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Wild storms and slithery snakes in the African Bush

Greetings from the bush! A happy New Year to everyone. We hope 2009 will be a prosperous and successful year for you.

January has been a very wet month for us, we have had huge amounts of rain. One particular storm, we were on the afternoon drive and looking south we could see huge, big, black clouds rolling in with thunder rumbling in the distance.

As the thunder and lightning got closer, we decided to make a dash back to the lodge. The storm that afternoon was one of the biggest we have had, to see the lightning strikes from Rock Lodge was truly amazing. We had 130mm of rain that night which caused Skwenga Dam to overflow and all the dry river beds were all flowing at least a metre deep.

Even though it's been very wet and muddy, we have had lots of fun in the bush. One of our guys got stuck in the mud on a game drive and his guests kindly helped push him out, saving him the embarrassment of calling one of his colleagues for help! We won't mention any names. Thank you to those guests who helped so enthusiastically, I am sure you enjoyed it as much as we did.

We have had some very exciting sightings this month. A pack of wild dogs were on the property for the first two weeks of the month which treated the guests to some great sightings. Johan and his guests were very fortunate to witness the wild dogs chase Makwela, our resident female leopard, into a tree. The next day, Steve and I were on a serious tracking mission to find the dogs. We had fresh tracks heading North towards the Sand River so we set out after them. The wild dogs can cover serious distance during the cool of the day so we had to track quite fast. After a good two hours of tracking, Steve finally found them, they were up wind of a large herd of impala and were moving in. By this stage my guests and I were so excited with the possibility of seeing the dogs hunt. I explained that the dogs literally run their prey down due to their incredible endurance, so if they started chasing we were going to have to hold tight to try follow them through the bush. As the dogs moved towards the edge of the tree line they burst in to full speed after the impala, it was amazing to see the impala in full flight to get away from the dogs.

We followed them through the bush but lost sight of them, so I switched off to listen... we heard a high pitched sound. I said "that's the sound the dogs make when they have made a kill." We followed the sound through thick bush expecting to find the dogs feeding on an impala, but to our astonishment we found them having a battle with a four metre African Rock Python. The python was rearing up trying bite the dogs that were running in at different angles to attack the snake. After a while, the python made a dash for a tree, while it was slithering up the tree, the dogs were jumping and trying to pull the snake out the tree. Once the python was out of reach from the dog's jaws, the dogs persisted in jumping against the tree trunk to try shake the snake out. As time went by, the dogs eventually gave up leaving a very angry python in the tree. This sighting was possibly the most amazing thing have seen in the bush in a long time.

Some very exciting news is that Makubela, a young female leopard, has given birth to two tiny cubs. Makubela is the daughter of Shangwa, whose territory is predominantly in the east. Her cubs have been seen a few times and we estimate them to be between eight and ten weeks old. Makwela, the resident female around Ulusaba, is pregnant and due to give birth in the next few weeks. Leopards have a gestation period of about 110 days and can give birth up to three cubs with an average of two.

The observatory evenings have been few due to the rainy weather we have been having, but the few clear evenings we have had have been great. This time of the year we can see Orions Belt, Taurus, Gemini, Seven Sisters and the Great Orion Nebula. A nebula is a great gas cloud where stars are born. At the moment we can see the planet Venus in the West which is very bright. In the next two months, Saturn is going to be in view for us to see through the telescope. Saturn is our Hollywood object in the sky; you can see the rings so clearly that many previous guests thought we put a picture up inside the telescope.

We look forward to sharing more news and stories in a few weeks time.

Trevor and The Rangers Team