Rangers Report May 2016

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

Rangers Report April 2016

Hyenas feeding on a wildebeest by Dawie Jacobs

Hyenas feeding on a wildebeest by Dawie Jacobs

As expected we picked up where we left off last month. The sightings were just awesome and ridiculously great at times. This month we were spoiled by wonderful sightings and I must say it was such a joy to spend quality time with the animals. There is a big change happening in the bush and there are such exciting times coming up. It is again that time of the year when the impala males are busy with the big fight for mating rights. The rutting season has started. The changing season is now really in full swing as it gets darker earlier in the evening and lighter later in the morning. The temperatures are also dropping a little bit and we have pulled our jackets out of storage. The average maximum temperature for the month was 30 ⁰C with no rain. Once again we had a few wonderful wild dog sightings this month. The alpha female is heavily pregnant and we have seen them digging around in a few termite mounds. We all know what that means; she is looking for a suitable den somewhere. Their preferred dens are around a thicket or thick drainage areas. Every time we see this pack we hope that she will get a suitable den and have her pups here. All we can do at this stage is wait and see what will happen. Our resident hyena clan is still growing in numbers. This month we saw there is yet another new baby of a few weeks old at the den. The little one is still a little shy but when mum is there she calls him out of the den to play outside.

Leopards

Karula the female leopard by Dawie Jacobs

Karula the female leopard by Dawie Jacobs

The leopard sightings were such a treat this month. We had a wonderful time with all the tiny babies around. Kurula and her two cubs are doing really well and she is so relaxed with us being around them. She has moved her den into a nice thick donga with a lot of hiding place for the little ones. One of the little ones are a bit skittish but getting better with the vehicles. The other one is fine with the vehicles. Shadow surprised us all as she is much more relaxed than previous years. It is wonderful because both her cubs are much more relaxed than her mother’s two cubs. Although one of Shadows cubs are more shy than the other one they still provide us with a good show when playing around the den. This next few months will be very crucial in the habituation stage of these little cubs. Shadow has moved the cubs to a great area where it is very thick but still great for the cubs. The only problem with the new den is that it is very close to Anderson’s territory. A very good sign is that both mothers are so relaxed with the vehicles at the den. If they had enough of you they will let you know with a quick snarl. Salayexe and her daughter is also doing really good. Salayexe has been snarling and hissing at her daughter a lot this month. This looks like Salayexe will be breaking the mother – daughter bond between them. For the young cub this new behaviour of her mother came as a shock to her. Salayexe hissed at her before but never to the extent that it looks like she wants to bite her. Salayexe also expanded her territory further south and that is where the little one spends more of her time. So it looks like it is sorted, the daughter will set up her territory to the south of Salayexe’s territory. Tsakani was also seen a lot again this month and she is moving all over her absent mother’s territory. This is going to be such a beautiful female leopard and we can’t wait for her to set up her territory and have young of her own. We have started seeing Nsele’s older daughter also a few times this month. She is also such a great leopard female. Mvula is spending a lot of his time back in the western part of his old territory. It looks like the leopard dynamics are starting to change again, concerning the male leopards. Now that Mvula has moved more west it is clear that he is under enormous pressure from the other male leopards like Tingana. With him being here it puts tremendous pressure on Kurula and Shadow as they have tiny babies and he is not the father. When he stumbles onto one of the dens he will kill the cubs and there is nothing these ladies can do. Tingana is pushing more north and further east expanding his own territory and does not have the faintest idea that Mvula is in his territory. Tingana is really looking great but still getting pressured from Anderson. Anderson does not stay very long in one area as he has such a big territory that he needs to check. This male most definitely has the biggest territory of all the males in the area. Anderson spends a lot more time with Salayexe and her almost one-year-old cub. This might be a sign that Salayexe might come into season in the next few months.

Lions

African wild dog by Neil Coetzer

African wild dog by Neil Coetzer

We had great lion sightings this last month. The three Styx pride lionesses are still looking great and very healthy. There is still no sign of more cubs from the other females but let’s hope it is not going to be too much longer. The old female moved all over and in and out of thick drainage lines, which means that she might be looking for a den. This will be great news for us and for the pride. Although the young female has a den already two females do not normally share the same den. The young Styx female has also moved her cubs again to a new location this month. One of the Birmingham males moved into the area of the den and the young female just lashed out and gave him a good hiding. Let’s just hope that these young boys won’t kill their brother’s cubs like the Mapogo’s did. It is unclear what the male’s intention was but the female did not want him around that day. We do not know how many cubs there is as we have not seen them yet. I think I speak for everyone here when I say we cannot wait for the little ones to start moving around with their mother. The Nkuhuma females were also out and about this month and it is great to see them spending more time in our area. They are still some of the best looking lionesses in the area and are in top condition. It looks like one of the females are pregnant as her milk glands are swollen. This will be great for the pride to also grow in numbers. The Nkuhuma pride was once the biggest pride in the area and was so successful in hunting, raising cubs and defending their territory. The Birmingham males have started again to move more west. These males did spend a lot of their time in the eastern part of their territory as this is where all their females are.

Buffalo

Anderson the male leopard by Dawie Jacobs

Anderson the male leopard by Dawie Jacobs

There was no change with the buffalo sightings again this month. We were fortunate to have seen two and at times even three big herds on one game drive. We all know too well that it can happen at any time where food gets scarcer and the herds move on to greener pastures. But for now we are enjoying every moment with these wonderful animals. The majority of the females that were pregnant last month gave birth and the herds are full of newborn babies. The poor youngsters need to move when the herd moves and can rest when the herd settles to rest or stop to feed. When you find a big herd you must take the time to watch them closely as they do their day to day things. You will actually see that they are very unique animals in their own way. When you look at the buffalo calves, they have to drink on the move. Due to buffalo herds always being on the move the babies walk behind their mothers and drink from the back while mum is feeding. With the last of the big males back with the herds there is a bit of pushing and shoving going on between the males. We have not yet seen a full on fight with these big boys this month but it is bound to happen sooner or later.

Elephant

Salayexe`s cub and an elephant by Dawie Jacobs

Salayexe`s cub and an elephant by Dawie Jacobs

If there was one thing where there was no shortage of then it was elephants. It was wonderful again to spend some time with these big heavyweights. We were so fortunate to see two males in full musth having a standoff. There was so many big males in the area this month and we saw a group of males together with a herd of females. Sometimes it might happen where you see an old male that is close to 50 years old with a few young males. These young males are called askaris bulls, they will follow the big male and he will teach them everything they need to know. When a young bull comes into musth for the very first time he will be about 25 years old. The body will undergo a massive change with high testosterone levels and the young bull might get very aggressive. With this high testosterone levels shooting through the body, the young male wants to fight with everything that stands in his way. That is when the old big male comes into play to show the young male who the boss is and to put him on his place. The herds of females moved through the whole area again this month. We had such great times with these beautiful animals. Herds came from far to drink the fresh water from the waterhole in front of the lodge. It was such a treat to see the females and their babies coming to drink water while we are having breakfast or lunch. These big animals drink water twice a day and will drink between 100L – 200L of water per day.

Special sighting

The sighting that stood out above the rest was Shadow and her cubs. It is a treat to spend quality time with this little family and the cubs are very relaxed with the vehicles, jumping and playing.

Did you know?

A giraffe’s tongue is outside of its mouth for about 10-14 hours a day while eating.

See you out on game drive soon!

Morné Fouché

Manager’s Report April 2016

Wild photo of the month. Salayexe the female leopard by Neil Coetzer

Wild photo of the month. Salayexe the female leopard by Neil Coetzer

It is that time of year again, show time! April and May are two very busy months with tourism shows of all kinds all over. The World Travel Market took place 06 to 08 April in Cape Town and our lodge was again represented by our marketing representative, Samantha Chatham at her Somewhere South stand. We received very positive feedback from the show and looking forward to continue a very valuable relationship with all our travel agents and tour operators.

Breakaway lion feeding on a buffalo by Dawie Jacobs

Breakaway lion feeding on a buffalo by Dawie Jacobs

Hendrik and his maintenance team was once again out and about with the tractor on the airstrip. The lovely rain we got flushed away some soil on the airstrip which left behind nasty ruts. We closed our airstrip for a few days, the tractor did a few laps up and down from north to south and Bob’s your uncle. Everything is back to standard and the airstrip is once again ready to welcome fly-in guests. They also started with some bush clearing. Each year after the rainy season comes to an end, we need to clear the roads of overhanging branches. The maintenance team did a wonderful job and guests can enjoy game drives without having to duck and dive for branches along the road.

Wild dog by Neil Coetzer

Wild dog by Neil Coetzer

Since our guests spend no less than 6 hours per day on a game drive vehicle, it is extremely important for us to keep our vehicles in the best possible condition. With time and the location we are in, vehicles have to be replaced after a certain amount of years and we reached that deadline. I am proud to say that we now have a brand new fleet of land cruisers. Because these vehicles are in such high demand and do not come cheap, it took us a few months, but hey, good things are worth waiting for. We have already been doing drives with some of them for a few months, but the project is now complete. We have 5 new beige cruisers occupying our vehicle shed. I am sure it is every ranger’s dream to drive a brand new vehicle in this beautiful area we call home. A big thank you to Etienne for making this dream a reality , he always keeps our guests and staff’s best experience and interests at heart!

Trapcam photo

Trapcam photo

Our trapcam photo this month is really one of the funniest pictures we got in a long time, not what you would expect from normal day to day zebra activity. I laughed so much, Amanda had to come from her office to see what the joke was about. The camera was placed at Kraaines Pan after the rain where we have a lot of animal activity at the moment. I am still not sure if this zebra smiled for the camera or showed his teeth to prove his charms but it is priceless! Just again reminds us that there is never a dull moment in the bush!

We welcomed a new member to our team this month. Wayne Lubbe joined us to complete our team of rangers. Originally from Gauteng, Wayne started his guiding career in 2010 at Kapama where he gained valuable experience. At the moment, he is joining as many game drives as possible to learn roads and will start with game drives soon. Welcome to our team Wayne!

We also had some birthdays at the lodge this month. On the 3rd Simon celebrated his birthday. He is one of the gardeners who keeps the lodge surroundings in tip-top condition and assists with general day to day maintenance. On the 13th, Etienne had his big day. The love and pride Etienne has for the lodge is bigger than anything I have ever seen. He is an inspiration to all of us and a wonderful boss to work for! Just one day later on the 14th, Amanda also aged another year. Amanda’s bubbly personality is well known in our reservation department. Short on their heels was Janine, who celebrated her birthday on the 18th. She is the friendly face that will check you in during your arrival and make sure your stay is an unforgettable experience. Then, last but not least, Joyce celebrated her birthday on the 30th. Joyce is one of our cleaners that make sure that the rooms are comfortable and cleaned to perfection. Happy birthday to all of you! I hope you had wonderful birthdays and may you enjoy many more at Elephant Plains! To all our readers who celebrated their birthdays during April, we hope you also had a fantastic day, filled with happiness and laughter!

Our kitchen always have the most amazing aromas during the day. One very strong and attractive smell is that of braised lamb shank. For this month’s recipe, head chef Jacques gives us his secret to creating a mouth watering piece of art.

Braised lamb shank

Ingredients

Braised lamb shank

Braised lamb shank

Braised lamb shank
3kg lamb shank/ 6 shanks
385g carrots/ 1 packet
4 Onions – roughly chopped
1 Bunch celery – roughly chopped
2 Garlic heads – halved
750ml White wine
3Lt Liquid Chicken Stock
2 tbsp Tomato Paste
4 Rosemary sprigs
4-6 Thyme Sprigs
1 Bay leaf
10 Juniper berries
1 tsp Black Pepper
Oil for frying
Flour for dusting

Method

Fry the carrots, onions, celery and garlic in oil till tender.

Lightly dust the lamb in flour then fry in a pan until brown

Deglaze the pan with the white wine and reduce the wine by half

In an oven proof dish, add together the fried vegetables, browned lamb, tomato paste, reduced white wine and hot chicken stock

Make a bouquet garni with the black pepper, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary and juniper berries and add to the dish, ready to go into the oven.

Cover with foil and bake for 8 hours at 100°C. Check every hour to make sure your dish does not cook dry. If extra liquid is needed, top up with more stock or wine and water. Serves 6 to 8

Serve and enjoy!

All the best till next month
Tersia Fouché

Manager’s Report February 2016

Salayexe's cub resting in a tree by Dawie Jacobs

Wild photo of the month. Salayexe’s cub resting in a tree by Dawie Jacobs

The shortest month of the year came and went in the blink of an eye. We had loads of wonderful game drive sightings, had some maintenance projects and also celebrated many staff birthdays. We experienced some strange weather patterns as well. We had very hot, humid days, coupled with warm, windy days and ended the month with some cloudy days. It is noticeable during the evenings that the season is now slowly changing. The warm humid nights are slowly being replaced by cooler, breezier temperatures. We can also notice the sunrise and sunset times changing a little more every day, as we slowly move towards autumn.

