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Written by Isaiah Banda

The year is in full swing, and 2024 promises to be a bright one. The season rainfall is sitting at 210mm around the lodge area, and there is still a need for plenty of rain. With all the rain received thus far, the bush continues to flourish, and the dense greenery still dominates the landscape. This month has allowed us to play around with gloomy skies and work with some incredible sunsets on the reserve.

Bird life has been incredible since we have had all this rain. The birds displaying courtship behaviour will always catch my eye, especially in the case of the pin-tailed whydah. Being breeding season, they have been making their presence known, along with the weavers who are tirelessly creating their wondrously woven nests. Weavers are master architects spending most of their day during breeding season creating incredible nests like this to impress the females.

Odd-Toed Ungulates Vs Even-Toed Ungulates of Mabula.

Ungulates are everywhere on Mabula! During your safari you’ll come across them on the reserve. The hoofed animals of the savannah are some of the most numerous here at Mabula Private Game Reserve, but when it comes to survival of the fittest, they’re not all evenly matched.

The difference between these two kinds of hoofed animals are one or three-toed animals are known as odd-toed ungulates, zebras and rhinos. Even-toed ungulates make up the rest of the hoofed animals on earth, these include bovines, antelope, warthogs and other pigs and sheep. Even the hippo is loosely lumped into this category, although from a distance.

Even-toed ungulates have an enormous numerical advantage over their single and triple-toed peers. In fact, there are only 17 species of perissodactyls (odd-toed ungulates) left on earth. By contrast, there are 220 species of artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates) on earth.

Elephant trunks and its unique features.

Created from a fusion of the elephant’s top lip and nose, the elephant’s trunk is a multi-functional tool integral to this distinguished mammals’ survival. It is used to smell, breathe, drink, eat, communicate, and as a weapon when required. Remarkably, the skeletal remains of an elephant would show no indication of the trunk as there are no bones to indicate it even existed. The elephant’s trunk is one of the most amazing things to watch when they eventually use it while out here at Mabula on safari drive, if not the entire animal kingdom, but how does this incredible appendage work?

The trunk is composed of 140kgs of flesh, fat, nerves, connective tissue, and over 40 000 muscles grouped around the nasal passages. These taper down to two fingers in the case of African elephants, and one finger for Asian elephants. Functionally, the muscles are what give the trunk its versatility. The four large external muscles running along the top, side and bottom of the trunk control the main movements of the trunk i.e. up, down and sideways.

The smaller internal muscles are responsible for finer movements and are based on a network of hundreds of thousands of fascicles. The fascicles are arrangements running all along the trunk like bicycle spokes and give the trunk its extraordinary flexibility. In human terms, the elephant’s trunk is most like the tongue in that regard.

Just like the human tongue, the elephant is able to taste the air thanks to millions of receptor cells in their upper nasal cavity. They can smell just as well as any bloodhound and are able to detect water from 19km away. Here at Mabula we don’t have permanent river running through the reserve, however we are fortunate enough to have an abundance of waterholes and drainage lines that have water throughout the year.

Once found, the elephant can draw up to 8 litres of that water into their nasal passages at a time. This is then sprayed into the mouth. Elephants cannot drink through their noses and would choke if they tried. Water and mud is sprayed over the elephant’s body to cool it down on a hot day and discourage external parasites like ticks.

If a river crossing is in order, the trunk comes to the rescue once again. Held high above the surface of the water, the trunk is used like a snorkel so the elephant can breathe even when its entire body is submerged. Food time is a breeze when you have two highly tactile fingers to pick leaves from the highest branches, snap off twigs or pull up grass, and self-defence is no problem either with a long muscular club at your disposal.

An elephant’s trunk can lift hundreds of kilograms with ease and swing with considerable force if need be. Watch a while the next time you come across some elephants on safari to see the ways in which they use this amazing appendage in almost every aspect of their lives

Termite mounds and their importance on our ecosystem.

Most of us are accustomed to seeing termite mounds in nature but are not aware of the fact that they’re not just the home of termites but they redistribute soil nutrients and can have profound influences on vegetation.

