September has been pointedly marked by the sweltering heat of the dry season. Now at its peak, the dry season is the time where the bushveld is at its most barren and animals are compelled to travel greater distances in search of food and water. Competition over the environment’s scant resources is also at its highest, resulting in a fascinating spectacle of survival and animal instinct. We are privileged to be spectators of this pristine wonder of the natural world. Here, on the Mluwati Concession, we have the opportunity to witness nature in its purest, rawest form— devoid of any human interference.
The sightings of this month have been nothing short of astounding. The only fitting way to describe the incredible distinctiveness of our Concession is through the eyes of someone who has spent nearly a decade on the property, witnessing its exceptional splendour evolve over time. Julia Keates, a very familiar face to those who have visited Imbali Safari Lodge, narrates a special birthday safari that she had this month. We will also update you on our favourite Mluwati residents, including the very special return of our favourite spotted cat!
LIONS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:
The Hamiltons Pride:
This pride has been very bush around Hamiltons Tented Camp, using the last of the remaining water around Hamiltons to hunt. They have managed to pull down more than six buffalo, impala, and even zebra around the various thickets surrounding the water.
The Talamati Breakaway Pride:
This beautiful pride has spent much time around Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge and around the Western Cutline, moving from water source to water source. They managed to pull down an adult male buffalo, yet after more than an hour and a half, they had not managed to kill it. This drew the attention of two large male lions who killed the buffalo and chased the females away.
The Imbali Pride, the Torchwood Pride, and the Talamati Pride:
These three prides have all been making sporadic appearances around the KNP Corner and Bemmer Plains. Some nomadic males have also been walking through the Concession in various areas, using this as an easy shortcut to get where they are finally wanting to be without staying on the Concession for too long.
LEOPARDS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:
Finally, after two months of no sightings, we have seen our stunning superstar once again! One can imagine the joy the guides experienced when we spotted the famous female who has been part of our lives from the day that she was born. It is amazing to see the size of her—she is no longer the petite, long-faced girl that we remember. She has filled out and picked up the normal size of an adult female. She was seen mating towards the end of the month once again, and we are hoping that she will produce a successful litter of cubs. We cannot wait to watch her fulfil her role in diversifying the genetics of the Concession’s leopard population and producing a legacy of outstanding cats.
While he certainly does not need any introduction, this gorgeous cat never fails to impress us! He has been seen several times all around the Concession as he is no longer the stable resident around Hamiltons. Nowadays, he used the entire Concession as his stomping ground!
There is an astonishing number of unknown leopards around the Concession. The three males around Hamiltons Tented Camp are still being spotted on a regular basis. The unknown female and her young male cub are still allowing us the occasional sighting, with the youngster still being much more relaxed around the vehicles. Two large unknown males were spotted in a territorial dispute at KNP Corner—one was seen a couple days later, mating with an unknown female. Hoyo Hoyo is also currently home to a couple of very timid leopards who visit the waterhole during the night. The Ridge Road male was seen again on a couple occasions.
Affectionately known as the mother beyond all mothers, Nkhanye continues to do an amazing job at keeping her female cub safe and out of trouble. The young female is so relaxed and, like her mother and older sister, is very comfortable around the vehicle. It is truly a pleasure to sit with them and watch them interact and play.
WILD DOGS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:
The pups are back, and we were back in our element as we spent two and a half hours with 15 of the newest generation of Imbali Pack members. It was such an extraordinary experience watching the pups’ inquisitiveness get the better of them. They lay and watched our every move, the vehicle was of great interest to them. They found different games with balls of dung, logs, branches whatever they could find. They really are beautiful and cute, inquisitive, playful must investigate, and we think the best way to sum them us in one word is adorable hooligans!
CHEETAHS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:
After somewhat of a lack of cheetah activity, we were very happy to have some amazing sightings and time spent with these delicate, often timid cats. The four-boy coalition have been moving from their normal location of Bemmer Plains to KNP Corner, north towards the Serobanga two track. They have been seen as far as Pod Mahagonies on the western boundary—back along the S145 to Fairfield and then around the S36 all the way down to Hamiltons Tented Camp.
