Written by: Richard de Gouveia
There is something magical about Sabi Sabi in winter. The bush fades from lush greens to dead brown, the rains disappear and the parched earth cries for a drink. Leaves fall from the trees, the grass dies and it seems as though all life starts their wait for better days. But, when you explore the dried wilderness you realise that the bush is still teaming with life.
In fact, the scarcity of water means that all the wildlife starts to move closer to permanent water sources in the hope of surviving the dry period. As the animals get forced into smaller areas, their interactions with each other increase, and it is only a matter of time before we get to witness the madness that the bush has to offer. However, it is important also to realise that these interactions in the bush have many faces – some good, some bad and some ugly – but without all these, nature would not exist.
For example we had one of the lionesses from our resident pride – the southern pride – give birth to litter of three cubs. The day we found the little ones playing on the rocky outcrop, which served as their den site, our hearts were filled with joy. The super pride had now grown to 18 individuals! But unfortunately, this happiness would not last for long.
The pride decided to cross the Sabie River, but the cubs were a little hesitant. Two of the cubs eventually made a swim for it but the other sat calling for its mother who eventually crossed back and collected the little, one gently holding it in her jaws, before starting back across the river. Suddenly a crocodile launched from the water and plucked the little one from its mother’s jaws, and dragged it under and away.
It’s sad but that is nature and the pressure of getting enough food to feed 18 hungry lions drove the pride to go into areas that they would not normally have gone. On top of the pressure for food the pride has been under immense pressure from 15 different males that are all trying to overthrow the current pride male, the Kruger male.
The lions weren’t the only cats having babies this winter. We have a female leopard, whom we call Warthog Wallow, who had a litter of two cubs. I only got to see the two cubs on one occasion before one of them was lost to an unknown assailant. The other became a regular feature on our safaris though, as we found the cub and Warthog Wallow on a number of kills over the winter period.
Elephants and buffalo flowed through the reserve looking to get to the Sabie River for lush feeding and some fresh water. A number of wild dog packs also moved through as they looked for areas to den, giving us infrequent sighting as they looked for food.
Cheetah were regularly seen as a male moved in and marked his territory, pushing the boundaries of his territory further south. Following him was a female with two adolescents. On more than one occasion she had run-ins with leopards and lions who all managed to chase her and her youngsters off of their kills.
There is another part of winter that most overlook and that is the night sky. Due to the lack of rain the skies are generally open and the stars feel so close, and as if they may fall out of the sky at any moment. The milky way stretches overhead and it leaves a lot of our city dwelling guests breathless as they take the time out to view the beauty of the starry sky.
Winter is a magical time. A time when the mornings and evenings are cold, but the days are a beautiful 25 degrees and full of life. A time when the waterholes are a major attraction for game and guests alike.
But as summer approaches and storms begin to build and the sky is often lit up with magical fireworks in the form of lightning, soon the first summer rains will quench the thirst of the parched soils and within a few weeks the bush will change once again. Back to its amazing hues of green as all the grass and trees spring back to life.