Elephant Plains Game Lodge

Rangers Report June 2012

There is really just one word to describe the weather of this month and that is cold. We had a number of cold fronts that passed through the area this month, but at least the hot water bottles and blankets on the vehicles helped against the coldest winter mornings. With an average maximum temperature of 24°C we had some lovely day temperatures, but the mornings and evenings were a bit chilly. There is nothing more beautiful than sitting in a remote area in the African bushveld, watching the wild animals and seeing the orange glow of the winter’s sun, rising or setting on the horizon. Game viewing was once again out of this world and we had awesome sightings as well as some sad moments. But it won’t be raw nature without the good and the bad happening in front of your eyes.  We did not have any rain this month. The grass is all brown and the trees are slowly going pale and losing all their leaves.

Saddle Billed Stork - Photo by Louis Liversage

Saddle Billed Stork - Photo by Louis Liversage

Leopards

Tingana is now moving really far and wide whilst expanding his territory. He’s going more north and will slowly but surely push out the older Jordaan male, who seems to be coming to the end of his reign as the dominant male in that area. Mvula, who reigns in the eastern part of our traversing area, is also doing well for himself, pushing further and further north, as well as east. Lamula has established a very small territory in between the two big males, Tingana and Mvula. At this stage he is doing well. There is also a chance that he might have fathered Kwatile’s cubs, as she mated with both him and Mvula. If there is more than one male overlapping her area, females sometimes mate with both, making it difficult to determine who the father is. Kurula was also seen mating with Tingana once again, so all fingers are crossed that she conceived this time. In 110 days she might be a brand new mother. Kurula’s previous cubs are already independent and we haven’t seen them for quite some time as they have probably established new territories out of our traversing area. Ntima is looking fabulous for her age and still fending off competition from her two daughters, as well as Kurula. She still has her old territory, even though it’s not as big as it used to be. As she still has a few years left to produce more cubs, we are looking forward to that day. The strangest thing happened with Shadow this month. She was seen mating with Tingana for a few days, but as far as we know she was supposed to give birth. What happened to the cubs, whether she had given birth and lost them soon after, or aborted before that, we will unfortunately never know. Then there is Salayexe, who never seizes to entertain us! She was close to giving birth and we found her frequenting the African Health Spa. Some of you will still remember that she ended up giving birth to her previous litter underneath our spa deck. When we saw that she was considering this option again, we decided to close the deck off so that she would not be able to enter the area. What did she do? First she tried to claw her way through the fencing that we used to close the deck area. When this did not work, she decided to go for another option – she decided to give birth underneath one of the neighbouring lodges’ spa decks. Being the lady that she is, it seems that a Spa would always be her first option!

Lions

The two young Nkuhuma brothers are back and it’s really nice to see them again. Last time we saw these two brothers, they were not looking too great. The one with the busted leg is a fair amount smaller than his brother, but looking good. When they go hunting it’s up to his brother to put food on the table. The other male is growing up very fast, getting bigger and turning into a beautiful male lion just like his father. It was a very sad month for the two Nkuhuma females on the other hand. Their two cubs are just over a year old and they’ve tried very hard to keep them out of harm’s way. Unfortunately the Matimba males caught them off guard and killed one of the youngsters, feeding on him afterwards. Cannibalism amongst lions is very common. Male lions will often kill cubs that do not belong to them so that the female can come into oestrus. In this way the male will be able to mate with her, spreading his gene pool. At last the four young Tsalala females are out of danger from being killed by the Majingi males. The four youngsters are estimated to be about three and a half years old and we have seen the Black maned Majingi mating with one of the females on the 6th of June. It’s not going to be too long before the males will mate with all four ladies and if all goes well, we might see small cubs in a little while. The Styx pride is still doing well and we see them on a regular basis. Tragedy struck when the Styx pride came across a small pack of wild dogs and then killed one of them and ate it. We were really sad when we heard about the incident and the rest that followed, but what one should learn to understand is that there is a constant battle going on in the African bush. A battle that has been fought since the dawn of time: the battle for survival.

Buffaloes

Styx Cub - Photo by Morné Fouché

Styx Cub - Photo by Morné Fouché

Buffalo sightings were quite a treat this month.  We had a big breeding herd moving in and out of our area and we also saw a lot of bulls spending time around the waterholes. We heard a buffalo distress calling one night and we thought that it might be a kill. The next morning while out on drive, we could not find anything though.  The Bovines which include buffalo, bison and cattle has got a very unique social structure. I think everyone most probably have seen the video on YouTube called Battle in Kruger. If not, you have to Google it. Bovini has evolved a group defence system, which serves to protect both young and adults. A mobbing attack can be triggered by a distinctive distress call.  When a herd is under attack by predators and one gets taken down, it will bellow to give the distress call and the herd will return to try and help it. Their sense of smell is best developed for locating food or detecting enemies.  Their eye sight and hearing is not as good, but also not bad at all. Vocal sounds and signals are very important in the communication of the buffaloes. Adult buffaloes also have social grooming or licking. This promotes the social bonds between the herd members. This grooming is normally directed to the head or neck of another member of the herd. It also promotes the maternal bond between cow and calf. There appears to be a minimal interchange between herds. Intruders, attempting to join a herd, are subjected to continuing harassment and kept on the periphery of the herd. As for the resident bachelor herds, they remain around their favourite waterholes. Since the bachelor herds are relatively small, their food supply remains constant, allowing them to stay in the same area.

Elephants

We were fortunate enough to see two big male elephants fighting and throwing their weight around. They got very vocal, causing the females to get excited, but simultaneously stressed out with the two heavyweights and their fight for dominance. Breeding herds that was a few kilometres away from the action also started vocalizing and the big females started excreting liquid from their temporal glands. This just shows you over what distance these animals can communicate with each other. Their best senses are hearing and smell, which is really excellent. An elephant’s eyesight is moderate; said to be best in dim light. They also communicate via a glandular secretion from their temporal glands, flopping of ears and vocalization. Come to think of it, elephants are very well equipped to express themselves! Elephants are also very keen on physical contact. Family members will often touch each other with their trunks while standing and resting, or when drinking water. They will also lean or rub their bodies against each other.  Mothers will sometimes guide a calf by gripping its tail and older calves, following their mothers, will sometimes hold on to mum’s tail. A touch with the trunk or rub with a foot reassures, but a slap with the trunk will also discipline the calves. We had a lot of small breeding herds in our area during this month where we also had ample opportunity to witness this behaviour between small calved and the rest of the herd. As winter is continuing and food sources are depleting, the breeding herds are also getting smaller, breaking up into smaller groups in order to cover a larger area in search of food and water.

Trapcam photo of the month - Hippo at Leeukuil

Trapcam photo of the month - Hippo at Leeukuil

Special Sighting

My highlight of the month must most definitely be seeing the first young Tsalala lioness mating with the Majingi male lion. For about two years now we’ve kept our fingers crossed that they would not have the same fate as their other siblings – to be killed by unrelated male lions. It just shows that BB is an incredible mother to have raised and guided them to independence, whilst keeping them out of harm’s way. As they are old enough now, the threat will be something of the past and hopefully one of these days we will have new cubs to look forward to.

Did you know?

A giraffe is the only ruminant that has a gestation period that’s longer than a year. It is also the biggest ruminant that exists.

Hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!

Morné Fouché

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