One of the first things we as rangers do as we set off from camp on our game drives is to decide on an initial route. Therefore the majority of the initial radio communication has to do with finding out where everyone is going and what roads are being driven. If we all drive different roads we can cover as much ground as possible, this helps us to spread out across the reserve, which greatly increases our chances of finding animals. One of my favourite routes to take for a number of reasons is to get down into the Maxabene Riverbed and drive along the river sand under the dense riverine canopy winding our way through the reserve.
The Maxabene River is a deep subterranean annual river that only really flows above ground after a heavy downpour of rain. The source is in the central/western part of Londolozi and its course runs for the most part in a south-easterly direction across the width of Londolozi, until its confluence with the Sand River along our eastern boundary. It is not only a beautifully scenic stretch of riverine greenery but is normally very productive when searching for both big and small animals alike.
What makes the Maxabene so attractive to drive along?
Trees and Birdlife
The course of the Maxabene transports you through a number of different environments. There are a variety of spectacular trees and beautiful Tamboti thickets along the way. From the stunning three that Dan talks about in his blog, enormous jackalberrys, amazing leadwoods and large Lowveld fig trees to the lush greenery of the weeping boerbeans, and stands of knobthorn trees. Most of the trees that line the banks of the riverbed have their roots deep within the water table, and are therefore able to attain a much greater size than those that we see higher up on the crests for example.
Going into the summer, the Maxabene becomes a colourful hive of activity. With many of the trees flowering or fruiting this time of year, a host of birds and insects are attracted to the area. The birds and the trees are an integral part of any ecosystem, and they jointly create both beautiful scenery and a wonderful soundtrack to go with it.
And here are just a handful of the exciting birds that we might encounter along the Maxabene River.
The Maxabene Riverbed is a great place to search for leopards. Leopards are solitary, secretive cats that are excellent ambush predators. The dense foliage within the area provides just the right environment for them. The highest density of leopards on Londolozi lies within the South East portion of the reserve, and it is certainly the Maxabene that plays a big role in that.
Currently, there is the potential to come across at least 9 different leopards that are considered regulars in the area in and around this riverbed. Namely, the Nkoveni Female and her two Sub-adult youngsters, the Three Rivers Female and Young Male, the Ximungwe Female and Ntomi Male, the Senegal Bush Male and the Maxims Male.
The Maxabene runs for just over 8km before it joins the Sand River. With this sandy channel stretching through the southeastern parts of the reserve, there is bound to come to a point where an animal that we might be searching for has crossed the riverbed. Tracks are relatively easy to spot on a sandy substrate. This gives us a great starting point when it comes to tracking a leopard, or any animal for that matter.
There is always a plethora of different tracks that have materialized overnight, which can be found while venturing along the riverbed. Even the smallest of animals like dwarf mongooses or doves will leave impressions in the sand. It is fascinating to try and identify all the different animal tracks and piece together the story that unfolded during the period between the game drives.
Escaping the Elements
The elements play a big role in the movements and behaviour of the animals. On a very hot summer’s day, elephants are more likely to gravitate toward areas like the Maxabene where there is ample shade to keep them cool. Days like these see most animals, especially the big cats, resting up and only becoming active later on when temperatures cool down.
The abundance of trees provide a lot of shelter from the wind too. Many animals feel safer when sheltered from other elements like wind and rain, both of which impair their ability to listen for any potential danger approaching. Sheltered areas don’t quite feel the brunt of the elements and are therefore going to be attractive places for most animals during these conditions.
The Maxabene will always be one of my favourite areas on the reserve. It is only a few kilometres from camp and is a great starting point for any game drive. Whether it be discovering the fresh tracks of lions in the sand that send you off into an all-morning tracking adventure, or simply admiring the birds and beautiful scenery. It has the potential for almost anything, but you never quite know what you might find along its course, making it so special.