There is a sense of change in the air now. August is generally considered the windy month and it’s these winds that bring in the change in the seasons. Spring is almost upon us now. The sun is peaking over the Lebombos earlier in the morning and the animals and plant life are responding already. Many of the knobthorn trees are already in flower and even the carrot tree behind the offices is in full bloom. Some of the early migratory birds have already arrived. It is as if long lost friends have returned. The yellow-billed kites are once again swooping through the skies and even the pair of Wahlbergs eagles that live along the N’wanetsi River have returned to the area and are starting to get ready for the nesting season. The concession is still very dry and there is very little grass left. Hopefully the change in seasons will also herald the return of the clouds and some rain. This will probably only come in October and there are still a few weeks until then. The struggle for survival in this untamed wilderness will continue for a short while, but there is now just a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Many of the herbivores have had a difficult time this last winter. We, however, have had some amazing sightings.
Buffalos: The sightings have been few and far between over the last couple of weeks, with a total of just eleven sightings in August. The only real chance to see buffalo on the concession at the moment has been a small group of buffalo bulls feeding in the very northern parts of the concession. This small group of bulls is often seen in and amongst breeding herds of elephants, groups of zebra and wildebeest. With Gudzani windmill available and still holding water I’m sure that is where they are moving for a drink whenever necessary.
Leopards: With the dry conditions and serious lack of cover on the concession the sightings of these normally elusive cats have been fairly regular and consistent. In addition to that we’ve witnessed some fantastic behaviour. The ‘One-Eyed-Male’ in particular has made for some great viewing this month. Without a doubt the most intriguing sighting was the crocodile kill he made just to the north of Xinkwenyana crossing. At the time he was really looking in very poor physical condition and had clearly made the bizarre kill out of pure desperation, in saying this I believe you simply cannot deny the incredible adaptability of these amazing cats and this will always be the reason for them being so successful! I have come to the conclusion that nothing ever surprises me when it comes to leopards and their ability to survive. He was also seen a few days later stealing an impala kill from a leopardess in the area around Pony Pan, the poor leopardess was no match for the ambitious young male who seems to be suitably establishing himself in the central parts of the concession.
Xinkelegane was also seen on at least eight occasions. Interestingly she seemed to be moving across quite a large area, which could possibly mean that she has either lost her territory or she is ready to mate. The timeline for her looking to have cubs would make a lot of sense and obviously we would be happiest with that.
The Ndlovu male also made his fair share of appearances in the eastern half of the concession, and was most commonly seen in the late evening scent-marking his territory.
Cheetahs: Cheetahs were recorded being seen on at least 15 occasions during August.
At the beginning of the month we were lucky to see a large adult male on the H6 public road.
A few days later we found a male cheetah near the sticky thorn (Vachellia borleae) thickets, who had managed to kill an adult male impala and we had great views of him feeding upon it. He stayed around the area for the next two days, and then headed out of the concession. Two or three days later we saw a male cheetah (possibly the same male) on the H6 public road.
Towards the middle of the month Jacques managed to locate a female cheetah with four cubs in the far north of the concession. She looked very hungry and was seen hunting impalas, while the cubs looked on from a nearby termite heap. Unfortunately, she was not successful, but it was amazing watching her sprinting at full speed after the antelope. The impalas, however, had seen her from a distance and she was not able to catch up with them as they ran for their lives.
Towards the end of the month we found a different female cheetah with three sub-adults near the Cassia Open Areas in the far north of the concession. This is probably the female that we were seeing regularly a few months ago. Unfortunately, she and her cubs were heading in a northerly direction out of our area.
Elephants: The elephant sightings have been phenomenal this month, so much so that I really don’t know where to begin other than the fact that you often get to the point on afternoon drive that you just stop calling in the sightings. With the heat starting to rise again in the middle of the day both breeding herds and large bulls have been congregating along the N’wanetsi River on a daily basis.
Lions: The most significant change, in August, has involved the smallest of the prides that we see at SKNP, known as the Xhirombe pride. There is a new coalition of four males (possibly the Southern Males) that have ‘officially’ taken over. It was only a matter of time that this unaccompanied male was over-powered by a larger coalition. This small pride consists of a single adult lioness and her two adolescent cubs (one female and one young male).
So far as we can tell the new males have come from the south and have been slowly pushing in over the last few weeks. The take-over was completed when we saw one of the males mating with the adult lioness on both sides of the Mozambique fence-line around the Poort. This would mean that she has accepted them as the new dominant coalition.
The Shishangaan pride has been somewhat inconsistent, with them constantly crossing over our western concession boundary and on at least one occasion east into Mozambique. This is an incredibly large territory that they are controlling and with two smaller prides on either side it only seems to be getting larger. This pride, which is the largest pride in the area, is still split into two separate groups of ten and thirteen individuals. The larger of the groups have many young males that are of the age where they will soon be forced to move out of the area and are constantly pushing the patience of their mothers at every opportunity. The white male lion is one of these boisterous males that will probably soon be pushed out and we are presently making the most of any sighting of him.
The Mountain pride looks to be doing well with the three lioness and seven cubs all still present, most of our sightings of the pride have been around the general vicinity of Pony Pan, either on a kill or looking very well fed which is great news for the cubs which are at a crucial stage.
Spotted hyenas: We have had numerous sightings of hyenas this month. The five Nyokeng cubs are doing well and are growing quickly. They are moving further away from the den now and are exploring their surroundings more. They are very vulnerable at this age as they are very curious and have been moving a fair distance from the mouth of the cave. They have also become much more interested in the vehicles now and often come right up to the game-drive vehicles.
We have also seen the hyenas at the H6 den a few times this month. They are denning in a culvert underneath the H6 tar road. At the beginning of the month there was a dead hippo lying near Sonop waterhole. The Shish pride came and fed upon it for a while and when the lions left the area the hyenas from this clan took over the carcass and made short work of it. We counted almost twenty hyenas at the carcass once the lions left it.