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Ulusaba

Marula feast

While the Pride-of-De Kaap's stunning red flowers are littering the bush at this time of the year, it's the Marula tree that is getting all of the attention! Not only is the Marula one of the leopards favourite trees to hoist their kills and lounge in, but while it's fruiting as it is now, it's become the animals favourite tree on which to feast, and as a result there's been a return of elephants to this region.

Storm brewing

As Trev likes to put it, the elephants are on the marula march, walking from tree to tree, picking up marula fruits that are ripening on the ground as they go. These fruits are high in vitamin C and are not only loved by all the animals, but by us as well, to either eat as a fruit, make a tasty local beer or to sip in our morning bush coffee/hot chocolate in the form of Amarula (cream liqueur). The seeds of the Marula also contain wonderful healing natural essential oils, which can be found in the Africology products used in the lodge and spas at Ulusaba.

Although we're now in midsummer, the days have been really pleasant, as there have been some massive storm clouds around. In the middle of the month we experienced a huge shower of rain over night, which caused the Sand River to rise as much as two metres (Tegwane clearing was completely underwater!) Since that storm, we have not yet been able to cross the river to access the northern regions, which I was most unhappy about, since it was where we last saw the Cape Hunting dogs.

Phil had a fantastic sighting of the Wildogs treeing a male leopard while a troop of monkeys and baboons hurled abuse from the safety of a nearby Jackelberry. We still have a huge amount of land that we can traverse and although the bush is lush, the quality of the sightings has still been phenomenal!

As mentioned in the last blog, the Xinzele male leopard been seen more regularly in Tegwane's territory. This beautiful young male however, managed to kill one of Hlaba-Nkunzi's cubs, since he was not the father. The Hlaba-Nkunzi female fortunately has a large territory that stretches far to the south and east, which is exactly where she retreated to with her other surviving cub (now approximately 1 year old). There still seems to be no sign of the Tegwane male, who was last seen north of the Sand River.

Ulusaba's resident female leopard Metsi was seen with her two cubs just last night. Greg and Trev had a great sighting of the 3 of them playing in the Boulders River, which is flowing into Xikwenga dam at the moment. A few days ago we had an awesome sighting of Metsi fast asleep in a massive Marula tree not far from the lodge. Phil saw her being rocked about by a large elephant bull, which had just come from wallowing at John's Dam and was now rubbing up against the very tree she was snoozing in.

There have been other great sightings of rhino's wallowing in the mud to keep cool in this summer heat, as well as elephant bulls swimming in some of the dams, even a young large spotted genet was seen being escorted around by its mom, on drive one evening.

The 5 Ximungwe female lionesses are doing really well. One of them managed to bring down a fully grown male kudu. She brought her two 4-5 month-old cubs to the kill close to Nkombe Dam and the 3 of them fed uninterrupted by any other predators for 4 days! The lioness missing the tip of her tail has been quite elusive, although we saw her recently lying up on the wall at Rock Lodge pan. We suspect she has cubs up on Bruce's koppie. 2 of the other 3 lionesses were mating with the 3 what seem-to-be-remaining Mapogo lions and the other lioness we think has also dropped her cubs somewhere. The Mapogos have been doing most of their own killing lately and have been following the 400 herd of buffalo around, preying on the young new-born calves; one of the reasons the buffalo have been a little scarce lately. One of the most incredible sounds of the bush I'll never tire of hearing is the call of a male lion.

The 3 Mapogos (about 10yrs old) have been very vocal this month, not surprising since there seem to be only 3 left from the original coalition of 6. They'd need to call to make sure other male lions don't even consider encroaching on their territory. We recently found out that in the central east sections of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve there's a young up and coming group of 5 male lions...as always very interesting times!

The female leopard Mbirhi was seen to have had her pad on one of her front paws ripped open; no doubt from a scrap she may have has with another female leopard over territory. She seems to be pushing further east in her territory to make space for her previous youngster, which we've decided to name Thlangisa, which means the playful one. Mbirhi will be fine I'm sure and will most likely be looking to mate and have cubs again soon! Meanwhile Thlangisa (2 yrs-old) killed and hoisted a young waterbuck into...have a guess...yes a Marula tree; superbly done since there was a hyaena lurking around.

Until next time...

Greg Whelan on behalf of the Rangers and Trackers