Singita Sabi Sand: September 2023
In the heart of the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve, September ushers in a symphony of life as migratory birds return to their ancestral grounds. With the dawn chorus birdsong resonates through the air - the brash notes of the lilac-breasted roller, the echoing call of the African fish eagle, and the cheerful chirping of red-billed queleas all contribute to the wilderness soundtrack. As the days lengthen and the sun's warmth envelops the landscape, the once-quiet wilderness transforms into a vibrant tapestry of sounds, sights, and scents. September's fragrant breeze carries hints of earthy petrichor, intermingled with the sweet scent of flowering marula trees, promising a rich harvest to come. At dusk, the fiery hues of a magnificent African sunset paint the sky, casting a warm, amber glow over the landscape, bidding farewell to another captivating day at Singita Sabi Sand.
Sightings with these majestic pachyderms are cherished, for soon some will embark on a journey eastward to the lush grasslands of Kruger Park’s eastern reaches.
In the heart of the wooded savanna, where the trumpets of elephants echo through the trees, we’ve been treated to awe-inspiring encounters. Even when these gentle giants are hidden from view, their resonant trumpeting reverberates, reminding us of their presence.
As the ebony trees shed their tired leaves, vibrant red foliage emerges, enticing the elephants to browse.
On scorching spring days, the Sand River undergoes a transformation, shifting from crystal clarity to a murky hue, as various elephant families converge to quench their thirst and bathe.
As the bushveld welcomes the gradual return of lush green grass, the buffalo heave a collective sigh of relief, their condition steadily improving with each mouthful.
In this corner of the wilderness, the pressure they’ve endured from multiple lion prides has reached unprecedented levels.
A herd roams along the seep lines in the north, while another massive gathering, numbering over 500 strong, grazes upon the abundant grasslands in the south.
Amidst heightened lion activity in the region, the rare glimpses of a male cheetah in the south are nothing short of remarkable. A recent highlight unfolded as we watched this solitary cheetah, silhouetted against the setting sun, claim his hard-earned prize: an adult impala ram in the southern grasslands. In a rare turn of events, the cheetah devoured its prey without disturbance.
Stable cheetah sightings like these allow our vehicles to linger, ensuring everyone has ample time to marvel at this magnificent feline without any time constraints. For the patient observer, there’s even the tantalizing prospect of hyenas, lions, or leopards attempting to steal the speedster’s meal.
African wild dogs
This month has graced us not only with the presence of one but two packs of wild dogs. Adrenaline coursed through the air as these social predators traversed vast expanses, hoping to flush out elusive prey.
The Toulon Pack, a formidable group of 17, made its debut, leaving us in awe of their remarkable teamwork. In one extraordinary sighting, the Toulon Pack united to repel three spotted hyenas that had pilfered an impala from three pack members in hot pursuit.
The month of September ushered in so many sightings of leopards that it felt straight out of a fable!
A standout sighting was of the Hlambela male leopard feasting amidst the branches of a flowering sausage tree along the Sand River. These trees, adorned with appetizing flowers, draw impala to their base as the blossoms fall to the ground. It’s suspected that the leopard lay in ambush among the bushman’s fever tea bush before sealing the fate of an impala ewe.
The Sand River unveiled another captivating leopard spectacle, downstream from Boulders Lodge. The Nkuhuma lioness and her sub-adult companions were spotted devouring a buffalo in the granite-riddled riverbed. It’s believed they scavenged the already lifeless prey. But they weren’t alone in seeking an easy meal. Three different leopards roamed the area throughout the day. The Schotia female seized her opportunity in a russet bushwillow tree, while the Hlambela male found himself perched high in a matumi tree, trapped in the middle of the river as two young lions waited below. He managed to escape unscathed. To the west, near the lodges, the rasping call of a leopard echoed, leading us to the Thamba male, who made a beeline for the buffalo carcass shortly after sunset.
This wasn’t the only time we witnessed the Thamba male’s dramatic entrance. One evening, as we watched the Xmobonyana female hoisting a piece of impala she’d managed to steal back from a hyena, Thamba arrived on the scene. His interest lay not in the kill but in the young female. When she descended from the tree, he gave chase into the enveloping darkness of the night.
With an abundance of large prey in the vicinity, the prides have been spoiled for choice.
In the north, guests were treated to the thrilling sight of 11 members of the Nkuhuma Pride making relentless attempts to bring down a buffalo herd near Ingrid’s Dam.
The very next day, the Ntsevu sub-adults trailed the same herd at Tom’s Dam. These five lions are in excellent condition, their manes gradually taking shape. Yet, they remain cautious about venturing further west after a run-in with the Plains Camp males, who chased them away from a buffalo kill earlier in the month. These two males have formed a close bond with the Ximungwe lionesses, who now have a litter of their own.
Among the Mhangeni Pride, one of the five lionesses has been sporadically absent from the pride. She is one of the two older females, and it’s suspected that she may have her own litter of cubs hidden away. This would mean that all five lionesses have cubs, marking a triumphant year for a pride that has roamed Singita for over 15 years. These lionesses have enjoyed remarkable hunting success, securing several buffalo and zebra kills this month alone.
We’ve located a new hyena den, where it appears only one adult and at least one very young cub reside. We exercise patience and give them space, especially since the cub couldn’t be older than two weeks and remains shy.
During this time of year, it’s not uncommon to encounter nocturnal animals active during daylight hours. Some of these rare daytime sightings include honey badgers and servals. We’ve recorded at least 12 honey badger sightings this month, a testament to the changing seasons.
Another exceptional encounter worth mentioning is the discovery of a pangolin in the west during an afternoon drive.
The bird list for September includes three new species, bringing our yearly total to 267.