Kruger March Musings – Mluwati Concession Newsletter 2022

A warm welcom to the Mluwati Concession!

Over the last few months, the Concession has been soaked with an extraordinary volume of rain brought by the La Niña weather phenomenon. For those of us who have spent a considerable amount of time on the Concession, this period of abundance has also prompted us to think about its stark dissimilarity with the severe droughts from 2015/2016, which were created by the contrasting El Niño weather phenomenon.

Together, El Niño and La Niña are connected terms that describe the predominant fluctuation in Earth’s global climate system. El Niño is used to describe the period of warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures that occur every few years, which in turn creates severe—albeit contrasting—weather patterns for different regions. For example, during El Niño, East Africa has experienced extreme rainfall whilst the majority of Southern Africa has experienced severe drought. Alternatively, La Niña is the term used to describe the opposite side of the fluctuation when the sea surface temperature is cooler than average. During this time, Southern Africa experiences massive amounts of rains and even flooding in some areas.

In some ways, this phenomenon can be thought of as a metaphor to represent the fluctuations of life in that neither prosperity nor devastation lasts forever. The oscillations between these two states of being build our collective resilience and prepare us for what lies ahead. It has almost been two years since the onset of the global pandemic, and we are optimistically watching a glimmer of light appear at the end of the tunnel. Certainly, in many ways, 2022 marks a new beginning for how we live and for a renewed appreciation for the wonders of life as we know it. In our first Newsletter of 2022, we will update you on some of our favourite residents and consider what the new year may bring for them!

LIONS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:

The Hamiltons Pride:

The Hamiltons Pride’s dynamics have shifted considerably over the last couple of months as a result of the abundance of water and prey species. The Pride has split into various splinter groups averaging between four and five adult females and their young. These groups structures, however, seem to be quite fluid and we enjoyed one sighting of the entire Pride together for a brief time. It made us reminisce about the magnificent sightings that we used to have of the entire Pride of 23 members during one of the worst droughts experienced in the Kruger between 2015 to 2016. The larger pride numbers allowed the Pride to catch larger prey such as buffalo and giraffe when smaller prey species were scarce. Now in the time of plenty, the Pride seems to manage much better in smaller groups. The Groups are generally seen close to Hamiltons Tented Camp, S125 North and South, and some of the smaller groups go up to the S125 as far as the tar road.

Blondie and Madala continue to enjoy their stronghold over the Southeastern parts of the Concession. Their return to the Concession has provided us with a valuable lesson on male lion dispersion and behaviour. Several years ago, the males started on the Concession as a newly territorial coalition. Driven by the innate desire to spread their genetics, the males then ventured further into the Kruger as their territory expanded in search of other Prides. Eventually, the males disappeared from the Concession—and from the Hamiltons Pride—for a considerable period. Then, a couple of years ago, they suddenly reappeared on the Concession in the worst possible condition imaginable. At the time, the fluctuating male lion dynamics in the area resulted in a few occasions where we saw them in a condition that made us believe that we would never see them again. Today, however, Blondie and Madala have now sired the last four generations of Hamiltons Pride cubs and are in fantastic condition. It is a lesson that shows us that life is truly what we make of it!

The Imbali Pride:

We are delighted to share that our Imbali Pride has well and true returned home. As our regular Newsletter readers may already know, the Pride had spent the better part of 2021 outside of the Concession as they moved further west as far as to the northern Sabi Sands along with a male lion who used to be referred to as Einstein while he was on the Concession. He is better known these days as the S8 male. It appears that competition from other Prides in that area have pushed the Imbali Pride back towards the Concession. They have been spending a lot of time around Predator Plains as well as Imbali Safari Lodge and the Staff Village. It is a treat for all of us on the Concession to have this special group of lions back in their homeland. Their incredible story of how a group of four breakaway lionesses had their start as a Pride in 2015 is one that will be forever cherished as an important part of our Concession’s history. We often think about those precious moments when they used the Mluwati Riverbed as a den site for their first litters of cubs, and we had the absolute privilege of being able to watch the cubs grow and be part of their family. The Imbali Pride truly forms the backbone of this area, and it has been a pleasure for both our guests and staff to listen to marvellous sounds of them moving around the Lodge throughout the night.

