Singita Kruger National Park
Singita Kruger National Park
The days are getting longer again. We had a few very chilly mornings and evenings as a large cold front pushed in from the south and everyone had to put their fleeces and jackets back on. Across the country snow fell, but fortunately this area does not get that cold. Other than this front that arrived, we have had a fairly mild winter so far (until this last month). Some of the trees have already come into bloom as if they are expecting spring to arrive early. Others are still in the process of losing their leaves. The knobthorn trees are now showing their fluffy white flowers and the long-tailed cassias have already finished showing off their golden petals and they are now starting to get new leaves. Winter is not really the time for flowers here, although there are a few plants that do add some colour during the colder months. The impala lilies that grow up on the cliffs and in some of the open areas in the northern reaches of the concession have been lighting up the bush with their deep pink and white blossoms. The aloes have also been in flower and are still attracting the sunbirds, orioles and starlings to the nectar feast. The flame combretums have also started flowering with blood-red stamens and stigmas. They also produce a lot of nectar and the sunbirds have been enjoying the sweet banquet that these flowers produce.
Normally at this time of the year the N’wanetsi and Sweni Rivers have stopped flowing and only pools remain. This year is very different. We received a lot more rain last summer than we normally do and both rivers are still running strongly through the concession. There is still water flowing across Mbeki’s Crossing and there are even water lilies flowering there. The Xinkelengane stream has stopped flowing now though, although there are still a few pools in this drainage line, and the animals are therefore still spread out throughout the concession. The grass is still long and lush throughout the area, although it has turned golden in colour. The thick grass layer has attracted quite a few zebras and wildebeest into the area. With all the grass and water in the concession we are expecting great game-viewing next month.
Here’s a Sightings Snapshot for July:
- With the arrival of the Maputo male into the area and the confrontation with the Kumana male, the Shishangaan Pride (with the exception of two lionesses) seem to have disappeared. It is well-known that when a new male lion takes over an area from the previous “king” one of the first things that he does is kill all the young lions (sired by the previous territory-owner). The Shishangaan lionesses obviously know that their youngsters are in a very precarious situation and we hope that they have moved them away from the danger. We have, however seen that two of the lionesses (including the lioness with the bad limp) have now started consorting with the Maputo male and have been seen with him on numerous occasions.
- The Kumana male was seen on a few occasions this last month. At the beginning of July he was seen fighting with the Maputo male. Since then, he has only been seen by himself. He has sustained some new injuries and is sporting two bite marks on his back. It seems that the Maputo male has taken over the area. Unless the Kumana male is able to drive the Maputo male out it is very likely that he will have a very hard time. It is a sad ending to a majestic male lion to be driven out from his territory and away from his lionesses. Most male lions that lose their territories when they are already at a late stage in their lives do not last much longer. Fortunately, he did manage to scavenge something to eat in the form of a zebra carcass and, on another occasion, a giraffe carcass.
- The Maputo male was seen fighting with the Kumana male at the beginning of the month. Since then, he has been seen in the company of two of the Shish females. It appears that he might have been successful in his territorial take-over attempt.
- The Mananga pride has been seen on a few occasions this last month, mainly in the north-western side of the concession, near Gudzani Dam. This pride is becoming quite large now. There are at least seventeen individuals in this pride now (including sub-adults and cubs). They have two older cubs and five young ones. Towards the end of the month we were lucky enough to witness the Mananga pride killing and feeding on a zebra foal. Earlier on in the month they were seen feeding on a giraffe, and on another occasion a waterbuck. Lion numbers have been dropping drastically over the last century and scientists in the Kruger National Park have been doing lion counts. Recently they were doing studies to the west of the concession and tranquilised many of the Mananga lionesses. They then put brand marks on these animals so that they can identify individuals from a distance. It was a surprise to us, when we saw the pride after that, to see that many of the lionesses have “s”, “z” or “ss” marks on their rumps. They do not seem to be behaving any differently to the vehicles after their ordeal.
- The Mountain pride also seem to have disappeared. We have not been seeing much of them this last month. We think that, with the males fighting, that the Mountain pride have moved out of the area. Some of the guides believe that they have moved into Mozambique or possibly to the north of the concession. There are, however, large blocks of the concession in the north without roads and it is possible that they could be there in the hills. We saw them twice in July. At present this pride consists of 4 adult females, 1 sub-adult male and six juveniles.
- The two Shish males have not been seen regularly this last month. When they were sighted, they were usually with the Mananga pride. Xihamham is also sporting a new brand mark on his rump. These two male lions are also old now and, very likely, will soon have to defend their territory against younger males who want to take over the area. Towards the end of the month it appears that Xihamham was chasing after two young males.
- Two young males were seen in the northern part of the concession on at least two occasions this last month. These two are probably looking for a territory to take as their own. They will have to deal with the Shish males first before they are successful in their take-over.
- The Nhlanguleni female was seen a few times in the central area of the concession. She has a youngster (a young male) who is now at the age where he is going to have to move out of the area. The Nhlanguleni female has been seen snarling at her son and on one occasion they were seen to be fighting with each other when the young male assumed that he could help himself to some of the duiker carcass that the female was feeding on. On another occasion the Nhlanguleni female was seen feeding on a young impala that she had hoisted into a marula tree. The Nhalnguleni leopardess is a very relaxed individual and has provided some amazing sightings this month.
- The Mbiri Mbiri male leopard is one of the most relaxed leopards in the area and we have seen him on quite a few occasions this July. He has been moving widely in the concession. On one occasion he was seen in the hills in the east and then a few days later he was seen again in the far west, near Gudzani Dam. He has also been sighted in the far north of our area. He does, however seem to prefer the Central Depression. He is now of an age where we think that he will have to move away to find a territory of his own.
- The Euphorbia sub-adult male is another of the relaxed leopards that we see in the area. He is usually seen in the area just north of camp. He was seen feeding on an impala on one occasion this last month and on another occasion, he was seen being chased by some hyenas.
- A large male leopard, with a distinctive throat-dewlap, was seen a number of times this last month mainly in the vicinity of the Sticky Thorn thickets. He is generally quite relaxed with the vehicles although he has realised that he can avoid the cars by heading into the thorn thickets where we cannot follow. He was seen eyeing out some waterbuck one morning, but soon figured out that they might be too big for him.
- Towards the end of the month we found an old male leopard near Puff Adder Pool, on the banks of the N’wanetsi River. He seemed to be injured and was lying in a thicket, where he barely lifted his head. A few days later he was seen a short distance away near Xakamba Pan. He had killed a porcupine and was feeding on the carcass. He did not look in good condition and has a few wounds on his face and legs. We were not sure which leopard this was, but going through old identity kits, checking out his facial spot patterns and comparing them to old photos it does appear that this is the Ndlovu male (a male who used to be dominant in the area north of camp for many years).
- Quite a few unidentified or unknown leopards were seen this month. Most of these sightings were of shy individuals who moved away as soon as they saw the vehicles. Towards the end of the month a young male leopard was seen feeding on an impala that it had placed up in a large leadwood tree just west of the concession.
- We had one sighting of cheetahs this month. Two males were seen in the grasslands on the road to the staff quarters. We assume that we have not been seeing these beautiful cats because of the large burnt areas to the west of the concession that now provide great habitat for these cats that rely on speed to catch prey. The grass in the concession is still quite long and this is not really conducive to high-speed chases.
- We did not see any African wild dogs / painted wolves during July. These animals tend to den in the winter months in southern Africa. We have heard that there may be a den-site just outside of the concession to the south, but we cannot access that area. We are hoping that when they finish denning that we will start to see them again.
- We have had quite a few sightings of these interesting creatures this last month. We have also managed to locate a den-site that is now active, with cubs. Unfortunately for us this den is situated on top of a rocky ridge and we are not able to get close to it.
- There is another den that is being used that is on the public road between the camp and the airstrip. There are a few youngsters there, including at least one cub that is still black in colour (they are black in colour when first born and only start getting their spots when they are between two and three months old). Fortunately, many of our guests get to see these youngsters when they first arrive or when they depart the lodge. These hyenas are presently using a culvert under the road as a den-site.
- On one occasion we saw a group of hyenas chasing a young male leopard.
- We also saw a clan of hyenas, one morning, that were skulking around the base of a marula tree in which a leopard had hoisted her kill.
- Over the few days that the Kumana male lion was feeding on a zebra there were also at least six hyenas that were seen in the close vicinity, hoping to scavenge from the carcass once the lion had finished with it.
- We have had regular sightings of elephants this last month, although we have not seen any particularly large gatherings. Most of the sightings have been of small breeding herds (up to ten individuals), bachelor herds or lone bulls. We normally see the larger gatherings when water is limited and the herds join up at the remaining water-points. Because of the amount of rainfall that we had last season there is a lot of water all over the park and the elephants have not needed to gather at places such as Gudzani Dam, Dumbana Pool or along the N’wanetsi River. As the temporary, seasonal pans start to dry up we should start to see more elephants coming to the more permanent water-bodies.
- Towards the beginning of the month, we had views of a large herd of buffalos (approximately 300 individuals) in the far northern sections of the area. This herd then crossed the boundary of the concession, into the rest of the park.
- There have been quite a few sightings of bachelor herds (dagha boys) in the area this last month. A group of at least seven bulls have been seen regularly in the vicinity of Double Crossing, where they have been coming to the pool to drink water. There have also been two individuals that have been hanging around the area near Xinkwenyana Crossing. These bulls have been quite grumpy and do not seem to like the presence of the vehicles. Two more bulls have been seen near the N’wanetsi River, at Euphorbia Crossing. Another group of at least three bulls have been seen feeding in the Nhlanguleni valley. They are most likely drinking at Hyena Pan, which is still holding water.
- The general game sightings have been great. We have regularly come across large mixed-species groups (see Coman’s article). We have had regular views of South African giraffes, greater kudus (we have even had quite a few sightings of herds of males, with their long, impressive spiral-shaped horns), common waterbuck, plains zebras, impalas, blue wildebeest and warthogs, amongst others.
- Although the grass is still long and lush it is thinning in places and we have started to see some of the smaller, dwarf antelopes again. We have had a few sightings of klipspringers and Sharpe’s grysbok in the rocky, hilly areas and have been seeing steenbok and common duikers in the grasslands.
- We have had regular sightings of all three of the common primates of the area (chacma baboons, vervet monkeys and thick-tailed bushbabies). The monkeys are often seen around Lebombo and Sweni Lodges, where they can be quite mischievous. Quite a few guests have come down in the mornings and have told us that they saw a fluffy, monkey-like creature on the decks of their rooms at night. Thick-tailed bushbabies are nocturnal primates and it is this animal that they have been seeing on their decks after dark.
Rare animals and other sightings
- There has been a single male sable antelope moving around the north-eastern side of the concession. He has been seen on at least three occasions this last month. Sable antelopes are very impressive creatures with large scythe-like horns that curve over their shoulder. These antelope are beautiful. The males are black, with white bellies and piebald faces. The females are chestnut-brown in colour, with white bellies. Quite a few years ago there used to be a herd of approximately thirty sable antelopes that were seen regularly in the open grasslands near Big-view Hill. One day this herd crossed the border into Mozambique and we have not seen them since. We assume that the male that we have been seeing this last month comes from that herd.
- We have had sightings of all three of the smaller cats that occur in the area this last month (caracal, serval and African wild cat). One morning one of our guides noticed a herd of giraffes staring into the grass. Groups of animals that are all staring in a common direction sometimes give us an indication of the presence of a predator. Upon investigation, they found a relaxed caracal. This is quite unusual as these creatures are usually shy and disappear into the vegetation as soon as they see that there is a vehicle nearby. This particular animal then proceeded to stalk a steenbok. It was not successful in its hunting attempt though. Servals were seen on at least three occasions this last month. Two of those sightings could have been the same individual as they were both seen in the same vicinity, near the granophyre ridge. A single African wild cat was seen one afternoon quite close to camp.
- We have been lucky with African civet sightings this last month. These are nocturnal animals and most of the sightings of these creatures have been on the night drives. Both species of genet (large- and small-spotted) have been seen regularly on the night drives. We usually see the small-spotted genets in the open grassland areas, whereas we see the large-spotted genets in the hilly areas and along the thickly vegetated riverine areas.
- Other interesting sightings include a sighting of a Cape porcupine one night and a sighting of a honey badger one morning. We tend to have more sightings of honey badgers during our winter and spring months, when the grass is shorter (honey badgers are not particularly large and therefore are not easily seen when the grass and bush are thick).
The winter months are not our prime birding months as most of the migrants are gone. This month, however, we did record 163 different species (which is very good for winter). There are a few species of birds that arrive here during our winter months, coming down from the mountains to the west of the park where the temperatures are much colder. These include African stone-chats and red-capped robin-chats. We even had a sighting of an alpine swift (a bird that is more synonymous with mountainous habitats). This last month we started getting GPS co-ordinates for the vulture and raptor nests in the concession. So far, we have found 21 active nests of white-backed vultures, at least one nest of a white-headed vulture and one lappet-faced vulture nest. We have also found three bateleur eagle nests, three nests of tawny eagles and two nests of African fish-eagles. By far the majority of these nests have been in large knobthorn trees (particularly the vulture nests), which shows just how important this particular tree species is to the environment. Since most of the vultures in South Africa are considered to be endangered species, we are very fortunate to have so many nests in the area.
Some of the special or rare birds (species listed in the 2015 Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland) seen in the concession this last month include: white-backed night-heron, saddle-billed stork (including a few sightings of three youngsters in the region of Euphorbia Crossing), secretarybird, Cape vulture, white-backed vulture, hooded vulture, lappet-faced vulture, white-headed vulture, tawny eagle, martial eagle, bateleur eagle, kori bustard, greater painted snipe and southern ground-hornbill. Some birds that are uncommon to the area, that were seen this month, include eastern nicator, trumpeter hornbill, yellow-throated longclaw and African goshawk.