The mound is constructed out of a mixture of soil, termite saliva, and dung. The structure is solid and porous for ventilation purposes. The walls are filled with tiny holes that allow outside air to enter and permeate the entire structure.

On some of the mounds, the top of the mound consists of a central chimney surrounded by a network of tunnels and passages, which is a ventilation system that ensures that oxygen reaches the lower areas of the mound and keeps the nest from overheating. Termites do not live throughout the mound but spend most of their time in a nest located at or below ground level, which is comprised of numerous galleries separated by walls.

They require a lot of food and wood, which are their primary source of nutrition, cultivate fungal gardens, located in the main nest. They also eat fungus, which helps them extract nutrients from the wood they consume.The queen and king reside in the royal chamber. The queen’s sole purpose is to produce new termites to help build and protect the nest.

The base of the mound has several openings that the termites use to enter and exit the nest. Termites make forays out to collect food at night when temperatures are cooler.

Below are the highlights for this month.

The water holes are almost full and the hive of activity around these areas is endless! The usual docile hippos are outwardly excited about the high water levels too and they have provided a lot of entertainment for our guests and guides.

The lilac breasted roller is one of the icons of a Mabula safari and one of the most beautiful bushveld bird species found on the reserve. You’re bound to hear them around the reserve, and almost certain to spot a few during your daily safaris here at Mabula.

Even when we may find ourselves surrounded by giraffes and buffaloes, I cannot help but hone my focus onto the smaller creatures that never leave their side, oxpeckers bask in the morning sunlight as they catch a ride on a giraffe bull, taking a moment’s break from the never ending feast this herd provides for these birds.

The recent hot, humid summer evenings and rainfall have not stop white-backed vultures visiting the reserve and perched on a strungler fig created, a great silhouette in the foreground. We don’t have vultures permanently staying on the reserve, so when we see them we appreciate every moment of them. When the call came through the radio all the guides abandoned all their sightings and made their way to Modjadji plain where they were perching on the tree.

If its not for water to drink, its for fish to eat! At this time of year, it is not unusual to spot much larger birds of prey on the ground or atop termite mounts feeding on erupting alates. I really enjoyed this particular sighting of a fish eagle at Lake Kyle Dam perched in a tree. I was taken aback by just how big these birds of prey really are.

Perfect timing, the kingfisher begins to devour its prize meal. A lush green background that is typical of the bush in summer after the first rains. It is during this time that you will be able to see the woodlands kingfisher in the bushveld in and around Mabula. The woodland kingfisher is easily recognisable by its flashy blue feathers and distinctive red and black beak

There is simply nothing better than a golden sunset in the open grasslands while we watch a herd of buffalo approach and engulf our vehicle as they gather at a water hole for a final day’s cool down and drink. Summer is a time to celebrate new life, and conditions are ideal for many species to prioritize birthing and raising and protecting new offspring. Trying to keep up with the rest of the herd as they traverse on the reserve on plains, this cow and calf walk briskly determined not to be left behind at the back of the herd.

Black-backed jackal with its distinctive dark saddle in bold contrast to its tan coat and with a black-tipped tail. While they are skilled scavengers and adept hunters, they are opportunistic omnivores that follow the path of least resistance to gain their living. Beetles, scorpions, millipedes, rodents, hares, concealed young calves, carrion, snakes, various fruits and berries will all feature on the menu for black-backed jackals. We are very fortunate to have great sightings of Balck Backed Jackal on the reserve regularly. Driving along Long winding past airstrip you will not be dissapointed if you are looking for them.

When examining these lists of experiences, it’s no longer so obvious that animal’s lives are, on balance, bad ones. It becomes far more dependent on the interchange of positive and negative experiences, their intensity, how often they occur and for how long, and how the animal weighs their importance. Some species might have considerably better lives than others. Lions are a good example of that. They can sleep anytime of the day without worrying about other animals, while herbivores will not fall asleep completely, they have to look out for predators at all times.

A lion cub of Lake Kyle pride ventures through an open clearing, the rest of the members of the pride were scattered around this youngster, having just finished off a wildebeest kill from the night before. This cub and its siblings, are growing each and every day. It’s both exciting and intriguing to contemplate what the future holds for these emerging predators.

