We received our first heavy rains, including a few decent downpours throughout the month. A total of 134mm of rain fell in December. It has sprung the concession back to life in more ways than one. It has been amazing to see the instant transformation, splashes of colour and, of course, beginning of the lambing season taking place. With all the rivers, pans and Gudzani dam now completely full its exciting times at Singita Kruger National Park!
Our wildlife review for the month is as follows:
Buffalos: There was a large herd of around 100 buffalo seen near Gudzani dam mid-month. We’ve had reports from the north of several large herds of buffalo moving southwards towards our area. There is a lot of lush green grass that has emerged after the rains, which will be an attraction for the larger herds found in Kruger.
Leopards: The Xinkelengane female has without a doubt been in the spotlight this month, with seven of the twenty-one leopard sightings being of her. She is definitely one of the most relaxed leopards that we have in the area, and it is always such a pleasure to watch her. Due to her not hoisting her prey in trees as much, this has resulted in most of her kills being stolen by hyenas overnight. Although it is difficult to pinpoint why she seems to stay on the ground more than before, it is possible that, as she continues to age, it is becoming more and more difficult and inefficient for her to climb up trees, especially with a meal clenched between her teeth.
The Ndhlovu male, who is also one of our more relaxed leopards, has only been seen once this month. We can only hope that he will start to show himself a bit more in the new year.
One of the more exciting sightings this month was of an unknown female leopard and her two young cubs. On the afternoon of 21 December, Sean and Andrew found a drag mark crossing the road. Knowing that a drag mark may lead you to a leopard, it’s always an exciting track to come across. Without any hesitation, Andrew hopped off the vehicle and began to follow the tracks. About a half hour later, Andrew located the leopard and cubs along the Xinenene drainage line.
Cheetahs: There are some vast plains along the H6 between the staff village turn off and the Sonop waterhole which is ideal habitat for cheetahs, and many of the cheetah we saw, were found there. There seems to be one cheetah that is spending time in the southern parts, just south of Xinkwenyana crossing. On 19 December as the sun was beginning to set, Joffers located two male cheetahs in the northern parts of the concession that were active and looking to hunt. Fortunately, the cheetahs were in no rush, which gave enough time for two other vehicles to join the sighting. Both guests and guides were in suspense, and all were hoping to be able to witness a hunt. Not too long after, the cheetahs began to run. In full sprint, they targeted one of the recently born impalas and within seconds, it was over. The cheetah caught the impala, quickly suffocated it, and then began feeding. As there was not much meat on the new-born, only one of the two cheetahs benefitted. On 20 December, there were 12 different cheetahs that were spotted! To put that in perspective, that is exactly one tenth of all of Kruger National Park’s cheetah population, according to the most recent cheetah population estimates that suggest that there are only 120 cheetahs in the whole of the park. Another exciting sighting of cheetahs hunting was found on the S100 by Walter. The sighting was of a mother and her five sub-adult cubs. Over the next coming months, we hope to see even more cheetahs on our concession, especially as the plains of the central depression become filled with grasses that will attract various prey species.
Spotted hyenas: The spotted hyena sightings have been very consistent during December, with the Nyokene Clan being responsible for the majority of the sightings. Following the heavy rains in the beginning of the month the clan was left with no option but to rotate between den-sites, and have moved further north in the Nyokene drainage system. The family is looking stronger than ever with the three sub-adults thriving and the youngest members now around four months old getting more inquisitive by the day.
Elephants: We have been seeing several large herds of elephants feeding in the plains on our way to the airstrip, and have also noticed quite a few new-born elephant calves over the past weeks.
Lions: With 71 different sightings of lions this month, Singita’s Kruger concession continues to be one of the best places to view lions. Lions tend to be one of the big cats that are most relaxed around vehicles. Although this is generally the case, towards the end of December, Solomon managed to find an unidentified lioness in the far north of the Singita concession that was very skittish of his vehicle and quickly ran away. Although this sighting was not of any photographic value, it is a great reminder of just how wild and pristine this part of the Kruger is. Also, it’s very exciting to find a lion that we were unable to identify, as it is highly likely that it has come from a different area of the Kruger National Park that is not accessible by vehicle. This is the beauty of being in an open system where animals are free to roam wild, where they compete with other species as well as their own kind, and where life and death is prevalent due to the struggle of existence. Apart from this one sighting, the vast majority of the other lion sightings this month were of relaxed individuals.
The Shish pride seem to be spending more and more time on our western boundary. Their dynamics are still very confusing at this point, as most of our sightings have been of only smaller portions of the pride. It seems that the sub-adult male lions (including the white lion) are spending a lot of time away from the rest of the pride. As these young males reach maturity, they will be pressured by the current dominant males of the area (Shish Males) and will most likely be driven out of the Singita concession. They will then have to venture into other dominant males’ territories all the while avoiding getting injured or killed. The fact that we are unsure as to what exactly is going on with the Shish pride at the moment makes every sighting of them a very special one, as it adds information to the ongoing puzzle of the pride’s dynamics.
The Mountain pride spent the first half of the month almost unseen. We believe that they had ventured into Mozambique. On 10 December, Margaux and Lawrence found one adult lioness drinking from a pan in the Nyokene valley, and they believe it was one of the Mountain pride lionesses. On 20 December, we enjoyed a quality sighting of the Mountain pride with their three cubs along the Nyokene valley.
The Xhirhombe pride has been absent for most of the month, but Jacques and Sunday found the young Xhirhombe male and the adult Xhirhombe female resting next to the border of Mozambique.
The Shish males have been seen regularly throughout the month. On 17 December, Joffers found three unknown males around Nkayanini/Scotia. One of these males had a beautiful blonde mane, and we believe that this coalition came from an area west of our concession.
There have been various special sightings of lions this month. One of them was on 8 December, when seven lions of the Shish pride (including the white male) were found near Gumba Crossing in the morning. In the afternoon they were found hunting a juvenile hippo. After a couple of long hours, the lions brought an end to the struggle and the hippo succumbed to its fate.