Written by Isaiah Banda
Year after year, we find ourselves in total awe of the seasons which slowly phase in and out consistently. Just when you get used to the sepia tones of the landscape, the fresh mornings, the bare trees and the seasonal species – it’s time to welcome something new. Each season brings with it its own identity and unique beauty. Each month offers something different, and every season unravels new palettes of colour and greets returning migratory species. Dombeya Rotundifolia is already in full bloom, this is the first tree to start flowering after winter. This month we are over the hump of 2021 and are heading towards the end of the year. We also received our first summer rain with 18mm. The last rain we received in August was in 2014 which was about 1.5mm.
There is a particular season which you just can’t get enough of – and for many of us, this is the summertime. As we approach our warmer months and embrace all the magic that summer holds.
Witnessing the green flush of the Mabula landscape, the smell of energising summer rains on African soil and of course, basking in the delicious warmth next to the pool. Let every day start with an amazing safari drive and indulge in a delicious breakfast with lots of variety to choose from after your safari. Once again, this month we are spoilt with an array of winter varieties provided by the magnificent Mabula bushveld. We had some amazing sightings of the cheetahs, wild dogs, lions, elephants, leopards and general game.
What started out quiet one-afternoon safari turned out to be one of the most exciting afternoons yet. We stopped briefly at Kai dam picnic spot for a sundowner with another vehicle already there, while our guests were watching hippo on the other side of the dam on the bank, we heard impala alarming at something not too far from where we were. With the intensity of the alarm, we were sure that they had seen a predator. Guest Karin Leith was at the right place with her camera to capture all the pictures and shared them with us.
It was the leopard female and two cubs. They moved southwards on the western bank and bumped into a hippo out of the water. We were spoiled with a mother leopard and her two cubs at Kai dam. Recently leopard sightings in this area of the reserve have been amazing
They interacted with a hippo for an hour. It was amazing to see that, especially between leopard and hippo. The hippo went into the water and the leopards moved south and chased an impala into the dam and followed on top of the dam wall as she swam across. Eventually, the mother leopard attempted a kill the impala on the edge of the dam near the sundowner Lapa. The impala got into the water to swim and get away from the leopard, eventually, it died in the water from drowning.
While this was happening, the wild dogs arrived and looked on from the southwest corner of the dam. They soon disappeared though. Wild dogs are now an integral part of the experience at Mabula and provide some spectacular opportunities to spend on safari with them.
It is now over a month from when the wild dogs arrived on the reserve, and they have moved to every corner of this reserve. So far it looks like they are enjoying their stay. They have provided spectacular sightings for our guests. We have seen they have spent most of the month on the southwestern part of the reserve where they have been successful with hunting. The best way I can describe following wild dogs on the hunt is that it’s like being on a rollercoaster – sometimes quite literally as we get up to some unruly speeds trying to keep up with them! It’s an exhilarating experience. Not to mention that just seeing these rare carnivores is something quite special. The tempo that they operate with on a hunt is almost tangible and often requires an icy whisky and coke afterward to settle the nerves.
One of the best sightings this month was seeing them at Kai dam chasing an impala ewe and she was cornered and had no choice but to go inside the dam where she drowned. They were also successful in bringing down a wildebeest, two of them bringing down adult wildebeest was amazing. Impala have been in trouble with cheetahs, leopards and wild dogs this month.
The word carnivore in Mabula instantly conjures images of long canines and sharp claws – powerful predators like lions or cheetahs, capable of rending flesh from bone or enthusiastic wild dogs coursing after their equally speedy prey.
Aardwolf also stole the show this month, a very shy mammal although common on Mabula. They are normally found on rainmeter plains and on champagne breakfast area, however recently we have seen them spreading to other areas of the reserve such as long and winding. The aardwolf (Proteles cristata) is a member of the Hyaenidae family, along with the spotted hyena (Crocuta Crocuta), the brown hyena (Parahyaena brunnea) and the striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena). Of all the hyena species, the aardwolf looks most like a striped hyena, though this is where the similarities end. Aardwolf (Proteles cristata) is not related to aardvarks or wolves, it’s the smallest member of the hyena family.
