Guide News – May 2023 - Safari Plains Skip to main content

Another month has come and gone here at Mabula Game Lodge. With winter around the corner, it was rather unusual to get nearly 115 mm of rain over the past month, which we do not normally get in May. The rain was welcomed to keep the water table high going into winter months, which all the animals will need to survive. Dry wallows, water holes and seep lines are all still flourishing at this time of the year.

With all this water around, I have even had the privilege of seeing hippos coming out of the water during the day for warmth with water being cold during the day for them.

Things are looking good going into the drier winter months. The diversity of sightings over the past month has been fantastic. Ranging from cheetahs, leopard, elephants, buffaloes, and general game sightings. Our guests have had some incredible wildlife sightings on the reserve.

Here is our sightings update for May.

My best leopard sighting.

I have been a guide here at Mabula Game Lodge for over 10 years, I would safely say 15 years and have had countless sightings of prey and predators. I have seen leopards on the reserve with minimal opportunities to take pictures and this proved to be the best leopard sighting I have ever encountered.

Leopard sightings on Mabula happen when you least expecting them. Another reason with Mabula leopards is they are very shy around vehicles. Recently we have seen one young male in the southern parts of the reserve who is very relaxed with vehicles and our guests have had some amazing sightings, I have seen him once with no success in getting a picture.

I was very lucky to get the sighting of a mother leopard with her sub-adult cubs who looked to be in a hurry and on a mission to get somewhere. Normally it might be to take the cubs to a kill that she might have hidden it away. I did not expect to see a leopard and was caught by complete surprise. My biggest challenge was to choose to change a lens quickly as I had a wrong lens and possibly loose the chance to get any pictures before they disappeared.

That moment where you have to make a quick decision, I used to hear lot of people speaking about, and I had to experience it myself and make that call. I decided to go with the lens I had on the camera. You can imagine trying to take picture with 150mm to 600mm lens of an animal that is 30 meters away from you.

I must say, since the reserve management decision together with guides to start a leopard study group, leopard sightings have improved on the reserve. We get great sighting more often. With this study group we were able to to identify hotspots of these leopards and their movements

There are currently two hotspots on the reserve which are popular and one stands a good chance of seeing a leopard, eight out of ten of you would see a leopard. The two hotspots are south of the reserve around Mokaikai and Western Modjadji.

Cheetah coalition providing excellent sightings for our guests this month.

Our cheetah coalition is still roaming the central parts of the reserve making their presence known. Cheetah are one of the most fascinating animals, althought not part of the Big 5, they are so loved by guests and guides when encountered on a safari, however at Mabula we pride ourself with so many sightings of them, we truly appreciate the presence of these striking predators and there is no surprise why many guests, avid photographers and safari guides find themselves completely awe-struck when given the chance of seeing one on safari.

Apart from their beautiful fur coats and striking facial markings. Their bodies are built on a design best suited for hunting prey at high speed. Cheetahs are one of the best-looking wild cats found on Mabula and considering their scarcity, they are a must-see animal when on safari.

Young cheetahs are left by their mother when she is ready to mate again and when the cubs are ready to face life alone. A young male will move on to a nomadic lifestyle as he tries to survive when he is born alone or with female cubs. If the opportunity presents itself he will look to form a coalition to improve his chances of survival and this is achieved through improved hunting success when teaming up with other males of a similar age. If their are more than one male in the litter they will form a coalition and stick together until one of them die or is killed by other predators.

Female cheetahs and their offspring do not occupy and actively defend a territory, instead, they move around a home range which can extend across a fairly large area.

Cheetahs are the fastest mammal on earth… Whether it’s tracking them down, bumping into one by complete luck or responding to one that’s already been found by fellow guides, we all love spending time with cheetahs and they have to be one of the most exciting cats to see. If you ask any guide, seeing this animal in its natural habitat is one of the most exhilarating experiences!

Sub adults lions keeping guests entertained.

It is almost two years since our lion cubs were born, I still remember how the guides competed to be the first one to spot the cubs for the first time. Lucky for me I was the winner of that competition to find the den where the mother had hidden them, however I was not the first one to get the picture of them.

Since then, we have been getting wonderful sightings of these cubs, watching them grow and become members of the pride. They are almost as big as their mother. Very playful, climbing trees, chasing each other together with their parents. Keeping all our guests entertained.

The greatest part about having lion cubs or any other cubs on the reserve is the abundance of adorable moments and mermorable sightings which we are able to share with our guests. There can never be too much time spent watching lion cubs, 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.

Even though they are almost two years old, playing is still part of their daily activity. Never in my career at Mabula have I witnessed lion cubs climbing trees where the first branch is more than three meters above the ground. 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 play out before our eyes.

Elephants age on Mabula.

The gentle giants of the Mabula bush can live upwards of 60 years, making elephants the longest living mammal on Mabula. Ageing an elephant is not an easy task unless an individual has been seen regularly from birth. By spending a long time with them one gets to get to know them better and learns more signs to work out their age.

The most reliable way of ageing an elephant is by looking at its teeth. An elephant’s molars are important as they are used to grind up plant material and are replaced six times during its lifetime. These molars form at the back of the jaw and move slowly forward and upward.

As each set is gradually worn down they become fragmented and fall to the ground in pieces. The replacement of these molars can be linked directly to age, therefore by identifying the molars in use, the age span of an elephant can be determined.

Adult females backs become lengthened, and visibly longer, and their tusks slowly thicken. Females over 50 years have hollows above their eye, their ears are held low and appear to sway-backed. By the age of 40 years, the adult male is very big, with a heavy-set body, and towers over the largest female by a meter or more at the shoulder. His tusks are thick, and the temple area is sunken in.

Buffaloes congregation on Soweto house

It is always exciting to sit amidst a herd of buffalo, staring in awe at the sheer abundance, size and behaviour. There is never a dull moment in a herd, whether crossing the road or lying down on the open plain. lt enables plenty of opportunity to sit back relax and soak in raw Mabula!

By living in large herds and eating tall coarse grasses, buffalo play a vital role in the ecology of the grasslands. Many of the smaller grazers are unable to digest the tall grasses, and the tall grasses may prevent them from getting to the shorter, more palatable grasses in the absence of buffalo.

Buffalo are non-territorial and extremely sociable animals, living in large mixed herds. These herds will consist of largely females, their young, and then a number of dominant bulls.

An inquisitive youngster looks on. A perfect example to show how the younger buffalo take on a completely different colour to that of their parents.

This young buffalo trying to wake the other up who was lying down to take a break. Later it woke up and followed the rest of the herd. We have seen lots babies within the herd. With the water table so high both mothers and calves are looking healthy and in good condition.

Zebras and Wildebeest relationship still dominating all the mammals on the reserve.

The Mabula savanna is a vast and complex ecosystem where different animal species live in close proximity to each other. I find that one of the most fascinating relationships out here is the one between wildebeest and zebra.

These two species are often found grazing together, and their relationship is more than just a coincidence. So why is it that we often find these two species together? Both wildebeest and zebra are herbivores that rely on grazing to survive. They have similar dietary requirements and preferences, which means they are often found grazing in the same areas. Wildebeest are known to prefer short grasses, while zebras prefer longer ones. This creates a mutually beneficial relationship between the two species, as they are able to share the same grazing grounds without competing for food.

Furthermore, wildebeest and zebra have different feeding behaviours that complement each other. Zebras are known for their selective grazing, where they are able to pick out the best and most nutritious grasses. Wildebeest, on the other hand, are bulk grazers that consume large quantities of grass indiscriminately. This means that they are able to graze on the tougher and less nutritious grasses that zebras may leave behind.

Another reason why wildebeest and zebra are always found together is their shared need for safety. The Mabula savanna is home to many predators like lions, leopards, wild dogs, and hyenas. These predators are opportunistic and are always on the lookout for prey, and zebra and wildebeest are common targets, resulting in them having developed a symbiotic relationship where they are able to increase their chances of survival by staying together.

Zebras are known for their keen sense of sight and hearing, which makes them excellent sentinels. They are able to detect predators from far away and alert the herd with their loud braying calls. Conversely, wildebeest have a strong sense of smell that allows them to detect danger even before it is visible. Together, these two species are able to form a watchful and protective group that is more difficult for predators to attack.

In addition to safety, wildebeest and zebra also benefit from each other’s company in terms of socialisation. Both species are social animals that live in herds, and being part of a larger group provides many advantages. For instance, being part of a herd makes it easier to find mates, care for their young, and defend against predators. By grazing together and sharing the same social environment, wildebeest and zebra are able to form a larger and more robust community that is better equipped to face the challenges of life in the savanna.

Finally, wildebeest and zebra are also important to each other in terms of ecosystem function. As herbivores, they play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem by regulating the growth of grasses and other vegetation. This, in turn, affects the survival of other animal species that depend on the savanna for food and shelter. Wildebeest and zebra are particularly important in this regard because of their large numbers and the fact that they are both keystone species in the ecosystem.

Wildebeest and zebra are often found together because of the many benefits they derive from each other’s company. From sharing grazing grounds to providing safety and socialisation, these two species have developed a close relationship vital to their survival in the African savanna. As we continue to learn more about the intricacies of this ecosystem, it is important to appreciate the important role that wildebeest and zebra play in maintaining their delicate balance.

What is a warthog?

Where do I start? I was very lucky to come across a very relaxed warthog, next to the road. Warthog are popularly known to runaway from the vehicles the moment you stop and switch off the engine. But this time this warthog was different from the start.

Their large tusks are unusual: the two upper tusks emerge from the sides of the snout to form a semicircle; the lower tusks, at the base of the uppers, are worn to a sharp-cutting edge. Sparse bristles cover their body, and longer bristles form a mane from the top of the head down the spine to the middle of the back. Their long tail ends with a tuft of bristles. Warthogs characteristically carry their tails upright when they run, the tuft waving like a tiny flag.

This species takes feeding seriously. They have developed an interesting practice of kneeling on their calloused, hairy, padded knees to eat short grass. They will also use their snouts and tusks to dig for bulbs, tubers, and roots during the dry season. During the wet season, they may eat earthworms and other small invertebrates.

Both male and female warthogs have tusks, although the male’s tusks and warts are larger and more pronounced than those of the female. Tusks are extensions of the warthog’s teeth, with a set growing from the upper teeth and another set growing from the bottom teeth.

Our guests have enjoyed a safari experience in a different way. We have had few balloon safaris on th reserve. Weather was good on a few occations allowing guests to enjoy their safari in a hot-air balloon. I have been twice and you will not be disappointed.

A safari is not complete without a bush bar and with a drink of your choice, whether being at a picnic spot, sundowner deck or at an open plain on the reserve. You will never go wrong at any place your guide chooses for bush bar.

Watching the African sun as it disappears behind the Waterberg mountains.

I hope you enjoyed the update

Until next time…
From Isaiah Banda & Mabula family.
Safari Greetings