Breeding herd of buffalo by Neil Coetzer

Breeding herd of buffalo by Neil Coetzer

A few months ago I was contacted by one of our guests Chris Duffield who had a booking for February. He explained that it was him and his lovely fiancé’s biggest wish to get married while in South Africa and the breathtaking beauty of the African bush gave them an idyllic idea for their dream venue. On 9 February we celebrated their very special day at Elephant Plains. It was a lovely sunny day – perfect for an intimate bush wedding. Chris and Lucy wanted to keep everything as rustic and natural as possible. They were joined in marriage under a Leadwood tree on our open area next to the water hole. The ceremony was ended off with elephants trumpeting from a distance. Everything was perfect. Thank you for choosing us to host your dream wedding Mr & Mrs Duffield, I trust that you will keep memories of your bush wedding forever!

Salayexe the female leopard by Neil Coetzer

Salayexe the female leopard by Neil Coetzer

I mentioned earlier that we had a maintenance project this month. As you all know by now, most of our buildings at the lodge have thatch roofs. This month, 3 roofs were given a new look. The roofs still have the same structure but now wears a different outer layer. Harvey Thatch is a stone coated lightweight steel roof tile, resembling a natural thatch look, but without the associated problems which thatch roofs typically give. From the inside, you still see the natural thatch as the tiles are secured onto a wooden frame on top of the original thatch. With the colour and texture very close to that of the grass, the newly finished roofs fit right in with the rest.

This month we welcomed a new face to the kitchen. Juandré Jansen van Rensburg joined our team as a junior Sous chef on the 28th and is already part of the family. He has a great passion for cooking and being in the kitchen. Welcome to the team Juandré, I am sure you are going to spend many happy days at EP, while spoiling us with your delicious meals.

Trapcam photo

Trapcam photo

Our trapcam picture this month is kind of a family portrait. This little warthog family came past Rampan early one afternoon to cool down and have a relaxing soak session in the mud. We always get amazing pictures of buffalo, elephant, giraffe and impala at the waterholes, so I was very happy to find some warthogs this month.

February is a very busy birthday month at the lodge. Five of our staff members celebrated their birthdays this month. We started the month with our head ranger, Morné, who celebrated his birthday on the 1st.  I am sure all of you are already familiar with him, reading his monthly Ranger’s Reports. On the 2nd, our trusty tracker, Derrick celebrated his birthday. Derrick has been part of our team for a few years now and he enjoys sharing stories of his childhood with us. Another gentleman who celebrated his birthday was Dion, on the 4th.  Dion is also one or our trusty trackers, who always has a smile on his face!   Marlet celebrated her birthday on the 24th. Although we do not see her every day as we used to, now that she is based in Nelspruit with the children, she still visits the lodge as often as she can and is still very involved with the day to day running of the lodge. The last one for the month was another tracker, Thomas, whose birthday was on the 27th. Happy birthday to all of you! To all our readers who celebrated their birthdays during February, we hope you had a fantastic day, filled with happiness and laughter!

Each month our chefs spoil us with delicious new recipes from the EP kitchen. This month is no exception, with a delicious stuffed venison loin by head chef Jacques. The venison can also be replaced by beef fillet or chicken breast.

Stuffed Venison Loin

Stuffed Venison Loin

Stuffed Venison Loin

Ingredients

3 kg venison loin of your choice
Braai and grill spice
Garlic and herb spice
1 Tub Feta Cheese
1 Small Jar Mild Pepper dews
Trussing String (butchers string) or toothpicks to hold in place

Method

Place the venison loin on a chopping board and with a sharp knife cut length wise down the loin but not right through.

Place some cling film over and hit the meat with a meat mallet till it’s about 5 millimetres thick.

Chop the pepper dews and break the feta into pieces.

Season the loin with braai & grill and garlic & herb spice to your desire.

Place the pepper dews and feta length wise onto the loin.

Roll up your masterpiece and secure it with string or toothpicks.

Grill in a gridded pan to desired temperature (recommended medium rare).

When cooked, portion the meat into desired sizes and remove the trussing string or toothpicks.

Serve with vegetables and starch of your choice & enjoy!

Yields 4-5 portions.

Serve and enjoy!

 

All the best till next month
Tersia Fouché

Rangers Report February 2016

This month was very exciting with awesome game viewing opportunities. The wild dogs blessed us with their presence, as we saw them several times this month. We were also very fortunate to see a young male cheetah moving through the area. The matriarch of our hyena clan has given birth to the cutest little pup. The little one, who is now a few weeks old, is not shy at all. The older pups at the den do not know which way to go as this little pup bites their ears and heels. When the older pups fight back and manage to pin the little busy body down on the ground, he calls his mum. When the mother hyena stands up, the older pups knows they are in trouble and scatter into different directions. We are very fortunate to have this resident hyena clan in our area – especially the den with the small pups. The weather went from one extreme to the other. We had wonderful day temperatures in the deep 20°C to the low 30°C. There was yet another heat wave that came through the area, pushing the temperatures up into the mid 40°C. There was a few overcast days to help against the scorching sun, but no real, sufficient rain. The average maximum temperature for the month was 33°C, with 8mm of rain.

African wild dog by Neil Coetzer

African wild dog by Neil Coetzer

Leopards

Salayexe and her daughter are doing very well. Salayexe’s daughter is now 10 months old and getting really brave and adventurous. The one morning we found the two resting not too far from the lodge. Out of nowhere a hyena made his way closer to them and the cub ran straight towards her mum. Salayexe moved in between the cub and the hyena, in order to keep a watchful eye on the hyena. The cub then started stalking the hyena and mum just had to follow and make sure that nothing went wrong. If this little cub makes it to independence, it will be great to have another relaxed female in the area. Kurula, the old lady, recently gave birth to small bundles of fluff. We do not know how many cubs she has, as they are safely tucked away in a den. This is exciting for us and we can’t wait to see the little one/ones running around. The core of her territory is out of our traversing area, so we do not know where their den is and how they are doing. So let’s keep our fingers crossed that these youngsters make it and not fall prey to something. Thandi is doing fine and she is moving all over the area and that includes moving through Kwatile’s and Kurula’s territory. She was also seen with Tingana this month. Both these ladies are occupied with their cubs at this stage, so they have other priorities. Shadow was also seen a few times this month and she is also looking great. She moves around all over and she was seen in and out of her mother’s territory. We were very fortunate to see young Tsakani, the daughter of Kwatile this month. This young female is looking very healthy and she is growing more and more in confidence. She is not scent marking yet, but is still moving around in her mother’s territory. We also found her moving deep into Salayexe and Shadow’s territory, maybe getting familiar with the area and her future neighbours. Nsele was also seen this month, and it looks like she has big plans. Nsele is trying to expand her territory more east, as her two daughters are moving around on the western part of her territory. She had another standoff with her mother (Salayexe) the one evening. Nsele stood her ground for the first few minutes, but then the more experienced and more intimidating Salayexe took charge and chased Nsele away. The next day Salayexe was still on the tracks of her daughter, making sure that she really did move out of her territory. This did not scare Nsele off as we found her on the tracks of Salayexe and her cub again the one afternoon. Nsele is getting older and stronger, but she is not ready to take on her mother, although this will not stop her from testing the waters. Tingana, the male leopard is all over as well, expanding his territory more north at the moment. Tingana is looking to take over Mvula’s whole territory. Mvula is well under the radar as we do not see him much anymore. Tingana is looking great and he is in the prime of his life. Anderson was up to his old tricks again and made us work hard to find him. Overall we had great sightings of him during the times that we saw him. The young Flat Rock male was moving around in our area, making life very difficult for the big males. This young male is a nomad and does not have a territory at the moment. At 3 years of age this youngster was pushed out of his birth area which was in the southern part of the reserve. With the presence of this new intruding male to the area, Anderson and Tingana are much more alert and active. This young male does not stay very long in one spot and moves all over the area. It is a beautiful male with piercing, bright orange eyes, a rounded head and strong shoulders. This male almost looks exactly like the late Lamula, just a little smaller.

Lions

Salayexe and her cub by Neil Coetzer

Salayexe and her cub by Neil Coetzer

The lion sightings were a bit slow at times, but still we still had a great time with these big cats. We had a wonderful surprise visit by three of the adult lionesses of the Breakaway pride the one day. The Breakaway pride spends a lot of their time more in the western part of the reserve, as this is where the Majingi males are. Their visit was short-lived in our area, as they moved back southwest, out of our area. This might be due to the presence of the 5 young Birmingham males in the eastern part of the reserve, who is looking to expand more west. Also a big threat is the two Matimba males who have set up territory in the central part of the reserve. The adult lionesses of the Breakaway pride are in great condition and they are looking very healthy. These four adult lionesses are a few of the last daughters of the late Mapogo males, who ruled this reserve. I think out of all the lionesses in our area they are looking the best. The three Styx pride lionesses were also seen a few times this month and they are spending much more time with the Birmingham males. All three females have mated with the Birmingham males, so if everything goes well we might have some more cubs in the near future. It would be great for this pride if they could get cubs and stay with the young Birmingham males. This pride has struggled a lot over the last few years to raise a single cub. It will be great for them if the pride can grow more with a few new members. The Nkuhuma pride lionesses were also out and about this last month and they are also in top shape. This pride is unbelievable hunters and they always eat well. The Nkuhuma pride has always been a pride that specialized in hunting buffaloes and doing it very successfully. Even today these five females that we see in our area are not afraid to take on a full grown male buffalo bull. The Birmingham males have been all over the show as they are patrolling their boundaries, making sure that there are no intruders in their territory. The only problem that I see now is that these males are splitting up into two’s, or singular formation. We all know too well that they have a better chance of survival if they stick together and face danger as a team. We have seen it so many times that when a coalition splits into smaller groups, it could mean their downfall when a younger and stronger coalition moves into the area. I think there are still very interesting times waiting for us in the near future, concerning the lions in our area.

Buffaloes

Hyena pup by Neil Coetzer

Hyena pup by Neil Coetzer

The buffaloes were very generous to us as we had awesome sightings this month. At times it was so hectic that there were about three to four different herds of buffaloes moving through our area. There were big, medium and small herd’s moving through the area almost every day. The few smaller herds that moved in and out of our area were anywhere from ten to forty individuals strong. These might be splinter groups of the big herds that moved through. The one herd we saw the one morning was extremely nervous and was snorting and running away when we got closer to them. This might have been due to lions that chased them around the night before, or even that morning. There were one or two small babies in the herds as well. The majority of calves were yearlings. The different herds stayed in the area for quite some time, feeding away at the new green grass that is coming out. We also noticed a few females that were in two’s and three’s, which is really unusual. Females always stay together as a unit as they are stronger in a group. If a lion pride moves through the area and they come across these ladies, they will definitely go for them. There were also a few wonderful bachelor herds that moved into the area. These young and big male buffaloes are staying really close to the main waterholes, as this is where the best food and water is.

Elephants

Elephant bull by Neil Coetzer

Elephant bull by Neil Coetzer

We had such a great time with these big heavyweights. There were so many herds that moved through the area. The waterhole on our open area was again a massive attraction, as we had up to three herds per day moving through to quench their thirst. We were spoiled the one day when a tiny baby elephant came charging out of the bush towards us while we were on drive. After realizing that we were not afraid and did not plan to run away, the little rascal tried a different approach. He went all around the car to see what was going on. Suddenly the little one came straight towards the vehicle and sniffed the side of the vehicle. Mum saw this and came towards us as well and we knew that it was time to leave. As we moved off the baby followed us without the intention of leaving his new found friend. Mum soon stopped him in his tracks and he followed the rest of the herd, trumpeting as he went along… maybe to say: “see you guys later again.” This was such a special sighting for both me and our guests alike. There were so many big bulls this month and we had a few that were in full musth again. One bull in particular was always around the lodge and he also provided us with some great sightings. This big boy chased all the animals away from the waterhole in front of the lodge, claiming the waterhole for himself. The big males were accompanied by a few younger males who would learn from them in the years to come.

Special sighting

This month it is the tiny baby hyena at their den site. It is so great to see the little one moving around the den. Being a baby of the matriarch, this little one learned from a young age that she is untouchable and she can do what she wants. She does not stand back for any member of the clan as she knows where she is in the hierarchy. It is great to have her at the den and she is not shy at all as she likes to entertain us.

Did you know?

The giraffe is the biggest ruminant. Ruminants have a four chambered stomach.

Morné Fouché