I think I speak for everyone when I say that January 2012 will always be remembered. It was a very exciting, but also challenging month for us. As Wayne mentioned in his report, we had some serious flooding during January. I have been working in the bush for nine years now and I have never before seen so much water in an area that is usually quite dry. It was unbelievable to witness such a wonder of nature, but it was frightening at the same time. To see the usually dry Manyeleti riverbed in front of the lodge, overflowing its banks and spread onto the open area was really impressive. With the river being in full flood and the roads soaking wet and muddy, game drives were challenging. Even though our roads are very reliable, we could not go on drive for the first day or two until the water receded. You can just imagine how saturated the ground was after at least 520mm of rain in such a short amount of time. I have not seen the bush so wet in my life! Luckily, everything is back to normal now and we are looking forward to a jam packed February, full of exciting game drives! Just to humor you, our average maximum temperature for the month of January was 29 °C and we had a total of 570 millimeters of rain (most of it in 48 hours).
The elephant sightings were a bit quiet this month, due to the amount of water that is currently in the bush. There is no need to go to a waterhole when they get thirsty or just want to cool down, as there is a pool of water or a small stream around every corner at the moment. At this stage we see a lot of mature bulls in the area and some of them is also now in musth. During periods of musth mature bulls wander alone, in search of mating opportunities. The bulls rank order is determined by seniority and their reproductive condition. Although bulls normally wander more widely than cows, they sometimes stay in a certain area for months at a time. During periods of sexual inactivity they might be alone or in small groups. Elephants can live in virtually any habitat which provides adequate amounts of food and water and at the moment there is no shortage of any of these. The elephants also provide us with a laugh every now and again. Being January, it is time for the Marula trees to start losing their fruits, which is definitely a delicacy for elephants. It is a very special sighting to see the elephants almost stalking the tree from a distance, and then going in for the kill. Some in the herd will vacuum up the fruits already down on the floor and others will shake the branches, causing the fruits to pour down like rain. It is strange to think that an action so normal for an elephant can be so amusing to watch for us human beings.
This month there were still no breeding herds in sight, but we did have plenty of old bulls / dagga boys in our area. With plentiful food sources we are happy to see a lot of males by themselves, because there is no need for them to travel in herds to better their feeding grounds. They will once again join their original bachelor herds as soon as food availability becomes scarcer. Breeding herds have home ranges which can be anything between 60-1000 square kilometers or more, but it is not defended like territories. Buffaloes are not migratory, but move in response to seasonal changes in food availability. Routes between grazing, water and cover will be frequently used. Buffaloes will graze up to 8-10 hour a day and they need a lot of grass and water to keep them busy for this long!
This month BB rejoined the four young Tsalala females, or maybe I should rather say that she actually brought them back together again. In last month’s report I mentioned that the four younger lionesses got split up and nobody knew what happened to them. I am glad to see them back together and that BB joined them. The two young Nkuhuma brothers are really looking good and feeding well. They are getting bolder by the day by giving territorial calls almost every night, maybe because of the absence of the four Majingi males. We have not seen the four big boys for most of the month and when we do get to see them, they are on our eastern traversing area, very seldom moving this far west. In regards to the Styx and other Tsalala females, we have not seen them this month. It might be because they were south of the Sand River when it started flooding. They are possibly still waiting for the surrounding areas to dry out a bit. It usually gets tricky to try and hunt, while you’re stuck in the mud.
Salayexe turned out to be a dark horse this month. She was seen attempting to mate with a male leopard at the end of January and this made us think that she had lost her cubs once again. But then we saw her a few days later, with what appeared to be suckle marks, so the verdict is still out on that one. There is an opinion that female leopards would sometimes feign wanting to mate in order to lure a male leopard away from the cubs if he gets too close to them. If she did lose the cubs, it could either have been the flooding, or because another predator killed them. As soon as we know for sure, we will let you know. The new dominant male leopard, who also fathered Salayexe’s previous cubs, got a name befitting his character: Tingana. Tingana means “the shy one”. We hope that he will become more accustomed to the vehicles over time. Tyson came into the area again in the beginning of the month, but soon moved down south, back to the core of his territory. Kurula is keeping a low profile at the moment, but when we see her there is no doubt that all is doing well as she and her youngsters are all in a great condition. Shadow is still as elusive as always. She is moving more north into her mothers’ territory. Ntima is still moving around and she was seen mating with the new male in the eastern traversing area. He is called Lamula – which means orange. He got this name because of the orange colour of his eyes. As we have not seen either Safari or Mafufunyana for a number of months now, they are both presumed dead.
For me, the most special sighting this month was definitely to see BB and the four young Tsalala females back together again. Two of the four are BB’s own cubs and the other two are actually her granddaughters. She did, however, raise all four of them very successfully, as her own. After they got separated last December, we were concerned about their survival as they were not old enough yet to start mating and therefore could have easily been killed by male lions frequenting the area. Seeing the Fantastic Five together again was great!
Did you know?
Lionesses in a pride with cubs of more or less the same age will suckle and nurse each other’s cubs.
Hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!