This was a nice, but also a cold month! As we are already in the middle of winter this calls for gloves, scarves and beanies. The game drives are at their coldest during dusk and dawn. We had a few cold fronts that moved through the area and this made the morning drives extremely cold. The average maximum temperature this month was 25°C and we did not have any rain. The day temperatures were pleasant, until the sun disappeared behind the mountains in the late afternoons. This is when the blankets on the game drive vehicles come in very handy! We once again had some awesome game viewing this month. The nightlife was especially good. Maybe this had something to do with the lower temperatures, or the fact that the sun is setting so much earlier. We also had some lovely wild dog and cheetah sightings. Unfortunately, we also had some sad moments this month, which I will tell you more about later on…
The leopard sightings overall was really good this month, but it was also a sad month filled with heartache and pain for us. As most of you already know, Salayexe’s female cub was killed at the beginning of the month. This was a big shock to all of us. I think it’s safe to say that there was not one person who was not heartbroken on that day. The saddest part for me was to see Salayexe going back several times to the area where the cub was killed. She would call to the cub, walk around and call again, hoping to see the little one jumping out from behind a tree or bush like she so often did… That little rascal managed to sneak into the hearts of all the staff and many guests alike that stayed at the lodge. So many times we find ourselves talking about her and all the funny stuff she did as well as the games her and mum played. All the good times that we shared while watching them.
This little cat was larger than life itself and she will live on in our hearts for many years to come. Just when we thought it could not get any worse, the unthinkable happened. Mvula, the dominant male from the east, stumbled upon Shadow and her cubs on a kill. Mvula killed both cubs and we saw him walking away with one cub in his mouth. He actually took it up a tree and started feeding on it. Poor Shadow, there wasn’t much she could have done against this big male leopard. It is common that new dominant males or even young males would kill cubs that they did not sire. The female will come into oestrus much quicker and he does not have to wait for about 2 years, when the cubs normally leave their mother. Shadow also went back and forth from the area where her cubs were killed, contact calling a lot for a few days. We can only imagine what goes through their minds when something like this happens.
Shadow already started mating this month, which is even sooner than Salayexe. We saw her and Mvula together for a few days, so hopefully she is smart and will mate with Tingana as well, as he is the dominant male in her main territory. If she mates with both the males, both males will accept the cubs as their own and would leave them alone. Some better news was that we saw Nsele more than previous months and she turned out to be a beautiful female, just like her mother, Salayexe. Moya was also seen a few times doing her territorial calling and scent marking all over her area. Both her and Nsele are now of age to have their first litter, so won’t that be a spectacular sight to see! Tingana has big problems on his hands as there is a really big young male, about 5 years old, moving into his territory. Besides this new young brut of a male, there is also another young male who also moves around in Tingana’s territory. We can only wait and see how this will play out. Will we get a new dominant male or will Tingana show the youngster who‘s the boss? In short, we can say the stage is set for some action! Lamula is looking really good and he is getting bigger by the day as his face is getting wider and rounder and his chest is getting more bulky.
In regards to the lion sightings, it was just out of this world and there was really no shortage of lions! We had a surprise visit from one of the two older Nkuhuma male lions feasting on a big buffalo bull kill when the Styx pride showed up. If I must say so myself, he did a good job in defending his kill as he was seen chasing the Styx pride around. This young male is really looking good and when you look at his long body it’s almost a mirror image of his dad, the old Nkuhuma male. We haven’t seen his brother yet and the last time we saw him, he still had an injured leg and it didn’t look comfortable to live with at all. The Styx pride had lost the last of the three smaller cubs in the pride. We are still unsure of what happened to the little one because when we saw the pride, the oldest lioness was eating the dead cub. The four sub-adult lions of the Styx pride are doing well and they are already taking part in the hunts and with them helping, the old lady can hang back and take it easy. The old lioness of the pride should be around 17 years old now and her age is starting to show as she is always lagging behind and trying to rest ever so often when she gets the chance. The two sub adult males are looking gorgeous with their manes that’s getting bigger and thicker day by day. Well, these two young boys will soon be kicked out by the four Majingi male lions and then their nomadic lives will begin. They need to feed themselves, avoid other big males and stay out of harm’s way until they are big and strong enough to one day get a pride for themselves. It was such a beautiful sight to see BB with her older daughters and the sub adult lioness of the Tsalala pride all together. These three big lionesses are still looking magnificent and then the young sub adult lioness also looks very healthy and she’s getting bigger and bigger day by day. The one daughter of BB looks to be in oestrus as she was followed by the black maned Majingi male lion. They will stay together for about 5-7 days and mate at least 50 times a day. If everything goes well she’ll have cubs in about 110 days.
We had some big breeding herds this month that came into our area. Just as the one herd moved out of the area, the next group would come in and stay for a while before moving off again. After the herds moved through the area, we started seeing more bulls that stayed behind in small bachelor units. With the big herds moving through, the lions followed and watched their every move. There were also smaller herds that broke away from the big herds. The reason for smaller herds forming might be because the lions chased them at some stage and managed to split the herd. There were a few casualties this month as the Styx pride had their share of buffalo meat, the Tsalala pride took down a young male and also the Nkuhuma male feasted on a nice big male buffalo. When the big herds move around, they draw a lot of attention to themselves. Although they also have a unique social structure and will help each other when in need, it does not always work. When one buffalo gives the distress call, a mobbing attack can be triggered and the herd will come back in numbers to try and help the distressed buffalo. If they are successful in chasing off the predators, they will bunch together with the injured one in the middle of the group till he is strong enough to move again and rejoin the herd.
Similar to last month, the elephants are still quite abundant in the area – you can’t throw a stone without hitting one. This has made bush walks a challenge and we’ve had to get quite creative to try and keep out of the way of the breeding herds. The last thing you would want to do is to surprise a breeding herd of elephant and upset the matriarch, who can be temperamental at times. Elephants are contact animals with a very unique and social herd structure. A breeding herd of elephants consists of closely related females like mothers and their daughters, sisters and aunts. Family members will often touch each other while standing, resting or even while drinking water. They will also lean or rub their bodies together. When two family groups meet there will be a lot of vocalization between them with tummy rumbles and sometimes trumpeting. With the greeting ceremony, elephants will sometimes use their trunks and put it into the mouth of the other one. This might have derived from elephant calves that would put their trunks into their mother’s mouths in order to get some chewed food from her. Mothers will also use their trunks to guide the little ones in the right directions and will make use of their trunk or a foot rub to reassure the baby that everything is fine. Mothers will also use the trunk to discipline the youngster with a slap on the backside if needed.
The special sighting of the month was to see the four Majingi male lions feeding on a buffalo bull which they stole from the Tsalala lionesses. It was very special to see the big males together again!
Did you know?
A male lion on a kill can eat up to 25% of his own body weight in one go.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!