Ranger Diaries & Press
May 2023 Wildlife Report
Winter is coming. This month we started to truly feel the cold mornings and chilly evenings. The changes from summer to winter have been noticeable for a few months, regarding the bush density opening, the seasonal grasses dying out and most, if not all, migratory birds have gone. Blankets, hot-water bottles, and plenty of hot drinks are quite necessary to stay warm. We can truly get excited for the winter season ahead. Our local pans, such as Malembeni and the pan just in front of the lodge will start to see more and more activity as water sources will be scarce. Even our lodge swimming pool will get some more visitors. We have already had some elephants come by and enjoy a drink. Let’s get into some of our amazing sightings over the last month.
All images in this article were taken by Thomas Veenema.
I’d like to start with one of my favourite animals to find in the bush. Not only for its beauty but also for being an elusive animal. Tracking and finding the animal with the help of our exceptional trackers makes it such a rewarding animal to find. The leopard sightings in our area have been excellent and they’ve been quite active.
Some mornings you just get a feeling about a particular animal. For this morning, I wanted (you might say needed) to find a leopard. It’s been a few days since we had last seen one and we had good signs right from the start. Early in the morning our tracker, Clyde, had already seen some male leopard tracks walking right through camp and moving down towards the riverbed in front of the lodge. Good start. Let’s try to follow these tracks. Coming down to the riverbed, Clyde jumped off the vehicle to follow the tracks and I went around on a few roads to see if I could find where the tracks may have crossed. A little bit later Clyde hopped back on the tracker seat and said the tracks turned south through the riverbed and possibly up onto the ridge south of the lodge. We simultaneously told each other we should check the road that runs south of the lodge. We drove on the road, slowly, trying to see any signs of this leopard. We could see one, then two, then three hyenas below a big Nyala berry pacing around and looking up and down the tree. We look up the tree and there it was, resident Pale Male up in the tree with a big meal between his jaws. A quick silent celebration for both Clyde and myself, since today's tracking paid off handsomely.
Sometimes they seem to up and vanish, but this past month they have been around all over the place. Some days we don’t even need to leave the lodge to see them. These gentle giants walk past the open area in front of the lodge and make their way to the pan near the lodge. It is always such a pleasure to see. Apart from these moments, there are some amazing moments that we are able to capture on our drives as well.
Clyde and I were driving alongside one of the riverbeds near Makumu and there was a herd of elephants walking through the riverbed. Observing them, we could see they were on a mission towards something. What could this be? Are they moving away from a bull in Musth? Are they leaving a potentially dangerous area? Are they trying to get to a place to feed? Are they going to a waterhole for a drink or a mud bath? Seeing their body language, we could see they were not nervous and their pace was decent, but not too quick for them to be leaving a dangerous area. Even though we are going into winter, it was still a nice and warm afternoon. Given these signs and the fact that the elephants did not give us any warnings or signs of aggression, we assumed they were on their way towards a water hole. We had two waterholes nearby that the elephants could choose from, we drove towards one of them and looked to see if the elephants were headed our way. They weren’t. Quickly we drove around, towards the other waterhole. Jackpot, one elephant was already drinking, but the other elephants had not arrived yet. We positioned ourselves very nicely and shortly after, we could see the herd emerge from the bush, three joined the elephant around the waterhole. Then another two, then some more, and even more. Some of the younger elephants could not wait to get a drink, running towards the waterhole, kicking up dust as they ran along. Soon the entire waterhole was surrounded by elephants. Adults, teenagers, toddlers and babies standing shoulder to shoulder quenching their thirst. Something that always amazes me is the way they curl their trunk up after filling it with water and releasing it into their mouth. The babies and toddlers haven’t acquired this skill with their trunk yet, so they’ll overcome this problem by going face-first into the water and getting their well-deserved water intake right from the source. As quickly as they surrounded the waterhole, just as quickly can a herd disappear from the waterhole. Since waterholes are great places for predators to pick off anything that might get distracted by drinking water. In this case, it wasn’t a predator, but out of the bush walked a big white rhino bull. Some stragglers got a fright from him and quickly moved back to the safety of the herd and disappeared into the bush. Two for the price of one waterhole, we were happy to stay with this rhino bull for the next while.