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Ulusaba safari news: Winter wildlife

As we enjoy a relatively mild winter here at , the bush continues to thin out offering us some amazing game viewing. The elephant herds have moved in from the East and on most days can be seen along the Sand River or closer to home around and . A group of bulls were seen often from the top of Rock Lodge feeding at tbase and using pump house pan and Skwenga Dam for a drink.
There is a newborn from the mother with a folded ear and, as this herd is so relaxed, we have gotten great views as it explores its new world. We found the herd, and I noticed the female with her distinctive ear standing motionless a little distance from the rest of the herd. After a while, the tiny baby moved from under her. It had been trying to suckle on wobbly legs! We got in position along a dry riverbed to wait for her to join the herd. After a while, she emerged with the baby in tow following her tail. There was a big bull moving amongst the herd checking the breeding status of the females. He took quite an interest in the mother and new baby and spent several moments with them as the rest of the herd rallied around. After a while the mother led the baby off and the male followed some of the other females. It was amazing to see how the herd was so protective over their newest member.

The herd of over 400 buffalos has split up into three groups so there have been regular sightings throughout the reserve. It was only a couple of weeks ago that we saw them all together close to the east as they approached a dam for their morning drink. The stillness was punctuated by the distant pounding of hooves along with the calls of hundreds of oxpeckers as the herd moved with purpose towards the dam. Bellows and the sound of breaking branches and the russell of the dry grass became louder until eventually the first set of horns broke through the bush. The first few buffalos rushed forward towards the water to drink their fill and it wasn"t long before the wave of those behind forced them further into the dam until eventually they encircled the dam. There was a lot of jostling for space and the subordinates were shoved out of the way by those more dominant. After some time, the herd moved off in search of more food to fill their rumen while some preferred to linger for a bit of a wallow to keep the ticks and flies at bay. Now there is a sizable herd just below as well as two in the south and east. There was a bit of drama close to home last night as the lions caught their scent!

The last time we saw the herd on game drive, they were slowly moving south just north of . After work, while relaxing in the staff village, many of us noticed the sound of the herd as they approached. All that could be seen was a wall of dark shapes munching in front of our gardens! Luckily we have an elephant proof fence around the village so we wouldn"t have to worry about anything getting inside, or so we thought! Later in the night as the buffalos lay down next to the fence, a pride of lions moved in and began hunting them. There was pandemonium as the lions tried for a kill and the buffalos took flight. Some of the lions must have thought our village was a great spot from which to launch an attack because we found several tracks along our walking paths between the houses this morning! Several lions were herd roaring in front of the Karl and Llane"s house and it turned out they were in their back yard! There was no sign of a kill but they must have gotten close with all the calves and mothers in the herd.

Skwenga dam next to has been a hive of activity recently centred around the male hippo that was killed in a territorial fight a few weeks ago. The carcass spent a while bobbing around the dam at the whim of the wind. The resident crocodiles along with the terrapins took small chunks from it but being in the water it remained out of reach for the larger scavengers like lions and hyenas as well as the vultures. We managed to move the carcass away from the water recently and this led to an immediate interest from several carnivores. A pair of slender mongoose were seen feeding from the carcass as well as side stripped jackals. All four Selati male lions have been seen feasting as well as some females from the Ximongwe pride who took the opportunity to court them. This gave us some great sighting of mating lions both at the dam as well as right in front of during breakfast! While the lions were away, the hyenas took a turn along with several vultures who had patiently waited their turn. There can only be one dominant bull in the dam as now that he has established himself, we should see many more baby hippos around.

Some more wonderful sightings await us this winter and there is even hope of cheetah as a male moved into our concession briefly yesterday! We trust that it won"t be too long before you plan your safari and we can share our passion for this amazing piece of Africa.

Kind regards,

Phillip Andrew and the ranger and tracker team.