Torchwood Male

The return of the Imbali Pride has also produced frequent sightings of this visitor from the Sabi Sands. Named after a particular area in the northern part of the Sabi Sands, this male seems to be spending a lot of time with the Imbali Pride female and has consequently ventured onto the Concession a few times in their pursuit. On one memorable sighting, the lionesses had managed to kill a baby buffalo close to Predator Plains—only for Torchwood Male to appear from the thickets and chase them off their quarry. The Pride then spent the next two days on the cutline watching as this beautiful male devoured their carcass totally. It will certainly be interesting to see whether the Torchwood Male will establish a more permanent presence in this area as the Imbali Pride settles in their new territorial stronghold.

Son of the Skybed Males:

A son of one of the famous males from Shimangwaneni, also known as the Skybed Males, made a second appearance on the Concession of the festive season. He was found crossing over Hoyo Hoyo Plains, heading back west through the block. There have been rumours circulating amongst the guides that the Skybed boys have taken over the Breakaway Talamati Pride—however, this has not yet been confirmed.

Talamati Breakaway Pride:

We still see this small group of females from time to time. In general, they move between S145, Ridge Road, Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge, and the Generator area. However, they never spend more than 3–4 days in the area and it looks as though they are still looking to establish a permanent territory for themselves. It also appears that competition from some of the larger prides in the area is also influencing their movements.

LEOPARDS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:

While we will never know the exact number of leopards that roam in and out of the Concession, we have managed to identify at least 17 different individuals to date, ranging in ages from five months old to thirteen years old.

Wabayisa:

Despite his age, Wabayisa continues to be in excellent condition, and he remains to be one of the most photographed and well-known male leopards on the Concession. His personality and temperament have allowed our guests to enjoy some truly incredible sightings, making him one of the most special cats that we are able to spend with. From having to remove kills from the Camps to watching him interact with his offspring, we cannot help but consider him the king of the Concession. He has produced a legacy that will forever shape the future of the leopard population in this area.

Tiyasela:

Our star leopardess is still very active around the Concession, moving between Hamiltons Tented Camp and Imbali Safari Lodge. Despite reaching independence and becoming a mature adult, she has retained her distinctive relaxed and inquisitive nature when we spend time with her. We hope that 2022 will be a successful year for her in producing her first successful litter cubs.

Tshidulu:

Tiyasela’s older brother from Nkhanye’s previous litter, Tshidulu, was one of the most well known young male leopards that we were able to spend with before he moved away from the Concession once reaching independence. As the son of Wabayisa and Nkhanye, Tshidulu carries the Mluwati Concession lineage and will be able to spread his parent’s legacy as he ventures further away. We are always delighted to get an update on him, and we have recently been informed that he has travelled all the way down to Simbavati in the northern sector of Timbavati Private Nature Reserve.

Spook:

The enormous male leopard that frequented the Imbali Waterhole, unfortunately, disappeared in the middle of 2020, and we now fear that he is presumed to be dead. Affectionately named for his highly skittish nature when spotted from the vehicles, which contrasted his casual demeanour when visiting the waterhole across from the Lodge, the older male’s tattered ears and intimidating size produced some spectacular sightings for our guests in the Lodge—from a distance, he would look like a female lion! Despite not being able to spend intimate time with him, he has certainly left a lasting impression that we will cherish.

Unknown Male Leopards:

We currently have at least five unknown males in numerous places around the Concession, from Hoyo Hoyo to Imbali and even as far as Hamiltons Tented Camp. Several unknown leopards have also been around KNP Corner, the Western Boundary, S140 and the S145. We hope to be able to get more familiar with these new residents in the coming months.

Unknown Female Leopards:

Although there are not as many unknown females around, we have seen about four younger and older skittish females all over the Concession as well. Unfortunately, they seem to be far more skittish than the males, and they disappear shortly after being spotted.

WILD DOGS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:

It has been an honour to work in collaboration with SANParks and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) on monitoring and collaring the Kruger Wild Dog population since 2015. Whenever we have a sighting of these endangered predators, our guides provide valuable updates to the EWT and SANParks. At times, we also participate in the collaring of identified individuals, and this also provides an incredibly rare opportunity for our guests to witness, learn about, and be involved in this important conservation practice.

