As we quickly approach the end of the year, the Mluwati Concession has welcomed an astounding abundance of new life. We have received over 100 millimetres of rain and the subsequent burst in new vegetation growth is simply breath-taking. The impalas are well into their calving season, and the Concession is a hive for impala ewes and their calves who are all enjoying the bountiful rainy season. The sightings on the Concession have remained phenomenal even with the rain and dense vegetation providing a challenge to find some of our more elusive residents.
As we noted at the start of the year, 2021 has been the transformative year of travel. Innovation, planning, and global coordination efforts have fundamentally enhanced the travel experience. These inventive practices, though born out of necessity in response to the ongoing pandemic, have also increased the sustainability of the travel industry as a whole in order to build resilience in this era of uncertainty. Though by all means 2021 was a tumultuous year, many of us have taken the extraordinary opportunity to reconnect with nature and our natural state of being. Amidst the confusing state of our urban lives, the African bush has continued to undergo its customary seasonal transformations over the course of the year. It has remained a pillar of vitality and a source of poignant inspiration for many of us to help us navigate through these turbulent times.
When we look towards the new year ahead, we remain steadfast in our enthusiasm to learn from—and be inspired by—the African wilderness and the global community of travellers that helps to preserve its legacy for future generations. We will strive to build on our small contribution in helping to transform the world we live in for the better. To wrap up 2021 on the Mluwati Concession, we will update you on how our favourite residents are finishing up the year, and we will also share an unforgettable sighting that reinforces our passion for the magic of Mluwati Concession
THE SIGHTING OF A LIFETIME
As narrated by Julia Keates, a very familiar face to those who have visited the Mluwati Concession.
One evening, I was sitting alone building a puzzle of all things when I heard a game drive vehicle park outside my house. Rushed footsteps and a rapid knocking at the door—you know the type of knocking that makes your heart sink as though there is something wrong. The door opens and Tiaan, one of our guides, is standing in the doorway saying, “Are you ready? were you listening to the radio?”
I look at the radio lying in the charger and tell him that unfortunately the radio is on charge. He tells me what has been found, and I jump from my chair, discard the puzzle – grab my camera and phone and rush out of the door. Exciting chatter between myself and Tiaan as we rush out of the gate – we chat about the gin stop that our guests had just thoroughly enjoyed. We drive down Hoyo Hoyo access in the direction of the lodge, turning left onto Middle Road – struggling to see the lights of the vehicle that is holding the sighting for us. As we come around the bend, we see the lights of a vehicle a short way down. My heart is racing with excitement.
We slowly approach the vehicle – Tristan, one of our other guides, and his two guests are standing looking into the grass in front of them. As we get to the place, my breath hitches—there in the grass with his face firmly buried into a little bush is the one thing that makes every guide go giddy inside – it’s a pangolin!
I am smiling ear to ear – Tristan and Tiaan have never seen one before and their excitement is contagious. For most people, the sighting of a pangolin is a dream, but there is the odd occasion where the dream becomes a reality, and this was one of those cases. Tristan and his guests decide it is time to say goodbye to this awesome critter, and so they climb back in the vehicle and head off back to Imbali. Tiaan and I reposition ourselves, so we do not have to keep a spotlight on the pangolin and the light is far too bright for them.
What is a pangolin?
The name pangolin comes from the Malay word, “Pengguling”, which means “one who rolls up”. This is one of the most sought-after sightings, not only amongst Kruger visitors but also for any tourists visiting South Africa where pangolins are known to be.
A Pangolin is a mammal covered in protective scales, measuring up to 1m in length and can weigh up to 18kg. The body is protected by armour like overlapping brown scales, which uniquely identifies this species amongst all mammals. Except for the forehead, there are no scales on the head or belly, nor on the inner surfaces of the legs.
The first and last digits of the forefeet are reduced, whereas the middle three digits and claws are well developed for digging. The front legs are also shorter than the hind legs. The broad-based tail tapers to a rounded tip.
What do Pangolins eat?
