This was a nice, but also a cold month! As we are already in the middle of winter this calls for gloves, scarves and beanies. The game drives are at their coldest during dusk and dawn. We had a few cold fronts that moved through the area and this made the morning drives extremely cold. The average maximum temperature this month was 25°C and we did not have any rain. The day temperatures were pleasant, until the sun disappeared behind the mountains in the late afternoons. This is when the blankets on the game drive vehicles come in very handy! We once again had some awesome game viewing this month. The nightlife was especially good. Maybe this had something to do with the lower temperatures, or the fact that the sun is setting so much earlier. We also had some lovely wild dog and cheetah sightings. Unfortunately, we also had some sad moments this month, which I will tell you more about later on…
Mvula – by Louis Liversage
The leopard sightings overall was really good this month, but it was also a sad month filled with heartache and pain for us. As most of you already know, Salayexe’s female cub was killed at the beginning of the month. This was a big shock to all of us. I think it’s safe to say that there was not one person who was not heartbroken on that day. The saddest part for me was to see Salayexe going back several times to the area where the cub was killed. She would call to the cub, walk around and call again, hoping to see the little one jumping out from behind a tree or bush like she so often did… That little rascal managed to sneak into the hearts of all the staff and many guests alike that stayed at the lodge. So many times we find ourselves talking about her and all the funny stuff she did as well as the games her and mum played. All the good times that we shared while watching them.
This little cat was larger than life itself and she will live on in our hearts for many years to come. Just when we thought it could not get any worse, the unthinkable happened. Mvula, the dominant male from the east, stumbled upon Shadow and her cubs on a kill. Mvula killed both cubs and we saw him walking away with one cub in his mouth. He actually took it up a tree and started feeding on it. Poor Shadow, there wasn’t much she could have done against this big male leopard. It is common that new dominant males or even young males would kill cubs that they did not sire. The female will come into oestrus much quicker and he does not have to wait for about 2 years, when the cubs normally leave their mother. Shadow also went back and forth from the area where her cubs were killed, contact calling a lot for a few days. We can only imagine what goes through their minds when something like this happens.
Baby ellie – by Morné Fouché
Shadow already started mating this month, which is even sooner than Salayexe. We saw her and Mvula together for a few days, so hopefully she is smart and will mate with Tingana as well, as he is the dominant male in her main territory. If she mates with both the males, both males will accept the cubs as their own and would leave them alone. Some better news was that we saw Nsele more than previous months and she turned out to be a beautiful female, just like her mother, Salayexe. Moya was also seen a few times doing her territorial calling and scent marking all over her area. Both her and Nsele are now of age to have their first litter, so won’t that be a spectacular sight to see! Tingana has big problems on his hands as there is a really big young male, about 5 years old, moving into his territory. Besides this new young brut of a male, there is also another young male who also moves around in Tingana’s territory. We can only wait and see how this will play out. Will we get a new dominant male or will Tingana show the youngster who‘s the boss? In short, we can say the stage is set for some action! Lamula is looking really good and he is getting bigger by the day as his face is getting wider and rounder and his chest is getting more bulky.
In regards to the lion sightings, it was just out of this world and there was really no shortage of lions! We had a surprise visit from one of the two older Nkuhuma male lions feasting on a big buffalo bull kill when the Styx pride showed up. If I must say so myself, he did a good job in defending his kill as he was seen chasing the Styx pride around. This young male is really looking good and when you look at his long body it’s almost a mirror image of his dad, the old Nkuhuma male. We haven’t seen his brother yet and the last time we saw him, he still had an injured leg and it didn’t look comfortable to live with at all. The Styx pride had lost the last of the three smaller cubs in the pride. We are still unsure of what happened to the little one because when we saw the pride, the oldest lioness was eating the dead cub. The four sub-adult lions of the Styx pride are doing well and they are already taking part in the hunts and with them helping, the old lady can hang back and take it easy. The old lioness of the pride should be around 17 years old now and her age is starting to show as she is always lagging behind and trying to rest ever so often when she gets the chance. The two sub adult males are looking gorgeous with their manes that’s getting bigger and thicker day by day. Well, these two young boys will soon be kicked out by the four Majingi male lions and then their nomadic lives will begin. They need to feed themselves, avoid other big males and stay out of harm’s way until they are big and strong enough to one day get a pride for themselves. It was such a beautiful sight to see BB with her older daughters and the sub adult lioness of the Tsalala pride all together. These three big lionesses are still looking magnificent and then the young sub adult lioness also looks very healthy and she’s getting bigger and bigger day by day. The one daughter of BB looks to be in oestrus as she was followed by the black maned Majingi male lion. They will stay together for about 5-7 days and mate at least 50 times a day. If everything goes well she’ll have cubs in about 110 days.
