Trip Report - Mala Mala, Rattrays Jan 2006

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Jan 26th, 2006, 12:42 PM
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Trip Report - Mala Mala, Rattrays Jan 2006

First Installment

After some frantic last minute work we were ready to head out. Saturday morning we flew United Business SFO-LHR. The airport was a zoo, with a long line to check in even for 1st class. We didn't have long to do any shopping, which really didn't bother me too much. Flight was good, though I think there was some kind of mistake, one of the attendants was actually pleasant ;-)
Spent Sunday visiting my family in Hampstead then over to Woking to see Elke's Gran for tea, then off to Heathrow for the Virgin flight to JNB. Again the airport was a zoo and so we had only 30 minutes to enjoy the Virgin lounge (only half done, so a little crowded). Flight down was delayed an hour, though I slept through most of the delay, waking as we took off. The new Suite in Upper Class is great, though the cabin section really gives a new dimension to cattle class, it looks like a barn with all these individual stalls.
Arrived JNB on Monday morning and had enough time to get cash, then walk to domestic to check bags for the SA Airlink flight to Mala Mala. If time is a little short for connections I recommend getting off the bus as fast as possible and get ahead of as many people as possible in the immigration lines. Split yourselves up into two lines, and choose the lines closest to the residents line (once they are through, they will open the lines to non-residents). We ended up waiting about ten minutes at the gate for our flight.
It's so nice after all the travelling to land directly at Mala Mala and then be just five minutes from camp. As frequent guests we are taken directly to our room, then we just bring the registration slip and our credit card to the office when we get chance.

As we requested our friend Leon was our ranger and we had the vehicle to ourselves for the first two drives until our friends arrived the next day.

More to follow..
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Jan 26th, 2006, 12:56 PM
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Jan 26th, 2006, 01:38 PM
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Trip reports are like little
presents. I can't wait to
read them.
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Jan 26th, 2006, 02:14 PM
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Any pangolins on your drives?
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Jan 26th, 2006, 04:52 PM
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No Pangolins.

Our first day turns out to be a quiet one. No one has seen a Leopard all day and we do lots of driving, not seeing much. Of course, because we are keen on the birds we did spend our time profitably, coming up with 72 birds on our first drive. We did see 4 males and 2 females of the Eyrefield Pride on the airstrip, some magnificient Kudu bulls and a small breeding herd of Elephant.

Day 2 was much better. Heading out toward Mlowathi dam we find one of the cubs of the Campbell Koppies female sauntering down the road. We follow her for quite some time as she explores her surroundings and stalks and tries to catch a pair of squirrels. She seems oblivious to the fact that they are chattering at her, while she is stalking them. After 30 minutes or so we leave her and head back down the road only to bump into her mom coming to find her. We follow her as she calls for her cub, then get to witness a very joyous reunion. The cub is so excited to see mom that she ends up testing moms patience a little.
Leaving them we head back down the road again, this time getting another 200 yards before we run into the Styx pride lying all over the road. There are now 7 females in the pride, following the loss of the injured female after Christmas.
We hear on the radio that the Leopard has picked up her other cub near Mlowathi and is leading them back to a kill (we think). We follow them back virtually to where we met the first cub, then on into very thick bush and eventually to a kill (one year old male Impala). All of this took time, so we were late for breakfast, but Leon called an order in for us. All of which was great until we got a puncture, changing the wheel took a little time and we got back to camp at about 11am.
22 new birds.
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Jan 26th, 2006, 05:06 PM
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>>>If time is a little short for connections I recommend getting off the bus as fast as possible and get ahead of as many people as possible in the immigration lines<<<

Some would prefer to just go through the South African Resident line and then say that they were directed to do so by whichever customs official is just far enough out of hearing distance.
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Jan 26th, 2006, 07:34 PM
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How come........nobody who goes to Mala Mala ever mentions, the magnificent Nyala antelope in their property.....

I've never seen these impressive antelope anywhere else in Africa and they are awesome!!!
 
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Jan 27th, 2006, 06:21 AM
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Nyala were in very short supply. You need to go in the dry season when they are all around camp. In the wet season, they keep to themselves.

At lunch we were joined by our friends who we met at MM in March 2004, we have been hooking up ever since, because we all want exactly the same from our visit, it means no arguments or disappointments.
At the airfield we got a new life bird, the Croaking Cisticola, definitely an LBJ.
We also filmed from the West Street Bridge, 12 Giraffe in single file crossing the river, what an amazing site, Leon our ranger had never seen anything like it in 15 years here. It was quite comical to see a number of half starts, false starts, sudden retreats before 9 of them headed across.
Later we saw the Styx pride doing what Lions do best before seeing Campbell Koppies and the cubs. One cub came right up to the vehicle and I have video of her looking up at me from about 3 feet away.

