May 2023

Singita Kruger National Park: May 2023

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Singita Kruger National Park: May 2023

We have now come to the end of autumn and winter is about to start. Amazingly, there is still a lot of water in the concession. Normally at this time of the year, the seasonal pans have all dried up, as have all the small streams in the hills. At present, there are still pools in the hills and the Xinkelengane drainage. There are also still patches of green grass in areas of the concession, particularly closer to the drainage lines. The grass in the hills and the basalt plains, however, has turned golden again. The grass is still long and we are expecting that it will be flattened in the next few months.

Every year the Kruger National Park burns approximately 5% of the park, to remove the moribund grass, so that when the electrical storms start in November, we do not get run-away fires that burn hot and may destroy the bushes and trees. The park undertakes these controlled burns during the winter months when there are fewer smaller creatures moving around and when the birds and animals are less likely to be breeding. Two of the blocks in the concession were burned and we are expecting that, when the new green grass comes up in spring, it will attract a lot of grazers into those areas. The smoke from these burns filled the sky and the sunsets during this period were even more awesome and the skies lit up bright crimson. We are expecting to have great game-viewing this winter as we do still have a fair amount of water and grass in the area.

A Sightings Snapshot for May follows:

Lions

The Shishangaan Pride has been seen regularly this last month. The five cubs are growing up quickly. They are estimated to be between three and four months of age and are very cute. Fortunately, this pride has been moving around an area close to camp. One of our guides saw a lioness from the Shishangaan Pride heading up onto the Granophyre Ridge and he thought that he heard young cubs vocalizing from there, so it is possible that there are new cubs in amongst those rocks. If that is the case then we should start seeing them in a few weeks. This last month we have witnessed the Shish lioness feeding on two waterbuck, one wildebeest, and one impala.

The Trichardt males have been seen regularly this last month. They have often been seen in the company of the Shish lionesses and cubs (the Trichardt males are the fathers of the cubs).

Sightings of the Mananga Pride have been quite scarce this last month. We assume that after Xihamham (one of the Shish males) was killed last month by the Trichardt males, the Mananga Pride has been nervous. (Xihamham was one of the dominant males over the Mananga Pride). They are obviously aware that the only remaining Shish lion is quite vulnerable now (to other males who may want to take over the territory). Should new males come into the area all the young members of the Mananga Pride would be at risk of being killed by the new males. In fact, one morning this month the two Trichardt males were seen returning from the area where the Mananga Pride normally resides and we later found the carcass of one of the Mananga sub-adults / juvenile males. We assume that the Trichardt males killed him. For a while we did not see the Mananga Pride at all and then finally they reappeared, coming out of Mozambique. Perhaps they were hiding out there until the conditions stabilized? Towards the end of the month, we saw some of the Mananga lionesses with an unknown adult male.

The Maputo male was found one morning in the central area of the concession. We had not seen this lion for a while before this and assumed that he has been in Mozambique. On the day that we saw him he was limping and did have a few fresh wounds on his back legs. When he got mobile that evening he was roaring loudly. He seems to be more confident now, and by roaring, is obviously trying to establish himself in the area again. Perhaps he knows that Xihamham is now dead and gone? Towards the end of the month we found him again, close to Gudzani Dam. He was lying next to a carcass of a large bull kudu. Since the carcass was almost finished and the lion’s belly was not that full we assumed that he stole the carcass from the Mananga lionesses.

The other Shish male (Xihamham’s coalition partner) was only seen on one occasion this last month. He was seen with one of the Mananga lionesses and they were on the far north-western part of the concession.

Towards the end of the month we came across five unknown young male lions (still with Mohican hair styles – three to four year olds) near the Sticky Thorn thickets. There was also a lioness with them. We were not sure if it was one of the lionesses from the Shish Pride or from Mananga Pride. The lioness was seen mating with one of the males. These male lions are unknown to us and are obviously not from this area as they were quite shy of the vehicle.