Since Pangolin are entirely insectivorous, an abundant availability of ants and termites to sustain subsistence, governs its occurrence. Another factor determining occurrence, is the availability of burrows or other forms of shelter. They feed predominantly on formicide ants.
Pangolins appear to be highly selective feeders in that only 19 species of ants and termites are taken. It locates prey by smell, even under the soil surface. When prey is located, tunnels are opened with the well-equipped front paws.
The 250 mm long, rod-shaped tongue is covered with a sticky saliva. This is used as a tool to collect prey by inserting it into the termite tunnels. When withdrawn it is covered with trapped prey which is gathered into the mouth.
Such feeding exercises are executed about 90 times per night, and each feeding lasts about one minute. As it lacks teeth, the sand ingested with each withdrawal assists to masticate the food items in the muscular mouth.
What are the scales used for?
Pangolins are well equipped for self-defence, when threatened they will roll up in a tight ball. Pangolins can lash out with their razor-sharp scales, they also have scent glands similar to those of skunks which they can use to spray their enemies.
LEOPARDS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION:
From cub to adult, and now to even possibly motherhood, we have been incredibly privileged to watch Tiyasela’s life unfold in front of us. As we had mentioned in our previous newsletters, she had disappeared for some time. We suspect that she did have her first litter of cubs already, but—as in most cases—the first litter did not survive. She has now returned to her regular movements and we got to spend time with her on one afternoon while she was hunting impala close to Borehole Loop North.
As we followed, she silently stalked a large male impala. She disappeared into a small drainage line, and we lost sight of her. As we rounded the thicket surrounding the drainage, Greg spotted a leopard lying further East of us. We made our way toward this leopard, asking ourselves how she managed to give us the slip. When we got closer to the leopard lying in the grass, one of our other guides—Nicolas—called us saying that he had managed to relocate Tiyasela behind us. Our excitement grew as we realised that the leopard in front of us was not the cat that we were originally following, but rather a reasonably relaxed male leopard. The two leopards seemed totally unaware of each other. Although, with all the commotion going on, the male stood and walked past us towards the riverbed. It seems at that point, Tiyasela picked up the scent and disappeared down into the riverbed. Unfortunately, this meant we had lost sight of both leopards, but the excitement and possibility of her being in season again is better than anything in this world.
This resilient female is our pride and joy—she has been one of the most successful leopards that we have had the privilege of watching. The last of her female cubs has now ventured out on her own, and Nkhanye has been spending quite a bit of time in and around Hamiltons Tented Camp.
Nkhanye’s female cub:
In our most recent sighting, this beautiful cat was found lying on the rocks close to the weir at Hamiltons. As we arrived, she turned to look at us, rolling over and again looking at us—almost making sure we were watching her. She cupped her nose in her front paws and rolled over again. This playful nature is definitely a trait that she got from Nkhanye. She promptly stood up and walked towards us. She slowed as she walked past the front of the vehicle and around to the passenger side. The vehicle was so quiet you could hear her breathing. Suddenly, she ascended almost vertically out of the riverbed and sat at the top of the bank looking down on us. We certainly look forward to sharing many more sightings as she navigates adulthood.
There have been very few sightings of this fully nomadic male recently. Wabayisa has been spending most of his time wondering across the concession—never staying long in a certain place. He often crosses over the S36 out of our Concession or alternatively into Manyeleti. The last occasion where he was seen was the S36 viewpoint, still looking in good health.
CHEETAH OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION
The time that one gets to spend with one of the most fascinating carnivores on the Concession is priceless. A mother with 3 cubs was seen for the briefest of moments, but just the feeling of warmth in our hearts to see little cheetah cubs with the mother looking so healthy was enough for us. The 4 males who are always around our southern border were seen on a couple of occasions through the last couple of months by the guides and the guests. On one occasion, they were found east of Imbali waterhole and spent the entire duration of the afternoon relaxing, which allowed for our guests and guides to thoroughly enjoy some quality time spent with these spotted cats until the sun set.
ELEPHANTS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION
It’s been a rather perplexing couple of months for our elephant sights as the start of the rains seems to have caused every single elephant herd and bull to disappear out of view. There must be a reason for it—does it have something to do with their instinctual knowledge of a change in weather or rainfall? Perhaps the high lying areas had become more nutritious a lot sooner than at lower lying areas. Over the last two weeks of this month, we have only seen possible a handful of individuals.
BUFFALOS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION
There has been some movement in the herds, although this can be attributed to the recovering grass and vegetation around the areas that were so badly burnt. A rapid growth of lush green vegetation from the rains as well as the rise in the water levels in the pools means that they are no longer bound to the waterholes in front of Hoyo Hoyo or Imbali. A couple of smaller herds has stayed close to the remaining water in front of Hamiltons. We do have a couple of groups of dagga boys who never move far from the various wallow pits in and around the Concession.
BIRDS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION
What a change this month has brought to the diversity of bird species on the Concession. At the beginning of November, we heard a Purple-Crested Turaco!
Cuckoos have been abundant this year, including the African Cuckoo, which—out of all cuckoos—is the only one that actually sounds like a cuckoo. Deidrick’s Cuckoo, Black Cuckoo, Levaillant’s, Jacobin, Klaas’s and Greater Spotted have all be seen and heard on the concession.
Woodland Kingfishers have made their way back to us finally within the first week of November. We are still awaiting the arrival of the European Roller and Carmine Bee Eaters. One of the most amazing sightings that we had this month was the return of the Amur Falcons—they have come back in flocks. They are often seen flying around in flocks catching and eating insects on the wing. Termites have been at the top of the menu for all the birds on the Concession from the smallest to the largest including the Hooded Vultures who have also been enjoying the sudden swarms in the evenings as the sun goes down.
Ground Hornbills are starting to clean out and re-layer their nest in preparation of the breeding season. The breeding season is coming to an end for our resident Vulture breeding colony, and the chicks have certainly grown. Korhaans and Bustards are starting to display and looking for mates. We are sure next month will be unlike any other!
WILD DOGS OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION
Unfortunately, it has been a quiet couple of months for our Painted Dogs. Creatures. There have been several sightings around the area, but only one of them were enjoyed on Concession. The Imbali Pack is spending a lot of time along western cutline and into Manyeleti – although the influx of animals in this area after the fire and subsequent rains means they have a very high success rate of killing. The Pungwe Pack made a very short appearance down in the southwestern section of the Concession around KNP Corner as they ran across the road in the direction of Pungwe.
Farewells and Goodbyes
We would like to dedicate this newsletter to our Section Ranger, Mr Richard Sowry, who is moving to another section in the far north of the Park. He has been operating out of the Kingfisherspruit Section, under which our Concession falls, for over 18 years. On behalf of all of us here on the Mluwati Concession, we would like to thank him and wish him farewell. We also look forward to welcoming Mr Greg Bond, who will be starting with us in the New Year after moving up from the Lower Sabie Section.
In January 2021, we dedicated our newsletter to our colleague, Jason Kleyn, who had been involved in a freak accident. It is with sadness that we say goodbye to Jason who unfortunately succumbed to his injuries after many months of ups and downs.
Our hearts to go out to all who have lost someone special in their lives – for us who live and work in this miraculous place called the Mluwati Concession, the sights and sounds that we experience daily assist us with the torment of those we have lost. We hope to share as many of these experiences with our guests in the short time that they spend with us. This is truly a special place that allows us to rejuvenate our souls and minds—watching and learning from the myriad of species that we have, watching the babies grow up in front of our eyes and witnessing the changes in the vegetation. These ordinary elements of the African bush become not only an inspiration but a form of solace.
On behalf of everyone on the Mluwati Concession, we would like to wish our online community a very happy festive season. We look forward to reconnecting with you in the new year.
“May the call of the African Fish Eagle ring out through the savannas and may the roar of the lion vibrate through your soul….”
THE GUIDES OF THE MLUWATI CONCESSION