Cape Brandy Pudding Recipe

By / 23rd August, 2019 / Uncategorized / Off

In keeping with our Women’s Month theme, we thought we’d share something sweet and delicious with you; a recipe for Cape Brandy Pudding. It’s not just any recipe, no… this is something special. It has a history as rich as the dessert itself.

Cape Brandy Pudding originates from a popular South African dessert known as Malva Pudding. Malva is rumoured to have been around for over 800 years, and was named after a South African woman named “Malva”. It first arrived on South African shores in 1652, served to Dutch settlers in the Cape of Good Hope. It was served with a sweet dessert wine called ‘Malvacea’, which hailed from the small Portuguese archipelago of Madeira. 

There are some stories that say Malva Pudding was named after “Malvacea” and not a South African woman named “Malva”… you can decide for yourself which story you prefer.

We do know for sure that when supplies for ingredients ran low, they would have to substitute a few items, using dates for sweetness and Cape brandy to make it that much more indulgent. And so the Cape Brandy Pudding was born! Make it yourself in your own home this weekend. Here’s how…

Ingredients

  • 250g pitted dates 
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda 
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecan nuts
  • 2 eggs beaten

Method For Pudding

  • Chop up the dates and divide into two parts
  • Add bicarbonate of soda to the first half and pour the boiling water over
  • Stir to mix and leave to cool
  • Cream butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs
  • Sift dry ingredients and fold into the butter and sugar mixture
  • Add the second half of the dates and mix
  • Then stir in the nuts and bicarbonate of soda mixture
  • Mix well
  • Turn batter into a large baking dish
  • Bake in the middle of the oven at 180 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until it’s turns a rich, caramel brown

Method For Sauce

The sauce requires that you boil all of these ingredients for 10 minutes:

  • ¾ cup water
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cups sugar

Then remove from the heat and combine the following ingredients into the mixture:

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Pour the sauce over while the pudding is still hot out of the oven, and serve with homemade custard, fresh cream or ice cream. Or you could be incredibly indulgent and top with all three!

Photo: Ross Wilson Photography

Cape-Brandy-Pudding-Makweti

The Lion Queen – African Lion Panthera leo

By / 16th August, 2019 / Uncategorized / Off

The old phrase “lightning never strikes twice” is born in myth and truth depending on how this phrase is used. Most storm chasers will have you know that this is false and given enough time it is certainly quite inevitable. Lightning can and will strike the same place twice at any time.

There are many things to be learned from nature, and certainly the lesson that stands out the most is that nature cannot be ‘forced’, and its predictability is totally unpredictable. 

It was with much surprise (and yet none at all) that we were witness to one of natures repeats right on our doorstop almost two years after the first, to the very day. July 2017, we were to witness the behavioural changes in the Western Pride Lionesses, who were preparing to be mothers for the very first time. The larger of the two sisters was showing signs of carrying cubs first, and her behaviour was evident that it was nearly time for her to give birth. Early on the morning of the 27th July 2017, her tracks were found in camp after the morning drive had departed. She had walked up the valley gorge to the camp and headed past the kitchen, continuing to the Indaba.  Her clear sand pug marks were found walking over the deck past the drums right through reception. Approximately two weeks later she gave birth to two healthy boys.

9th July 2019, it’s a cool winter’s morning and the recent refurbishment in camp is coming to an end. The lodge team has been back for four days, fervently putting things in place for our first group of guests arriving on the 11th. Having just completed the morning briefing, the team drifted to prepare for the day and there we found clear evidence of the same lioness in camp.

There were the distinct sand pug marks over the deck again, but this time it was different.  She was not alone. The Thembe male had been with her. His tracks are clear in the image with the red arrows, complete with his need to mark territory on the deck with a short urine spray. 

Although he was not bold enough to tread where she had before, he had been within 2 metres of the reception door. The lioness had proceeded across the deck past the drums as is evident in the photographs. She continued on the path down towards the kitchen, again where her tracks are clear. We lose them close to the boma deck but can ascertain that she did not continue past the kitchen to room 3. Having looked around we assumed she headed back to the waterhole and met up with the Thembe male before they headed down to Fig Tree Plains.

It’s always exciting having game come close to camp, and we are fortunate enough with the waterhole attracting a variety of mammals and birds on a regular basis. Our trip cameras have caught many exciting “behind the scenes” images of animals using the area while we all sleep away the nights.

