The days are starting to get longer again as we wave goodbye to the middle of winter. We have had some glorious days, and a few cold mornings, but in general it has been warmer than was expected. Many of the trees in the hills still have bright yellow leaves and they are quite scenic at the moment. At the beginning of the month the candelabra trees were in flower and were attracting numerous butterflies. The aloes in camp and on the rocky cliffs were also in flower attracting many birds, especially the metallic-coloured sunbirds. It is still very dry although one night, towards the end of the month, we did have a light shower of rain, which left a few puddles in the hills. There is very little grass about and the grass that is in the basalt areas is dry and yellow and holds very little nutritional value. It is going to be a difficult winter for the animals until the rains arrive, probably only in November. Although the water in the river is receding there are still pools in a few places and these are attracting a fair amount of animals, including predators, and we have had some great sightings and seen some amazing animal interactions.
Buffalos: All of the buffalo sightings were either of lone bulls or small bachelor herds. They are spending most of the time in the hills and valleys, coming to the river to drink and then returning to the stony ridges.
Leopards: We have seen the Ndlovu Male a few times this month. On the 3rd of July we found the Euphorbia Female on Ndlovu Road up on the Ryolite ridge. She had caught an impala and was busy feeding on it. The next morning when we arrived there we found the Ndlovu Male approaching the area. As he came closer to the carcass the Euphorbia Female ran away and climbed up a large dead tree. This gave the guests a great opportunity to get some good photos of her. On the 16th Solomon found her in the Nyokeng valley feeding on a kudu. They watched her as she dragged the young antelope up the rocky cliffs until they lost sight of her.
One afternoon Jani found the Tingala Female feeding on an impala in the hilly area on the way to the poort. The next morning when we went to the area we could not find her or the impala carcass and by looking at the tracks we were able to deduce that hyenas had managed to find the carcass lying on the ground and had chased the leopard away and stolen the meat.
The Xinkelengane female was also seen a few times this month. She seems to be moving around in the area between Gudzani Dam and the Central Depression. On the afternoon of the 10th one of our trackers, named Sunday, managed to follow her tracks and found her with an impala kill stashed high up in a large leadwood tree. She was there for the next two days feeding on the carcass and we had great views of her. On the night of the 13th Brian was driving near Gudzani Dam and came across her as she was walking west into the Knobthorn grasslands. She was busy marking her territory and was spraying urine on every large tree that she came across.
The N’wanetsi Male was seen right at the beginning of the month near to the concrete causeway that crosses the N’wanetsi River to the east of Camp. He was very relaxed with the vehicle, but was obviously hungry and was looking for prey. He headed into some thick vegetation near the spring and we left him to find himself some lunch.
Cheetahs: We have only had four sightings of cheetah during July. On the morning of the 9th Mark located a male cheetah on the S41 quite close to camp. We responded to the sighting and found the cheetah walking parallel to the road in a southerly direction. The morning light was awesome and we watched him until he disappeared from view. On the 27th we found a female cheetah and her three sub adult cubs walking through the knobthorn savannah. We were unable to follow them as it had rained the night before and the basalt soil gets very muddy when wet. Fortunately we anticipated where they were heading and so we drove to the next road where we spotted them again. They walked right up to us and we had brilliant views of them. The female seemed to be walking very purposefully, while the youngsters followed on behind, chasing each other around and climbing up some fallen trees. In the afternoon we went back to the area and found them in an open sandy area. They were resting and the mom was looking for potential prey.
There was a herd of impala just out of sight from them and we were hoping that one of them would stray out into the open area so that we could see the female running at full sprint. Unfortunately (or fortunately for the impala) they remained under cover and as the sun started setting we decided to leave them and go and have our sundowners. On the 30th the guides found them again on the H6 public road, while travelling to the lodge on the bus. JP returned to the area as soon as his guests were ready for drive and found them to the south of the road. He watched them until they disappeared from view.
Elephants: We see elephants on most drives. The afternoons and late mornings are often productive for elephant viewing as the large pachyderms come down to the last remaining pools in the N’wanetsi River to drink. On the afternoon of the 11th the guides found a herd of over fifty individual elephants that had come down to Xinkwenyana Crossing. It was a great sight. On the 15th a herd of over thirty elephants were seen coming down to Dumbana Pools. During most outings we see lone bulls or small bachelor herds.
Lions: There were at least 99 recorded sightings of lions this last month. Wow! That equates to an average of three sightings of lions per day. Amazing!
The three members of the Xhirombe Pride have been seen a few times in July. They have been walking and hunting in the hilly area between the poort and camp. They also like to frequent the fence line, where they have taught themselves how to utilise the border-line between South Africa and Mozambique. There are animals both sides of the fence and the area opposite our concession in Mozambique is also completely wild. The adult lioness and her two offspring, now sub-adults (1 male and 1 female) have learned to chase animals towards the fence in order to catch them. They are quite successful using this strategy. On the 15th of July we watched the three of them hunting waterbuck along the fence south of Nyokeng Valley and on the 26th they were seen feeding on a kudu in the hills south of the poort (a beautiful gorge cutting through the Lebombo hills, where the N’wanetsi River flows runs into Mozambique. There are stunning cliffs and rocky hills covered in candelabra trees and Lebombo ironwoods.).
The Shish Pride (both the larger and the smaller portions) is in a state of turbulence. The young sub-adult males are of the age where the adult males in the area do not want them around. The sub-adults are basically running away from any adult male that they come across. If they get caught the chances are that the adult lion will kill them. The larger portion of the Shish Pride has been seen on quite a few occasions in the area along the N’wanetsi River between camp and Dumbana Pools. The size of the pride has varied between 9 and 14 individuals. The white lion is still with this pride and is growing up quickly. On the 14th of July it was quite a misty morning and as the sun was rising behind the Lebombo cliffs we found the lions had just caught a waterbuck just on the eastern bank of the N’wanetsi River. They were growling and arguing over the meat and it had attracted the attention of a hyena that was looking at the feasting lions. He was wondering if it was at all possible to get some scraps when a male lion appeared out of the misty bush and saw him standing there. The male lion quickly charged towards the hyena. Chaos ensued as all the sub-adult lions feeding on the waterbuck realised that a male lion had appeared. They immediately took flight, away from where the adult male was chasing the hyena. The three females were the only ones now at the carcass and the adult male (possibly one of the Southern Males) returned from the unsuccessful hyena hunt. He ran towards the carcass and the three females defended their carcass, spitting, snarling and clawing at the male. He backed down, but then saw some of the sub-adult males running away towards the north and started giving chase. He did not catch up to them though and the pride re-joined again later.
The larger portion of the Shish Pride have been seen feeding on quite a few hippo carcasses this month. Due to the lack of water and grass in the area the hippos are in very poor condition. Quite a few have died and the lions have had a hippo feast. On the 19th we had an incredible sighting of the Shish Pride feeding on a hippo at Dumbana Pools. Brian explains what he saw there later in the report (see “Other Interesting Sightings”). They were seen feeding on another hippo carcass near Croc View, just north of camp, on the 21st and 22nd. They gorged themselves! On the 30th they found another carcass just near the windmill at Sonop waterhole, near the H6 public road, and once again fed upon it until their bellies were round like beach balls. The smaller portion of the Shish Pride were seen a few times between the Xinkwenyana and Dave’s Crossings. Their numbers have varied between 8 and 11 members. We have heard from park tourists that they have been seen moving in the area of the S100 public road, to the west of Gudzani Dam.
The three females and seven cubs of the Mountain Pride are doing well and are healthy. We have seen them regularly this last month. They are often in the company of one of the adult Shish Male lions. He is the grumpy male that often growls at the cars and has in the past charged the vehicles. He has injured his right back leg and is limping at present. The Mountain Pride tend to utilise the area in the central-northern parts of the concession. We saw them on at least two occasions this month feeding on zebras.
The three other males have only been seen a few times in July. We understand that they have been seen a few times by the public tourists on the S100.
Spotted hyenas: We have had some great viewing at the Nyokeng Hyena Den this month. The five cubs are of the age where they are changing from their black coats to their spotted patterns. A visit to the den has definitely been one of the guests’ highlights. The youngsters are quite curious and are starting to investigate the vehicles. It is great watching them as they surround the car, smelling it and testing to see if it is edible or not.
The H6 den has also been quite active this last month, particularly after dark. This clan of hyenas is using a series of rainwater culverts under the paved road as den-sites. They are also quite habituated to vehicles and often walk right up to the cars to check them out.
One morning we were following the tracks of some wild dogs in the far north of the concession when we found four of the Cassia Clan members feeding on the carcass of an impala that they had recently stolen from the canids. There were also seven black-backed jackals in the vicinity, picking up scraps from the periphery of the kill site.