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Newsletter Winter 2005
Makanyane Safari Lodge
Winter is here again, the storms of summer long forgotten, the wind is now dry and cool. The mornings are cold and clear, the nights crisp and still.
The sun sets earlier and rises later now, the cooler air bringing the brown hyenas and civets out earlier, allowing game drives to see them far more frequently. As the bush is drying out, the grass is lower and the leaves have fallen from many of the trees, so game viewing is even easier.
The wide plains behind the lodge are prime territory for antelope. Winter is the main rutting time for impala, and guests sitting on the look out point are treated to daily displays of aggression as these seemingly meek and defenceless antelope turn into aggressive guardians of their territory.
During most of the year, the males travel together in very sociable bachelor herds. However, once winter arrives, the fully mature bachelors begin to fight amongst themselves, struggling to win a piece of territory. The better the quality of the territory – better feeding, proximity to water – the more like it is to attract females, giving the ram improved and increased chances to mate. The stronger and healthier the ram, the better the territory he will win and his genes will be passed on more youngsters, ensuring the continued survival of the species. So the struggle for territory is at the core of genetic maintenance for the species.
Having won territory, the winners embark on a frantic struggle to hold onto the ground, and keep any female herds within the territory. The females are almost constantly harrased by the ram, who forces them to stay close to him.
Any other males that come close to his territory, or even worse, “his” females, are threatened and chased off. He announces ownership of his ground with raucous snorting and bellowing, which continues periodically throughout the day, but seems louder and more constant at night, the calls from various territories seem to fill the still, cold air with endless snorts and bellows. That this dainty and elegant antelope can produce these guttural sounds at such volume always comes as a surprise!
Although chased off, other fully mature rams, themselves ready and keen to mate, seldom go far. Usually, they run just far enough away from the territory that the dominant ram is forced to turn back, and then they wait, slowly drifting back to threaten his position again. Eventually they do not run, but turn and challenge him for ownership of the ground and the female herd.
When it comes down to a full confrontation, any ideas about the impala as meek and mild “Bambi”– like antelope are forgotten. The males fight viciously, using their sharp horns to try to get through their opponent’s defences. The rams crash into each other, locking horns and driving their opponents back with incredible ferocity. The sound of their horns hitting each other is like a pistol shots and their whole bodies quiver with each impact. They continue parrying and thrusting, while their opponent tries to fend off the sharp horns and retaliate into any opening.
Their fighting, as viscous as it is, is elegant fencing compared with the violent sabre fights of the waterbuck. Much larger and far heavier, waterbuck have powerful, thick horns. Generally waterbuck avoid clashes, using posturing and body language to intimidate potential threats, but when violence in defence of their territories becomes inevitable, the males’ fights are brutal and harsh.
Confrontation in waterbuck starts with the males circling each other a few meters apart. With necks pulled in and heads held high, the bulls try to look as intimidating as possible. Tails are held stiffly away from the body and the opponent is watched closely. At any sign of an opening, the males lunge at their opponent, who blocks the charge by meeting it head on. Their horns meet with a solid crash, the impact bringing both to a dead halt. The bulls then grapple with each, other pushing and shoving, each seeking a weakness to exploit in the other. Eventually, they break apart, leaping back to avoid the lethal tips of their opponent’s horns. Then the circling resumes, each now having a better idea of the other one’s strength. Usually the fight is settled in this way after several bouts when the stronger one will convince the weaker one to back down and then chase him away. The fights very seldom result in serious injury. In contrast to the impala, waterbuck are usually silent, except for some occasional snorting when herding females.
We have been fortunate to have numerous exciting, action-packed and sometimes comical sightings on Krokodildrift, our area of private ground around the lodge, over the past few weeks.
While many of the elephant herds have moved to the central and western parts of the park recently, we still have regular sightings of large breeding herds of over thirty elephants, as well as the occasional lone bull, on the Krokodildrift plains or at the drift across the river.
