Those of you, who joined us on safari this month, will certainly agree when I say that the game viewing was phenomenal! Just having passed the halfway mark for 2014, the big question on all our minds are: what other great sightings will be waiting for us as the year moves forward? We opened the wild dog den this month for the first time and what a treat this turned out to be. The little pups started coming out of the den and explored more and more, playing with the rest of the pack members. The pack has to work extra hard at the moment to feed themselves, as well as the Alfa female and the pups, as they also started eating meat. Other great sightings included cheetah, honey badger, civets and so much more. The weather was very strange once again, as we had a few nice warm days, followed by yet another cold front. There was one morning, where we had a very light drizzle at the lodge that came out of nowhere, only to have blue skies again that afternoon. The average maximum temperature for this month was 24°C.
The leopard sightings were just plain unbelievable and full of surprises. It is confirmed that Salayexe lost both her cubs yet again, so for now it is not looking great for this beautiful cat. At this stage we do not know for certain which male leopard killed the cubs, but we think it might be Tingana, as the den was in his territory. It sometimes happens that male leopards kill their own cubs when they are still very small. If the mother of the cubs goes out hunting and the male sees them for the first time without their mother being present, he won’t know that the cubs belong to him and he might kill them. On the bright side, Salayexe is looking healthy and stunning as always and she was seen mating with both Anderson and Tingana. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that she will have better luck with her next litter. Shadow was under the radar this month, but we did see her following her mother the one day. Shadow was doing her territorial calling, whilst following Kurula, making sure that she left her territory. Shadow is also looking great and feeding very well. That is one thing I can say about her – she is a really good hunter in her own right. Moya was also seen a few times this month and we got word that her two new cubs are doing well and looking healthy. Moya’s older cub was seen a lot this month and he is also doing well for himself. It is quite impressive that he started killing big male impalas. This young male has firsthand experience with walking into danger. The one afternoon he had a narrow escape from death, as he came face to face with our resident pack of wild dogs at one of the waterholes. He held his own with the first wild dog, but ran for the nearest tree when the rest of the pack came in to help. After the wild dogs left, he came down the tree and sat down on a termite mound close by, just scanning the area, trying to make sense of it all. Kurula is also doing fine and she was seen mating with Tingana around our lodge for four days. This is definitely the most south that I have ever seen her venture. She went through her daughter, Shadow’s, territory deep into the territory of Salayexe. Kurula was really like a fish out of water. She was so uncomfortable and for four days she was on extra high alert. After Kurula and Tingana went their separate ways, she met up with Mvula for another four days of mating. Lamula is also looking great and he and Tingana had yet another standoff. It looks like Lamula is not standing down to Tingana anymore. Lamula was also seen in our area, mating with an unknown female who followed him into our area from our southern boundary. Tingana was very busy this month and was really the ladies man as he mated with Salayexe and right after that with Kurula as well. Anderson was also busy as he was seen mating with an unknown female in our area and then also with Salayexe. Mvula, the big male, was also mating with Kurula. If everything goes well in the next 105 days, we might be blessed with the arrival of new leopard cubs.
The lion sightings were just unbelievable and full of excitement. The four sub adults of the Styx pride are looking fabulous and they are getting bigger and better with hunting and everything else. It appears that these four youngsters have mastered the technique of hunting their most dangerous prey, which is the buffalo. The four of them brought down a big buffalo bull the one day with no help from the two big females. After they finished their kill, they went after more buffaloes and succeeded in bringing down another buffalo bull. It shows you that the two big females have been successful in teaching them the art of hunting buffaloes. The two adult lionesses of the Styx pride are also looking good, as they killed an adult kudu female and also a wildebeest male. The three young cubs are eating well and also looking very healthy, getting bigger and prettier day by day. The Breakaway pride is definitely my favourite lion pride in the Sabi Sand. The four young ladies are looking great and very healthy and so does the “not so small anymore cubs” as well. We were very fortunate to have them in our area, making kills. The best sighting of this pride that we had this month was when we saw them the one morning, accompanied by all four of the Majingi male lions. It was so impressive to see seventeen lions walking down the road towards us. We watched them feasting on an old dagga boy, which they finished in one day! We were also very lucky to see the Fourways pride of lions that came through our area after they had a run-in with two of the Matimba male lions. The two young males of the Fourways pride are looking gorgeous and I hope that they will get the opportunity to take over their own territory one day.
This month, the buffalo sightings were great. We had a large herd in our area that stayed up here for a week or two. This nice herd had a few calves and yearlings as well. There were a few of the females with older calves that seem to be pregnant again. Every time that the buffalo herds come into our area and we start tracking them, we can also see the clear tracks of lions, following the herds. With the herds moving around, they attract a lot of attention to themselves as they make a lot of noise when moving through the area. The old dagga boys were also out in their numbers again, in and around the watering holes. We saw a few male groups this month that had between six and fifteen buffalo bulls in a group. There were a few really old males that were joined by a few fairly younger males, who left the herds to fatten up again. For the old dagga boys this was a welcoming sight to add a few more companions – to them it is all about safety in numbers.
This month the elephant sightings really started on the slow side, but then ended with an enormous bang! We were very fortunate to see the young leucism elephant calf and its mother that came into our area this month. The last time that I saw him, he was about three years old and now he is around five. His mother also has a new calf of under a year old. The age difference between one mother’s babies should be between four to six years. Leucism is the term used when a defect in pigment cells occur during development, where the entire surface, or patches over the body or hair, has a lack of cells capable of forming the correct colour pigment. This young elephant does not stand out between the others because of his body colour. Upon closer inspection, however, you clearly notice his blue eyes and white hair, where elephants normally have brown eyes and black hair. Quite an interesting sight! Once again we had some great elephant sightings at the water hole in front of the lodge. It is almost as if the elephants know when breakfast or lunch will be served as they then promptly arrive on our open area and quench their thirst. We also enjoyed seeing a few nice looking elephant bulls, but this was short lived as they moved off again. We were also welcomed by some big breeding herds, some with almost sixty individuals and it is truly amazing to sit amongst them, just soaking up the different personalities. When you go on safari and drive around the water holes and river areas, you will see the impact that the elephants have on the area. With all the destruction going on when the elephants push over trees, it can also help the smaller browsing animals to get to some of the higher leaves on the trees.
There were so many awesome sightings this month that it was really hard to pick one. But here’s my favourite… We followed the wild dog pack one day as they set out on an afternoon hunt. We followed them onto our open area and it looked like they wanted to go and rest in the shade of the Tamboti thickets. Little did we know there was prey close by. Two of the dogs suddenly pulled away, leaving all of us, including the other dogs, in a dust cloud as they chased after a grey duiker. We eventually caught up with them as they were busy feeding on the little grey duiker on our open area. While sitting and enjoying the sighting, we had a surprise visit from a big hyena that came to investigate. When the wild dogs saw the intruder they went all out in biting his hind quarters and sent him running for the hills. Then out of nowhere, Salayexe, the female leopard showed up on the scene. One of the dogs saw her moving around not too far from them and quickly chased her up into a tree. That couldn’t have happened at a better time, as the rest of the hyena clan suddenly stormed in and caused chaos. Suddenly a full-blown wild dog vs. hyena warfare started to unfold right there in front of us. All this noise attracted a breeding herd of angry elephants that chased the wild dogs around, and then turned on the hyenas before focusing on poor Salayexe that was stuck in the tree. These big heavyweights were extremely vocal as they tried to get rid of all the predators. The action lasted only half an hour, but those thirty minutes were definitely my best sighting at Elephant Plains up to date!
The giant eagle owl is the biggest owl we have.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s report, see you out on game drive soon!