We are now in autumn and the temperatures are starting to drop again. Since we did not have a lot of rain this past summer season there are large areas where there is no grass, and where there is grass it has already changed from green to golden yellow. Some of the trees are already starting to lose their leaves and the days are becoming shorter. As a result of a lack of rainfall the water in the N’wanetsi River is once again receding and we hope that at least some pools will last through the dry winter months. Due to the lack of grass and the fact that the leaves are starting to fall the visibility into the bush has been great and we have had some amazing sightings.
The skies are typically clear during our autumn and winter months and already we are seeing the lack of clouds. This means that our night skies are becoming more and more spectacular. The stars are amazing. We are very fortunate in this concession that there is almost no artificial light pollution at night and the views from the new tower are spectacular. This month Mars, Saturn and Jupiter have been visible in the evening skies. Looking at Jupiter through binoculars we can even see three of the four Galilean Moons! These moons are called Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto and were discovered by Galileo in January 1610. They were named, at the suggestion of Johannes Kepler, after lovers of the Greek god Zeus (even though Ganymede was a male mythological figure).
Talking about lovers – the impala rut has been in full swing this month. There has been a lot of action with males fighting with each other, herding the females and mating with them. This has been accompanied by lots of sounds. It is almost unbelievable to hear the loud roaring of a horny male impala! It is a sound that you could barely believe comes from such a beautiful dainty-looking antelope.
Buffalos: The lack of green grass in the area, although it allows us to have great visibility into the bush, has meant that the large herds of buffalos have moved elsewhere into the Kruger Park. This is one of the wonderful things about operating in an open system – when conditions are not quite suitable the animals have the option of heading towards greener pastures. It also means that it’s a constant surprise as to what we are going to see on our drives as anything could move onto the concession. There have, however, been small groups of dagha boys (old male buffalos that have separated from the herds) seen in the area near the N’wanetsi Crossing to the east of the camp, and near Hyena Pan in the northern area of the concession.
Leopards: It has been great month for leopard viewing. A leopard is one of those animals that just takes your breath away. It is beautiful, agile, graceful and at the same time extremely dangerous. They are often active and are interesting to watch. The Lebombo Concession is large and we have a quite a few known leopards that have their territories within our area. We also regularly see unknown leopards, particularly young males, who move through the concession following the Lebombo Hills. This range of hills has a lot of winding, rocky, vegetated valleys that cut through the ridges and these are great places for a leopard to hide away, unseen. I am almost sure that every drive we go on a leopard sees at least one of our vehicles, without us seeing it. Fortunately the guides and trackers do manage to get sightings of these elusive cats fairly regularly. It is a testament to their skills, as the rocky environment is not an easy place to track or spot these camouflaged creatures.
Cheetahs: We have not had many sightings of cheetahs this month. Right at the beginning of the month the female cheetah we were watching last month was seen in the Central Depression with her four cubs. The cubs were playing and chasing each other and one was even jumping on its mom as she lay there searching the open areas for prey. It was awesome to watch them. For the rest of the month she was not seen and we think she left the concession.
Elephants: We have seen elephants almost every day this last month. They have mainly been moving in the areas near Sisal Line and in the rocky hills. We have seen quite a few herds coming down to drink water along the N’wanetsi River and at the gorge. Others have been drinking at Hyena Pan, as it still has a little bit of water. It is always wonderful to watch elephants as they are always doing something. The social interactions within the herds are always great to witness. Elephants are such expressive animals and are full of character.
Lions: The month started off with a bang for lion sightings. Right at the beginning of the month Jonathan, Solomon and Jani were watching the smaller portion of the Shish Pride. The pride was walking towards Xhingwenyana Crossing when they came across a young hippo. What happened next was amazing. The pride decided to take on the hippo. Soon they were all over it. Some were on its back, some were biting and clawing at the rump while others were trying to avoid the large mouth of the hippo. The lions had scratched and bitten the hippo, but it still carried on fighting back. Eventually the hippo managed to shrug off the lions and made its escape. The next morning we found the pride feeding on a different, younger hippo that they had obviously killed after losing the first one!