JOURNAL

The Wild Side of Family

As the weather cools down in Madikwe Game Reserve, the animal kingdom is buzzing with activity. Lush landscapes and beautiful scenery make it the perfect time to spot adorable newborns and witness the migration of fascinating bird species. But beyond the beauty lies a fascinating story of how different animal families function and thrive in the wild.

Lions: Strength in Unity

We all know the lion, the undisputed king of the savannah. But did you know the “kings” often roam solo, patrolling and protecting their territory? The real power lies with the prides, led by strong females. These fierce moms protect their cubs, even fighting off rival males. It’s a harsh reality: when a new male takes over, he might kill existing cubs to bring the females back into breeding mode. That’s why female loyalty hinges on the male’s ability to defend them and their young. And trust us, these males will fight tooth and nail to protect their legacy.

We recently spotted a female with two cubs near the rocky area on northern side of the reserve. This majestic lioness relaxed in the shade of a large rock while her two playful cubs bounded between the rocks with unwavering energy, showcasing their impressive agility and youthful curiosity. After a while the cubs decided it was time for a break and disappeared into a small cave, seeking refuge from the heat. It was a heart-warming scene, watching these predators learn and play under the watchful eye of their mother. 

Lion Cub 1
Photo credit: Hanru Nortje
Lion Cub 2
Photo credit: Hanru Nortje
Lion Cub 3
Photo credit: Hanru Nortje

Wild Dogs: Cooperation is Key

Wild dog packs are all about one thing: survival of the pups. Wild dog litters can reach up to over 10 pups, so it’s no surprise everyone pitches in. There’s a breeding pair, the “alphas,” and the rest of the pack acts as providers and protectors. While the alpha female nurses, the pack hunts nearby, returning to regurgitate food and ensure her well-being. Once the pups are strong enough, they join the pack activities, learning the ropes from their dedicated family unit. Without this unwavering loyalty, those pups wouldn’t stand a chance.

Wild dogs tend to be quite elusive on the Western side of the reserve, however if you do get the chance to spot them it is an unforgettable experience. These energetic canines are all about chilling on a hot day. Think napping under shady trees and bushes, but catch them on the move and get ready for a show! Wild dogs are a bundle of energy and curiosity  and watching them bound around and interact is pure joy, reminding us that even in the wild, playtime is essential.

Wild Dog 1
Photo credit: Hanru Nortje
Wild dog 2
Photo credit: Hanru Nortje
Wild dog 3
Photo credit: Hanru Nortje

Elephants: Lifelong Commitment

These gentle giants are known for their strong family bonds and matriarchal society. Female elephants lead herds made up of their daughters, sisters, and calves. Witnessing their remarkable intelligence, cooperation, and compassion towards each other is truly heartwarming. They are fiercely protective of their young, forming an unbreakable barrier around them when danger arises. Their intricate communication system alerts the entire herd, and they become a formidable force against any threat.

We often come across bachelor elephant groups or solo males while cruising around Madikwe Reserve. Males will hang on their own until they are in musth, then they try their luck with the matricarchal herd. Speaking of the matriarch, we had an incredible sighting while out on drive of a large female herd with their calves at Tlou Dam. Suddenly, a lone male elephant showed up, probably trying to impress the ladies, but the wise matriarch wasn’t having any of it. She led her herd away, leaving the lovesick bachelor behind. 

Elephant Family 1
Photo credit: Hanru Nortje
Elephant Family 2
Photo credit: Hanru Nortje

Cheetahs: Speed and Stealth

The fastest land animals, cheetahs, live in small family units of mothers and cubs. Despite their intimidating size, they’re actually quite delicate and prefer avoiding conflict. But don’t underestimate these mothers! When it comes to their cubs, they become fierce protectors, using intimidation tactics to ward off predators. Their loyalty lies solely with their young, and they dedicate themselves to teaching them valuable hunting skills through play and observation. By watching their mother in action, the cubs learn the tricks of the trade and become skilled hunters themselves.

Just a few months back, we came across a magnificent female cheetah with her three cubs. The cubs were bursting with energy, pouncing on imaginary enemies and playfully chasing each other around, their agility and speed already starting to shine. Mom, ever-watchful, kept a safe distance. 

Cheetah Cubs 1
Photo credit: Hanru Nortje
Cheetahs
Photo credit: Hanru Nortje

So there you have it! A glimpse into the ways different animal families navigate the wild world: always learning, adapting, and protecting their young, reminding us of the importance of family, even in the animal kingdom. 

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