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Newsletter Winter 2007
Winter is a “secret season” here in Madikwe.
People seem to expect our winters here to be miserable with unpleasant weather. As a result of this, we tend to have fewer guests in the winter months.
But the truth is that this is one of best times to visit the reserve.
While it does get undeniably cold here at night, (it can drop beneath freezing) this just gives us a good reason to have blazing fires and the occasional glass of excellent port or sherry (or port and sherry, depending on how cold it is!) Winter is our dry season, so the weather is actually perfect, with month after month of clear skies and still days.
Day-time temperatures are mild and pleasant, the mornings start off very crisp but soon warm up, the day staying warm until the sun sets, when the temperature drops dramatically again. The nights are cold, but unbelievably still and clear, the view of the stars needs to be seen to be believed!
The game drives are scheduled to go out at the best times, both in terms of game activity and everyone’s comfort, so the worst of the cold is avoided, but blankets and hot water bottles are always on hand just in case!
This time of year is also ideal for people who may not be too keen on insects or reptiles. The cold nights mean that most of the reptiles become very inactive for the winter and there are few, if any, insects moving around at this time of year.
For the people keen on photography, it is a fantastic time. The light is very good for a longer time after sunrise and before sunset, it is far clearer and less harsh than in summer months. Also the lower grass and fewer leaves on trees mean less to get in the way of that National Geographic shot!
Head Guide’s Report
With the beautiful crisp mornings and spectacular sunrises and sunsets, Madikwe always looks fantastic in winter. The Bushwillows have all turned beautiful shades of red, yellow and brown providing a magnificent background for photography. The Buffalo thorns are in fruit at the moment, which has attracted a huge amount of birdlife, especially the Grey Louie (Go-away bird), and plenty of baboons and Vervet monkeys. With plenty of these trees in the camp grounds, the lodge is full of activity.
The majority of the water holes have now dried up, but this has by no means put a damper on our sightings. Elephant, Rhino and Lion are making frequent visits to the drift (low level bridge) near the lodge, as this area is one of their permanent water sources.
Usually our summer months (November to March) are the best time for viewing all the new youngsters, but we are incredibly fortunate to have two den sites on our exclusive land. One is occupied by an Aardwolf (which we have named Yoda). She is very relaxed and allows us to approach within several meters of her den. She does not seem to be concerned at all and very often will fall asleep at the entrance to her burrow and not move when a vehicle arrives. The Aardwolf is generally a very shy, nocturnal animal, and you would normally consider yourself very lucky to catch even a brief glimpse of one at night, as they speed off into the distance. The luxury of having one as laid back as Yoda is almost unheard of, especially at a den.
The second den site is occupied by a clan of hyenas, one of which has two cubs at the moment. Like the Aardwolf, these little guys are quite happy about game drive vehicles moving past, even coming out to investigate when they hear someone arrive. The one cub is noticeably darker than the other and is, I’m sure, a female. She is very bold and outgoing, never failing to pop her head out to see what’s going on when a vehicle pulls up to the den. The other youngster is quite shy, normally retreating into the den at the slightest hint of anything unknown. Mom and the rest of the clan are never far away, often lying at the entrance of the den keeping guard. Many people are under the impression that hyenas are strictly scavengers, but this is incorrect. Recently, the adult hyena managed to kill an enormous kudu bull near the den. They are extremely good hunters and although they will scavenge, they most certainly prefer a fresh meal.
Our resident pod of six hippos is still being seen regularly in front of the suites. They seem to be using their usual game trail between room six and room seven as a entry and exit point, when they head out for there nightly feed. David (our night security watch) has his hands full at the moment trying to keep the hippo off the paths. Being both short-sighted and short-tempered, a hippo is not the kind of animal that you would like to bump into on the way back to your suite, although it can be quite exciting!
Before I managed to finish this newsletter, we had a territorial battle between our hyena clan and the resident lion pride. I got a call from Garth on my radio, letting me know about the battle that was taking place, so I quickly rounded up a few people and set off to watch what happened. When we arrived on the plains, there were about seven young lion chasing three spotted hyena across the plains. Although the hyena were horribly out numbered, they were not about to give up that easily. Because the lions were all fairly young, they were a bit nervous and uncertain which the hyena soon picked up on. Every time the hyena turned to hold their ground, the lion backed off, giving the hyena more and more confidence. This carried on for a couple of minute, until another lioness roared on the southern side of our plains. The hyena then turned their attention to the solitary female and headed for her. When the three spotties reached her, they immediately surrounded her. She lay down and tried to cover all angles of the attack. Between spitting at the hyena, she let out a few soft contact calls, which immediately alerted the rest of the lion pride, who quickly jogged across the plains to join her. When the hyena saw the seven lions approaching, they knew that they had bitten off more than they could chew so they beat a hasty retreat into the nearby vegetation. It was no surprise that we did not see the hyena again that day. The lions proved that they are the “king of the beasts” again!
It looks like the old kings, the Batia brothers (the two dominant male lions in this area) have finally lost their throne on our private ground. Many younger male coalitions have moved into the area recently, and it seems like there is going to be plenty of conflict over the next few months until a new dominant coalition is established. At the moment, the Batia’s sons, the Bulaya males are in residence and are roaring frequently to let everyone know that they are here. One of the males is also mating with one of the Mosela-sela (resident female pride) females. This in itself is interesting, as until now the older females had refused to even look twice at the younger males, usually seeing them off with a solid beating. It would appear that the females have seen which way the leadership is going and have warmed to the young, undeniably handsome, males!
Head Guide, Makanyane Safari Lodge
The colder nights mean that small, typically nocturnal, animals like rodents tend to feed less at night and head for their burrows as soon after sunset (when the temperature begins to drop dramatically) as possible. This behaviour in turn causes their predators to become active earlier than they normally would.
For prey species, small predators and scavengers alike, conserving body heat when it is cold takes up more energy and creates a higher food demand at a time of year when the food supply is typically decreased. So, to try to avoid using up more energy than they can replace, and, in the case of smaller predators, to give themselves a better chance at finding dinner, many of the animals we usually only see active at night are active around sunset and even earlier. This means that seeing small predators, such as genet and civet, and scavengers like the brown hyena during the day becomes much more common in winter. During summer these animals move around the camp in the dark without being noticed or disturbed and so become very relaxed around people. Once they start coming out when we can see them better, they are still relaxed and we have the pleasure of watching these usually secretive animals going about their business.
As mentioned earlier, the cold also means the most of the reptiles in the reserve are very inactive at the moment. Most, but not all of them. A Rock Monitor (a large – in this case very large – lizard-like reptile) has been spending plenty of time around the lodge recently, desperately looking for a nice warm spot to spend the winter. He does keep finding good spots, but so far no-one has agreed with his choices. He tried to sleep on the blades of the roof fan of Bushwillow suite’s outside lounge, but had to be removed when the guests in the suite wanted to use the fan but were afraid of catapulting the giant lizard onto someone (thanks again, Ken!) The monitor then reappeared, this time trying to burrow into the thatched roof of Shepherd’s tree Suite. He gave himself away when he forgot to hide his tail, which he left draped down above the door to the suite. He was again removed.
Undeterred, he has turned up again. This time buried so deep into the thatch of Shepherd’s Tree Suite that he was almost in danger of dropping through into the bedroom of the suite. After a long struggle (it is not easy wrestling with this giant on the slippery slope of the thatch roof, even if he is half asleep), he emerged huffing and puffing in their characteristic way of trying to scare off would-be predators. Once he warmed up a bit, he moved on to his next line of defence, his tail. Their tails are long, muscular and narrow down to a very effective whip. After a couple of slaps with that, you start to lose sight of the funny side of the situation, by which time he moves on to his next defence, his huge claws and big jaws. But by that time I had him safely out of the lodge and halfway across the plains. We are waiting to see where he turns up next!
The monitor is not the only visitor recently, a female Honey badger and her youngster came through the camp early the other morning. During their investigation of the camp, the youngster must have fallen into the river. He was wet, cold and clearly not happy at the thought of any more running around (honey badgers never walk anywhere, they seem to run everywhere) so his mother left him resting in a sunny spot under a bush while she looked around. Honey badgers are not common and are seldom seen, so it was a real treat to be able to see them so close to the lodge and for such a long time. After leaving the youngster sleeping peacefully, and drying out, for about an hour, the mother returned to him and the two jogged off out of the camp.
The Mosela-sela lion pride has also spent quite a bit of time around the lodge recently, often coming into the camp to get to the river for a drink. A few nights ago they turned up when it was about the time that the guests head back to their suites after dinner, so we had to ask them to move away until everyone was safely off the paths. (This has to be done very politely. During the day lions tend to be fairly shy and prefer to move away from any disturbance, but at night they seem to be far more confident and are not keen to move for anyone unless they have a really good reason). After the rest of the pride had moved off without too many problems, three of the youngsters were very reluctant to leave and needed considerable “encouragement” (none of them were actually hit by the stones thrown in their direction) to leave. Eventually they sauntered away from the path, but then things got a bit complicated.
Hippos are completely the wrong colour to be seen at night. That brown-purple colour and their remarkable resemblance to rocks help them blend into the dark far to well. As I followed the last three lions out of the camp we (the lions and I) suddenly realised that there were four hippos also in the camp with us. The hippos had already worked out what was going and had obviously been watching all of us for some time. So myself, three lions and four hippos, all far to close to each other for comfort, stood and contemplated one another.
It is a well known fact that hippos are completely devoid of any trace of a sense of humour. While I’m running them down (and they are not here to defend themselves) I can also mention that they are not over-burdened by intelligence. But they are scary, particularly when they are out of the water and the only thing between you and them are three young lions. (I was disappointed to notice that, as cheeky lions had been with me, they were far more respectful of the hippos. They clearly did not know that I still had a stone in each hand). The hippos just stared malevolently at us (well, three of them did, the fourth was also staring malevolently, but in the opposite direction, reducing the intimidating effect a bit).
The lions sat down to think about the situation (another well know fact is that lions think better sitting, or even better lying, down. Actually I am the same, but I didn’t think it was the time or place.
You know those moments that feel like they go on for an hour but really only last a few seconds? This was not one of them. This one felt like it went on for days. Eventually (around 5pm on the fifth day) the hippos decided to just move away. They snorted loudly (taking ten years off my life and, I was happy to see, also giving the lions a good fright) and shambled off into the night. The lions, now trying very hard to regain their composure, also strolled off, although in the opposite direction. I also moved off, fairly rapidly and straight to the bar.
Back in the kitchen, here is an example of what Executive chef Mauritz is serving up at the moment:
Zucchini and Almond Soup
Sautéed fresh Baby Marrow and roasted almonds are deliciously combined in this rich soup
Stir fried Quail on Wild Mushroom Lasagne with Asian Greens and a Soy and Ginger dressing.
The quail is stir fried with soy, ginger and garlic and then heaped on a very thin lasagne surrounded by Bokchoi. The Thai dressing gives this delicious starter an oriental twist.
Spiced Kudu Loin nestled on a Date studded Potato Galett with broad beans and drizzled with a rich Pinot Jus.
Tender Kudu, dates and a rich Jus compliment each other perfectly in this satisfying main dish.
Pear and Lime Charlottes accompanied by Tuille cigar biscuits.
A delicious pear coated lime bavarois with rolled Tuille biscuits, a perfect end to a delicious meal!
As Dylan mentioned, it seems like the Batias, the dominant male lion coalition, have finally lost their grip on our private ground which has been taken over by the Bulaya males. Early this morning, everyone at the lodge staff was awoken to further proof of this new leadership as both the Bulaya males strolled past the staff village and the lodge, roaring continuously.
Gone are the shy, quiet males who would slip onto our private ground and sneak around looking for females, not daring to roar or scent-mark for fear of attracting unwanted attention. This morning for several hours the boys proclaimed themselves the owners of Krokdrift. When lions across the river roared in response, the boys really let go, tearing up what was left of the night with a veritable cacophony.
Looks like we are under new leadership!