a week in the bush: vol 3

The heavy rains have lifted and the bush, with its thirst quenched, is returning to business as usual. There has been a lot of action on the reserve this week with guests being treated to some really amazing sightings, but not without just a hint of sadness to darken the mood. There is a saying around these parts, “The elements of nature consist of the good, the bad, and the ugly” – Richard de Gouveia. This is something that we as human beings sometimes struggle to come to terms with as we try to rationalize nature and let our emotions get the better of us. We as guides probably understand the struggle for survival in nature better than most, accepting that life and death out here go hand in hand. We are however also human and it cannot be said that we are indifferent to the fact.

sunset at sabi sabi

Image by Mike Palmer

The start to the week saw a lot of activity from both the Southern Pride and the Sand River males yet again. The Sand River males, after a lot of vocalization and clearly sending a message of their intentions, meandered through the reserve finally moving further south of our boundaries towards the area where the Sabie and Sand Rivers meet. Almost simultaneously the Southern Pride moved north with the Kruger male having rejoined the group. He remains silent.

male lions at sabi sabi luxury safari lodges

Image by Richard de Gouveia

kruger male lion at Sabi Sabi while on safari

Image by Mike Palmer

In the meantime we managed to catch up with one of the lionesses and the six remaining cubs. She managed to capture a large Leopard Tortoise for the little ones to feed on while she herself simply guarded their progress. They were still looking very thin and clearly the lionesses have been having a hard time to provide enough food for themselves, let alone the cubs. Nevertheless we enjoyed a fantastic moment with them as they attempted to penetrate the tortoise’s tough exterior and jostled for position to feed. As we sat there watching, I couldn’t help but wonder if these little guys are going to be strong enough to survive the harsh realities of the African Bush. Lion dynamics can be tricky and are not always as the textbooks would make them out to be. There are far too many variables in play for things to be that simple, and with the territory not having a definitive male figure as the dominant force actively patrolling and fending off intruders, the pride will lack the stability it needs. For these lions and this pride, tougher times are still to come.

lion cubs at sabi sabi private game reserve

lion cub while on safari at Sabi Sabi

lion cubs at sabi sabi private game reserve

Images by Mike Palmer

Amazingly, amidst all the chaos surrounding the lions, we had a sneak visit from one of the area’s male cheetahs. Now at first this wasn’t 100% apparent, as we’d had no visual of him to speak of. I did however have some suspicions to the fact as I had seen scores of vultures on the plains, which led me to the discovery of a half-eaten impala kill. Immediately cheetah sprung to mind. They are quite timid in terms of predators and are probably the only predators known to be chased off of their kills by vultures. The following morning he revealed himself to us, having again made a kill and again been chased off, this time by hyenas. Cheetahs are actually very efficient hunters, but they are very seldom able to finish a meal, especially not in these environs.


Image by Mike Palmer

vultures on a kill at Sabi Sabi

Image by Mike Palmer

cheetah on a kill while on safari at Sabi Sabi

Image by Franscois Rosslee

Due to the good fortune with the weather, we have been having very regular sightings of our resident leopards. All seem to be quite intent on re-establishing their territorial boundaries due to the fact that almost all scent left behind prior to the rains would have been completely washed away. We caught up with Sandriver early on in the week and he put on quite a show for our guests, both those departing and those arriving, as he laid claim to our Sabi Sabi airstrip. He still is such a magnificent leopard and at 14 years old, he is in great condition. We’ve had many signs of the Mahlathini male in the sand, seemingly in an attempt to push back into the territory, with us only having brief glimpses of this most secretive individual. On the other hand, the Maxabeni male is as active as ever and we have spent quite a bit of time with him this last week as he asserts his dominance over the region. It is always a privilege to watch this cat as he goes about his business. He seems to have boundless energy moving constantly throughout his range, which in terms is massive, especially considering the densities of leopards in the area. I’m sure he is going to be around for years to come.

leopard at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve while on safari

leopard at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve while on safari

leopard at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve while on safari

Not to be outdone, the female leopards of the area have also been quite active lately, with the Nottins female patrolling the northeast of the reserve, scent marking as she does so. We have had some really amazing sightings with her in the last week, including her obsessively stalking a couple of cane rats. Warthog Wallow has also come in after a weeklong absence, either due to the weather or to the conflict between Mahlathini (father to her cub) and Maxabeni. She was looking rather on the skinny side when we first saw her, but she did manage to capture an impala a couple of nights ago to our relief. As to whether or not the youngster has had a chance to feed we don’t know. The hyenas around this area have a knack for stealing kills very quickly making matters particularly difficult.

leopard at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve while on safari

female leopard at Sabi Sabi while on safari

Even though there has been so much happening on the reserve, the cats of Sabi Sabi have most definitely been stealing the show as far as this week’s update is concerned. The cats are always fascinating, not only to watch but also in attempting to wrap ones head around the interactions and varying dynamics between them. In conclusion, our guests have been treated to some incredible safaris this week and I’m sure that as the winter months draw nearer, the action is going to increase tenfold.

Watch this space.



  1. wendy hawkins says

    This is lovely Mike, thank you. I feel for the Cheetah as he is always losing his meal, but this happens to any wild animal in the bush, even the Leopard has his meal stolen by his own kind sometimes, they just too lazy to catch their own, when there is “take out” on the menu :) Keep up with these interesting blogs, a great improvement for Sabi Sabi. Enjoy the rest of the week.

  2. mike says

    Thanks a lot Wendy..

    @Kevin. We don’t have any definitive news on Solo and the Eyerefield male yet. We suspect that Eyrefield has been killed by their last encounter with the Selati males. We have had no word whatsoever. As for Solo, he may be alive still and may be the “unidentified” male spotted east of our boundaries. We still have to confirm this though..

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