They have long, pointed ears, slender skulls, and long necks. Like all members of Hyaenidae, they have front legs longer than their hind legs, giving them a sloped stature. Aardwolves also have a distinctive mane that grows from behind their heads to the tips of their tails and black stripes running across their cream-colored bodies. Unlike other termite-feeding animals, like the anteater and the aardvark, aardwolves don’t dig up their prey. It lacks the claws needed for digging. Instead, it laps up termites from the ground using its long, sticky tongue.
One aardwolf can consume more than 200,000 termites in a single night. Contrary to popular belief, aardwolves don’t eat carrion. They are often observed picking at corpses, but they eat the insect larvae and beetles that are found on decaying bodies. They have strong jaws and canine teeth, but their cheek teeth have been reduced to flattened pegs, used for eating insects.
Aardwolves primarily use their canines for fighting and defence. Aardwolves are nocturnal and spend their days in underground burrows. They usually use the abandoned dens of aardvarks, porcupines, or springhares. A mating pair of aardwolves has a home range of up to four square km. Both sexes mark their territories with secretions from their anal glands. If another aardwolf intrudes upon their territory, they will raise their manes as a warning signal and chase the intruder away. If the intruder is caught, which happens rarely, a fight will occur. Aardwolves have two anal glands that secrete a black, musky fluid that they use to mark their territories and send messages to other aardwolves.
They smear these secretions on foliage to establish territories and attract potential mates. They tend to be vocal only when confronting intruders or predators. In these cases, aardwolves may make a clucking sound, a deep growl, or a roar. Aardwolves have areas within their territories that they use for urination and defecation, called middens. Each time they visit a midden, they dig a hole, do their business, and then pile dirt on top to cover it up. They form mating pairs and help raise their young together, but males may mate with other females within neighbouring territories. Males and females care for their offspring together for about their first year. When pups are small, the males guard the den while the female leaves to forage for food.
Animals can often be quite entertaining in various ways, ranging from courtship behaviours that male zebras display to win over females, to juvenile impalas contesting strength in their bachelor group to see who the dominant individual might one day be, or even through a blue wildebeest galloping and kicking through the bush just because they ‘feel like it’ on the day. These behaviours are sometimes found to be peculiar by those that don’t understand them, and can often be quite violent towards other animals, depending on what is to be achieved, dominance, submission, or attraction. Male animals showing how strong they are in a fight can display dominance over other males, and attraction from females.
However, there are other subtler ways in which certain animals seek to get attention. For example, in birds; the lilac breasted roller has quite a performance that it puts on for the females. Being called a ‘roller’ these birds fly up into the sky, and then with their bright colours displaying beautifully in the light, they engage in a manoeuvre in which they twist or ‘roll’ their bodies around to show off all these colours to the female in the hopes of attracting them. These remarkable birds easily catch the eye with their combination of blue and purple and can sometimes be seen perching on branches of trees on Mabula.
Another intriguing manner which some antelope, like the nyala and kudu, use to show off is known as Philo Erection. This incredible phenomenon involves the male of the species performing what looks like a fashion show to get the audience of the females. The term refers to the hairs on the body standing up. With this performance, the male moves very slowly and tries to make himself look as large and handsome as possible, in order to deter any possible competition and to impress the already gathered audience of females.
With the spiralling horns on a large male kudu giving, it a majestic appearance and this timid way of competing and attracting attention it has become known that these animals are referred to as the “Gentlemen of the Bush”. It is thus very seldom to find these antelopes engage in any real form of brutal contact.
We all have a different idea of our ideal safari. Some of our guests prioritise photography, some make sure that there’s a good sundowner spot to enjoy their drink of choice while watching the sun disappearing behind the mountains, others prefer to enjoy a more spiritual experience or just simply escape and slowdown from the hustle and bustle of a busy lifestyle.
Whatever the case may be, we can all agree that in whatever state of mind you find yourself while at Mabula, an incredible sighting can and often is the highlight of our guests stay. These sightings are not necessarily made special by something but, when experienced, have that certain ‘wow factor’ about them.
Perhaps it’s the sheer volume of animals, some weighing close to a ton, all in one area, interacting and living together that we find appealing about a large herd of buffalo. Like the elephants, they too have an affinity for bodies of water and retreat there to drink and get some reprieve from the heat and insects. It is always amazing to see them feeding while making their way to the water.
