Singita Sabi Sand: July 2023
As we sit and observe our surroundings, gazing into the vast wilderness, our view is filled with a kaleidoscope of hues. From oranges to greens which are met by massive shades of blue, this July our environment is different to ones we have experienced before. Two inches of rain have surprised us and brought an early onset of new growth. Regenerative controlled burns paint strips with warm reds and charcoal. The unpredictable nature of wilderness exploring was not limited to wildlife encounters but also seen in weather patterns this month, from snow-capped peaks to blustery hot winter days.
Wild dogs deserve to take the top spot on our overview this month. After two years the Othawa Pack has returned to once again den in the secluded woodlands to the north of the Sand River. It appears that two females have given birth, the alpha and beta females, 24 pups in total! This is not only a major moment for this pack but wild dog numbers in the park. The adults have been highly successful in hunting and providing for the pack over the last two months and have left all guests smiling from ear to ear. Let’s hope they can continue to thrive over the next crucial weeks of their life.
With the dry season well under way herds have been feeding mainly in the wooded sections of the reserve. Here they target roots of the trees where nutrient reserves are kept. A meander through this habitat often shows evidence of their presence where broken branches and uprooted trees litter the track. In some parts of the reserve there are still some stands of grass which never go unnoticed and are swiftly collected and then devoured.
Cheetah sightings have been hard earned but provide a fantastic experience for guests as with time and dedication our guide and tracker teams have managed to find what is considered the most scarce of the three big cats in the Sabi Sand. It appears there are two different male cheetahs in our region. Both are still in their early stages of independence and seem to be figuring out a territory for themselves. The open areas in the south and scattered throughout the reserve have been first choice for them. On one occasion one of them has been seen as far north as Makalashi Clearing to the north of the Sand River.
The Mhangene Pride has two new members. One of the older lionesses has been seen with cubs on Tuvangumi koppies. We estimate them to be not even one month of age. It will be at least another month until they are introduced to the rest of the pride which has been doing well over recent weeks, with numerous substantial prey items hunted.
While the Mhangene lionesses have secured central Singita as their own, the Nkuhuma lioness and her two sub-adults have had to shift further east along the Sand River, close to the Mobeni confluence. They had a close run in with the larger Mhangene pride one morning, fortunately managing to dash to cover and escape. The sub-adults are approaching two years of age and for the young male time is ticking ever near to his day of independence. This is the true test for any young male lion.
To the west the Ximungwe lionesses have been with both the Plains Camp male lions as well as the lone Tumbela male. This is a clear strategic move from these two females as they have mated with both Plains Camp males. By spending time with the Tumbela male he may be under the impression he is the father of the future cubs and will therefore ensure their protection.
The Plains Camp lions have been spending lots of time to the west of Singita in a bid to oust the last remaining male in that area. The Nkuhuma male is now far south of Singita trailing herds of buffalo. In this same area the five Ntsevu breakaways lions, four males and one female, which have been focused mainly on the buffalo herds.
It is now clear that the Schotia female has lost her cub. We have seen her feeding by herself a number of times. We suspect that hyenas may have been responsible for the cub’s early demise as Schotia was seen with a kill and her cub some distance away trying its best to join up with its mother. We expect her to come into heat again in the next few weeks, hopefully she will have a turn of good fortune with her next litter.
The Mobeni female has made a number of appearances just after sunset, close to Boulders Lodge. This can be a thrilling way to end off a drive by rounding the corner to see her silhouette in the spotlight.
In the eastern parts of the reserve the Nkuwa female has been hard at work putting everything she has into raising her two cubs. She has been keeping them in the river valley, choosing one of the densest areas for this time of year, a wise choice from this young mother. It seems both cubs have become well accustomed to vehicles which is a major positive from a wildlife viewing point of view.
There is a new cat on the block! To the west of our lodges along the scenic Sand River, a new female leopard has been seen a few times. Shy at first, she soon settles down with some sensitive guiding. It is unclear exactly who this leopard is but exciting to have her around. Although this part of the reserve is claimed by the Schotia female, to the north of the river there is very little evidence of much female activity - perhaps this may be her future territory?
With the sun rising a little later this time of year getting to the deck before daybreak is more achievable, and can be rewarding. Sitting at the fire bowl at Boulders Lodge we were treated to a special sighting of a Cape clawless otter fishing among the rapids. The gentle clear waters this time of year means prey items such as fish and molluscs are all on the menu.
Night time viewing can have its challenges but with recent controlled burns taking place it has meant greater visibility in what is usually a denser area. We have recorded civets and many large spotted genets taking advantage of these feeding opportunities in these areas.
The alarm call of monkeys often gets us thinking of leopards on the prowl but on one such occasion they alerted us to another predator. On closer inspection Louis spotted a giant eagle owl with a freshly captured vervet monkey! This certainly was a rare sighting. Typically, their diet would consist of birds, so a monkey is definitely on the large end of the scale of its diet.
The Sand River near Pios Crossing has harboured a number of large Nile crocodiles making the most of what may be the deepest section of the river for some distance. There have been two different sightings of crocodiles with impala kills. Guests witnessed a massive individual, over 12 foot in length, swim right past the Ebony deck with its prized kill in its jaws. The action does not stop once you’re out the vehicle. The elevated suites of Ebony Lodge are perfect for midday viewing between drives.
The bird list for July includes five new species, bringing our yearly total to 262. A special sighting was a flock of 23 greater white pelicans flying towards the Kruger National Park ,on the 24th July.