Wild dog – by Morné Fouché
We had some big breeding herds this month that came into our area. Just as the one herd moved out of the area, the next group would come in and stay for a while before moving off again. After the herds moved through the area, we started seeing more bulls that stayed behind in small bachelor units. With the big herds moving through, the lions followed and watched their every move. There were also smaller herds that broke away from the big herds. The reason for smaller herds forming might be because the lions chased them at some stage and managed to split the herd. There were a few casualties this month as the Styx pride had their share of buffalo meat, the Tsalala pride took down a young male and also the Nkuhuma male feasted on a nice big male buffalo. When the big herds move around, they draw a lot of attention to themselves. Although they also have a unique social structure and will help each other when in need, it does not always work. When one buffalo gives the distress call, a mobbing attack can be triggered and the herd will come back in numbers to try and help the distressed buffalo. If they are successful in chasing off the predators, they will bunch together with the injured one in the middle of the group till he is strong enough to move again and rejoin the herd.
Salayexe – Morné Fouché
Similar to last month, the elephants are still quite abundant in the area – you can’t throw a stone without hitting one. This has made bush walks a challenge and we’ve had to get quite creative to try and keep out of the way of the breeding herds. The last thing you would want to do is to surprise a breeding herd of elephant and upset the matriarch, who can be temperamental at times. Elephants are contact animals with a very unique and social herd structure. A breeding herd of elephants consists of closely related females like mothers and their daughters, sisters and aunts. Family members will often touch each other while standing, resting or even while drinking water. They will also lean or rub their bodies together. When two family groups meet there will be a lot of vocalization between them with tummy rumbles and sometimes trumpeting. With the greeting ceremony, elephants will sometimes use their trunks and put it into the mouth of the other one. This might have derived from elephant calves that would put their trunks into their mother’s mouths in order to get some chewed food from her. Mothers will also use their trunks to guide the little ones in the right directions and will make use of their trunk or a foot rub to reassure the baby that everything is fine. Mothers will also use the trunk to discipline the youngster with a slap on the backside if needed.
The special sighting of the month was to see the four Majingi male lions feeding on a buffalo bull which they stole from the Tsalala lionesses. It was very special to see the big males together again!
Did you know?
A male lion on a kill can eat up to 25% of his own body weight in one go.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!
Once again, this month was really good and we had extremely fruitful game viewing! We were fortunate to see the wild dogs yet again. We also saw a lot of general game and had some great night life sightings! Now that it is getting dark earlier in the evenings, nocturnal animals like African wild cats, genets, civets, honey badgers and porcupines are active earlier on during the afternoon game drives. Winter is here, as the mornings are very cold. You have to wear jackets, gloves and scarves when going on the morning drives as the wind chill factor when driving in an open game viewer makes it much colder than the actual temperatures indicate. We have also added the hot water bottles back onto the vehicles, easing the worst chill during the start of morning drives. The average temperature for the month was 26°C and it is very clear that we are at the end of the rainy season, as we had only 3mm of rain this month.
Salayexe at our signboard – by Dawie Jacobs
We had some special sightings of these beautiful spotted cats this month. Salayexe and her cub are really looking good and feeding well. But they once again had some bad luck with keeping their kills away from hyenas. The impala males are too big for Salayexe to hoist into a tree after she kills it. At this stage, Salayexe leaves the little one alone for longer times when she goes out hunting. She has to hunt more often now, because her daughter is getting bigger and eating more meat. The hyenas that are stealing her kills are also not helping much. The youngster is now 11 months old and her future is looking brighter every day. If all goes well, we will finally reveal the name we’ve chosen for her in next month’s report. Because of the fairly high mortality rate in leopard cubs, we normally wait for them to reach the one year mark, before naming them. (Edited: 01/06/2013 – Sad news to share is that Salayexe’s cub was unfortunately killed by hyenas last night. As the newsletter was about to be sent out, we will share more details about her tragic death in our next newsletter…) Shadow and her two cubs are also looking great. The two cubs are getting bigger and they are much more relaxed with the vehicles. They are now 8 months old and therefore we have started having 3 vehicles in a sighting. The two of them are looking very happy, playing around, stalking and pouncing on each other, also sometimes using mom as the target. Shadow is also teaching the little ones a few tricks that they are going to need in this vast wilderness to one day become an excellent hunter. Thandi, Shadow’s sister, and her two cubs are also doing great and looking very healthy. The two little ones are almost just as big as Thandi and she’s got her hands full when it comes to playtime. You can see that Mvula is the father of her cubs. We don’t see Thandi and her cubs that much as her territory is far east of our traversing area. She moves quite far north as well. We still don’t have any news on Kurula and her youngsters. It might be that she is waiting for them to get a little bit bigger before she brings them out, or it might be because Shadow, her daughter, is expanding her territory more north into the area that Kurula neglected for this last few months. We are still hopeful that she will bring them into our area in the next month or so. Ntima was under the radar this month as we hardly saw her, but the good news is that she was seen walking with Mvula, the big male leopard, so fingers crossed that they will mate and she will have another litter after the loss of the last one. Tingana, our resident male leopard, was very quiet in the beginning of the month and that was enough time for another young male leopard to move into his territory. This was short-lived as Tingana returned and chased the youngster out again. Tingana is looking awesome and very healthy, almost like he is putting on more weight and getting more muscle. Lamula was seen with a female out of the south but not one of our females, it is common for females to leave their territory in search of a suitable male to mate with. Mvula was also not seen a lot this month but he has a massive territory and also a lot of young males moving around in his territory, which keeps him on his toes.
