Summer is fast approaching and many of the trees are starting to get new shoots. We had a few millimetres of rain and this has caused a bit of a growth spurt in the plants. The hills, in particular, are starting to look green. There are many forbs that are starting to flower, including the dainty string-of-stars (Heliotropium steudneri). In the flat areas many of the bulbs have started flowering, including the beautiful cerise-coloured ground lily (Ammocharis coranica), the white spider-lilies (Pancratium tenuifolium) and even a few common vlei-lilies (Crinum macowanii). Many of the migrant birds have returned and the sound of cuckoos and woodland kingfishers now resonate through the hills and woodlands. We are starting to see more insects now and the frogs are starting to call as well. Just after dark one can hear the bushveld rain frogs, plain grass frogs and even banded rubber frogs calling near the pans and the pools in the Nwanetsi River. There is water, once again, in patches along the N’wanetsi (Dumbana Pools is full again), although the river is still dry in most places. The daytime temperatures are still quite hot, although we are seeing clouds in the sky now and on the few days that there has been light rain the temperatures have been cooler and much more comfortable. The female impalas are looking very pregnant, and we are expecting the birth of the lambs any day now.
Buffalos: The small amount of rain in the concession this last month has allowed for some green shoots of grass to appear. This is a blessing for the grazers and we have been seeing a few buffalo bulls in the northern part of the concession again. These bulls, or Dagha Boys (as they are often referred to), have mainly been seen in small groups of two or three individuals. Danie was driving up the Ntsibitsane Valley late one morning when he came across three buffalos wallowing in some muddy pools. Male buffalos tend to enjoy wallowing in mud and it is assumed that this not only cools them down but also helps to protect them from biting insects and may even serve as a way of asserting some form of hierarchy dominance (the biggest and strongest males get the best places in the mud wallows). With the rains arriving we are hoping that when the grass grows that the herds will return to the concession.
Leopards: We have had some great sightings of leopards this last month. The most exciting news is that towards the end of the month we had sightings of two different females with small cubs. One of these females was the Nhlanguleni female and the second one could be the Sticky Thorn female (it was difficult to identify her as she was seen at night). The Xinkelengane female was seen on a few occasions this month, mainly in the central area of the concession. This female leopard is one of the most relaxed leopards in the concession and it is always a pleasure to see her. Right at the end of the month she was found with a warthog kill hidden in the Xinkelengane riverbed. The Ndlovu male was also seen a few times this month, mainly in the area around the granophyre ridge and in the vicinity of Ndlovu Rd. He has been seen patrolling and even roaring. There has been an unknown male leopard seen in the same area and we believe that the Ndlovu male has been patrolling and roaring in order to chase the new male out. There have been a few sightings of unknown, skittish males in the area. Unfortunately, these sightings have been very brief. We also had a beautiful sighting of an unknown female leopard, near the end of the month, that was lying in a large leadwood tree at the side of the Shishangaan staff village road.
Cheetah: We have had at least ten recorded sightings of cheetahs in November. Cheetahs tend to be nomadic in nature and they usually do not hold territories. Most of the sightings have therefore been of different groupings. We have seen single males, a coalition of two males, a female with three youngsters and a different female with four youngsters, amongst others. The public road known as the H6 has perfect habitat for cheetahs and many of the sightings this month have been from that road. Cheetahs are the fastest of the land mammals and can supposedly attain speeds of up to 110 kilometres per hour. They often reach these incredible speeds when hunting and chasing their prey. In order to be able to get to these speeds they need open areas. The H6 has many such open areas. There are also two waterholes along this road that attract impalas, which are the favourite prey of cheetahs in this area. Towards the end of the month there was a single male cheetah that was seen frequently in the open areas to the east of the Shishangaan turnoff. He was walking around and calling, obviously looking for another cheetah. Cheetahs have a very unusual chirping and yapping type of call, almost reminiscent of a bird call.
Elephants: We are seeing quite a few elephants now that there is water in parts of the N’wanetsi River. We see them on almost every drive. Towards the middle of the month Sean noticed some vultures descending into a valley near the Mozambique border and upon investigation he discovered three of the Shishangaan male lions feeding on an elephant. It was quite dark and access to the carcass was difficult. The next morning we returned to the area and the lions had disappeared. This gave us an opportunity to investigate the carcass closer. It was a very sad moment when we realised that the elephant was an old cow that we knew very well. The elephant was known to us as “Langtand” because she had one very long tusk (the other tusk was missing). She was an elephant that we used to see regularly in the concession. It was always a treat to find her and her youngster as they were very relaxed with the vehicles. It did not appear as if the lions had killed her, but rather that she had died of old age and that the lions had found her body and had scavenged on it. We are not sure what happened to her youngster but hope that he has joined another herd as there are now quite a few herds of elephants moving through the concession. Fortunately, this youngster was already old enough to browse and feed himself and was therefore not reliant on his mother for food. Nick describes a particular elephant sighting that he had later in this report.
Lions: Singita Kruger National Park is well known for its fabulous lion sightings. We often refer to this concession as “Lebombo, Land of Lions”. This month was no exception, although towards the end of the month there were a few days when it was difficult to locate any of these large tawny cats. All in all, though, we have seen a lot of lions (we had over 77 recorded sightings during November).
The Mountain Pride were definitely the main attraction this month. The three new cubs are doing well and we had some great views of them. Young cubs are always a highlight to see. They are often full of energy, chasing each other around and playing with each other. The adult females are looking healthy again and have managed to avoid the grumpy Shish male who tends to follow them around and steal any food that they manage to catch. Since he injured his back leg he has been a bit of a parasite on the pride. We believe that the previous seven cubs, which all died, were in such poor condition mainly as a result of the fact that this male stole all the food from the females.
We have not seen the Shish Pride as often as we normally do. This is probably because the young males are at the age that they need to leave the pride and the large males in the north, south and west are gunning for them now. One morning, early on in the month, the pride was found at Gudzani East Windmill feeding on a buffalo that they had killed. Sean was watching them when suddenly three of the Northern males appeared and there was chaos. The Shish Pride bomb-shelled and ran in different directions as the large males ran towards them. That afternoon we found four of the sub-adults (including the young white male) lying in amongst the knobthorns, quite far to the east of the windmill. They were obviously nervous and were looking around constantly, expecting the males to appear at any moment. The next day we found some of the Shish Pride on the S100 public road. The white lion was not with them and one of the lionesses was very badly injured. The next day she was found dead at the side of the road. We have not seen the white lion since the skirmish with the males took place and we have only seen a portion of the pride since then. A few days later we saw a small group of the Shish Pride feeding on a zebra in the middle of the concession, but they then disappeared again. Towards the end of the month Jonathan saw the Shish Pride in the far distance near Sonop waterhole (on the H6 public road). They were very far away, but Jonathan was sure that he got a glimpse of the white male with them.
The Xhirombe Pride were only seen a few times this last month. They were looking good. They were mainly seen near the border in the area of the N’wanetsi Poort. The females should be pregnant now and we are expecting that they will give birth to cubs sometime soon, either in Mozambique or in one of the secluded, steep-sided valleys to the south of N’wanetsi Crossing.
Right at the end of the month Collen was lucky enough to see a lioness with four small cubs crossing the S37 public road near Sweni Bird Hide. We believe that this lioness is one of the Southern females. Due to the nature of the terrain in which this pride lives, and due to the fact that there are very few roads in the area there, we do not see these lions very often.