Rangers Diary: 30 October – 5 November

 Baby elephant charging
Baby elephant charging by Ryan Johnston

Sunday

The bush has literally exploded into a palette of greens with all the early rain we had in October. We started the morning off with a large herd of about 40 elephants feeding on one of our open areas. We sat with them for quite a while, as the babies were particularly curious about the vehicle. It was great fun watching the little guys try to figure out what on earth they’d discovered. We then came across a large herd of about 200 buffalo just as they were getting active after an early morning rest. A call came in telling us that a large pack of Wild dogs – 12 adults and seven puppies – had been found, so we immediately set out to have a look. The dogs had just a killed a large impala ram, and by the time we arrived the pups were already feeding noisly. They gorged themselves to the point of bursting, leaving precious little for the adults, who had yet to have a turn at the carcass. On our way back to the lodge we took a turn past the four Tsalala lionesses that we’d come across earlier that morning. They were all fast asleep, so we decided to come back in the evening to see if they were a little more lively.

This afternoon there were four massive rhinos feeding on the airstrip. Brown from head to toe, they’d most probably been cooling off in the mud wallows on the side of the airstrip. We then spent the remainder of the afternoon watching Karula and the Wild dogs sleeping (not next to each other mind you). After our requisite bush sundowners, we headed back to see if the young Tsalala lionesses had roused themselves. As luck would have it, we’d timed our arrival to perfection. Their heads were up, and they had just begun grooming themselves and each other. With their ablutions out the way, the females then got mobile. They looked keen to hunt, stopping, listening, and smelling, as they slowly progressed. Nothing came their way though, so we eventually left the ladies resting on one of the open areas.

Monday

This morning we found lion tracks at the lodge. Unfortunately the cats had crossed over our southern boundary before we were able to locate them. We spotted a group of five elephant bulls and a rhino with her young calf at a mud wallow, and then from there we headed north. Nduna (one of Karula’s cubs from a previous litter) was with a duiker that he’d just killed. It’s great to see this young independent male doing so well for himself. It was raining when we set out on afternoon drive, so all we found were four rhinos at the airstrip, and another three at one of the watering holes.

Tuesday

We woke up to more rain this morning, although we still managed to have a pretty good drive in spite of the wet weather The large herbivores were clearly unconcerned about getting wet, because rhino, buffalo, and a large elephant bull all obliged us with their presence. The elephant bull took to the fresh mud with gusto, liberally showering himself in the stuff. We then went to see how Nduna was doing with his duiker kill. Although there was still a fair amount of meat left on the carcass, the young male leopard remained curled up in a ball on top of a termite mound in an effort to keep himself warm.

Before we’d even left this afternoon we could hear impala calling close to the lodge. Heading down the driveway, we ran straight into Mafufunyane. We stayed with the dominant male for some time, as the overcast and rainy conditions had caused him to become quite active. He stalked a couple of nyala bulls without luck, and only when the rain came down even harder did he seek refuge in some thick vegetation. When the lighting arrived to accompany the downpour, we took our cue and headed back to the safety and warmth of the lodge.

Wednesday

Rhinos at sunrise
Rhinos on the airstrip at sunrise by Denise Robinson (guest)

This morning the four White rhinos were still hanging out on the airstrip, enjoying the short sweet grass that the rains had brought. The drive was fairly quiet from a game viewing perspective. Apart from a couple of old buffalo bulls, we didn’t see anything until the very end. We were on our way back for breakfast when we found Mafufunyane right outside the entrance to the lodge. We sat with him until he eventually moved down behind the dam wall, where he found a good spot to spend the day without being disturbed.

Our first stop this afternoon was to see if Mafufunyane was still around. He was exactly where we’d left him this morning, except he now had a monitor kill with him. We couldn’t tell if it was a Nile or Water monitor, as he’d already eaten past the point of positive identification. He was fast asleep though, his afternoon nap no doubt the result of a full belly. We decided to leave him to himself and headed off to see what else we could find. A small herd of elephants and three rhinos made up the rest of our afternoon, and we watched them all drink and wallow at one of the dams. After sunset we managed to find Thandi, who looked keen on a nearby herd of impala. The buck spotted her long before she could get anywhere near them however, so she soon gave up and went in search of less alert prey.

