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Vuvuzella ban in force on game drives!

Vuvuzellas, Bafana Bafana, the diski dance, makarapas (World Cup crazy hats), and the biggest sporting event in the world. The 2010 World Cup is in full swing and the spirits of the people are high - South Africa is definitely the place to be!

Unlike the noisy vuvuzellas in the soccer stadiums we have the constant predator-like mating calls of the impala rams trying their utmost to herd females and defend their territories from other males. Winter is here and the crisp mornings provide breathtaking sunrises and awesome light for photography whilst the midday temperatures are moderate and pleasant. The chillier evenings are perfect for dining around a fire whilst enjoying some of South Africa's best red wines from the cellar at Safari Lodge.

Lion viewing has been phenomenally good over the last few weeks. The Ximungwe pride and the three cubs are doing well and are often seen on kills. The cubs are growing at an astonishing rate and certainly entertain us with bouts of clownish behaviour and playfulness. Umbuntu is one of my favourite Zulu sayings meaning to unite and to be one. The spirit of umbuntu was displayed by two of the females on a morning drive as they hunted a warthog and killed it in front of my vehicle. The cubs joined in the feeding frenzy and the expected selfishness accompanied by growling and occasional paw flying was observed as we watched them devouring the warthog.

Stuart saw one of the females with four newborn cubs (which we suspect is 3 males and 1 female) but it was only recently that we got to see these new additions to the Ximungwe pride as the mother was moving den sites close to Rock Lodge. Soon these little ones will be introduced to the pride and we can't wait. The dynamics of the Ottawa pride which still frequents the northern parts of the Reserve have changed as they only have two female cubs left.

The Mapogo coalition has been spending a lot of time in the western sector and the four males are often seen together on kills. Originally they were six, but two of the males split and established their territory in the eastern side of the Sabi Sand Reserve with the four remaining in the west. Reports from the east claim that the two Mapogo males patrolling the eastern parts of the Reserve have been fighting a running battle with five young new males from the Kruger National Park who slowly but surely are advancing on their territory. The two older males managed to kill one of these intruders but after a day the four young males were back to retaliate and to avenge their brother's death. After a fierce battle they killed one of the coalition males and ate him. They have taken over territory in the east now and the remaining Mapogo male is running wild, hopefully to the safety of his four brothers in the west. As these majestic beasts are getting older it is inevitable that they will be faced with the constant challenges from younger males trying to take over their territory.

With winter in full force and the opening up of the bush (most of the foliage has disappeared), leopard sightings have been fantastic. The Hlaban Nkunzi female and her cubs are often sighted at a nearby camp where she has been keeping her litter. Sadly only a few sightings of the Metsi female have been recorded but hopefully she is denning and soon we might see new cubs on our property .The Mambiri female has always been one of the more sleek and lithe of leopards, and she and her cub are often sighted in the south.

It is a sad time when leopard cubs we all come to love and enjoy watching get killed, but the reality is that sometimes nature is a cruel and vicious cycle. The Makubela female has unfortunately lost one of her cubs to a male lion on a recent kill and we can only hope the rest of her cubs will survive.

Due to good rainfall in summer there is still plenty of food available and elephant viewing has been good through most parts of the reserve, and regular sightings of big herds has been recorded. With the Torch-woods (Balanites maughamii) about to bear fruits we can expect big bull elephants to soon move from tree to tree shaking these trees for the fruits. Most herds spend their time foraging in densely thicketed areas of the Reserve and around the river in winter, although the grasses are not as palatable as the leaves which have a relatively higher protein content. As the season progresses it will only be a matter of time before these pachyderms visits our camps looking for greener pastures and giving us grey hairs as we battle to keep them out of our staff accommodation and Safari Lodge.

With the high density of lions on our sector over the last month, cheetah viewing has been scarcer than usual with only occasional sightings of the adult male in the south. He is in excellent condition and with an abundance of prey around he is often sighted on a kill. The project to reintroduce cheetah is still in the pipeline and hopefully it might happen soon. Reports from our neighbours is that the pack of 6 wild dogs are still denning on their side and hopefully as the pups get bigger sighting of these rare and endangered carnivores might get better.

What's your favourite animal? Guests always ask me. I have an interest in most things about the bush but if I have to choose, it would be a honey badger. These formidable fighters of the mustelidea family have always fascinated me with their courage, determination and strength. Stocky and built like a Pit-bull, these tough and aggressive carnivores have been known to attack big mammals like lion, buffalo and even elephant. To bad we don't often get to view badgers. My last sighting in our sector in the Sabi Sand was a few months ago, until a recent morning drive just started out from camp where we spotted that what looked like a burned log next to the road. As we got closer my tracker shouted "Honey badger!!!", almost leaping off his seat from excitement. Still I could not believe my eyes as I slowly approached him unfortunately he took off running and disappearing in the long grass, and because it all happened so quickly that there was no opportunity to take a picture to prove to my jealous colleagues who just don't want to believe me!

From Marcelino and the Ulusaba Rangers and Trackers

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