See what has been happening the last couple of months…
It has been a long and hard dry season here in Madikwe. Winter was freezing cold, especially during the FIFA World Cup 2010. One of the worst cold fronts of the season hit us during that time and by 4pm the one afternoon my guests said to me that we must turn back and head for cover. By then I was already wearing two fleeces, my jacket, gloves, beanie and scarf and I was still freezing. Not to mention what everybody else looked like behind me. We got back to the lodge and we all ran straight for the fire place to thaw out a little.
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Since then it has been a steady cold winter until the start of spring. By then all the water points where dry except for some major dams and waterholes at the various lodges. The animals where struggling since a large part of the reserve was burned this year and there wasn?t allot to eat. The rains finally came late in October and although it was not nearly enough so far, it is at least a start.
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The animals on the reserve are now doing better after a serious dry season. Sightings of our animal friends are plentiful and of high quality. Most notable is our leopard sightings. In the last 6 months sightings have increased dramatically and not only that, the leopards are also more relaxed. It looks like after all these years they are finally starting to come around and trust us a little more. You cannot blame them though. They were heavily persecuted before the reserve was established so it is good that some form of trust can be established again. During our annual game count over three days, no less than 38 sightings were reported of at least 25 animals. This is great news and it shows that the population is steady and thriving. We even have a resident leopard that frequent the lodge quite often. He is mostly seen drinking from one of the splash pools at the rooms.
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The lions in this reserve are still doing as well as expected. There are over 90 animals in the population thus far and they are in several pride systems from the east to the west of the reserve. Needles to say then that their sightings are frequent; I even had guests the other day that saw 45 different lions during their 2 night stay. That is quite remarkable and I don?t think many can top that. Most mornings before game drive you can listen to the serenade as the Kings of the bush proclaim their territory.
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The wild dogs are not at their den anymore and they are found very often producing some very spectacular sightings. There are two packs at the moment with 4 puppies in the one and 5 in the larger pack (in total we lost 11 pups this year to lions and other circumstances). If you can stay with them in the mornings and afternoons when they start hunting you can expect to find a kill 80% of the time. Being so endangered at the moment we hope that the puppies can grow up to adults and then maybe we can start to look at relocating to other reserves that lost their populations.
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With the recent rain we had another of Africa?s killers have emerged. They might not look like much but believe me they pack a huge punch. The Matabele ant (Megaponera foetens) is one of Africa?s legendary ant species and occurs here in Madikwe in large numbers. They are normally seen when they cross the roads in long lines of a couple of hundred to a thousand individuals. These ants are very large (up to 35mm long) and they are ferocious predators that prey on termites mostly. In the morning hunting parties set out to the nearest termite mound which they attack with no mercy. Being several times the size of termites it means that not many termites can survive an onslaught of these monsters. After the raid the ants return to their nest each with a mouth full of termites. These ants produce an unpleasant smell when disturbed and they also produce an audible hissing sound. Quite often you can smell them when driving along in the bush. They are armed with very powerful jaws and a bite from one of these ants can draw blood. In addition to this they can also sting like a wasp. The sting is several times more painful than a bee sting and I can testify for it. After a sting you are left with an intense burning sensation for about a half an hour and then left with some swelling for about two days. This is a nasty ant and it is best to admire them from a distance.
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So things are going well at the moment and we are looking forward to a wonderful summer with lots of sightings and lots of rain.
Until next time.
Jaco Becker and the Madikwe Hills team.