Wildlife Report: Summer 2023-24 (November – January)

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” – John Lubbock

There is a universal familiarty to Lubbock’s words from “The Use of Life”; a memory we can all tap into of the unhurried sweetness of a long summer’s day. For our guests at Matetsi Victoria Falls, even the references to dappled shade and flowing water will feel familiar, having spent some of their time with us sitting quietly alongside a private stretch of the Zambezi.

Summer memories in this part of the world are always coloured green, as the wilderness erupts into a riot of new growth. It’s remarkable to watch the landscape shifting from the rich shades of molten metal in the dry winter months to a verdant paradise following the arrival of the summer rains. 

This season of rejuvenation and new life is always a special time in the bush, where bursts of bright sunshine share the sky with moody storm clouds bringing the brief afternoon showers that feed the thirsty landscape. While still hot and humid, summer is less intense than the fierce, dry heat of spring, making for an extremely pleasant time to be exploring the 136,000-acre Matetsi Private Game Reserve. 

Wildlife Movements & Sightings

Conservation really is a fascinating undertaking; a constant learning curve with its own profound rewards. Observing wildlife numbers, species diversity and animal behaviour in a protected area like Matetsi Private Game Reserve is one such reward – this summer for example, we took note of vast numbers of elephant in the area. While this is not in itself unusual for Matetsi, it is significant that these herds chose to remain in the reserve rather than venturing further afield where water is as readily available in the summer. 

The lush vegetation at this time of year is usually something of a hindrance to game viewing, as the animals are more easily camouflaged by the thick undergworth. Despite these conditions, we experienced some incredible predator sightings as well as consistently healthy numbers of other wildlife.

Noteworthy wildlife activity included:

  • A pack of 11 wild dogs less than 2km from camp
  • The birth of an elephant calf, also close to the lodge
  • Consistent sightings of large numbers of giraffe, buffalo and elephant across the reserve. More than 300 elephants were seen in a single game drive on the 17th of November!
  • A herd of elephant swimming in the river in front of the lodge – always a special treat!
  • Near-daily reports of lions, especially in November while the bush was still fairly dry but also continuing in to the new year
  • Herds of sable and roan drinking and grazing at the vlei
  • A blind hippo making himself comfortable close to the lodge, where he obviously feels a little safer from predators and remains in very good condition
  • A clawless otter swimming in the river
  • A family of bat-eared foxes – two adults with five cubs – along the top road at the vlei
  • Regular leopard sightings, both day and night, including one near camp on Christmas Day
  • Our translocated herd of waterbuck, who have now been on the reserve for over a year, fully enjoying the numerous pans and grasslands available to them
  • A pair of bush pigs at the vlei – a species last seen in this area back in 2017!

Summer is also blockbuster birding season as the migrants return to this part of Southern Africa to breed. The bush has been positively abuzz with birdlife, from swallows, warblers and tiny bee-eaters to buzzards, kites and eagles, and everything in between. Special mention must be made of an (admittedly hotly disputed!) sighting of a rare mountain wagtail at the Victoria Falls rainforest by a member of our team. We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt!

Victoria Falls

In the same way that summer sees the most dramatic transformation in the landscape in and around Victoria Falls, the falls themselves begin to change from low to high water. January is considered the halfway point for these seasonal shifts at Victoria Falls and, right on cue, the curtains of water on the Zambian side have started to fill up nicely. As of the end of the month, the river flow through the falls was 710m3/s – lower than this time last year and not yet rising sharply although this is expected to happen soon as the catchment basin further upstream begins to swell with seasonal rainfall. 

Conservation Update

Successful conservation is largely the result of the combined efforts of many people in many different areas of operation, which is certainly the case at Matetsi Private Game Reserve. From the lodge, which helps to generate revenue, and the maintenance team that keeps the infrastructure in good working order, to the anti-poaching unit and community liaisons who literally have their ear to the ground, the health of the habitat at Matetsi is very much a collaborative endeavour.

Recent news from Conservation Manager, Brian Gurney, and his extremely hard-working team, include the addition of two new rescue puppies to the K9 unit (currently in training), the rescue of a week-old elephant calf which had become stuck in a pan and the removal of illegal fishing nets from the river where poachers had attempted to take advantage of the lower-than-usual water levels.

2024 also marks 10 years since the beginning of the Gardiner family’s journey into conservation, with the initial discussions around the acquisition of the land lease taking place in 2014. By January 2015, the paperwork was in place, the dream had become reality and the work began in earnest. These seasonal reports are a wonderful reminder of all that has been achieved so far and how profoundly conservation can impact the integrity of a previously neglected wilderness. 

Guest Testimonial

Upon arrival, we were seated and given fresh drinks in the open air living room of the lobby area. The rooms were massive and very well appointed. We went on game drives each day and saw so many animals and babies! One day, a hippo was grazing outside our room! The next day a family of warthogs ran past. This is a very immersive, outstanding hotel with staff members who are gracious and welcoming. A five star experience!!” – Lynn T, December 2023


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