Londolozi’s: The Month of March by RICH LABURN

As March comes to an end, so do the blisteringly hot days of summer atLondolozi. The season has definitely eased into the early annals of Autumn and the once overgrown grass of the January floods have steadily been grazed down by the herbivore species. March has provided fantastic game viewing, interesting lion dynamics and constant change as always. With Easter around the corner and the excitement of the Winter Calendar almost upon, its time to reflect on the month that was before we look forward into the future. Enjoy this month in pictures..

Full Moon at Taylors Crossing - Rich Laburn

Once a month, the full moon rises just as the sunsets on the opposite horizon. This time we caught it at Taylors Crossing, easing its ways into the night sky whilst the Sand River flows beneath.

Master Tracker Freddy Ngobeni - Rich Laburn

Going out on a game drive with Master Tracker Freddy Ngobeni on the front left trackers seat is always an inspiring adventure. Along with Talley, the two of them seem to track and find animals out of thin air, spot tiny birds nests in the dense scrub and generally impart with you with an enlightened understanding of this vast wilderness.

Dark Maned Majingilane Male - Rich Laburn

The Majingilane Males spent alot of time with the Sparta Pride this month. Very exciting to see this previously diminished pride go from strength to strength. With all the mating taking place, we hope to see numerous cubs born into what is now a very stable territory in central Londolozi for these males.

A fresh new scar - Rich Laburn

A fresh new scar for this warrior. We speculated for day what could have cause this and still have no answers. Whether it was a branch that caught him whilst running or a bite from a female, the pinpoint scar on his forehead will serve as yet another key identifying feature of the Hip Scar Majingilane Male.

The Marthly Male - Rich Laburn

The Marthly Male continues to hold a massive territory through much of Marthly and just south of the Sand River. His torn ear indicative of his aggressive and domineering personality, this male leopard is never far from the action, particularly when there are females around.

Mashaba Female in the Long Grass - Rich Laburn

The recently renamed Mashaba Female idles in the long grass as she patiently watches a nearby herd of impala. As she continues to be successful in her newly established territory, the next phase of her life will see new challenges and threats as she steadily matures into motherhood.

Sparta Lioness watching cubs - Rich Laburn

A lioness from the Sparta pride watches her growing cubs. With the Southern Pride taking over territory in the western sector and the two remaining Mapogos on the run, she will be grateful that her cubs hold the genes and protection of the dominant Majingilane Coalition.

A view of the Sand River - Rich Laburn

Marthly has been very wet and inaccessible since the floods of January 2012. Access to Marthly River road was finally opened this month and with it returned this spectacular viewing point of the Sand River.

Saddle Billed Stork looking for frogs - Rich Laburn

The endangered Saddle Billed Stork is a frequent visitor to Londolozi. A mating pair is often seen around the pans looking for frogs and small fish. In 2009 it was estimated that there are approximately 60 of these birds left in the Kruger National Park, a fact which makes us appreciate how lucky we are to continually experience and appreciate this magnificent bird.

Saddle Billed Stork taking off - Rich Laburn

The female Saddle Billed Stork taking off after feeding along with the above male.

Sparta Pride Cub - Rich Laburn

One of the Sparta pride cub stares at the approaching Majingilane male with a mischievous glint in his eye. The relationship between these cubs and the Majingilane is reassuring and entertaining to watch. Unlink the tension between the males and the Tsalala pride, these cubs are playful with the males, who will humor them up to a point.

Sparta Lioness close up - Rich Laburn

One of the Sparta lionesses offers a close up photograph of her face. The big scratch between her eyes will be used as a key identifying feature whenever she is spotted.

The Vomba Female - Rich Laburn

The Vomba Female in all her beauty. If you look closely you will see that her right eye has a distinctive line in the iris. I am not sure how she received this feature or if it was an accident of sorts. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below if you do know or have any theories about this.

Male Lion at Sunset - Rich Laburn

The Scar Nosed Majingilane male watches the horizon at Sunset. A short distance away, the Dark maned male mates with the Sparta Lioness whilst the Hip Scarred Male listends to his vocalisations, obviously perturbed by the entrenched hierarchy. Perhaps this is what dominance and power actually is – glorious, striking and bold on the outside; yet jealous, maligned and insecure on the interior.

Storm Brewing - Rich Laburn

A final send off. The powerful thunderstorms of an African bushveld summer are incredible forces of nature to witness and offer amazing opportunities for photography. This particular electric storm has all but surrounded us before we packed up our gear and raced home, just in time to avoid being completely drenched.

A ray of sunlight - Rich Laburn

After the darkness…light. A golden ray of sunlight bursts through the clouds at sunset. Perhaps its another reminder, another metaphor that with the bad, comes the good, with the nights so to days and the with seasons the years. The natural world is fixed into a constant cycle of change that can be cruel in its chaos yet beautiful in its rebirth. The change of this season signalled the change of an era and the ever shifting trends and counter trends that make this wild world so dynamic. As the balmy winter approaches, one can only wonder what the future will hold for all of us as we continue to live in our own changing and chaotic worlds…

Photographed by: Rich Laburn

Londolozi’s “The Week in Pictures” by Talley Smith

The Week in Pictures


Post image for The Week in Pictures # 32Last week we focused on the ‘little’ things, and this week the big cats are back! As I’ve mentioned before, Freddy’s and my favourite thing to do is find an animal or a group and follow them, watching their behaviour as they go about their daily lives in the bush. This is particularly interesting with the big cats, as they are territorial which means we generally see the same individuals and can tell the stories of their lives over time. This week we had some great moments spent with the Sparta Pride, as well as other familiar faces and an interesting antelope sighting. Enjoy this Week in Pictures…

The week started with a dark, cloudy morning which found three of the Sparta lionesses having been sucessful in the previous evening’s hunt on the airstrip. Remember the implausibility of over 100 wildebeest mentioned last week? Unfortunately for them, the lions have discovered them and between the Sparta Pride and the Majingalanes, there are a few less now…
A very full (and pregnant) lioness walks down the airstrip, panting heavily from her recent feast. The three lionesses managed to consume most of the adult female wildebeest overnight, leaving the scraps for the hyenas.
Knowing that the lions were no longer in ‘hunting mode’, the wildebeest and impala watch them walk closer and closer, shouting alarms. Eventually the antelope would run off, but the theory behind this behaviour which sometimes includes actually running towards a predator is that a predator you can see is better than one that you can’t… so it’s best to keep a close eye on them! Also, sometimes the annoyance of being pursued and alarmed at is enough to push a potential predator out of the area.
Two of the females pause at the top of the airstrip, a high vantage point to check the plains below.
Some impala look at the approaching lions. Our most abundant antelope, impala can be easily overlooked but are graceful and beautiful creatures on their own!
Another lioness takes a break, also extremely full. They were heading towards water, as predators need water after feeding to aid digestion. However, they were too tired to make it all the way there in one go: they stopped and had a nap along the way, on the airstrip!
Meanwhile nearby the hyenas were polishing off the wildebeest carcass. After the lionesses had had their full, it didn’t seem worth it to fight off the hyenas for the scraps, who slowly increased in numbers and confidence as the morning progressed. The lionesses left and the hyenas descended.
One lucky hyena carries the wildebeest head quickly away from the others. Another interesting sighting we had this week involving wildebeest and hyenas (unfortunately not photographable) was of four hyenas being chased by four wildebeest cows! They were clearly not happy with the predators lurking nearby, with their calves around.
Later on that morning a group of waterbuck display their ‘trademark’: the white ring around the tail.
At the end of that very cloudy day, we came across the Maxabene 3:2 Young Male perched atop a termite mound. He was very full after having eaten an impala over the past 2 days which was hoisted in a marula tree nearby, and apparently enjoying the view.
The following days brought some fairly intense heat and sunshine. It was wonderful to see this Carmine bee-eater in light which showed off his brilliant colours.
Three of the Majingalane Males sleep piled together, in what was the only small patch of shade during a hot day before the afternoon clouds rolled in. They used the cloud cover and stormy conditions that evening to their advantage, killing an impala nearby. The gruesome scene was quite a contrast to this endearing moment!
The sunset variations continue with the unpredictable summer weather, but are always uniquely stunning.
The Londolozi Welcoming Committee! Or perhaps security… quite fitting for the meaning of ‘Londolozi’: Protector of all living things.
A very small waterbuck calf hides behind its mother. It is quite rare to see them so young, as they are kept very well hidden for the first few weeks of their lives.
Two nyala bulls display for one another, possibly gearing up to fight. A unique behaviour to the nyala, the display where the hair stands on end and they slowly ‘prance’ around one another is beautiful to watch, and supposedly decreases the chance they will actually come to blows as they are essentially sizing one another up.
However, on this day apparently the two bulls decided they were an equal match and attacked each other, pushing violently with horns locked.
After the tussle, they continued their display, still sizing one another up. Eventually the one on the right moved away slowly, showing submission.
The Mashaba Female drinks after feeding on her bushbuck kill and dragging it to the base of a nearby tree. The light was getting very low, as evidenced by her large pupils, and we left her shortly afterwards to hopefully hoist the remainder of the kill into the tree. With leopards on kills, the vehicles and particularly the spotlights can unfortunately attract hyenas as they hunt and scavenge at night, so we do not view them unless the kill is hoisted safely into the tree. Indeed the following morning, we found she had successfully taken the kill up the tree.
A misty sunrise was to be the start of a fantastic morning spent with the Sparta Pride.
When we found the Sparta lioness with her two cubs, they were in a dense thicket polishing off scraps from a wildebeest kill she had made a few days before. We thought that might be the height of our sighting, but it was our lucky day as soon after they got up and started walking towards water. We immediately noticed the porcupine quill in the lioness’ left shoulder – ouch!
They all huddled around a nearby puddle, drinking. This lioness has spent a lot of time with her sister whilst raising the cubs, however, the other lioness has not been present of late and we think she is busy having cubs of her own somewhere safely tucked away!
The cubs seem to be getting bigger by the day, growing into their ears! After drinking, the cubs followed their mother on a long walk towards the area where we think her sister is hiding her cubs.
Seemingly in a playful mood, the cubs kept climbing on any easy point of elevation they came across, like this fallen marula.
Perhaps a little ambitious for a first hunt, one of the cubs ‘stalks’ a territorial male wildebeest. The wildebeest was hardly threatened and stood his ground, but when the cub’s mother walked towards him, he decided it was time to run.
They seemed to have a quick drink at just about every water source they came across on the hot morning… much to our photographic excitement!
The lioness looks back after drinking, her watchful and protective eyes always scanning for potential danger to the cubs.

