Those of you who joined us on game drive and followed our weekly sightings this last month will agree with me that March was action packed with surprises almost around every corner. With all the excitement we also had some misfortune in the cheetah family. We were very fortunate to see the cheetah mother and her 3 cubs coming into our area and staying here for a long time. She moved out of the area, only to return after a day, but this time with only two cubs. It is unknown what happened to the third little cub. We also had a pack of 17 wild dogs that came into the area. Overall, sightings were really over the top and it was a real pleasure to be out in the bush. We can feel that the seasons are changing as the mornings are much cooler and still dark when we leave for the morning safari. Day temperatures are still nice, but as soon as the sun disappears behind the horizon it gets a bit chilly. The average maximum temperature for the month was 29°C and we had a total of 22 millimetres rain.
Leopard sightings were just great this month. Salayexe and her little cub are doing fine and they are always a treat to view. The cub is really free spirited and full of surprises. It is almost as if you are watching a suspense movie, you don’t know what she will do next. Every inch of Salayexe’s territory is her playground and she thinks that all the animals inside of it are there for her to play with. Salayexe is really struggling to keep up with the liveliness off her daughter and all the games that she plays. I’ve also noticed that when Salayexe’s had enough of her cub and want some alone time, she will become a bit hostile towards the little one. Being so young and outgoing like she is, she wants to turn everything into a game. When two cubs are born and one dies the mother automatically needs to take over the entertainment role of the dead cub when it comes to play time! Shadow, on the other hand, was quiet at times but the times we did see her she and the two cubs were just priceless. The one cub is really getting used to the game drive vehicles around it and growing more in confidence as she stalks the vehicles in play. The other sibling is still very cautious and watches our every move and always sits close or even sometimes behind her mother. Some reinsurance in the form of a head rub or gentle face wash by mum lets her know everything is all right and that we pose no threat whatsoever. It’s common to find a very adventurous cub and a shy one born in the same litter.
Kurula was again very elusive this month as we haven’t seen her or the little cubs once this month, but we are confident that she will bring them out one of these days. The old lady, Ntima, was seen once or twice, but without any cubs. The little cubs are still very young and tucked away safely in a hidden den. It won’t be too long before the little cubs will start eating meat and Ntima will move them around to a new location, or to kills. Kwatile came for a surprise visit and what a surprise it was as we saw that she also has suckle marks. This is really good news for us and we keep our fingers crossed that she will this time successfully raise her new litter. Moya, the youngest of the territorial female leopards in our area has no cubs yet as far as we know, but we hope that this year will be a wonderful year for her. Tingana, our dominant male leopard, was seen a lot this month while marking his boundaries. Tingana has got his work cut out for him as the young male that came in from the west of his territory is expanding more east and Lamula in the southeast is expanding more northwest into Tingana’s territory. It’s only a matter of time before Tingana catches up with these two newcomers to defend his title and ultimately his cubs. Mvula is also expanding his territory more south and that caused Lamula to move more west. Mvula was very quiet this month and we didn’t see him a lot. Lamula was also under the radar and we saw him just a few times this month. Lamula is looking really good at this stage. He is getting bigger and putting on a lot of weight. It’s not going to be too long before he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Three of the four breakaway Tsalala females have been keeping a low profile this month. The one female with the cub/s stayed around our lodge for the whole month. We think that her den is very close to the lodge, somewhere in the thickets on the banks of the dry river bed that runs past our lodge. She will come out of the dense vegetation in the late afternoons to hunt and then return in the early mornings. She is looking good and feeding well as she killed a juvenile giraffe the one day and fed well for a few days, before the hyenas chased her off her kill. When she is by herself, hyenas can easily chase her off a kill, but when they are in a pride it will take a lot of hyenas to chase them off. We are unsure about the amount of cubs as more than one was heard while we were tracking one day. We have, however, not seen them yet. Pregnant females will normally leave the safety of the pride to go and give birth in a safe area, only to return to the pride when the cubs are about 8 weeks old. When she gives birth the whole game plan changes. She will have to hunt alone and that calls for a different hunting strategy because, unlike leopards that are solitary hunters and are used to hunting alone, lions are pride animals. The pride works as a team to bring down prey and feed together. Being alone she now has to depend on herself for food and taking care of her little ones. Lions are unbelievable animals and can adapt to any situation that presents itself. Hopefully it’s not too long before she will take the cubs back to introduce them to the rest of the pride. BB and her older daughters also came into our area, accompanied by three of the Majingi male lions. BB will be 15 years old this year and she’s still looking very good for her age. When you look at this old worrier, with her face and body covered in battle scars that each tell an exciting yet painful story, you can’t help to think of what she’s been through. BB’s daughters are looking superb and seeing them with the male lions gives us hope that in the next few months they might also have more cubs. We had two Nkuhuma lionesses and three of their cubs, joined by two of the six Matimba male lions, on a zebra kill in the area. They stayed in the area for about two days then moved north back into the core of their territory. The Styx pride is looking very healthy and better than ever. The four sub adults are over two years of age and it’s normally this time of their lives when they join in on hunts to learn the skillful art of successful hunting. The Majingi males are also looking good, but the only problem that I see is that they are splitting up too often and this leaves them very vulnerable and open for an attack by a group of younger males. Just look at what happened to the Mapogo coalition when they decided to split up.
We are still waiting for the big herds to pass through our area. We had tracks of a very nice sized herd that came into the area during the night, but moved out of the area again the very next morning. We are still full of hope that it will change when food gets scarcer and the big herds need to move further in search of more food. We had a few old dagga boys cooling down in the water or rolling in the mud. They will also roll in the mud to get the mud on them to rid their bodies from any unwanted tics, parasites and flies. The mud also helps the buffalo to keep cool in the hot African sun. We were lucky to see a bachelor herd consisting of dominant and sub dominant males. They usually leave their herd when mating is done in order to work on their condition. When mating season starts again, they go back to the herds to claim their females and their right to mate again.
There has been no shortage of elephant this month with medium sized herds, ranging between 30-40 animals and smaller herds of about 5-10 animals. These are trailed by a few big bulls in musth, with only one intention. When males go into musth their body undergoes a chemical transformation where high testosterone levels are released throughout the body. With this whole transformation going on in the bodies of these bulls their temperament also changes and they can get more aggressive and irritable, sometimes even charging the vehicles. It is always better to rather avoid these really bad-tempered heavyweights. During this time of the year, the smaller herds are slowly but surely starting to join forces to form a bigger herd. In the winter months you might find a few herds of maybe a hundred animals. In these herds there are quite a few little ones and it is so special to view them as they are full of surprises, like all young animals tend to be. It’s so funny watching these little rascals opening their ears and then charging at the vehicles, followed with a loud trumpet. The moment they realize that they’re all alone, they quickly turn around, running towards the safety of their mothers.
The special sighting of the month was to see a pack of 17 wild dogs working as a team in hunting impalas. Six hyenas came in to try and steal the kill. All the wild dogs launched a full-on attack on the hyenas. The hyenas did their best, but there were just too many wild dogs and the hyenas came off second best.
Did you know?
A pack of wild dogs are led by an alpha pair.