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Safari at Madikwe, South Africa, March 2014

HLT and Alex were visting, so we went on safari to Madikwe. Madikwe is a large game park on the South Africa-Botswana border. Elephants, wild dogs, and spiders!

Madikwe has a somewhat storied recent history, first as a 'tribal homeland' during apartheid (i.e., forced evacuation from the cities into the bush), and then as a cattle ranch. Then in the 1980's the Zambezi river was dammed, and thousands of animals were 'rescued' from the flooding and taken to Madikwe in a manuever called Operation Phoenix. Since then it's been a game refuge, home to about 30 lodges and covering 750 square km (one of SA's 5 largest). It's about a 3-6 hour drive from Pretoria, depending on how many stuck truck and wrong turns you encounter.

It had been raining pretty solidly for much of the past month, so we were pessimistic about being able to see much (and had backed away from going to Sabi in part due to the bad weather). But things turned out well and we had no rain at all. The animals here are very good, in particular the wild dogs, which we had a great encounter with.

For more history of the park, see my photos from Madikwe Trip #1, taken about 18 months ago. And for some great photos from this trip, also see Alex's gallery on Flickr.


Slideshow (big images)

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Our first find: a little bit of death. We'd seen a whole army of vultures sitting in trees as we drove up to the lodge. Once we headed out we found out why: three vulture protecting a giraffe carcass!
Our guide Michael says that the giraffe died of old age about a week earlier.
A brown hyena make off with a giraffe rib. The normal hyenas are the spotted ones... rare to see the brown ones.
Go wildebeest!
Check out that kudu-spanning spiderweb!
Speaking of spider webs, check out this one. Alex examines the Golden Orb spider (as opposed to Garden Orb, which is another common variety).
Web is definitely human-sized... many of these are two meters across.
Another nice spider.
Piper finds a friendly hopper.
Our safari guide Michael demonstrates to Finn and Piper how to use some sort of a plant as a toothbrush.
Astro tries the toothbrush plant.
Examing another cool plant with Michael. This one was something that turns when water hits it, making it kind of dig its way into the dirt. Try as I did though, I could never quite make it work.
And another cool plant! I forget what this one was, but I bet that Alex was paying better attention.
Alex also keeps busy fixing the Land Cruiser.
Elephants keep being cool no matter how much I see them.
Baby elephant running!
We drove to the edge of the park, near a place called Madikwe River Lodge which you can just see right above Heather's hat. A bunch of elephants -- probably 40 -- were crossing the river and eating on the banks. This one came up to visit.
We drove down to the river and across the narrow spit that connects the two sides. This elle is taking a bath. You can see her radio tracking collar (above & below the neck).
Potty training for one elephant.
And then... whoa! We were all watching the elephants do their thing, and I turn around and behind us I see an African wild dog headed our way! Closely followed by another, and another...
We'd heard that the dogs had been seen in the past few days. But they are not something you just run into very often... they move fast, and are hard to track.
This is the river crossing where we've driven across. We're up on one bank, and the dogs are trying to get across to the left. But the elephants are protective of a bunch of babies, and in no mood to let the dogs by...

Forget about lions: wild dogs are extraordinary hunters, as well as Africa's rarest hairy predator. The park has one pack of 14 dogs and another group of 3; any more than this and they'd kill too many other animals and put it out of balance.

Elephants try to talk the dogs out of crossing.
Dogs are just hanging out waiting.
Now the ellies are getting mad.
Extremely upset elephants trumpeting. Still, dogs don't turn around.
Charging those dogs!
Elephants back off, dogs make some progress.
Oh no! Elephant charging across the river! Dogs are racing away.
Go elephants!!
Elephants back off again, dogs run part way across the river. But no! Elephants get even more upset.
Here's Alex's spectacular video of the encounter:

Holy cow! That is one extremely upset elephant.
Go elephant!
It's a losing battle and after one more charge the dogs cross the river and go up the other side. Elephant is still very upset -- truck raised and making a whole lot of noise.
Ears flared and stomping.
The lighting here was amazing... I was struggling to keep focused and sharp, without getting too much sun. I'm in the back of the Land Cruiser, shielding the glare with the safari roof.
Elephant won't give up.
I love this shot of the very upset elephant.

The dogs are -- as they were the whole time -- pretty much just standing there. They're alert and engaged, but they were not obviously trying to attack a baby ellie or nipping at the trunk or or anything like that. (I think that'd be pretty stupid, given that it was a herd of 50+ elephants.) As far as it looked, they were just trying to get across the river to get to the other side and keep on walking. They just picked a very bad time to try to do so, and patience is not one of their virtues.

And they're off... wild dogs up the banks and heading away.
So we cross the river too: I mean, of course we want to track these dogs!
These are all long panning shots... 1/15th second shutter, tracking the dogs as they hunt.
Bit of flash on this one. We followed the dogs through the bush (pretty open) for 15 minutes. They move fast! But the pack is big enough that we didn't lose them.
Still following the dogs...
And then we saw them race off into the grass. A few impalas were around.
A minute later we here the cackling of dogs... sounds nothing like dogs, really, but maybe an army of squirrels squealing. That's apparently what they do after a kill
Lucky dog! That's an impala leg about two minute after the impala was running for its life.
This one's got a big chunk of impala in its mouth.
One baby impala isn't much more than a snack for a group of 15 dogs. So onward they went...
As did we. Michael uses the light to search for any eyes on the drive back to the lodge.
Snacks in the morning before we head out again.
Morning drive: we see some animals, and then it's time for the second food of the day, as Michael gets the bush coffee going. Food schedule for a typical day is:
  • 5:30 AM Coffee and crunchies at lodge.
  • 7:30 AM Coffee and rusks in bush.
  • 9 AM Breakfast at lodge.
  • 2 PM Lunch.
  • 4 PM High tea.
  • 6 PM Sundowners and biltong.
  • 8 PM Dinner and dessert.
Can't do without the Amarula! It's a cream liqueur, not unlike a fruit-flavoted Bailey's, with the flavoring coming from the marula tree. We see a fair number of the trees in Madikwe, but the fruit season is short and I've never tasted one ripe.
Piper gets the beverage of her choice.
Coffee is next to a termite mound. Hard to avoid that, really.
Alex has a policy of never putting down his coffee, except to inspect termite mounts. It was his lucky day!
Some nice flowers too.
Piper is playing next to the lake.
Back in the truck! And we find a couple of lions.
And the lions have found a tasty zebra!
Lion running... we tracked this male (not the same one as on the zebra carcass) as it was hunting.
And this female was off hunting too.
Time for some spoor casting! That's not spore as in poop, or spore as in seeds, but spoor as in footprints.
Michael puts down his own spoor from those fancy SA-built shoes!
Finn and Astro both came along (this was a mid-morning drive), and helped Michael pour the plaster-of-paris.
Heather and Piper look for some other footprints while casting their own spore.
Heidi and Piper by their hyena print! We made casts of lion, hyena, giraffe, and jackal.
Alex helps take out the big lion print!
Dung beetles are the forgotten heroes of the biome!
Heather teaches Astro some biology.
Astro takes well to learning about dung.
Go go Astro!
Here's a friendly male dung beetle rolling a nice ball for his friend.
The females often catch a ride on the side of the dung ball, though I didn't see one here.
Check out that rolling action!
Some sort of poisonous nightshade-family plant. Don't eat it!
Astro loves going on the drives.
She gets to poke her mom's nose A LOT.
Heidi loves it too, clearly.
Piper dreams of dung beetles.
Heron. Piper will tell me what kind.
Lilac-breasted roller birds! It looks like this is a before/after composite, but it's not... one bird of the two flew away.
One really great thing about South Africa is that the most common birds are all really awesome. These little yellow weaver birds are all over the place... every lake, restaurant, in our yard, on safari, everything. The males build the nests, and the females come and pick the best one (and destroy the rest if they're not good enough). I love watching them build the nests... this one has about a days' work in it.
Clouds over the airstrip. We did see a handful of planes come in. The 'terminal building' is just a bathroom and a closet. The strip serves as a backup for the Gaborone airport (capital of Botswana), about 20 km away.
On our last morning, we ran into the same herd of elephants at the same river crossing. They were a bit cranky, with a lot of general bellowing.
A nice baby elephant...
... and again...
... and again.
We had to back up a few times to get out of the way...
Moonrise with pachyderm.
Genet in a tree. Piper found it with the spotlight.

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Henry Throop

Last modified Mon Apr 7 13:37:51 2014