Although on this occasion she was not alone, nor suspected to be pregnant, she felt the need to revisit her original route when searching for a suitable den to give birth two years prior. We felt this was her stamp of approval on the recent build and refurbishment work we had completed in camp and this was her signing off on our new kitchen.

Text and photographs: Neil Davison

References:

  1. Personal observations on Welgevonden Game Reserve and other Reserves in Southern Africa
Lioness-Makweti

Celebrating Our Wonderful Women

By / 9th August, 2019 / Uncategorized / Off

South Africa celebrates the women of our country on the 9th of August every year with a public holiday that is unique to our country. We see it as as opportunity to celebrate the bravery and strength of South African women, a day which was first acknowledged in 1995.

The History Of Women’s Day

Women’s Day stands to commemorate the fearlessness of South African women in very desperate times. In 1956, 20,000 women of all races marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to stage a peaceful protest against legislation that required African people to carry a pass.

The pass was an identification document that allowed black people to enter and move freely around white areas. It restricted movement for black people, segregating them and separating them from white people under the Apartheid rule. This first instance of women coming together in solidarity was a massive feat that required courage and determination, definitely something that South African women are not short of.

While we are long past that day, it’s important to always remember why we celebrate it. Not only to honour the women who marched on that day, but also to remember how when women come together in a united cause, incredible things can happen.

We look at the women of Makweti, and we know this to be true, because without these strong, caring and compassionate women, we would not be the lodge we are today.

To each and every woman here at Makweti, in South Africa, and beyond… we salute you this Women’s Day.

Two-Tone Roasted Yellow Pepper And Tomato Soup

By / 5th August, 2019 / Uncategorized / Off

This two-tone soup is made from a roasted yellow pepper soup and a separate tomato soup; both rich in flavour and colour. It is a real treat for the senses and so easy to make.

Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup

Ingredients

  • 4 yellow peppers
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 tsp thyme, chopped
  • 250 ml vegetable stock, plus extra to thin soup if required
  • 3 tbsp cream
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C / Fan 160 degrees C / Gas 4
  • Place the peppers on a roasting tray, rub with olive oil and roast them until the skin has browned ever so lightly
  • Remove from the oven straight away, place in a plastic bag and seal
  • After 30 minutes, remove the peppers from the bag and gently peel away the browned skin
  • In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and cook the onion until soft
  • Deseed the peppers and roughly chop them
  • Add to the onion
  • Add thyme, vegetable stock and heat through
  • Remove from heat and puree the soup using a hand blender

Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 400g can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 potato, peeled and diced
  • 300ml vegetable stock, plus extra to think the soup if required
  • 2 tsp basil leaves, chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Method

  • Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat
  • Add the garlic and sundried tomatoes and saute for a minute
  • Stir in the tinned tomatoes, potato and stock and bring to the boil
  • Reduce the heat and simmer until the potato is cooked through
  • Add the chopped basil and remove from the heat
  • Puree the soup and add seasoning, if required
  • To serve, you will need two ladles
  • Fill one ladle with pepper soup and the other with tomato soup
  • Pour the ladles into a bowl at the same time, slowly so as not to mix them
  • Garnish with fresh cream and chopped chives

We’d love to hear if you try one of our recipes. They are all straight from the Makweti kitchen, and if you’ve stayed with us before, some of them might be familiar. Enjoy and happy cooking!

Meet Ellard Banda – Makweti Field Guide

By / 26th July, 2019 / People Of Makweti / Off

Ellard Banda is an exceptional field guide at Makweti, and one of our most trusted members of the extended Makweti family. He came to our lodge in 2013 to fulfill his role as our maintenance man. It wasn’t long before he became completely captivated by the nature around him and chose to study to become a field guide.

He passed his FGASA Level 1 with the greatest of ease and is currently studying Level 2.

Ellard was born in Lilongwe in Malawi, which is a good 1700km’s from Makweti. He is one of four siblings (one step brother and two step sisters) and was motivated to join our safari lodge by his cousin Lazarus, who had worked at Makweti before.

Ellard appreciates every moment he gets to work in such beautiful surroundings: “The best part is that every day you get close to nature and you have peace of mind due to the quietness and fresh air.” Isn’t that the best part about being deep in the heart of the wild South African bushveld?

