Love in a time of drought

Hippos are increasingly grazing during the day, their blistered skin under the hot African sun indicative of the fact they’re doing so out of necessity rather than choice. They are hungry. Drought has drained the ground of green and has conquered the land. Disrobed, nature stands seemingly in shame and stark in its beauty. The perennial Sand River even stopped flowing for a couple weeks before a brief spell of rain got it going again.

Here at MalaMala our love for wildlife and the natural world is unconditional but as we all know, love can be tough. This month we really had to take the good with the bad.

This ‘wet season’ we’ve received less than half of our average rainfall which is bad news for most herbivores however, certain species groups are benefiting, namely the predators, scavengers and to some extent, the short grass grazers such as zebras. It’s important to note that drought is a naturally occurring phenomenon that comes and goes and has a regulatory effect on population. Indeed this El Nino-related dry spell and its impact is no stranger to us. In 1991 there were an estimated 30,000 buffalo in the Greater Kruger Area (this includes MalaMala) but severe drought at the end of that year saw a massive die-off and the population dwindled to 14,000. A decade later the population was at 40,000. The bottom line is that however bad it gets, this too shall pass.

On the upside the game viewing has been phenomenal with roughly 110 lion sightings this month, 73 leopard sightings, 67 sightings of buffalo herds, countless elephant sightings, 12 cape hunting dog sightings, 5 cheetah sightings and even 11 sightings of sable antelope, to mention but a few. Added to that are the intense interactions we’ve witnessed between lions and buffalo, these we have covered in blog posts which are available on our website.

Here are some of the other talking points regarding lion and leopard dynamics recently: the Eyrefield and Fourways prides are gaining in strength thanks to the protection and stability offered to them by the Matshapiri males. Each pride has four new cubs who are all doing well and thanks to the drought their mothers have enjoyed easier hunting conditions which means more milk for the little ones. For the time being the Matshapiri males have a stronghold on their territory so the future looks bright for both prides. Staying with lions- the Styx pride has been through a tough time as well. They lost two litters but recently a silver lining has formed around their dark cloud as they have been mating with the Gowrie males who seem to have cemented their claim to the northern parts of MalaMala. As far as leopards go the biggest tragedy occurred when the Tamboti female lost her two cubs after a confrontation with the Airstrip male. She has bounced back and was recently seen mating again with the Treehouse male. The Kikilezi female has successfully raised both of her daughters to independence and it appears that she has even relinquished part of her territory for them.

With January behind us we welcome February and with love in the air one can’t help but be optimistic. We’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us here at MalaMala. We look forward to sharing our love for wildlife with you.  

MalaMala Game Reserve
Telephone: +27 – 11 – 442 2267