Predator sightings have been exceptionally good recently. During one specific morning drive, the guides came across the Batia brothers, the dominant male lions in the area, on the eastern Krokodildrift border. After following them for some time the guides found other fresh lion tracks in the same area. It was not long before the Kgakala/ Etali coalition of three younger male lions appeared on the horizon. The Batia brothers picked up the scent of these three young upstarts in their territory and the chase was on. The three young males escaped a thrashing by wisely choosing to flee, with the roaring Batia brothers hot on their heels.
Shortly after this incident the Kgala brothers had a disagreement with their Etali comrade and roughed him up a bit. However, we are pleased to report that the young Etali male is recovering and doing just fine (Far away from his assailants of course!)
We were very excited recently when the Madikwe pack of twenty one wild dogs ventured across the drift and onto our plains one morning. The same can unfortunately not be said for the warthogs who lost a number of friends and relatives over the three days that followed. One of the wild dogs and a black backed jackal had us in stitches when together they played catch-me-if-you-can around an acacia thicket. The fleet- footed jackal playfully kept himself just ahead of the wild dog as they ran around and around a fallen tree. The jackal paused occasionally to yell and laugh defiantly at the frustrated wild dog.
The dogs also ran into the Kwena pride of lions on two occasions, turning around in mid stride and high-tailing it out of the area as fast as possible.
Recently the female cheetah and her two cubs revisited Krokdrift plains and found it to be a very happy hunting ground, they brought down an impala ram close to one of our game drive vehicles, much to the delight of the guests.
Latest news is that at least one of the Kwena females is expecting cubs soon, watch this space for updates!
Warm regards from the guiding team at Makanyane Safari Lodge.
Head field guide
Makanyane Safari Lodge.
Back at the lodge, the colder nights mean that the fires are lit each night in the main lodge and in the suites. The main lodge fires are very popular spots for the camp mongoose, Tsala, who is usually found snoozing beside one in the early morning. (That is, if she is not curled up, sound asleep, in an accommodating guest’s jacket!)
As cosy as it is, being curled up by the fires means that you miss out on all activity around the lodge, and there has been plenty of that in the last few weeks! Honeymooners in Suite 8 recently left their suite on the way to high tea, and immediately found one of the local male lions, the Kwena male, out hunting impala on the pathways. Both parties looked at each other for some time before the guests beat a hasting retreat and called reception to ask for the lion to be removed. Several times in the last few weeks various groups of lions have made their way though the camp, disrupting normal lodge activities. Their roars have echoed through the camp most nights recently, seeming to splinter the crisp air, setting off choruses of alarm calls from the baboons sleeping in the trees across the river from the lodge.
In the kitchen, taking advantage of the cooler weather and the fresh produce available at this time of year, Cassandra, our executive chef, has devised some delicious new menus which are not only fun and exciting, but also hearty and warming.
Here is a sample:
Carrot and Cumin Soup
(Roasted onions, spices, carrots and stock are combined to create a delicious appetizer)
King Prawn Ravioli with a Truffled Pea Sauce and Harrisa Oil
(The delicious truffled pea sauce subtly compliments the flavour of the prawns)
Roasted Ostrich with creamy Parsnip Puree, Balsamic glazed Baby Beetroot, Rosemary and Pear Chutney and a Pinor Jus
(Expertly prepared meat and colourful fresh vegetables make for an unforgettable main course)
Lime and Amaretto Pannacotta with Poached Quince and crisp Coconut Wafer
(A delicious light finish to a superb meal, the fresh flavour of the quince is a perfect accompaniment to the smooth and creamy Pannacotta)
Very exciting news is that the building of the stables is now complete, and we have finally found four suitable horses, which have moved into their new compound. After a six-week adjustment period, which has allowed the new arrivals to get used to their environment, training of the horses and staff has now started in earnest. We are anticipating a long training phase, as both the horses and staff need to be extensively trained to react correctly should they find themselves in close proximity to any of the Big Five while out riding! (Some of us are now stiff in places we didn’t know we had places!).
Once training is complete however, we are looking forward to offering a horse safari as an alternative to a game drive.
The thrill of horse riding in a big five area has to one of the most exhilarating experiences one can have in Africa, so if you are a keen and experienced rider – book now!!
Hope to see you soon!!