Singita Kruger National Park: August 2023
It seems we have taken that step out of winter, where two jackets and thick blankets with hot water bottles were a necessity of our morning safari, and now the cool morning chill is mild and fresh before the heat starts to set in. We have, however, still had a few misty mornings, where the moisture settles on your eyelashes and highlights all the little spiderwebs in the vegetation which we normally cannot see very easily but now look like Christmas decorations covering the branches, illuminated by the morning sun.
Here’s a Sightings Snapshot for August:
The Shish Pride have been very present for the past month, with the ten cubs seemingly healthy and happy and well-provided for by their mothers. One of the seven lioness was seen mating with the Trichardt males for a few days, however she has since re-joined the rest of the pride. Mid-way through the month one of the females has been more scarce, seen once alone on Neokeng Ridge, so there is the possibility that one more female may be denning as the majority of more recent sightings of the pride has been five or six females, only seven when in close proximity to Neokeng, Ntsibitsane and Xinenene.
The Trichardt males have also been seen regularly. Interestingly there have been multiple sightings further north close to Three-trees and Ntoma, even as far as Double Crossing, where they had an altercation with the Sweni male, leaving him running for his life as they announced their dominance powerfully from the ridge above Mhlangulene-Central Junction. They left their duties of defence for a Shish female on heat a little closer to home, where they stayed for a few days. The males appeared to enjoy the spoils of a meal shared with the Shish Pride in the valleys of Neokeng and Milkberry where they were seen lounging all together for a few days with full bellies. Soon after, the two males were found on a female giraffe carcass in Gumba drainage, where they stayed and gorged themselves for five days before leaving the vultures to come in and finish off the remains.
The Maputo male has been seen in the far northern reaches of the reserve, but with no sign of his new coalition partner. We cannot disregard the fact that his coalition mate is normally more nervous of our safari vehicles, so he may have been in the vicinity but just keeping a safe distance and out of view.
The Mananga Pride have once again been seen, usually within the north-central and west to Gudzane Dam. Their dynamic seem to still be uncertain and scattered, with different numbers of members seen in each sighting. There have been two sightings of a single female mating with both the older Sweni male and the younger N’wanetsi males respectively. A few members of the broken pride were seen finishing off the remains of a wildebeest carcass under the watchful eye of a few hyenas who happily took over when the lionesses moved off.
The Nwanetsi coalition and much older Sweni male have been seen far less this month, with most sightings being of the Sweni male on his own (or in the company of a Mananga lioness), without the younger N’wanetsi males accompanying him.
The Dumbana female leopard has provided a handful of sightings. This beautiful girl killed a young kudu, and after feeding for a while managed to tree it. Feeding on the carcass in the safety of the branches of a small Jackalberry, on the banks on the Xinkelengane drainage, she was able to eat the entire kill without disruption.
The Dumbana 3:3 young male has once again been a consistent part of the guests’ safari experience while at Singita Kruger National Park. This male has been successful in the food department, with most sightings of him being sleeping with a seemingly full belly, however, only once, was he actually seen feeding, on yet another baboon carcass.
The Mhlangulene female leopard has been sighted four times this month, and only one of her two daughters has been identified. They are at the age where they would be becoming independent, and could be moving further from their natal area.
The Mondzo male leopard has been seen regularly doing his territorial patrols along the N’wanetsi River, often seen from the lodge all the way north, following the river all the way out at Park Road Crossing. He is starting to resemble his older territorial neighbour, with a gouge of skin taken off of the bridge of his nose, but higher up on his face than the similar scar on the Lebombo male.
The older, and more scarred Lebombo male has been identified twice this month, once on Sisal Line south of the N’wanetsi concrete crossing, where he finished off an impala carcass before lounging on the banks of the river to rest. With a full belly, he took advantage of the cooler morning to conduct a territorial patrol along the thick vegetation along the river bank, much to the dismay of multiple impala which all started alarm calling as they spotted him moving.
There have been no confirmed sightings of the Pelajumbo and Mbiri Mbiri males this month.
Multiple young individuals have been seen this month, with sightings being brief and so making identification impossible, or of individuals that we have not yet identified.
There was one female cheetah located within the concession during the month, as well as a few that were regularly seen on the H6 while transporting guests to and from the Satara Airstrip.
