Kruger National Park
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. 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 are starting to get new leaves. Winter is not 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:
The Shish Pride has formed the bulk of our lion sightings this month and has been viewed regularly in an area just to the north and west of the lodges. It seems as though the original five cubs (six months old) and the other three cubs (three months old) have been permanently moved away from their den sites found along the granophyre ridges east of Lebombo. On the morning of the 26th, the pride introduced us to two more additions, taking the total of cubs to 10. The pride has been found on a few kills this month and is thriving with the two Trichardt males.
The Trichardt males have been spending the majority of their time with the Shish Pride and have therefore been keeping a large presence in the southern parts of their territory. They have pushed up to the central parts of the concession but only for a day or two at a time before making their way straight back south. These males have come into their own and are probably in the best physical condition they have ever been in. One standout sighting from the month was when the males had caught wind of the Mananga Pride and we watched as these males intently trailed the pride's scent until they eventually gained sight of the lionesses moving swiftly out of the area. The males closed the gap on the pride and managed to sneak up on the oldest lioness who was struggling to keep up with the rest. The males attacked her repeatedly but fortunately, she submitted immediately and the attacks weren’t as harmful as initially appeared. The scuffle ended and they all settled down only a few meters apart from one another.
The Maputo male and his new coalition partner, who have now collectively been named the Maputo coalition, have been seen on a few occasions in the north-central and north-western parts of the concession. They seem set on taking over this large vacant territory which comes with access to the Mananga Pride. They have often been heard vocalizing in response to the calls of the larger N’wanetsi male coalition and were observed one morning trailing and chasing four of the N’wanetsi males in the very far northern reaches of the concession.
The Mananga Pride was seen several times throughout the month although in various portions of differing compositions. The coalition dynamics in the north between the Maputo males and N’wanetsi males have had this pride split up and on the run for some time now and we think it will still be some time before things settle down again for this pride. A very welcome surprise however came one morning when 14 members were found together (the largest portion we’ve seen for a few months) along with the last surviving Shish male! The guiding team had all thought he had either disappeared out of the area for good or had been killed and so it was great to see him again looking in fairly good condition as well.
The coalition of six who we have managed to identify as five members of the N’wanetsi Pride and a much older male who is the last surviving Sweni male have kept a continuous presence in the north-western sections of the concession. They are often heard vocalizing in the north or just to the west of the concession and when found are normally around Gudzane Dam. The young males seem to be growing in confidence day by day and we have seen one of the N’wanetsi males and the Sweni male mating with lionesses from the Mananga Pride. They do however seem to be down to only five members now as the last few sightings towards the end of the month have only consisted of four young N’wanetsi males and the Sweni male.
On the morning of the 23rd, seven members from the Mananga Pride and the old Sweni male were found feeding on a large giraffe bull carcass. That afternoon, the Maputo coalition chased all eight off and fed on the carcass. The next morning, four of the Mananga lionesses were together with the Maputo coalition feeding on the carcass and continued to do so for the rest of the day. The following morning the Sweni male and four younger N’wanetsi males were feeding on the carcass with a further four large unknown male lions further south of their position.
What happened next was incredible – with the old Sweni male having already moved off to digest his meal, the four larger males chased the four younger N’wanetsi males off the carcass and continued to do so for a few kilometres. After everything had settled down, we returned to find the old Sweni male feeding on the carcass. Having located the two Trichardt males earlier in the day, that took the total of male lions for the morning to 11. A fantastic morning safari!
The Dumbana 3:3 young male has continued to be our most viewed leopard with the majority of the sightings of this young male occurring around Pony Pan and the central depression to Green Apple Hill. He has been found on two separate baboon kills and is growing rapidly in both size and confidence. We viewed this male encounter and ‘tree’ the Mhlangulene female leopard and one of her daughters and witnessed very interesting behaviour when he scent-marked and vocalized at the base of the tree that the two female leopards were in. It is only a matter of time before he’ll most likely move off for good but we are certainly enjoying still having him around. We didn’t see the Dumbana 1:1 male at all during the month and it is safe to say that he has opted for a different path to that of his brothers and has dispersed away from the concession.
The Mhlangulene female and her two daughters featured occasionally this month, and provided quality viewing when they did. The daughters are at the age of imminent independence and sightings of one or the other young females on their own are increasing. On the evenings of the 29th and 30th, the Mhlangulene female was found mating with the Pelajumbo male, further evidence indicating that she is preparing her daughters for independence. Mhlangulene is still however providing meals for her offspring and we can only hope that both young females continue to thrive and eventually set up a territory of their own within the concession.
The impressive Monzo male leopard was sighted on four occasions this month all of which consisted of viewing the large male patrolling and scent marking through his territory along the N’wanetsi River.
The Lebombo and Pelajumbo males were viewed on one and two occasions respectively during the month and there were no sightings of the Mbiri Mbiri male.
Quite a few sightings were had of unidentified or unknown leopards this month. Most of these sightings were of relaxed young females in the north-western parts of the concession. Guides have photographed these individuals and are working on identifying them.
The Floppy Ear Pack was located on three separate occasions during the month. The dry winter months, when the grass is short and hunting conditions are at their best, is when wild dogs have their pups. We suspect that they could be denning somewhere in Mozambique as they always come in from the east.
There were numerous sightings of these highly intelligent and often misunderstood predators. Most sightings were of lone individuals as they began their nightime hunting escapades, but family groups or clans were also seen. Spotted hyenas are excellent hunters as well as scavengers and they seem to be in the perfect place when any opportunity arises. Very similar to June, the clan often seen around Ostrich Link Open Area and the Ntsibitsane drainage system, managed to steal an impala carcass from the Floppy Ear Pack of wild dogs.
There was also great viewing around the giraffe carcass once all the lions had left the area. Together with a multitude of various vulture species and some black-backed jackals, they fed on and finished off the carcass, justifying their importance in keeping the ecosystem clean and healthy.
Elephant sightings have been incredible and they have been seen every day of the month, barring one. Multiple breeding herds attended by impressive large mature bulls were viewed throughout the concession. During the cooler months, the breeding herds ascend onto the ridges in the evenings – this is due to the fact that the cold air sinks into the valleys and grasslands and they can become very cold. It was a common sight on early morning safaris to view the breeding herds on top of the ridges as they went about their foraging. As the sun got higher in the sky and the low-lying areas warmed up, they descended the ridges and continued feeding in the grasslands.
Depending on the season, elephants will change their diet accordingly. During the wet summer months when the grasses are green and lush, they graze more and will feed on grasses. During the cooler winter months, when the grasses die back and the nutrients go back into the roots, they change their diet and tend to browse more and feed on trees, shrubs, and forest foliage. Elephants are bulk feeders and will feed on just about any available vegetation.
Buffalo viewing has once again been excellent this month with two very large herds, one of +/- 500 and the other +/- 800, being viewed. Other smaller herds as well as the occasional single older bull were also seen. Buffalos plays a vital role in maintaining the health of open grasslands as they continue with their constant march in search of the best grazing. The urine and dung of these animals act as natural manure or fertilizer and return vital minerals and nutrients to the soil. The larger herds were concentrated around the basalt grasslands in the central and western parts of the concession.
There is always excitement in the air when you view these large herds of buffalo as there is a good chance a pride of lions could be trailing them. The Mananga Pride was seen following buffalo on several occasions and they managed to bring one individual down on the 12th. The old Sweni male and the four N’wanetsi youngsters were also seen trailing the herds, and the two Trichardt males were found feeding on an old cow on the 19th.
The concession has once again been teeming with the general game. The N’wanetsi River is always packed with herds of impala, waterbuck, and giraffe while the occasional herd of nyala and lone bushbuck are seen when driving alongside the river on an afternoon safari. Further north in the central depression, plenty of plains zebra and blue wildebeest are spread out in the open clearings.
Large bachelor herds of impressive kudu bulls can be seen on the ridges as they go about their daily foraging escapades. Due to the unseasonal winter rains, there are a lot of puddles of water spread out within the concession and the water-dependent animals do not have to travel large distances to quench their thirst.
There have also been great views of the smaller antelope – steenbok, klipspringer, and Sharpe’s grysbok.
Rare animals and other sightings
There were a lot of sightings of the smaller nocturnal animals. African wild cats were seen on a few occasions as well as porcupines and small and large spotted genets. Just for interest, the easiest way to differentiate between the two is to look at the tip of the tale – the large spotted has a black tip and the small spotted has a white tip. A very relaxed civet was seen often on the road that takes you up to the lodges, this road aptly named Civet.
A capped wheatear was seen at the beginning of the month at Cassia Clearings. This is not a common bird for the area and there was a lot of excitement when this bird was found and identified.
A black-chested snake eagle was seen on a few occasions. While not uncommon, we don’t see these birds that often on the concession. As per their name, these birds specialize in hunting smaller snakes but have been seen feeding on large cobras. They also feed on lizards, frogs, rodents, and insects and have even been known to kill and eat fish. They hunt by soaring or hovering on winnowing wings. Attacks can take place from up to 450 meters away, but the bird often descends in stages before plunging feet first onto prey. By using their strong powerful feet, they strike their intended victim behind the head which crushes the skull. Snakes are swallowed whole while other food items are stored in the crop.
A female greater painted snipe was seen on a few occasions. These birds are one of the few species found in southern Africa that are polyandrous which is the opposite of polygynous. This means that the female will lay a clutch of eggs and does nothing further. All the incubation and raising of the chicks is the responsibility of the male. Other notable birds that practice this are the African jacana and the common buttonquail.