The winter has finally arrived with suitcases full of cool, crisp mornings and evenings. The day temperature is still very pleasant until the sun disappears behind the Drakensberg mountains to the west. Jackets, scarfs and beanies are essential items for safaris this time of the year. The average maximum temperature for the month was 25°C, with 2mm of rain. Although the winter mornings are really cold it did not have a major impact on the game viewing this month. We were fortunate to see a male cheetah moving through the area in search of new hunting grounds. The majority of the cheetahs that move through our area are youngsters in search of a territory. We have been blessed with the wild dog sightings this month. We saw them hunting and playing in our area a few times. The nightlife was also great. Now that the sun is setting a few minutes earlier every day, nocturnal animals are getting active earlier.

Flap-necked chameleon by Louis Liversage

Flap-necked chameleon by Louis Liversage

Leopards

The leopard sightings this month was again out of this world. Kurula’s two cubs are doing great and they are getting more relaxed with the vehicles moving around them. Kurula is moving them around a lot as she brings them to kills. It is such a great sight to see two little cubs following their mother down the road. Let’s hope that she will raise both these little cubs to adulthood. Shadow was also seen this month as she scent-marked her boundaries again. She moved the cubs to a new den, which is out of our traversing. Hopefully the little ones are still doing well in their new home. We can not wait for Shadow to bring them across to our area again. She will start to move them around a lot more now as they are old enough to eat meat and they will be brought to the kills. Salayexe and her cub are also looking great and the cub is now almost 13 months old. This is now the time that we will think of a suitable name for the little one. There is definitely tension between these two ladies. Salayexe is leaving her alone for longer periods of time to force her to go and hunt something for herself. The young female surprised us all the one evening when she performed a very loud territorial call. She continued with this during the night and the next morning we found her together with a very upset mother. It is not common for a one-year-old female to perform a full-on territorial call. Salayexe is also moving all over and expanding her territory to an enormous empire. A lot of this behaviour might be because she is looking for a male. This comes to show that there are big changes about to happen in the next few months. Nsele and her cub is doing really good. The little cub is still a bit shy, but we are full of hope that he/she will come around and become as relaxed as Nsele. This is the oldest cub that we have in the area and he/she was born in beginning of January 2016. Nsele and the cub was seen a lot more than in previous months. This is really good news for us as we can continue with the habituation process. Moya was also seen a few times this month. It is always great to see this beautiful female and it is good to see that she is expanding her territory more north east again. Moya was seen mating with the older Airstrip male for a few days this month. After mating with the Airstrip male she started mating with Anderson for a few days. Last month we saw her with suckle marks, which gave us the indication that she had cubs. It might be that she lost the cubs or she mated with the males to give them the impression that the cubs are their own, ensuring their safety. Only time will tell to say for sure if the cubs are still alive or dead. Tingana is keeping a very low profile as he was only seen a few times this month. It looks like he successfully kicked out Mvula and took over his territory. Anderson has his hands full with the Airstrip male moving in and out of his territory and mating with his females. Anderson was in a big fight as he has new gashes and scars on his face. It is unclear who he had a fight with, but I think it was a big one when I look at the scars on him.

