Winter is Coming

There can’t be too many places on our planet where those words are met with anything but a lack of enthusiasm. Here at MalaMala however, as the prospect of colder weather and shorter days looms, an almost tangible sense of excitement prevails. This is not to say that we don’t love summer, everybody loves summer but here we love winter just as much and for good reason. 
If a trailer goes any way towards showing us how good a movie will be then, April has set the tone for a blockbuster winter trilogy in June, July and August. 
We’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to mother nature, nothing is set in stone. However, taking into account current facts, figures and conditions, we can’t help but forecast not only an exhilarating dry season but also an action packed end of year. 
Answers to the often-asked question: “When is the best time for a safari?” will read anywhere between May and September due to low rainfall and less grass cover. The months of March and April normally get less optimistic reviews but this autumn has epitomised one of the best things about a safari - you never know what’s going to happen next. Over the last two months we’ve averaged over five sightings a day of lions and leopards as well as many buffalo and elephant sightings. Cape hunting dog and cheetah sightings have been good too. An adult female giraffe carcass opposite Main Camp attracted five leopards, a pride of lions, a coalition of five male lions, hyenas and a crocodile over three days. On top of this we’ve viewed lions with many buffalo kills as well as zebra and waterbuck kills. Young hippos have also fallen victim to lions and the Eyrefield pride along with the two Matshapiri males went after an adult. The Bicycle Crossing male treated us to a unique two-hour sighting as he attempted to catch a newborn rhino calf with its mother present.
The Fourways and Eyrefield prides’ cubs are all doing well and this means that the adults have eight growing hungry mouths to feed. The Marthly pride has also increased in number, although we are yet to lay our eyes on those cubs. All leopard cubs have fared well this month too. The vegetation got a welcome reprieve from the dry conditions thanks to a couple of downpours of rain in March. The resulting grass growth has covered the land in a carpet of green, a welcome nutrient boost for herbivores albeit a brief one.
Mother nature doesn’t share her script with us and so our answer to the initial question, in a nutshell, is anytime between January 1st and December 31st, which is why we’re open year round. The exception is for those who have something specific in mind, migratory birds for example are here in summer. Otherwise most other animals occupy territories and home ranges that mean they stay put. Our summers and winters are two very contrasting seasons but both have their advantages.
MalaMala is well equipped for both seasons due to the vast size of the property as well as habitat diversity. The Sand River acts as an animal magnet during our dry months and our 19km open boundary with the Kruger National Park means that animals are drawn in from far and wide. The drought we’re currently experiencing means that the foot traffic to and from the river has increased greatly and will continue to increase. Winter is coming.
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MALAMALA TODAY: April 24th. Another action packed MalaMala seven day, despite gloomy weather! Six lion sightings: the Eyrefield pride and two Matshapiri males were found this morning feeding off the remains of the Marthly pride's buffalo kill - they also made a failed attempt at catching a hyena. The Marthly pride were about 1km north of them. The Fourways pride are still on their buffalo kill near the Windmill. Two Clarendon males were viewed in Marthly. Two Styx lionesses were near Mlowathi Dam. An unidentified lioness was at Charleston North. Three leopards: the Airstrip male and the Treehouse male had an altercation today and it seemed as though the latter came off on top! The Kikilezi female was in the area and was chased up a tree by the Treehouse male. Cheetah: one male was viewed at our airstrip. Cape hunting dogs: a pack of ten interrupted our cheetah sighting and proceeded to kill three impala over the course of the day - two of which were at the entrance to Rattray's Camp! Many elephants and buffalo were also viewed.
MALAMALA TODAY: April 22nd. Winter madness seems to setting in early this year as we had three lion/buffalo kills today! With pans and dams drying up herds of buffalo are moving into MalaMala more frequently as they make a beeline for the Sand River. Five lion sightings: the two Fourways lionesses took a good 30 minutes to bring down a buffalo cow this evening in what was a titanic struggle in eastern Flockfield - all four cubs were present and in the midst of the action. The two Matshapiri males and the Eyrefield pride killed a buffalo just south of West Street and only a few hundred meters away from where the Marthly pride had a buffalo kill of their own. A male and a female lion were viewed at Clarendon and two lionesses from the Styx pride were found east of Mlowathi Dam. Two leopards: the Nontshameni female is on an impala kill near Wild Dog Rocks and the aptly named Tslebe Rocks male was on Tslebe Rocks road. Four herds of buffalo were viewed as well as many elephant sightings.
Meet the Accipiter male

This young male was initially seen around the central parts of the Matshapiri River, namely Emsagwen Waterhole. We estimate that he is about five years old, judging by his impressive size and the condition of his coat/physical appearance. The Accipiter male has been seen virtually every month since April 2015.

A closer look

Fork-tailed drongos may, at first glance, seem like rather ordinary and unimpressive birds but quite the opposite is true. Take a closer look past their seemingly dull exterior and into their behavior for it is their personality that dazzles rather than their looks. 
Despite being small in size these fearless birds will aggressively attack much larger species if their nest or young are threatened. When a bird of prey enters their domain they will actively mob it by repeatedly dive-bombing from above. Eventually the predator will grow tired of the relentless pestering and fly off in search of a quieter spot. The drongos will drive the point home by continuing the attack from above as they escort the raptor out of their airspace.
A quarter of their day is spent following other animals ranging from mongooses to elephants and even our Land Rovers as they wait for disturbed insects to reveal themselves. At the same time they act as neighborhood guard dogs by sounding the alarm when dangerous predators approach. However, sometimes they cry wolf and sound a false alarm when they spot another animal with a tasty morsel- the victim will drop it’s meal and run for cover allowing the drongo to swoop down and steal the meal. But sooner or later their bluff is called as they ‘cry wolf’ one too many times. Instead of giving up they employ a new tactic, mimicry. These birds possess the remarkable ability to imitate the alarm calls of up to 50 other animals from hawks to jackals, which they probably acquire through learning. So if one alarm-call stops having the desired effect then they’ll change to another. What this means is that the birds are paying attention to their targets, and they change what they’re doing based on the feedback they receive. If they were human we would say that drongos are capable of “theory of mind”- that is, they are capable of recognizing that other beings have different mental states. This is perhaps a generous explanation but it is still incredible that these birds apparently accomplish complex behaviors using simple mechanisms such as associative learning and maybe even an understanding of cause and effect. “Theory of mind” is yet to be fully shown in any animal other than human beings. 

Did you know?

Cape hunting dogs (aka wild dogs) are Africa’s second most endangered carnivores after Ethiopian wolves. Once widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa their populations have been decimated by human activities such as habitat destruction and persecution by farmers with livestock. Infectious diseases such as rabies and canine distemper also threaten them. It’s estimated that only 5,500 free ranging wild dogs remain on the African continent and a mere 450 in South Africa. MalaMala (and the Greater Kruger area) provides a safe haven for one of the few stable populations on the continent. We’re fortunate enough to have relatively regular sightings of three different packs, which frequent MalaMala year round. 
MalaMala Game Reserve
Telephone: +27 – 11 – 442 2267