Another month of extraordinary wildlife sightings under the radiant winter sunlight has flown by! The inspiring exquisiteness of our surroundings is truly surreal, and it takes just a small amount of imagination to feel lost in this tangible wonderland—devoid of the worries and stresses of everyday life.

The Concession continues to be a hive for predator activity as most animals begin to gravitate towards permanent water sources as the once-abundant moisture from the generous rainy season gradually dries up.

In this edition of our Newsletter, we will build on our previous discussion of the evolutionary classification of animals, complemented by a fascinating discussion of body symmetry, and we will update you on all of our favourite residents of the Mluwati Concession.

We also have an exciting announcement to share with you at the end!

The Imbali Pride:

Apart from a few really good sightings, it has been a relatively quiet month for the Imbali Pride. As we mentioned last month, the disappearance of the Pride is a natural response to the sudden increase in unknown male lions in the area. We hope that they will be more frequently spotted when the smallest of the cubs perhaps get a bit bigger and will be less vulnerable to the threat from intruding males.

The Einstein Pride (Imbali Breakaways):

It was a relatively quiet month for the Einstein Pride as well—largely due to the increase in unknown lion activity in the central and western parts of the Concession near Imbali Safari Lodge. Since the Einstein male linked up with the younger male last month, we have not had any sightings of him. As the Einstein Pride also has cubs at the moment, we suspect that that Pride’s females are still very cautious of this new young male and are preventing him from getting too close to the Pride. As the cubs grow older, it may be more likely that Einstein and the younger male will re-join them.

The Hamiltons Pride:

The Hamiltons Pride is comparatively doing quite well and is frequently spotted in the eastern parts of the Concession. The stability of this Pride’s activities is largely attributed to the constant presence of Blondie and Madala who—despite being towards the end of their prime ages—are still in excellent condition. Blondie and Madala have definitely been busy when it comes to mating with the females. In some exciting news, there may be 3 brand new cubs who are being stashed away near Hamiltons Tented Camp. One of our guides spotted them in the early morning on the 30th of June 2021. We will be sure to update you next month with more information!

The Talamati Pride:

Given the everchanging lion dynamics in the area, we rarely manage to spend time with the Talamati Pride who once was a frequent presence in the northern reaches of the Concession. However, we were very lucky this month to have an excellent sighting of them just north of Pod Mahoganies on our western boundary with Manyeleti Game Reserve.

The Torchwood Pride:

It is always a joy to spend time with these visitors to the Concession! We enjoyed a lovely sighting with them at KNP corner before they crossed back into the Sabi Sand Wildtuin.

Evolutionary History and the Relationships of the Animal Kingdom

Animal evolution began in the ocean over 600 million years ago with tiny creatures that probably do not resemble any living organism today. Since then, animals have evolved into a highly diverse kingdom. Although over one million extant (currently living) species of animals have been identified, scientists are continually discovering more species as they explore ecosystems around the world. The number of extant species is estimated to be between 3 and 30 million.

But what is an animal? While we can easily identify dogs, birds, fish, spiders, and worms as animals, other organisms, such as corals and sponges, are not as easy to classify. Animals vary in complexity—from sea sponges to crickets to chimpanzees—and scientists are faced with the difficult task of classifying them within a unified system. They must identify traits that are common to all animals as well as traits that can be used to distinguish among related groups of animals. The animal classification system characterizes animals based on their anatomy, morphology, evolutionary history, features of embryological development, and genetic makeup. This classification scheme is constantly developing as new information about species arises. Understanding and classifying the great variety of living species help us better understand how to conserve the diversity of life on Earth.

Biologists strive to understand the evolutionary history and relationships of the animal kingdom, and all of life, for that matter. The study of phylogeny aims to determine the evolutionary relationships between phyla. Currently, most biologists divide the animal kingdom into 35 – 40 phyla.

Even though members of the animal kingdom are incredibly diverse, most animals share certain features that distinguish them from organisms in other kingdoms. All animals are eukaryotic, multicellular organisms, and almost all animals have a complex tissue structure with differentiated and specialized tissues. All animals require a source of food and are therefore heterotrophic, ingesting other living or dead organisms; this feature distinguishes them from autotrophic organisms, such as most plants, which synthesize their own nutrients through photosynthesis.