When Ellard isn’t leading our guests through the magic of our surroundings, he spends his leisure time with friends, family and loved ones. Among those loved ones are his little boy, Ellard Ketso Junior, who is the apple of his eye.

Ellard comes from a Christian family who believes that family comes first as the most important thing in life. We couldn’t agree more.

When asked to tell us a favorite story about his time working at Makweti, he has this to say:

“One morning when we were finishing breakfast, the first group of guests were ready to depart. They said to me that “Ellard, this is our last short drive back to the gate, we will have to come back for that leopard.”

All of sudden the local monkey troop in the camp were calling at the Indaba building as there was a leopard at the waterhole killing a warthog female. This leopard lived around the camp, and we were just talking about it. It was an amazing and sad experience all at the same time. It was sad to watch this warthog, who we knew well as she had grown up in the camp, now being taken by a powerful leopard – but we understood that this is nature.”

That is the bittersweet truth of nature, and we get to see it everyday. Thank you to Ellard for sharing his story and for being a part of our Makweti family. We are so honoured to know you and we know our guests feel the same way.

Ellard Banda - Makweti Field Guide

Legend Of The Nyami Nyami Walking Stick

By / 26th June, 2019 / Uncategorized / Off

In Conversation With Test Malunga

This walking stick is a piece of art that can be found at Makweti, and it has an incredible story behind it. It is beautifully crafted and is representative of the Nyami Nyami, who is the Tonga tribe river god that inhabits the Zambezi valley.

The walking stick resembles a snake at the top because the Tonga tribe’s god (the ancestral spirit) exists in form of a snake or a serpent-like creature living in Kariba Dam. The snake is so big that nobody can guess its size, and it is believed that when the Nyami Nyami swims past, the water turns red.

The gorge where Kariba dam wall was built was called Kariwa, which means “a trap”. It was so named due to several fisherman who went close to the location and were sucked into a whirl pool, never to be seen again. When the English arrived, they mispronounced the name as Kariba, which is how it is known worldwide today. The district is known today as Nyami Nyami district. The then chief Musampakaruma is the only person who believed that he once saw their river god.

There is a man and a woman depicted on the walking stick, both of whom represent the prayers that were said by man and woman, whenever there was a drought. They would ask the river god for rain by brewing opaque beer that would be left to ferment for seven days before consumption. They would then spend the whole night playing drums and singing. During this ceremony, the clouds would gather and it would start to rain as a response from the river god.

The arrival of the Europeans caused a lot of disruption in the area when they built the dam wall. It is believed that this construction separated the male and female, with the male getting trapped on the upper course and the female on the lower side. Kariba residents experience tremors occasionally, which is believed to be the male angrily pushing against the dam wall in the hopes of reaching his wife trapped on the other side.

In February 1950 after the construction had started, the river god got angry and a cyclone from the Indian Ocean swept the valley, which had never happened before. Subsequently, there were three more disastrous events, where they found dead animals hanging in the trees, and homes flooded and washed away. The dam wall foundations were washed away several times as well.

The ball trapped inside the cavity on the walking stick explains the cultural preservation and protection by the Tonga people. Sadly, the missionaries worked so hard to erode this culture and belief system, that the stories are not known to the new, younger generations. 

Storytelling is such an important part of cultural longevity, which is why we are so honoured to keep this artwork and be able to tell the story behind it.

Words: Test Malunga, former Head Guide, Manager and great friend of Makweti.

Hippo “Look N’Gai, No Fishes!”

By / 19th June, 2019 / Uncategorized / Off

Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius

It’s early winter in 2018 and Rhino Dam is a hive of activity. The last week of April saw the arrival of four adult hippos to the dam, having moved from Kromellenboog Dam far in the north of the reserve near Nyala plains. This group of hippo had often made the trek between these water bodies in the past, but something seemed different this time. The reserve had poor Summer rains at the beginning of the 2018 season, and although the rain improved in Autumn, this was too late for any substantial grass growth for grazers in parts of the reserve. We suspected the hippo had made the move to greener pastures because Kromellenboog Dam’s level was lower than usual.

