Singita Sabi Sand: February 2023
As if a switch were flipped, February announced itself with some of the most unforgettable downpours of rain. What an incredible display of power from Mother Nature, as we have already received over half our annual rainfall in the shortest month of the year! The Sand River has swollen to its full capacity and can even be heard rushing down the river valley while the small seasonal tributaries gently feed the mighty river. The rains have revived our energy for the journey that lies ahead. Our wild counterparts are also appreciating the welcome relief after a hot and tiring January, and wet paws and muddy hooves are accepted as the norm while going about their daily routine. The sounds of the cycads are now drowned out by the chorus of frogs as seasonal pans are overflowing with life. Rain is truly the lifeblood of the natural world.
Here’s a snapshot of the month’s sightings:
Marula fruits are becoming very difficult to find as they are eaten up as quickly as they hit the ground. The fruiting season has come to an end but the smooth transition in feeding behaviour from the sweet fruits to the fibrous, palatable grasses has kept large herds of elephants within our traversing area of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Their diet will consist mostly of grass from now and for the next few months as we expect persistent rain to fall up until early winter.
Over the last year we have certainly had some of the best quality and regular viewing of healthy numbers of buffalos in the south. This month was no different with numerous sightings of herds close to a thousand. Their presence is evident as deep hoof prints can be seen throughout the grasslands in the soft, black cotton soil and the grasses have been eaten down to carpet length. For many species of grasses regular grazing promotes growth of the leaves while the large amounts of dung is valuable fertiliser. However, so many bellowing bovines does not go unnoticed and has captured the attention of a few lion prides. Moving in big numbers has proved very effective in protecting the weak and vulnerable but on a few occasions the lions have come away with their desired reward.
The Mhangene Pride has slowly been pushing north and has been sighted as far up as our airstrip. As the members grow in confidence so they expand their territory. We have had it on a few occasions where some members have been seen by themselves, possibly scoping out suitable denning areas as we expect a number of lionesses to give birth soon.
The Talamati Pride have had great success close to Ebony and Boulders Lodges with them using the rainy conditions to hunt a young wildebeest and an adult waterbuck bull that was caught right outside the shop between the two lodges. The five adult lionesses finished off the four-hundred-pound antelope within the night.
With the abundance of buffalo in the south the lions are not having to go too far to find a hunting opportunity. The Plains Camp male lions were viewed successfully hunting a buffalo calf just after dusk. Out of desperation the herd came back to drive off the predators, but unfortunately the calf did not manage to survive and fell to the ground. A truly emotional sighting.
The Nkuhuma breakaway lioness and her two sub-adults have been doing their best to avoid conflict with the bigger prides in the area. On one afternoon the two youngsters were chased by the Mhangene females while their mother was off hunting. Luckily, no lions were harmed in the process. She managed to bring down a kudu bull along the river that fed them for a few days and gave our guests fantastic viewing in a beautiful setting.
With every sighting of the Nkuwa female we eagerly await the first appearance of her cubs. With so much dense vegetation growth the conditions are ideal for keeping her cubs concealed.
It looks like the Tsutsuma female is finding a small area she can call her own. She is proving to be a regularly viewed leopard, going against her name, which means to “run”, as she has settled down in the presence of vehicles. Being sensitive in how we view leopards and all wildlife has a positive long-term impact on game viewing in our area.
On one particularly rainy day the Ntoma female was sighted off the old railway in the south with a hoisted kill. This leopard, daughter of the Mobeni female, is best viewed from a distance as she is nervous of vehicles at close quarters. This approach meant we could view her without disturbing her. Another sighting revealed that she too has suckle marks, this is exciting news and we look forward to bringing you further updates on her and her offspring.
The Schotia female is favouring the woodlands in the west of our traversing area and with all the rain she has been taking to the trees to rest out of the wet grass. A leopard in a tree is a sighting synonymous with Sabi Sand.
Finally, after a few weeks without a pack being sighted we have had multiple sightings of a pack of eight on Singita. Cool days are great conditions to watch wild dogs as they usually stay active for longer. This offers a chance for our guests to observe them interacting with one another and then as they set off on their daily hunt. After long periods of not seeing them, we really appreciate our time with these endangered predators.
The hyena den off July East Road has been active after several months of no activity. Hyenas will move between different dens in their territory to raise their cubs. At this den we have seen four cubs of two different ages. This is an ideal opportunity to introduce our guests to hyenas which get an undeserved negative reputation because of some films. Their comical antics at the den often puts a smile on our faces and the cubs are just so cute!
We witnessed something that may only happen every two to three years for an individual which is that of giraffe mating. This can be a long process as the female steadies herself for the mounting of the male, which does not always happen successfully first time. Even for some of the most seasoned safari goers this is something not often seen.
At Giraffe Pan, in the south, a pair of Egyptian geese have been raising their goslings. What makes this so amazing is the lengths the parents have gone to in order to keep the little ones safe. We have seen the mother with her goslings in the pan while large numbers of buffalo bath and drink.
Although not witnessed by our guests in the flesh, we recorded an extraordinary capture on one of our motion sensitive trail cameras of a striped pole-cat. This is only the second record of this secretive, nocturnal insectivore on Singita Sabi Sand. Weighing only about two-pounds this busy, skunk-like mammal is extremely elusive. Another fascinating trail camera record was that of a small-spotted genet, distinguished by its white tipped tail. This was a great sight as large-spotted genets make up the majority of our nocturnal sightings.
The bird list for February includes 48 new species, bringing our yearly total to 225. Special bird species: purple heron, black-crowned night heron, white-backed duck, marsh sandpiper, dusky lark, icterine warbler, Eurasian hobby and African pygmy kingfisher.