It’s the season of abundance. While the majority of wildebeest, impala, and warthogs have already given birth, occasionally we encounter a slightly later arrival. This particular wildebeest had just given birth, likely within the past day or so. It never ceases to amaze me how swiftly these young herbivores can stand up and start moving alongside their mother within minutes after birth..

There is a lot more to these ‘snowballs’ dangling from the trees during the summer than meets the eye. The sight of these bubbly, snowball-shaped nests adds another touch of enchantment to the landscape and showcases the ingenious strategies that nature employs to ensure the survival of its smallest inhabitants. These protective nests are created by the aptly named foam nest frogs. These frogs utilise a unique strategy, whereby a secretion is released and frothed with the hind legs, creating nests of meringue-like foam that shield their eggs from predators and dehydration.

Observing a baboon troop in action is a fascinating experience. The large males take the lead, scanning for potential dangers, while the rest of the troop spreads out, foraging for delectable finds. Covering 5-10km between sunrise and sunset, they utilize their large mouths and cheek pouches to store food for later digestion. They sometimes can be very difficult to photograph. I was very fortunate with my guests early this month on an afternoon safari, they were very relaxed and were able to take pictures of them. Ussually they run away the moment you stop the vehicle.

Baboons are responsible for insect control, and seed dispersal of plant species they consume. They dig for roots, tubers, corms and rhizomes, helping to aerate the soil of the area. Their impact on the land and surrounding species is significant, highlighting the delicate ecological harmony they help maintain.

Few antelope are quite as impressive as Kudu. These magnificent kudu bulls and kudu cows stood attentive listening to some unknown sound before continuing their early morning feeding in the open clearing in the Modjadji area, this area is favoured by kudus. Kudu’s slow-motioned head bob and majestic demeanour make them one of my favourite antelopes to view while out on safari with my guests.

We were very lucky to come across eland on the central parts of the reserve. These impressive bulls were relaxed and gave us oppoturnity to take pictures, a very shy antelope and normally run away the moment you stop the vehicle. One of the interesting characteristics of an eland herd is that it includes a nursery for the calves. When threatened by predators, the herd forms a front with the large males taking the lead positions while the calves and pregnant females are protected behind the fortress of large males

This gemsbok crouching makes the defecation act a striking visual display of social status in my opinion, the gemsbok is one of Mabula’s most handsome antelope species. Territorial males mark their territory with dung deposits in extreme crouch defecation. Gemsbok need 3 liters of water per 100 kg of body weight per day. But the gemsbok’s great trick is that it doesn’t necessarily have to acquire this water by drinking. It is especially adept at extracting the moisture found in different fruits like cucumbers and wild melons, and in thick leaves. Juicy roots, tubers and bulbs are also a source of moisture which gemsbok dig out of the ground. And to top it off, they tend to graze in early morning or late evening when the grasses have the highest moisture content collected from dew.

Cheetah sightings have been very rare of late since we lost our female cheetah. The coalition has been very difficult to sight. However this month luck was on our side, we had great sightings on the reserve. They were either walking along the road and hunting or lazing around in the shade under the tree.

No safari is complete without encounters with Mabula’s beautiful wildlife. From a cheetah lazing under the tree during the day, the gentle rumbles of elephants communicating, as they gracefully stroll past your safari vehicle and sundower stops with a drink of your choices. These moments are not only exceptionally special to feel but also a privilege to capture while out here at Mabula on a safari.

Magical sunsets and sunrises on the reserve, who doesn’t love a good sunset picture? Mabula’s sunsets are a photographer’s dream, with the Mabula sky ablaze in hues of red, orange, pink, and gold. Everyone loves a postcard-perfect sunset picture, and you’ll have ample opportunities to capture this magic during your stay here at Mabula.

The sunsets have been out of this world this month, and the arrangement of clouds took on a different feel on a daily basis. When the sun has managed to fight its way through the clouds, it has created incredible photographic opportunities for all our guests

Until next time…
From Isaiah Banda & Mabula family.
Safari Greetings.
Photos credit to Isaiah Banda, Alexander Pouris.