Tawny eagle – by Louis Liversage
What can I say? This month we had some of the best lion sightings so far! The three older Tsalala lionesses and the young sub adult lioness are looking better and better every day and we have seen them quite a lot this last month. There is definitely something going on with the black maned Majingi male lion and the sub adult Tsalala lioness, as he chased her out of the pride again, when he joined the Tsalala pride. Even the youngster’s mother snarls at her and the only female that gives her some love is BB, her grandmother. If it wasn’t for BB this pride would not have raised even one cub and only time will tell what would happen when the old lady is not around anymore. When the youngster gets chased out of the pride, BB leaves the pride to go and look for the youngster and make sure she’s alright and this is why she‘s my favourite lioness! With the Styx pride tragedy struck once again as the Majingi males also killed another cub and left the pride with only one cub. This was the one that got injured in the fight with the Tsalala lionesses. Besides that, the Styx are also looking good and feeding well as once again they killed a buffalo to feed the whole pride for a few days. The four sub adults are just as big as the adult lionesses and they also lend a helping hand when it comes to hunting. The two sub adult males are getting really big and they look gorgeous with their manes getting bigger. It’s not going to be too long before their fathers will say enough is enough and chase them out. The old lady of the pride is slowly but surely handing over the ropes to her daughters. She would normally be in front when it comes to hunting, but she now stays behind with the cubs, or helps with the chase but let the daughters do the killing. An old lioness will sometimes change roles from striker (who does the killing) to chaser, because their teeth are worn down and can’t pierce the skin as easily. Their jaw muscles are also not strong enough to close the wind pipe of the prey. Overall, things are looking better for this pride. If all goes well and the sub adult female’s cubs survive, the pride will gain two females to help with hunting. We were so fortunate to have the four big Majingi male lions in and out of our area a lot this month, sometimes joined by the Tsalala pride females. These four boys are looking great. When we first saw them one had a bit of a limp but nothing serious. It might be that he had a run in with another male coalition. They have the four Southern pride males who are also quite big to their west and then also the six Matimba males to the north of them. Somewhere along the line it must have crossed their minds to expand their territories and the search of maybe more females.
What an exciting month this was with the buffalo sightings. The big breeding herds have at last returned! Although it was short lived as it always is, it was still very impressive to see these big breeding herds of buffaloes. We had massive herds of about 400 strong that came through our area in their quest to find food and water. On three occasions we had two different herds of between 350-400 animals in our area at the same time, one moved around in the north and the other in the south of our traversing area. Food is really getting scarce as the last green grass is changing to a pale yellow colour. Being bulk grazers, they need a lot of grass and even though they do browse a little bit, it does not even cover 10% of their diet. When the big herds are on the move you will hear a lot of grunting and also pushing and shoving going on amongst the members of the herds. The big males that came into the herds now after their rest period are looking for females to mate with. With that, tension between the males is very high and we were very lucky to actually see this heavy weights in action as they head-bud each other for the top spot and to earn mating rights. When you get two stubborn males, they will fight to death. It can also sometimes happen that one dies of his injuries at a later stage. The old dagga boys are still in the area as they always are and if you go to one of the water holes you are almost guaranteed to see one of these old boys in the water or close to it, relaxing and chewing cud.
We were really spoiled with the great elephant sightings we had this month. Around every corner we were almost guaranteed that a big breeding herd would be waiting for us. We also saw a lot of elephants that came to drink water on our open area. This will mainly be due to the fact that some of the smaller waterholes are slowly drying up, leaving them muddy. Elephants always go for the freshest water source available. There were also a lot of big breeding herds feeding on the banks of the dry riverbeds, especially enjoying the wild date palms. Some herds were also seen on the seep line areas. With all the wonderful rain that we had this year, the water table is still very high in the riverbeds and seep line areas. With that comes nice and juicy green grass for the elephants to feast on. Because of the high water table, the dry riverbeds also hold a source of water. While sitting in an elephant sighting where they are grazing in the riverbed, you would sometimes notice an elephant scratching the seemingly dry riverbed surface with its foot. The next moment you would see a trunk spurting water! Also while driving around on game drive, you might see some of the trees with damage on their barks and some trees that are pushed over. This confirms a lot of elephant activity in a certain area. Now that the grass is dying, elephants will turn to the next best thing and that is the trees. Within the herds there are a lot of babies, anywhere from one month to under a year old. This means that the herds are healthy and doing well.
This was definitely seeing all four Majingi male lions and the two Tsalala lionesses around our lodge. To make it even better, all four males started roaring right next to our game drive vehicles!
Did you know?
A human can hear the loud roar of a male lion even if he is up to five kilometres away.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!