When it comes to enjoying such a sighting, there is no single element of it to be described but rather the many independent ‘side-shows’ that one can see in a herd. Two young bulls sparring for dominance, a mother nursing her calf, an old bull with plenty of character tossing his horns through the mud. These individual stories all developing in one sighting are what captivates one when spending time with buffalos. A large herd of buffalo can keep you entertained for ages as you scan the herd and enjoy the individual scenarios that make up the herd.
Birds of a spotted feather flock together. One morning as I was driving on the reserve alone getting pictures. I came across these interesting birds, one of the popular birds on the reserve. However, everyone just drives past them without looking at them. Most of the safari vehicles who drove past me watching them, they asked me what I was busy photographing. The moment I said guinea fowl, they left disappointed.
Polka dots are not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the colours and patterns of the African bush. However, there are a fair number of spotted creatures out here. We all know the iconic rosettes of the leopard, or the cracked earth mosaic of the giraffe and even the perfectly spaced circles dotted on the coat of the cheetah. But the more inconspicuous, yet delicately worked of Mother Nature’s designs is that of the helmeted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris).
From a distance, this grey bird with a bizarre blue head can be written off as the ‘bush chicken’ which many people do call it. However, on closer inspection the feathers transform from a bland uniform grey to a deep black with tiny, precisely spaced white dots. And the brilliant blue on the head extends from the neck up to the eye area where a bright red colour takes over on the head with the finishing touch being a yellow to brown helmut directly on top on the head. This is a special time of year as we start seeing something fascinating happening. As it is non-breeding season for the guinea fowl, we see them joining together in social flocks. These flocks can gather to quite a size of 15-40 birds which forage together during the daytime followed by roosting safely together up in trees at night.
If you are visiting the bush during our winter months, look out for the flocks that have formed. They are fascinating birds and if you stop to take the time to watch, they have some rather entertaining interactions. If, however, you choose to visit in the warmer months you will see different behaviour start to occur. As spring rolls in, the flocks become smaller and smaller as monogamous pairs of guinea fowls break off for the breeding season. Parental roles in nature always fascinate me and the helmeted guinea fowl is no exception. Once the female has selected a spot and made a significant ground scraping usually in tall grass, she incubates her eggs, a typical clutch of 6-18 eggs for 24-27 days.
This is where it gets interesting. The male leaves the female for the entire duration of incubation, but when the chicks hatch the male then takes care of the youngsters 80% of the time in the first two weeks while the female regains condition. That’s teamwork! This all happens in our summertime between October – March so look out for either nesting guinea fowl or a little line of chicks following behind an adult as they forage for the day. Whatever time of year you choose to go on safari, these birds are always up to something and with their iconic pattern and coloration are always worth a photo or two! Next time when you here at Mabula on safari with your guide. Just stop for a few minutes when you spot guinea fowl. You will see how fascinating they are.
The much-loved marula, Sclerocarya Birrea, is an ancient tree with a history extending back at least 10,000 years. Archaeological evidence shows that the marula fruit and nut-like kernels were an important food in Southern Africa in ancient times. The marula fruit, which ripens from January to March, is the size of a small plum, and has 4 times more Vitamin C than an orange. It is delicious eaten fresh, or may be cooked to produce jams, juices, or alcoholic beverages. The liqueur Amarula is made from the marula fruit.
Marula trees are deciduous. This means that Marula trees shed their leaves annually. This isn’t unique to these trees, but it helps them conserve water and energy, increases pollination production levels in the spring and assists in survival in harsher weather conditions of the winter months. Mabula reserve too goes through its own seasons of change, shedding and growth.
Marulas have broad leaves. Another way in which the marula tree thrives on sandy crests is its broad leaves. The broad leaves allow for a higher rate of transpiration (the process of water uptake through the root system, the transportation of that water through plant tissues and the release of water vapour through leaves into the atmosphere). The benefit of a high rate of transpiration is that along with the water entering the tree, comes a large amount of nutrients and minerals from the soil. So yes, on one hand the marula tree requires a lot from the soil, but on the other it gives back the same amount, if not more. The tree has a water and nutrient-filled cambium layer underneath the bark that animals, especially elephants, love. It also hosts delicious marula fruit that are extremely high in vitamin C.
World Elephant Day is celebrated every year on 12 August to raise awareness on the plight of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) from the numerous threats that they face. Elephants, in my opinion, are the most sentient of the animals we see in the bush. They are the only animals apart from apes and dolphins that have passed the mirror self-recognition test which proves a certain level of intelligence. Elephant brains have a relatively large hippocampus compared to primates.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain that plays a major role in learning and memory. If you look at the life of an elephant, they go through their first few years as a calf following their mothers very closely and almost adopting a strategy of imitation to learn from their mothers. It takes them some time to master the use of their trunks and even longer to learn and remember where all the best places are for food and water at different times of the year.
A sentient being is one with the faculty of sensation and the power to perceive, reason and think. It takes a young elephant up to two years to get full control of its trunk. Moments spent with elephants at a waterhole are some of the most memorable experiences to have in the bush.
The bonds between different individuals of a herd that have taken years to form are based on the foundation that each elephant is valued, and is valuable, and these bonds between elephants are built over years and years of interaction.
Elephants carry such a magical presence about them. Their slow, deliberate movements illustrate their deep wisdom for and connection to the land. Whether you find yourself surrounded by a herd or alongside a large bull, you will feel what I am talking about. A truly spiritual experience.
You only need to hear a lion’s roar to truly understand your place in the ecosystem. We also celebrated World Lion Day this month. Lions are a critical component of the ecosystem, and it is important to raise awareness around these magnificent cats. To celebrate their day, they were successful in bringing down a zebra. Male lions become sexually mature at around 26 months old, but unlikely to breed before the age of four or five, primarily due to a lack of opportunity until they are large enough at around this age to take over a pride and therefore its breeding rights. How do lions select a partner? Selection may be initiated by either member of the pair who remains close during the period of a female’s fertility. The female usually invites the male to have intercourse by assuming a position known as lordosis. There is little competition amongst pride males during mating. Instead of fighting to be the first to mate with a fertile female, a male will follow her around very closely at the first signs of fertility onset.
Other males keep their distance unless there is a clear size difference, in which case a larger male may fight a smaller one. This works because females have a long fertility period and copulate many times during that period. Males may lose interest before the end of the fertility period, giving patient males a chance.
Lions play a key role in the food chain by controlling the herbivore population, which if left unchecked, could increase competition amongst herbivores with the possibility of reduction in biodiversity. Lions prey mainly on herd animals. Generally, lions take down the weakest of the herd which means that the remaining herd population are resilient and healthy. It is said that if lions did not exist, there would be more animals serving as hosts for parasites and pathogens that would spread throughout the herd, leading to fewer healthy animals.
Iconic. Majestic. Awe-inspiring. Finding just one word to describe an intimate encounter with a lion in its prime is a near impossible task. For most people lions provide an intoxicating mixture of fear and fascination. The powerful emotions that lions evoke in people almost act as proof that we as humans still have some connection to our primal ancestors who lived alongside these animals for thousands of years.
Any male lion roaring is a sight and sound to behold. It reverberates through your body and is the epitome of power and dominance in this environment that can leave one speechless. A short build-up to a sighting like that makes being in that moment more meaningful.
Every time we are able to share stories of the Mabula lions with our guests from all over the world, whether it be on a safari drive or with guides newsletter or social media. The importance of these stories cannot be understated. With less than 20 000 lions left in the wild, these stories are more important than ever because they help to raise awareness about the uncertain future these incredible animals face.
So, they can continue asking their counterparts and all guests coming to view them. Whoooooo’s land is this? Whoooooo’s land is this? Whoooooo’s land is this? My land, my land, my land. Here’s to World Lion Day!
One must look at the positive and a very interesting fact is that August is also very powerful month generating high-frequency energies. Between July 28 and August 12, the Sun and the star Sirius moved closer to Earth and aligned with Orion’s belt. Sirius is known as the ‘Spiritual Sun’ and it activates the ‘Lions Gate Portal.
Its energy forces opportunities for dramatic new beginnings, a time when new levels of consciousness are infused into the planet and into us individually. The ‘Lions Gate Portal’ aligns with the heart centre and embodies the Leo traits of courage, strength and expression. It’s synchronicity at play here, no wonder the world celebrated ‘World Lion Day’ on the 10th of August, one day after Woman’s Day is celebrated in South Africa.
Thank you to guests Ute Vierling, Julia Shimaniets and Karin Leith for sharing their wonderful images they took during their stay on Mabula. also guides Nuria, Frans, Emile and Charne.
That is all for this month, until next month again
From Isaiah Banda & Mabula family.