Out of the belly of the riverbed comes an explosion of busy chatter—Hyenas. They band together in droves with the hopes of unnerving the predator to leave its quarry instead of trying to defend it.

The above-mentioned scenes have been mostly what we have experienced throughout the concession for the month of September.

We have been blessed with early rains, marking the official beginning of summer, which has transformed the bush from dull hues of brown to almost–luminous greens as the trees start producing new leaves. Everything looks incredibly clean!

Previously burnt grasses are now flourishing and our Mluwati Concession predators seem to have timed their birthing around the best part of the year as antelope and other herbivores flock to our Concession to enjoy the new grass and succulent trees.

LIONS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION: The Success of our Prides

What a bumper month it has been for the lions here on concession! We are so privileged to be able to wake up to the sounds of the lions roaring in the early mornings, and then once again as the final hours of light fade into the dark night. We have almost become accustomed to our daily chorus of roaring that marks the beginning and end of each day.

The Imbali Pride: The females have been seen again with cubs—although they are a lot bigger than they were the last time we saw them. They have managed to keep them all safe with the exception of one of the younger cubs. The Imbali Pride now consists of 4 females, 2 sub-adult youngsters, and 3 younger cubs.  We have regularly spotted one large female spending a lot of time around Imbali Waterhole and just to the east of the waterhole. We suspected for a while she had cubs and this was finally confirmed a couple of weeks ago with 3 tiny little bundles of fluff!

The Hamiltons Pride: The females are also doing exceptionally well with two of them having cubs ranging from just 2 months to about 6 months old. The female lioness who caught a zebra at Tent 6 of Hamiltons a couple of months ago is still keeping her cubs just north of Tent 6 and has been seen again with another zebra kill—it seems as though she definitely hunts better on her own.

Our dominant males, Blondie and Madala, are being seen frequently around the S125 Loop and also reported around Hamiltons, though there is a lot of outside speculation that these may in fact not be our boys.

On one of our night drives out of Hoyo Hoyo, we came across a large unknown pride of lions on the Manyeleti boundary including 1 black-maned male, 12 females and approximately 9 – 10 youngsters again of varying ages.

Lion activity near Hamiltons Tented Camp; Left: Madala Male Lion, Right: Hamiltons Pride Female with Cubs”

LEOPARDS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION: The Return of Icons

Whilst checking the roads around the Concession prior to our biannual audit, our Head Guide—Greg Behrens— noticed an impala dashing through the N’waswitsontso Riverbed near Hamiltons. This was one of those instances where we would have normally turned around and gone back the other way to check what was happening, but on this day we decided to go through and turn at the top of the drift. There was an overwhelming feeling as though something was out of place – as we turned our heads to the left, there she was. Nkhanye, our resident female leopard—mother of last month’s star, Tiyasela—who had seemingly disappeared for the last few months.

“The long-awaited return of Nkhanye, our resident female leopard, and a new heir of her bloodline.”

Finally, after months of not seeing her and wondering if she was even alive, the reason for her prolonged absence made itself known. She nonchalantly appeared from the thickets with one single cub in tow. We are all so thrilled to see that she is safe and sound. We are also absolutely delighted to see that our Queen is still carrying on her legacy by producing another cub who will surely become another beaming star of the Mluwati Concession family.

Just when we thought that things couldn’t get more exciting, another long-lost visitor came in the return of one of our most iconic male leopards on the concession, Wabayisa. At approximately 12 years of age, he is still in remarkably good condition, and has kept his excellent temperament when it comes to vehicles and guests. Our guests were certainly treated to some phenomenal sightings of our most recognizable male leopards!

Wabayisa was found with an adult kudu female, which was pregnant, and he had managed to use the steep banks of the Riverbed to hunt and catch her. When we arrived on the scene, he was lying to one side with a single hyena enjoying the spoils of his hard work. His irritation and disgust evident each time the hyena turned towards him!

CHEETAH OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION

There have been some incredibly special sightings of a cheetah on the Concession this month. We spent time again with an impressive coalition of 4 males who were seen laying on their favorite termite mound at Bemer Plains. A single adult female was seen at Fairfield on a kill, and another female with 3 youngsters was seen on a termite mound across from the Hamiltons Staff Village turnoff on the Southern Cutline.

WILD DOGS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION

Finally, after months of missing these apex predators of the plains on our Concession, they are back! We enjoyed two memorable sightings during the month. We’ve had a single dog who has been seen around Hoyo Hoyo on a couple of occasions. This time, he was spotted unsuccessfully hunting impala. However, through his efforts, the additional stress to an impala caused it to be taken by a young female leopard! The dog had to go hungry, unfortunately. The next sighting was of a pack consisting of 9 adults and 12 pups. Our guests got to spend time with them while they were running around on Western Cutline close to Pod Mahoganies. We hope to see more of our wild dogs now that the pups have grown enough to join the pack on their hunting missions.

SCAVENGERS ON MLUWATI

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

Vulture updates: Most of our nesting vultures have now completed the mammoth task of raising their chicks. The nests are now used for roosting and no longer for hosting youngsters. It has been amazing to see the once- tiny chicks with fluffy heads now flying and being part of the whole spectacle of feasting with the other species and adults. As summer draws nearer and the rains are becoming a common phenomenon in the afternoon, there will be a lot more activity from these scavengers who are known to follow herds of impala around in the lambing season, grabbing pieces of what may be left behind after the lamb has been born.