Just before disappearing into the donga where we believe the lioness with the newborn cubs to be, one of the youngsters plays on a fallen log. Hopefully we will be meeting her cousins soon!


To Be a Game Ranger – By Mike Karantonis

2011 started off with my odometer ticking over at a rapid rate which was a great sign of the year to come.
The day after Christmas I set off to Sabi Sabi to host a private guided family safari which turned out to be amazing fun with a wonderful family. At the back of my mind on the last morning, I was thinking on how I am going to catch my flight to Kenya at 14h00 on the same day and here I am tracking lions at 07h30 in the morning!? We responded to a young male leopard that was conveniently close to the lodge and so we followed him for approximately an hour before he crossed over a road heading onto an adjacent property where we are not able to traverse therefore leaving him to be. A short hundred meters down the road and to the left was the lodge. What a great way to end the trip…and I was on schedule thanks to nature dishing me up the perfectly positioned sighting.
I sat with my guests for a brief breakfast before bidding them a safe journey home. I ran to my room, threw all my kit into a bag, not forgetting to take off my knife and rounds that would have me answering a few questions at the airport, and raced to the airstrip. We were about to taxi and everything was looking good so far, because had to be by the minute or I would miss my flight to Kenya, and a helicopter landed in front of the plane! I couldn’t believe it!? He was waiting there to collect someone and it stayed there for 10 min! Now I was buggered for time! As we were waiting, I asked the pilot if he could radio ahead to have them organise a vehicle to be waiting for me as I landed (this is out of sheer desperation and not arrogance!) After we landed in Johannesburg, we got to the terminal building at 12h30 and the check-in counters for my flight closed at 12h30. I now thought it was all over. We raced around to the international departures and got there in 20 minutes. Sprinting across the airport like a spidermonkey, skidding to a hold at the counter and opening my plee to the attendant with: “Okay, so how much is it going to cost me for you to put me on this flight?” She smiled, and said: “Nothing, just give me your bag and run!” And so I did. I managed to get to the gates as they were boarding. I got on to the plane and found my seat, I breathed out a huge sigh of relief and needed a vodka badly!

When I arrived in Kenya and got transferred to my hotel in the evening, I thought to myself how amazing it is that I could be sitting with a male leopard in the Sabi Sands in the morning and in Kenya by evening with me flying out to the Maasi Mara the following morning. This is as good as it gets!
I joined a very dear family for dinner that I was going to host for their time in Kenya and it was wonderful to catch up and get each other excited about the journey to follow.
The 5 days in the Maasai Mara turned out to be of the best game viewing I have had in fifteen years of guiding, it was amazing!!! Around every corner we came across something special and we never had time to choose what we wanted to do as everything made our minds up for us.
After this surreal experience I had to leave them in the middle of the last day to catch my flight back as I had another booking at Sabi Sabi the following day! We went on game drive with my bags, had an amazing morning and stopped outside the idling plane to say another very sad goodbye. I was in Johannesburg in the evening and had a 06h00 flight the following morning back to the lowveld. Up at 04h00 to check in at 05h00 and fly at 06h00. I had to be in Nelspruit by 08h00 to make my guests pick up at 11h00. As we approached Nelspruit, the landing gear was out, the flaps down  and as I looked at my watch and saw that I was running perfectly to schedule; I heard the engines open up full throttle, quickly jerked my attention away from my watch to the window and I could just make out the main airport through the thick mist. We were going back up! The pilot announced over the PA that the mist was too thick and that they could not see the runway and that they were going to make a few passes and attempts and if they couldn’t do anything safely, they would have to return to Johannesburg! Oh my hat! I don’t know how much more of this time keeping I could possibly do!?
After the third flyby we made it and landed safely, everyone cheering and happy! However I was nearly an hour behind schedule now. Great!
I raced out of the airport and got back onto the road with my guests waiting in mind. Needless to say, I was lucky and managed to collect my two guests that were with me for 5 nights at Sabi Sabi for a specialist photographic safari.  This turned out to be another amazing time with Lions, leopards, elephants and close proximity excitement for all of us, needless to say that new friends were made and another safari already booked!
I headed home after the photographic for a single night for me to renew my wedding vows with my wife (this is a joke!) wash my dirty laundry and head off the next morning for 6 days in one of the most ecologically diverse wildlife areas in the country…Phinda.  We walked, birded, slept out, did leopard research and enjoyed every moment we witnessed the endangered Sand forest.

As I started the drive home to White River in Mpumalang (+- 580km) I thought to myself: “Oh; to be a game ranger!” What a great privilege it is to be an ambassador to our country and a custodian to our wildlife.