Lions

Anderson male leopard Morné Fouché

Anderson male leopard Morné Fouché

This month we had such a blast with the lion sightings. The Styx pride stole the limelight again this month with the small cubs within the pride. There are four cubs that is old enough for us to view and then there are four cubs that is maybe a month old that we do not view yet. All three the females were seen with suckle marks but strangely enough the oldest female was seen mating with one of the Birmingham male lions again this month. We all feared that she maybe lost her cubs but a few days later we saw her, a Birmingham male lion and one cub resting in the dry river bed. It will be great if all 9 the little cubs can survive. It will be great to see the pride grow in numbers. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that for the next few years the cubs will stay safe and reach adulthood. We have seen the tailless female and her four sub adult cubs of the Tsalala pride in and out of our area the last month. At a stage the 5 were split up and two young males were separated from the rest of the group. For this small group it is difficult to defend themselves against a bigger pride or dominant males. For this 14-year-old lioness it is tough to raise these three boys and one girl to adulthood all by herself. Hopefully she can take them through the year – then the young males should go off by themselves and she and her daughter can return back to the pride again. The young sub adults of the Breakaway pride have moved all over our area the last month. These six girls and tree boys killed a big buffalo bull the one evening and fed on it for a few days. This just showed us that they are already great hunters. It is not just any lion that can kill a big buffalo bull, it takes skill and determination. It is great to see these youngsters growing up and finally having the confidence to explore on their own and hunt for themselves. Once again we had the ladies of the Nkuhuma pride moving through our area. It is always nice to see them as they are great looking females. We got word that the pregnant female of the Nkuhuma gave birth. We do not know how many cubs there are at this stage, but let’s hope they are very healthy. This will be the Birmingham male’s first cubs with this pride. The Birmingham males was all over their territory this month to ensure that no new males moved into the area. It looks like they are good fathers as we have seen them a few times with the Styx pride females and their cubs on and off kills. Hopefully these males can bring stability to the two prides, as this is what they need. We had a very big surprise this month as we saw the two big Matimba males scent marking deep into Birmingham male territory. These two males are very familiar to the area as this was part of their old territory. The big question is: what were they doing so far up and also scent marking? We saw them again a few times after that, close to our lodge. This might be due to the Majingi males putting more pressure on the Matimba males.

Buffalos

Nsele the female leopard and cub by Louis Liversage

Nsele the female leopard and cub by Louis Liversage

The buffalo sightings were really great with big herds of buffalo moving through our area. With food getting a bit more in demand the big buffalo herds are almost constantly on the move. The majority of the waterholes are now mainly mud wallows and this also plays a big role in the movement of the herds. The limitation of food and water supplies force the herds to move through very quickly. Within these herds there are a few small babies who were born just before the winter. It is crucial for the mothers of these little ones to get enough food for her and the little ones, as the calves still drink milk. So far the members in the herds are still in good condition and there is enough food. We have seen a nice bachelor herd of dominant males moving around in the area. They have left the herds to get back in shape after the mating season. We also noticed a few of the old dagga boys that have re-joined the big herds. This is quite common to happen this time of the year as the herds move through and the old males just join for protection.

Elephants

Tsalala male lions by Louis Liversage

Tsalala male lions by Louis Liversage

Elephants and more elephants almost around every corner. The elephant sightings were spectacular and we did not have any shortage of these big heavyweights. At times we had massive herds of over fifty individuals in the herd. The trees in the area are taking a beating at this stage as the elephants have mainly changed their diet to trees. In the winter a good 90% of their diet will be trees and in the summer 98% of their diet will consist of grass. The only areas where there are still grass left is along the banks of the dry riverbeds. One of the best elephant sightings that we had was at our biggest waterhole in our traversing. One herd made their way down to the water to quench their thirst after the long travel. After a few minutes we noticed they stopped drinking and we heard the low rumbling sound coming from the elephants at the water. Suddenly there was movement on the other side of the dam. Another herd also made their way down to the water for a drink. Both herds vocalized as they moved closer to one another. Then more elephants moved onto the scene and soon after a fourth herd appeared and all these elephants were so vocal you could hear it from kilometres away. After all the excitement died down and order was restored, some of the younger males went for a swim to cool down. It was great to see all these different herds interacting with each other. But more interesting was to see them communicating with each other before they get to the water. Each herd waited for the other to finish at the water before moving to the water to drink. We can only hear about 5% of the noises they make, the rest is below our frequency and we can’t hear it.

Special sighting

This month the nine cubs of the Styx lion pride was definitely the highlight. It is great to see them moving around and being relaxed with the vehicles. The best part is that the Birmingham males, who are first time fathers, are doing a great job so far in protecting of the pride. What a treat it is to have all these cubs in the area.

Did you know?

A male lion’s mane will only be fully grown when he reaches the age of six to seven years.

See you out on the game drive soon.

Morné Fouché