06 August: July Diary

Our guests have had some incredible experiences during July with sightings in and around camp. Buffalo and lion featured highly amongst the highlights but there are some other notable sightings!

The hyena pups at the den on Umlani are growing fast and have just started to lose their black coats and have started to develop the spots characteristic of the spotted hyena.
The spots first start to develop around the neck like a very fashionable scarf! It looks like one has succumbed as three are now seen regularly rather than four, and they are spending an increasing amount of time outside the den even with game vehicles close by. As they get older this familiarisation at an early age will be great for the future viewing  as they develop into adults. The den has become such a popular place for other camps to visit that we have had to cordon off parts of the area to reduce the environmental impact of so much traffic. The hyenas continue to make their presence felt in camp with regular nightly visits, sometimes vocal and other times only detected by their tracks in the morning!

003Elephants have also graced us with their presence especially at the Umlani waterhole in front of the bar and also Marco’s Dam. They have been highly entertaining as always but one very funny incident occurred as I took some guests to the tree house to spend the night overlooking Marco’s Dam. As we pulled up at the treehouse, around 9.00pm, there was a small group of elephants drinking about 20 metres from the ladder. Instructing my guests to stay in the vehicle I very quietly walked to the ladder to light the lantern and check that the bedding had not had baboons visiting after we set up in the afternoon! Suddenly a small group of elephants led by a huge matriarch ran very fast to the dam – and surrounded the vehicle with the two guests in ! I talked calmly to the elephants – and to the guests – as the elephants were between me and the vehicle and I was stuck in the treehouse! The elephants soon moved off and the guests were able to safely climb up the ladder - a great close-up-and-personal experience! On the way to collect them in the morning we saw a stunning martial eagle, one of our largest raptors, next to camp. It was most likely trying to help us with the very naughty vervets! The vervets are great opportunists and during one lunch we lost 5 bananas. I cannot blame them but like naughty children they are very lovable, and frustrating at the same time!
Another notable incident from the treehouse was some guests witnessing the killing of a young male impala by a single hyena – it was very quick and efficient! When I went to pick the guests up, all that remained of the impala was the head – almost intact. Needless to say nothing is wasted and by mid- afternoon that too had also disappeared – wonderful recycling in action.
Other regular visitors to the camp include our ‘friends’ the buffalo. The large breeding herds pass through quickly and on one occasion you could barely see the waterhole as so many buffalo crowded in to drink – all I could think of was what a mess they were making of that nice clean water. The more challenging buffalo are the old males that come into camp especially at night – thinking that they are relatively safe. They are deluded in this belief as the lions will not hesitate to walk through to have a go at them.  It demands extra care at night for our guests and staff when these old guys are visiting (we have a group of 10 and a separate pair of old buffalo that are usually around). One early morning knowing that we had the visitors in camp during the night, I was leaving the house in the dark before the guests left for the morning drive. I stood and listened – no sounds of breathing or grazing and no eye shine – seemed safe to walk to the office. I stopped a couple of times on the way to double check – nothing! Suddenly as I came round a sharp bend in the path there was a huge crashing to my left – about a meter from my left ear! I was shocked – as was the buffalo as it turned out – and luckily for me he charged off away from me (with me praying that he would not crash into our solar panels). I duly fell flat on my face as I tried to run like hell! All that was hurt was my pride and a few grazes that I was proud to show as my near miss – I do not want a nearer encounter than that.
Similarly we had a late arrival guest one night during dinner. As Simon – our current student and French chef – and I went to help with luggage, Simon, in front of me, ran like a demon! He had nearly bumped into a buffalo that had decided the dry grass in front of the dining room was exactly the grass he wanted! Simon was shaken – but the buffalo could not have cared less! I have never seen Simon run so fast – moral of the story– buffalo are good for your health!
Talking of nightly visitors in the camp, it is always fascinating looking at the tracks in the morning to see who has been walking about! We usually have hyena, genet, civet and jackal and of course the buffalo. One morning however we actually had the tracks of an ardvaark. These are very rarely seen  so have a look at the picture on the Umlani Facebook page!
180Another bizarre incident occurred with a very relaxed leopard on one of the drives. She is very habituated to vehicles. So much so that she used ours, which was full of guests, to stalk some nearby impala. She failed to kill, but take a look at the picture – amazing close up!
Finally the lions! We have regularly sighted the two strange males responsible for killing the Machaton cub. These two males are floating around clearly pressing the Ross pride males and looking for a pride takeover. During one skirmish the Machaton females had just caught a warthog – only for it to be stolen by the Ross pride males – hardly worth the effort! In the process the Machatons were beaten up by these males and one of the male cubs got separated. He has been ‘lost’ and alone for about 3 weeks although we think that he has joined up again within the last few days with the pride. He was vulnerable on his own but last time he was seen he was looking in great condition. The cubs are about 18 months old so capable of taking small prey. He would have learnt some important life lessons which will stand him in good stead for the future.
We are looking forward to the rest of August as the bush continues to dry out our waterhole and Marco’s Dam and the Umlani property generally are proving to be a valuable magnet for game. Leopard, rhino, and general game have also increased in visibility on drive, as well as some great sightings of caracal and the entertaining mongooses – dwarf, banded and slender!
Until next time,
The Umlani Team