There have been eight sightings of African wild dogs this month. On two occasions the Floppy Ear Pack were seen, and the rest of the sighting were of four, three or one single individual. We have predominantly been seeing the packs in the central section of the reserve, from Sticky Thorn Quarry to Mondzo Pan and Ntsibitsane, but tracks have been found further east into the ridges of Neokeng and Sisal. We are not sure if the smaller groups we have been seeing are members of the Floppy Ear Pack or are members of a different pack.
At one sighting when the whole pack was present, the dogs had visibly made a kill with blood on their fur, but seemed uneasy and apprehensive, even growling and alarm calling towards the thickets alongside the Ntsibitsane Drainage. After some investigation, the source of their displeasure was discovered to be one of the Shish lionesses feeding on the remains of what appeared to be the dogs’ hard-earned impala kill.
Although we do have numerous sightings of hyenas, they are often of single individuals moving swiftly past with food to find, and predators to harass. Most commonly, when a leopard or lion have a kill or the wild dogs are around they may be seen during the daylight hours, but besides these instances, they will most commonly be seen as the evening sets in.
The hyenas were most excited about the carcass left abandoned by the Trichardt males, but with immense fear and respect for male lions, and were only seen in the area once the lions had moved off.
In the early mornings, when it is still cool, the elephants seem to be up in the higher ridges of the Lebombo Mountains, coming down as the day progresses to seek out water in the N’wanetsi River or the pools in various drainage lines further north in the reserve.
There have been many sightings of herds, with many youngsters and babies following their knowledgeable mothers from water to food resources as the day progresses. Coming to the end of the winter months, our dry season, the food quality will slowly be depleted and water becomes more scarce by the day, and so a matriarch who can lead her family to the resources they need is so vital for herd survival. There is also much more evidence more recently of trees being pushed over to gain access to the roots, where nutrients are often stored during the harsher conditions of the dry season.
We have had three sightings of possibly the same single buffalo bull moving gradually south along the Xingkelengane Drainage. The last lone buffalo bull seen hanging around in this area was soon seen being fed upon by the Mananga Pride, so we will wait patiently to see the fate of this brave loner.
Although the vegetation has become visibly sparse, the general game and herbivores seen around the reserve area has remained impressive. With large tracts of land having been burnt with the fires during this dry season, many grazers have been attracted to the bright green grass stalks which emerged in the recently burnt areas, even browsers are starting to frequent these areas as the trees that, until now, were covered by dried and shrivelled leaves are starting to push out their new leaf growth.
The burnt areas have made spotting the smaller antelope like steenbok much easier, but knowing they are exposed and vulnerable with little vegetation in those burnt areas means they do not stick around for too long before dashing off to seek cover.
Rare animals and other sightings
In the shorter and more sparse grasses, spotting some of the smaller, nocturnal creatures has been made easier. Genet, civet and honey badgers have been seen more often, with one young honey badger unfortunately seen injured one night and found dead the next morning. Luckily nothing here goes to waste, so first a bateleur was seen feeding on the carcass, and after a few days it was gone.
Individual female greater painted snipes have been seen in the N’wanetsi. Interestingly, compared to other birds, the female of this species is actually more colourful, with a deep chestnut plumage around the neck and a bright white collar. The males, in comparison are much duller and more well camouflaged, due to the breeding system of the species. Being polyandrous, as described in the journal last month, these females mate with multiple males (where possible) and the males are the ones who care for the offspring, once she has laid her eggs in his nest. He should therefore be more camouflaged since it is his responsibility to incubate the eggs. In this area however, she may be forced into monogamy in the absence of other male partners.
A barred owlet has been seen and heard a few times, which is exciting because more often the pearl-spotted owlet is seen and, although they may appear similar, their calls are very distinct.
A large collection of vultures flocked to the area around Gumba Drainage where the two Trichardt male lions had a giraffe carcass that they fed on for five days. A variety of vultures could be seen in all the trees in the vicinity, all waiting patiently for the lions to lose interest in their kill and leave the scraps to the clean-up crew. As over-whelming as the smell had been while the lions protected their quarry, the moment the vultures flocked in, the smell seemed to lift within a day, a testament to their ability to clean the bones of meat where larger predators are unable.