Work calls. More later.
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Jan 27th, 2006, 05:12 PM
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Hi Matt,
Funny you should mention that Campbell Koppies female cub coming right up to the vehicle - one of them did the same to us - pure curiousity brought her to within a metre of where the ranger Andrew was sitting side saddle talking to us. She studied him as if she had never seen the likes of it and as he had his back to her, he had to stay in that position, but her lovely little face, is my screen saver now!
Look forward to the more later.
Kaye
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Jan 28th, 2006, 02:59 AM
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If you love nyala there are many of these beautiful creatures in Umfolozi park in South Africa... beautiful animals.
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Jan 28th, 2006, 03:03 AM
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Or you can go to Phinda, where they are frequenly seen from Forest Lodge...

Cheers,
Julian
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Jan 28th, 2006, 03:10 AM
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Hi Matt,

BTW, whatever happened with the 'TVs at Mala Mala' situation? Did you ever find the TVs disturbing (I know you didn't have the one in your room on, but I was wondering if you could hear the noise from neighbouring rooms).

Also, do people actually use the golf carts? This did seem a bit OTT when I read about it...though useful for the disabled or elderly guest. The idea of seeing little golf carts driving around the Sabi Sands makes me laugh.

Cheers,
Julian
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Jan 28th, 2006, 03:25 AM
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Golf carts... Sabi Sands... I doubt I'll ever play golf again without thinking of the Sabi Sands whenever I go in a sand trap!
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Jan 28th, 2006, 08:36 AM
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Julian

Since you asked I will cover the internet, TV and golf carts at Rattrays.

Rooms at Rattrays are private cottages, huge. There is no way the next cottage would disturb you with the TV, except under exceptional circumstances (e.g. they were trying to do that). On check in we were asked if we wanted the TV and internet, I took it because I had promised to report back and because my wifes friend was expecting a baby, so we had committed to checking e-mail.
Aboit 70% of guets have used it so far they said. There is a desk with a locked drawer that contains the laptop. I actually thought this would be very useful for downloading memory cards and burning images to CD. The connection was not particularly fast so uploading to Snapfish would probably not be that good an idea. I opened the TV cabinet, which simply looks like an attractive piece of furniture, there are no external clues as to its real purpose. Inside was state of the art flat screen TV with satellite and DVD player. I have heard more than one person on this board reference watching DVD's on their laptop, this would remove the need for the laptop.
In summary I wouldn't take the keys again, but I don't think any other guests using them would have the slightest impact on your enjoyment of camp.
Golf carts were not issued to us on arrival and we walked throughout camp. I will admit that on our last night when we celebrated my friend's retirement for he umpteenth time, we did get a ride back to the room

If you are in the furthest cottages and the walk is a bit much for you then the golf cart would be great, they are definitely available, but you have to ask. They are not encouraging their use.

One last thing on Rattrays, it is spectacular and has a beautiful setting. Its location at a major Elephant and Lion crossing point means that it is fenced. But Harry's always was, so that is nothing new. Camps seem very keen to avoid the tragedy that happened at Lion Sands.

We will be going back to Rattrays, because it puts so much of the southern territory of Mala Mala in easy reach, which means more Lions and Leopards.
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Jan 28th, 2006, 08:53 AM
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Well, here I go showing my ignorance once again, but what happened at Lion Sands? Is there an article about it? Thanks, Jack
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Jan 28th, 2006, 09:24 AM
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Hi Matt,

Thanks for your feedback on the TV/Internet situation. It sounds much less intrusive than some people made it out to be...I had horrible visions of going to sleep to the sound of my neighbours watching 'Friends' or some equally inane rubbish instead of the sounds of the bush. Unfortunately, after looking at the rates (and the 50% single supplement) I think it may be a long time before I get to visit it. You mentioned that Nicky at EOA was able to get you far below rack rates for MM -- out of curiosity, how much lower? Drop me an email at jasher AT well.ox.ac.uk if you don't want to post them here.

From the MM map, it looks like Rattrays was built on the site of Harry's -- is this the case? As gorgeous as Rattrays is, I was very sad to see Harry's and Kirkman's go -- they would have made Mala Mala much more affordable, even with the single supplement.

Cheers,
Julian
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Jan 28th, 2006, 05:25 PM
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Jack

A member of staff was tragically killed chasing Elephants out of camp, it was a couple of years ago I believe, and has been mentioned here before I think.

Julian

Will send separate e-mail. Rattrays is built on the site of Harrys. Agreed on the demise of Harrys, but Singita et al have really upped the stakes on what seems to be acceptable accomodations for safari goers and the Rattrays believed they needed to step up.
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Jan 28th, 2006, 05:40 PM
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Thanks, Matt. If anybody would like to read the article, I found it at:

http://www.lowvelder.co.za/show_story.asp?storyid=4186

Jack
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Jan 29th, 2006, 04:52 AM
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Next instalment.

