Once again, this month was really good and we had extremely fruitful game viewing! We were fortunate to see the wild dogs yet again. We also saw a lot of general game and had some great night life sightings! Now that it is getting dark earlier in the evenings, nocturnal animals like African wild cats, genets, civets, honey badgers and porcupines are active earlier on during the afternoon game drives. Winter is here, as the mornings are very cold. You have to wear jackets, gloves and scarves when going on the morning drives as the wind chill factor when driving in an open game viewer makes it much colder than the actual temperatures indicate. We have also added the hot water bottles back onto the vehicles, easing the worst chill during the start of morning drives. The average temperature for the month was 26°C and it is very clear that we are at the end of the rainy season, as we had only 3mm of rain this month.
We had some special sightings of these beautiful spotted cats this month. Salayexe and her cub are really looking good and feeding well. But they once again had some bad luck with keeping their kills away from hyenas. The impala males are too big for Salayexe to hoist into a tree after she kills it. At this stage, Salayexe leaves the little one alone for longer times when she goes out hunting. She has to hunt more often now, because her daughter is getting bigger and eating more meat. The hyenas that are stealing her kills are also not helping much. The youngster is now 11 months old and her future is looking brighter every day. If all goes well, we will finally reveal the name we’ve chosen for her in next month’s report. Because of the fairly high mortality rate in leopard cubs, we normally wait for them to reach the one year mark, before naming them. (Edited: 01/06/2013 – Sad news to share is that Salayexe’s cub was unfortunately killed by hyenas last night. As the newsletter was about to be sent out, we will share more details about her tragic death in our next newsletter…) Shadow and her two cubs are also looking great. The two cubs are getting bigger and they are much more relaxed with the vehicles. They are now 8 months old and therefore we have started having 3 vehicles in a sighting. The two of them are looking very happy, playing around, stalking and pouncing on each other, also sometimes using mom as the target. Shadow is also teaching the little ones a few tricks that they are going to need in this vast wilderness to one day become an excellent hunter. Thandi, Shadow’s sister, and her two cubs are also doing great and looking very healthy. The two little ones are almost just as big as Thandi and she’s got her hands full when it comes to playtime. You can see that Mvula is the father of her cubs. We don’t see Thandi and her cubs that much as her territory is far east of our traversing area. She moves quite far north as well. We still don’t have any news on Kurula and her youngsters. It might be that she is waiting for them to get a little bit bigger before she brings them out, or it might be because Shadow, her daughter, is expanding her territory more north into the area that Kurula neglected for this last few months. We are still hopeful that she will bring them into our area in the next month or so. Ntima was under the radar this month as we hardly saw her, but the good news is that she was seen walking with Mvula, the big male leopard, so fingers crossed that they will mate and she will have another litter after the loss of the last one. Tingana, our resident male leopard, was very quiet in the beginning of the month and that was enough time for another young male leopard to move into his territory. This was short-lived as Tingana returned and chased the youngster out again. Tingana is looking awesome and very healthy, almost like he is putting on more weight and getting more muscle. Lamula was seen with a female out of the south but not one of our females, it is common for females to leave their territory in search of a suitable male to mate with. Mvula was also not seen a lot this month but he has a massive territory and also a lot of young males moving around in his territory, which keeps him on his toes.
What can I say? This month we had some of the best lion sightings so far! The three older Tsalala lionesses and the young sub adult lioness are looking better and better every day and we have seen them quite a lot this last month. There is definitely something going on with the black maned Majingi male lion and the sub adult Tsalala lioness, as he chased her out of the pride again, when he joined the Tsalala pride. Even the youngster’s mother snarls at her and the only female that gives her some love is BB, her grandmother. If it wasn’t for BB this pride would not have raised even one cub and only time will tell what would happen when the old lady is not around anymore. When the youngster gets chased out of the pride, BB leaves the pride to go and look for the youngster and make sure she’s alright and this is why she‘s my favourite lioness! With the Styx pride tragedy struck once again as the Majingi males also killed another cub and left the pride with only one cub. This was the one that got injured in the fight with the Tsalala lionesses. Besides that, the Styx are also looking good and feeding well as once again they killed a buffalo to feed the whole pride for a few days. The four sub adults are just as big as the adult lionesses and they also lend a helping hand when it comes to hunting. The two sub adult males are getting really big and they look gorgeous with their manes getting bigger. It’s not going to be too long before their fathers will say enough is enough and chase them out. The old lady of the pride is slowly but surely handing over the ropes to her daughters. She would normally be in front when it comes to hunting, but she now stays behind with the cubs, or helps with the chase but let the daughters do the killing. An old lioness will sometimes change roles from striker (who does the killing) to chaser, because their teeth are worn down and can’t pierce the skin as easily. Their jaw muscles are also not strong enough to close the wind pipe of the prey. Overall, things are looking better for this pride. If all goes well and the sub adult female’s cubs survive, the pride will gain two females to help with hunting. We were so fortunate to have the four big Majingi male lions in and out of our area a lot this month, sometimes joined by the Tsalala pride females. These four boys are looking great. When we first saw them one had a bit of a limp but nothing serious. It might be that he had a run in with another male coalition. They have the four Southern pride males who are also quite big to their west and then also the six Matimba males to the north of them. Somewhere along the line it must have crossed their minds to expand their territories and the search of maybe more females.
What an exciting month this was with the buffalo sightings. The big breeding herds have at last returned! Although it was short lived as it always is, it was still very impressive to see these big breeding herds of buffaloes. We had massive herds of about 400 strong that came through our area in their quest to find food and water. On three occasions we had two different herds of between 350-400 animals in our area at the same time, one moved around in the north and the other in the south of our traversing area. Food is really getting scarce as the last green grass is changing to a pale yellow colour. Being bulk grazers, they need a lot of grass and even though they do browse a little bit, it does not even cover 10% of their diet. When the big herds are on the move you will hear a lot of grunting and also pushing and shoving going on amongst the members of the herds. The big males that came into the herds now after their rest period are looking for females to mate with. With that, tension between the males is very high and we were very lucky to actually see this heavy weights in action as they head-bud each other for the top spot and to earn mating rights. When you get two stubborn males, they will fight to death. It can also sometimes happen that one dies of his injuries at a later stage. The old dagga boys are still in the area as they always are and if you go to one of the water holes you are almost guaranteed to see one of these old boys in the water or close to it, relaxing and chewing cud.
We were really spoiled with the great elephant sightings we had this month. Around every corner we were almost guaranteed that a big breeding herd would be waiting for us. We also saw a lot of elephants that came to drink water on our open area. This will mainly be due to the fact that some of the smaller waterholes are slowly drying up, leaving them muddy. Elephants always go for the freshest water source available. There were also a lot of big breeding herds feeding on the banks of the dry riverbeds, especially enjoying the wild date palms. Some herds were also seen on the seep line areas. With all the wonderful rain that we had this year, the water table is still very high in the riverbeds and seep line areas. With that comes nice and juicy green grass for the elephants to feast on. Because of the high water table, the dry riverbeds also hold a source of water. While sitting in an elephant sighting where they are grazing in the riverbed, you would sometimes notice an elephant scratching the seemingly dry riverbed surface with its foot. The next moment you would see a trunk spurting water! Also while driving around on game drive, you might see some of the trees with damage on their barks and some trees that are pushed over. This confirms a lot of elephant activity in a certain area. Now that the grass is dying, elephants will turn to the next best thing and that is the trees. Within the herds there are a lot of babies, anywhere from one month to under a year old. This means that the herds are healthy and doing well.
This was definitely seeing all four Majingi male lions and the two Tsalala lionesses around our lodge. To make it even better, all four males started roaring right next to our game drive vehicles!
Did you know?
A human can hear the loud roar of a male lion even if he is up to five kilometres away.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!