A BIRTHDAY SAFARI TO REMEMBER by Julia Keates:
My wish for the day was for an amazing and unusual afternoon bumble with a few others – well I can honestly say it took my breath away. We have all come to know the famous “Kruger Sightings”. Well, everyone, I am proud to say the Mluwati Concession has yet again proven to me we do indeed live in a very special place. For those guests who were out on the 18th of September 2021, it was the day where wishes were made to come true—the sightings and the buzzzzz was unbelievable. It was like sitting in front of the TV and watching everything unfold (knowing that on some of the TV programmes it has taken over 8 years of waiting for the exact moment for something to happen). Time for us literally stood still and we were left thinking, can this really be what I have witnessed…
Leaving the staff village in the afternoon, we decided to try and relocate the lions from the Imbali Pride who had been seen heading Northeast away the lodge. They had just relinquished a zebra carcass to a group of very tenacious Hyena – this, of course, was the talk of the morning safari as videos were taken throughout the whole process of the lions losing their carcass. We stopped momentarily at the waterhole to watch the fourth group of elephants trying to get to the last remnants of water out of the trough. Being the end of the dry season and given the number of animals making use of this precious resource, water is becoming a very scarce commodity around the lodges currently. Herds of elephant move in and out of the area throughout the day—as many as 20 at a time, which means that after each session, it does take a bit of time for the trough to be replenished.
Needless to say, on the one side of the trough we sat and watched a large bull standing with his trunk seemingly lifeless over the top of the water inlet cover. He had decided that he will take 40 winks while he waited and didn’t move as we drove past him. A single female with a small calf stood on the opposite side, waiting for the water to fill. Her calf leaning against her and waiting patiently for her to give the sign it is time to leave. Two younger bulls were having a scratch against the leadwoods which are closest to the trough.
We left the Elephants and started heading north along the river line – we went all the way until we reached the thickets but unfortunately there was no luck with finding the lions. We decided to take Middle Road and Borehole loop and slowly make our way around to Hamiltons where the animals are definitely relying on the remains of the water left after a good season of rains. A call came over the radio the Hamiltons Guides who found Blondie and Madala—the resident dominant male lions of this area—lying close to the river and opposite Tent 6 of Hamiltons Tented Camp– on the eastern side. Another radio call, this time from Moshe, revealed a small group of approximately 30 Buffalo close to the Southern Entrance of Borehole and it seemed they are heading down towards the river.
We slowly ambled along Borehole— some elephants drinking from freshly dug out holes in the riverbed, zebra stand grazing, kudu moving into the thickets to the west of us. We then noticed the beautiful shining greens and yellows – flying low over the tops of the grass – of the Little Bee eaters, enjoying their last catches through the afternoon before returning to the trees to roost for the night.
As we reached the junction of Middle Road, we expected to find the buffalo still making their way down to the river. However, at this point, it was as if they have disappeared. Fresh tracks and plenty of dung were the only tell-tale signs of them crossing over from where Moshe had had them earlier.
As the guests and their guides rotated themselves through the sighting, we started heading in the direction of the two male lions – Hamiltons Guide, Nicolas, was the last one to call that he was indeed leaving the sighting and continuing on his drive as he had some very eager birders who were wanting to move on and see what other critters can be found. We continued past Hamiltons Tented Camp and made our way through the drift on the Old S36 road. We were told that the lions were lying flat close to the old borehole—all eyes were focused at trying to find them.
Just as we focused on finding these tawny cats, Nicolas called on the radio: he had managed to find not one but two leopards lying in a tree just north of our current position! Now, I am not fussy – I love anything— I see that is why I live in the bush, but I have to be honest: two leopards with a kill in the tree versus two male lions lying down and sleeping…I am sure I would not be the only one who chose to go the leopards! We responded to the sighting as it was not far from where we were. Excitement grew exponentially as we saw Nicolas’ vehicle a short way ahead of us. It was Nkhanye and her youngster! They had managed to secure an impala. At this stage, looking at the photos that we managed to get, one would wonder how they are able to eat at that angle – looking at the place it has been stashed.
Nkhanye looked like royalty, lying head down on the thick branch of the Leadwood tree – back legs dangling on each side and her head resting on one of her front paws. While the youngster is too busy watching these funny, squared-shaped noise makers as we position ourselves in the correct place for a clear view of the two of them. We sat with them for what seemed like an hour, watching them look around and keeping an eye out for any other leopards or hyenas in the area.
Nicholas was thanked by all of us, and he slowly made his way out of the sighting. He headed towards Hamiltons quarry for his sundowner stop. We sat and watched the mother and her daughter as they enjoyed their rest – their stomachs were extremely full. After about 30 minutes, we decided to head back and see if we could relocate on the male lions—all of a sudden Nicholas called on the radio: the two males were walking across the road towards the river – the herd of buffalo who were making their way down to the river were also starting to filter down the bank towards the water.
We headed straight to where Nicholas was sitting on the road close to the river – right opposite Hamiltons Tent 6. The one male lion had gone down into the riverbed while his brother was sitting on the road in front of us watching. The buffalo were extremely nervous as they had already seen the one male. They were bunched close together – a large bull ran at the male who then moved out of its way quite quickly and headed to a safer position. The herd was now drinking from a pool right next to us in the riverbed – we were watching from a safe distance on the road above them.