Shortly after their arrival, two of the adults from the group left and made the journey back to Kromellenboog Dam. This is no mean feat as the distance covered in the night is close to 20km, as the crow flies. They left behind two adult hippo at Rhino Dam, which we suspected was a cow and a young adult bull. It was the last week of May 2018 and the mystery unfolded by way of a newborn hippo calf.  This little hippo, whom we assumed is a male, kept us delighted as we watched him grow up to be a healthy one-year-old earlier this Winter.   

Male hippo calf, DOB 23 May 2018

When he was about three months old, the second adult hippo we assumed to be a bull, left Rhino Dam, and the mother and her calf were left to fend for themselves, enjoying the space and peace the dam and surrounds offer.  With plenty of good grazing in the area, the mother and son were content to remain at Rhino Dam.

It’s April 2019, and once again as Autumn begins, the three adult hippo from Kromellenboog Dam have made the 20km journey back to Rhino Dam, some 10 minutes from Makweti Safari Lodge.  They have re-settled with the cow and her nearly one-year-old calf, and are enjoying the relatively good grazing in Fig Tree Plains and surrounding areas, following the good early Summer rains. What seems now to be a routine annual migration to this area, has once again turned into a birthing spectacle. It’s the 14th April 2019 and our hippo community in the northern part of the reserve welcomes a newborn calf.

It has been exciting to watch this little hippo discover the new world. We assume she is a female, although it’s difficult to tell at such a young age.  She is often seen out in the mid-morning sun, with her mom, stretching her legs and exploring the dam surrounds with her one-year-old playmate. 

Female hippo calf, DOB 14 April 2019

Interesting Hippo Facts

  • A single calf is born to a female usually the end of Summer, although this can occur all year round
  • Hippo calves are born under water in the shallows of the dams or water bodies that their mothers occupy
  • A newborn calf weighs about 50kg and within a few minutes after birth, they are able to go into deep water
  • Calves, like adults, cannot float, but can stay submerged underwater for up to two to three minutes, whereas adults will submerge themselves for close to six minutes
  • A mom and her calf will stay away from the main group following the birth, to allow for the critical imprinting period for the calf, which is usually the first 10-14 days
  • Female hippo are mature enough to give birth at four years, birthing at two-year intervals, where males only mature at 7 years
  • Calves will suckle underwater, remaining underwater for short periods of about 30 seconds
  • Calves will graze a little from one month, and more actively by five months, weaning completely at eight months
  • Hippos are select grazers and will feed nocturnally up to 1km from water, eating up to 40kg in a night
  • The noise that hippos make for territorial and courtship purposes is known as wheeze-honking

Watching the calves suckle is interesting.  Early mornings, we will see the calves being more active, nudging their mothers and generally making a nuisance of themselves until the mothers relent. The mothers will roll onto their sides half submerged in shallow water, allowing the calf access to her mammae situated between her back legs.  They will then submerge for short periods, emerging to breathe for a few seconds before drinking again.

The dominant bull for this group has taken on his role as protector of both young hippos seriously, and over the past four weeks I have seen increased territorial markings close to Rhino Dam and down into the Fig Tree and Ibhubesi Plains.  

Dominant males will mark territory using their dung, which they scatter using their tales as a paddle. This is typically done on a small bush where the scattered dung will cover the bush accentuating his scent and act as a display to rival bulls that this territory is occupied.  

It is interesting to note that this activity has stepped up, as I have previously not noticed this behaviour in this area of the reserve. Because of hippo’s social structures, dominant bulls usually only have access to a few females with which to mate. We can only assume that this male is the ‘father’ of both offspring born, as he has accepted both calves. Hippo bulls are known to display behaviour known as infanticide, where young calves are killed to encourage females to come into oestrus. Hippo calves rely on their mothers for a long period, up to three years.  During this period, the females will not come into oestrus, as the production of milk limits their hormonal changes which brings about oestrus. Females with calves are not available to dominant males to mate with, and this creates tension for the bull in his group. Testosterone-charged bulls become frustrated and will at times harass calves, even killing them to stimulate females to come into oestrus.  Hippos have a relatively short gestation period of eight months, and calves are usually born seasonally, at a time when rains are good, and water and food are sufficient for a mother to graze and produce sufficient milk. Male calves are at particular risk of infanticide as they get older, as dominant bulls will view them as a threat to potential females. Female calves are left alone, as a result of dominant bulls not viewing them as a threat to their domains.

