Topping the scoreboard – A game drive report from guest Astrid Bluemel

Wild dog at MalaMala

Towards the end of last month the guests at MalaMala Game Reserve recorded the highest wildlife sightings score for the year. One of those guests, Astrid Bluemel, has been kind enough to share her experience of that day and some beautiful images.

Thanks Astrid!

The 26th of September 2014

There is a scoreboard in the bar at MalaMala; each animal gets certain points, ranging from impala earning a single point, to a kill scoring 200. Every night Michael adds them all together. Today we got the top score for 2014: 2447.  This is the story of that day .

We get up at 5:00 to have a coffee in the bush at sunrise. It’s cloudy, but the coffee is good anyway. We spot buffalo nearby, go see them, then we plan to move on to the lions. After crossing the causeway,  Joe suddenly turns left instead of right and “steps on it”. This must be something good, when these guys are suddenly in a hurry there is usually something spectacular coming! Cape hunting dogs! There are 12 pups in the riverbed, the parents are out hunting. It is such a pleasure to watch these young ones play about. They run, jump, explore, start a tug of war on a bundle of grass, and all this just a few metres from our landrover.

Wild dog pups at MalaMala

Wild dog pups play while mum is out hunting.

Suddenly they all run off. We thought the other landrover driving past may have scared them, but no, mum’s back with food. They are all on the move now. We follow off-road, in the usual MalaMala way, those of you who’ve been there will know what I’m speaking of. Those of you which haven’t yet been here, well…I don’t want to spoil the surprise, come see! We stop quickly to photograph a group of giraffe standing absolutely still in the most perfect morning light before we’re off again following the Cape hunting dog pack again – we don’t want to lose track of them.

Giraffe at MalaMala

Giraffe in the early morning light

And that was just the beginning, it’s still only 6:30. We get a message the leopard with cubs is back at the den site. She had not been seen there the past week so we are very lucky. Unfortunately the cubs are on a rock under the overhanging branch of a big tree. Whoever first spotted them there must have spectacular eyesight! It’s hard to get a photo but we return the next day when mum and the cubs are “on the move” and get to see them a lot better. They are running about, exploring new territory, climbing on trees, going up a termite mound and sliding off, we could have stayed to watch for hours but others are waiting to see them too, so we move on.

Leopard cub at MalaMala

One of the delightful leopard cubs of the Ostrich Koppies female

Lucky again, the cheetahs are still on the Kruger Park side of the boundary, but just as we get there they start to move onto MalaMala and head for the waterhole. We get some great photos of them moving through the high grass, scent marking a big tree trunk and drinking. I don’t know if Joe is so good or we are so lucky, probably a bit of both, but this was a phenomenal morning.

Cheetah at MalaMala

Cheetah in the high grass

I decide to skip the bush walk. Big mistake!!! The walk was alright but on the way back to camp my jeep-mates had two more spectacular sighting. When crossing the river a pride of five lions came to  drink from a puddle a few metres in front of the landrover, only to be chased off by a herd of elephants coming to drink and cross the river just beside us. Damn, damn, damn. I was writing and downloading photos in camp instead of being out there and taking photos, proves again you should never miss out on a game drive!

Lions at MalaMala

Lions stop to take a drink from the river in the morning heat

Elephants at MalaMala

Elephants coming down to drink on the Sand River

In the afternoon we decide to head south, to go and see the hyena den. Now I know that one from my previous two visits and I’ve never seen anything but bare rocks there. But as this is our very lucky day this time it’s different! There is one adult, three mid-sized ones and two tiny black hyenas down under the ledge. We sit and wait and after a while the three young inquisitive ones come right up to our car. Whereas grown hyenas are ugly, these young ones are absolutely adorable. I am seriously considering adopting one! They move away to the rocks on the other side of the gulley, we watch as they play and sort of baby sit the tiny black ones, pushing them in the right direction when they wander of too far. Again we sit and watch for as long as possible, only when the last light fades away we leave.

Hyena cubs at MalaMala

Hyena young are referred to as cubs and not pups as they are more closely related to cats than dogs.

Instead of sundowners, we have “moon-uppers”, sitting in the jeep on the riverside. I’ve been here before, but this day was just the best day ever, and not just for us, all other guests had great sightings too. I’ll just have to come back again, because you know what, for me there are no bad days at MalaMala, it’s my favourite place in the world.

Hyena at MalaMala

A hyena cub rests in the afternoon light

3 thoughts on “Topping the scoreboard – A game drive report from guest Astrid Bluemel

  1. What a wonderful day. We were at Mala Mala 4 years ago and it still holds very special memories.

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