The month of April signals autumn and the beginning of the winter season. The mornings are now noticeably cooler, the days are still mild to warm, but there is a definite chill in the evenings. We started using blankets for the morning and afternoon drives, but it is not quite cold enough for the hot water bottles yet. We also changed the game drive times from departing at 05:30am to 06:00am in the mornings and 16:00 to 15:30 in the afternoons. As it gets lighter later in the mornings and darker earlier in the evenings, we want to make sure that we have ample daytime light to view all the magnificent animals! The average maximum temperature was 28 °C and we received a total of 13mm of rain. Last month, I mentioned that it was the start of the rutting season and now this month rutting is in full swing, with impala males definitely not holding back in the fight for dominance and the right to mate. This time of the year the males from different antelope species will reunite with the female groups for mating season. Unlike the impalas, they do not have to go through the rutting process. We were really spoilt with good wild dog and cheetah sightings and the nightlife was unbelievable with awesome genet, civet and porcupine sightings. We also saw some smaller feline species like the African wild cat and caracal. To top this all, we ended the month by discovering a new hyena den on EP. Although there is only one cub, the den is a source of entertainment for young and old during game drives!
With the leopards there is a definite change in the air. Shadow is now trying to expand her territory, but her mother Kurula has got plans of her own. She is preventing Shadow from expanding more northeast into her domain and by doing so Shadow is forced to expand more south. If Shadow goes more south she will reach Salayexe’s territory, which might not be such a good idea. Thandi, Shadow’s sister, is also doing very well and her young male cub is getting more accustomed to the game vehicles. It is about time now as he is already bigger than his mother! Kurula’s two cubs, Xivindzi and Xivambalana, are spending more time apart from each other, but she is still there to provide a fresh kill every now and again and to make sure that they stay out of harm’s way. Salayexe is still doing well and was seen on regular basis this month. She has also taken over Nyaleti’s old territory, as she has moved out of our area. Ntima was full of cuts last time we saw her, which proofs that she was in a fight, but she is still marking her territory, which is a good thing. Tingana has got his hands full at this stage with two young male leopards that are also looking for a place to call home. One of the young males is Matifuma, the son of Nyaleti and Tyson, and brother of Mati and Moya. It looks like the big man Tyson has left us for good as Tingana’s territory is stretching south of our southern boundary, where Tyson was once in charge. Mvula is starting to become the main man between the other males as he’s slowly pushing Lamula more south. Mvula is now in the prime of his life and really looking good, but it’s just a matter of time before a new stronger and younger rival comes in to challenge him.
On the lion side we had wonderful sightings this month. The four Majingi males were seen when they killed a buffalo, finished it off almost in record time, just to move on again in search of females and to make sure that they had no challengers. The Styx pride is doing really good and the five cubs are growing fast. The Styx females had a rough time in raising cubs to adulthood as they have only raised two cubs in the last 5-6years, because of the change in pride take-overs. It really looks promising that all five might pull through this time. The Styx pride was seen on a regular basis this month while relaxing in the shade and also stalking prey. The two Nkuhuma lionesses and their two cubs have provided us with wonderful sightings. These two females have mastered the art of killing buffaloes, as they managed to kill two this month. For only two females to do that takes skill, determination and no room for error. The two females broke away from their original pride for the safety of the cubs, as the Matimba males are the current dominant males of their pride. They would definitely kill the cubs that don’t belong to them. If the cubs can survive for another two years the females might rejoin the pride, or alternatively start their own pride. For now, they are out of harm’s way, but still have to be cautious because if they go more south they will move into the territory of the Majingi males. They will also kill the cubs. The two young Nkuhuma males were very illusive this month and didn’t stay for very long before moving on again.
The big herds have returned to our area! We have seen nice big herds this last month, mainly because food sources are starting to deplete. The smaller herds will join up to form bigger herds and sometimes in drier times, bigger herds will join and form mega herds. When mega herds form, it helps against predation as they have safety in numbers with the group being stronger. The lions will know better than taking on big breeding herds and they will rather go for the older bulls that left the herd or old females who can’t keep up with the herd. A few females are coming into oestrus now and the big dominant bulls will follow them around and fight with other bulls. For each dominant male there will be 10-15 females, but it is very difficult to mate with all 10 or 15 females. You will find that this leaves a gap for some of the younger males to get a chance and mate with some of the females.
We had very good elephant sightings once again and the waterhole in front of the lodge is getting popular with the elephant herds because there is always fresh water for them. Also now with all the nice green wild date palms in the riverbed, they come and visit us at least 3 times a week. With the heavy rains we had some of the flood plains turned into marsh areas, which are a haven for any elephant herd, with lovely grass and ample water. We saw a big female with very interesting tusks this month. The tusks are growing towards and past each other in front of the mouth, below the trunk. With that flexible trunk she is not struggling to feed herself or to drink water at all, even though it looks as if the skew tusks are preventing her from getting food into her mouth. Next time you go to the bush and you see a herd of elephants, take the time and look at their tusks. At least one elephant out of the whole group will have skew tusks. When the elephant is still young it can sometimes happen that they damage the root canal and then one or both tusks can grow out skew. It happened a few years ago in East Africa where a young male elephant managed to split both his root canals and then instead of one tusk per socket, 12 splintered tusks started to grow out of the two sockets. An elephant uses the tusks to break off branches or strip the bark off of trees. It is also used for fighting, but it is not imperative to its survival to have tusks.
Highlight of the month
The highlight this month is definitely Mvula the male leopard, who killed an impala right in front of our vehicles. We followed him for quite some time before he saw the impalas and started stalking them. It felt like eternity, but he moved very quietly while inching forward, bit by bit. He disappeared for a few minutes and then, with lightning speed, he came out from behind a bush and before the impala’s could react it was too late. A leopard can reach a top speed of 90km/h on short distances. To see the hunt from start to finish is always special because it can take anything from five minutes to a few hours and you can never tell what the outcome might be till the end.
Did you know?
Unlike his fish-eating cousins, the Pied Kingfisher and Giant Kingfisher, who prefer mainly fish, a Woodland Kingfisher’s diet consists mainly of small insects. .
Hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!