We started the year with some great sightings, similar to 2013. We had a few wonderful sightings of a male cheetah and then a few days later a female cheetah with two cubs blessed us with their presence for a number of days. We were also very fortunate to spend time with the wild dogs again this month. The weather was really unpredictable, though. We would start the drive with sunshine all around, only to have rain in the middle and end off with clear, open skies again. We experienced some extremely hot and humid days, with an average maximum temperature of 31°C. We also had 81 mm of rain.
Like usually, the leopard sightings were great this month. As far as territories go, there seems to be some major changes emerging on the horizon. Salayexe is still looking good and we saw a lot of her this past month. The core of her territory stretches over our property. As far as we can tell, it looks like this beautiful cat has developed a belly over the last month or so. It would be so wonderful if she is indeed pregnant once again. Hopefully in the next few months, I can report that we have new cubs. Kurula came to visit us. She also made a kill while being here and brought the cubs over. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the “not so little anymore” cubs after we haven’t seen them for a while. They are almost old enough to be pushed out by their mother. There is a male and a female cub. Now, out of any litter of cubs, you will find a skittish one and one that is very relaxed. In this case it looks like the female is the shy one, with her brother being the adventurous one. Everything still looks promising for Kurula and she still has her 100% cubs raising record, thus far. Thandi was also out and about, still making kills for her son Bawuti. He will also have to leave mom’s side not long from now and then her focus will return to mating again and raising a new litter of cubs. Thandi has expanded her territory further west and she and her mother Kurula have the two biggest areas of all the female leopards in our traversing area. Kwatile was also seen once or twice this month and the last time we saw her she was lactating and had suckle marks. That is really good news for us. All we can now do is sit and wait. When the cubs are big enough, she will bring them out from their den site to show them off to the world. Moya was also out and about and she killed a juvenile kudu. Although she did give birth, we haven’t seen the cub/s yet. The young male leopards Wabayiza and Xivambalana are looking good and growing up fast. They are also getting bulkier by the day. These two young males are really pushing the boundaries, as they are still roaming inside Mvula’s territory. For how long he would allow this, remains a mystery. Lamula is in really good shape and it looks like he could take on the world. Lamula might get a challenger very soon as the Anderson’s male and the young Robson’s male are both moving more into Lamula’s territory. To make matters even worse, Tingana is pushing more south as well, putting even more pressure on Lamula. While Tingana wants to expand more to the south and east, Anderson wants to expand more east into Tingana’s territory. Out of all the male leopards, Mvula is the biggest and oldest, with the biggest territory and with only one potential challenger, Tingana. The young Robson’s male is growing in confidence and he is buying time getting bigger and stronger, while waiting for the opportunity to challenge one of the males for a territory.
What a wonderful time we had with all the lion sightings this month. We were really spoiled and we couldn’t ask for more, or better. The four Breakaway pride lionesses and their nine cubs came to visit us again. They stayed in our area for a long time. The females managed to bring down a big zebra just off of our airstrip and they were feasting on it for days. The cubs are looking stunning and they are growing up fast. The eldest ones are estimated to be between 8-9 months of age and the youngest should be around 6-7 months of age. I really hope that all nine cubs will make it to adulthood. So far, so good! You can see that these four ladies are really good mothers, as they learned from the best. The Styx pride is also looking really good and very healthy. The female with the tiny new cubs is moving the little ones in and out of our traversing area the whole time. They are now older that two months and will start moving around with mum and the rest of the pride. More good news is that the other big female is also pregnant and it’s not going to be too long before we will have more cubs. Both these females have mated with both the Matimba and Nkuhuma males, but not with the Majingilane males. I just hope that these females don’t walk into the Majingilane males, as they will definitely kill the cubs because they are not the fathers. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that great things will happen to the Styx pride this year, as the last couple of years were not the best for this pride. The Majingilane male lions really kept a low profile this month, as we only saw them once when they came into our area to scent mark and left again the next day.
We did not see any of the big breeding herds this month. As buffaloes are really bulk feeders, it is crucial for them to be moving all the time, in their continuous quest for enough food and water supplies. The old buffalo bulls are still out and about, spending their days lying in the water or mud wallows, or just relaxing somewhere in the shade. The dominant males that have left the herds last year to fatten up have all returned to the herds and started challenging the last of the older dominant males for mating rights. These big and strong males will have between ten and fifteen females that they will mate with in this coming mating season. A female coming into heat will be closely guarded by a dominant bull, to keep the other bulls away. Females are often evasive, thereby attracting the attention of other bulls and this would then lead to the bulls fighting for mating rights. Females will have their first calve at the age of about 5 years, whereas the males will become dominant only around the age of between 7 – 8 years.
Wow, there was really no shortage of elephants this past month. The reason why we have so many elephants is because it is the start of the marula fruiting season. When you find a herd, they are sure to be under, or next to a few marula trees, having a field day with all these little fruits. The marula fruit is very high in vitamin C, at least six times more than oranges. When the fruiting season starts, the elephants can be very destructive when it comes to getting the fruits. We also had a few big male elephants in musth, following the females groups around. We were also very fortunate to witness two of these heavy weights having a standoff, complete with heads up high and ears open. After the standoff they started displaying their strength by pushing over a few trees each, in order to impress the ladies. With all these big male elephants around, the breeding herds are getting a little more stressed out with their presence. We also came across a small bachelor herd of young male elephants moving around in the area. They were obviously kicked out of the herd as they were becoming too old to stay with the family unit.
The special sighting was to have the whole Breakaway pride, with all nine of their cubs, feasting on a full-grown zebra on our airstrip.
Did you know?
The gestation period of an elephant is 22 months.
I trust that you enjoyed this first report for 2014. Hope to see you out on game drive soon!