This month was once again full of action and surprises. You can definitely see that the bush is slowly transforming to its winter coat, but certain areas close to riverbeds are still nice and green. This time of the year is very exciting because it’s the start of the impala rutting season, where the males will compete for a few weeks to see who’s the strongest. It’s getting darker earlier in the evenings and getting lighter later in the mornings, with a definite chill in the air, so it’s safe to say that we are slowly going into winter. Game viewing was once again out of this world! We had wild dogs in our area for most of the month and to put the cherry on top, we also saw a female cheetah and a caracal. We had good rains before the winter, with a total of 93mm. The days were nice and warm, with an average maximum temperature of 31°C.
We had wonderful elephant sightings this month of some fantastic breeding herds with small babies. They are always a treat to watch as they explore the surroundings and swing their little trunks around – not sure how to operate them properly yet! We also had a few big males in musth, following the breeding herds. Females approaching oestrus are usually wary of these big males. They would carry their heads higher than normal, with eyes opened wider than usual, watchful instead of downcast. They would quickly move out of the way when an adult male approaches. If followed by an adult male, the female would leave the herd and walk rapidly away with her head very high, and her tail raised, an oestrus walk. Sometimes she would go around in a circle to rejoin the herd. When the male tries to overtake the female the oestrus walk turns into a chase where the female may go a kilometer or more from the herd over a period of a few hours. The female will stop fleeing when the bull gets within touching distance, whereupon he will attempt to mount her. The chase and particular, the copulation, may provoke ear-flapping, head-shaking and also vocalizing. The distraught behavior of elephant cows during the 2-6 day oestrus creates a disturbance and often excites the other elephants.
At last we saw a small breeding herd of buffaloes that came through into our area and stayed here for a short while. Some of the cows have small calves with them, as well as last season’s calves, who will still accompany the cows for another few years. It will take the newborn calves a few weeks before they can keep up with the herds for several hours at a time. If the females give birth in the rest period of the herd, she will be left behind and will be forced to go into hiding with the new baby. The only problem with this is that they won’t have the protection of the herd, so they would be very vulnerable to a pride of lions. At the moment we see less bachelor herds than usual. Mating takes place late in the rainy season and this is where the majority of the dominant males have gone: back to the breeding herds, to claim the right to mate and get closer to the females.
The lions once again kept us busy this month! The black-mane male of the Majingi coalition is often seen joining up with the Styx pride these days. The Styx pride and the black mane Majingi had definitely made for some good sightings. It’s also very nice to see that the big boy spends some time with his cubs and his females. The other three Majingi’s are still very elusive, most probably defending and expanding their territory. BB’s older daughters did come and visit for a short while before they disappeared again and the four young Tsalalas were seen on a regular basis. We even saw them having a stand-off with six hyenas close to our lodge! BB also came to visit a few times on her own, maybe just to check up on the four younger ladies. At a stage the Sabi Sand Game Reserve was basically run by four coalitions; the six Matimba’s in the north, the four Majingi’s in the central part, the four young Southern Pride males in the south and then the three older Mapogo’s in the west. The four Majingi’s are moving more south and ended up pushing the Southern Pride males more westwards, into the territory of the old three old worriers. This is where they came across one of the Mapogo’s, old Mr. T, and in the process killed him to proof a point. Soon we might be down to just three, but who knows what this year will bring?
Salayexe was again seen mating with Tingana, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that she did conceive this time around. If it is the case, it’s just another 110 days and we might have brand new cubs in the area. Salayexe is still a young leopard and only seven years old, so she still has another few years to raise more litters. Tingana is definitely turning into a beautiful male leopard. Only a few months ago he was a very shy male and look at him now. Shadow is getting better with the vehicles day by day, but still has her moments that she just disappears and is nowhere to be found. Ntima is now the old lady in the area, but is still looking very good. Her two daughters Kwatile and Ostrich Koppies are also in and out of her territory. Tyson came in just for a short while, marking his territory along Londolozi boundary and left again shortly after. We are unsure of what happened, or why he left this northern part of his territory, but he could be in search of more females, or better territory. Kurula is leaving her two youngsters alone for very long periods of time, it’s almost time for them to leave and explore the bush on their own. By leaving them for so long, it forces them to start hunting for their own food.
What a treat to see the female cheetah attempting to hunt right in front of us. Although the hunt was unsuccessful, it was still a privilege to witness her immense speed!
Did you know?
The Nyala is the only antelope where the male and female differ in color. There is also a very big difference in size. Because of this, the male is called a bull and the female a ewe.
Hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!