January has been an exhilarating month for all of our guests and guides, alike, with some extraordinary sightings including three brand new lion cubs belonging to the Hamiltons Pride.
We would like to dedicate this newsletter to Jason Kleyn, our relatively new guide who joined us in 2019. We received word that Jason had been involved in a freak accident while on his days off. As many people may know, the safari industry is a very tight-knit community with all of us living and working together. We become like family, and as such we will continue to keep Jason and his family in our thoughts and prayers through his recovery. We cannot wait for him to return to us healthy and ready for his next game drive! As we look back on a rather turbulent month, we would also like to extend our condolences to those who lost either their homes or loved ones during Cyclone Eloise, which made landfall on 25 January 2021.
In this Newsletter, we take an in-depth exploration of the physical and behavioural characteristics of our favourite animals that we find in the bush.
“The road is long with many a winding turn that leads us to who knows where – who knows where” – The Hollies (“He Aint Heavy, He’s My Brother”)
LIONS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION
Lion Update: We are delighted to share the exciting news that one of the Hamiltons Pride females has given birth to three adorable cubs who are absolute bundles of fun. Though they were spending considerable time near Hamiltons Tented Camp, the deluge from the Cyclone Eloise has prompted the lioness to move the cubs away from the flowing waters of the N’waswitsontso River.
The African Lion (Panthera leo)
The African Lion was first classified as Felis Leo by Linnaeus in 1758 from a specimen found in Constantine, Algeria. The scientific name for African lions is Panthera leo – The genus Panthera is of Greek origin and comprises of big cat species such as Tigers, Lions, Jaguars and Leopards. A distinguishing feature of the Panthera genus is that all of its species have the unique ability to roar. Leo is the Latin word for lion.
As carnivores, lions are by no means fussy as to the types of meat that they consume or prey species that they catch. Male lions can eat up to 7kgs of food in a single day and lionesses up to 4.5kgs. Both sexes are capable of eating up to 15% of their body weight in just a single sitting
With a maximum speed of just under 60km per hour, lions are relatively slow when compared to the cheetah’s top speed of 97km per hour. Instead, lions are stealth hunters who rely on the arts of camouflage and stealth to successfully hunt. As such, lions have had to evolve into clever hunters—stalking their prey until they are able to get as close as possible before the actual chase begins.
Although lions are able to hunt alone, they are far more successful when working together in a pride. Not only does a coordinated hunt increase the chances of a successful catch, but it also allows for lions to hunt larger prey species such as Cape Buffalo and Southern Giraffe. When hunting as a pride, each lion has its own place—just like a soccer team, they will choose to be in either a left, right or centre position.
There are two primary signs in the tracks of Lion and Leopard that distinguish them—and most other cats – from their dog and hyena counterparts. They both have one large main pad with three clear lobes at the back. Dogs and hyenas only have two. Secondly, cats have retractable claws, which they pull back into their paws. We always say “paws and claws” or “paws no claws”.
LEOPARDS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION
Wabayisa was finally spotted again on KNP Corner after a period of almost 2 months. It appears as though he slowly moving towards Buffelshoek in the Sabi Sand Wildtuin. We believe that this shift in his territory is being caused by a considerable amount of new, larger males that are being spotted around the concession.
We have spent generous amounts of time with Tiyasela throughout the month. She seems to have extended her territory considerably as we believe it now goes all the way from Hamiltons Tented Camp past Imbali Safari Lodge and back to Hamiltons again on the far eastern boundary along the N’waswitsontso River line.
The unknown female leopard and her young male cub have been spotted on several occasions around the First Mati and further up the S125 Road. The male cub, in particular, is very comfortable around the vehicles and has been providing our guests with some exceptional viewing opportunities. We certainly hope he sticks around!
Leopard (Panthera pardus)
Also called a panther, it is a large feline of African and Asian forests—usually having a tawny coat with black spots. The name “Leopard” was originally given to the cat now called cheetah – the so-called “Hunting Leopard” – which was once thought to be a cross between the lion and the pard.
Body size and colour patterns of leopards vary geographically and probably reflect the adaptations to their particular habitats. Leopards have short legs relative to their long bodies. They have a broad head, and their massive skull allows for powerful jaw muscles. The leopard’s scapula has specialised attachment sites for climbing muscles. It widely accepted that the leopard is the strongest of all big cat species pound-to-pound. Leopards stalk their prey typically to within 5 metres of the target. Once within range, it finally pounces on the prey and kills it by suffocation. Some kills have been recorded to have been cached up to 2km apart—small prey is eaten immediately—while larger carcasses are dragged over several hundred meters and securely cached in trees, bushes or even caves to be consumed later.
A group of leopards is known as a “leap” of leopards, but there will not be many occasions when one would be able to refer to them as such. When the question comes from guests as to what is their greatest threat is, the unfortunate answer is the effect that we as humans are having on their habitat distribution. In addition to habitat loss, leopards are also hunted for trophies, their fur, skulls, bones, claws, tails and internal organs are used in a variety of medicines and cosmetics. The most well-known leopard is probably Bagheera from the Jungle Book—the talking leopard that helps young Mowgli survive in the wilderness. An example of African leopard Mythology can be found in the legends and images that surround the superhero T’Challa in Black Panther – he fights with a special bodysuit that embodies the spirit of the historical black panthers of Africa, whose colour is caused by recessive genes found naturally in the species.
WILD DOGS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION
We have successfully managed to recollar the alpha female, from the pack of 12 dogs that we regularly see on the concession, whose collar stopped working due to a technical malfunction. We are also hoping to be able to assist the Endangered Wildlife Trust and SANParks in the collaring of a larger pack numbering a total of 29 individuals that are currently in our area.
Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus)
The scientific name means “Painted Wolf” referring to the animal’s irregular, mottled coat, which features patches of red, black, brown, white and yellow fur. Each animal has its own unique coat pattern and all have big round ears. These long-legged carnivores have only four toes per foot, unlike other dogs, which have five toes on their forefeet.
Wild Dogs are master hunters and make use of a collective approach to hunting. A hunt begins at sunrise or sunset when the dogs perform an elaborate greeting ceremony, sniffing and licking each other, wagging their tails and twittering loudly.
A subordinate male wild dog usually starts the hunt by trying to isolate the animal from the rest of the herd.
Once the target has been identified and separated, the alpha male takes over the lead of the hunt and the deadly endurance race begins. Wild dogs are high stamina hunters, capable of maintaining a 40km/h pace over 5km and increasing this to bursts of more than 60km/h for short distances. The pack splits up during the hunt, with some dogs trying to drive the fleeing prey in a circle towards the others.
If this fails, they press on with determination, taking it in relays to increase the pace, nipping and tearing at the fleeing victim each time it slows down. They literally run their quarry to exhaustion. Once the animal collapses, the dogs immediately begin feeding, even before their prey has died from loss of blood.
They also make a range of chattering sounds and have a distinctive long-distance greeting call – a sharp HOO – that can be heard up to 4km away. During the hunt itself, they are however, they are silent. Occasionally, they will hunt at the full moon.
CHEETAH OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION
A couple of really good sightings were enjoyed over the month. In particular, we spent time with a female with 2 cubs, though she was extremely skittish and shortly crossed our southern cutline heading west.
The regular coalition of males was last seen on Imbali Access heading down towards Fairfield on the S145 Road.
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
The fastest land mammal, capable of running at 80 – 128km/h – the generic name probably derives from the combination of 2 Greek words (akinitos) meaning “unmoved” or “motionless” and (onxy) meaning nail or hoof. Roughly translated is “immobile nails” a reference to the cheetah limited ability to retract its claws. The specific name jubatus – is Latin for ‘crested, having a mane’
The closest relative to a cheetah is actually the American cougar and Jaguar. King Cheetah is a variety of cheetah with the rare mutation of cream-coloured fur marker with large, blotchy spots and three dark wide stripes extending from the neck to the tail.
The fact that the cheetah is active mostly during the daytime hours, helps them avoid the likes of leopard and lions which prefer the cover of night to be active, however in areas where cheetah is found to be the dominant predator their activity tends to increase at night. Unlike the other big cats, this cat never roars, rather it purrs and often makes chirping – like sounds to communicate with each other. Cheetah as a species must drink water every 3 – 4 days, they are able to draw fluid from the food they eat. This cat uses its tail for balancing and steering when it runs to hunt. The tail actually helps it take sharp turns in any direction while running at top speed.
