Magic in Malamala!

Malamala -- Last Day 028 We left Johannesburg Friday morning and flew to Malamala, a private game reserve abutting Kruger National Park in South Africa.  After checking in, eating lunch, and doing some homework, we headed out for our first afternoon/evening exploration drive.  The first drive, along with the rest of our stay, were phenomenal.

Malamala -- Panasonic 182 The big five on safaris are the African Elephant, the African Lion, the African Buffalo, the White Rhino, and the elusive Leopard.  The “five” were established back when big game hunting was big here, but remains as a goal for many photo safari participants.  Before coming to Africa, we had hopes of seeing each of these great animals.  Little did we know . . .

Malamala -- Nikon 028 We left the Malamala lodge at about 3:45 p.m. and headed out on our first exploratory drive here.  About fifteen minutes into the drive, we were stopped trying to identify a woodpecker.  As we got ready to leave, we noticed right behind our jeep was a big, hulking African Buffalo.  Wow!  Big Five #1! 

Malamala -- Nikon 061 We then got a radio call about a potential lion sighting.  We headed off the road onto terrain I didn’t think we could possibly navigate, but did.  We went down a steep ravine, and managed to climb up the other side, to see . . .  12 LIONS!!!  There were three female adults and nine young (8-12 month old) cubs.  As dusk settled in, we watched the lions hang out as an extended family, stunned at our good fortune to see this many lions in the wild.  Big Five #2!!

Malamala -- Nikon 222 Now that it was completely dark, we got our floodlights out and headed down the road, to identify a very odd set of fresh tracks in the soft dirt of the road.  There were two parallel fairly-deep lines cutting across the road.  Our guides suggested it was a fresh kill being dragged into the woods, but I didn’t take that too seriously.  We then followed the likely path, wound down an unbeaten opening in the woods, and someone spotted . . .  an Impala head up in a tree.  Unbelievable!!  There was a dead Impala head sitting about fifteen feet up in a tree, perched on a limb.  How anyone spotted it is beyond me.   [In the photo above, the Impala head is on the right.  We ended up seeing the same Impala head the next day, where it was an afternoon snack for the lion family we had seen].

Malamala -- Nikon 095 But, . . . , speaking of spots, we then looked further into the surrounding area, driving up and down and through incredibly thick grass in the dark to arrive at the backside of the tree, only to find . . . a big male LEOPARD.  Big Five #3!!!  This animal is incredibly hard to find in the wild, but there he was, right in front of us.  It was unreal.  We heard a rustling noise shortly thereafter, and our newly-made leopard friend had a visitor — a Spotted Hyena!  The Leopard zeroed in on the Hyena with laser-like focus and issued a deep growl.  The Hyena backed off, and the Leopard then jumped up into the tree.  He grabbed his Impala head and carried it higher up in the tree, and camped out there chewing away on fresh Impala meet. 

Malamala -- Panasonic 125 At that point, we heard loud “clump, clump, clump”-ing in the forest bush, and a huge African Elephant approached us.  Big Five #4!!!!  Being in a jeep between an Elephant and a Leopard didn’t seem too smart, so we pulled out a bit, watched the Leopard awhile more, and then headed off.  But even though we’ve seen plenty of elephants this trip, seeing them in such close proximity to other big game animals was exciting.

Malamala -- Nikon 203 Was our viewing night over?  Hardly.  We crossed a bridge and got a great look at a Hippo and another Elephant.  We then headed over to the airport landing strip, where we got a great look at a White Rhino!  Big Five #5!!!  So in one three hour game drive, we had great sightings of all five of the “Big Five.”  At this point, we headed home, knowing anything else for the evening would be a let-down.

Malamala -- Panasonic 100 So the next morning, we tried our best to manage our expectations down.  What could we see that could match yesterday afternoon’s great set of sightings?!?!   Well, our wake-up call came at 5:30 a.m., and we were off just after 6:00 a.m.  Shortly into our game drive, we started heading fast for a corner of the reserve.  A Cheetah had been sighted, and we would love to get to see it.  The problem was that the Cheetah was heading toward the boundary with Kruger National Park, and visitors to Malamala can’t enter the park.  So the clock was ticking!  And, as our good luck would have it, we caught up with the Cheetah just a few minutes before it disappeared into Kruger.  The Cheetah is the fastest land animal in existence, and it was fabulous to see this powerful cat in the wild.  Along with our Big 5, we now added the Cheetah, making for the Super Six!! 

Malamala -- Panasonic 155 It’s hard to believe that the rest of our time at Malamala could live up to the first twenty-four hours, but it did.  We had a fabulous time here, seeing all sorts of great animals, including Zebra, Giraffe, the Nile Crocodile, the Water Monitor Lizard, and lots of great birds (including this pair of White-throated Bee-eaters on the right).  It was a magic place, and our last night drive underscores how great a place it is.  We ended up on a sandy beach by a river, in the middle of a family of twelve lions.  The cubs wrestled and played with each other, while the adults would occasionally roar, which is quite a sound to absorb from 20 feet.  The night before we followed a different group of lions (one adult male and six adult females) as they patrolled the reserve, looking for prey.  At one point, they circled an Impala and mounted an attack, but the very fortunate Impala escaped. 

Malamala -- Last Day 002 Our last lunch at Malamala was out on the deck, and we watched a family of three elephants march by, coming within 30 meters of the deck.  We’d regularly see great wildlife from our room, and found it an amazing place for wildlife viewing.  Over the course of three days here, we saw twenty different lions, fifteen different rhinos, countless elephants, three leopards, a cheetah, and a couple of buffalo.   And we saw all sorts of great animal behavior in the wild, including the leopard below (and the first photo in this post) devouring a poor Impala.

Malamala -- Last Day 022 There was so much to love about Malamala.  It is a much plusher site than the earlier safari sites we visited.  You stay in rooms with phones, there’s internet access in the main room, and the roads were fairly smooth.  If I had one quibble with Malamala, it was the meals.  For you Spanish speakers, “La comida es mala, mala.”  But this is a great place to visit, a quick one hour flight from Johannesburg, fabulous wildlife, and a great experience.  In 2007, some 99.5% of visitors staying two nights or more saw all of the Big Five, and much more!  So you can’t go wrong with a visit to Malamala, and a whole lot will go right!

One Response to “Magic in Malamala!”

  1. Bedros Hanounik Says:

    Ted, what a great trip and a great blog; great photos too. I’m an amateur photographer and a big fan of Nature photography.

    I stumbled upon your blog while researching your background since I’m close to submitting a B. plan to CRV. All what I can say is I’m very pleased with what I found. Enjoy your trip and hopefully we get to meet each other in the next few weeks.

Leave a Reply