It is unreal to think that I am writing the last report for 2011 and that, by the time you read this, we’ll already be in 2012. The past year went by so fast!  This just shows how life goes by in a blink of an eye. The same goes for the animals and the bush.  It was just a few months ago when the bush was pale and dry and now it has changed to a lush green tapestry, bursting with new life and juvenile herbivores running and jumping and just being silly. This month was filled with excitement, happiness,and good times – overall another good month at Elephant Plains!  We had some great wild dog sightings during the month.  These majestic, but rarely seen animals came in and out of our area on a regular basis. We were also lucky enough to see two male cheetahs during the month as well! It was awesome, as these super sprinters need large, open plains in order to successfully hunt. They can reach a top speed of between 110-120km/h and we do not actually have a lot of big open areas here.  We have also officially entered our rainy season and already had 89mm of rain which really helped to cool down the extreme temperatures. Our average maximum temperature during December was 30?C.


Dancing Zebras. Photo by Willie Woest

Dancing Zebras. Photo by Willie Woest

We saw elephants every day and around every corner! After all the lovely rain, the bush really transformed with loads of food for all the animals, big and small. Since the good rains,the big herds made their journey back into our area. Elephants overall eat close to 95% of all the plant life that the bush can provide. During the rainy season, elephant don’t have to go only to certain waterholes where they are used to getting water.  When you come to the bush you will see that there are loads of mud wallows, which they will visit on a hot day just to spray mud and water on them to cool down. On really hot days you will also see elephants flapping their ears. Now for many years people though that it is a sign of aggression, but it’s not. It is just their built in radiator system. Warm blood goes from the body into the ears and by flapping the ears the wind will cool the surface of the ears and the blood will also cool down.


On the side of the buffaloes it has been quiet at times, but every now and again a breeding herd of between 80 or 150 animals would come in and out of our area.  There are fewer bachelor herds at the moment, which means they are slowly going back to the breeding herds. There is also a lot of friction between the males at this time. We saw 2 males just the other day, going head to head.  When the 2 heads connect you can hear the sound from far away. The horn is made up of bone and an outer keratin sheet. If you take the keratin sheet off, you will see that the bone has a lot of holes or air pockets, which will absorb the shock when they fight and protect the brain. Just as elephants have their own radiators, buffaloes have their own shock absorbers! The horns of the males are adapted for fighting as they are much bigger and broader at the base of the horn. This is called a boss.  It is not going to be very long before the other males go back to the breeding herds and challenge each other for mating rights. The females never really fight with each other.  This might happen when the older, more dominant females will chase the smaller younger females out of the waterhole or off a nice patch of green grass.


We really can’t complain about the lion sightings we had in December as we saw lions almost every day!  The two Nkuhuma males are still with us and killing buffaloes whenever the opportunity arises.  We can hear them every now and again, giving soft calls and this tells me they are going to stay in our area for a while. The young Tsalala females and the young Styx male crossed our southern boundary for a few days, where they got split up. It’s not clear of what and why this happened. We saw the one female and male first and then they found the three other females who moved very far to the east. Now to make matters worse, the Styx male and one female went back south to search for the other three females and they also got split up. We have seen tracks for a young male going past our lodge though, so hopefully they will join up soon.  The Styx pride and the five cubs is really doing good at this stage and the Black Mane Majingi male lions join them more often now, helping them hunt. It looks like these cubs might just make it if the four brothers can stay around. The two Nkuhuma females broke away from their pride with their two cubs and they are currently staying around in our area. They are now hiding the cubs from the new dominant males, the Matimba’s, as they will kill the small cubs because it is not their own.


Hyenas feeding on a giraffe carcass. Photo by Willie Woest

Hyenas feeding on a giraffe carcass. Photo by Willie Woest

What can I say! This month was a combination of feelings with a lot of excitement, a beginning of a new life and the sad end of another. The young male leopard that came into the area in the beginning of this year is doing really well for himself. He started with a very small territory and is expanding at a rapid pace. He is becoming more relaxed with the vehicles day by day.  We have not named him yet, but will give him a name which describes his character.  He has now settled in and is the new male after Tyson moved south.  Never the less, the new kid on the block had his first challenge this month when another young male from the east started to expand his newly claimed territory more west. The stand-off took only a few hours, until the newcomer decided to move back east. This challenge is only the first of many that this male has to endure in his reign as dominant male and some of them might not be that subtle. Salayexe gave birth between the 9th and 10th of December. We have not seen how many cubs she’s got but we see the suckle marks which is the perfect indication of healthy, drinking cubs. We are so happy for her after she lost the previous litter and it’s also the first cubs that the new male sired.  Ntima was seen mating with Mvula and her daughter, Kwatile, was seen mating with the other new young male from the east, so hopefully all went well and we can expect more cubs in 2012! Kurula and her cubs are also doing great. They are over a year old now so time is running out for them as a family – they will be starting a solitary life soon. Then it brings us to the sad, but real aspect of life.  We suspect that our granny, Safari has passed away as we have not seen her for more than two months. She shared a very special place in many of our hearts and will always be remembered!  Mafufunyana has lost everything and has been moving all over, and stealing kills from female leopards. The old worrier with the “never say die” attitude has come to the end of his reign. Mvula and the other young male is running the show in the eastern side of our traversing area as they are younger and stronger and still expanding their territories.

Special Sighting:

The one young male leopard was scent marking around when the intruder was lying at the waterwhole with Kwatile.  As soon as the two males saw each other, they stared for a few seconds and then both snapped. They were having a stand-off, right there and then! They moved side by side, growling at each other. They then faced each other and also came real close at times, but fortunately no fighting took place. It was really exciting to sit there and listen to the growling and see the different personalities and reactions. As if this was not already something special, having two young males and a female in one sighting. The next moment Ntima also appeared from behind a bush! They say two is company and three is a crowd. So what do you call four leopards in one sighting then? Priceless!

Did you know?

Grasshoppers are well known for their songs, which are made in different ways by different subfamilies. Some make sounds by rubbing pegs on their hind legs together, some clatter their wings together in flight, some rub their wings together and others do not make any noise at all.

Hope to see you out on game drive soon!

Morné Fouché