As summer progresses, we are experiences rather warm temperatures during the day. This has led to warm thermals rising and clouds building up in the sky. During the latter half of the month we did receive a little bit of rain (5.5 mm). This cooled the area down a little bit and increased the humidity. A few days after the rain fell we started noticing little green shoots popping up in some of the open sandy areas. In amongst the dry grass green leaves started to appear. In the Central Depression area the dry pans became puddles. This is very encouraging! We certainly need the grass to grow to provide forage for the grazers. We have started to see more zebras and wildebeest now.
We have also noticed many of the migrant birds returning. Barn swallows have arrived and can be seen flying low over the ground catching insects. The European bee-eaters have also come back now. Some of the migrant raptors that have returned include yellow-billed kites and Wahlberg’s eagles.
Sightings have been good this last month and we have even witnessed some amazing predator / prey interactions. A summary of some of the game viewing is as follows:
Cheetahs: Cheetah viewing has been quieter than usual this month, but I must say the sightings we have had were of incredible quality! We witnessed an adult male cheetah successfully stalking and chasing down a fully-grown kudu cow. The entire build up and hunt was seen by two sets of guests with all the other guests in camp able to watch the feeding that took place afterwards.
The fortunate thing with cheetahs is that most, if not all, of the hunting takes place in the day time in an attempt to avoid the other larger cats and hyenas who tend to be more active in the evenings. It gives us a chance to see what we mostly otherwise miss with the other cats due to their peak activity times.
The coalition of males has been viewed on a few occasions, in the very northern parts of the concession. The open habitat and constant water at Gudzani Windmill attracts the large herds of general game and has been the result of these two cats spending time in the area.
All the other sightings have been of the mother and her four cubs. They were also concentrated around the very north and spent three days around the Two Pans and Nongo block.
Leopards: The dry conditions and limited water normally helps us find these secretive cats, adding to that the lack of general cover for them to hide in. We have had some amazing and exciting sightings.
There is a relatively shy leopard that is denning near the Xinkelengane drainage line, and as far as we know, there are at least two cubs that have been briefly viewed on a few occasions this month. Although the mother is not as relaxed as we’d like, she is comfortable enough with our presence to view her at a distance, and follow her for a short while. Having more frequent sightings of her, she will hopefully become more relaxed and we should get to spend quality time with her. All this depends on a build-up of trust and tolerance to our presence.
The Xinkelengane female, who is one of our most relaxed female leopards, was absent for a few weeks. This led to speculation she may have moved on, but happily we can report that she was seen towards the end of the month, and in typical fashion made up for an otherwise quiet month with her. She made an impala kill in the area around Two Tekwane and spent a good number of days in and around the area. As soon as her original kill was finished she made another. Interestingly, she decided against hoisting either of the kills in a tree, despite the obvious opportunities to do so. This lead to the carcasses eventually being stolen by hyenas.
The male leopards have been extremely nomadic. A lot can be attributed to the small showers we have been having over the concession, and the drive for them to re-mark their territories, as the scent trails dissolve in even the lightest of drizzles. The Ndlovu male has been the most prolific individual, notably mating with two different unknown leopardesses’ this month. This reinforces the fact that he has become the most dominant male we get to view at Singita Kruger National Park.
Lions: Lion sightings have been as consistent as ever. The Lebombo concession really is the land of lions with a total of 91 different sightings in October alone!
The Mountain pride lionesses have made up most of the viewing. Unfortunately, the two sets of cubs appear as if they have not made it, but the third lioness has had her own litter of three little fur balls, that are now older than four weeks.
The Shishangaan pride are still a lot further north than where we’d usually expect to see them, and by all accounts extended the size of their territory drastically during this drought period. This is a result of the Mountain Pride numbers dropping over the years and the conditions being such that they are covering larger tracks of land when hunting. Within a two-day period, the pride was seen as far south as the H6 public road (to the south-western part of the concession) and within 48 hours, they were seen on our northern boundary road.
The highlight of the Shish pride this month was definitely the hunt witnessed by Barry around the Cassia area. The pride brought down a fully grown adult buffalo just metres away from the vehicle! As it played out the lions where seen in the general area during the morning safari and Barry decided not to view them at that time, but rather head that way in the afternoon. On route to the area, they found a small group of buffalo bulls (commonly referred to as dagga boys) and decided to take the time to view them, as sightings of buffalo have been rather scarce. Much to their surprise, after a few minutes, they noticed a few lions in the background slowly positioning for an attempt on the large buffalos. The buffalos quickly got wind of the pride and their first instinct was to run for the hills, but this didn’t last long. Once they realized there was no chance of out running the lions, they turned and decided rather to face the lions head on. In hindsight, this was not the best decision, as they stood little to no chance of fending off the large pride of sixteen lions. The lions quickly circled the small herd and brought down one of the large bovids. The full story appears in this report, further on. The white lion is still around and was present in the hunt, although we all still think every sighting we have of him might be the last (due to him being of age to leave the pride). The pride is also still split in two separate groups of 16 and 10.
The Xhirombe pride were quite vocal and were seen on occasion near the lodge.
Buffalos: There have been very few buffalo sightings this month, as the larger herds of buffalo are still absent from the concession. The buffalos that are present on the concession are usually just older buffalo bulls. These buffalo bulls were seen mostly around permanent water sources in the northern parts of our concession. This includes the areas around Gudzane Windmill and Pony Pan, where there is still some very dry and woody grass remaining.
This month, the Mountain Pride hunted two buffalo bulls on different occasions. Obviously, with the lack of food, the buffalos are becoming weaker, and are thus a bit easier to kill. Towards the end of the month, we had some rain that filled up a lot of pans, drainage lines, and puddles, and this has affected the buffalos’ (and other animals’) movements. Now, they no longer need to travel very large distances in search of water, which can make it more difficult to find them. However, we are hoping that with the start of the rains, the herds will come back as soon as the grass grows again.
Elephants: Elephants have been seen on most drives this month. There have been multiple sightings of breeding herds as well as elephant bulls. Most of the sightings have been near the N’wanetsi River, and we’ve even had some herds wandering right in front of both Singita Lebombo and Sweni lodges. Towards the end of the month, one herd with many young calves was seen wandering around the Basalt plains and near the N’wanetsi. Due to the lack of grass, the elephants are still knocking over lots of trees in order to get to the cambium layer beneath the bark, as well as the roots.
Spotted hyenas: This month, there has been regular sightings of hyenas, both at the various den-sites and on the move.
After a couple of male lions killed one of the cubs of the Nyokeng clan towards the beginning of the month, the den-site was not very active. We believe that the whole clan must have been in shock for a while after that incident, and that they preferred not to wander too far from the safety of their cave. The Nyokeng clan is now doing better, and is a lot more active. In fact, they have even welcomed two new cubs that are still very young and are completely dark brown in colour. These newborn cubs are still shy and are not often seen venturing far away from the cave’s entrance. The other sub-adults of the Nyokeng clan are still very playful and can sometimes be seen playing and running around the den-site when they’re not resting. Although, it is difficult to determine exactly how many individuals are in this clan, Jonathan and Jacques saw about seven adults leaving the site on one afternoon.
The two other clans that live on Singita’s concession (Cassia clan and Nongo clan) are in the far north, and although we see them regularly, we don’t get to observe them as much as the Nyokeng clan, making it difficult to know much about them.
The den-site on the H6 that is close to Singita’s access was also not very active this month, but the site much further west on the H6 had activity. On one afternoon, there were twelve hyenas of all sizes interacting and vocalizing around there. This included cubs of various sizes (including newborns) and several adults.