What an incredible month we had! Sightings were great and with the autumn colours that are appearing, the bush is looking lovely! Temperatures are really dropping fast and we already brought the blankets back onto the vehicles. We will also shortly bring back the hot water bottles as it’s really a chilly start during the early morning game drives. This month we also changed our morning game drive times from 5:30 am to 6:00 am, as the sun now only rises after 6:00 am. The bush really came to life this month, with one sound that overpowered all the other noises of the bushveld. This is the snorting and grunting sounds and clashing of impala horns, as rutting season is in full swing. These male impalas are definitely not holding back in the fight for dominance and the right to mate. This time of the year the males from different antelope species will also reunite with the female groups for mating season. Unlike the impalas though, they do not have the very vocal rutting sounds, but will still fight for dominance. With all the good sightings that we had this month, we also had some sad, unexpected turns. But more about that later… The average maximum temperature for April was 27 °C. We were also blessed with another 100mm of rain this month.
Red billed oxpecker - by Louis Liversage
With all the amazing leopard sightings we were once again spoiled rotten, but with all the excitement there was also a very sad day. Xivambalana, the sub-adult male leopard and son of Kurula from her previous litter, killed Ntima’s little cub. We are unsure of how many cubs Ntima actually had, but my heart goes out to this old lady as she once again lost all her cubs. It just shows you how tough nature can sometimes be. Males would often kill a female’s cubs if they did not sire them, in order for the female to come into oestrus quicker. Salayexe and her little female cub are doing great. The little cub is getting really bold as she attempts to stalk everything that moves, even playing a very dangerous game with hyenas. Normally when a hyena approaches a leopard cub, the cub will run for the nearest tree. Well not this little one! She would first hiss and snarl and have a stand-off with the hyena and only when the hyena charges closer, would she jump up and get into the safety of a tree. The moment it loses interest, she would get out and start stalking it again. Salayexe usually leaves her behind when she goes hunting, because the little one is sure to spoil the whole hunt as excitement would make her chase after the prey too early. Poor Salayexe lost four kills to hyenas this month. This happened either because the little one dropped them out of the tree, or because it was too big to hoist up in the first place. What we’ve found this month was that all the leopards killed more male impalas and that they are sometimes a little bit too big to hoist into a tree, making easy pickings for the hyenas. The reason why they killed more males this month is due to the rutting season. Big males will leave the safety of the bachelor herd to look for a harem and challenge the dominant male. This makes them an easy target. Shadow and her two cubs are looking fantastic and I’m so glad to see she still has both cubs. Moya and Kwatile were rarely seen this month, but when we did see them there was no disappointment. Moya is a stunning female leopard and I for one didn’t really think that she would make it in the big league, with the likes of Salayexe and Kwatile bordering her territory and always looking to expand their own territories. Despite lacking experience, this young cat is still a formidable force to be reckoned with. Against all odds she has made it this far. Growing more in confidence, she has settled well into her territory. Kurula is still off the radar and all that we can do is to be patient and wait for her to come and show us her new bundles of joy. Mvula, the big male from the east, is pushing west into Tingana’s territory. In this process he is also pushing all the young males out of his turf into Tingana’s turf. Xivambalana, Kurula’s son from her previous litter, is getting pushed more west, as well as Lamula. Lamula is actually going very far into Tingana’s area and he means business as he is scent marking all over Tingana’s scent. Lamula is bigger and stronger than last year and it looks like he is ready to take on Tingana. The stage is set and it is just a matter of time before these two warriors will battle it out. It looks like Tingana knows he is loosing territory bit by bit and that is why he is on the move a lot. Lamula, Xivambalana and Mvula are not the only problems Tingana faces. The young male from the west is also pushing more eastwards. Only time will tell how this situation will play out.
Sub adult Styx male - by Morné Fouché
We were very fortunate to see the Styx, Tsalalas and all four Majingi male lions this month! Let’s start off with the Styx pride. Tragedy struck this pride again as they walked into the Tsalala pride one evening and a huge fight broke out. They lost one of the small cubs in the fight and another one was badly injured. The rest of the pride members got a few cuts and bruises and were a bit shaken after the ordeal, but nothing too serious. The little one that is injured is still moving with the pride, but it looks like he might be in some pain. We keep our fingers crossed that this little one makes it and the pride doesn’t lose another cub. Territorial disputes like this one is common and it’s not just the males that will fight with each other. Females will also defend their territories and their cubs against rival prides. The Tsalala pride on the other hand is looking great and is in magnificent condition. I think out of all the lion prides in the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, the Tsalala pride is most probably the smallest, with three big females and one sub-adult. Despite being the smallest pride, these three females are quite the force to be reckoned with! BB is still looking good and going strong. She’s definitely got a few years left in the tank and that’s really a good thing for the pride. All four of the Majingi male lions came into our area and stayed here for a while, before moving on again. To our surprise the black maned Majingi male later linked up with the Tsalala females and they came back into our area. They stayed for a few days, with full bellies before moving on again. One morning early we heard two males calling close to the lodge and we knew that they couldn’t be too far. On drive we came across two of the four Majingi males tucking into a buffalo kill. Nothing went to waste as they stayed at the kill until there was almost nothing left – just a few scraps for the vultures and some bones for the hyenas.
Mvula the male leopard - by Louis Liversage
Still the big breeding herds are nowhere to be found. With winter approaching fast, food is getting scarcer and that will lead to the smaller buffalo herds joining forces to form bigger herds. Overall, herds of buffalo don’t stay in one area for too long as they get driven by food and water supplies. Some of the females still have small calves of a few months old and some of the other females with bigger calves are coming into oestrus now. With the females coming into oestrus, the dominant males that left the female herds a few months ago have returned to the herds. The dominant males leave the herds to fatten up and get themselves ready for mating season, which is starting now. When the males enter the female herds again, they have to fight for mating rights. A big dominant male will have anywhere between ten and fifteen females that he will mate with. Even the really big males can’t attend to all the females and sometimes some of the younger males might also get a change to mate, without having to fight it out beforehand. The old dagga boys are once again alone and we see them on a regular basis. Being alone in the African bush is surely the worst thing for an old buffalo. Lions will not hesitate for a second when they spot an old buffalo bull on its own!
We’ve had very good elephant sightings this month. While having breakfast or lunch, you would often see elephant herds walking over the open area to quench their thirst with nice fresh water at the waterhole in front of the lodge. Also with all the rain that we had this last month there is still a lot of water in the dams. We saw some really nice big breeding herds on drive, ranging anywhere from forty to about sixty animals, including a few tiny calves. As a rule of thumb, when a baby elephant can fit under the mother’s stomach, that baby is still under a year old. We were also very fortunate to see a really big bull with some very impressive tusks. Because there aren’t many big tuskers around anymore, it is extremely special to see one on drive. He was later joined by two younger, smaller bulls. It is common to see the really big bulls being accompanied by a few younger bulls. This old man is like a mentor or teacher to the younger bulls and will keep them in line when testosterone levels runs high and rage takes over. Although elephants have a very unique social structure, the males don’t stay with the herds. At the age of about thirteen years, the males need to leave and will then look for their own home range, close to the female herds.
Water monitor - by Devon Becker
This was to see all four Majingi males resting together on Tamboti open area. What a treat it was to see all four of them together as we normally only get to see one or two of them, joined by some females.
Did you know?
It will take a baby elephant roughly six months to learn how to fully use his little trunk.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!
Those of you who joined us on game drive and followed our weekly sightings this last month will agree with me that March was action packed with surprises almost around every corner. With all the excitement we also had some misfortune in the cheetah family. We were very fortunate to see the cheetah mother and her 3 cubs coming into our area and staying here for a long time. She moved out of the area, only to return after a day, but this time with only two cubs. It is unknown what happened to the third little cub. We also had a pack of 17 wild dogs that came into the area. Overall, sightings were really over the top and it was a real pleasure to be out in the bush. We can feel that the seasons are changing as the mornings are much cooler and still dark when we leave for the morning safari. Day temperatures are still nice, but as soon as the sun disappears behind the horizon it gets a bit chilly. The average maximum temperature for the month was 29°C and we had a total of 22 millimetres rain.
Hippo and Buffalo at Leeukuil - Louis Liversage
Leopard sightings were just great this month. Salayexe and her little cub are doing fine and they are always a treat to view. The cub is really free spirited and full of surprises. It is almost as if you are watching a suspense movie, you don’t know what she will do next. Every inch of Salayexe’s territory is her playground and she thinks that all the animals inside of it are there for her to play with. Salayexe is really struggling to keep up with the liveliness off her daughter and all the games that she plays. I’ve also noticed that when Salayexe’s had enough of her cub and want some alone time, she will become a bit hostile towards the little one. Being so young and outgoing like she is, she wants to turn everything into a game. When two cubs are born and one dies the mother automatically needs to take over the entertainment role of the dead cub when it comes to play time! Shadow, on the other hand, was quiet at times but the times we did see her she and the two cubs were just priceless. The one cub is really getting used to the game drive vehicles around it and growing more in confidence as she stalks the vehicles in play. The other sibling is still very cautious and watches our every move and always sits close or even sometimes behind her mother. Some reinsurance in the form of a head rub or gentle face wash by mum lets her know everything is all right and that we pose no threat whatsoever. It’s common to find a very adventurous cub and a shy one born in the same litter.
Female giraffe and her suckling calf - Louis Liversage
Kurula was again very elusive this month as we haven’t seen her or the little cubs once this month, but we are confident that she will bring them out one of these days. The old lady, Ntima, was seen once or twice, but without any cubs. The little cubs are still very young and tucked away safely in a hidden den. It won’t be too long before the little cubs will start eating meat and Ntima will move them around to a new location, or to kills. Kwatile came for a surprise visit and what a surprise it was as we saw that she also has suckle marks. This is really good news for us and we keep our fingers crossed that she will this time successfully raise her new litter. Moya, the youngest of the territorial female leopards in our area has no cubs yet as far as we know, but we hope that this year will be a wonderful year for her. Tingana, our dominant male leopard, was seen a lot this month while marking his boundaries. Tingana has got his work cut out for him as the young male that came in from the west of his territory is expanding more east and Lamula in the southeast is expanding more northwest into Tingana’s territory. It’s only a matter of time before Tingana catches up with these two newcomers to defend his title and ultimately his cubs. Mvula is also expanding his territory more south and that caused Lamula to move more west. Mvula was very quiet this month and we didn’t see him a lot. Lamula was also under the radar and we saw him just a few times this month. Lamula is looking really good at this stage. He is getting bigger and putting on a lot of weight. It’s not going to be too long before he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Salayexes Cub - Morné Fouché
Three of the four breakaway Tsalala females have been keeping a low profile this month. The one female with the cub/s stayed around our lodge for the whole month. We think that her den is very close to the lodge, somewhere in the thickets on the banks of the dry river bed that runs past our lodge. She will come out of the dense vegetation in the late afternoons to hunt and then return in the early mornings. She is looking good and feeding well as she killed a juvenile giraffe the one day and fed well for a few days, before the hyenas chased her off her kill. When she is by herself, hyenas can easily chase her off a kill, but when they are in a pride it will take a lot of hyenas to chase them off. We are unsure about the amount of cubs as more than one was heard while we were tracking one day. We have, however, not seen them yet. Pregnant females will normally leave the safety of the pride to go and give birth in a safe area, only to return to the pride when the cubs are about 8 weeks old. When she gives birth the whole game plan changes. She will have to hunt alone and that calls for a different hunting strategy because, unlike leopards that are solitary hunters and are used to hunting alone, lions are pride animals. The pride works as a team to bring down prey and feed together. Being alone she now has to depend on herself for food and taking care of her little ones. Lions are unbelievable animals and can adapt to any situation that presents itself. Hopefully it’s not too long before she will take the cubs back to introduce them to the rest of the pride. BB and her older daughters also came into our area, accompanied by three of the Majingi male lions. BB will be 15 years old this year and she’s still looking very good for her age. When you look at this old worrier, with her face and body covered in battle scars that each tell an exciting yet painful story, you can’t help to think of what she’s been through. BB’s daughters are looking superb and seeing them with the male lions gives us hope that in the next few months they might also have more cubs. We had two Nkuhuma lionesses and three of their cubs, joined by two of the six Matimba male lions, on a zebra kill in the area. They stayed in the area for about two days then moved north back into the core of their territory. The Styx pride is looking very healthy and better than ever. The four sub adults are over two years of age and it’s normally this time of their lives when they join in on hunts to learn the skillful art of successful hunting. The Majingi males are also looking good, but the only problem that I see is that they are splitting up too often and this leaves them very vulnerable and open for an attack by a group of younger males. Just look at what happened to the Mapogo coalition when they decided to split up.
We are still waiting for the big herds to pass through our area. We had tracks of a very nice sized herd that came into the area during the night, but moved out of the area again the very next morning. We are still full of hope that it will change when food gets scarcer and the big herds need to move further in search of more food. We had a few old dagga boys cooling down in the water or rolling in the mud. They will also roll in the mud to get the mud on them to rid their bodies from any unwanted tics, parasites and flies. The mud also helps the buffalo to keep cool in the hot African sun. We were lucky to see a bachelor herd consisting of dominant and sub dominant males. They usually leave their herd when mating is done in order to work on their condition. When mating season starts again, they go back to the herds to claim their females and their right to mate again.
Sunrise in the bush - Morné Fouché
There has been no shortage of elephant this month with medium sized herds, ranging between 30-40 animals and smaller herds of about 5-10 animals. These are trailed by a few big bulls in musth, with only one intention. When males go into musth their body undergoes a chemical transformation where high testosterone levels are released throughout the body. With this whole transformation going on in the bodies of these bulls their temperament also changes and they can get more aggressive and irritable, sometimes even charging the vehicles. It is always better to rather avoid these really bad-tempered heavyweights. During this time of the year, the smaller herds are slowly but surely starting to join forces to form a bigger herd. In the winter months you might find a few herds of maybe a hundred animals. In these herds there are quite a few little ones and it is so special to view them as they are full of surprises, like all young animals tend to be. It’s so funny watching these little rascals opening their ears and then charging at the vehicles, followed with a loud trumpet. The moment they realize that they’re all alone, they quickly turn around, running towards the safety of their mothers.
The special sighting of the month was to see a pack of 17 wild dogs working as a team in hunting impalas. Six hyenas came in to try and steal the kill. All the wild dogs launched a full-on attack on the hyenas. The hyenas did their best, but there were just too many wild dogs and the hyenas came off second best.
Did you know?
A pack of wild dogs are led by an alpha pair.
I know I say the same thing every month, but this month was once again full of excitement! We had wild dogs in our area, as well as a female cheetah and her cubs that made their appearance when we least expected it! We had some lovely rain this month with a total of 65mm. Although it is not as much as we had in January, with the soil still saturated from the previous rains, this was enough to make off-road driving tricky and very slippery at times around some of the areas we normally drive with ease. This month we had a lot of zebra and giraffe sightings as well, due to all the green grass and trees with their full coat of green leaves. The bush is still very lush and there are still many water puddles that formed with the rain. All the animals are obviously in a very good condition! We’ve already noticed a slight drop in the morning temperatures, which is a result from the ground being very saturated. The cooler mornings did not really have a big effect on the daytime temperatures and the average maximum temperature for the month was 30°C.
