Singita Kruger National Park: November 2023
November has been a month of contrasts within the Kruger National Park. What started as a rather cool and very rainy month has turned into the typical sweltering hot savannah summer. With almost two consecutive weeks of over 40˚C (104 ˚F) much of the new green flush is turning yellow, and mud wallows have become the main hub of activity in the weight of the dense hot air.
The woodland kingfishers and red-chested cuckoos fill the natural silence, and when they take a break the cicadas take over – it’s the familiar sound of summer lulling us into a midday siesta. The impala lambing season is now in full swing with hundreds of delightful, bug-eyed, longed-legged lambs taking their first steps.
Here’s a Sightings Snapshot for November:
With the onset of the rains, sightings of the Shish Pride have been irregular. They spent a good portion of the beginning of the month in the west of our concession near the Dumbana Drainage. The limping female, one of her younger sisters, and their five most recent cubs were seen on the rocky ridges in the southwest until one afternoon when they felt it was time to introduce the newest members to the rest of the pride.
Since then, sightings of the Shish Pride have been a jaw-dropping experience of a total of 24 lions when the Trichardt males are in attendance. Towards the end of the month, the Shish Pride had moved back east around the granophyre in the Lebombo mountains.
The Trichardt males are proving to be serious about taking over Mananga Pride territory and sightings of them this month have ranged from far south to north, both in the concession, as well as into the Mananga trails area west of the S41. They had separated at the beginning of the month with one male patrolling the south and the other following the Mananga Pride in the north of our concession, until meeting again to check up on the Shish Pride. They must keep tabs on this pride as the 15 cubs are still vulnerable to any intruding males.
Maputu and Xai Xai lions were seen in the northern reaches around Ingwe/Nkayanini south, both looking well fed and in good condition.
The Mananga Pride has yet to settle after the death of Xihamham and the pride remains separated into a group of adult females, with whom the Trichardt male has been mating; and a group of subadult males and females, who are trying to avoid the Trichardt males after their last encounter. Fortunately for the maturing young males, the Trichardt males do not seem to feel threatened enough to eliminate the youngsters, but rather just keep them away from the main portion of the pride.
An unknown pride of seven females, one subadult male and one adult male were seen this month near the western region of our concession. They are most likely from an area in Kruger or even Mozambique with few roads and/or vehicles, as they appeared to be shy and kept their distance from us, reiterating the fact of just how wild and isolated a wilderness area we are privileged to work in.
At least nine different leopards were seen this month, including an unnamed male that is slowly becoming more of a regular character seen in the western basalt plains around Mangwa, Nuthlwa, and the N4.
Nhlanguleni female has been active between the valley around Nhlanguleni and Ntoma/Three-trees and on the 7th of November one of our guides was fortunate enough to see her carrying one tiny cub up the rocky ridge north of the Nhlanguleni drainage. It was still very young, possibly only a week or two old, and we do not know if there are more, but we can assume that the den-site is near there.
Since their return, the Dumbana brothers have once again stolen the spotlight and incredulously returned to their old territories and habits. Dumbana 3:3 is still hunting baboons along the river and Dumbana 1:1, rivalling his brother’s ferocity, was seen feeding on an impala ewe in the middle of this month.
Both Nhlanguleni’s previous female cubs have been seen this month, one near the central depression and the other more east in the Lebombo mountains, stalking the new impala lambs.
Monzo has been sighted on his regular patrol along the N’wanetsi River and stalking nyalas just outside the lodges.
One female was sighted this month in the central depression.
There were five sightings of wild dogs this month. The Floppy-Ear Pack is doing well with at least eight pups having survived their first few months. Another pack with an individual with a split in his ear was seen for a few days on the H6 near the S37 and, as expected during the impala lambing season, more dogs were seen hunting these new and vulnerable impalas in the central areas of our concession.
Individuals from the three prominent clans have been seen throughout the concession this month. Most sightings were of one or two animals following other predators, for example the Shish Pride; and individual hyenas waiting at the base of trees for carcasses hoisted by leopards to fall.
A large herd has been moving back and forth across the H6 near Sonop Waterhole and an old, injured bull has taken refuge amongst the tall trees and shrubs along the N’wanetsi River near Euphorbia Crossing, managing to evade the lions the entire month!
With sightings of breeding herds and large solitary bulls every day this month, there has been no shortage of elephants. Perhaps due to the large tracts of land that were burnt earlier this year, the elephants appear to have spread the word, and around every corner, one can find them tucking into the new sweet grasses.
The basalt plains have been host to congregations of breeding herds numbering up to 150 elephants.
One particular herd that has been moving through the concession has a dwarf female, recognizable by her adult-sized head and body but very short legs.
Now that the grass has had time to grow, the zebra and wildebeest herds are moving from the previously burnt areas in the mountains to the nutritious and open plains in the west. Some days over 300 zebras have been seen together.
Waterbuck are abundant along the N’wanetsi River and near the Gudzane Dam.
Most of the impala ewes have given birth with nurseries of lambs starting to form.
Baboons, monkeys, and even the giraffe have given birth, taking advantage of this time of plenty. Young baby monkeys can be seen clinging onto their mothers’ chests as they forage.
Rare animals and other sightings
As in October, the same female eland has been seen by a few more guides this month. She seems to have relaxed more around the vehicles, albeit at a distance. She does not take off at first sight anymore, but will instead continue feeding.
A relaxed serval was seen in the grasslands.
The black-backed jackals have returned to sodic sites in the central depression and even a pair of ostriches were seen feeding near Pebble Pan.
The woodland kingfishers have returned, but we are still awaiting the intense persistent calls that signal the start of the heavy rains for summer.
A glossy ibis was seen at the N’wanetsi Crossing, a spot along the river where we tend to see most of our weird and wonderful water birds.
This month the white-backed night herons have been seen around Dave’s Crossing.
The blue-cheeked bee-eaters and grey-headed kingfishers are once again active along the N’wanetsi and up to the Ostrich Link open area.
Near the Mozambican border, crested guineafowls were seen around a permanent body of water called Maputo Pan.
The nest of a white-bellied sunbird was found hidden amongst a colony of community web spiders near Butterfly Crossing.
Towards the end of the month, two unusual birds were seen in the concession. One morning a house crow arrived at the lodge and perched on one of the satellite towers. Unfortunately house crows are alien invasive birds (originally from India). They settled mainly in the Durban area, but have since spread into the rest of the country. This sighting was only the second sighting of a house crow in the Kruger National Park. Right at the end of the month, one of our guides found and photographed a golden pipit fairly close to the lodge. This is an extremely rare vagrant to South Africa (possibly fewer than 40 sightings have been recorded in southern Africa). This is the third sighting of a golden pipit that has been recorded in our area in the last five years.