For the privileged few of us who have had the incredible opportunity to stay and look after the concession for the last 128 days of what seems a lifetime in Lockdown, we are grateful for being able to experience a different side of the concession.

The absence of any vehicles within our concession gives us a fantastic opportunity to return to the fundamentals of the art of tracking wildlife, knowing the last vehicle which came down the road was 8 hours ago.

As we near the first signs of Spring just around the corner, both birds and animals, alike, tend to spend a lot of their time at our permanent water sources. The grass is less palatable in some areas nowadays, which is natural for the “sourveld” that changes along with the seasons. Even a peaceful moment, sitting with the elephants as they drink water, is an astounding experience that inevitably makes you appreciate the bush and where we are.

LIONS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:

Tales of Strangers

Along with the uncertainties of lockdown, the lion dynamics have also been in constant fluctuation throughout this month as several unfamiliar faces—and tracks—have been spotted around the concession. We have been finding one set of very large male lion tracks moving around on our western boundary. On one morning, we followed the tracks all the way the from our generator on our western boundary with Manyeleti all the way down to “KNP Corner”, which is our southernmost boundary.

A couple of months ago, we also posted an exciting update on our Hamilton’s Facebook page about two nomadic male lions who were seen marking territory and roaring around the camp. These male lions seem to have also arrived from west of the concession, possibly from the Sabi Sands. We have been lucky enough to see them twice again through the month of July. The first sighting was of them crossing east over Middle Road heading towards Hamilton’s, though the guides lost visual of them shortly after they crossed out of our concession. The second sighting was on the Old S36 Road across from Hamilton’s, and we found them lying in the grass. From what we could determine, the newcomers seem to have found our resident Hamilton’s Pride, but it seems as though our female lions made sure to let them know that their presence was certainly not welcome. One of the males was badly injured and the other could not put any weight on one of his front paws. The faces of both of the male were showed signs of deep scratches, and the pale-faced male face was extremely swollen. We sat with them for a while until they moved further into the shade. Though we went back to look for them in the afternoon, we never found them again.

As many prey species are drawn to the Imbali waterhole for water, lions from all around have enjoyed the easy hunting opportunities around the lodge.

One afternoon, we received a call on the radio “3 Ngala [lions] drinking at the waterhole! ”. This of course was followed by much excitement and scrambling to get into vehicles with our cameras, etc. and we went across to find two rather large females enjoying a late afternoon pitstop. One female was much darker but smaller than her sister. Unfortunately, being unknown to us. they were a little skittish but did manage to settle down after a while. We managed to gradually get into position for some amazing photos.

As for our resident lion pride, we have been hearing a lot of calling coming from the block opposite to Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge. It seems as though the Imbali Pride has been staying well-hidden with the cubs, especially considering the number of new lions that have been moving around the concession.

LEOPARDS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION

Our Star of the Month, Tiyasela

Although this month has been a bit quieter than most of the months, we have still had some good sightings of leopard around the concession. Tiyasela, the daughter of our resident female Nkhanye, has really pulled out all of the stops this month making sure we have all seen her at least once a week. During the month of July, we had some contractors at Hamilton’s to replace the roof of the main area; Our little girl thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to stash her kill in the Sausage Tree whose branches hang above the main deck. The contractors were able to look after it for her during the day, making sure nothing came and stole it and at night there would be peace and quiet for her to continue eating.

Leopards around Imbali are still very active, and we are alerted of their lingering presence early in the mornings and as the sun goes down in the evenings. Lots of tracks and signs have been found all over the concession from Imbali right down to Hamilton’s, all the way to the southwestern corner of the concession. There are many more leopards for us to see here on the concession, and we continue to work hard to ensure that our skittish visitors earn our trust in order for us to enjoy some quality sightings of them.

CHEETAH OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION

It has been a quiet month for Cheetah again. Naturally, with the presence of lions all over the concession, our smaller predators have kept a low profile, though we did manage to catch up with our regular coalition of four male cheetahs as they briefly passed through the concession. Unfortunately, the sighting was a little too far for any decent picture, but we will definitely keep you up to date with any new sightings through the following month.

WILD DOGS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION

We enjoyed a spectacular sighting of wild dogs this month outside of our concession. Our Safari Manager found a group of 8 Adults and 14 Pups (approximately 5 months old) on his way to Nelspruit.

Our resident Hamilton’s pack is still down near Satara and the other regular pack that we encounter is at Pungwe. We are still hoping that the packs will begin moving further away from the denning site as they are approximately just 3km away from our Western boundary.

SCAVENGERS ON MLUWATI

There have been incredible sightings of scavengers all around the concession this month.

Vulture updates:

Wow, what a busy month for all the species that we have on the concession! 90 % of our nesting sites are being used with over 60% of the nests being active and having chicks. Even our first-time nesting pair of White-Headed Vultures have chicks in the nest! Over the last five or so years of being here on the concession, we have seen tremendous growth in our already healthy vulture population.

Black-Backed Jackal:

At the beginning of July, we spent some time on “Predator Plains” with our local Black-Backed Jackal pair and, by what we could see, the female seemed to be very fat and show signs of lactating. She has not been seen again since that day, which we hope means that she has given birth to pups close by.

Side Striped Jackal:

We enjoyed a brief sighting of one adult close to “Big Pan” but nothing again since. While much shyer than its black-backed jackal cousin, it is still just as crafty…

PACHYDERMS ON MLUWATI

It’s been a busy month around Imbali and Hoyo Hoyo, ensuring that our local pachyderms who are reliant on the two lodges for water are being accommodated. The supply of our permanent waterholes is vital in ensuring that the elephants do not have to come into the lodges looking for water during the dry season.

Hamilton’s is an extremely busy place with elephants right now precisely due to the need for water. For some people, elephants can be quite intimidating and even scary, yet to just sit and watch a huge herd of forty-plus elephants making their way down to the water is an unforgettable experience. What starts out as them carefully making their way down the riverbank to them actually running down to the water is incredible. Younger elephants look to the adults for the best way down, with some even opting to just roll down the embankment— they are so much like actual children!

BUFFALO AND ZEBRA OF MLUWATI

Small groups of “Dagga boys” are being seen around Imbali and Hamilton’s regularly, between 5 and 7 buffalo bulls per grouping.

Herds of between 40 and 50 zebras can be seen at a time grazing out on the open areas. Most female zebra are very heavily pregnant at the moment, with some having already foaled. While out and about we sat watching the interaction between foals and their mothers as well as young stallions testing each other. Often, we find zebras with tails missing—this is greatly due to them actually biting each other’s tails off. While adorable to look at, zebras are infamous for having a rather mean side to them!

TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE

What is this giraffe doing?

The giraffe in the above image  is doing what we call Oesophagi – which, as the picture above shows, means that this giraffe is actually chewing on a bone. As giraffes are the tallest herbivores in the world and feed off a variety of plant species, they are definitely not carnivorous! However, when nutrients are lacking in their normal daily diets, and they become nutritionally stressed, they will chew on bones to get the phosphorous and calcium that their bodies require.

AN UNCOMMON WINTER SIGHTING

While watching a herd of elephants at Hamilton’s, something in the water caught our eye. We thought that it, perhaps, was a small crocodile but then out of the water came an uncommon species in the winter. This is a Nile Monitor Lizard (Varanus niloticus) climbing out of the river in front of Hamilton’s to enjoy the nice warm sun while basking on the rocks. Otherwise known as Water Monitor Lizards, they are the most striking member of the Reptile family and are second in size only to the Nile Crocodile. Including the tail, large adults can reach lengths of up to nearly 2.5 metres. Water Monitors have been recorded eating everything from frogs, crabs, invertebrates and lizards, to small mammals and birds. This species can also be considered as a population control factor by raiding the nests of crocodiles and Chelonians (tortoise, terrapins and turtles).

AFRICAN CIVET

With an omnivorous diet including carrion, rodents, birds, eggs, reptiles, frogs, crabs, insects, fruit and other vegetation, the African Civet is a fascinating animal. Mostly nocturnal, African civets generally begin getting active about an hour after dark when they go in search of their next meal. Civets are solitary except when breeding. The scientific knowledge on the habits and behaviour of the civets is limited because they are nocturnal and their elusive nature. They are also often preyed on by lion, hyena and leopard. The picture below was taken just from our veranda at home, our Imbali Staff Village. For the last couple of nights, we have had this beautiful civet walking around, seeing if he can find anything to catch inside the village. Although nervous of us when we are standing watching him, he did not mind the photos which were being taken. This probably had something to do with the fact that a Honey Badger was growling at him! They definitely don’t seem to like sharing the same space.

HONEY BADGER

Tenacious and inquisitive, not one to back down easily, stubborn and slightly aggressive if they feel threatened, a Honey Badger is a formidable force for its size. To get an idea of their intelligence, there is a famous video clip on YouTube of a Honey Badger from Moholoholo named Stoffel, who manages to escape from his enclosure no matter how creative the staff get at making sure he doesn’t get out! You can’t help to sit back and think about this animal teaching himself how to get out of his enclosure every single time—it’s truly astonishing! Believe us when we say that we have personally seen our very own tenacious badger learn exactly how to get to something no matter what you do. We have barricades set up everywhere around the staff village to stop our nocturnal visitor from getting into everything, but he always manage to make a plan!

Pictures from The Mluwati Concession

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

As we go into the month of August we continue to look forward to the reopening of all travel to our special gem in the heart of the Kruger National Park—be it intraprovincial, interprovincial, and international. All of us on the Mluwati Concession are excited about sharing our amazing and unique home with you and your family. Until then though stay safe and healthy till we meet again.

“Africa is not just a place; it is a feeling. Africa is the heart if the world and there are only a few of us who have been touched by her. Africa defines our soul and people and feel it, people just know…”

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 GUIDES OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION