It seems that spring is right around the corner. If one looks at the vegetation it looks like late autumn, going into early spring. There are already new leaves sprouting and some of the trees, like the Knob thorn, are already flowering. It’s really been a strange winter. This month we had some days of 34 °C, with a hot wind. The next day temperatures would drop into the early 20’s. We even had a few millimetres of rain on the 24th. This washed down the dust and has brought along the odd green blade of grass. We saw our first pair of Walberg’s eagles for this time of year around Big Dam on the 26th and 27th. We also saw another pair mating at Serengeti Pan. These eagles will return to the same nest every year to have their young and when the winter returns they will once again move up into central Africa. Their return always signals the change of the seasons. We had 3 millimetres of rain and the average maximum temperature for August was 28°C.
I must say, we have not seen the usual amount of breeding herds for this time of the year. Normally we see hundreds of elephants feeding around our lodge, but this winter they have seemed to come and go in waves. Make no mistake - we still see one or two breeding herds a day! There might be more than one reason for this. It might mean that the elephants are wisely using the area to their advantage. About a year ago I still said that in time the parks will be made bigger and that herds would just need a bit of time to find out the new feeding grounds up north. As elephants are very cautious and wise, they won’t rush into brand new areas. They will rather move into new areas slowly, but surely. One might ask what new areas I am talking about: Mozambique. At first the herds did not go close to the new area, but now that they know there is water and plenty of food, they are freely moving up north. Then again the reason for their absence might also be something totally different. It could just as well be the amount of rain we’ve had. Truth be told, I am glad that we did not have hundreds of elephants continuously feeding around the camp, as the vegetation could take this season to rehabilitate itself.
Lilac-breasted Roller. Picture by Richard Davis
I enjoyed this month for we got to see one of my favourite male rhinos frequently. Who am I talking about? Well, of course it is Utah. We saw him feeding around camp nearly on a daily basis and most times he was on our airstrip, so we could see him out in the open. It does make one wonder why he’s spending so much time around our camp. Has a new male maybe pushed him out in the west? When waterholes start drying up during winter, the bigger males seek water and might come across the slightly smaller males who have a lot of water left in their own territories. This will often result in older males overpowering and pushing youngsters out of their own territories. Fact of the matter is that Utah is not the biggest male around. I would say that he is more or less 2000 kilograms, in comparison to a male like Londoz, who is at least 2500 kilograms. The other three males Londoz, Shorthorn and Skewhorn are all doing well. Londoz is taking things easy lately as there currently seem to be no females in his territory. In the last month or so, we’ve seen him moving around slowly marking his territory. On most days we could find him around the waterholes, lazing around. This will probably continue until the next female comes through his territory!
At the moment, we have a lot of buffalo in our traversing area. The old faithful males have also been hanging around the waterholes, waiting to be captured on camera. We had the privilege of seeing a massive herd of about 500 strong. We are not sure if they have come from Kruger or the Manyeleti. It could also be that with the changing of the seasons the smaller herds have now joined up again, providing safety in numbers for all the little ones that will be arriving soon. When the grass changes to green, the bigger herds can afford to be in their hundreds as there is ample grazing. There have been some fatalities in the last couple of weeks and we are not quite sure what the cause is. It might be that the dry grass is just not enough to sustain their 800 kg bodies. At first we thought it was just old age, but we have seen younger ones die as well. I must say, as strong and aggressive as the Cape buffalo is, they are prone to even the slightest diseases. The cause is being investigated and I will try to get more information on this subject for my next report...
As far as the Mapogos go, they seem to be something of the past for now. We received news that they only stay in the far west and don’t move too far into our area. What we understand is that there are only four left and not five as we were previously told. The two that are dead are Kinky Tail and Pretty Boy. The new Majingi males are having a ball in our traversing area! They have now pretty much mated with all the Styx females and we should be seeing some cubs by Christmas. This can only be good for the Styx pride as their numbers are very low. The old Styx female could not be contributing mush to hunting anymore, but she should come in handy when it comes down to staying behind and babysitting when the other females go out to hunt. The small male has been seen alone for a long time now, so we take it that he has been thrown out of the pride as he is too old to stay with them. The new males would also not want him around. At the moment the Majingis are mostly staying around in the east, around Wessels and Little Gowrie. With the Styx females in heat, they will be foolish to move away from the area as the main reason for taking over a territory is to get as many females as possible and mate with them. I am glad to say that the Golfcourse male is still doing well, even though we don’t get to see him very often. The times we do see him, he will usually be around a dead animal or a leopard’s kill. He still has a bit of a limp, but make no mistake, he gets around the whole of our traversing area, without any problems. And that is the way things happen in the wild: when down and out, try to survive by taking initiative. Even if, like in his case, it might involve being sneaky and steeling food from the smaller, weaker predators. We can only wait and see what will become of this courageous lion. We saw the Tsalala females only once this month and I am sad to report that there are now only five cubs left. I believe that they are keeping a low profile in Robson’s property, trying to stay closer to the Mapogos, in order to keep the rest of their cubs safe.
Boomslang. Picture by Morne Fouche
I will give you two guesses as to who got mated with during the month. Oh yes, my little favourite girl, Salayexe! The two cubs are still in her territory, but for how long she will still let them be, I cannot say. They would definitely have to be gone by the time she gives birth again. Otherwise they might find the new cubs while Salayexe is out hunting and kill them because of jealousy. So if all goes well, we should have new cubs by Christmas time. One of the other fantastic sightings for the month was sitting at Big Dam, watching the hippos when Mafufunyana came down to drink. After drinking he started sniffing around and went behind the dam wall, scent marking. Then we saw another male come out of the tree line. It was Tyson and in a flash all hell broke loose between the two of them. It seems to have been an even match, as both had blood on their faces as they walked away at the same time without looking back over their shoulders. They continued scent marking in opposite directions. It was truly something to see! We got to see a bit of Nyeleti’s cubs once again and I am glad to say they all look strong and healthy. We had them on a waterbuck kill for three days and it was great to see how relaxed they are with the car, even when mom was not there. Nita and Thandi also mated during the month, so spring is definitely on our doorstep! Safari nearly made a kill for us the one night. The impala seemed to be running straight for her as she leapt straight up in the air. By the sounds o fit she lost her grip as they thumped to the ground. When we put the lights back on, she was standing to the side of us looking very bashful. Shadow was quite a pleasure to see during August, as she is becoming very relaxed with the cars now. She had a duiker kill and for the two days that we viewed her, she never once ran away. Then the one afternoon we found a dead buffalo that she had found and was feeding on. She let us watch her for an hour without so much as a flinch while the vehicles drove in and out of the sighting.
On one of our afternoon game drives, we got to see a male cheetah and to be honest that was the last thing I expected to see that day! Whilst following the male he went into hunting mode…At first we did not see what he was looking at, but then we spotted the steenbok lying down in the grass. We think that the steenbok saw the cheetah and was trying to be still, not attracting attention to itself. Unfortunately it was too late. Everything happened in a flash! The cheetah took off after the steenbok and all we could see was dust and spots flying through the bush and then we heard a thud. That signalled the end of the struggle. It was truly fantastic to see the cheetah in action. Definitely a sighting that will be talked about for a long time!
Did you know?
A cheetah can only have three to four attempts at catching prey per day. They travel at such high speeds and push their bodies to the absolute limit. By doing this their bodies start to overheat. If they push themselves too hard, they can completely overheat, dehydrate and might even die.
Well, that’s all from my side, the wild side at Elephant Plains. Hope to see you out on game drive soon!