As heterotrophs, animals may be carnivores, herbivores, omnivores or parasites. Most animals reproduce sexually, and the offspring pass through a series of developmental stages that establish a determined and fixed body plan. The body plan refers to the morphology of an animal, determined by developmental cues.

LEOPARDS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:

We cannot begin to describe what a staggering month it has been for leopard activity all around the Concession! It seems as though new, unknown individuals are popping out from just about every corner of the Concession.

Tiyasela:

Our star leopard was found once this month on a carcass in the parking area at Hamiltons Tented Camp! Suffice to say, our guests were utterly thrilled to discover her feeding on the tree directly above the parking spaces when they returned to the Camp from their evening safari.

New Male near Hamiltons:

The gorgeous male that we mentioned last month seems to have established a territory now around Hamiltons Tented Camp. As we spend more time with him, he continues to relax even more and is now providing our guests with some exceptional viewing and photographic opportunities.

We are excited to witness the future of this young male, and his potential to produce offspring with Tiyasela as her territory falls in the heart of this male’s new territory. We hope to be able to let you know what he will be known as from next month.

Nkhanye:

The reigning queen of the east has been seen on a number of occasions throughout the month. Unfortunately, it seems that the youngster that she had with her is now gone. However, given her secretive nature and past behaviour, we still have hope that the cub is spending most of its time just outside of our Concession.

Wabayisa:

Our dominant male is keeping very busy with the influx of new leopards around the Concession. In particular, he seems to spend most of his time following a young male near Imbali Safari Lodge, though he does not seem to have had any physical altercations yet. It is important to note that Wabayisa is slowly exiting his prime age as a dominant male leopard, and it will be interesting to see how he will respond to the increased pressure from younger, stronger males.

WILD DOGS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:

It seems as though the members of the Imbali Pack are constantly running through the Concession for hunting purposes, and then running out of the Concession just as quickly. We have established that there are two den sites just off the Concession, which we are unfortunately unable to access. We hope that, once the pups are old enough to join the hunting pack, we will be able to spend more time with them.

The Leeupan Pack is doing very well in the eastern parts of the Concession and are also denning just off the Concession on the S125 Road.

CHEETAH OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:

We were fortunate to have quite a few sightings of cheetah this month despite the high numbers of leopard and lion currently on the Concession. The coalition of four males was seen 4 times through the month between Predator Plains and KNP Corner. One of the males still has a very small limp, though he is, fortunately, looking much better now compared to the previous month.

The female near Hamiltons Tented Camp was also spotted once in the month.

Body Symmetry and Classification

At a very basic level of classification, true animals can be largely divided into three groups based on the type of symmetry of the body plan: radially symmetrical, bilaterally symmetrical and asymmetrical.

Radial Symmetry:

Only a few animal groups display this body plan. It results in animals having top and bottom surfaces but no left or right sides, or front or back. The two halves of a radially symmetrical animal may be described as the side with a mouth or “oral side” and the side without a mount. This includes jellyfish and adult sea anemones. Radial symmetry equips these sea creatures to experience the environment from all directions.

Bilateral Symmetry:

This involves the division of the animal through a sagittal plane, resulting in two mirror-image, right and left halves, such as those of a butterfly, crab or human body. These animals have a “head” and “tail”, front and back, as well as a right and left side. This allows for streamlined and directional movement. In evolutionary terms, this simple form of symmetry promoted active mobility and increased sophistication of resource seeking and predator-prey relationships.

Animal Size, Shape, and Movement

Animals with bilateral symmetry that live in water tend to have a fusiform shape—this is tapered at both ends. The shape decreases the drag on the body as it moves through water and allows the animal to swim at high speeds. Did you know some sharks can swim at 50 kilometres per hour and some dolphins at 32 – 40 km per hour? Land animals frequently travel faster, although the tortoise and snail are significantly slower than cheetahs.

Most animals have an exoskeleton—including insects, spiders, horseshoe crabs, centipedes and crustaceans. Scientists estimate that, of insects alone, there are over 30 million species on our planet. The exoskeleton is a hard covering or shell that provides benefits to the animal, such as protection against damage from predators and from water loss, it also provides for the attachment of muscles. As a tough and resistant outer cover of an arthropod, the exoskeleton may be constructed of a tough polymer such and chitin and is often mineralized with materials such as calcium carbonate.

