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Ulusaba: January sightings

Hyena havoc
On a golden summer morning, an unfortunate wildebeest and one of Africa’s most misunderstood predators certainly made for an impressive sighting!

Contrary to popular belief the spotted Hyena is a capable and opportunistic hunter which some of us have been lucky enough to see in action. That morning after just 5 minutes of driving, our trackers and rangers witnessed the aftermath of such opportunity, with the remains of a small Wildebeest, which had been chased into a small ephemeral pan and was now being devoured by the pack of Hyenas.

A distinctive feeding hierarchy unfolded as we observed the massive matriarchal females dominating the prime remnants of the carcass, followed by the lesser individuals brawling for discarded scraps.

We were all captivated by spine-tingling cackles and shrieks of the Hyenas, with a smell understood only by someone who has been there before, and the sight of these blood thirsty predators, together with the backdrop of a glorious African sunrise - it was a truly holistic experience.

Wild mornings
We have been incredibly fortunate the past few weeks with our wild dog sightings in the reserve. It’s a privilege to be able to spend time with these remarkable animals as they offer us the best opportunities to view their hunting and feeding techniques.

Setting out on their morning game drive, our rangers and trackers headed north of our traversing area to the last position where a large pack of 21 dogs were spotted the week before. They had been seen the previous afternoon, and had settled north of the river.

As soon as our rangers and trackers crossed the river, they started checking the roads for tracks to get a direction of the dogs morning movements. As the wild dogs are in large packs, it can make it slightly easier to track as they leave behind a lot of signs to follow. Another useful tracking method is to take note of the behavior of other species in the area, for example vultures tend to follow the pack for leftovers!

With the help of 10 vultures, the pack was spotted right before they spread out to start hunting. Suddenly, there was a loud bark and the pack ran towards one of the dogs who had come face-to-face with a leopard! The pack went after it and chased it up a tree where we could see that it was Kokavela, a female leopard. She sat watching the dogs for a while before deciding that the tree was a good resting spot and fell asleep!

After following the pack for another 5 minutes they found a herd of impala who split and ran in all directions, and the wild dogs chased them everywhere! The breeding herds of impala have nursery groups of ‘lambs’ that gather together and once the dogs had found them, they took full advantage. After the action, both the hooded and white-backed vulture, as well as a tawny eagle, landed in dead trees, hoping for a chance to get a couple scraps, but unfortunately for them the dogs left nothing but a patch of blood-soaked ground.

Cheetah magic
While most cheetahs prefer to live in deserts or lightly wooded areas, it was only last week that a male cheetah moved west and walked right into our traversing area. Just south of Ulusaba, there are large flat open grasslands which are perfect for cheetahs to use their greatest abilities, such as their eyesight, speed, and spotted coats to hunt and hide.

Our neighbours have informed us that they saw cheetahs mating in the month of January, so hopefully in the next month or two we may have an opportunity to get to see cheetah cubs.

We spotted this male cheetah climbing up a tree to leave his scent mark, as well as using it as a vantage point. Did you know? Cheetahs have the ability to climb, but unlike leopards they don’t have the strength to hoist their prey into a tree.

Thank you to our Ulusaba trackers and rangers for these incredible photos and sightings