Rangers Diary: 6-12 November

Female leopard 'Ntima'
Female leopard ‘Ntima’ by Phillip Wessels

Sunday

This morning we found the four rhinos grazing around the airstrip again. We also saw a herd of 15 elephants, and Ntima was south-east of the airstrip making her way east. We followed her for a while, but eventually lost sight of her when she moved into some thicker bush.

In the afternoon we saw a group of five buffalo bulls hanging around in a riverbed. The four rhinos were still at the airstrip, where they were making the most of the fresh new short grass that has shot up as a result of all the rain we’ve had. Mafufunyane was also out and about, although he wasn’t doing much besides just strolling lazily through his territory.

Monday

Aside from the four rhinos who seem to have taken up residence on our airstrip, the morning drive was fairly quiet. At least in terms of the Big 5. We did come across an abundance of birds and general game however.

The afternoon got off to a more promising start. First off we found a herd of old buffalo bulls resting in the mud at the waterhole in front of the lodge. And then shortly thereafter we came across Karula, who was hard at work scent marking and scouting her territory. After spending sunset with a beautiful herd of elephants, we found Mafufunyane close to one of the waterholes. He had managed to bag himself a water monitor, so we hung around watching him feed for a while. Eventually the smelly carcass grew too much for us to bear, so we headed back to the lodge for a drink instead.

Tuesday

Wild dogs killing impala
Wild dogs killing impala by Phillip Wessels

Wild dog tracks were discovered early this morning, so one of the teams immediately set off to follow up. While we were waiting to hear the outcome of their findings, we headed up to the airstrip to see what our squatting herbivores were up to. The four were just lounging quietly, so we decided to hang around and enjoy the sunrise with them. A little while later a herd of zebra joined us, which made for some great photo opportunities. Next we received news that the Wild dogs had been found, so we raced off to join the sighting. The dogs had just embarked on a hunt when we arrived, and we watched as they chased an impala into the waterhole at the lodge. The buck swam valiantly around in the water, trying its best to stay clear of the predators. It inevitably began running out of energy though, and as soon as it headed back to the shallows the waiting dogs quickly nabbed their prize. We moved on from there and found a herd of elephants with a bunch of calves that entertained us with their antics. It was a nice change of pace after the adrenalin rush of the previous sighting.

We were on the hunt for elephants this afternoon, and with the ambient temperature hovering around the mid-40’s, we figured the best place to look for them would be at the waterholes. As it turned out we finally ran into about fifty elephants crossing one of the main roads, with a crèche of small calves running all over the show. Our “lion drought’ finally came to an end when we discovered the young Styx male at one of the waterholes, where he’d been flushed out by a herd of elephants. We’re pleased to report that he’s in great condition and seems to be doing okay for himself. After leaving him we headed further east where we found a herd of about 40 buffalo, with a lone rhino bull feeding amongst them. After our drinks stop we started slowly making our way back to the lodge. On the way there we found Mafufunyane, who unfortunatley isn’t looking too well at the moment. His dewlap, the fold of loose skin that hangs from an animal’s neck or throat, is very swollen and he appears to be quite thin as well. Let’s hope this dominant male leopard bounces back to his usual tip-top condition soon.

Wednesday

The morning drive proved really successful. We found two groups of buffalo bulls soon after setting out. Next we followed up on the four rhinos at the airstrip and discovered that they’d since been joined by a female with a young calf. We went looking for the Styx male and eventually located him quite far west from where we’d seen him the night before. We’re a little concerned about Mafufunyane, as he was walking very slowly when we found him. He is very skinny, his chest and neck are very swollen, and overall he’s just not looking very well. We’re not exatly sure what the cause of his ill-health is, but one possibility is that he may have been bitten by a snake. He eventually went to rest in a very thick gulley, so we left him to himself. Hopefully he’ll make a full and speedy recovery.

Our four rhinos were still hanging out on the airstrip this afternoon, but this time they were in the company of five elephants. There was no sign of the young Styx male, but we did find Mafufunyane resting close to one of the other lodges. We lost sight of him when he moved further into the area of the lodge. After not seeing them for more than a week, we were very happy to discover the four young Tsalala lionesses close to a small watering hole. They are all still doing very well.

Thursday

This morning heated up very quickly, so the predators we did manage to find were all fast asleep. First we came across the Tsalala lionesses spread out along the road in the shade, bellies up and fast asleep. Then we discovered Karula’s two cubs resting up at one of the dams. Xivindzi, the young female, was up on a termite mound, while her brother, Xivambalana, was passed out behind the dam wall. On the way home we found a smallish herd of about 50 buffalo quenching their thirst at one of the pans. Seeing them spurred us on to get back to the lodge to enjoy a drink of our own.

It was by no means the busiest of afternoons, although we came across a rhino bull covering himself in mud to cool down. This coating has the added benefit of protecting him from the many gnashing insects that are out and about at the moment. After a spectacular sunset we then spent the rest of the evening with the four Tsalala lionesses. We timed it perfectly, because they were just waking up when we arrived. After a good stretch and groom, the group eventually got moving. They looked like they were ready to hunt anything that crossed their path, so we were keen to stay with them for as long as we could. Unfortunately they moved into some extremely dense vegetation before that happened, which meant we had to give up the chase.

Friday

The intense heat we’ve been experiencing isn’t showing any sign of abating, with even the evenings being particularly warm. This morning we received word that tracks of two male lions had been found. We were in luck, because the two Kahuma males were located not too far west of the lodge. It was good to see these two young males again, and we were pleased to note that both looked to be fair condition. After finding a rhino bull on the airstrip, we then spent the rest of the morning looking at birds and the abundance of baby impalas that are all over the place at the moment. The Woodlands kingfishers have also made their return.

This afternoon we decided to head very far east to check on all the waterholes in that area. Our efforts paid off, as we found a herd of about ten buffalo bulls wallowing in the shallows in an attempt to cool down. Moving on from there, we found a herd of elephants making their way to one of the other watering holes for a much needed drink. The young Styx male lion was close to the Kruger National Park boundary, with a rhino bull grazing a little distance away.

Saturday

Lions under lookout lounge
The Tsalala lionesseses and the Styx lion by Phillip Wessels

This morning we were treated to an amazing and surprising sight right behind the lodge. The four young Tsalala lionesses were resting peacefully with the young Styx male lion, and even better, they all boasted full bellies. We have no idea how they ended up together, or what they’d been feasting on. It is a rather unexpected turn of events that the females have accepted the young male in their presence, especially when they’d previously growled at him and run away. We’re all waiting anxiously to see if their bond will be a permanent one or not. We also saw a herd of 20 elephants, and from there headed east where we found Ntima stalking some impala. She gave up after a while, so we left her to herself.

The afternoon drive was just as productive. We found a male rhino and a large herd of buffalo together (heaven only knows what they were talking about). We then came across another three buffalo bulls languishing in a mud pool, and a short while after that we saw another rhino bull. We watched a very impressive herd of more than 60 elephants feeding, and finally we found the four Tsalalas and the Styx male sleeping very close to the new luxury rooms at the lodge.

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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