An hour and a half at MalaMala

Text and photographs: Douglas Croft

An hour and a half at MalaMala – where, in the span of less than two hours and 300 meters, can you be charged by a frustrated elephant, follow a cheetah, see mating lions, sparring rhinos, elephants relaxing, a beautiful sunset and a startled giraffe?  I can think of only one place, MalaMala.

We visited in July with Stu Porter (Wild4 Photo Safaris). Many thanks to our Ranger, Jonno Short, who really got us into the thick of things throughout our time there.  On one drive in particular, there was so much going on during a short period and in such a compact area, that we found ourselves wishing is for the Land Rover to have swivel chairs so we wouldn’t miss anything.

July 25th, Afternoon Game Drive

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3:45pm:   We drove into the riverbed just as a large herd of elephants were climbing up the far bank.

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There were a couple of young bulls still in the river play fighting and one was clearly being bested.

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He turned his frustration to us and came crashing through the river, ears flared, trumpeting and thrashing his trunk through the water.

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He hit the sand on our side and kept coming toward us. It was a bit unnerving, but Jonno called his bluff and he stopped short.  Crisis Averted.

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4:07pm:  With our hearts still racing a little, we drove about a 100 meters down the river and ran into this gorgeous young female cheetah.  We’d followed her earlier in the day and now here she was at the river.

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She was keeping an eye on some impala at water’s edge, but I’m sure she knew that sand and water would not work to her advantage in a chase.

4:35pm:  Jonno heard reports of lions mating a couple of hundred meters more down the river, so off we went.

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We found an Eyrefield lioness that had just been mating with one of the Matshipiri males.

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To our surprise, just higher on the bank, two big male white rhinos were sparring for territorial dominance.  While these contests can be quite intense, this one seemed a bit more of a waltz than a fight.  We parked the Rover so we could watch the lions and the rhinos.

4:46pm  The sun was getting low in the sky and elephants began to arrive on the other side of the river to take a good dust bath.

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Or to just plain relax.

5:07pm:  MalaMala’s sunset.

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The sun was setting when this big guy decided to silhouette himself nicely in the road.

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Then, as if on que, a big bull giraffe strode into the frame and paused (I can’t make this stuff up).

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Once the sun had completely set, the elephants began to gather up on the bank.

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5:15pm:  Our giraffe made his way confidently across the riverbed as a group of ever alert elephants watched, ears flared against this threat.

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What the giraffe didn’t realize was that there were two mating lions directly in front of him.  Once he caught a whiff of them, he froze. Then bolted.

We stayed and watched things unfold for a while more and marveled at a place that could provide so much in so short a time and mostly in one spot on the river.  Our memory cards full and shutter fingers sore, we headed back to Main Camp for dinner. Thus ending a most amazing afternoon drive.

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