Summer is here to stay! Even though the first of September officially signals the start of spring, the past few weeks made me think that we skipped that season and jumped right into summer. We had a lot of hot days, with temperatures that went into the high thirties! The average maximum temperature for September was 30°C and we had our first summer rains, with 19 millimetres measured. With all these hot days, we also experienced a few cool, windy, cloudy days in between. We can also see the bush changing, as there are new green leaves and flowers appearing on some of the trees. When driving on the higher areas of the reserve, you can see the bright green colours of the leaves and also some beautiful, yellow flowers of the Knobthorn trees. It’s not going to be long before the pale, yellow grass is replaced by the beautiful green, luscious grass of summer. The game viewing did not hold back this month and we were spoiled once again. We were very fortunate to spend some time with a male cheetah and the hyena den entertained us for hours on end. There are five pups from three different litters and it was such a treat to see them all playing around the den.
There was a lot of excitement with our spotted friends during the past month. Salayexe is still doing well and looking very healthy. I was fortunate to follow her while hunting; from stalking, to where she killed the bushbuck right next to our vehicle. What a sighting! If everything goes accordingly to plan, both Salayexe and Shadow should be giving birth during the next month or two. We can’t wait to see these little furry bundles. Shadow was seen more often during the month, but she still avoids us if she does not want to be seen, living up to her name. We’ve noticed that Shadow is looking at expanding her territory a little bit more east, into her mother’s most western boundary. We saw Moya a few times, but without the cubs, which is understandable as the little ones are very young. We still have our fingers crossed that she will come and show them to us, which should now only be a matter of time. Kwatile was also out and about this last month, but was not seen that often. She is still scent marking a lot and she was very vocal during the times we did see her. Nsele was also seen a few times. She is a beautiful cat and as she is getting older, she is starting to look more and more like her father, Tyson. It was good to see that she is still lactating. As she has suckle marks, it proves that she still has her cubs. Xivambalana and Wabayiza, the two young males in the east, are getting bigger and bolder as they are starting to scent mark in their father’s territory. I think their time is slowly coming to an end before Mvula chases them out to go and look for their own territories. Mvula was really quiet this month. He spent most of his time in the northern parts of his territory, which is out of our traversing area. Lamula was once again all over the show and is also looking to expand his territory more north and also west into Tingana’s territory. These two big males have met a few times in the past and believe me, there are more battles on the way. Tingana lived up to his name this last month. He was very shy and whenever he was spotted, he’d move out of the open and into the thickets. This big brut was in another fight. We are still unsure who his opponent was, as we only saw a few new cuts and scars on his face.
It was a very sad time for the Styx pride as the old lady, Gogi, which means grandmother, passed away. She had a good run these past 17 years, but we could see that her age was catching up with her this past month. She started leaving the pride on a regular basis. She most probably knew her time was near and that she was holding the rest of the pride back. She was a great legend and a worrier and will be dearly missed. The rest of the Styx pride is still looking good and feeding well. The two young males are growing up very fast and they are looking gorgeous, with their manes growing larger by the day. They are almost three years old now. Time is running out before they would have to leave the pride. We also had the older Tsalala lionesses around our lodge this month, together with one of the Majingi male lions. To our surprise, the sub-adult Tsalala lioness joined up with her mother and aunt and the Majingi male did nothing to her. We are keeping our fingers crossed that they will now accept her. If she could stay with the pride, the two older ladies would only benefit as the youngster could take her grandmother’s place and help with hunting etc. This just shows how the circle of life continues. When BB was still around, they did not want to accept her and now all of a sudden she seems to have found a safe haven. We have not seen the new members of the Tsalala pride, but we know there are four cubs and we can’t wait for their first visit. As for the four Breakaway Tsalala lionesses and the nine cubs, we haven’t seen them very often this month. Hopefully, during the next few months, this young pride will grace us with their presence more often. The Nkuhuma male lion was also seen a few times this month, moving around a lot. We also saw him feasting on a wildebeest kill. Being a young male, nomadic and alone, he has to try and avoid the big Matimba male lions of the north and also the big Majingi male lions of the south. Speaking of which, we were very fortunate to see some of the Majingi males, although we never saw all four of them together. Each time we saw them, it was one male with females, or two of them walking together. This might be due to the size of their territory. With such a big territory, they need to scent mark regularly, making sure that there are no intruders. Therefore splitting up becomes necessary.
The buffalo sightings were great and it was very special to have another big breeding herd move through our area. We were very fortunate to spend time with these big herds during the last few months. Bulk grazers, like the buffalo, are always on the move to get enough food for the entire herd. There were a few small calves in the herd and a lot of the females have very round bellies, which indicate that they are heavily pregnant. The gestation period for the buffaloes is 11 months. They will always try and give birth during the wet season, when food sources are generous. In my last report I mentioned that the big dominant and sub-dominant buffalo bulls left the breeding herds to fatten up and get ready for the next mating season. Well, we started seeing less bachelor herds this month, so chances are good that they are busy making their way back to the breeding herds. We still saw a big male group, but it only consisted of the old dagga boys.
We once again had the privilege of spending time with quite a few breeding herds. Some were big and some were small, but all of them were feasting on the newly sprouted growth on the trees. One of the breeding herds we saw had a tiny baby, estimated to be a couple of weeks old. This particular herd stayed in our area for a number of days. When there is a very small elephant calf, the herd will not travel long distances, as the baby would not be able to keep up with them. At this young age he would still tire easily. It was so special to spend some time with them, especially watching the little one trying to figure out how to use its trunk and what it is really designed for. Watching mom, he would try to mimic her in everything she does. This is also how they learn what to eat and how to get it. There were a few times when mom had to gently use her trunk and move the little one out of the way, so that she could carry on feeding. The little calf was all over the show, enjoying the attention he got from all the herd members and trying to play with everyone. After running around and playing with the other herd members, he would always return to mom to quench his thirst. When a breeding herd has a few small babies, everyone looks after them. The older siblings would take turns with babysitting duty until mom has finished eating.
Tingana, our dominant male leopard, killed a female impala and hoisted it into a big marula tree next to the road, to keep it safe from other predators. At least, that’s what he thought… After having a good feast, he left the kill in the tree and came down to rest on the ground. After a while one of the Majingi male lions came walking down the road, straight towards Tingana and his kill. Luckily for Tingana, the wind changed direction and he got the scent of the male lion sneaking closer. Like a rocket he ran for cover before the big male lion could get hold of him. The Majingi male did not even attempt to run after him as he was too preoccupied with the kill in the tree. He circled the tree a few times and then, without warning, took a massive jump and started climbing towards the kill. The funniest part was watching him, inching forward on his belly on an extremely thin branch, while pushing himself forward with his hind legs. He looked very unsure of himself. After getting the kill he had to do this process all over again, but this time backwards and with the impala in his mouth. He made it three quarters down the tree when he suddenly lost his footing and came crashing down head first, burying his nose in the ground. We could not contain ourselves after this sight and were laughing so much! This whole process took about 25-30 minutes and it must be one of my highlights at Elephant Plains thus far. It just shows that where there is a will, there is a way! Now that is what I call working hard for your food, even if you did not catch it yourself.
Did you know?
The Cape porcupine is the largest rodent in the Southern African sub-region.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!