In order to grow, the animal must first synthesize a new exoskeleton underneath the old one and then shed or moult the original covering. This limits the animal’s ability to grow continually and may limit the individual’s ability to mature if moulting does not occur at the proper time. The thickness of the exoskeleton must be increased significantly to accommodate any increase in weight. It is estimated that a doubling of body size increases body weight by a factor of eight. The increasing thickness of the chitin necessary to support this weight limits most animals with an exoskeleton to a relatively small size.

The same principles apply to endoskeletons, but they are more efficient because muscles are attached on the outside, making it easier to compensate for increased mass. An animal with an endoskeleton has its size determined by the amount of skeletal system it needs in order to support the other tissues and the amount of muscle it needs for movement. As the body size increases, both bone and muscle mass increase. The speed achievable by the animal is a balance between its overall size and the bone and muscle that provide support and movement.

INTRODUCING THE IMBALI SAFARI LODGES APP

We are delighted to introduce the Imbali Safari Lodges App—your digital companion for our Mluwati Concession properties inside the Kruger National Park (Imbali Safari Lodge, Hamiltons Tented Camp, and Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge).

Arrive at our properties in style by completing our contactless check-in forms, which allow you to seamlessly begin your indulgent retreat as soon as you arrive. From pre-booking your wellness treatments to making use of our in-app exercise routines, this App has been purpose-built to enrich your experience with us. Take your safari experience to the next level with our interactive species checklists that allow you to keep a record of all the species that you get to spot during your adventures inside our 100-square-kilometre private Concession inside the Kruger National Park. Plan your next journey with us in advance by using our online bookings feature Create lasting bonds with us, and enjoy the various benefits of joining the Mluwati Concession community. Travel better with the Mluwati Concession Team.

To download our complimentary App, kindly click the relevant link below:

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

We could not resist thinking about the importance of protected areas in light of the significant increase in unknown leopard activity around the Concession at the moment. Leopards, especially male leopards, are known to disperse as far as 300 kilometres away from where they were born. This dispersal is a vital factor in ensuring genetic diversity and the species’ long-term success. As more wilderness is lost to urban development around the African continent, leopards have started to establish territories much closer to their direct relatives, resulting in both the loss of genetic diversity from inbreeding and loss of biodiversity in certain areas. In the former, a loss of genetic diversity through inbreeding, though not of immediate concern in leopards for up to three generations, threatens the species survival as a meta-population. Inbreeding reduces the resilience of a species to changes in its environment, increases vulnerability to diseases and deformities, and goes against the biological principle of survival of the fittest. In the latter, an increase in the concentration of leopards in any given area increases competition amongst other predators (often resulting in the disappearance of weaker predators such as cheetah and jackal) and depletes the natural abundance of keystone prey species from over-predation. In turn, the natural balance of the ecosystem is disrupted, thereby resulting in a substantial loss of biodiversity. Therefore, expansive protected areas such as the Greater Kruger National Park are essential in preserving an ecosystem’s resilience and biodiversity. As conflicting demands over land use across the continent threaten the viability of our remaining wilderness areas, sustainable ecotourism is a vital contributor in ensuring that we preserve these protected areas for generations to come.

We are humbled to play our small role in this effort through our ecotourism operations in the Mluwati Concession, which protects 100-square-kilometres of pristine wilderness in the heart of the Kruger National Park. Take, for instance, the new male that has established his territory around Hamiltons Tented Camp. This young male could have come from anywhere within the 20,000 square kilometre area of protected wilderness that he calls home, thereby bringing his genetic diversity to the Mluwati Concession and ensuring the resilience of his species’ metapopulation for generations to come. We would like to extend our gratitude to our guests, who are an integral part of the Mluwati Family, for inspiring us to remain steadfast and passionate in our role as custodians of this iconic piece of South African heritage.

“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same. But how do you begin to describe its magic to someone who has never left it? How can you explain the fascination of this vast and dusty continent, whose oldest roads are elephant paths? Could it be because Africa is the place where all our beginnings, the cradle of humankind, where our species first stop upright on the savannahs of long ago?”

“Here I am, where I belong”  – Brian Jackman

THE GUIDES OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION