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A year of sightings: Bushwise 2022

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Every New Year brings with it a sense of anticipation and hope. Hope for dreams to be fulfilled, hope for new opportunities and hope that we will learn and grow with each passing day.

4 min read

Words and photos by Louise Pavid.

Group of female lions laying in the bush

Last year was certainly one to remember, a new Bushwise campus brought with it exciting new dreams, fulfilment and growth. Aside from this, the wildlife we call our neighbours certainly left their mark. Being fortunate enough to see the famed Birmingham Pride on my first ever trip to the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC) left me humbled. 

What makes this pride particularly famous and so sought after by many safari-goers is seeing the rare, genetic trait for leucism carried by the lions of the Timbavati – put simply, white lions. We were fortunate enough on this day to see both the young male and female, brother and sister. The stunning white coats and blue-grey eyes are a remarkable sight.

Hyena in the bush looking into the camera

Not even a week later, we were treated to another astonishing sight on the SAWC campus. A massive pack of wild dogs, approximately 17 members strong – including one with a very distinct set of ‘floppy’ ears. The dogs carpeted the road in front of us, gently interacting and playing in the fading light of dusk. We had heard rumours of lions a bit further down the road from us. But the students’ excitement of seeing the wild dogs (for many of whom this was their first sighting) convinced us to stay with these highly endangered animals. 

While watching, the peaceful atmosphere was shattered by the sound of thudding paws. Out of nowhere, a huge lioness stormed past the safari vehicle at full sprint, heading straight into the middle of the pack. Soon dogs and lions were scattered everywhere. Fortunately both the canines and felines walked away unscathed.

Bushwise game driver looking through binoculars to see vultures

Vultures circling the skies above you can only mean one of two things. Either the vultures are using thermal lift from warm air currents to reach flying altitude, or more interestingly, they are descending to scout out the potential for a meal. Vultures feed exclusively on carrion, and an abundance of their presence in trees during the day is a great indicator for a kill. After spotting just such a collection of scavenging birds, we took a drive over to investigate. Not five minutes after we arrived, two large male cheetahs emerged from the bush, bellies round and swinging. The vultures descended and the feeding frenzy began. Feathers flew and prehistoric squawks filled the air as vultures and jackals battled over the remains.

A brown hyena makes its way down a dirt road, walking towards the camera. 

There are four recognised species of hyena in Africa. Spotted or ‘laughing’ hyenas are by far the most common and easily seen on safari. But seeing one of the others can be tricky given their highly elusive natures. In 2022 however we were treated to several amazing brown hyena sightings. One in particular took us all by surprise. 

While parked off listening to a talk about termite mounds, a large black shape caught the corner of my eye. I turned my head and there it was, just standing in the road without a care in the world. This is by far the best brown hyena sighting I have ever had throughout my years in the bush. This relaxed individual approached the car before quietly slinking into the bush.

Bird sighted sitting in a tree looking out

Birds abound in South Africa, especially during our summer months when many migrants arrive to breed and feed on the plethora of insects, amphibians and reptiles that emerge after the first rains. One such bird is the broad-billed roller. We are extremely fortunate to have a nesting pair on the Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve. Broad-billed rollers are a rare sight and often get birders twitching with excitement! This is the second year I have been fortunate enough to see these strikingly bold-coloured passerines.

Hippo peeping its head out the water

Finally, what’s a year without a little conflict? An animal favourite of ours is a large hippo bull that lives in one of the dams at Makalali. He’s a regular for many of our game drives and has recently begun to share his little pond with two female hippos and a cute young calf. One cool afternoon we sat peacefully watching the hippos. 

The bull yawned, showing us his impressive tusks, blew bubbles out of his nose and even performed his dung-spray scent mark – all this to make sure we knew who the dam really belonged to. The two hippo cows and calf were relaxed and minding their own business when out of nowhere, the huge bull stood and attacked one of the cows. 

To this day we still have no idea what provoked the attack. A few theories between the trainers circulated regarding the oestrous of the females and the proposition that one female was preventing the bull from mating with the other. Without actually speaking to them however, we will never know. In the end, it all calmed down, the scorned female was fine and we left the dam still reeling with adrenalin from the interaction.

Every year has something new and exciting if you look hard enough. What will 2023 bring us? Only time will tell.


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