Driving through the bush you can see that the seasons are changing. During the days, temperatures are mild and pleasant, but as soon as the sun goes down we still reach for our jackets. We also had a few cold fronts that moved through our area. Hopefully this was the last bit of winter chill. The average maximum temperature for the month was 24 °C and we also had 11mm of rain. If we talk about the quality of game viewing for July, I would have to say that it was even better than the previous month! We had some awesome wild dog and cheetah sightings and then some more…We regularly saw lions on kills and saw both lions and leopards mating. Most of the small waterholes have now dried up completely and others have turned into mud baths for elephants, buffalo and warthogs alike. The bigger dams are holding water quite nicely though and the animals really enjoyed utilizing the waterhole in front of the camp, making for excellent Africam viewing.
The leopard sightings were just mind blowing and we had such a blast with all the leopards in our area! Let’s start off with Salayexe. She at last mated with Tingana, the dominant male in her area. When we saw the two together, it was such a magnificent and fantastic sighting.
We keep our fingers crossed that she conceived and that her next litter will make it to adulthood. Shadow came back to this side after mating with Mvula, the big male leopard in the east, who also killed her cubs. She then also mated with Tingana. The reason why she did this seemingly unique thing is because her territory overlaps these two big males’ territories. In doing so, both the males will accept the cubs as their own and will not kill them. If all goes well during the next few months, Shadow and Salayexe should give birth a week or two apart. I think all of us are already counting off the days in excitement, although we will only know later on if both are indeed pregnant. We also got word that young Moya is a mother of two small cubs. We are so exited and can’t wait for her to bring the cubs over into our area. When leopard cubs reach the age of about two months, they are big enough two keep up with mum and she will fetch and take them to kills. Kwatile is in a really good condition and we frequently saw her patrolling and scent marking her territory. Like I mentioned in my last report, the stage is set for Tingana and the young males looking to claim his territory. Well, Tingana and the one young male had a stand-off in Tingana’s territory this month. The tension was high and testosterone levels even higher! The young male stood his ground and he looked really impressive. He even seemed to be taller than Tingana. But the most important ingredient was missing: confidence. Tingana had plenty of confidence and during the standoff you could see that he was the boss as he slowly, but surely pushed the youngster out of his area. The standoff lasted only a day, but that was enough to persuade the youngster to leave for now. This was not the last power struggle for Tingana, though. The next evening he came across Lamula, eating a big warthog kill and he was challenged again. Both heavyweights left the warthog kill that was on the ground and focused on each other, walking side by side while continuously growling. The end result was that Tingana dominated once again, but later lost the kill to hyenas. Although Tingana won these two challenges, it was definitely not the last. He can be sure to be challenged a lot more in the near future.
These sightings were also out of this world, with lots of action and excitement. The three older Tsalala lionesses and the sub adult lioness are still looking great and also feeding well. The one older lioness looks pregnant, as she is much fatter than the other two ladies. It also looks like her milk glands are slightly swollen. If their numbers can increase by a few more, it would be really good news for this small pride. The black maned Majingi male lion still doesn’t accept the sub adult lioness and chases her around every time he joins up with the pride. The only logical explanation for this would be that he is not her father. The Styx pride is also looking fantastic, including the old lioness, considering her age. One of the other lionesses of the pride was seen mating with one of the Matimba male lions. As her four cubs are now between 2-3 years old, it is about time for her to come into oestrus again. One thing that is a bit worrying for us at this stage is that the Matimba males are pushing more south. They have mated with one of the Styx pride lionesses as well. As the Styx pride mostly walks with the Majingi males, she would need to mate with them as well, sooner rather than later. Lion females are actually very clever in this way. There have been reports of prides taken over by new males, where the females that were pregnant with the old males’ cubs, went into a false oestrus cycle and mated with the new males, giving birth a short while later. The new males accepted the cubs as their own, when they in fact belonged to the old males. The main problem with the four Majingi male lions is that they have such a big territory and in that massive area they have a lot of females. At this stage it looks like they can’t get to all the females, unless they split up. By splitting up, however, they become very easy targets for younger males. Let’s hope that this doesn’t leave them too vulnerable and that they would stay dominant for another few years, siring a lot more cubs.
We had lovely buffalo sightings, including some beautiful big herds. When you look at a herd of feeding buffaloes, you will see that they normally choose the taller grass first. They wrap their tongues around the grass then pull it into their mouths, using the bottom teeth to cut the grass. Buffaloes play a very important role in the savannah grazing succession, by keeping the length of the grass to a more preferred height for other selective grazers. Buffaloes normally don’t stay in one area for too long, before moving on again. When the herds move through an area, they trample on a lot of the vegetation and then rarely return to that same area for a while. In one of the herds we saw a female with a few scrape marks on both her sides. There is only one animal brave enough to take on a buffalo and leave their mark: a lion. She was lucky enough to escape the claws of death, though. We also saw a nice bachelor herd of about fifteen males of different ages, mostly resting close to, or inside the waterholes. The old dagga boys are also around and some of the older males have joined forces with other bachelor herds.
We had some wonderful elephant sightings and they were not at all shy to grace us with their presence. I think the amount of elephants that we see has a lot to do with the abundance of certain vegetation in our area. The trees that elephants are focusing on at the moment are the Bush Willow species, Round Leaf Teak, Acacia trees and the Wild Date Palms that grow in the riverside areas. The elephants will focus more on trees during the winter months. About 90% of their diet during winter will consist of trees and 98% of their diet in the summer months will be grass. There are a lot more nutrients in grass. When elephants target the trees, you will find that they can be quite destructive, as they push over the trees to get to the roots of the tree. They will also sometimes strip the bark of the tree in order to get to the cambium layer. The cambium layer is situated on the inside of the bark. It is responsible for transporting nutrients and sugars from the roots to the leaves. We call the phenomenon of bark stripping, ring barking. When a tree has lost a certain amount of bark, it would unfortunately die because of damage to the cambium layer. When the elephants push over trees, it helps some of the smaller browsing animals to get access to the juicier leaves, usually situated more to the top of the tree.
The special sighting this month was to see Mvula, Lamula, Xivambalana and the Ostrich Koppies female, all in one sighting with an impala kill in a tree. What was so amazing to see was that all four leopards ate from the same impala kill!
Did you know?
A hippo can stay submerged for between 6-8 minutes.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!