Styx female and cub - by Louis Liversage
We were very fortunate to have a nice big breeding herd of about 400 buffaloes moving around in our traversing area this month. One of the main reasons for the buffaloes visiting our area is due to all the water being available to them, everywhere, at any time! What made their visit even more special is all the newborn calves within the herd and there are a few more pregnant females due to give birth at any time now. When a female buffalo that is part of a breeding herd is about to give birth, she falls behind the group a bit as they can not walk as fast and as far as the rest of the herd. This makes them an easy target for predators as they do not have the safety of the rest of the herd around them. Apart from the breeding herds, we also saw a few bachelor herds moving through our area and there is of course always an old bull or two, soaking in the water puddles or having a mud bath.
Marula season came to an end this month and the majority of the marula trees have shed their fruits and where there were still some fruits hanging in the trees, the baboons, monkeys and elephants made sure to feast on them till there were no more left. We have not seen very big males with, or following the breeding herds, but there were some very nice young males who entertained us with their typical “I am in charge” behaviour. These young males will be forced by the matriarch to leave the herd when they reach the age of between 12 to 17 years. The breeding herd normally consists of old females, their siblings, female offspring and a few young males. Once the young males leave the herd, they might form bachelor groups of up to 30 males, or they will join up with other older, bigger males. Although these young males have a very good self-esteem while part of the breeding herd, they do feel very vulnerable and insecure when on their own, almost like when a teenage boy leaves the house after school.
Shadow and her cub - by Morné Fouché
This month, the lion sightings brought us a lot of excitement! The four breakaway lionesses of the Tsalala pride are getting bigger by the day and with the cubs, the pride is also growing in numbers. At this stage, we are unsure of how many cubs there are, as we have only seen one till now. We saw the three other lionesses walking with a Majingi male, so we are hoping for some more cubs. It is strange how at first, we were hoping that the young females would stay out of the Majingi’s way as they could have been killed and now, we are actually grateful to see them together as they are mating and this will bring more cubs! This just once again shows that nature works in a very strange, but wonderful, way. The old female of the Tsalala pride, BB, came to visit us a few times by herself and we also saw her two older daughters on our airstrip, also with three of the Majingi males. We were surprised with a visit from the Nkuhuma pride this month as well. We had three females with their 8 month old cubs in our area for a while, but it was not long before they moved on again.
Giraffe and wild dogs - by Louis Liversage
This month was a spotty affair, as we had leopard sightings all over the place! Salayexe and her cub were seen very often and the little one is making every sighting an unforgettable one with her playful personality. It is unreal to think that this little cub is actually not that little anymore, as she is already 8 months old. She has now reached the age where anything and everything that moves is prey and is constantly busy chasing or stalking something. Shadow and her two cubs are doing very well and she is now also getting very relaxed with the vehicles moving around her. She is no longer hissing or growling at the vehicles and her cubs are also following her relaxed behaviour. We have not seen Karula’s cub or cubs yet and are therefore are not sure how many she has. She still has suckle marks and this is evidence that she is feeding 1 or 2 or maybe 3 newborn bundles of fluff, somewhere where they are safely tucked away in their den. Ntima was not seen a lot this month, but for a new mother being kept busy by her small cubs, this is normal. Yes, she is also a new mother now! We know where she has her cubs hidden away, but we are avoiding her den site as we do not want to disturb the new mom with her tiny cubs. We are giving her time to bring them out for us to see, but, hopefully this will not take too long. Tingana is also doing well and looking good. This big bully now realized that it is actually much easier to steal food from the females than hunt for his own food.
We were very fortunate to see a female cheetah, accompanied by three small cubs. It’s always so special to see a cheetah in the area as cheetahs need wide open areas to hunt in. What made it even more special was that she had three lovely cubs with her. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that she will raise these cubs to adulthood.
Did you know?
Elephants communicate with each other over vast areas by using infrasound.
It is so exciting to be writing my first report for the year 2013 and keeping you up to date with the highs and lows and everything else happening in the bush. This first month of 2013 was such a delight to be out in the bushveld. It was really full of action and just jam packed. We had some strange weather this month as well. We had really hot days, cold days, windy days and then, of course, also a lot of rain. The average maximum temperature for the month was 28°C, mainly because the rainy days brought the temperatures down. We had a total of 337mm rain for the month! With all these hot days the bush started to change color, from the lush green to a pale yellow color. After the first two spells of rain the bush changed back to the dark and lush green color almost overnight. The bush was crawling with life and we welcomed all the frog species like the African bull frogs, rain frogs, Foam nesting frogs and a lot more. When driving past the waterholes and puddles next to the road the first thing you see is thousands of frog eggs floating in the water, little tadpoles and also the foam nesting frog nests hanging in the trees over the water. It is so beautiful at night when the sounds of the frogs and crickets fill the air and it sounds like a well-trained symphony. Before you know it you and your guests have been sitting there in silence, just listening to the bush choir. Game viewing was again really good as we had two different packs of wild dogs in our area. We were very spoiled with the wild dog sightings this month. We had saw wonderful general game like wildebeest, zebra, warthog, giraffe and much more.