Cheetahs usually become exhausted after chasing and have to rest for quite a while. This is a serious disadvantage, as other carnivores may come and rob them of their quarry. Studies have found that cheetahs lose between 10 and 15% of their kills to other predators. Cheetahs have distinctive dark tear-mark lines that run from the corners of their eyes down to their mouth. These marks deflect the sun, making it easier for the cats to hunt during the day.
ELEPHANTS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION
African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
The Order Proboscidea to which elephants belong is derived from the Latin word “proboscis” meaning trunk. The word elephant is derived from the Greek word “elephas” that means ivory.
African elephants are highly intelligent. They have a very large neocortex, a trait they share with humans, apes and some dolphin species. They are amongst the world’s most intelligent species. With a mass of just over 5kg, the elephant brain is larger than that of any other terrestrial animal. The elephant’s brain is actually similar to the human brain in terms of structure and complexity, the elephant’s cortex has as many neurons as that of a human brain, suggesting convergent evolution.
Many cultures revere the African Elephant as a symbol of strength and power. It is also praised for its size, longevity, stamina, mental faculties, cooperative spirit and loyalty. South Africa uses elephant tusks in the coat of arms to represent wisdom, strength, moderation and eternity.
The elephant symbolises luck, patience, wisdom and fortune. It is the most positive animal symbol known. The elephant inspires us to be patient and string at the same time. The size of the elephant is not equal to its speed, but do not underestimate its power. The elephant relies on its patience and ability to think through situations that it may encounter in the wild. The elephant is clam and confident, it is also known to be a symbol of luck and good fortune. Wear the elephant charm as your everyday good luck charm.
BUFFALOS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION
Cape African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)
The scientific name Syncerus caffer is derived as follows: Sun (Greek) together; keras (Greek) the horn of an animal: a reference to the closely abutting bases (or boss) of the horns in adult male Cape buffalo.
The African buffalo made its way into the Big 5 ranking because of their size, moody behaviour and their ability to charge with no warning, the African buffalo has been said to be one of the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot. It can be easy to see why as these enormous bovid weighs in at 800 kg for a male and 750 kg for a female.
To sustain its bulk, the Cape buffalo must eat a lot of grass, and therefore it depends more on quantity than quality. It is able to digest taller and coarser grass than most other ruminants, has a wide muzzle and a row of incisor teeth that enable it to take big bites, and can use the tongue to bundle grass before cropping it—all bovine traits. When grass is scarce or of too poor quality, buffaloes will browse woody vegetation. Their preferred habitat includes refuge from heat and danger in the form of woodland, thickets, or reeds, pastures with medium to tall grass (preferably but not necessarily green), and access to water, wallows, and mineral licks. The largest populations occur in well-watered savannas, notably on floodplains bordering major rivers and lakes, where herds of over 1,000 are not uncommon.
BIRDS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION
We were absolutely dumbstruck by the sighting of a breeding pair of Gabar Goshawks, these were no less than 5 meters away from us in the golden light of day – some amazing pictures were taken of them.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
As an organisation, the fundamental philosophy that drives what we do is the belief that we can engage in sustainable and constructive ecotourism. Our mission is to preserve the biodiversity of the area by empowering the local community to collectively build a lasting landmark tourist destination that will continue to generate benefits for the local community, for conservation, and for ecotourism.
We are humbled to collaborate with our community partner, the Mirantha Youth Development Project, in empowering the youth of our local communities through life skills programs. The Mirantha Youth Development Project is a registered non-profit organisation that cares for, and educates, neglected orphans and vulnerable youth—the “forgotten children”— in the town of Acornhoek, Mpumalanga. The Project is run by Happiness Lubisi, a champion social worker, who currently supports more than 80 orphans and vulnerable youth in her community, offering them food, clothes, and emotional relief.
As proud members of Pack for a Purpose, an initiative that allows travellers like you to make a lasting impact in the community at your travel destination, we are able to collaborate with our guests to make tangible progress towards our community goals. To find out more about the project and our work, kindly visit our website: hamiltonstentedcamp.co.za/corporate-social-responsibility/
“In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it” – Marianne Williamson
THE GUIDES OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION