Where have all the animals gone?

They arrive to spend the weekend in the bush, but first they make a fire, pour a couple of drinks and make enough noise to scare off all the residents. Late on Saturday morning after sleeping in, they jump into their safari vehicles with laughter and more drinks on tap. This moving disco on wheels then proceeds to look for animals as this is the reason they came to the Bush after all.

Herd of Impala  |    ©   Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Herd of Impala  |   © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Great are their surprise when they don’t spot anything as they race through the reserve at high speed. On Monday, they tell their friends the place is a bust, and there are no animals at the Mabalingwe Nature reserve. They then get on to social media to loudly express their indignation.

Then we have the instant gratification group. Arriving at the gates demanding to see the Big 5.  “Where is the Rhino?” they shout and in a cloud of dust they all descend on the last known location the Rhino, Elephant and Buffalo were spotted. Oblivious to the Nyala, Kudu, Impala, Giraffe and many more animals along their way. Yes, you guessed it! On Monday, they tell anybody that will listen that there are no Big 5 at the Mabalingwe Nature Reserve.

Zebra at Mabalingwe  |     ©   Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Zebra at Mabalingwe  |   © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

The reserve can roughly be divided into eight areas. Cyferfontein – here you will find trees intersect with open areas. This area is popular with all animals in spring. The Itaga area consists of two parts. The 

Time to set the record straight. If you don’t want to put in the effort and only escape to the Bush to behave like hooligans, why not camp out in your backyard? You will be doing us all a favour.

Mabalingwe Nature Reserve is 12 500 hectare of bushveld. Let’s put it into perspective. Many sports fields have an area that is comparable to a hectare, so imagine 12 500 soccer/rugby fields next to one another, or 417 Golf courses. Yes, that’s big! If you don’t know where to go, don’t know the habits of the different animal species and don’t know how to navigate your way through the reserve, then the chances of spotting animals will be greatly reduced.

For first-time visitors to the Mabalingwe Nature Reserve, a guided game drive (by the Mabalingwe rangers) is highly recommended. The Rangers will help you get your bearings in this large Reserve and also show you where the animals.

Wildebeest at Mabalingwe  |     ©   Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Wildebeest at Mabalingwe  |   © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Itaga Lodge area is frequented by Wildebeest, Zebra, Giraffe, Impala, Nyala and Gemsbok. The Itaga area closer to the Mabalingwe entrance gets visited by Bushbuck, Kudu, Zebra, Blesbuck, Waterbuck and Giraffe.

Wessels Dam    |     ©   Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Wessels Dam  |   © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

The Dams area span from the Mabalingwe timeshare area all the way up to the Idwala section of the reserve. This area features spectacular scenery and is home to a pod of 16 hippos and some crocodile. Move up passed the Gorcum Dam and you are in the hills of Idawala where there have had a few recent leopard spottings. To the right of Idwala, you have Elandsfontein where the elephant come to hide away from humans when they want to be alone. To the left of Idwala, you have vast grassland and spectacular scenery where Giraffe, Zebra, Blesbuck and Wildebeest graze. This area is the most difficult to navigate as the roads are only accessible by 4X4.

To the right of the Mabalingwe airstrip, you will find the dense, bushy part of the reserve. With lots of Timbotie trees, the Kalahari Oasis bar (a must visit) and the most amasing camp in all of Mabalingwe, the Pitsi Bush Camp. If you have a  need for ultimate privacy and a great bush experience, this camp is a must. Here you will also find the Kameelperd water hole, a favourite of the Mabalingwe elephant herd.

Mabalingwe Elephants  |     ©   Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Mabalingwe Elephants  |   © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

The elephant herd at Mabalingwe live in a tight social unit led by an older matriarch. At the moment, there are youngsters of different age groups in the herd, from recently born to teenagers. Elephants can give birth every three to four years. The gestation period is almost two years. The young calves have made the herd very protective and secretive. The herd is estimated to consist of about 24 elephants.

Mabalingwe Lions  |     ©   Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Mabalingwe Lions  |   © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Like many other private game reserves, the Lions at Mabalingwe are contained in a separate, high-security fenced area of the reserve. To visit the lion enclosure – (Wednesdays and Sundays at 9am) one has to book at the Mabalingwe reception. There is a misconception that the Lions are restricted to a very tiny area, and nothing can be further from the truth. The Lions stay in 80 ha of bushveld that is just about three golf courses.

Mabalingwe Giraffe  |     ©   Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Mabalingwe Giraffe  |   © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

On an average weekend visit (Friday to Sunday) you are just about guaranteed to see Impala, Giraffe, Nyala, Kudu, Warthog, Waterbuck and the Hippo. Chances are also good that you will spot Wildebeest, Zebra, Buffalo, Blesbuck, Klipspringer and Duiker. Count yourself lucky if you encounter the Elephant, Rhino, Mountain Buck and crocodile.  If you spot leopard or Sable, you have joined the select few. These animals are extremely shy, and there are many places for them to hide.

Mabalingwe Nature Reserve is a place of many surprises. The reserve has to manage the needs of a diverse group of stakeholders. On the one side, you have private homeowners that expect complete freedom of movement. On the other side, you have the weekend guests that are just too lazy to familiarise themselves with this environment.

Mabalingwe Kudu bull  |     ©   Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Mabalingwe Kudu bull  |   © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Balance this with the security needs of visitors and the need to protect the animals from poachers without causing undue inconvenience to guests and you have the potential of all kinds of conflict arising. Recently poachers killed two of the reserves Rhino which has necessitated more security throughout the reserve. For that reason, staff will not casually tell you how many Rhino there are and where you can find them.

For the return visitor, Mabalingwe Nature Reserve can be a rich and rewarding experience, all it takes is a bit of homework and a genuine appreciation of the Bushveld. The appeal of Mabalingwe is not it’s game park or the variety of animals but the free roaming of the game around the areas where visitors stay so that one can observe the behaviour of these wild animals at close range and in extreme comfort.

Mabalingwe Buffalo pays visit to filling station  |     ©   Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Mabalingwe Buffalo pays visit to filling station  |   © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

New births at Mabalingwe Nature Reserve. The hope for the future.

New births at Mabalingwe Nature Reserve. The hope for the future.

Summer is about new life. Impala lambs, wildebeest calves and warthog piglets are to be found around every corner. the elephants have their share of infants. Birds are nesting, termites are emerging from their colonies, and life is bursting out of every seam. If I had to pick just one reason why I love summer in the bush, it is this. New births. The hope for the future.

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Why do Zebra's have stripes?

The zebra’s striped coat is simultaneously extraordinary and stunning. So wondrous, in fact, that many people have imagined it to be evidence of God’s infinitely artistic hand. Over the years, there have been many more rational explanations, but that all-important scientific consensus has remained elusive.

Mabalingwe Zebra  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Mabalingwe Zebra  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Charles Darwin certainly found the zebra’s stripes to be a conundrum. In The Descent of Man, he dismissed the idea they could act as camouflage, citingWilliam Burchell’s observations of a herd:

Their sleek ribs glistened in the sun, and the brightness and regularity of their striped coats presented a picture of extraordinary beauty, in which probably they are not surpassed by any other quadruped.

Although both males and female zebras are similarly striped, Darwin hedged that “he who attributes the white and dark vertical stripes on the flanks of various antelopes to sexual selection, will probably extend the same view to the … beautiful zebra.” In other words, the stripes help males and females make sensible choices about whom they mate with.

Mabalingwe Zebra  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Mabalingwe Zebra  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Alfred Russel Wallace begged to differ. “It is in the evening, or on moonlight nights, when they go to drink, that they are chiefly exposed to attack,” he wrote inDarwinism. “In twilight they are not at all conspicuous, the stripes of white and black so merging together into a grey tint it is difficult to see them at a little distance.” There are other possibilities too. Perhaps the stripes act as some kind of zoological barcode, allowing one individual to recognise another. It has been suggested they could somehow help with thermoregulation. It is believed that the zebra’s stripes work like camouflage, according to the National Geographic. When zebras stand together, it is harder for predators to determine how many zebras are in the group. The stripes may also make the zebra appear unattractive to smaller predators, such as bloodsucking horseflies, which can spread disease. In addition, the stripes may work as a natural sunscreen.

Each zebra’s stripes are unique. Just as no two human fingerprints are alike, no two zebras have the same stripe pattern.

Tim Caro of the University of California, Davis, has puzzled over contrasting colouration in mammals before. Now, in a new study published in Nature Communications this week, he and his colleagues have focused their attention on the zebra.

They take a completely original approach, stepping back from one species of zebra and attempting to account for the differences in patterning across different species and subspecies of zebras, horses and asses. Is there anything about the habitat or ecology of these different equids that hints at the function of stripes?

Mabalingwe Zebra fowl  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Mabalingwe Zebra fowl  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

“I was amazed by our results,” says Caro. “Again and again, there was greater striping on areas of the body in those parts of the world where there was more annoyance from biting flies.” Where there are tsetse flies, for instance, the equids tend to come in stripes. Where there aren’t, they don’t.

The idea that flies don’t like stripes dates back at least to 1930. Since then, there have been several studies that have provided experimental support, with flies preferring to alight on all-black or all-white surfaces rather than on stripes. The authors also stress the burden of blood sucking insects: both tsetse flies and horseflies are the vectors for significant and often-fatal diseases in horses; they are probably also capable of draining a significant amount of blood (several hundred millilitres in a day, apparently).

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Why the crocodile and lion avoid preying on the Waterbuck

Worldwide confusion exists over the waterbuck’s name.  It is frequently and incorrectly used to refer to the lechwe and the sitatunga, two species that are considered aquatic in their behaviour.  The waterbuck, however, is not aquatic but terrestrial and is usually found in close vicinity to water rich environments.  Waterbuck have a reputation for smelly and unpalatable meat.  This is due to a musky oil secreted by glands found primarily in the skin of the flanks which forms a waterproof layer around the hair and protects the skin when the waterbuck enters water.  Many incidents have been reported where crocodile and lion have avoided preying on waterbuck because of their unpleasant smell.

 Mabalingwe Waterbuck standing  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

 Mabalingwe Waterbuck standing  |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Adult bulls are 20-25% heavier than adult cows.  Old bulls tend to become smelly as a result of the secretions of the subcutaneous oil glands. With a light breeze, experienced hunters claim they can smell them up to 500 m away.

 Mabalingwe Waterbuck   |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

 Mabalingwe Waterbuck   |    © Photography by Marthinus Duckitt

Waterbuck are generally peaceful but can become highly aggressive when wounded, captured or under social stress when they do not hesitate to defend themselves.  When potential danger is detected they frequently retreat into water and submerge with only the nostrils above the surface.  Waterbuck are good swimmers and are capable of crossing flooded rivers.  They are known to swim to islands in lakes in order to graze.

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A Tower of Giraffe steal the show.


The summer rains have turned the Bushveld into many shades of green. Trees are sprouting new leaves and the dams are filling up fast.The view from Warthog Lodge over the lush Bushveld never fail to impress.The Woodlands Kingfishers have returned from their winter climes, their unmistakable melodic calls heralding their arrival. Other migratory species such as the Wahlberg's Eagle will wait until later in the year to return - and return they will as they chase the summer; kites and cuckoos, swallows and bee-eaters, starlings and fly-catchers, a myriad species to delight and perplex us.

 The afternoon game drive was spectacular, we came upon a tower of 15 to 20 giraffe in the road going about their business. We stopped and watched and got treated by a rare sight. Two males fighting for dominance. The two challengers in the conflict were an older bull and a young male.

In a giraffe fight, males stand side-by-side, pushing and shoving to judge which is strongest.

In evenly matched meetings, blows are sometimes exchanged - dealt by the giraffes' powerful, muscular necks.

The horn-like structures on the stop of the giraffes heads, called ossicones, can inflict injuries but, according to experts, fights rarely get this serious.

"Normally giraffes size each other up and after a bit of stand off and a few swings the fun is over," said Dr Julian Fennessy from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, based in the UK and Namibia.

"When the battles are serious then it often ends in the subservient male skulking away. However, it can end in the death of one of them," he added.

This exchange was not that severe the older bull clearly confident of his position within the herd.

As always, the sunrises and sunsets have been breathtaking in their simplicity and grandeur, and also in allowing all of us to put our lives and those of others, be they man or beast, into proper perspective.

Another sure indicator of summer is the morning and evening melody which plays around the waterholes, echoing across the bushveld. Unmistakable frog calls, chirping insects and birdsong all weave their tunes along the riverbanks, thickets and ponds. Every water source teems with these creatures all intent on feeding, nesting and breeding in an endless, ageless, ongoing cycle

Impala lamb running for dear life

The impalas have a lot of youngsters running around at the moment.  In fact most animals will time the births of their young to the rainy season, which makes the most sense really.  There is more than sufficient water, food and shelter at this time of the year, making their chances of survival that much greater than if they had to be born in the dry season when all those things are hard to come by.

During one evening Braai, we had an unexpected visit by a sounder of Bush pigs, that helped themselves to most of our fresh vegetables and fruit.

 We got treated by displays of amazing animal behaviour. In one instance, young Impala were running around like naughty teenagers. Trying to outdo one another with their speed and jumps. Their mothers decided enough now.  Making a sound between a lion's roar and a dog's bark they descended on the youngsters to sorted them out.

We came upon big herds of Zebra, Wildebeest and Buffalo. The Elephant and Rhino did not make an appearance.  Curcum Dam's resident crocodile was at his favourite place on "bird" island basking in the setting sun.  We did not spot the Hippos, but frequent sightings of Kudu made up for that.The Giraffe stole the show this weekend, we again came upon the two males still fighting and what a fascinating show it is. On our last night, we got treated to 2 giraffes getting it on and what a strange sight that is.

We were fortunate to observe a large group of banded mongoose as they forage for food. They forage in the morning for several hours and then rest in the shade. They will usually forage again in the late afternoon. Mongooses use their sense of smell to locate their prey and dig them out with their long claws, both in holes in the ground and holes in trees. Mongoose will also frequent near the dung of large herbivores since they attract beetles.Low grunts are produced every few seconds for communication. The group had with them this season's pups. Each pup is cared for by a single adult "escort" who helps the pup to find food and protects it from danger.

And so we say farewell to another spectacular week in the South African bushveld in the hope that there will be more amazing encounters to follow  in the weeks to come.  

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Mabalingwe boast over 250 bird species

The Limpopo Province, with its vast unexplored areas and diverse habitats, offers one of the most exciting birding destinations in Southern Africa.

Habitats range from vast tracts of montane grassland to afro-temperate forests, bushveld and wetlands. Over 600 bird species have been recorded in the province, of which 420 are resident.

Birdlife abounds in Limpopo and provides even the most discerning birder with boundless pleasure. The birds most frequently admired remain the raptors, some of which are the following: African Fish Eagle, Bateleur, Martial Eagle, Black Eagle, Crowned Eagle and the Giant Eagle Owl.

The De Wildt Shingwedzi Cheetah Ranch a must for Mabalingwe visitors

The De Wildt Shingwedzi Cheetah Ranch was established in 1998. Situated in the foothills of the majestic Waterberg Mountains, deep in the heart of the bushveld, the cheetah and wild dogs flourish in this unspoiled environment.

During a two hour tour, visitors have the opportunity to see and learn more about cheetah,
wild dogs, caracal, serval, African Wild Cat and vultures. Watch cheetahs running at high speed chasing a lure or engage in the rare opportunity to meet a cheetah up close and hear it purr.....

Nature lovers will enjoy the spectacular birdlife and abundant game, including hippo, kudu, impala, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, eland, waterbuck and other species such as ostrich and crocodile. A vulture restaurant for free flying vultures is also in operation and up to 140 vultures have been seen feasting on a carcass.

Malaria free and unspoiled by sophisticated development, the ranch is set in the heart of the magical Waterberg bushveld, a mere 160km from Pretoria.

A visit to the sanctuary promises to be an unforgettable experience.