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Newsletter - Winter 09
Here we are into winter again.
This time of year is always a bit nerve-wracking for us, we tend to spend a lot of time scanning the horizons for smoke.
The thick grass of summer is now bone-dry and most of the trees have lost their leaves. Any fire starting in the bush has plenty of fuel and can very quickly get out of control and move through the reserve, causing havoc as it goes. And it seems to be amazingly easy for fires to get started – careless drivers flicking cigarette butts from their vehicle, glass pieces magnifying the sun, even dewdrops are rumoured to concentrate the sun enough to cause a fire.
We do what we can to prevent the spread of fire and to protect infrastructure by burning or cutting firebreaks, but this is an activity that carries its own risks.
Apart from the chance of a fire getting out of control, the animals here often don’t appreciate our attempts to safeguard them and their homes.
I seem to have spent far too much time during the last few weeks shepherding fires around buildings and in strips through the bush. And it’s just not really that much fun.
Apart from fire-beaters (large flaps of rubber on a stick – very sophisticated) and a vehicle with a water tank and fire hose, we have these backpacks that allow you to carry water with you. Equipped with a hand pump so that you can spray the fire from close range, these are very effective and useful. The problem is that they were obviously designed by someone last gainfully employed during the Spanish Inquisition. (Whoever thought that 20 kg of water could be effectively carried around in a large plastic bottle hanging off your shoulders on two bits of rope clearly did not have mobility, ergonomics or longevity as major concerns.)
After a few days of running through the bush, in the smoke and the heat, with this contraption biting into you, the thought of being burnt to death starts to have an odd appeal.
But the fun does not stop there.
Fire is a natural process and (apart from anything else) is useful in clearing moribund vegetation that would adversely affect fresh plant growth.
Being an intrinsic part of nature, the creatures here are equipped to deal with fire and have instinctive protective measures to keep themselves safe from it.
One of the benefits of everything being so dry is that any fire moves through the bush incredibly fast, if an animal can survive the heat for a few minutes, then the danger is usually over. So the animals that are able to move fast enough, will either run or fly off. Things that can not move quickly enough hide down holes, under rocks and in open areas.
(Not up the trees – if the fire is hot enough, many trees will burst into flames). At the first whiff of smoke, the animals react – tortoises move into bare areas of soil, snakes hide down holes, insects hide under rocks, etc.
With all this in mind, you would think that jogging through the bush after a fire, putting out smouldering stumps or shaping the fire’s movement, would be a walk in the park.
The problem comes in with the oxygen equation. Although the fire is short and sharp, it still sucks up all the oxygen as it passes. Immediately after it has moved off, most of the creatures need to come out to get fresh air as soon as it is safe. Ironically, this coincides with the time we come stumbling along. Being suddenly robbed of their shelter, a little toasted and short of breath, most things are simply not pleased to see some idiotic human stumbling through the smoke.
In the last few days I have seen more of our smaller inhabitants like snakes, monitors, scorpions and centipedes than I care to think about. And none of them have been happy to see me. Not one. Not that I have felt very different about seeing them. Evasive action, when you are weighed down by a surplus 20kgs of water, tends to be slow and clumsy - when it happens at all.
The advantage in all of this is that once the dead grass has burnt off, fresh nutritious growth shoots up – a magnet for grazers. So the burnt areas are ideal for game viewing, making it all worthwhile!
Head Guide’s Report
The lions rule the Makanyane private ground with an iron fist at the moment!
We knew that the adult lionesses in the local pride, the Mosela-sela pride, were expecting litters, as all the guides had witnessed the Naledi males mating with the females. A month after mating the lionesses had disappeared and as hard as we tried, it was impossible to find them. We expected that they each had a den somewhere and so we waited in eager anticipation for each of the females to show off their new babies.
Gradually the females re-appeared, first was the Mosela-sela female herself and one of the Kwena females, with 7 cubs between them (we have no way of knowing who is mom to which cubs!) Then one evening, as I was heading back to the lodge in a torrential downpour, I came across the second Kwena female with her four cubs. Some time later, Ernst found the Mopipi female one misty morning with her own three cubs in tow, bring the number of cubs in the pride to 14! With the four mothers and the two dominant males, the Naledis, the total number of lions in the pride is 20 – a spectacular sight!
Being good and protective mothers, initially the moms were reclusive and unfriendly towards vehicles if they were found. But gradually, as the cubs matured, they have been allowing us to see their youngsters more and more, enabling us to watch each little family in the pride grow up.
While we are on the topic of new youngsters, one of the resident white rhinos close to the lodge has recently been seen with a tiny calf, only slightly bigger than a warthog. With only a faint bump of a horn, this little fellow is fantastic to watch cavorting around his mother, totally oblivious to any surrounding dangers. I suppose he doesn’t really have too much to worry about, with a mother of impressive size, sporting an equally impressive horn, watching over him.
The black backed jackals are doing just as well, with three nearby resident pairs each successfully raising two pups. One litter is being raised on our main access road and provides us with daily sightings of the little ones as they grow.
Yoda (the resident aardwolf), has been seen sniffing out a disused warthog burrow. We are holding thumbs that she decides to den on our plains again. The previous year, Yoda allowed us to get within 3 meters of her den and allowed her cubs to exit the den with us very near by. To view aardwolf cubs at such a close distance is unheard of. We can only hope that Yoda gives us a second opportunity to view her incredibly rare cubs once more.
In the beauty department, Louise is now using a new range of products created by Annique. Called the Body Range, all of these excellent products contain Rooibos extract. Rooibos (or Red Bush) is a local shrub, well know for the very healthy tea which can be brewed from the leaves. But Rooibos also has anti-oxidant, anti-cellulite, anti-ageing and many other health boosting properties.
Used in any of the health and beauty treatments on our list of available treatments, these products are sure to leave you feeling revitalised!
I n the kitchen, Mauritz and his incomparable team are fighting the winter cold with the following delicious offering:
White Bean Cappuccino Soup
(White beans and chicken stock are mixed with cream and butter to create a rich, creamy froth and sprinkled with dried porcini.)
Pan-seared breast of Quail with truffled Celeriac Remoulade and a Port Jus
(Quail breast, seared in olive oil, is served with a fresh Remoulade and rich jus, just delicious!)
Rack of Impala served on a Potato Rosti with wilted Baby Spinach and diced Root Vegetables and a rich Game Gravy
(Delicious Impala, fresh vegetables and thick gravy create a main dish guaranteed to ward off the winter chills.)
Poached Pear Cardamom Tarte Tatin with hazelnut cream and Gorgonzola Ice Cream.
(Plump, ripe pears are poached to perfection then caramelized. Roasted, crushed cardamom is added before the pears are covered in pastry and baked. Served with a light hazelnut cream and Gorgonzola ice cream, you won’t forget this desert in a hurry!)
As Dylan mentions, now that the cubs are much older, the moms have settled down remarkably and are allowing much better game viewing. Actually, it may just be exhaustion. With fourteen hungry mouths to feed, the four moms are under plenty of pressure to bring home the bacon. Or warthog. Or wildebeest. Or anything at all that will keep the family happy.
As a result, they are spending most of their time hunting, barely having time to feed themselves before going off in search of the next meal.
The youngsters, now very confident and adventurous, are left to their own devices and are great fun to watch. They spend their time chasing and tackling each other or playing with anything else they can find. This goes on for hours until they either fall asleep under a tree, or one of the moms comes to call them for dinner. Then they all rush off after her, growling and mewing, to wherever the lionesses have brought something down.
Come and enjoy all this with us!