An African Folk Tale

There are many wonderful, colourful and enchanting folk tales in Africa, and few as animating as the Kikuyu tale that speaks of the hippo and his dilemma with the Lord of Creation, N’Gai. The Kikuyu people believe that long ago, N’Gai the Lord of Creation planned all the animals and creatures for earth and decided where to put them, placing the hippopotamus in the forests and plains of Africa. But the hippo was greedy and fed hungrily on plenty of good food around him, making him fatter and fatter. The bigger he grew, the more he struggled in the midday heat of equatorial Africa.   Everyday that he waddled down to the water to drink, the hjippo would gaze into the cool waters and was envious of the fish that swam freely in the waters supplied by the melting snows from Mount Kenya. The hippo pondered his dilemma for days and one day decided to approach N’Gai to ask him if he too could occupy the cool waters.

But N’Gai was not taking any of this, as his fish were precious to him and he was not convinced that the hippo would not change his feeding habits and eat his precious fish, and so hippo was denied his request. The hippo sadly returned to his plains and forests and hot midday sun. For some time, he pleaded with N’Gai to let him move into the waters and each time his request was denied. Hippo decided he simply had to convince Lord N’Gai and he came with up a solution. 

Adult Hippo at Makweti

And so the hippo told Lord N’Gai that he would lie in the cool waters by day and at night come out and graze along the banks of the river and the vleis.   He promised not to eat or disturb the fish. Lord N’Gai was not easily convinced and he did not believe the hippo would leave his previous fish, he needed proof of this promise. Hippo told N’Gai that at night he will come out of the water and every time that food passes through his body, he will scatter his dung to spread it out in Lord N’Gai’s sight so he could see there are no fish bones. His request was accepted and now it is said, that every night the hippo will emerge from the waters to feed and scatter his dung, looking to the heavens and saying “Look N’Gai, no fishes!”

Photographs and words: Neil Davison

References:

  1. Personal observations by the author on Welgevonden Game Reserve and other Reserves in Southern Africa
  2. Mammals of the Southern African Sub Region, J.D Skinner & R.H.N. Smithers, Second Edition, University of Pretoria: Mammal Research Institute, Pretoria, 1990
  3. Smithers Mammals of Southern Africa: A Field Guide, R.H.N Smithers, Third Edition, Southern Book Publishers, Johannesburg, 1996
  4. The Best of African Folklore, P. Savory, Struik Timmins Publishers, Cape Town, 1991
  5. Beat about the Bush – Mammals, Trevor Carnaby, First Edition, Jacana, Johannesburg, 2007

Sunset, Inverroche And The African Bush

There is something so indulgent about a gin and tonic at the end of the day. Winding down with the crisp, fragrant notes of your chosen flavour is something to look forward to, and at Makweti, we do it in style. The popularity of G&Ts has extended so far as to become a culture. In the last decade, this refreshing combination has morphed into an experience, rather than a drink… and we embrace this wholeheartedly, while using the African sunset as a backdrop.

Gin And Tonic - Makweti

Inverroche is one of our favoured brands of gin served at the lodge and on our game drives. It’s a local brand that hails from a family-owned, artisan distillery in the Cape. What we love about Inverroche is how it has captured the essence of South Africa in a number of different flavoured gins by using Fynbos and traditional botanicals.

These three captivating Inverroche gins are always available at Makweti Safari Lodge:

  • Gin Amber
  • Gin Verdant
  • Gin Classic

Combined with fresh ingredients that bring out the subtle flavours of each gin, Inverroche is a local feast for the senses for all our guests. This is how we drink our gin and tonics on safari at Makweti.

Pictured above from left to right, we have the following combinations of flavours:

Gin Amber

This is a firm favourite with our guests. It’s distinctively aromatic with a slightly spicy undertone. The amber colour comes from tannin-rich coastal botanicals that are used to mellow the gin after distillation. It is best served on lots of ice, a pink tonic, some fresh, chopped strawberries, pomegranate jewels and pink peppercorns.

Gin Verdant

This is a very delicate gin that has the fragrance of flowers blended into the Inverroche African botanicals. It also has a spicy undertone, as well as very subtle juniper, licorice and sweet citrus flavours. Served best with loads of ice, Indian Tonic Water, fresh cucumber and a sprig of rosemary.

