What an incredible month we had! Sightings were great and with the autumn colours that are appearing, the bush is looking lovely! Temperatures are really dropping fast and we already brought the blankets back onto the vehicles. We will also shortly bring back the hot water bottles as it’s really a chilly start during the early morning game drives. This month we also changed our morning game drive times from 5:30 am to 6:00 am, as the sun now only rises after 6:00 am. The bush really came to life this month, with one sound that overpowered all the other noises of the bushveld. This is the snorting and grunting sounds and clashing of impala horns, as rutting season is in full swing. These male impalas are definitely not holding back in the fight for dominance and the right to mate. This time of the year the males from different antelope species will also reunite with the female groups for mating season. Unlike the impalas though, they do not have the very vocal rutting sounds, but will still fight for dominance. With all the good sightings that we had this month, we also had some sad, unexpected turns. But more about that later… The average maximum temperature for April was 27 °C. We were also blessed with another 100mm of rain this month.
With all the amazing leopard sightings we were once again spoiled rotten, but with all the excitement there was also a very sad day. Xivambalana, the sub-adult male leopard and son of Kurula from her previous litter, killed Ntima’s little cub. We are unsure of how many cubs Ntima actually had, but my heart goes out to this old lady as she once again lost all her cubs. It just shows you how tough nature can sometimes be. Males would often kill a female’s cubs if they did not sire them, in order for the female to come into oestrus quicker. Salayexe and her little female cub are doing great. The little cub is getting really bold as she attempts to stalk everything that moves, even playing a very dangerous game with hyenas. Normally when a hyena approaches a leopard cub, the cub will run for the nearest tree. Well not this little one! She would first hiss and snarl and have a stand-off with the hyena and only when the hyena charges closer, would she jump up and get into the safety of a tree. The moment it loses interest, she would get out and start stalking it again. Salayexe usually leaves her behind when she goes hunting, because the little one is sure to spoil the whole hunt as excitement would make her chase after the prey too early. Poor Salayexe lost four kills to hyenas this month. This happened either because the little one dropped them out of the tree, or because it was too big to hoist up in the first place. What we’ve found this month was that all the leopards killed more male impalas and that they are sometimes a little bit too big to hoist into a tree, making easy pickings for the hyenas. The reason why they killed more males this month is due to the rutting season. Big males will leave the safety of the bachelor herd to look for a harem and challenge the dominant male. This makes them an easy target. Shadow and her two cubs are looking fantastic and I’m so glad to see she still has both cubs. Moya and Kwatile were rarely seen this month, but when we did see them there was no disappointment. Moya is a stunning female leopard and I for one didn’t really think that she would make it in the big league, with the likes of Salayexe and Kwatile bordering her territory and always looking to expand their own territories. Despite lacking experience, this young cat is still a formidable force to be reckoned with. Against all odds she has made it this far. Growing more in confidence, she has settled well into her territory. Kurula is still off the radar and all that we can do is to be patient and wait for her to come and show us her new bundles of joy. Mvula, the big male from the east, is pushing west into Tingana’s territory. In this process he is also pushing all the young males out of his turf into Tingana’s turf. Xivambalana, Kurula’s son from her previous litter, is getting pushed more west, as well as Lamula. Lamula is actually going very far into Tingana’s area and he means business as he is scent marking all over Tingana’s scent. Lamula is bigger and stronger than last year and it looks like he is ready to take on Tingana. The stage is set and it is just a matter of time before these two warriors will battle it out. It looks like Tingana knows he is loosing territory bit by bit and that is why he is on the move a lot. Lamula, Xivambalana and Mvula are not the only problems Tingana faces. The young male from the west is also pushing more eastwards. Only time will tell how this situation will play out.
We were very fortunate to see the Styx, Tsalalas and all four Majingi male lions this month! Let’s start off with the Styx pride. Tragedy struck this pride again as they walked into the Tsalala pride one evening and a huge fight broke out. They lost one of the small cubs in the fight and another one was badly injured. The rest of the pride members got a few cuts and bruises and were a bit shaken after the ordeal, but nothing too serious. The little one that is injured is still moving with the pride, but it looks like he might be in some pain. We keep our fingers crossed that this little one makes it and the pride doesn’t lose another cub. Territorial disputes like this one is common and it’s not just the males that will fight with each other. Females will also defend their territories and their cubs against rival prides. The Tsalala pride on the other hand is looking great and is in magnificent condition. I think out of all the lion prides in the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, the Tsalala pride is most probably the smallest, with three big females and one sub-adult. Despite being the smallest pride, these three females are quite the force to be reckoned with! BB is still looking good and going strong. She’s definitely got a few years left in the tank and that’s really a good thing for the pride. All four of the Majingi male lions came into our area and stayed here for a while, before moving on again. To our surprise the black maned Majingi male later linked up with the Tsalala females and they came back into our area. They stayed for a few days, with full bellies before moving on again. One morning early we heard two males calling close to the lodge and we knew that they couldn’t be too far. On drive we came across two of the four Majingi males tucking into a buffalo kill. Nothing went to waste as they stayed at the kill until there was almost nothing left – just a few scraps for the vultures and some bones for the hyenas.
Still the big breeding herds are nowhere to be found. With winter approaching fast, food is getting scarcer and that will lead to the smaller buffalo herds joining forces to form bigger herds. Overall, herds of buffalo don’t stay in one area for too long as they get driven by food and water supplies. Some of the females still have small calves of a few months old and some of the other females with bigger calves are coming into oestrus now. With the females coming into oestrus, the dominant males that left the female herds a few months ago have returned to the herds. The dominant males leave the herds to fatten up and get themselves ready for mating season, which is starting now. When the males enter the female herds again, they have to fight for mating rights. A big dominant male will have anywhere between ten and fifteen females that he will mate with. Even the really big males can’t attend to all the females and sometimes some of the younger males might also get a change to mate, without having to fight it out beforehand. The old dagga boys are once again alone and we see them on a regular basis. Being alone in the African bush is surely the worst thing for an old buffalo. Lions will not hesitate for a second when they spot an old buffalo bull on its own!
We’ve had very good elephant sightings this month. While having breakfast or lunch, you would often see elephant herds walking over the open area to quench their thirst with nice fresh water at the waterhole in front of the lodge. Also with all the rain that we had this last month there is still a lot of water in the dams. We saw some really nice big breeding herds on drive, ranging anywhere from forty to about sixty animals, including a few tiny calves. As a rule of thumb, when a baby elephant can fit under the mother’s stomach, that baby is still under a year old. We were also very fortunate to see a really big bull with some very impressive tusks. Because there aren’t many big tuskers around anymore, it is extremely special to see one on drive. He was later joined by two younger, smaller bulls. It is common to see the really big bulls being accompanied by a few younger bulls. This old man is like a mentor or teacher to the younger bulls and will keep them in line when testosterone levels runs high and rage takes over. Although elephants have a very unique social structure, the males don’t stay with the herds. At the age of about thirteen years, the males need to leave and will then look for their own home range, close to the female herds.
This was to see all four Majingi males resting together on Tamboti open area. What a treat it was to see all four of them together as we normally only get to see one or two of them, joined by some females.
Did you know?
It will take a baby elephant roughly six months to learn how to fully use his little trunk.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!