Zebra and Impala - by Richard Davis
The leopard sightings were just phenomenal this month. Salayexe and her little one, who I love very much, are looking really good and very healthy. The little one is growing up really fast. She’s got a wonderful personality and is full of surprises. It is such a treat to watch her playing around without a worry in the world. The other day Salayexe and the cub were resting, when two big buffalo bulls came out from behind a bush. The little one stood up and started staking these big heavy weights… She’s really adventurous and growing in confidence. Shadow was awesome this month and we saw her a few times with the little cubs at her den and moving around. Although her two cubs are still very small, we can already see that there is a shy cub and an adventurous one. In almost every litter of cubs that is born, this will be the case.
Shadow and her cub - by Willie Woest
Shadow is also moving her den every so often to avoid unwelcome guests like lions or hyenas that will kill the little cubs if they get the opportunity. Kurula was very elusive this month and we didn’t see a lot of her. Ntima, the older lady, is doing very well and it looks like she might be pregnant again. It will be really nice if she can have another litter of cubs. We started to see a lot more of Nsele this month and it also looks like she might be pregnant as well, because her milk glands are swollen. Nsele is looking stunning and she grew up into a beautiful cat. She is not yet as big as her mother, or her aunt Nyeleti or even Ntima, but she will get more bulky in time. Tingana, our male leopard, is still looking good if not better than before. He is still holding on to his big territory but there is still a few challengers waiting and wanting to expand their territories and a new kid on the block looking for a place to call home. Mvula and Lamula have been keeping a very low profile this month.
The lion sightings this month was once again brilliant. We saw the three older Tsalala females a few times and once they were accompanied by the Black Maned Majingi male. There is something strange going on with him as he is always chasing the sub adult females of the Tsalala pride around. It seems like he doesn’t want them around at all. The one sub adult female got separated from the rest of the pride and to make things worse she’s got an injured back leg as well. We are unsure as to how she sustained the injury and where it happened. We saw the Tsalala pride the one night with the two sub adult females and then the next morning she was all alone with an injured leg. At this stage we keep our fingers crossed that the pride will reunite very soon. The four Breakaway Tsalala females are doing really well and one of the females are very far pregnant. Two of the other three females were also pregnant but it is unsure to what happened to the cubs and if there actually were any. I can’t wait for the day when this young pride has their first cubs and starts growing in numbers. These four ladies are still moving around in their mother’s territory, but they avoid each other as far as they possibly can. If the three older females just let these four ladies rejoin the pride they would benefit out of this and it will be good for the four youngsters to have some experience on their side. Chances are good that maybe one day when this older trio gets too old, the four breakaway females might be strong enough to push them out seeing that they use the same territory. As I always say, the stage is set and only time will tell. The Styx pride is also looking good. The four sub adults and the three young cubs are growing up and looking really healthy. It looks like things are eventually looking up for the Styx pride and it looks like the cubs will survive.
Young Tsalala lioness - by Morné Fouché
What a treat, we were so spoiled this month with the buffalo sightings! The big breeding herds we were waiting for returned to our area this month and we had a herd of about 400! With all the lush green vegetation all over, the buffaloes don’t stay in one area very long. If you think about it this way, in a big herd you can get anywhere between 400 and 2000 individuals. When you have so many mouths to feed you can’t stay in one area for too long, because buffaloes are bulk grazers. They get driven by food and water supplies so they need to be on the move all the time in search of enough food for all of them. It was so nice to see all the small calves in the herd as this is also the time of the year where the females will have their babies. The old buffalo bulls are still out and about, spending their days lying in the water or mud wallows or just relaxing somewhere in the shade.
Elephant sightings were also very good this month and the reason for all the lovely sightings was the start of the marula season. All the herds had a field day with all this marula trees that’s full of fruits. The marula fruit is also very high in vitamin C, even more than oranges. When the fruiting season starts, elephants can be very destructive when it comes to getting the fruits. Here in the northern part of the Sabi Sand we have a lot of marula trees and this time of the year we have lots of elephant herds all over, walking from one marula tree to the next. As you drive around and past some of the marula trees, you might find that there are branches all over the road. The elephants will break the higher branches to get to the juicy marula fruits. Some of the bigger elephants will shake the trees for the fruits to fall to the ground and if they can’t reach they will even push over the whole tree.
The special sighting of the month was when Salayexe’s 7 month old cub played a very dangerous game with two big buffalo bulls. The little cub saw these two big animals feeding on the nice green grass and she saw an opportunity to practice her stalking skills. Things went really well until the wind direction changed and the buffalo got the upper hand. After the buffalo swung around and moved closer to the young leopard, mum knew that things could go wrong and she jumped up and drew the attention away from the cub, thereby leading the buffalo away. As soon as the buffalo turned and went for mom, the small cub couldn’t help herself and chased after the buffalo again. Luckily it all ended well and the buffaloes and leopards went their separate ways.
Did you know?
A giraffe is the biggest ruminant of all the land mammals.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s report. See you out on game drive soon!