Mkhuze Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal has many reasons to draw visitors, but watching the animals visiting the reserve’s KuMasinga Hide watering point is always one of its highlights.
This is the last of three posts recalling trips away from home to coincide with our cancelled holiday. This week I decided to stay within my home province and share a visit to one of my favourite nature reserves, one that I first visited when I was a child. Mkhuze Game Reserve forms part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
KuMasinga Hide is situated in beautiful sand forest, one of several distinctive habitats that constitute Mkhuze’s remarkable diversity. From the slopes of the Lebombo mountains down to the Mkhuze river, wetlands and pans, including the large iNsumo pan, visitors can experience a mosaic of vegetation types that include the sand forest, grasslands, acacia savannah, woodlands and riverine forest including an ancient sycamore fig forest on the banks of the river.
Nyala antelope emerging from the sand forest as they approach the KuMasinga waterhole
I decided to focus on just one dimension of Mkhuze’s riches, and all of the photos were taken from the KuMasinga Hide. Apart from the photo below that was taken in 1973, all the other photos were taken during a three-day visit to the reserve in January 2015.
A photo my father took of my sister, mother and myself (on the right) in KuMasinga Hide on a family visit to Mkhuze back in 1973. This photo is copied from a slide
Although the photos may give the impression that the waterhole is very busy it is usually a peaceful place, a good spot to sit meditatively and listen to the birdsong. It is at its busiest during the drier winter months or during periods of drought, and at any time of the year it is most popular with animals needing to drink in the late morning and perhaps followed by the late afternoon. As for nocturnal visitors, we can only guess.
There is always a degree of excitement when animals emerge from the sand forest to go down to the water to drink. As these zebras eagerly approach, their hooves raise dust from the sandy ground
With their audible hoof beats when they are running and their loud bleats and grunts the wildebeest are usually the noisiest of the animals coming down to the water. By contrast, the large white rhinos are among the quietest
With their bulky bodies and limited facial expressions rhinos can be hard to read, but even so their buoyant walk conveys something of their anticipation as they approach the water
The waterhole at the busiest times of the day is teeming with animals coming down to drink
Despite the business and the constant comings and goings of a variety of species, these nyala display their customary caution
On this morning the wariness is palpable
The tension in these zebras causes them to adopt identical postures
And this is why the animals are more alert than usual. Lions are at the waterhole
Judging from her bulging belly this is not a hungry lion, but she and others from the pride are still a reason for caution. She spent much of the morning keeping an eye on the waterhole from the vantage point of an anthill
No wonder this vigilant zebra pauses on its approach to the water, riveted to the spot
This wider-angle shot from the hide shows the lioness on the anthill watching the waterhole as a rhino approaches. A second lioness can be seen further to the left
Most animals tend to keep bunched closely together while they are drinking. Here a wildebeest calf stays close to the adults – safety in numbers
While drinking this nyala ram remains wary and alert
A young impala ram associates with a group of female nyalas as they drink at the waterhole
Keeping close, two nyalas share a drinking spot
Zebras also keep together while drinking warily
After a long slow approach down the sands towards the water, this tortoise took its time seemingly relaxed while savouring each mouthful of water
Lions get thirsty too! Two of these three lionesses wear collars to enable them to be monitored by satellite tracking
It would appear that even lionesses have a preference for safety in numbers while drinking
An expressively wild-eyed blue wildebeest (brindled gnu)
Amidst the hubbub a red-billed oxpecker keeps a grip on the situation, while the zebra with its tongue out looks a little discombobulated
Short legs and strong feet with claws enable oxpeckers to hang on, often using their tails to help them balance. A flattened bill enables them to scissor through fur looking for ticks and other parasites on the skin of the large mammals that host them
A white rhino with a young calf come down to the water, watched by a pair of woolly-necked storks
Only the mother needed to drink. White rhinos start grazing at around two months old, but may continue suckling up until they are about a year old. Sadly, another white rhino and her calf were killed by poachers elsewhere in the park on the day that this photo was taken
A woolly-necked stork took a drink in the earlier part of the morning before it got too busy
A woolly-necked stork snatched the opportunity to grab a frog as a white-faced whistling duck walks by. With its diversity of habitats Mkhuze Game Reserve hosts over 420 different species of birds
Small pools at the water’s edge made by the feet of the larger animals provide drinking places for birds, including this pair of red-billed firefinches
The apparently well-fed lionesses remained almost cheerily watchful. At one point one did stalk and then only halfheartedly chase a warthog. We saw vultures flying in and grouping to feed on the ground behind some nearby vegetation indicating the remains of what might have been the lions’ dinner from a previous night
Time to go!
Most departures are more leisurely, but something spooked somebody and off they all went
Thank you for joining me in this piece of escapism to Mkhuze Game Reserve.
Currently, in the light of recent changes to South Africa’s lockdown regulations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, plans are being made to ready the parks in the region and elsewhere in the country to enable private self-drive day visits to the parks. See the 2 June 2020 announcement from iSimangaliso Wetland Park here: https://isimangaliso.com/newsflash/covid-19-alert-level-3-announcement-by-isimangaliso-wetland-park/
Find out more about visiting Mkhuze Game Reserve
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Posted by Carol