Mluwati Concession October 2021

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances”
– William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II Scene VII Line 139.

Coined by William Shakespeare in his pastoral comedy, As You Like It, this iconic line of poetry likens our existence on Earth to that of a stage show: all of us are stage actors with our own entrances and exits. Some of us may play several parts during our time on “stage”, while others may appear for just a fleeting moment. However, regardless of how long we spend on stage, each of us are intrinsically connected to one another. We all have our own part to play, and our actions—big or small—inevitably shape the future.

The same can be said about the African bush. Every living creature, regardless of its size or intelligence, is a performer in its own scene. Each has its own part to play. Nothing is written or scripted—there are no lines to be learnt. Here, on the Mluwati Concession, we are privileged to be spectators to the world’s greatest stage. Mother Nature’s drama of life and death never ceases. In our October Newsletter, we share some of the thrilling scenes that we have witnessed throughout the month. We will also update you on what our favourite Mluwati Concession residents have been up to as we enter the peak of the dry season.

ACT I SCENE I

The curtain raises on another exquisite morning inside the Kruger National Park as the sun starts to appear from above the horizon. The birds are greeting the day with their morning chorus. The vehicles start heading out with the exciting chatter from our guests as they eagerly await the day’s unfolding. Suiteboy, one of the guides from Hamiltons Tented Camp, calls for updates as he heads out from Camp. The route plans are discussed between the guides. Several minutes later, he calls to say that he has found the Hamiltons Pride. There is a noticeable sense of excitement in his voice—a crackle comes on the radio: there is a herd of buffalo heading towards the lions.

The lions are strategically lying amongst the rocks of the N’waswitsontso River in front of Hamiltons Tented Camp. The buffalo herd heads towards the river– there are steep banks on either side of them—almost as though there were capture nets. The steep terrain around the river will make it more difficult for them to escape, but the need for water is greater than the fear of what is lurking around it. The buffalos slowly push forward; the lions start flattening their ears, ensuring there is no way that they will be seen. Using the rocks, they steadily move into their various positions as if this whole scene had been choreographed. They move silently in slow-motion—each step carefully calculated to ensure that they remain undetected.

We see a lioness moving from around the other side of the steep bank to slowly close the exit behind the buffalos. There is no wind, yet we don’t hear anything except for the rhythmic sound of hooves as the herd moves towards the water. A large bull is standing at the water’s edge. He looks around but sees nothing— the buffalos have not yet picked up the scent of the lions waiting in ambush just a few metres away. The buffalos start spreading out around the edge of the water. The lioness, who we had seen moving around the back of the herd, is now lying behind a large boulder. We can just see her as she peers around the side of the boulder. As the last member of the herd is at the water, she crawls forward and lies low in the sand. Her tawny coat seamlessly blends into the surroundings, making her almost invisible. Excitement brims – our hearts are beating fast as we hold our breath—too scared to move or disturb the scene. We sit in absolute silence. The rest of the lionesses are lying and waiting for the right moment.

Suddenly, the lioness at the back decides to make a move – the buffalos react at the same time – a stampede shatters the silence. The buffalos are running in all directions, but the banks are steep. A young buffalo has been separated from the herd – all the lions now run towards the stranded subadult and surround it. It has nowhere to go. The rest of the herd, still running up the slopes of the riverbed, has deserted it. One lioness leaps and grabs onto the back of the buffalo, another forcing the rear-end of the buffalo to collapse onto the ground, and the third is at the throat with a tight grip. The others, who had been chasing after some of the other stragglers, return to the now-suffocated buffalo.

This is one of the most electrifying moments to experience. We left the sighting with our hearts a little saddened somewhat by the life taken yet equally joyful that the lionesses earned a well-deserved meal. It will go far in sustaining them and their young cub. Such is the balance of life and death in nature.

LIONS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION

The Hamiltons Pride:
This pride is currently made up of four adult females with five youngsters of various ages. They have been spending most of their time directly around Hamiltons Tented Camp as they take advantage of the abundance of prey species that are currently reliant on the last bit of water left in the N’waswitsontso River in front of the Camp.

Blondie and Madala have been spotted moving all around the Concession, which is quite interesting considering the fact that they have rarely ever left the area around Hamiltons over the last few years. In fact, at the moment, the lions of the Concession are one of the most complicated species to understand given their highly unpredictable movements around the Concession.

The Talamati Breakaway Pride:
The Talamati Breakaway Pride managed to pull down a buffalo in front of Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge—only for it be taken by none other than Blondie and Madala!

The Imbali Pride:
The Imbali Pride has been moving between Djuma in the Sabi Sand Wildtuin and Predator Plains on the Concession. It has been wonderful to see them again, given their prolonged absence from the Concession as they continue to follow the S8 Male. The young males of the Pride are starting to look quite impressive! The S8 Male seems to have taken up permanent residence at Djuma and no longer comes onto the Concession.

Skybed Males:
One of the famous Skybed Males from the Shumangwenini area was found crossing over the plains close to Hoyo Hoyo. It appears that there is about to be a shift in the lion dynamics again! Hopefully, by the time we share our November Newsletter, we will be able to supply some exciting information on this.

ACT I SCENE II

The scene opens with some elephants drinking at the waterhole in front of Imbali Safari Lodge. A young calf screams as it is pushed out of the way by another unruly youngster. The mother of the calf moves quickly—she shakes her head in the direction of the commotion as if she were disciplining the unruly young male, telling him to behave. The young bull moves away from the calf and goes to stand by a large leadwood tree. The tantrum lasts for a few minutes as he keeps his face hidden from the female. Another young bull, who was not too far off from the waterhole, goes to stand next to him. As if nothing has happened, the two bulls start a game of seeing who is the strongest. It commenced with one pushing against the side of the other and then, quick as a flash, they turned to face each other. They both raise their trunks – in a manner similar to the way that we arm wrestle or play tug of war—using their trunks in lieu of a rope. We are sure that you can just imagine how this is going to end as the one bull pushes the other backward. The unlucky bull got pushed straight into the female with the same calf. It is amazing to think that these colossal creatures, for whom we have the most amount of respect, are just like naughty children! The calf screams again as the bull bumps right into it. This time, the mother storms towards the two young bulls, and it seems like the one who had already been in trouble knows exactly what is coming as he runs in the opposite direction leaving his partner in crime to take the punishment!

ACT I SCENE III

A while ago we reported the wonderful news of a Martial Eagle nest being built close to Hamiltons Tented Camp. After that, we did not see any activity around the nest for a while, and it seemed as if the pair of eagles had discarded the nest. Well, the good news is they eventually did use the nest this year, and we were specially treated to the extremely rare opportunity of watching the parents feeding the chick. Martial Eagles are the largest of all our African eagles. It is said that they have the power to knock a grown man right off his feet. The nest looks like something out of Jack and the Bean Stalk— a huge collection of thick branches interlinked with each other. At the start of the breeding season, the male will bring the branches to the female who obviously knows what she wants. If he brings her a branch that she does not like, she takes it and throws it on the ground—one could relate this behaviour to some human reactions to not liking some things! Once the nest shell has been constructed by the male– the pair will go out and collect green foliage for the floor of the nest. Unlike most other species, where both male and female take turns in sitting on the egg, the males of this species seldomly sit on the egg. However, once the chick hatches at roughly 45 days, the males take up the primary responsibility of hunting for both the female and chick. Once the male has killed something, he takes the carcass to the female, and she then feeds the chick. This behaviour will continue for a period of roughly 50 days. After this, the female takes over the hunting and the feeding of the fledgling. The male rarely appears after this stage, if at all. After about 100 days from the egg hatching, the youngster is ready for its first test flight. The youngster will return to the nest for the first couple of days, after which it will move away. However, it is interesting to note that the youngster may remain in proximity of the nest for around 6 months. However, by this point, the adults will no longer supply food.

LEOPARDS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION

Wabayisa:
Wabayisa has been around Imbali Safari Lodge, amongst other places of course, and his range includes most of the Concession now. Due to the high density of younger, stronger males all around the Concession, it seems as though Wabayisa chooses to move between the various territories of the younger males wherever a gap opens. Only time will tell how much longer he will manage to remain a nomadic male in this area.

Unknown Leopards:
In what is somewhat of a normal occurrence by now, this month has been filled with unknown leopards popping up all around the Concession. A very skittish female and her youngster were seen drinking at Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge. The young male that we used to see on the S125 with the very skittish female has now left his mother and is being spotted every now and again around the old S36 and S125 north.

Nkhanye:
Nkhanye and her daughter have been spotted several times around Hamiltons Tented Camp.

Nkhanye’s daughter is starting to reach independence, and she is spending an increasing amount of time away from her mother.

ACT I SCENE IV

We were awakened from the lull of a scorching hot afternoon safari to the sight of spots. They belong to a female leopard who has the most remarkable spot pattern, and her colour is exquisite. As we slowly take the binoculars to have a closer look, we quickly realise that she is familiar—though we wonder if it can be. She is so much bigger than what she was when we saw her last. This petite, dainty female has become a breath-taking adult. It is none other than Nkhanye’s older daughter and the star of our Concession. Her name means survivor, and she is definitely proving to us that her name suits her to the tee—it is Tiyasela. She looks absolutely majestic as she crosses the road in front of us. She pauses— there is the slightest flicker in her tale. As we look around slowly, our eyes catch movement: it is a male impala feeding in the clearing.

Tiyasela crouches as low to the ground as she can. The area where she is has very little cover for her to hideaway. At this stage, the wind is in her favour and the Impala ram is facing away from her. We lose sight of her for what seems like forever as she disappears behind a small bush. We hold our breath as the impala turns to face her direction. She stays still, unwilling to give herself away – she is hungry. As the impala looks away, she lies down with her head to the ground, ears pinned back.

The impala turns around again—totally unaware of what is waiting for him in the shadows. Tiyasela takes her chance and starts moving forward, closing the distance between the two of them. She startles a francolin – the impala looks right at her and takes off, running like a sprinter doing the 100-metre dash at the Olympics! Our hearts were racing. With an irritated flick of the tail, Tiyasela walks away from us into the open area. Her cover has been blown, and she knows there is no reason to hang around. She will go and find her next opportunity elsewhere.

RESIDENTS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION

Elephant herds are being seen in large numbers on the concession as well as quite a few large herds of Buffalo. The summer birding season is shifting into full swing with our migrants arriving back – although it seems to be taking longer than usual. We hope that they will eventually find their way back to us. European Bee Eaters, Red Chested Cuckoos, and Deidrick’s Cuckoos have been both seen and heard. We are sure the rest will be following behind shortly!

Unfortunately, although this has not affected us as much as other areas, the Kruger National Park and surrounding Reserves have both experienced large unplanned fires. Our guides have been out assisting wherever possible and have done long hours aiding in the dousing of the fires. On behalf of all of us on the Mluwati Concession, we would like to thank all who were involved in assisting to put out the fires and thank you to Greg and his team for all of their hard work and dedication!

ACT I SCENE V

For months, we have been waiting for the moment when the pups will come out to play. Finally, we got what we have been waiting for on one warm afternoon safari. As a rule, we always have a radio on from early morning till late evening. We hear the excitement on the morning drive when the Imbali Pack of Wild Dogs was found on our western boundary. They have made a kill and were resting during the heat of the day close to some pod mahoganies. We decide to head a bit earlier that afternoon in the hopes of seeing these rare but amazing carnivores and their new pups.

As we head out, we drive down past Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge and turn towards the pod mahoganies along the western cutline. As we are travelling, we are always watching the edges of the roads for any signs of other animals that have been moving around during the day. Greg stops suddenly—there are tracks that are bigger than our hands. We look down on my side and find 3 sets of slightly smaller tracks, which definitely belong to some female lions who must have crossed out of the Concession during the heat of the day.

Excitement grows as we travel further down the road where we can see where the dogs have been lying down– there is a faint, yet instantly recognisable, smell of something that catches our attention. We keep going, but the tracks disappear into the thick block in the direction towards Hoyo Hoyo. We let everyone know on the radio to keep an eye out. We keep heading down the road towards to where the dogs were last seen. We turn off into the open area and slowly head towards the small drainage line. A shape to our left comes into focus—it is one of the adult dogs lying on the bank of a small erosion pit. As we get closer, we can see some more of the adults but none of the pups.

We give the erosion dip a wide berth as we start peering into the depression. You may not believe it, but there they were: There are 15 little faces watching us. The pups are very inquisitive but also not sure about what to make of the safari vehicle. One of them stands, stretches, and starts moving towards us. Soon, the rest just cannot resist to follow suit. The next minute, we are right in the middle of 15 puppies who are now lying or standing less than 3 – 4 meters away from us. They are so endearing that we cannot explain the incomparable feeling of having them all around you, watching and listening intently with their sharp eyes and oversized ears.

Now that they have been woken up from slumber, they decide that this obviously means they can start playing! A youngster picks up a stick, then two others try to take it from him, and they land up running and chasing each other for this stick. Another pup appears from out of the depression carrying something. As we watch intently, we see a huge dung ball hanging out of its mouth. The fun begins as they play with this huge dry lump of grass and tree matter. One pup runs and falls over a dung beetle we laugh. We cannot believe how lucky we are to have spent this time with them – we pull out slowly once two other vehicles arrive at the sighting. We stop and wait for the third vehicle to approach the sighting, but we do not want to move in case the pups continue to follow us. When the pups shifted the focus to playing amongst each other, far enough away from us, we then slowly start the vehicle and begin heading out of the area.

ENCORE

The safari vehicles depart for the morning safari. The guides have confirmed their route plans, and there are no updates on any interesting sightings. Then, out of nowhere, Mvula – better known to others as Shaun—calls in a once in a lifetime sighting: a female caracal and 2 kittens have been spotted lying on Middle Road close to Guarri Drift. For those of us who have been here for a long time, we have never seen a caracal on the Concession, yet in the last two years, the sightings have become significantly more frequent. Andrew is responding to the sighting and, as Shaun is leaving, the female moves off the road, but Andrew gives it a try in any case. When Andrew gets closer, he sees what looks like elephant dung from a distance. However, instead of dung, he finds the mother and her kittens curled up together again.

On another occasion this month, Tristan also had luck with caracal when he found one close to Borehole Loop North. Responding to the sighting, we made our way towards Tristan, but he soon called on the radio to say that the caracal had moved off into the bush. We decided to head in that direction on the way back home in any case—just in the odd event that we may find this treasure again. We drive slowly—almost too slowly but then again, we are determined to find this fascinating predator.

Suddenly, as if planned, a spectacular female caracal comes out onto the road in front of us – she is stunning. Here we are in the middle of the Concession with an animal that we had never seen here before! We had our cameras with us, but instead of grabbing it and holding the button down for a flurry of pictures, we just sit and watch. She walks straight across the road in front of us and then into some long grass on the opposite side. We lose sight of her just as we sort out our camera settings, but we don’t care—we have witnessed the most incredible thing: an ethereal female caracal.

The African bush in all its splendour is true food for the soul….

“May the call of the African Fish Eagle ring out through the savannas and may the roar of the lion vibrate through your soul….”

END.
THE GUIDES OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION

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