During a comparitively quiet drive we did follow the Styx Pride and the Split Rock males for a while until they decided to sleep. Then we ran into a good sized herd of Buffalo who were moving towards the Lions, it was very interesting to watch the interactions as both sides became aware of the other. In the end the Lions beat a hasty, but somewhat dignified retreat. On this drive our tracker Saliot also decided something had spooked some Impala, though there were no snorts or anything, he just got a feeling. So we drove in the direction of their interest a found the body of a lamb up a tree. We resolved to visit the scene later.

On the afternoon drive we didn't quite arrive in time to witness the whole scene, but we saw a lot of it. I will relate the whole episode.

The Kikilezi female turned up to claim her prize,followed closely by a nomadic male Leopard (son of the Hlabatini female) they squabbled in the tree and the kill fell out. As this happened the Lions from earlier who were not far away came running in. Kikilezi went to the top of the kill tree and the male dashed to the safety of a very large tree. An Impala lamb doesn't go far with 9 Lions, and eventually most left leaving a female and one of the males to the spoils. We arrived to witness the Lions departing the scene. As soon as it was safe Kikilezi jumped out of her tree and was off like a shot. The male still able to see the Lions and in a much higher tree was not able to escape yet. Suddenly the two Lions came back into view, there appeared to be sme growling back and forth when suddenly the Lioness sprinted at the tree, jumped her up the trunk and climbed to about 25 feet. The terrified Leopard was by now clinging to the tiny branches in the canopy at about 60 feet up. The lioness could not hang on though and eventually slid then fell to the ground. I did get a lot of this on video, it was total darkness, but my new camera was spectacular with vehicle spotlights even from a distance. I am working out how to get video images on the web, if anyone has any bright ideas, let me know.

The next day was very hot, and we had a very uneventful drive, I guess they happen even at Mala Mala. That afternoon the wind came up and a huge storm came in. We had the rain suits and didn't get too wet, though filming was out of the question, we did follow the Styx Pride on the hunt until they headed over the Gowrie Trust Road to a neighbouring property. Highlight of the day was getting one new bird, a Pallid Harrier, not normally seen at Mala Mala, at the airstrip. Heard but not seen was a Stierlings Barred Warbler.

The next day was our Big Day, we had planned to try and see as many birds as possible, while not ignoring mammals. In fifteen minutes sitting at a bush just outside camp we came up with 32, including my 150th for the trip a Red Billed Quelea. We heard but didn't see the Stierlings Barred Warbler. Out east we saw a couple of nomadic Lions from Kruger with collars and a rarity these days for Mala Mala, a Side Striped Jackal. On the way back to camp we saw a pair of magnificient Buffalo Bulls, and commented that it would be pretty tough for them to be taken little did we know.

That afternoon we headed to a report of the Eyrefield Males and one female. As we arrived they were harassing a rhino calf with its parents. The Rhino Calf was as most are, adorable, quite comfortable with the vehicle and immensely curious. The parents were reluctant to stay in the area and soon headed away from the Lions.
We watched as the Lions started to move in search of quarry. As usual there was lots of movement, followed by sudden periods of rest and grooming, then back up again. The hunt was led by the female and the adult male. They were headed in the direction of where we had seen the Buffalo bulls that morning and must have heard something, because they suddenly became very business like. We followed the lead Lions off the road into thick bush, where suddenly they both crouched down, then we heard a chomp of Buffalo teeth on grass and realized the Buffalo were feet from us. Suddenly the Lions attacked and a Buffalo came charging right in front of us, then they changed course and we caught glimpses of the action through the bush, seeing Lions trying to jump on the Buffalo as they charged around. As we got back to the open, it was clear one of the Buffalo had made a fatal mistake, he had run into the open and stopped in a small pan. We then watched as the Lions encircled him, looking for an opportunity to attack his vulnerable rear. Eventually one managed to jump on his back and tried to bite the spinal cord while two or three more attempted to bite the tendons of his back legs. This was fascinating, but it took at least thirty minutes for the Buffalo to go down, all the while he bellowed distress calls. Once they got him down, the big male closed off his airways and the life passed from the Buffalo.

This was an intense, visceral, emotional experience. You could almost feel the pain of the Buffalo as you heard Lion claws rending at his hide. To look at the Buffalo and hear his calls was quite difficult, but as Elke says it would be hypocritical to just want to see the nice things without seeing the reality of life. As seasoned safari goers we are always looking to see interaction between species, but this was probably enough for a while. I think I have little reason to visit Duba Plains now.

During this whole episode we heard a couple of interesing things, the distress call of a Duiker taken either by a Leopard or by a Hyena that had been attracted by the kill and a Stierlings Barred Warbler. Not even Leon was ready to suggest we follow up on the Warbler this time.
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Jan 29th, 2006, 05:05 AM
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Hi Matt, fascinating report. You might get some help on putting video on the web from Linjudy, who a week or so ago posted 4 excellent videos. Jack
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