Gin Classic

The Gin Classic is crisp, flavourful and slightly dry to the taste. Served with plenty of ice, your chosen tonic and sliced lemon or lime, you cannot go wrong with the classic.

Which is your favourite?

Photo credits: Ross Wilson of F Stops Photography.

Pear And Ginger Cake

The cooler weather calls for comfort food, and this Pear And Ginger Cake is most certainly comforting, but closer to decadent! It’s not difficult to make either, and it will wow your family and friends into a a state of bliss.

  • ¾ cup sunflower oil
  • 190g treacle sugar
  • 2 slightly beaten, large free-range eggs
  • 190g Nutty Wheat wholewheat flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 3 washed, cored, fresh pears, cut into chunks (do not peel)

Method

  • Preheat oven to 160 degrees centigrade
  • Grease and dust a 22cm cake tin with flour and line with baking paper
  • Whisk the oil and sugar together until well combined
  • Gradually whisk in the eggs
  • Stir in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, spices and pears and mix well
  • Pour the batter into a baking tin and smooth out
  • Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean
  • Cool completely in the tin, then turn it out

This delicious cake is best served as a dessert with fresh, whipped cream. If you want to put a true Makweti spin on it, try it with a cinnamon ice cream. Unbelievable!

Pear And Ginger Cake Made At Makweti

A Game of Thrones: The Lions Share

By / 22nd May, 2019 / Wildlife At Makweti / Off

Lions, males in particular, have gripped the human race with fear, admiration, respect and misunderstanding for centuries. They are depicted as ruthless killers with an insatiable appetite for prey, and a blood lust for killing. They appear in many religious forms as symbols of power and strength, and are synonymous as symbols of status, wealth and social standing in cultures throughout the world.  

Richard the Lionheart, Kind Richard I of England, who ruled from 1189 to 1199, was revered as a great soldier and brave crusader. The man eaters of Tsavo, probably the most notorious of wild lions, who were responsible for a number of human deaths in Tsavo, Kenya in 1898, were feared by hundreds of railway labourers. Revered or feared, lions have fascinated humans since the beginning of time and continue to do so today. So much of what we believe and know about lions is fed to us in sensational style with little fact or insight into what is real. For all these reasons, good and bad, lions have ultimately earned the title as the King of Beasts among wild animals.

This blog post came about as a result of the questions we are often asked about the two current dominant male lions on the Welgevonden Game Reserve and the interesting stories behind them. In writing this story, it was clear that a lot of information on lions needed to be clarified so that more of the fact could be brought to the fore without the glitter around the sensation.

Tembe Male

Lions: Panthera leo in General

Lions are in no doubt the top predators in Africa, followed by leopard and spotted hyena. They are the largest of the African cats with males weighing between 180kg and 220kg, and females weighing between 130kg and 150kg. Males stand up to 1.25m at the shoulder. Once widespread throughout all of Africa into Asia and parts of Europe, there is probably no other species whose distributional range has shrunk over historical times to the extent as shown by the lion. They are now extinct in Europe, with the last specimen killed in AD100 in Greece. They persisted in Palestine until about the 12th century.  The Asian lion is restricted to the Gir Peninsula in North-west India, with numbers reduced from 300 in 1953 to about 190 in a 1970 census. Through conservation efforts in India, they are now probably around 530 (2015). Lions are extinct in all other areas of Asia forming their original distribution.

In Africa, lions are extinct in the north and in many areas, poor records were kept of their shrinking numbers and ranges. In the Southern African sub-region, extensive records are kept of this change. Lions were once common in all of South Africa including near Cape Town until around 1860, but they have now been reduced to only occurring in reserves where they have been re- introduced. The last naturally occurring wild lion populations in South Africa are in the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi National Park. Combined in these two Reserves their numbers are around 2,500.  Heavily persecuted by man, there are today fewer wild lions in the world than there are white rhino.

Being the most sociable of the big cats, lions live in prides ranging from 3 – 30 individuals. Pride size is dependent on the area and the typical prey they hunt. Prides typically consist of between 1 – 4 adult males, a number of adult females (one of which is dominant) sub-adults and cubs. Adult males are highly territorial and will spend much time defending their areas from stranger or rival males. They can spend 3 – 4 days away from the pride in doing so. Lions will take medium-sized prey, which is again dependent on the area and the pride size. They will hunt and kill every 3 – 4 days and may go longer in areas where food is sparser or during seasonal changes. A male lion requires about 5kg of meat daily and a female about 2.5 – 3kg daily to survive. There is no set breeding season, and adult females will give birth to 4 – 6 cubs after a gestation period of about 110 days. Cubs will suckle from any adult female lactating in the pride, and births are often coincidental within the pride to ensure maximum food availability for the cubs.

