Rangers Report December 2013

I can’t believe that this is the last month of the year and it is time to say goodbye to a wonderful 2013. It feels like the year started just yesterday, but we are welcoming 2014 with open arms! By leaving 2013 behind, we are left with wonderful memories of all the awesome adventures we had in the bush… This past month, we had a lot of very hot days where temperatures pushed up into the high thirties so the immense amount of 227mm rain we had during December, was a huge welcome. The average maximum temperature this month was 30°C, which was accompanied by some very humid days. The game viewing was really good and we couldn’t ask for a better way to end the year. We were very fortunate to see the illusive pangolin foraging the one evening and we had some of the best wild dog and cheetah sightings ever. It just shows you, when you think you have seen it all, think again. The bush always has something new and exciting to offer!

Giraffe and elephants by Morné Fouché

Giraffe and elephants by Morné Fouché

Leopard

We had unbelievable leopard sightings this last month and we can once again call it a “spotted” month. Salayexe is still looking great and she surprised us all when we saw her mating with the young Robson’s male this month. If she was pregnant at the time she mated with this particular male, it would help a bit with the survival of the cubs as he would be under the impression that the cubs are his own. We will have to wait and see. Talking about cubs, one of the rangers followed Shadow one afternoon when she took him straight to her den site. Upon approach, she started calling softly to the cubs and out of the thickets came two little bundles of fluff. It is therefore now confirmed that she gave birth to two cubs and we estimate them to have been between 5-6 weeks old around 22 December. If all goes well, we will start viewing them in January, thereby giving them some more alone time as a new family. Thandi and her son, Bawuti, are also looking good and they were seen quite a lot this past month. It is also not going to be too long before he needs to start looking after himself when his mother pushes him out of her territory. Kwatile was also seen a few times, although not as often as normally. Nsele was also seen and every time we see her she is prettier; looking more and more like her father, Tyson. We also saw Moya mating with Lamula. After seeing her mating, a few red lights went off in our heads, as she is supposed to still have cubs, unless she lost them. Only time will tell what happened here. Lamula was seen on a regular basis. He is in the best shape of his life thus far and still expanding his territory more north. Tingana is getting much more relaxed with the vehicles around him, but sometimes he really lives up to his name, which means “the shy one”. With Mvula we could see a definite change in his behaviour, as he does not go into Tingana’s territory to expand any further.

Female cheetah by Dawie Jacobs

Female cheetah by Dawie Jacobs

Lion

The lion sightings this month were once again out of this world. The Styx pride is still healthy and looking good. The two boys are getting bigger and looking gorgeous with their manes, which is getting fuller by the day. The lioness with the new little cubs is also looking very healthy, although she needs to eat twice as much to provide her cubs with much needed milk. She spends a lot of her time with the pride and then once a day she leaves the pride to go to the cubs, which are safely hidden in the den site, only to return to the pride again. We also had a great sighting of the Fourway pride. We saw two sub adult males and what looked like two adult lionesses. This pride is coming in more west than normally, straight into the Styx pride’s territory, but so far they are avoiding each other as far as they can. Saying this, the time will come when these two prides will have to face each other as they are starting to use parts of the same area. We did not see the Nkuhuma male a lot this last month, but the sightings that we had of him were just awesome. Some days I wonder how different things would have been if his brother was still alive. They would have been two impressive males. Being a solitary male between two territories that are guarded by big coalitions of males makes it very difficult. You will never have a pride of your own. The four Majingi male lions came into the area the one evening and stayed for a while before moving on. This was the first sighting of all four males walking together and scent marking their boundaries in a very long time. The first thing I noticed, whilst spending time with them, was that there has been a shift in dominance between the males. Black Mane was always the more dominant male of the Majingilane coalition as he also mated with the majority of the females. Well, the new dominant male seems to be Pretty Boy. We could see this in his behavior and also his posture. When they drank water, Black Mane waited for Pretty Boy to quench his thirst, before he came to drink. We also saw Black Mane approaching Pretty Boy, lying down next to him. Pretty Boy stood up and mounted Black Mane as a sign of dominance. The other two males, Smudge and Hip Scar, are also looking very good.

Mvula the male leopard by Devon Becker

Mvula the male leopard by Devon Becker

Buffalo

We did not have the big herds in our area this month as they already moved on to greener pastures somewhere else. The big herds move to areas with enough food and also water supplies that can sustain the whole herd. When food and water is plentiful in the rainy season, it also becomes baby season for the buffaloes, with lots of little calves running around. With all the hot summers days that we had this month, you did not really have to go far to look for the dagga boys, as they would be resting in a waterhole or mud wallow to seek refuge against the harsh African sun. We have noticed a lot of older bulls this month, compared to last month. I think what might have happened was that the dominant males that have returned to the breeding herds, pushed out the older competition.

Elephant

We were so fortunate with all the wonderful elephant sightings that we had over this past month. Some days it was so good that you were spoiled for choice as to which elephant herd to respond to, as they were around every corner. We also had a lot of entertaining sightings with the babies playing around in the mud puddles and water pools. Now that there is an abundance of food and water supplies everywhere, the elephant herds do not stay in the same area to feed and drink from one source over a long period of time. They move around quite a bit between all the different water pools which have formed with the rain and the obvious lush, green grass that comes with that. We also saw about eight different adult bulls moving through our area, following the breeding herds. The young bulls kept us entertained with their play-fighting. When two young bulls play-fight, they actually test each other’s strength and therefore, if they meet again as adults, they will not have any urge to fight as they will already know which one is the stronger and more superior male.

Special Sighting

The special sighting this month was to see a pangolin foraging out in the open. This shy animal did not have a care in the world and it was a treat to see this very illusive animal being so relaxed with us around him.

Pangolin by Dawie Jacobs

Pangolin by Dawie Jacobs

Did you know?

Although it has the appearance of a reptile, a pangolin is actually a mammal.

I hope you enjoyed the last report for 2013 and hope to see you out on game drive during the New Year!

Morné Fouché

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Rangers Report November 2013

There is not a pale piece of grass in sight as the bush is very lush; green and dense as far as the eye can see! November is one of the best months for us, as this is the time of year when we welcome the majority of all the new babies. The very first juvenile impalas, warthogs and wildebeest were born a little later than last year, but with the arrival of all these babies the bush feels more alive than ever! These little ones keep us entertained by running and jumping all over the show. With the wonderful rain and the warmer temperatures, we also welcomed the return of the Woodland Kingfishers. Game viewing was just brilliant this month and we also had awesome night time animal sightings like porcupine, bush baby, genet, civet and white tailed mongoose, just to name a few. Another surprise this month was the cheetah sightings we had. It was really amazing to spend time with them! For November, we had 53mm rain and the average maximum temperature was 30°C.

Female cheetah and cub by Louis Liversage

Female cheetah and cub by Louis Liversage

Leopard

We are so fortunate and spoiled with the leopard sightings in our area. The leopard that stole the limelight this month was Shadow, the female. She was also making life very difficult because she went into hiding a lot, but for good reason on her part. The one afternoon drive she was seen drinking water at one of the waterholes in her territory and after quenching her thirst she rested in the shade of a nearby tree. The rangers noticed that she was very skinny and that her milk glands were swollen a lot. On closer inspection with binoculars they could see that she had suckle marks, so somewhere safe in a den is a few bundles of fluff. We don’t know where the den is, or how many cubs she’s got as she will keep them hidden for the next two months. We are keeping our fingers crossed that everything goes well with the little ones and that Shadow will raise them to adulthood. Salayexe is moving around a lot while scent marking all over her territory. She is also expanding her area a little bit. She is still looking very good and we all hope that she is pregnant. We also had some awesome sightings of Thandi and her male cub, Bahuti, who is so relaxed with the vehicles around him. He is such a lovely leopard to watch and he can keep you entertained for hours as he stalks everything that moves on land and in the water. Lamula was very active this month as we saw him quite a few times patrolling his borders and marking his territory. There is also a young, but smaller male leopard in his territory, but it doesn’t look as if this bothers him too much. Anderson, the male leopard, is also expanding his territory and by doing that he is expanding into both Tingana and Lamula’s territories. Tingana has got his hands full with Anderson on the one side and Lamula on the other side. The last thing that we need now is another male taking over from Tingana, as there are new cubs and more on the way that will be killed by any new male. Mvula is also expanding his territory from the east more west into Lamula and Tingana’s areas and he is still a big force to be reckoned with.

Nkuhuma male lion by Louis Liversage

Nkuhuma male lion by Louis Liversage

Lion

We had some very nice lion sightings this month! We saw a lot of the Styx pride, joined by the Nkuhuma male from time to time. During the last fight between the Nkuhuma male and the sub adult males of the Styx pride, one of the young males sustained an injury on his right front leg. You can see the puncture wounds that were made by the canines of the Nkuhuma male. Luckily the leg is not broken as he still puts pressure on it when he walks. Although it is swollen quite badly, I am sure it would heal. This just shows you that the Nkuhuma male means business and that he wants to take over the Styx pride. When two male lions fight, they will try to immobilize their opponent and the only way of doing this is to bite the legs and joints, or to get hold of the spine. One of the older lionesses in the pride also gave birth around the 15th of this month as she was seen with suckle marks. Now there is a twist in this fairytale as to who the father is… She mated with one of the Matimba males and also with the Nkuhuma male. Luckily we all know that the cubs are safe with the Matimba and Nkuhuma males, as both think it is their cubs. We haven’t seen any of the Tsalala or Breakaway prides this month, but we heard that the tailless female of the Tsalala pride has new cubs. We can’t wait for them to come to our area and show them off. The Majingi male lions were nowhere to be seen this month and all we had was a few distant calls echoing through the night. What a beautiful sound that is!

Buffalo bull by Morné Fouché

Buffalo bull by Morné Fouché

Buffalo

This month we had a breeding herd with many small calves that moved through our area and for the majority of the females, the 11 month pregnancy is now over. Now that the bush is so green and there is enough food and water for a few big herds, the buffaloes will stay in a certain area longer than when there is not an abundance of food. We still keep our fingers crossed that they will also bless us with their presence next month. All the bachelors that we had wandering around the last few months have now moved on, surely back to the big breeding herds. Our trusted old Dagga boys are still around, always close to a waterhole or mud wallow to keep them cool in the harsh African sun.

Male giraffe by Morné Fouché

Male giraffe by Morné Fouché

Elephant

This month we had some scattered elephant sightings all over the reserve, as the majority of the breeding herds have moved more east, out of our traversing area. The sightings that we had were still really good with medium and small breeding herds. We were once again spoiled with the presence of a big male or two that moved around in our area. We also had a female group that suddenly became very vocal while their temporal glands on the side of their heads became wet. At that time it was unclear why they were so unhappy, until the branches started breaking! A young male elephant came bursting out of the thickets, with a big female hot in pursuit. Females will do that to let the young males know when they’ve overstayed their welcome. It was time for this young bull to leave the herd. One thing that is very noticeable during game drive is that the destruction on the trees is a lot less than in previous months.

Special sighting

The special sighting was to see a big male leopard and a hyena chasing the same baby impala, but from different angles. These two heavyweights did not know that they were stalking the same juvenile impala. With a burst of speed the leopard was off and so was the hyena. As both came around the corner the leopard saw the hyena and turned to the opposite direction. In the end the hyena walked away with the prize, as he had the stamina to outrun his prey. The leopard lived to hunt another day.

Did you know?

A bush baby is able to cover a distance of 10m in less than 5 seconds.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!

Morné Fouché

 

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Rangers Report October 2013

What a wonderful month it has been! We had our first official summer rain and the bush is looking lovely! The days were pleasant overall, with some reaching temperatures of up to 42°C. We also had a few thunder showers. The total rainfall for the month was 108mm, with an average maximum temperature of 28 °C. With all the nice rain that we had this month, the bush transformed from being a pale, dull colour to bright-green overnight. After the first rains, the bushveld suddenly came alive with all kinds of little critters in different shapes and sizes. All the upcoming king and queen termites of the different colonies left their original colonies to start new ones. We also welcomed back the dung beetles. This is the time of year that they are out and about, doing what they do best – which is rolling dung balls, of course. All the different frog species have also reappeared. We have been seeing a number of foam nesting frog nests at some of the waterholes. We were once again blessed with the presence of wild dogs that came in and out of our traversing area and even stayed here for a few days. After the one wild dog pack moved out of the area, we had a few days and then to our surprise, a different pack of wild dogs moved into our area and also stayed here for a number of days. It was lovely to spend time with these amazing animals.

One of the Tsalala cubs by Dawie Jacobs

One of the Tsalala cubs by Dawie Jacobs

Leopards

Leopard sightings were unbelievable and full of excitement. Nzele, the young female leopard, was seen regularly during the past month and we were privileged to watch her mate with the Anderson male. We are unsure whether Nzele lost her cubs and if she did, what exactly happened to the little ones. Although all the evidence points in that direction, it might still be that she learnt a few lessons from her mother. Salayexe once mated with Tingana whilst she had cubs safely in the den site, in order to throw him off. Maybe this is the same in Nzele’s case, but only time will tell. Talking about Salayexe, she was once again seen mating with Tingana. It might be that she did not conceive the first time around. When a female loses her cubs, it sometimes happen that she first goes into a false oestrus cycle in order to establish which males are moving around in the area. Kwatile was seen mating with Mvula, the big male leopard from the east. This female leopard has failed to raise a single cub to adulthood thus far. We are keeping our fingers crossed that, if she falls pregnant now, she would have more luck raising her next litter. We also had a few days with Thandi and her little cub, which by the way is not so little anymore! The cub is really getting big and is very relaxed with the vehicles. There was a lot of excitement with Tingana, our resident male, as the Anderson male came looking for him. Anderson is the big, young male that had a standoff with Tingana a few months ago. Tingana dominated him then. His return shows that Anderson grew in confidence, as he came into Tingana’s territory, scent marking over his scent and even making kills in his area. On one occasion these two heavyweights moved around in close proximity, without knowing each other’s whereabouts. At this stage I think that Tingana is still the dominant male. We saw both males again later on, a mere 80 meters from each other. Tingana started his territorial calling, not aware that the Anderson male was close by. After this, Anderson kept a very low profile and quickly moved away. Lamula is doing very well, looking healthy and well fed.

Dark maned Majingi male by Dawie Jacobs

Dark maned Majingi male by Dawie Jacobs

Lion

Our lion sightings were just out of this world! At last, the long wait is over and we saw the two Tsalala pride females and their four small cubs! The cubs are just too cute. They are little busy bodies, being very adventurous and moving around, all over the show. We were also very fortunate to have the four Breakaway females and their nine cubs in our area. They made two kills; a zebra and waterbuck. These four females have become really good hunters and mothers as they were taught by the best, namely BB. The Styx pride is also looking healthy and doing great. The Nkuhuma male is spending a lot more time with the Styx pride these days. He also had a fight with the young sub-adult males of the pride. This fight caused the older lionesses and the sub-adults to split up. At this stage the two older lionesses and the Nkuhuma male are joined up and the four siblings are on their own. It’s just a matter of time before the Nkuhuma male lion will have a run-in, either with the Majingi, or the Matimba males. The four Majingi male lions are still doing their rounds through their big territory. They are in pristine condition. We had a lovely sighting of two of the Majingi males and the four Breakaway lionesses on our southern boundary. It might be that the one female with no cubs is coming into oestrus. These four males have big competition from both the western and northern sides of their area. We also saw two of the Selati male lions on our western boundary. They actually came into our area and started scent marking in the Majingi males’ territory. The Matimba males are also pushing more south, straight into the northern part of the Majingi male lions’ territory. The stage is set and this might be the fight of the century, if these big boys were to meet. We’ll have to wait and see.

Buffaloes

It is difficult to describe how magnificent the buffalo sightings were this month! After the last big herd left our area, we thought that it would be a while before seeing them again. But hey, the best was yet to come! We saw a few splinter groups after the big herd moved away. The herds are basically starting to split up into smaller groups, as there is abundant food at the moment. The majority of the females in the herds are now pregnant. We had a big herd of about 300 buffaloes that came to drink water on our open area. After almost all of the buffaloes quenched their thirst, we got a glimpse of the very first newborn buffalo calf. This little one must have been a few days old and really struggled to keep up with its mother and the rest of the herd. The last thing that a female with a small newborn wants to do is lag behind, as this will make them easy targets for hungry lions. It will not be much longer before more females start giving birth. Cows will normally try and give birth during the rainy season, when food and water sources are abundant. We also saw various bachelor herds that stayed behind in the area after the breeding herds moved through.

Giant plated lizzard by Dawie Jacobs

Giant plated lizzard by Dawie Jacobs

Elephants

Elephant sightings were down from the drastic spike during the last few months, during which herd after herd were seen, almost around every corner during game drive. But the sightings we had were still very good. The reason why the elephant sightings went down a little bit might be because of the good rains. The fact that we are approaching that time of the year when the elephants are slowly moving towards the Mopani forests situated in the Kruger Park, might also be a contributing factor. Still, we had some very good sightings of smaller family units ranging between ten to fifteen elephants per herd. With all the food and water available, the bigger herds have started splitting up into smaller units, much the same as with the buffalo herds. We also had a few nice sized bulls moving through the area, following the scent of the female herds. There were also a lot of young males moving around on their own. This is not uncommon, as they are pushed out of the herds from the age of between 12-17 years.

Wild dog by Dawie Jacobs

Wild dog by Dawie Jacobs

Special sighting

This would have to be seeing the two Tsalala lionesses and their four little cubs. It was really lovely to see these newest additions. They were joined by one of the Majingi male lions, just to complete the pride.

Did you know?

The heart of an elephant weighs between 20-30 kilograms and beats an estimated 25-30 times per minute.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!

Morné Fouché

 

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Rangers Report September 2013

Summer is here to stay! Even though the first of September officially signals the start of spring, the past few weeks made me think that we skipped that season and jumped right into summer. We had a lot of hot days, with temperatures that went into the high thirties! The average maximum temperature for September was 30°C and we had our first summer rains, with 19 millimetres measured. With all these hot days, we also experienced a few cool, windy, cloudy days in between. We can also see the bush changing, as there are new green leaves and flowers appearing on some of the trees. When driving on the higher areas of the reserve, you can see the bright green colours of the leaves and also some beautiful, yellow flowers of the Knobthorn trees. It’s not going to be long before the pale, yellow grass is replaced by the beautiful green, luscious grass of summer. The game viewing did not hold back this month and we were spoiled once again. We were very fortunate to spend some time with a male cheetah and the hyena den entertained us for hours on end. There are five pups from three different litters and it was such a treat to see them all playing around the den.

Catching a lift - Hippo and terrapin by Dawie Jacobs

Catching a lift – Hippo and terrapin by Dawie Jacobs

Leopard

There was a lot of excitement with our spotted friends during the past month. Salayexe is still doing well and looking very healthy. I was fortunate to follow her while hunting; from stalking, to where she killed the bushbuck right next to our vehicle. What a sighting! If everything goes accordingly to plan, both Salayexe and Shadow should be giving birth during the next month or two. We can’t wait to see these little furry bundles. Shadow was seen more often during the month, but she still avoids us if she does not want to be seen, living up to her name. We’ve noticed that Shadow is looking at expanding her territory a little bit more east, into her mother’s most western boundary. We saw Moya a few times, but without the cubs, which is understandable as the little ones are very young. We still have our fingers crossed that she will come and show them to us, which should now only be a matter of time. Kwatile was also out and about this last month, but was not seen that often. She is still scent marking a lot and she was very vocal during the times we did see her. Nsele was also seen a few times. She is a beautiful cat and as she is getting older, she is starting to look more and more like her father, Tyson. It was good to see that she is still lactating. As she has suckle marks, it proves that she still has her cubs. Xivambalana and Wabayiza, the two young males in the east, are getting bigger and bolder as they are starting to scent mark in their father’s territory. I think their time is slowly coming to an end before Mvula chases them out to go and look for their own territories. Mvula was really quiet this month. He spent most of his time in the northern parts of his territory, which is out of our traversing area. Lamula was once again all over the show and is also looking to expand his territory more north and also west into Tingana’s territory. These two big males have met a few times in the past and believe me, there are more battles on the way. Tingana lived up to his name this last month. He was very shy and whenever he was spotted, he’d move out of the open and into the thickets. This big brut was in another fight. We are still unsure who his opponent was, as we only saw a few new cuts and scars on his face.

Golden brown baboon spider by Dawie Jacobs

Golden brown baboon spider by Dawie Jacobs

Lion

It was a very sad time for the Styx pride as the old lady, Gogi, which means grandmother, passed away. She had a good run these past 17 years, but we could see that her age was catching up with her this past month. She started leaving the pride on a regular basis. She most probably knew her time was near and that she was holding the rest of the pride back. She was a great legend and a worrier and will be dearly missed. The rest of the Styx pride is still looking good and feeding well. The two young males are growing up very fast and they are looking gorgeous, with their manes growing larger by the day. They are almost three years old now. Time is running out before they would have to leave the pride. We also had the older Tsalala lionesses around our lodge this month, together with one of the Majingi male lions. To our surprise, the sub-adult Tsalala lioness joined up with her mother and aunt and the Majingi male did nothing to her. We are keeping our fingers crossed that they will now accept her. If she could stay with the pride, the two older ladies would only benefit as the youngster could take her grandmother’s place and help with hunting etc. This just shows how the circle of life continues. When BB was still around, they did not want to accept her and now all of a sudden she seems to have found a safe haven. We have not seen the new members of the Tsalala pride, but we know there are four cubs and we can’t wait for their first visit. As for the four Breakaway Tsalala lionesses and the nine cubs, we haven’t seen them very often this month. Hopefully, during the next few months, this young pride will grace us with their presence more often. The Nkuhuma male lion was also seen a few times this month, moving around a lot. We also saw him feasting on a wildebeest kill. Being a young male, nomadic and alone, he has to try and avoid the big Matimba male lions of the north and also the big Majingi male lions of the south. Speaking of which, we were very fortunate to see some of the Majingi males, although we never saw all four of them together. Each time we saw them, it was one male with females, or two of them walking together. This might be due to the size of their territory. With such a big territory, they need to scent mark regularly, making sure that there are no intruders. Therefore splitting up becomes necessary.

Lamula the male leopard by Devon Bekker

Lamula the male leopard by Devon Bekker

Buffalo

The buffalo sightings were great and it was very special to have another big breeding herd move through our area. We were very fortunate to spend time with these big herds during the last few months. Bulk grazers, like the buffalo, are always on the move to get enough food for the entire herd. There were a few small calves in the herd and a lot of the females have very round bellies, which indicate that they are heavily pregnant. The gestation period for the buffaloes is 11 months. They will always try and give birth during the wet season, when food sources are generous. In my last report I mentioned that the big dominant and sub-dominant buffalo bulls left the breeding herds to fatten up and get ready for the next mating season. Well, we started seeing less bachelor herds this month, so chances are good that they are busy making their way back to the breeding herds. We still saw a big male group, but it only consisted of the old dagga boys.

Elephant

We once again had the privilege of spending time with quite a few breeding herds. Some were big and some were small, but all of them were feasting on the newly sprouted growth on the trees. One of the breeding herds we saw had a tiny baby, estimated to be a couple of weeks old. This particular herd stayed in our area for a number of days. When there is a very small elephant calf, the herd will not travel long distances, as the baby would not be able to keep up with them. At this young age he would still tire easily. It was so special to spend some time with them, especially watching the little one trying to figure out how to use its trunk and what it is really designed for. Watching mom, he would try to mimic her in everything she does. This is also how they learn what to eat and how to get it. There were a few times when mom had to gently use her trunk and move the little one out of the way, so that she could carry on feeding. The little calf was all over the show, enjoying the attention he got from all the herd members and trying to play with everyone. After running around and playing with the other herd members, he would always return to mom to quench his thirst. When a breeding herd has a few small babies, everyone looks after them. The older siblings would take turns with babysitting duty until mom has finished eating.

Zebra by Dawie Jacobs

Zebra by Dawie Jacobs

Special sighting

Tingana, our dominant male leopard, killed a female impala and hoisted it into a big marula tree next to the road, to keep it safe from other predators. At least, that’s what he thought… After having a good feast, he left the kill in the tree and came down to rest on the ground. After a while one of the Majingi male lions came walking down the road, straight towards Tingana and his kill. Luckily for Tingana, the wind changed direction and he got the scent of the male lion sneaking closer. Like a rocket he ran for cover before the big male lion could get hold of him. The Majingi male did not even attempt to run after him as he was too preoccupied with the kill in the tree. He circled the tree a few times and then, without warning, took a massive jump and started climbing towards the kill. The funniest part was watching him, inching forward on his belly on an extremely thin branch, while pushing himself forward with his hind legs. He looked very unsure of himself. After getting the kill he had to do this process all over again, but this time backwards and with the impala in his mouth. He made it three quarters down the tree when he suddenly lost his footing and came crashing down head first, burying his nose in the ground. We could not contain ourselves after this sight and were laughing so much! This whole process took about 25-30 minutes and it must be one of my highlights at Elephant Plains thus far. It just shows that where there is a will, there is a way! Now that is what I call working hard for your food, even if you did not catch it yourself.

Did you know?

The Cape porcupine is the largest rodent in the Southern African sub-region.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!

Morné Fouché

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Rangers Report August 2013

I know that I start most of my reports stating that the past month was definitely the best game viewing to date and August has been no exception! We were yet again spoiled with some awesome sightings. When you get a chance to sit quietly and reflect on the beauty of nature and the animals living here, it is then that you realize how blessed we are to be able to live and work in this wonderful area. Temperature wise, the days and nights were pleasant. We also had a few days with strong winds, which is to be expected during August. The average maximum temperature for the month was 25°C and we had 12mm of rain, combined with light hail, which is out of character for the Lowveld region. We had some very nice cheetah and wild dog sightings and also found an active hyena den, with small pups running and playing close to the den.

Big buffalo herd drinking water - by Morné Fouché

Big buffalo herd drinking water – by Morné Fouché

Leopard

Salayexe once again mated with Tingana. She was also very vocal and on the move, as if she is looking for another male to mate with. This might mean that she has caught the scent of one of the other young males that are currently in the area. Mating with all the males in the area would obviously ensure the safety of her cubs. Shadow was keeping a low profile this month, but was also seen mating with Mvula, the big male from the east. Later on she mated with Tingana as well. Kwatile was also a bit shy, as we didn’t see a lot of her this month. She was scent marking all over her territory and mated with Lamula. One of these days there might be lots of cubs around! I mentioned in some of my previous newsletters that the stage is set for Tingana to defend his territory against the other males in the area. Well, what can I say? The two heavy weights, Tingana and Mvula, walked into each other and what a fight that was! It happened so fast and both males disappeared for a few days after. It’s still unsure who came out on top, as they both had quite a few injuries. Tingana was seen limping, with a few cuts on his front foot and in his face. Mvula, on the other hand, was not limping, but he also had some cuts in his face and a big gash on his throat. I must say that I’m quite impressed with Tingana. He stood up to Mvula, who is older, bigger and has a lot more experience. One thing is for sure, this was not the last time these two will meet.

BB the lioness - by Morné Fouché

BB the lioness – by Morné Fouché

Lions

The lion sightings this month was absolutely brilliant, but unfortunately tragedy struck once again.The Tsalala pride lost their leading lady, anchor and pride mother, BB. We got word that BB was killed by two of the Majingilane males, when she tried to protect the sub adult lioness of the Tsalala pride. It was a very sad day for us, as BB (short for Boerboel, a dog breed that she resembled due to her lack of tail) was always seen as the ultimate lioness. We all knew that she would not live forever and that one day she would die, but not like this. It is difficult to understand these things, but important to remember that this is how nature sometimes work.This old legend lioness will always be remembered as a true warrior and her legacy will be carried on by her daughters and granddaughters.The best part of this month’s lion sightings was a sighting with the four Breakaway Tsalala lionesses and their nine little cubs. They were also accompanied by two of the Majingi male lions. What a treat it was to see them with the cubs. It was so funny to see the little cubs grabbing dad’s mane, tail or jumping on their full stomachs. It was great to see the big males being so tolerant with the cubs. The Styx pride is still looking great and feeding well. Gogi, the eldest female unfortunately also passed away. She was estimated to be around seventeen years old and had a good life, but will still be missed by all. The young Styx pride lions have killed yet another big buffalo bull. They have grown a lot in confidence these last few months. The Nkuhuma male lion surprised us all when he chased the whole Styx pride aroundwhile they were feasting on the buffalo kill. The Nkuhuma male then started mating with one of the Styx pride lionesses and they stayed together for a few days, before they were joined by another female of the Styx pride. This love triangle was short lived, as one morning we were woken up by lion roars echoing through the bush. We knew immediately that the big Majingi male lions have come to collect their ladies. We also had the sub adult Tsalala lioness all by her lonesome self in our area for a few days, looking for safety after her grandmother was killed. For now her future hangs in the balance, not knowing what is going to happen to her as she is only between 2-3 years of age. The four Majingi males also came into our area more often than last month, to scent mark and perform their territorial roaring. These big boys really blessed us with their presence, as it is always nice to see them.

Breakaway Tsalala pride - by Morné Fouché

Breakaway Tsalala pride – by Morné Fouché

Buffalo

The buffalo sightings left us speechless with their quality and quantity! We saw some big breeding herds of between 100 – 300 on a regular basis. This month the Sabi Sand Wildtuin had their annual game count census and the one buffalo herd that they counted had just over 800 individuals in it. To see a herd like that is really special. We were so spoiled at times that two or three breeding herds simultaneously entered our traversing area from different directions of the property. You could almost choose a wind direction to go and see a big breeding herd. We also still have the old dagga boys in our area, as they just move from one water hole to the next. With all these dagga boys around, we’ve also seen a few bachelor groups joining the old boys. These dominant males have left the breeding herds and are trying to regain the weight that they lost during the mating season, in order to be ready for the next one. These bachelor herds have been targeted by the lions as both the Styx and Majingi prides caught a big bull this month.

Zebra - by Dawie Jacobs

Zebra – by Dawie Jacobs

Elephants

We had wonderful elephant sightings every single drive and at least two different herds were seen per drive. We once again had the smaller groups of about twenty to thirty animals and then also a visit from some bigger herds. We were treated with a lot of different herds coming to drink water on our open area in front of the lodge. The Africam viewers enjoyed these sightings immensely! The one day during lunch, our guests watched a massive breeding herd of about eighty elephants, making their way to the open area water hole. They quenched their thirst and moved down towards the dry river bed to feed on the lush green wild date palms.What a special sighting! We also saw a few herds with tiny little calves of only a few weeks old. These little calves made it so memorable for us, while playing in the water and trying to be big and fearless like mom or dad. Strangely enough, we only saw one really big elephant bull that followed the one herd around and then moved on to the next. With his approach into each herd, the females would get really stressed out and very vocal. A breeding herd of elephants consists of females that are closely related and there are no males, except for young bulls under 15 years. When a big male gets the scent of a female in oestrus, he will pursue the female to mate with her. This intrusion can make the rest of the females and calves very unhappy.

Special sighting

The special sighting this month was to see the four Breakaway Tsalala lionesses with their nine cubs, being accompanied by two Majingi male lions. It was really nice to see these big males being so tolerant with the cubs. They get used as a jumping castle, or the cubs play tug of war with their dad’s tails.All while lying around, trying to get some sleep.

Did you know?

The Leopard Tortoise’s diet consists of plants, bones and hyena feaces.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!

Morné Fouché

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Rangers Report July 2013

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.

Side-striped Jackal – by Dawie Jacobs

Leopards

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.

Tingana and Salayexe mating – by Dawie Jacobs

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.

Elephants drinking water – by Dawie Jacobs

Lions

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.

Buffaloes

Tsalala female feeding – by Dawie Jacobs

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.

Elephants

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.

Male Cheetah – by Dawie Jacobs

Special sighting

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!

Morné Fouché

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