What a way to start off 2016! We had such a great time, with some awesome sightings this month. The weather, on the other hand, was a rollercoaster ride. We were blessed with some rain in our area and although it was only 52mm in total, it was still enough to help the new shoots of grass to generate growth. Once again there was a heat wave that came through, which pushed the temperatures into the high 40’s. The average maximum temperature for the month was 32⁰C. It looks like our resident hyena clan might be growing in numbers, as we found the alpha female at a new den site. We have not seen any pups yet, but maybe during the next month they will start running around outside the hole. The five bigger pups are looking very healthy and they have replaced their black coats with the characteristic spotted coats. We were so fortunate with the wild dog and cheetah sightings once again this month. The wild dogs moved in and out of our area for the entire month. We saw cheetah twice this month and the one male was not too far from our lodge. We also had a fantastic birding month and saw so many birds of prey all feasting on the termites after the rain.

Male giraffe drinking water by Neil Coetzer

Male giraffe drinking water by Neil Coetzer

Leopards

The leopard sightings did not disappoint us in the New Year, as we had such incredible sightings once again. Salayexe and her little girl are still the light of the party, as we had such great sightings of this mother and daughter. Salayexe is like a killing machine as she has to make a kill almost every second or third day. The young 8 month old cub eats like a champ and if she gets half the chance, she hogs the kill and her mother does not get a lot of meat. Salayexe had a few days that she was not impressed with her daughter regarding the kills. When it is the cub’s turn to feed, she climbs up the tree and moves the kill from its original spot. Sometimes she gets it right, but at other times she gives a free meal to the hyenas that are patiently waiting at the base of the tree. The cub has not yet mastered the technique of moving around in the tree with the kill in her mouth. She still has a few months to learn from her mother, but at this stage everything is a game to her. Kurula was also seen this month and she might be pregnant, as it looks like her milk glands are swollen. It would be wonderful if she can raise another litter of cubs before she gets too old to reproduce. As we all know the older a leopard female gets, the more difficult it gets to raise a litter. Kwatile is looking great and good news is that she still has suckle marks. It is still too early to say how many cubs she might have. She made a good job of getting a great den for the little cubs. We can’t wait for the day that she brings them out for the first time. Thandi was also seen moving around in her mother’s territory but this might be due to her looking for Tingana. A few days later she met up with Tingana and started mating. The honeymoon couple was rudely interrupted when Kurula came charging in and send Thandi running. Thandi is looking great and is very healthy, but she is not ready to take on her bigger and more experienced mother. She tried that once and it did not go down too well for her. The trio moved around together for a short while before Kurula moved away. We also saw Nsele twice this month, but only very briefly. She is still looking healthy and with the one bad eye she is still hunting well. It looks like the Ximpalapala female has taken over Moya’s territory, as we have recently seen her scent marking all over. She is not the most relaxed female, but I believe that with time and effort, we can change that. Tingana is in top shape and looking great. He has expanded his territory far east and now again puts more pressure on Mvula. We will just have to wait and see what this year has in store for us. Anderson, the brut of a male, was also seen this month. He was spotted together with Salayexe and her daughter, resting in the river bed close to our lodge. It is so difficult to say who the father of Salayexe’s cub is, as she mated with both Anderson and Tingana. We also had a surprise visit from a young male called the Flat Rock male. He dit not stay for very long before moving on again to try and find his own piece of Africa to call home. It is great to see new blood moving into the area, but unfortunately there is also a lot of competition.

Lions

Karula the female leopard by Neil Coetzer

Karula the female leopard by Neil Coetzer

On the lions side it was a bit quiet, but we still had some great sightings. The three Styx females are looking great and it looks like they have accepted the Birmingham males, as they are moving around with them. It will be great for them to be around the males as this will mean better protection for the new cubs that might be arriving. We had five Nkuhuma females in our area that killed a young buffalo. These five females are looking very healthy and in great shape. The core of their territory is more to the north eastern part of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin. They do come in from time to time to say hello. At this stage it looks like they are also trying to stay clear of the Birmingham male lions. When the Birmingham males go north, the females either go further north, or they come west into our area. We did manage to get one of the adult lionesses of the Breakaway pride on drive the one morning, all alone calling for the rest of her pride. There were tracks for a lot more lions moving all over the area and also our resident hyena clan, who seemed to be in hot pursuit. It looked like the pride was chased by the hyenas and this female was separated from her pride. We were very fortunate to see the five Birmingham males on a regular basis. They are looking spectacular and their manes are getting fuller by the day, although their manes are only going to be fully grown by the age of 6-7 years. At this stage it is difficult to say who the dominant male is. All five males are mating with the females and sometimes they will mate with the same females.

Buffaloes

European roller by Morné Fouché

European roller by Morné Fouché

The buffalo sightings were once again out of this world! We had a big herd of buffaloes that came through our area again. They did not stay very long before moving along in the ongoing search for food and water. Fortunately it did not stop there, as we also had smaller herds of about twenty to thirty buffaloes moving around the area. One of these herds was chased around by the Nkuhuma pride of lions the one evening. Smaller buffalo herds like these will be chased around more often by lions than what big herds would be. Within a big herd you have a lot of backup on your side to help when a lion pride tries to take one of the herd members down. We had loads of buffalo bulls, both young and old, relaxing in the mud wallows or bigger water holes. The old dagga boys were seen on a regular basis this last month and you can always count on these old gentlemen.

Elephants

Impala babies by Morné Fouché

Impala babies by Morné Fouché

Once again we picked up right where we left off with the elephant sightings from last year to now. There were enormous herds of elephants that paid visits to our waterhole in front of the lodge. These herds were about 50-60 animals strong and moved gracefully through our area, in no hurry at all. This might be due to all the small babies that are currently present within the herd. We counted seven tiny babies that were under a year old and another five babies that were about two to three years old and a lot more that were older than three years, all in one of the herds in the area. There were many young males walking around, trying to rejoin the herd, only to be chased out again by the females. All young males are being kicked out at the age of about 14-17 years. If they are lucky they might join forces with a big adult male who will teach them the ropes as they get older. The young males will also join forces and form a bachelor herd of young males. There were also many older males in our area. Some of them were in full musth and were looking for the female groups. When a male elephant goes into musth, his body undergoes a dramatic change as the body produces a very high level of testosterone.

Special sighting

The special sighting was to see three leopards playing together in a dry river bed. Salayexe and her daughter were relaxing in the dry river bed when Anderson came down the embankment. Salayexe’s daughter saw this as a good opportunity to practice her stalking and pouncing skills. Anderson knew what the little one was up to and made it very clear that he was not in the mood for fun and games. Oblivious to all the warning signs of Anderson, the cub pushed forward. Salayexe knew there was trouble on the way and she jumped in. Just before the little one got into striking distance, Salayexe intercepted the cub and made sure that she did not get hurt. Salayexe and her daughter started playing, while Anderson just kept a watchful eye over the little cub.

Did you know?

The insect that makes the loudest sound is one of the African cicada species. Its sound was measured at 106.7 decibels.

Morné Fouché