After spending the second half of 2021 denning, the various packs are now moving vast distances with the pups who are almost fully grown already! At the moment, we regularly spend time with the Imbali Pack—made up of 26 dogs, the Pungwe Pack made up of only 12 males, and we also enjoy the occasional appearance of the Orpen Pack around the north-western parts of the Concession. It appears as though the Hamiltons Pack has moved to Balule, which is one of the satellite camps to Olifants. The Imbali Female who separated from her maternal Pack appears to have moved down to Lower Sabie before moving east towards the Lebombo Mountains. The last collar record that was shared with us was of her being right on the Mozambican border.

BUFFALOS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:

Given the dense vegetation from the heavy rains, spotting buffalo on the Concession has been at times difficult to say the least. The odd Dagga boy is always around in a mud wallow or seen at a waterhole. The big herds come and go now with water and grass being plentiful everywhere. Due to the huge fires around the outskirts of the Concession, we have seen most of the herds enjoying the lush green growth of the Concession. Plenty of pregnant females are being seen, which is good for the rebuilding of the populations since the effects of the droughts in 2015/2016 where over 600 or so animals were lost due to lack of food and water. All the groups that we have seen on the Concession have been healthy and extremely fat! The importance of the herds moving through the areas has been truly realized since the rains have returned and areas are recovering well.

CHEETAH OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:

Our most frequent sightings of these agile cats continue to come from the coalition of four males that frequently visit the KNP Corner. It appears that their regular route through the Concession is to enter from KNP Corner and move all the way down the Cutline and Western Boundary. Occasionally, we have also spotted them on the S140, S145 to the S125. In December, we managed to spend some quality time with them when they were very active on the open areas of Makhoti Khaya on the Manyeleti Boundary. On one memorable occasion, they ended up playing on a fallen over tree—we sat and watched them for over two hours before they moved across the Cutline and went further into the Concession. Though a huge storm approached from the West, forcing us to leave them, we thoroughly enjoyed the special time that were able to share with them.

ELEPHANTS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION

It is the time of the year again for many of the bulls to be in Musth. We are very fortunate here on the Concession that we do not tend to see the full and often negative effect of this time. Our resident bulls are relatively relaxed, and by just by giving them a little extra space as well allowing them to come to us rather than us approaching them, we are able to safely enjoy their company.  Our guides are passionate about comforting guests who may have a phobia for these huge animals and want to produce sightings that allow our guests to watch how they feed, swim, play and move without the constant fear of them chasing the vehicle. The time spent with these iconic animals is one of the most rewarding experiences. Our favourite sightings are those of the calves who often described to behave like children! It is thoroughly entertaining to watch the claves throw tantrums when they are disciplined by adults or pushed too hard by an older elephant. They are always up to something—where it is chasing impalas and birds to prove that they are bigger and stronger or figuring out how to use their trunks by flopping them all over the place!

COMMUNITY PROJECT UPDATE

To celebrate the new year, the Imbali Safari Lodges team participated in a donation drive for our community project, the Mirantha Youth Development Project—a registered non-profit organisation that cares for, and educates, neglected orphans and vulnerable youth in the town of Acornhoek, Mpumalanga. The Project is run by Happiness Lubisi, a champion social worker, who now supports more than 120 orphans and vulnerable youth in her community.

Several members of our Imbali Safari Lodges team and their families hail from Acornhoek, which lies directly  outside of the Kruger National Park. The survival of the surrounding communities of the park is directly reliant on the business and investment that comes from the presence of ecotourism activities in the area. To secure the stability and prosperity of these communities, the empowerment and protection of their youth is a fundamental requisite. Our team members were able to provide linen, towels, and other homeware that had been donated by Lodges. The donations were much appreciated by the community members, and it was a truly wonderful opportunity for the team to continue in their endeavour to support the communities around the Kruger National Park.

To find out more about or Community Project and to explore ways in which you can contribute to our resource-based approach to the project, we invite you to explore our Corporate Social Responsibility page on our website! 

“Few can sojourn long within the unspoilt wilderness of a game sanctuary, surrounded on all sides by its confiding animals, without absorbing its atmosphere; the Spirit of the Wild is quick to assert supremacy, and no man of any sensibility can resist her.” – James Stevenson-Hamilton

THE GUIDES OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION

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