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Newsletter - Summer 2007
Summer is here in all its glory: blazing hot days, sudden downpours and the bush around us is growing wildly again.
From lions to squirrels, the world is full of youngsters growing up around us and taking advantage of the season of plenty to get plump and strong. The abundance of both water and grass means that the antelope are fat and glossy, their extra energy expended in bouncy displays across the plains behind the lodge.
Fat grey storm clouds occasionally move across the reserve, dumping welcome loads of rain in the afternoons. These storm waters feed the river, swelling it to a fat, chocolate python snaking smoothly through the green of the reserve.
The migrant birds are here in force
and, along with the resident species, every tree and most of the sky is filled with birdsong and frenetic activity.
Every day, the mercury climbs impressively high, the sun creating shimmering heat-waves over the plains. The ground gets hot, very hot, and the shape of any animal daft enough to leave the shade is rippled and distorted by the rising heat.
By midday, the bush is quiet, much quieter than at midnight, as the animals and birds all rest and avoid the heat. The trees create little pockets of life, the animals gathering in the shade and relative cool, waiting for the sun to lose some of its ferocity. The shelter creates odd groups, under one tree a family of warthogs, a few wildebeest and a lonely (or confused) zebra wait together, under the next tree some impala, an old elephant and some baboon fidget in the shade. The animals pass the time in different ways, the warthogs sleep, the elephants think, the impala chew the cud and the baboons search each other for fleas. There is a rumour the wildebeest discuss politics, but this has not been confirmed.
As the heat grows, so do the rain clouds, forming massive towers on the horizon, their thunder rolls across the hot ground, a subtle promise of relief. As the sun slips from the highest point of the sky, the animals slowly begin to stir. Ears start to flicker more often and tails flick flies more vigorously. If conditions are right, the clouds move over the reserve, bringing welcome rain. Huge icy drops shoot down, the water so cold after the heat of the day that each drop feels like an ice cube exploding on your skin. If the rain comes, it usually passes over quickly, the clouds rumbling off into the distance. The earth is left smelling baked, steam billowing from the ground. Insects, stirred by the rain, take flight, a feast for the birds diving and swooping across the sky after a meal.
As the sun sinks towards the western horizon and the heat begins to slacken, the animals start to move, leaving the shade to go onto the plains and feed, or go down to the river to drink. As the sun finally slips behind the horizon, the disappearance of the last rays is usually accompanied by deep roars from the lions, finally awake after a day of slumber in the shade.
The spectacular summer sunsets give way to clear, warm nights, perfect for the adventurous to sleep out at the hide. Storm clouds passing over the horizon create dazzling light displays, the soft rumble echoing back across the plains. Frogs and crickets call throughout the night, filling the dark with chirps and croaks, their calls competing with those of the jackals and hyena searching for food. Some plants (particularly the geophytes) flower at night at this time of year, spectacular large white blooms easily visible in the moonlight and pollinated by bats and moths. These flowers usually only last one night and are quickly scorched by the sun soon after sunrise. The nights are short at this time of year, and it is not that long before the sun’s first rays are greeted by the lions roaring in the cool morning air. The day is not cool for long, as the sun climbs into the sky the heat is quickly felt and the cycle begins again.
Head Guide’s Report
The Mosela Sela pride are doing exceptionally well (they are our resident lion pride consisting of four adult females and eight cubs – yes, its eight cubs again, number 8 has reappeared!) In fact, three more cubs, belonging the one of the Kwena females, have joined the family. All of the cubs are growing incredibly fast. The older cubs are now at an age where the young males are growing a lot quicker than the young females. As the pride now has even more hungry mouths to feed, the lions have begun crossing the river for the first time in order to expand their hunting grounds. The Dipelo pride (the neighboring female pride) has moved north-west away from the area, giving the Mosela Sela pride a bit more space!
By far the largest pride in Madikwe, our lion pride has finally overtaken the Dipelo pride in strength and size, giving them more protection against their rivals.
The Batias (the two dominant males in the area) are still alive and well. Being the oldest lions in Madikwe, they are looking a little battered, but are still magnificent, particularly when they are found out on patrol of their territory. They have been seen mating with some of the females in the area, including the Mopipi female of the Mosela Sela pride, so we may be seeing even more cubs soon!