Thursday

Yet another rainy morning meant all we got to see were two rhinos at our airstrip. The afternoon drive more than made up for the morning’s poor show however. We found the two rhinos again, and also came across a group of seven buffalo bulls. A young male elephant was all by himself and clearly very upset. Trumpeting loudly while running back and forth in all different directions. He was most probably lost and searching for his herd. We came across the unknown young male leopard that has been moving around the southern part of Mafufunyane’s territory again. He seems to be confident and at ease in the area, so we’re wondering if he hasn’t perhaps claimed it for himself. We headed back to the lodge after sundowners, and en route spotted Jordaan wandering about.

Friday

Female leopard 'Salayexe'
Female leopard ‘Salayexe’ by Ryan Johnston

The four rhinos we’ve been seeing throughout the week finally went their separate ways. This morning we only found the large bull and younger cow resting together on the airstrip. We heard some elephants feeding nearby, so headed off in their direction. We sat with the ellies until they crossed a large drainage line where we couldn’t follow. We were lucky enough to catch a few short glimpses of Salayexe as she moved through the thickets stalking bushbuck. Keeping up with her in the dense riverine vegetation was no easy task, so we eventually left her to herself. A 100 strong herd of completed the morning drive. We caught the bovines just as they were leaving a waterhole where they’d been enjoying their morning drink.

Dagga boys (old male buffalo)
Dagga boys (old male buffalo) by Ryan Johnston

This afternoon started off with four old buffalo bulls close to the lodge. We then picked up on some Wild dog tracks, and the race was on to find them. It took some extensive searching, a great deal of expert tracking, and a bit of luck thrown in for good measure, but we eventually found the pack of six adults and three pups. They were on the move when we got to them, and it wasn’t long before they came across a herd of impala. It was mindblowing to see how the adults instinctively fanned out, ears flat, ready for the chase. And then all of a sudden, chaos! Dogs and impala everywhere! We lost the animals mid-chase because they were moving way too fast for us to keep up with them as they tore through the bush. So we did the next best thing, we waited with the puppies. A little while later two of the adults returned, faces covered in blood. The rest of the pack then materialised, and everyone was very excited to be reunited. With the pleasantries out the way, the pack had a quick jump in the dam to cool off, before leading us back to the male impala carcass. The dogs took turns feeding, guzzling down meat as quickly as possible. While they were in the middle of their meal, a hyena pitched up to see what was going on. As soon as the adults saw him they gave chase, giving the poor guy a good couple of bites on the backside to drive the message home. After leaving the Wild dogs still feeding on their carcass, we found Karula sleeping on one of the open areas.

Saturday

This morning started off well, as we discovered four rhinos at the airstrip. We didn’t manage to fine anymore big game after that initial sighting, although the birds more than made up for that. We enjoyed some great raptor and cuckoo sightings throughout the morning. General game also popped up all over the place, which made for a nice change of pace on drive.

The four rhinos were still at the airstrip this afternoon, so we spent some more time with them. Next we were treated to a very large herd of buffalo, about four hundred strong. We spent a good 40 minutes being entertained by the young calves running around with their tails in the air play fighting. An already great sighting got even better when the herd went to a nearby waterhole for a wallow and a drink. Leaving them for a drink of our own, we were pleasantly surprised to come across Ntima. We haven’t seen the female leopard in a while, so we were really pleased to see her again. Apart from a couple of scars, she seems to be in good health. From there fresh elephant tracks led us to a breeding herd of about 20 elephants. They passed right next to our vehicle as they fed, giving no indication whatsoever that they’d even seen us. After that incredible sighting we headed back to the lodge for a hard-earned dinner.

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

Until next time,

The Arathusa Team

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