September 2018 has been nothing short of an incredible month for wildlife viewing here on the Grumeti Reserve. Huge numbers of both zebra and wildebeest have saturated the grasslands from horizon to horizon, not to mention the Topi that have poured in from the Mbalageti River. The Topi are calving currently and many thousands have been seen adjacent to the drainage lines on the Gambaranyera and Kawanga plains. Many thousands of zebra and wildebeest began moving back into the Grumeti from the west at the beginning of the month and we have been fortunate to have them with us for many days.
September has been a dry month with only very localised rain showers which have been just enough, in the most part, to settle the dust. In areas where these showers have fallen on recent burns we have seen a wonderful green flush attracting zebra, Thompsons gazelle and many others. Many of the drainage lines on the reserve have in fact dried up; however, the Grumeti River continues to trickle over her yellow sands providing an important water source for the resident and migratory herds. Sasakwa Dam has partly been centre stage for much of the month with wildlife rolling in from the surrounding grasslands to quench their thirsts. An incredible spectacle of elephants bathing takes place on a daily basis as the sun warms up later in the morning and over lunch time.
Some of the most fantastic wildlife viewing has been, without doubt, in the Ikorongo region of the concession. Many thousands of zebra and wildebeest have been seen passing through this natural corridor on their way to and from the Serengeti National Park. This area has also experienced its fair share of bush fires in the last two months, some controlled burning from the conservation teams and some, further to the north, that were not as controlled! However, as a result the rain has been kind in the north and with this we have again seen some fantastic areas of green flush coming through. This, with a little water still flowing in the larger drainage lines has provided very attractive conditions to many species.
Lions: Lions sightings have been nothing short of fantastic this month which comes as no surprise really as our most recent wildlife census predicts an annual increase in the lion population of 20%. Our three large central prides, the Butamtam, Nyasirori and West Pride have been located in their usual ranges and territorial boundaries remain similar.
The Butamtam Pride have been utilising the higher reaches of the Raho drainage where there still remains a little water that has brought an influx of resident herds and migratory animals in to the area. Some smaller groups within the Butamtam have been sighted also north of the Raho, up to the Rhino Rocks region and the Marsh area as they follow the wildebeest short distances. Two mating pairs of the Butamtam were seen close to Sasakwa Dam over a five-day period which offered fantastic viewing. We believe the numbers in this pride exceed 50 individuals currently.
The Nyasirori Pride has been occupying the lower stretches of the Raho drainage and further south towards the Nyasirori Dam and adjacent grasslands. They too have not had to move too far to feed and have been utilising the many grazers in the immediate area. The Nyasirori Pride also exceeds 50 individuals these days and remains our largest lion social organisation.
The West Pride has been seen on several occasions on the Raho drainage, further west and usually not too far from the Singita Explore camps, Marula and Balanites. These lions, however, move frequently over the southern border of the reserve and into the Serengeti National Park.
Further west we come into the Kawanga Pride’s territory. Four lionesses from this pride recently had cubs. Ten youngsters of approximately seven week’s old were sighted with these lionesses, close to the Kawanga crossing. Synchronized births such as this are often favourable for the survival of the youngsters, so this was great news.
Cheetah: Cheetahs are under more and more pressure from the ever growing populations of lions and spotted hyenas and, as a result, are not as likely to remain in a particular area of their home range for too long. It is not only the pressure of lions and hyenas causing extensive movement but the necessity to follow their migratory prey species and this means that cheetahs, depending on the time of year, may well make journeys to and from the Serengeti National Park quite regularly.
Sightings have included a mother and young male in the Koroya Hill area that seem to focus much of their time targeting the resident impala that occupy the mosaic of thickets of the high ground. We have had sightings of a single female in the Old School area east of Sasakwa Dam in the central region and two other single females north of Sabora. A single male was sighted in the Nyasirori area.
The cheetah on the reserve have been focusing mainly on prey species such as impala, Thompson’s and Robert’s gazelle, as one would imagine.
A single female sighted east of the Sasakwa Dam.
Leopards: The leopard viewing this month has been brilliant! Guests have enjoyed a whole range of leopard viewing from Sasakwa Hill to the Mbogo drainage, from Explore Camps in the west to edges of Sabora Tented Camp. It has not been uncommon to experience
three different leopard sightings per day. The Grumeti North Drainage, just West of Faru Faru has been particularly good for leopard activity this month with two females being seen there regularly and a male further to the southern side of the drainage line. We have also had fantastic sightings on the Mbogo drainage. The Sabora drainage has also offered good sightings this month as well as Sasakwa Hill where we continue to see a mother and two youngsters from time to time.
There has been a large male sighted regularly at the Boundary Pan, Nyasirori region. This male is often seen lying up in the Kigelia trees dotted down Boundary Pan drainage line.
Towards the end of the month we were happy to have sighted a mating pair at the very northern end of the Grumeti North drainage line. This offered some lovely photographic opportunities for guests over a number of days.
Elephants: The elephant sightings this month have been sensational. Huge aggregations of elephants have been utilizing the Sasakwa Dam on a daily basis offering some fabulous displays when bathing and drinking during the heat of the day. Many breeding herds have been utilising the reserve this month with fantastic numbers up in the Ikorongo to the Sasakwa plains. There have been very good sightings also on both the Grumeti River and on the Raho drainage.
I think what has pleased us the most about many of these herd sightings is the great number of youngsters, a true reflection that the elephant populations utilizing the Grumeti reserve are doing well.
As the grass dries out and many of the shrubs wither away we see the elephants focusing more and more on substituting forage from the trees. They are stripping bark for the sweet, nutritious cambium layer and pushing trees over to take advantage of nutrients pulled into the trees root systems at this dry time.
On the 23rd of this month we saw the beginning of the second chapter of elephant collaring. We strive to understand more about the movements of these incredible animals and where they wander when they are not here on the reserve with us.
With many of the drainage lines drying up now we are beginning to see more and more elephants congregating on the Grumeti River which makes for some fantastic viewing as they roll into the sandy river bed to drink the clear waters trickling away gently. The riparian vegetation, as a splendid backdrop, with towering figs and tamarind trees makes for some fantastic photographic opportunities.