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Rattray's Mala Mala - Day Fourteen

Kudu, Mala Mala, South Africa. March 2013. Original size 2765 x 4186 px. (Gerald FitzGerald)Up at 5:30 for our 6:00 start, in a way that is now becoming frighteningly routine; may never be able to sleep in ’til 6:30 again. Sun still below horizon and very cloudy, still too early to tell if clouds would burn off and heat up or repeat yesterday morning’s performance. Just in case, took my rain jacket out and had it on standby. Early morning giraffes, grooming the tops of trees and large herds of impala, grazing. Yuri had reports of a cheetah on a far section of the property so charged off to look. En route, passed the private airstrip that services the camp and found an old DC3 that had arrived the previous night that was being run by National Geographic on a photo shoot; the planes wheels were covered and surrounded by thorn branches to prevent hyenas chewing the tires. Pleasing to see a classic, old plane still chugging its serviceable way over southern africa. Long, fruitless search for cheetah in the course of which the skies opened and it continued to rain for the rest of our morning drive. In spite of my bravado of yesterday, rain ponchos may not be entirely effective and you may be wet before you even get it on, but in a steady, continuous drizzle and blustery wind, it still beats the alternative. Chugged along for a couple more hours, glasses fogged over, eyes, clothes, poncho and spirit sodden and water-logged, without seeing anything except for animal versions of ourselves, heads lowered and bedraggled.

Elephant family, Mala Mala, South Africa. February 2013. Original size 5184 x 3456 px. (Gerald FitzGerald)Rain ceased about 1/2 hour before we were due to head in for breakfast. Yuri played his last card and tried a patch of country where he thought that we might have a chance of lion. Once again, driving across country, stopping for binocular searches, looking at marks in the wet earth and, in what has now begun to become a predictable pattern, we were told to look just to the right of the LR and a couple of metres in front. Searching and waiting for eyes to focus and emerging into recognition were a pair of lionesses huddled down in the tall grass to take shelter from the rain, and fast asleep. They were the female pride that we had seen our first night who had traveled a couple of kilometres across country and were resting in the heat and wet of the morning. Cubs must have been hidden in a nearby rock outcrop for safety and the lionesses, barely registering our presence, were then free to enjoy a deep, untroubled sleep. Will try and return this afternoon and see if they are more active.

During lunch Yuri reported that the morning’s rain had raised the water level in the river and that no-one was going to be allowed to cross the ford. Our plan had been to drive down into the south eastern quarter of the reserve, about an hour and a quarter’s drive away and look for cheetah and end the day at a hyena’s den. Looked like we would have to regroup and re-plan.

Just before evening drive, the head guide gave everyone permission to cross the river but kept a ranger posted riverside to monitor water level and ready to radio call everyone back if the rain began again. However,the weather was much more pleasant than the morning, broken cloud with huge thunder heads on the horizon, but relatively sunny. Nonetheless some serious weather somewhere inn the vicinity. Long bumpy drive to the area that we were going to work and much tracking and bumping for long distances over rolling, grassy veldt country but no luck. Towards sunset stopped for sundowners for the first time; extremely pleasant and may make a habit of it!

Hyena pup being charming, Mala Mala, South Africa. February 2013. Original size 3456 x 5184 px. (Gerald FitzGerald)Bumped cross country to the top of a treed, rocky outcrop on the top of which there was a mother hyena and two 3 or 4 month old youngsters. Surprisingly cute and gregarious. Mother felt comfortable with us so lay down and dozed while kids rambled around the LR, sniffed shoes and rolled in the dirt around the vehicle. Fabulous and just like kids everywhere, playful and charming. Yuri says that no-one comes to the den because it’s such a distance and there were certainly no other vehicle tracks around the area. Stayed with them for about 3/4 of an hour while they romped around our truck and when it was too dark to see them any longer, rambled home.Hyena pup in its den, Mala Mala, South Africa. February 2013. Original size 5184 x 3456 px. (Gerald FitzGerald)

Yuri came across a male lion walking up the road on the way home and we circled around to get some shots of him walking toward us but he was moving very quickly, it was black dark and Yuri was trying to light him with a spot light so shots will be iffy at best.

Sadly, last evening here so early to bed as we asked Yuri to take us out 1/2 hour earlier to see if we could get a lion. So off to bed.

Rattray's to White River - Day Fifteen

Rattray’s Mala Mala - Day Thirteen