As was the case for the whole of mankind, the month of April 2020 was not “business as usual” for us. Though we were fortunate to be isolated from the worst of the troubles, it was a very strange and disconcerting time for everyone. We did not welcome guests, well, human ones at least – the elephants, warthogs and bushbuck made their usual visits to camp. However, our guides and conservation team, who together have always been wildlife guardians, continued to traverse the vast wilderness day in and day out, and have shared their incredible sightings with us. We cannot thank them enough for their unwaivering dedication and commitment to protecting and sharing the wonders of Matetsi Private Game Reserve.

In the last few days of March, a very large crocodile was seen in front of Matetsi River House, it seemed to have claimed that area and the seasonal stream under the Grace Bridge as its territory. Much to the misfortune of one of the “dugga boy” buffalos that had been hanging around camp, as the crocodile attacked the buffalo while it was drinking from the seasonal stream. After a long struggle, somehow the buffalo escaped the clutches of the crocodile. The wounded buffalo became very troublesome and a concern to the team, who kept close tabs on its whereabouts.

The next day, a large male lion came into the area. Evidence from tracks showed the lion stalking the injured buffalo, and a number of hyenas following close behind. It wasn’t surprising then, that the dark maned lion was found on a buffalo kill the very next day on Namakana Road. This is not far from camp, close to Kudu Alley, an area that is much loved by giraffes, which are regularly seen there and throughout the vlei systems.

For those of you have read the fascinating story of two young lions cubs, this will all sound very familiar. The male lion was joined by these two vulnerable cubs, who had been separated from their mother and were skeletal from failing to hunt. The lions remained on the carcass for three days, the male providing protecting from hyenas, which roam the area, that would prove a threat to that small cubs. In addition to movement of hyaenas in the north, hyenas were observed to be denning close to the Hub.

Lion activity continued to be a prominent feature through April. After a few days alone, the lion cubs joined the male lion and his large pride (11 in total). In the days prior a lioness was heard roaring in the distance, and there was evidence of a lioness traversing from the Eastern side of the property to the lodge. It’s possible that she’s part of this same pride. This large pride remained around the Kudu Alley area for some days, bonding with the cubs until they had had their fill of baboon meat and were ready to move. While there, the lionesses tried hunting zebra, with no success. The pride then made their way East and South to the more open vlei areas, following a very big herd of buffalo. Unsurprisingly, hyenas were in hot pursuit.

  

In addition to the dugga boys in the north of the property, large breeding herds of buffalo were sighted throughout the month across the property. Senior guide Ophious commented, “they all look so healthy”. “Buffs +100 on Kudu Alley and +200 @ Vlei “Buffalos @ Dec Pan (+300)” “Buffs (+++100) @ T-block.” [Despite these numbers (or maybe because of them), we only have a couple of photos of buffalo from the whole of April, including a rather artsy one, in which it looks like the photographer was hiding behind a termite mound.]

Elephants were also seen in good numbers across the property, large breeding herds (100+), bachelor herds and solo bachelors. Sometimes up around camp as well. It has been some months since our last rains, the bush is starting to dry up, as are the natural pans, and so these big herds are making more frequent visits to the waterholes.

As the Zambezi river is in full flood, the hippos move to find their idea spots. They have been coming up to graze at night around camp, and on one occasion were sighting hanging out on the soccer field at the staff village.

In addition to the large crocodile near River House, numerous other were seen up and down the 15 km stretch of the Zambezi river that forms the northern border of Matetsi Private Game Reserve. Also, one particularly clever crocodile is residing in a natural pan some kilometres south of the river. This gives it some advantage as it doesn’t have to compete for prey. The tactic obviously worked, as it killed impala as was seen feeding at night.

The impala, giraffes, zebras, vervet monkeys, baboons and warthogs (and even leopard tortoises) rarely get a mention these days on the team’s weekly sightings reports (except then mentioned as prey). Though this is as a result of their abundance rather than their absence. We are pleased to report that all aforementioned species are thriving, and commonly sighted on almost every drive down Kudu Alley to Weswood Vlei. On several occasions, the team counted more than 100 (!) impalas gathered at Namakana Pan accompanied by zebras, warthogs, giraffes and vervet monkeys, excepting fresh water. “No social distancing though.” 😃😃 And, a female giraffe was spotted with a two-day old calf on the vlei.

During April, our guides took longer drives (often full days or full nights), and were therefore able to spent more time in the very south of the property, around the southern pans, Zanangubo, T-block, Zebra and Kusarai. It’s wonderful to see wildlife returning to this area, zebras, elephants, buffalos, evidence of eland activity, signs of leopard movement, lions hunting buffalo at T-block (hyenas around, of course), roan antelope on the southern boundary road, as well as by Kusarai pan. Notable, Roan are one of the nice Specially Proteted Animals or Special Protected Species (SPS) in Zimbabwe (the list also included both the black and white rhino). Sable antelope (which are normally sighted in the south), were actually sighted with young(!) in the northern section of the property. (Images taken with a camera phone through binos – genius!)

Particularly Interesting Sightings

We amended the name of this section, because actually all sightings are interesting, and we are so fortunate to get these glimpses of life in the wilderness, the ones below are those that will be particularly interesting for super keen wildlife enthusiasts, for example this Africa Spoonbill, not often sighted in our area.

Brown Hyaena was herd calling west of the staff village. Sightings are very rare. The last recording sighting on Matetsi Private Game reserve was in 2008 when two were sighted on Westwood Vlei.

On two occasions, while the team were working in the staff village, they sighted the very rare Pel’s Fishing Owl !

Two (!) white-tailed mongooses (or is it mongeese?) on Kudu alley – we have only ever had sightings of them in the singular, until now. As well as a couple of sightings on Westwood vlei.

Mid-month, Ophious was pleased to see a juvenile Marshal Eagle. And perhaps less pleased to see a Black Mamba. Though these are all Mother Nature’s creatures. Interestingly, a python was seen at the beach site, having just consumed an impala.

African Rock Python (python sebae natalensis) had a big meal that will keep it going until the next rain season, or another year from today, the day of its last meal. Now is ready for hibernation up to December. Its length is about 5 m. In Zimbabwe an African Rock Python is the only snake (or reptile) on the list of the Special Protected Species (SPS).

Ophious as a keen birder was most excited to see a collared palm thrush along the section of the river close to the staff village. Although the distribution maps show this species all the way along the Zambezi river from Kasane to the Indian ocean, none of our team have recorded a sighting along this particular section of the river. Perhaps they have always been there, and we’ve been too busy to notice, or perhaps they have made an appearance to remind us the Nature is full of wonder.

The sightings report also records, a monitor lizard “attacked Sara at East camp” (no contact was made, and neither the water monitor or Sara were harmed in the incident…). To found out more on this particular sighting or any others, reach out to us.

A huge thank you to our team who contribute each and every month not only the sightings and images for this report, but to the guardianship of the wilderness that is Matetsi Private Game Reserve.

A wild tree squirrel looks to make friends in a quieter-than-usual canteen area.

All vultures and all storks are among the many birds listed on the Specially Protected Animals list as laid out by the National Parks and Wildlife Authority of Zimbabwe. Matetsi Private Game Reserve is home to many of these species.