“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow fast in movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with summer.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Just as Fitzgerald describes in his literary classic, the abrupt arrival of summer in our serene corner of Zimbabwean wilderness has felt like a renewal; a time of revitalising growth and abundance. The bush had a head start with the early rains falling in October and, by November, Matetsi Private Game Reserve was awash with thick grass and dense, juicy bushveld, while trees everywhere hung heavy with leaves.
This bountiful food supply caused plains game to grow fat on the lush grazing, while elephants dispersed from the permanent water sources in the valleys and marshes to find refreshment in the teak forests on higher ground. Meanwhile, the seemingly-co-ordinated birth of hundreds of adorable baby impala over the course of a few weeks at the end of November and beginning of December brought much joy and delight to our game drives.
January saw a sustained rainfall cycle with 259mm/10 inches of rain recorded in the month and a series of well-spaced thunderstorms that have kept the grass growing vigorously throughout the concession. This transformation of the landscape doesn’t only benefit hungry wildlife in the short-term; it also sets up the habitat for the next dry season where animal numbers are expected to increase across the protected area.
The lodge itself has also benefited from the explosion of new life – the scent of wild basil drifts though the dining area as the cooling river breeze rustles the leaves above, providing a soothing soundtrack to mealtimes. A few animal species also recognise the relative safety of the lodge and stay in close proximity to the buildings on the riverbank. Happily for us, these include a warthog and her little piglet and some bushbuck families with their fawns who potter around in front of the lodge, nibbling on the grass out of sight of hungry predators.
Wildlife Movements & Sightings
Although the verdant landscape is a sight to behold and makes for truly spectacular surroundings, it can make game spotting more of a challenge as wildlife are more easily hidden in thick bush. Regardless of these conditions, sightings at Matetsi Private Game Reserve continue to be plentiful and fascinating, with unusual species and noteworthy encounters appearing throughout the weekly reports.
Five baby giraffes born at the end of November and kept by their elders in a “nursery” group near the first salt lick proved to be delightful viewing over the first few months of summer. Herds of kudu – known as “grey ghosts” for their ability to vanish completely into the bush for which they are so well camouflaged – emerged from trailing bushwillow thickets and were sighted with almost daily frequency.
The big cats also provided some incredible encounters, with a number of amazing leopard sightings on the books – including a mother and cub! – and a pair of cheetah seen on a waterbuck kill. Lions were seen on the prowl on numerous occasions, hunting the young zebra, buffalo and antelope that proved too tempting for the predators to resist. There was also a dramatic turf war between our resident pride and another group of lions that wandered too far into their territory and had to be unceremoniously dispatched.
As ever, bird sightings were plentiful and exhilarating but especially at this time of year due to the number of migrants on the reserve. The spawning of the chiromantis or “foam-nest” frogs caused much excitement for the local avian population, with all manner of buzzards, kites, eagles, storks and vultures congregating on the flat grasslands to feast on them as they attempted to flee for the nearest waterhole.
Notable water birds include a pair of African pygmy geese, spotted close to our jetty site on the Zambezi river, the elusive African finfoot and small flocks of knob-billed ducks. This time of the year the flight of pennant-winged nightjars and Eurasian hobby bring much delight to our twice-daily game drives, while a thrilling sighting of a narina trogon by guide Simba put ripples of excitement through the camp! Beautiful Schalow’s turacos, which are endemic to this area, have also been sighted in the canopies of trees along the Zambezi, most recently at East Camp at lunch time.
Other bird sightings for the past few months included ground hornbill, hooded vulture, maribou stork, saddle-billed stork, pelican, Denham’s bustard, African fish eagle, African harrier hawk, yellow-billed kite, common buzzard, Western osprey, Verreaux’s eagle owl, tawny eagle, Western banded snake eagle and steppe eagle.
With the seasonal increase in rainfall comes the subsequent rise in water levels of the Zambezi – the wide, powerful river that feeds Victoria Falls. The river’s catchment basin in the Barotse floodplains begins to swell, pushing more and more water towards the Smoke That Thunders. December usually marks the turning point for the water levels at the Falls and within a couple of months, the dramatic rock formations on the Zambian side will be covered by a vast curtain of water, obscured at ground level by a dense spray cloud.
The early summer is a fantastic time to see Victoria Falls up-close as visibility is great and a gentle amount of spray provides cooling relief from the heat as you navigate the rainforest along the top of the gorge.
In the previous seasonal wildlife report we featured the story of the highly successful waterbuck translocation project which allowed us to reintroduce this species to the area where poaching had made them locally extinct. We are delighted that the herd appears to be thriving in the reserve and is regularly seen around Namakana pan. Although we recently lost one to a cheetah, two waterbuck calves have also been observed among the group in a fitting reminder of the circular nature of life in the wild.
Our anti-poaching scouts continue to patrol the reserve, removing snares and illegal fishing nets, although these have thankfully become fewer and fewer; the happy result of Amaganyane’s sustained efforts to protect this landscape and the animals which flourish within it. The team was also recently involved in a number of wildlife rescues – a baby elephant and two baby buffalo succumbed to the mud caused by a heavy downpour early in the rainy season and were successfully extricated from their predicament by our very own “Wild Dogs”.
“From the moment we were picked up from the airport to the time to departed, we were looked after by an amazing team of people. The staff are well trained, attentive and know their roles and how they can add to the guest experience. The kitchen produced some beautifully presented tasty food paired with some good wines. Our suite was private and the outdoor shower great fun. The game drives were well organised as was the private cruise along the river. Will certainly want to visit Matetsi again.” – Nicola D, January 2023