Of Kings And Queens

The lions of Welgevonden Game Reserve have a history like most royal families – filled with hope, change, toil and survival. In our lion blog post from September 2018, the current lions of Welgevonden were introduced to readers, giving a clear update on the current lion population on the reserve. From this story rose two new kings, and this is their story.

The Tembe male (above), king of the north, central, west and eastern areas of the reserve was born in February 2012. He was born into a lion population in Northern Natal at Tembe Elephant Park, hence his name.  At the time of his introduction to Welgevonden Game Reserve, it was necessary for a young male of almost dominant age to be introduced to the reserve to assist rebuilding the lion population following the disease outbreak in late 2015. He was introduced in July 2016, and after only one day in the temporary housing boma, he broke out to start exploring his new home. He quickly took the park as his and became a great wanderer. He is now referred to as the Tembe male and is the dominant male in the Western Pride. He has fathered all the cubs born on the reserve since his introduction of which only one daughter of his remains in our current population. His royal blood line will not be carried forth in male offspring on the reserve yet, as the five sons he has fathered have since been relocated to other reserves to assist with the metapopulation genetic dynamics of lions in Southern Africa. The Tembe male is well-known for covering a lot of ground quickly and this is most likely due to the lack of other dominant males on the reserve and in the area. Welgevonden Game Reserve borders two other reserves, which have lion populations, Marakele National Park and a private reserve. He is easily recognised by his predominantly tawny mane with dark fringes closer to the neck and a short crew-cut hairstyle.  He is a tall male, taller than his rival and has a long, narrow face.

The Dinokeng male (below), king of the south, was born in April 2010. He was born on Welgevonden Game Reserve but when he was approximately two years old, was relocated to the Dinokeng Game Reserve close to Pretoria. This was as part of a lion management programme introducing males into areas to mimic dispersion of males in natural lion populations.  He was later returned to his home, Welgevonden Game Reserve, in February 2018. Having left when he was a young male, he was undoubtedly unsure of his new surroundings and made his way to the south of the reserve in what can only be described as homing instinct in lions. Dinokeng Game Reserve is relatively close to Welgevonden, about 100kms away. It was not until some months later, that Dinokeng and Tembe made contact and their territorial boundaries were laid down. Dinokeng dominates the south of the reserve with the Sterkstroom River valley forming the ‘official’ border, where Tembe dominates the northern, central and eastern areas.   Dinokeng is recognised by being a larger, heavier set male with a thicker mane with more dark hair than tawny. He is not as tall as his rival and walks with a slight stoop. He has a distinct long, dark fringe.

Dinokeng Male at Makweti

It is both fascinating and humbling to watch these two kings fight for dominance both physically and intellectually.  They constantly push each other to test the limits and are seen taking reconnaissance trips into their rivals’ territories from time to time. In what can only be typically ‘royal’ this Game of Thrones never ends.

Jessica and I were out on a late afternoon drive last year in November when such a saga was witnessed. We were in the central areas, deep in Tembe territory and having picked up on lion tracks, we were fervently searching for their owners. We narrowed their location down to a small section near Sekgwa Plains and eventually saw one of the Western Pride females on her own moving south, she was location calling and seemed anxious to find either her sister or the now 1.5 year old cubs of the pride. We lost her eventually as she headed into deep bush but decided to circle around to another area having picked up on male lion tracks, which we assumed must be Tembe, possibly with the other Western Pride female. We headed to an area where we knew they frequented and on rounding a corner came across the other said female with the male. Low and behold, this was Dinokeng not Tembe who we assumed was around! This was interesting, as we were certainly well out of the Dinokeng’s territory and here he was not only having stolen ground but was seducing a rival male’s female.

There are so many similar stories and more, of these rivals, which is best experienced in person.  

Q&A – Our Lions Giving Perspective

We are asked many questions around lion behaviour. Answering these in respect to our male lions helps paint a clearer picture for this reserve.

  • Do Male Lions Hunt?

