed to find Karula’s youngsters, Xivambalana and Xivindzi. The brother and sister were in a playful mood, keeping us thoroughly entertained as they chased and stalked one another all over the place. He got a bit rough at one point, but she had no problem putting him in his place. We eventually moved on and found the three young Tsalala lionesses resting in the shade, in preparation for what was already a very warm day.

With the weather being what it was, we headed straight to the waterholes this afternoon to see if anyone had come down for a drink or wallow. We soon found a herd of buffalo bulls wallowing alongside a lone rhino cow. The lionesses had barely moved, so we didn’t stay with them for very long. After taking in a breathtaking sunset, we headed off to see if we could find the leopard cubs again. We searched for ages and were just about to give up, when finally discovered Karula, her present cubs, Xivambalana and Xivindzi, and their older brother Nduna. Mom was decidedly unimpressed by Nduma’s presence though, and snarled and hissed at him whenever he tried to follow them. He eventually got the message and moved off.

Thursday

Wild dogs playing
Wild dogs playing by Susan Simoneau (guest)

After enjoying so many amazing sightings of the rare and endangered Wild dog over the past few days, we couldn’t believe our luck when we found them yet again! Heading out on a fairly crisp summer morning, we had our sights set on the eastern sectors of our traversing area. We were treated to an abundance of spectacular birdlife along the way.

Yellow-billed hornbills eagerly snapped up the insects a Dwarf mongoose had disturbed while foraging. The two species enjoy a symbiotic relationship, where the hornbills alert the mongoose to any potential threats, and the dwarf mongoose in turn flush out a smogasboard of insects for the birds to feast upon.

We received a call that the nine strong pack of Wild dogs was on the move and looking for breakfast! They were quite far away though, so we had to (reluctantly) bypass browsing giraffe and grazing zebra en route. It turned out that the dogs had surrounded a lone bushbuck male. Bushbuck thrive in thick bush, on top of which they have very sharp horns and a temperament to match. Suffice it to say they are not shy of standing their ground.

In the end the plucky antelope still came off second best, and after a rather bumpy ride we arrived just in time to witness these super predators rip apart and consume their prize in a mere 15 minutes. It was definitely not a sighting for the faint-hearted, but sitting in the shade of a Bushwillow and waching the dogs eating and playing tug-of-war with the bushbuck skin was quite something to behold.

Life in the bush can seem brutal, but at the end of the day the aim of the game is survival. Seeing it up close and personal still takes some getting used to though. On our way back to the lodge we decided that we needed a more peaceful sighting to end the drive off with, so we made our way back to the browsing giraffe that we’d bypassed earlier.

In the afternoon we focused our efforts on the herbivores. We spent a good half an hour watching three massive rhinos grazing on the Jackelberry and Apple-leaf trees that laced the river line. The low-lying river lines are laden with clay soil, which holds more water and is also more nutrient rich, making for much greener and tastier grass. The rhinos were absolutely loving it! We felt completely invisible in our vehicle as these huge beasts concentrated on the task at hand, barely lifting their heads to take note of their surroundings. Next we spent some time with a small group of buffalo bulls that were grazing on the longer grass that they prefer.

On our way back to the lodge we spotted a very relaxed slender mongoose. They’re easy to identify, as they run with their bodies almost completely parallel to the ground and their tales end in a definite black tip. They’re not as easy to spot however, as they tend to dart off into the long grass at the the first sign of danger. These feisty little predators are predominantly insectivorous, but aren’t adverse to eating ground-dwelling birds, frogs, and even snakes when the opportunity presents itself. We enjoy spending time with some of the lesser-known predators, as they play an important role in the bush’s various ecosystems.

Friday

This morning started off with a big herd of elephants not too far north of the lodge. After spending some time with them we then moved east, where we found the Wild dogs lying on one of the main entrance roads. Bellies very full and fast asleep, they weren’t bothered by us at all. We set off in a southerly direction from there, and picked up on some lion tracks which led us to the Styx pride, including the five cubs, sleeping at a small waterhole. All in all, not a bad morning.

This afternoon we came across Karula’s female cub, Xivindzi, walking along the road stalking some birds. We left her when she moved off into some thick brush where we couldn’t follow. We found Mvula sleeping in a dry riverbed, and once he woke up we spent most of the afternoon watching him stalk a big herd of impala. Unfortunately the astute buck spotted their predator and proceeded to tease him. We also came across two old buffalo bulls wallowing in some cool mud.

Saturday

Leopard was on the wish list this morning, so when we heard that tracks of a big male had been found we immediately headed into the area. Before long we’d managed to locate Mvula, who was in the process of checking and scent marking his ever expanding territory. Coffee was next on our agenda, but we arrived to find that our chosen spot had already been commandeered by the entire Styx pride and one of the Majingilane males. They’d been in the area since the day before, so it came as quite a surprise to see that they hadn’t moved off yet.

The wind picked up a fair bit this afternoon, and there was promise of rain in the air. Rhino tracks heading in the direction of a drainage line led us to a male, two cows and a calf. Mvula joined us a little while later, and watched the herbivores from his vantage point on the bank above them. Unfortunatley he then moved deeper into the drainage, where we couldn’t follow. The sun snuck out just long enough for us to watch it set, and during that magical time of day when the light turns a golden hue, we found Xivindzi posing on a large mound. After taking some great photos we headed back for a well-deserved break.

And that brings to an end yet another spectacular week! Remember to visit our Facebook and Flickr albums to see more photos from our game drives.

Until next time,

The Arathusa Team

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