Again, three buffalo broke away from the group and ran towards the male lion. He then moved up the pathway right next to Tent 6 and behind some thickets. His brother had seen what had happened and decided to walk past the vehicles to cross behind us. He walked slowly through the riverbed and over to the opposite bank. During this time, the buffalo had been drinking and looking – but considering what we had seen of the two males and where they were looking, we were starting to see the build up to one of the most chaotic hunts I have ever seen.
We spoke amongst ourselves on the vehicle trying to figure out what was going to happen…we saw the buffalo looking down the riverbed—they were watching something, but it was not the males… a light shape caught my attention closer to the riverbed, but the sun had now almost disappeared. It was the lionesses from the Hamiltons Pride, and they were setting up for something. We saw a total of five females slowly moving into position. They created almost a barrier on the far side. One female rushed towards the buffalo who were now totally panicked. They were trying to run up the opposite bank to us, but they landed up scattering everywhere as they bumped into the lions lying in wait at the top. The dust and noise leaved us speechless as our adrenalin started to pump. We could see how the lions worked as a cohesive group. They didn’t need to see each other but they knew what their jobs were and each one had a responsibility to the other.
We heard the buffalo coming back towards the river – a stampede ensued as they came charging down the bank and back into the riverbed. With the light getting worse, we all knew the lions were waiting for the darkness. For now, they were just keeping the buffalo at bay. We were now three vehicles at the sighting with Nicholas and Victor in front of us. We were literally sitting closest to the herd, which had now bunched up in the pool of remaining water. Spotlights were not needed at this time in order to ensure that we did not interfere with the hunt. We sat in the darkness and waited. Suddenly, in the darkness we could hear a stampede had started again – we realised soon enough that the buffalo were coming straight towards us.
Well, our hearts were now beating at a million miles an hour – Greg, our Concession’s Safari Manager, not wanting to really start the vehicle and move in case we disturb and confuse the buffalo decided to just have a quick check of where the buffalo were –
I have never seen a vehicle start and move forward so quickly—if we had not moved, we would have been in the wrong place. Commotion ensued, the sound of the stampede deafening as they ran past the back of the vehicle. We heard the buffalo going into to the eastern bloc, the hooves hitting the ground so hard. A buffalo bellowed out and our focus changed. We all remained quiet and very still, the feeling of excitement soars through everyone. The hard work had paid off, the lions have caught a buffalo. The guides chattered amongst themselves and agreed that we would wait to turn around to ensure we did not cause any unnecessary distractions while the lions were busy killing. The main aim for us was to by no means interfere in the course of nature or do anything that would jeopardise this valuable meal that the lions have managed to get. The bellows faded as the buffalo was suffocated. Once all was quiet, the vehicle turned and headed back towards the riverbank.
The scene in front of us was not a scene that everyone would be happy with.
However, for those of us who live and work here, it is one of the most interesting, but also sad in a way. We pulled off just close enough not to disturb the youngsters who were already tucking into the buffalo. Their heads were completely covered in blood. Everyone was finding a space to get at the carcass, lots of growling and snarling going on. Two males had found themselves a place to feast and everyone one else had to find their own little hole to get at the meat, which would help them get their fill. Then, of course, as in any family there are the youngest of the bunch. Now these three were still preferring to drink milk and had not yet gotten the real taste for meat. They decided to continue playing in the background for a while – but like all kids the curiosity got the better of them and so they decided to move closer to the group – and then decided to use the entire scene as a playground.
Madala who was lying closest to us became the first unsuspecting toy while flicking his tail. The cubs decided to play a game of bite the end if you can catch it. Luckily, for the youngsters, he was too focused on the kill to pay them much attention. The game lasted about 20 minutes and the cubs got bored. A female who was lying closer to the nose of the buffalo was the next target. However, she bared her teeth and growled. The cubs decided that this is not the best option. They then found their mother and tried suckling while she was eating – unfortunately this did not go down well either and again they were snarled at. Mom got up and moved to the far side where the older cubs were. The older cub put its ears down flat and started growling at the female. The female put her nose a little close to the meat and the older cub lashed out at her, one nail sticked into her nose and she retreated backward. Now I don’t know about you, but if I would have to try that with my mom, I would not be able to sit for a week! We sat with the lions for over an hour, just watching them interacting with each other and watching the cubs playing. We decided it was time to leave them to their meal – the adrenalin and high spirits kept us laughing and chatting all the way back to the staff village – this was a birthday I will never forget…
“We live, we share, we laugh, we cry, we fight but, at the end of the day we are all family here on the Mluwati Concession and we have the best jobs in the world – never be afraid to make a wish …. you never know when that one wish make come true”
THE GUIDES OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION