Lion’s day

Today we started off with some Nyala and Impala in the riverbed. But our guides and the MRL guides were on a mission to find the lions. We had not seen them in 2 days, and that is unusually long. Aurela at MRL picked up fresh tracks and radioed us – we set off determined and it paid off! We found the male and the two young females on the Moria cutline. They were on the move so we followed them for about 30 minutes or so. Our guests were very excited, this is what they have traveled half the world around to see … the male stopped at one point to roll around in some fresh elephant dung. Charming. ;-) Eventually they disappeared into the thickets. Great sighting!

On our return to the lodge we saw the Elephant bull in an area we call the “Cotton Fields” – he was by himself and in a foul mood. We watched him for a bit before he gave us a shake of the head and disappeared into the shrubbery.

Uyai has been given a new camera, and the advantage is obvious: it makes much better quality photos. I am looking forward to posting better material on this blog going forward!

Here some beautiful photos we took today of the lion sighting today:

Male lion
Male lion
.... and lioness ...
…. and lioness …
... on the move ...
… on the move …
What's that?
What’s that?
Elephant dung is very therapeutic ...
Elephant dung is very therapeutic …
... or maybe just a great way of covering your own small, and hence making hunting easier?
… or maybe just a great way of covering your own smell, and hence making hunting easier? Anyway … the ladies are walking off …

A very special visit

It is a shame that many of our employees, despite spending so much time at a lodge right in the middle of the African bush, see relativley little of the abundance of wildlife that surrounds them. Certainly a lot less than our guests, that’s for sure.

That makes it all the nicer when some large animals do come close to the lodge and visit. That is always a unique opportunity for our guys to marvel at some of these majestic animals that they live within … no, not even we are blasé when some of these unique animals walk closely past the Vuyani Safari Lodge!

Yesterday was one of those days. The elephant herd walked past the lodge, very closely. The entire staff was standing on the dirt road and watched them walk past. What pure joy for them to also see them from so close!

Serious new kit

We sport, of course, the very awesome Toyota Landcruiser as our main workhorse to go out on safari. It’s been a very reliable, and entertaining, vehicle for years now.

These vehicles are so strong and sturdy, you can use them not for years but for decades (proper maintenance assumed of course).

We decided to add a second workhorse to our arsenal, and here it is: a LandRover Tdi.

This is THE classic safari game driver, par excellence! You will probably recognise this vehicle from many memorable safari movies, such as “Out of Africa”, to even the recent Adam Sandler flick “Blended”. OK, that film was maybe a bit crummy, but the vehicles in it were very nice. ;-)

So, this one is a MEGA-version of a Landrover. Instead of the usual 10 seats it has 12 seats, offering even more space for guests. It is a 90’s model, and it has been 100% refitted and rebuilt, it looks just the way it did when it exited the factory. Everyone’s very excited here about the most recent addition to our vehicle park, by means of this classic English vehicle. I test-drove it with Petrus and Craig, and it was a real joy. I think our guests will really enjoy it too!

So here some photos I took a few days ago, as we were all marvelling at this thing’s beauty:

It’s not just about the large game …

… it’s also about the hundreds of little things: flowers, birds, trees, smells, tastes, sounds, and then of course some of the world’s most stunning sunsets!

Very often, and this is a little sad, African safaris are reduced to the giraffe, the zebra, the lions, the elephants, … and while of course any African safari is also about these animals, the truth is, and I can guarantee you this, you will fall in love with the many hundreds of other things you will see here.

Here some photos taken over the last 2 days, to give you an idea of the many other things once can find and see here:

 

Glossy Starling
Glossy Starling
Blacksmith Lapwing
Blacksmith Lapwing
... and then one of those stunning sunsets ...
… and then one of those stunning sunsets …
... the curious-looking Yellow Bill Hornbill (made famous by the "Lion King")
… the curious-looking Yellow Bill Hornbill (made famous by the “Lion King”)
Red Star Zinnea
Red Star Zinnea
... and a beautiful Wild Sesame!
… and a beautiful Wild Sesame!
An up-close sighting if a juvenile Bateleur Eagle!An up-close sighting if a juvenile Bateleur Eagle!
An up-close sighting if a juvenile Bateleur Eagle!
... and some gloomy-looking White-backed Vultures
… and some gloomy-looking White-backed Vultures

But yes, of course a safari here, as well as anywhere, is ALSO about the famous large game:

A journey of giraffes
A journey of giraffes
Zebras!
Zebras!
Does it get any more spectacular? A sleeping White Rhino!
Does it get any more spectacular? A sleeping White Rhino!
Careful: These animals are mich bigger than they appear on photos!
Careful: These animals are much bigger than they appear on photos!

Cheetah offspring update

There are rumours that there are two breeding cheetah mothers on our reserve at the moment. One was seen a few days ago, with two cubs, and we keep seeing one with 5 cubs. We saw her again yesterday! We spotted her with 4 cubs, as you can see on the photos, so I am wondering where the 5th one is. Has she lost it? Or was it hiding away? It would be tragic if she has lost one, but very normal in nature. Survival rates of cheetah cubs are ultra-low (death rate varies from 50-75%). The fact that she has gotten so many cubs to this stage is already a statistical miracle. She is doing so well, and what amazing news for the conservation efforts here on this conservancy! Cheetahs are chronically hard to introduce to a conservancy, and to get them to reproduce. I suspect that some cheetahs on our reserve either came in on their own, or they were already there before. There were tracks of cheetahs already here many years ago, but we never saw any.

The two brothers we often see with guests were born on the reserve, and they are very relaxed when we see them on safari. It is obvious that this mother is already passing on this behavior to her offspring, so that will make for even more amazing cheetah sightings going forward. I couldn’t be more excited about this development, it just shows how much private game reserves such as ours can do to move the needle in a significant manner when it comes to ensuring the long-term survival of these rare cats. Only 550-800 specimen are estimated to still live in the wild in South Africa, so to have two cheetahs breeding successfully at the same time, in the wild, on their own, that’s just truly thrilling news.

Cheetah cubs
Cheetah cubs
Cheetah mum caring for her little ones
Cheetah mum caring for her little ones
They are adorable indeed!
They are adorable indeed!
 Yes ...
Yes …
... she can be proud of herself ...
… she can be proud of herself …
... she's doing an amazing job!
… she’s doing an amazing job!

Funny cheetah

We were tracking cheetahs yesterday, and saw some beautiful giraffes on our route. See below …

Stunning giraffes
Stunning giraffes

After a lengthy search we eventually found the two Cheetahs on the Khaya Ndlovu Cutline. They were posing beautifully and we got some absolutely fantastic shots. We stayed with them for around 20 to 30 minutes just watching them. It was an amazing sighting and our guests were very happy.

Cheetahs are not known to be good climbers. Stocky cats such as leopards, with short legs, are excellent climbers, but cheetahs, with their very long legs, they find it hard. All the more exciting to see this one attempting, and succeeding at it, after all. What unique photos. Nice.

Cheetah on tree
Cheetah on tree

Update on the elephant baby

We’ve been having some excellent few days on safari as of late, with rhino, elephant, cheetah sightings, and of course dozens of others.  So I am finding it hard to pick a particular animal we’ve seen over the last couple of days, it’s just too many. One thing that I always find irresistible is elephant babies, somehow. Not that they are all that small, but they look so tiny and cute next to their big parents, they just look adorable.

So, yesterday, we picked up tracks on the elephants and followed them all the way into the Muruti wilderness area– they were a bit shy and the bull was playing a hide and seek game with us (but chose a smallish tree ;-) ). We stayed with them for about 10 minutes before they disappeared – only to be tracked again and found on Moditlo – near the Moriah cutline, they sure travel a lot and fast!! And there he was, the little one, just a few weeks old. I had reported on him a little while ago, so it was great to see him (or her?) do so well. The herd on our reserve is growing nicely, and is now standing at over 20 elephants, which is a great success. As one can see on the photo, there are herd members of all ages amongst them, so the kind of social behavior our guests can observe here is optimal. Elephants are very smart, and they have a very complex social fabric and code that runs their families and herds, so they are a clear favourite for researchers … and safari fans.