Leopards

The Nhlanguleni leopardess and her two female cubs have been seen on numerous occasions this last month. They have mainly been seen in the central area of the concession, near Dudu’s Crossing and Name-Badge Hill. The Nhlanguleni female was seen on one occasion in the north of the concession, quite far away from her normal stomping grounds. On another occasion she was seen near the Sticky Thorn area where she came across an unidentified male, who she chased away. She was also seen on one occasion near Butterfly Crossing, where she once again came across an unknown male. The male was quite interested in her, but she reacted very aggressively towards him and he ran away. Towards the end of the month one of her two youngsters was seen in the same vicinity, near Name-Badge Hill, for a few days. We assumed that the adult had gone off to hunt (leaving the youngster behind) and had obviously not been successful over that period. Early in the month she was found with an impala ram carcass up in a large tree.

The Dumbana Female was seen on quite a few occasions this last month. We had not seen her regularly prior to this as she had given birth to cubs up in the hills near Xidulu Pan. On the afternoon of the 18th we found one of her previous sons (Dumbana 1:1) in the Ntsibitsane drainage line. While we were watching him we saw another leopard dash across the riverbed a little bit further north. It was the Dumbana female. She then came walking down the dry riverbed and passed by her son, whom she hissed at! She then went further south and called a cub from the thick vegetation. Finally, we got to see her new cub. She then headed towards the N’wanetsi River with the cub. Two days later one of the guides found her with an impala carcass in a large leadwood tree. She seemed quite skittish and quickly descended the tree and hid away in a thicket nearby. The next morning her son (Dumbana 1:1) was seen in the tree finishing off the carcass. The next few days we found her in the same area walking around and calling for the cub. The cub did not respond and we are now guessing that the cub may not be alive any more.

We have only seen the young male leopard, known as Dumbana 1:1, a handful of times this last month. He has mainly been seen in the region near the Ntsibitsane Drainage. He and his brother have obviously separated from each other now. This young male was seen feeding on an impala ram in a large tree, which he stole from his mother.

The Dumbana young male (3:3 – brother of 1:1) has also been seen a few times this last month. He has been ranging widely across the concession. On the 5th he was seen feeding on an impala ram near Madagha Crossing.

The Monzo male leopard was seen regularly this last month. He is a large adult male leopard. He has mainly been seen in the area just north of Lebombo Lodge.

The Lebombo male was seen on only one occasion this last month.

We have also had a few sightings of unidentified leopards.

African wild dogs

We only had two sightings of these rare animals this last month. This was not unexpected as the dogs usually den in June / July and their den-sites are often in old aardvark burrows. Since we do not see aardvark here (possibly due to the clay soils that are typical of this area) the dogs do not have great options for dens here.

On the morning of the 13th we found two African wild dogs chasing kudus near the access to the lodges.

On the morning of the 18th a pack of eight or nine dogs (known as the Floppy-eared Pack) were found in the central area of the concession. They were on the hunt and ran up the side of one of the hills and we lost sight of them. On the morning of the 28th we saw this pack again near the Granophyre ridge. They were running, looking for prey, and we soon lost visual of them as they headed through a thickly wooded, rocky area.

Cheetahs

We have had two sightings of cheetah this last month. One was seen on the tar road that leads to the lodge access and the other was seen by one of our guides near Satara Rest Camp while he was on a full-day drive.

Spotted hyenas

We have had quite a few sightings of hyenas this month. Most of these sightings have been of individuals.

In the first week of the month we saw three hyenas feeding on an impala carcass near Xinenene Grasslands. This is an area that the Nhlanguleni Leopard likes to hang out in and we therefore think that the hyenas may have stolen the kill from the leopard.

One morning we came across a spotted hyena that was walking across the open area near the Central Depression. He headed straight to the Xinkelengane drainage where he found the old remains of an impala that a leopard had killed and eaten a few days before. The hyena then proceeded to crunch the bones in order to get to the marrow inside. Hyenas have got extremely strong jaw muscles that enable them to crush bones.

Towards the middle of the month we came across three hyenas resting in the open area at the “N4”. They had very full bellies.

One morning we found an impala carcass in a large leadwood tree. The leopard that had been feeding on the kill had moved away from the tree and a spotted hyena was wandering around the base of the tree hoping that it could find scraps that may have fallen out of the tree.

Elephants

Elephant sightings have been good this month. We are seeing quite a few bachelor and breeding herds (females and young). There has been a particular herd moving through the concession with two cows with very long tusks.

Buffalos

We have had quite a few sightings of dagga boys this month:

There has been a single male buffalo seen in the central depression a few times.

Two other old bulls have been seen loitering around in the Nhlanguleni Valley, particularly close to the Mozambique border, but also near Hyena Pan.

In the middle of the month, four males were seen near the drainage line below Green Apple Hill. They were quite shy of the vehicles and acted aggressively towards the cars.

Plains game

The central depression has provided us with a beautiful sightings of plains game. We have seen a large number of zebras, wildebeest, and giraffes feeding together. The game has spread out from Pony Pan to the Kori clearing south of Two Thekwane. We have seen an increase in the warthog population, these amazing animals have been spotted feeding together with some impalas, and the other plains game in the beautiful grassland in the middle of the concession along the Depression.

Waterbuck and kudu have been seen mainly along the N’wanetsi River from anywhere near the lodge all the way to basalt grassland.

Rare animals and other sightings:

A couple of honey badger sightings have been recorded for May. Most sightings were around Lebombo, we believe we have a pair that lives near the lodge and they have provided us with beautiful sightings on our way back from game drive.

We were also lucky this month with Sharpe’s grysbok sightings, three different sightings were recorded. They live in loose rocky areas and because they are very small we do not see them often.

A sighting of an African wild cat was recorded near the Park Road around the Border Road. The cat was very relaxed with the vehicle. Another relaxed African wild cat was seen near Dave’s Crossing.

The guides also had a few sightings of servals this last month. These are very beautiful cats that look like miniature versions of cheetahs (with bigger ears and a shorter tail).

One night, on the way back to camp, one of our guides had a view of a very relaxed Cape porcupine.

One of the guides was lucky enough to see a pair of common/southern reedbuck in the grasslands near Bejane Road. We very seldom see these antelope in the concession. They tend to prefer more marshy vegetation with long grass.

Birds:

A total of 182 bird species were seen in the concession this last month.

This time of the year most of the migrant birds have left the area, returning to the northern hemisphere. We did, however, see a few birds that were a bit late with departure. These included a sighting of a single barn Swallow, a sighting of a Jacobin cuckoo and a sighting of a woodland kingfisher.

With winter approaching some of the altitudinal migrants have come down to the lowveld from the top of the escarpment (which lies west of the Kruger National Park). These include African stone chats, red-capped robin-chats and African dusky flycatchers.

The following Red Data Species were seen this month (I.U.C.N Red Data List - The letters in brackets behind the species name refer to their status i.e. CR = Critically endangered, E = Endangered, V = Vulnerable, NT = Near-threatened): hooded vulture (CR), white-backed vulture (CR), white-headed vulture (CR), saddle-billed stork (E), lappet-faced vulture (E), tawny eagle (E), martial eagle (E), bateleur (E), southern ground-hornbill (E), black stork (V), great white pelican (V), marabou stork (NT), kori bustard (NT), greater painted snipe (NT) and half-collared kingfisher (NT).

Some other unusual and special birds (to the area) that were seen in May include: goliath heron, woolly-necked stork, African openbill, Ovambo sparrowhawk, peregrine falcon, eastern nicator, yellow-billed oxpecker and mosque swallow.

Jenny Hishin
By Jenny Hishin
Author / Guest Guide