“White-backed Vulture adult on a cool morning”

Black-Backed Jackal: Jackals have been very scarce lately with only a couple being heard calling late at night to indicate the movement of predators around Imbali.

Hyena updates: Our Spotted Hyenas have been very busy this month, evidenced by large numbers of members spotted from 3 distinctive clans.

One clan of approximately 16 members is active around Hamiltons Tented Camp and Tswayeni. This clan is the largest of the three and is known to hunt their own food. While not always having to rely on the predators, there is nothing that goes to waste or goes unnoticed by this clan as they will not miss an opportunity to grab something from an unsuspecting predator and run.

Another clan consists of approximately 9 adults and 4 pups, and these members are active around the Imbali Waterhole and Imbali Staff Village.

The last clan is known for hunting particularly big prey when they are at their most vulnerable, including old “dagga boys”.  This clan numbers up to 20 individuals and is active between Hoyo Hoyo and Western / Manyeleti Cutline and Ridge road. A point worth mentioning, the Mluwati Concession has some of the largest female hyenas that many of our guides have seen in their career between South Africa’s North West, KwaZulu Natal, and Mpumalanga!

PACHYDERMS ON MLUWATI

The sheer numbers of elephants around Hamiltons, Imbali, and Hoyo Hoyo have definitely caused a distinctive change in the vegetation around the camps with an emphasis on some trees, which have never been damaged by them before.

A lot more damage has been done to the Tamboti trees this dry season as well as the Delgoa thorns. Knob Thorns have also been targeted for the amount of water they hold in their roots. We are hoping that, with the arrival of the rains, the pressure of elephants on the trees will reduce significantly as they will have enough water provided by the riverbeds and waterholes.

Through all of their adventures, it really seems as though these animals are the artists and the bush is their canvas—they are solely responsible for the shaping of the landscape.

REPTILES ON MLUWATI

One of the biggest fears for most of our guests is snakes. While there are definitely those that we should be wary of, including the likes of mambas, cobras, and puff adders—we do have quite a few that we do not have to worry about when we spot them in the bush. In fact, many are actually protected species that significantly add to the biodiversity and health of the ecosystem.

Venom versus Poison – in most instances there is often a confusion between these two words, but by remembering the following it becomes understandable quite quickly:

VENOM: when we are talking about venom, we are referring to something that is toxic but, in order for it to affect an organism, it must be INJECTED through a bite or a stinger. Many snakes, scorpions, and spiders have venom. When an organism has the ability to inject venom into another organism, it is known as being “venomous”.

POISON: in order for the poison to become harmful, it must be INGESTED. Several frogs and insects are poisonous when ingested.

FUN FACT:  Several poisonous and venomous species will have bright coloring and high-contrast patterns that warn potential predators of their toxicity, venom, etc. This is known as APOSEMATISM.

Below are images of one of the most iconic snakes of Africa: the African Rock Python. Our guides were definitely very excited to see, as was our Finance lady who was pleasantly greeted by an African Rock Python outside her of room at Hamilton’s. These snakes are constrictors and therefore—although they can give you a nasty bite—they are NON – VENOMOUS.

FEATURE BIRD: The Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus)

The Martial Eagle has to be one of the most impressive species in the raptor family that we are fortunate to find here on the Concession. It is the largest of the African eagles and is incredibly powerful—capable of knocking an adult man off his feet. It has even been reported that martial eagles have enough power in one foot to break a man’s arm!  With a weight of 6.5kg, a wingspan of 6 feet 4 inches, and a height of  32 inches, it is a magnificent sight to spot in the bush.

Unfortunately, Martial Eagles are some of the scarcer eagles in Africa due to their persecution by farmers who regard them as threats to their livestock. This species is classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN list, which sadly means that they are under threat of extinction. These birds enjoy a varied diet, with one study showing that Martial Eagles in Kruger feed on other birds 45% of the time, especially water birds like herons and storks. Monitor Lizards and venomous snakes are also a favourite meal, and they are known to even hunt and catch jackals. Young antelope are another popular meal including klipspringer and impala.

SIGHTS AROUND THE MLUWATI CONCESSION

“Can you name all the animals on this page?
From left to right: Giant Kingfisher, Wild Dog, Steenbok, Lion, Southern Giraffe

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

 The resumption of leisure travel has certainly sparked a collective urge to escape the cities and explore our spectacular country. However, did you know that there are—in fact—several scientific benefits of returning to the bush?

From restoring your cognitive functioning and mental willpower to problem solve, to increasing your levels of lymphocytes (cells that fight viruses and other diseases) and anti-cancer proteins, there are objectively beneficial consequences of immersing yourself in our country’s incredible wildlife. As the Mluwati Concession, we are proud to be the custodians of 100 square kilometres of pristine wilderness inside South Africa’s crown jewel, the Kruger National Park, for our guests to enjoy to themselves.

 “An understanding of the natural world and what’s in it is a source of not only a great curiosity but great fulfilment” – Sir David Attenborough

THE GUIDES OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION