Guide News – December 2023 - Safari Plains Skip to main content
Written by Isaiah Banda

Meet the Newest Members of Mabula Pride.

As many of our guests know, the lion sightings at Mabula are truly phenomenal. With the new discovery of tiny lion cubs, we took a chance and hoped we would get to see them. Upon arriving at the den, we found two lionesses resting out in the open at Top Dam.

The two females indeed gave birth to cubs, not one, not two, but seven cubs in total. One lioness gave birth to four cubs, while the other lioness gave birth to three cubs. These are exciting times for Mabula guides and guests. Spoilt with an amazing view of them, we sat back and enjoy what unfolded.

The females groomed their cubs while they frolicked, their playful antics filling the air. The joyous energy of the cubs, combined with the tender moments of maternal care, created an unforgettable spectacle.

The greatest part about having so many lion cubs on the reserve is the abundance of adorable content that we can capture and share with everyone. There can never be too much cub footage being put out and the reality is that times like these do not come around often and so when they do, one needs to make the most of it.

Never in my career at Mabula have I witnessed lion cubs this small and in such abundance, and I may never again. Plus, they’re just so incredibly cute.

It’s hard to believe that one day these tiny little cubs will follow in their parents’ footsteps and become the apex predators that rule the roost on Mabula.

Even though the cubs have become relatively relaxed with our presence, we are still fairly unfamiliar to them.

At times I have struggled to decide whether I should be photographing the cubs, trying to take videos of them, or just sitting and enjoying the scenes playing out before our eyes. I’m incredibly grateful that we have been able to do all the above over the last few weeks and hope that we will be able to continue doing so.

It will be interesting to see how the dynamics play out in the weeks to come as the mothers continue introducing their cubs to the rest of the pride.

Celebrating the Cheetahs and their success so far.

December 4th, 2023 marks the 13th anniversary of International Cheetah Day. In 2010, Dr. Laurie Marker designated December 4th as International Cheetah Day. There are three stages in the life cycle of the cheetah cub, birth to 18 months, adolescence (18 to 24 months) and adult life (24 months and on).

Cheetahs serve a special role in its ecosystem. Cheetahs are one of the most successful hunters on Mabula, but their kills are very often stolen by other carnivores or predators that hunt in groups. Predators play an important role in any ecosystem. They keep prey species healthy by killing the weak and old individuals.

They also act as a population check which helps plant life by preventing overgrazing. Without predators like the cheetah, the savanna ecosystem in South Africa would be very different and the current ecological trend toward desertification would be accelerated.

Wolves Of Mabula

Wild dogs are not often one of the animals on many guests’ checklists. Not as regal as a male lion, or as iconic as a large herd of elephants wandering across Mabula’s plains. We probably get 10 times more requests to see giraffes and zebras than the African wild dog. And why?

Wild Dog conjures up a preconceived idea of a feral dog that lives its life scavenging to get by. This could not be further from the truth as they are the most effective predator on the reserve with the highest hunt to kill ratio. This is achieved by hunting together in a pack, coupled with the fact that they are endurance specialists who can run at speeds of up to 60 km per hour for a few kilometers.

The most interesting part is seeing how social these animals are when they have a den with pups. When the adult hunting pack return to the pups, the giggling and social bonding is incredible. Even if there is one pup in the pack that has a broken ankle, near fatal for a solitary hunter, he keeps up with the pack and the family looks after him despite his inability to participate in a hunt. As humans we can learn a lot from these amazing creatures.

There is such a variety of animals here at Mabula that we often don’t even think of. One such animal is arguably one of my favorites of all time, wild dogs. Perhaps the more romantic name, Painted Dog.

Many new safari guests are unaware that these animals even exist, which gives me great joy when we do manage to find them on safari, which is incredibly uncommon as they are very rare to see.

There are lots of hard facts about painted dogs, like how they live in packs bonded by the alpha male and female and how they weigh between 18 to 28 kilograms. I could tell you that the simplest pack structure is a set of related males and a set of related females, with no genetic relationship between the males and females.

I could share how they hunt as a pack by running their prey down and that they can take down prey as small as a scrub hare and as large as a zebra.

Lycaon pitus – the scientific name of the wild dog, meaning painted wolf with each dog having its own unique pattern. Whatever your preconceived notion is about this predator, spending time with these creatures makes you appreciate that they are indeed, works of art.

Can the animals see us on the safari vehicle?

Before every safari drive you will hear me or any guides tell you that we are safe in an open vehicle because animals don’t really see us as people in a car, but only see one unit, and that’s why it is important not to break the shape of this unit, not to startle them and not to make you visible as a person. It is impossible to know how other animals see the world because that would mean knowing how a different brain, completely alien to ours, processes visual stimuli and what actions are taken according to these stimuli.

There are too many animals here at Mabula, and at least twice the number of eyes, to speak about all of them now. For now, let’s focus specifically on one of the Big 5 that is considered as potentially dangerous even in a vehicle, being the elephant, and how could a safari vehicle with guests appear to their eyes.

First, their eyes are not big, being only 3.8cm in diameter, whereas a human being’s eye is 2.5cm. Their eyes are located on the side of their head, which gives them good peripheral vision rather than binocular vision (what humans have). As a result, they do not have the depth perception that humans have, but seeing well around them is not a problem at all.

If you happen to follow an elephant closely, whether on foot or with a safari vehicle, you can see them moving their head slightly to the side and observing you out of the corner of their eye even though you are almost completely behind them. Or when they just cruise past the safari vehicle and tilt their massive head a bit downward, and this small eye seems to look at you and ask, “why are you so small?” I just love those close interactions with elephants!

Elephants are near-sighted, and they can see up to 50m. That weakness is compensated by other acute senses, the big ears are conspicuous enough, and you often see them pointing the tip of the trunk up and in your direction even from quite a distance, using it like a smell-detecting periscope!

But more interestingly, their colour vision changes between day and night. Indeed, they have what is called arrhythmic vision: they only have two kinds of colour receptors in their retina, red and green (humans have three, being red, green, and blue). So, it is like the colour blindness we call tritanopia. Even if that doesn’t seem to be clear since some authors claim they lack the green receptor, which would be like deuteranopia.

Honestly thinking about elephants seeing the world in red and green seems crazy and I like the idea! But, and what’s truly unbelievable, during the night the receptors change and become more sensitive to violet light, so they can see well in low light. They also have sensitive rods, so overall they have a better low-light and night vision than us… if it is close enough.

The trick is having effective rods, and less cones than us make their vision less sharp and less capable of seeing details. With cones come colours and high resolution, and with rods come light and motion sensitivity. So elephants see the shape of the vehicle and they will see any movement within the vehicle, and that’s why you have to remain seated and still!

I am convinced that they know exactly what we are when they just look at us sitting in the safari vehicle as they calmly, yet intimately walk by.

Giraffe, More Than Just a Pretty Face.

One of the animal’s guests love to see on a Mabula safari is the African giraffe. This tallest of all the land mammals, with its skyscraper neck and eyeballs as large as tennis balls, can be seen everywhere on the reserve.

Giraffe’s habitat includes large, open savanna areas with trees for browsing, shade and shelter. On Mabula they favour the acacia savannas as the leaves of the acacia trees are their main source of food here. It’s incredible to watch them using their long tongues to access the leaves between the acacia’s large, sharp thorns.

Giraffe on Mabula safaris are very easy to spot, despite their unique patterning that helps to camouflage them in the wild, their height gives them away. They are taller than the trees. Male giraffes can exceed 5.5 meters and females can reach about 4.5m.

They sleep very little, in short cycles of about 35 minutes, and no longer than 4.5 hours a day, and they generally sleep standing up. They cannot put their heads down for too long as they need to maintain their phenomenally high blood pressure, as much as 280/180 (twice that of humans) to pump the blood from their 11kg hearts all the way to their brain, some two meters vertically.

A long dexterous tongue, which has been measured up to 40cm in some of the larger individuals, enables the giraffe to strip the branches of their leaves, leaving the spines and spikes and thorns behind. You can sometimes see where a giraffe has been feeding, as the tips of the branches are bare of leaves. In some instances, however, they need to be a little more careful, daintily picking the leaves from the branches using their prehensile lips which, together with the tongue, are covered with horny papillae which protects them from all the sharp edges. The slender muzzle also assists with maneuvering between the branches to reach the good stuff.

The Incredible Eyesight of Baboons.

The chacma baboon is a very dynamic, adaptable, and successful animal on Mabula. They live in troops of all different ages and sizes; the troop is usually led by one or a small group of dominant males. The troop size can be anywhere from four to two hundred individuals! Just like a pack of wild dogs or a pride of lions, baboons clearly need each other to survive.

One important benefit of being part of such a big group is that everyone is surrounded by many eyes, ears, and noses, all of which are well equipped for detecting danger. One sense that is especially well developed in baboons is their eyesight.

Baboons are often the first to spot a predator in the area. For one, they can climb to the canopies of trees and sit there as lookouts for the rest of the troop; watch duty is usually performed by the males. Without getting into the science of their vision just yet, all it takes is to be there watching them as they alarm call at a threat like a lion or leopard walking extremely far away.

When a baboon sees a predator, it lets out a loud, distinctive bark. They are intelligent animals and usually alarm calls when a ‘real’ threat is around. Impalas, among others, are sometimes spooked by a warthog or a solitary duiker moving through the bush and alarm call as if it were a predator. Baboons, however, are one of the more reliable helpers when tracking the large cats!

Baboons have colour vision. Most mammals are dichromats, which means they have two types of functioning colour receptors or cone cells in their eyes. Primates are trichromatic, meaning that they possess three channels for conveying colour information. Baboons therefore see a wider variety of colours than most other mammals do. They need this vision to source the ripened fruits on a tree and to notice the pink colour of the rump of a female who is ready to mate. Humans are also trichromatic and see colour like the baboons.

Baboons are incredibly resourceful and vigilant; they are a successful species in the bush and are very interesting to watch. They are also highly protective over each other and stick together in a tight-knit troop. If a leopard attacks a member of the troop, the rest of the group can be ferocious in their defense and attack or even sometimes kill the leopard in response.

Why Waterbuck are so easy to identify on safari.

The iconic circular white marking found on the posterior of this large, llama-like antelope, is sometimes explained as punishment for ignoring the ‘fresh paint’ sign before using the restroom in Noah’s Ark.

However, the waterbuck has its own reasons for this unusual ring around its butt – it comes in handy as a target for their young to follow while on the move in dense bush and to keep a group together during flight.

Impalas come a close second in the designer derriere stakes, with the conspicuous black and white stripes on its rear, also providing a visual display to others of its kind. They are the most common antelope and provide a staple diet for most predators, big and small.

These light-rimmed markings are vital in keeping large herds together while on the run. The subtle cues in their body posture are highlighted by these markings and serve as an early warning of predators in the vicinity, as an antelope will instinctively turn towards a suspicious sound, exposing their rear to the rest of the herd.

Displays of white underbellies and fluffy tails while ‘pronking’ or bucking, also attract attention to the athletic prowess of the performer during courtship displays or during flight – while the fairer sex may prefer a healthy strapping specimen, predators prefer to prey on the weak.

Guides year end function and awards ceremony.

Guiding team at their year-end function on the 17th of December 2023. It was good to see all the guides joining the party. Even though we work together daily and see each other, we don’t usually get time to sit together and have complete fun. 17th December was the perfect day. The guides were spoiled to the fullest. As a thank you from the company for all the hard work throughout the year.

Guides were treated to a beef Tomahawk steak, chicken, and pork on the menu. Thank you to Kim Allen, our general manager, who took her time to do all the setup to make sure guides were impressed when they arrive at the venue. And yes, they were blown away with everything.

  • Frans Letsoalo won the award for The Best Guide of the Year.
  • Tshepo Loni got away with two awards Best Guest Champion Award and Guide Guides of The Year Award.
  • Charl De Bryne got away with Best New Broom and Special Recognition Guide of The Year.
  • Apollo Ndhlamini walked away with The Best Knowledgeable Guide of The Year.

We would like to congratulate all of them. After all we are all winners.

Do you know the usual saying that talks about a 9 to 5 job? In our field, it’s 5 to 9. And being mostly outdoors for that 5 to 9 allows us the greatest gift of seeing the sunrise and sunset every day. Being able to make the time to stop and embrace those moments is one of the things I am most thankful for.

Even though I watch the sunrise and sunset every day, it does not stop me from taking a photo at every dusk and dawn. I have over 3000 sunset and sunrise pictures on my laptop that I have taken since I started my guiding career. What am I going to do with these pictures? Absolutely nothing. And why do I continue to take these pictures of the sun? Absolutely no idea. But I do know that I love these moments and I’ll continue to capture them.

Sunrises and sunsets represent cycles, beginnings, and endings, reflecting the natural rhythm of life. I feel as though witnessing these daily phenomena evokes a sense of awe, wonder, and connection to something larger than ourselves. Sunrises symbolise new beginnings, while sunsets signify closure or completion. These small moments every day encourage introspection, contemplation, and a pause in our hectic lives, it allows me to reflect on the day or anticipate what is to come.

The changing colours during sunrise and sunset occur due to the scattering of light in the atmosphere. As the sun’s rays pass through more atmosphere, shorter wavelengths (blue and green light) get scattered, leaving longer wavelengths (red, orange, and yellow) visible. These warm hues can have a calming effect on the human brain, triggering the release of hormones like serotonin and dopamine, which contribute to feelings of happiness and well-being.

Sunset and sunrise is not complete without a drink of your choice and a cup of coffee.

2023 has come to an end, what a year it has been. As we say goodbye to it, let’s celebrate not only the accomplishments of the past year but also the untapped potential that lies ahead. The new year holds promises and opportunities, much like the endless horizons of the Mabula savannah. Excitement fills the air as we look forward to the adventures awaiting us in the coming months and years. May your holidays be filled with the warmth of a safari sunset, and may the coming year bring success, collaboration, and memorable moments. Wishing you and your loved ones a festive season filled with joy and a New Year that brings prosperity and happiness.

Until next time…
From Isaiah Banda & Mabula family.

Safari Greetings.
Photos credit to Isaiah Banda, Alexander Pouris.