The elephant herds are back, and in full force. There have been literally hundreds of the giants around, providing us with some fantastic sightings, whether from a vehicle, on a walking safari or from the suites.
The young male cheetah with the broken leg that was found close to the lodge a few months ago, is doing very well. Declan, the reserve ecologist, was able to dart the cheetah and place him in a holding boma, where he could be treated and closely monitored. The young male cheetah has made a complete recovery, almost doubled his body weight and has since been released.
Buffalo are being seen more and more frequently around Makanyane. There is a herd of about seventeen animals that are being seen in the more densely vegetated areas of our private ground or down at the river crossing. Although they are still a bit on the shy side, we have had some good sightings just before sunset. There are also some “Dugga Boys”, huge old solitary bulls, usually a little on the grumpy side, that are being seen often down at the crossing.
Rhino are also popping up everywhere, mainly because of the amount of small watering holes left by the occasional thunderstorms. They are being seen in areas that they are not usually found in during the winter, our dry season. Our dominant rhino bull recently got into a fight with one of the neighbouring males, probably a territorial dispute. Thankfully, our bull is bigger and tougher, he managed to hold his ground and force the intruder back across the river. Neither rival got off lightly, but our bull has healed up quickly and is now even more entrenched in his territory. He is very likely the father of the very young calf we are now frequently seeing close to the lodge.
Yoda (the female aardwolf, named by some of our return guests, Lothar and Briggite – yes, we know Yoda is a male, but the resemblance is uncanny) gave birth to two cubs on Makanyanes plains. To see an aardwolf is a rare sight in its own right, but to see an aardwolf with two cubs about three meters away from the vehicle is almost unheard of. Yoda has probably lived there unnoticed for ages as she is incredibly relaxed, and does not mind the vehicles at all. The cubs are growing fast, and it will not be long now until they have to leave the den and make it on their own.
Head Guide, Makanyane Safari Lodge
The large trees around the suites make the lodge an ideal place for animals to seek shelter from the sun. As Dylan mentioned, the elephants in particular are fond of wandering in to join us in the camp, usually to take a siesta, standing quietly in the shade, not moving except for the occasional flapping of ears. If you stand nearby, there is a good chance you will hear them snoring quietly! More than one guest has received a surprise when they suddenly notice one of the characters dozing quietly a few meters from their suite. As it gets cooler, they usually need to be asked to leave the lodge grounds, the trees here would not stand too much of their attention when it comes to feeding! Recently one cheeky little one even decided to have a good scratch against the thatch of one of the suites, I’m pretty sure the architect did not have this in mind during the design process!
The elephants also cause some unusual traffic jams, they frequently gather on the river crossing in the evenings to drink and socialise. They are often not at all pleased to be disturbed by a game drive vehicle with the very minor (in their opinion) objective of getting back to the lodge for dinner. This can cause dinner to be delayed as the vehicle is forced to wait (elephants have right of way, and no-one is going to convince them differently) until the elephants have all moved out of the way.
But at this time of year the Marula trees start to bear their sticky, sweet fruit. This is considered a delicacy by the elephants, so most of them have moved off to the areas where the Marulas are more common for the time being, but it will not be long before they are back to make our lives interesting!
Even with elephants causing a delay, dinner is always worth any wait, just look at what Cassandra and Mauritz would have prepared for you after the drive!
Hot and Sour soup
Subtle flavours of ginger, garlic and soy finished with tofu create a delicious Chinese-style soup
Fig, Cheddar, Basil, and Spanish Onion Tarte tatin.
Fresh flavours perfectly compliment the cheddar and flaky pastry.
Zartar encrusted Warthog Fillet with sweet potato Gratin and apples stewed in star anise.
Combining middle eastern flavours with local game meat creates an interesting and satisfying main dish.
Lemon and pistachio sherbet with summer berries
A light fresh and delicious end to a perfect meal.
More good news is that we are in the process of revitalising many areas of the lodge. Already the outdoor areas of the main lodge and the swimming pool have smart new furniture with new cushions in bright colours that make these areas look vibrant and fresh. But don’t take my word for it, come and see for yourself!
Hope to see you soon,