In short, of course they do! Male lions hunt quite often. Male lions will typically leave their pride when they two years old, as the dominant male of the pride puts pressure on them to move on. Until they are around 5 – 6 years old, they will become nomadic or lodgers in other dominant male lion territories, avoiding trouble. During this period, they will need to hunt for themselves and will take any prey they can, often warthog or similar size animals that they can surprise or catch in an opportunistic situation.  However, males continue to hunt into adulthood as they will need to eat even when with the pride. When patrolling territory, they will hunt for themselves as this can be 3 – 4 days at a time. Tembe in particular hunts wildebeest, ostrich and zebra quite successfully on his own.

  • Why Do Lions Roar?

Lions roar for a number of reasons, and this only forms part of their communication ensemble. Males will typically roar to announce presence in that particular area of their territory. It also serves to warn any potential rivals in the area or within earshot that they are near and this area or territory is occupied or taken. Males will also roar to inform their prides that they are near, informing them that they have returned to the area. They will locate the females and pride by scent. A male lions roar is heard by other lions up to 8kms away. Humans can hear their roars from about 4kms away. Females will roar with males when they are with him, this is a sign of support to them and the pride dominance. Females will not usually roar outside of the males’ presence. On this reserve, I have not heard females respond to either of the males roaring. In saying that, I have been with Tembe before, where he roared a number of times and after an hour the Western Pride with their then 6-month old cubs came to join him.   Tembe has a reputation of being a great wanderer and he covers huge ground. We are often asked why this is the case as in many other reserves. Male lions do not cover so much ground within their territories.  We have discussed this at length and my theory on this reads; I believe male lions will roar expecting some kind of response. As a result of fewer rival males on the reserve, the Tembe male grew into a habit of investigating by foot whilst roaring, all the time expecting a response. In this way he discovered the reserve quickly and learnt the area well. The only response to his roars came from the rival males on neighbouring reserves, and so he continues to cover a lot of ground to ensure this remains the case. In other areas where there is a higher density of male lions, roaring receives a response in a shorter time and so less area is covered. I have yet to test this theory.

  • Why Are Lions The “King of the Beasts”

This is a great question, and one that is not easily answered. There are many other species that could fit this role, but for some reason it is the lion who holds the reigning crown. Perhaps it was due to the fact that historically, as mentioned before, they were widespread in the old world and were the large predator in most areas.

I think the answer to this question is best answered by perhaps the oldest living race of people today, the San. In Laurens van der Posts book, The Heart of the Hunter; Dabe, his San aid on his return expedition to the Kalahari answered this question in true San style. I quote from this great read:

“Had I noticed he asked, how everything in life had a place of its own? For instance, the springbok had their pans, the eland and the hartebeest their great plains, the jackal and hyena, the lynx, the mongoose and the leopard each have a hole of his own, the lion though, could come and go and eat and sleep wherever he liked. Even the locusts had their grass and the ants their mounds of earth – and had I ever seen a bird without a nest?”

True to their great wandering behaviour, lions come and go as the please and hence deserve the title of king.

I remember as a child listening to a cassette tape over and over again on the calls of African wildlife and of course being captivated by the early morning call of a lion roaring. It has stuck with me for 35 years. “The dawn greeting of the king of beasts rings clear across grassland, woodland and vlei.”   There is nothing quite like listening to the roar of a male lion on a dawn patrol of his territory. This precise picture is exactly what we think of when we think of Africa, and there is no place complete without the lion.

Much appreciation is expressed to Dr Jonathan Swart, resident Scientific Ecologist on Welgevonden Game Reserve for his input.  Thank you to Andre Burger and Greg Canning for providing information on the births of the dominant males we currently have on the reserve.

Picture note: Male lion tracks in the sand showing clearly the size difference between front (large) and back (smaller).

Words and images: Neil Davison

References:

  1. Personal observations by the author on Welgevonden Game Reserve
  2. The Behaviour Guide to African Mammals, Richard Despard Estes, Russel Friedman Books CC, 1995
  3. Mammals of the Southern African Sub Region, J.D Skinner & R.H.N. Smithers, Second Edition, University of Pretoria: Mammal Research Institute, Pretoria, 1990
  4. Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa, Chris & Tilde Stuart, Fourth Edition, Struik Nature, Cape Town, 2007