Elephant Hide and Seek
Elephant Hide and Seek
Elephant crossing
Elephant crossing
There he is!! So cute ...
There he is!! So cute …
... walking off back in to the bush
… walking off back in to the bush

Big game in a setting …

… that just takes your breath away. Here’s the setting. Photo taken yesterday.

Our reserve, just next to the famous Drakensberg Escarpment
Our reserve, just next to the famous Drakensberg Escarpment

We left this morning, picking up on some fresh tracks of rhino … and not 500m further, we found an imposing lone male rhino! He was relaxed, and allowed some amazing pictures for our guests. It’s not easy for safari fans to get this close to a rhino in free nature, so this was a highlight of the day already right off the start. Great start to the day indeed!

Who's that?
Who’s that?
This animal is MUCH more massive that appears in a photo!
This animal is MUCH more massive than appears in a photo!

We also followed cheetah tracks, and did find a couple of very relaxed cheetahs hanging around in the dry riverbed, enjoying some morning sun and otherwise a good life. I have been posting so many photos of cheetahs recently, I will not do so today. ;-)

We spent a really nice break at one of our many dams, for a drink break, enjoying the sighting of a huge male hippo, doing his usual shows to impress and who’s the boss in this dam. Well, we left his kingdom to him, and he must be satisfied now. Our guests also were, because they got some really top quality photos done!

I'm the boss here!!
I’m the boss here!!

 

Cats and jackals

So after the recent (extremely!) exciting news of a female cheetah sighting raising 5 cubs, we have been getting lots of cat sightings, lions and cheetahs mainly. We keep seeing the two male cheetah brothers who were born on the reserve, and they are just so relaxed, they offer some of the best cheetah sightings in the wild one can imagine.

The same is true for our lions, oh, and by the way, they are also raising a couple of cubs. We have seen the mum several times, with her cubs, but sightings are difficult. Mum’s very protective of them!

Jackals have also exploded in numbers over recent years, and there is a den quite near the lodge, so our guests hear them often in the evenings, and early mornings (and also the night, if you open the window). Just amazing.

And just as I thought the news could not get any better, I heard that a few days ago yet another female cheetah was spotted on another part of the reserve, and she had 2 cubs with her also. The conservation efforts are paying off in a massive way! Let’s not forget: only about 400 wild cheetahs are estimated to live in South Africa, so this is a success that moves the needle, and I am personally proud of that. It feels great to be part of that story.

Cheetah sighting ...
Cheetah sighting …
... and another cat: lions!
… and another cat: lions!

... lots of jackals!
… lots of jackals!

Is there hope?

It is not a mistery that wildlife, worldwide, is under immense pressure due to many factors such as climate change, loss of habitat, pollution and many others. Every day it is estimated that 5 species are extinct, many of which were not even discovered in the first place. Cheetahs, on the other hand, count among the world’s most famous and recognised animals, but this seems to not help very much. Many biologists agree that in the long run cheetahs are doomed. Their lifestyle, their need for large nature areas, as well as their value as pets mean that they have become extremely rare. Only 3000-4000 are thought to still live in the wild, with about 400 in South Africa, tops! So when one sees the natural population of cheetahs grow the way it has on our reserve, then it gives me hope that all these experts are wrong, and that there is a long-term future for these cheetahs after all. About 5 years go, there were maybe one or two cheetahs on the reserve, and we had no sightings at all, ever. Now we see cheetahs 3 times a week, on average, and then we spotted this yesterday. Yes … there is hope! And lots and lots of smiles … ! :-D

Mother cheetah with 5 cubs!!
Mother cheetah with 5 cubs!!
... trotting off ...
… trotting off …
Now that's a sighting to behold
Now that’s a sighting to behold
Why so serious?
Why so serious?
A last glance back to us ... everyone was melting
A last glance back to us … everyone was melting