It is definitely summer now! The rains have arrived and the bush is green and lush. What a contrast from the dry winter months. There are thick stands of grass all across the concession and lots of beautiful flowers popping up all over the place. The concession is looking gorgeous. With the new grass appearing many of the grazers have started to return to the area. There are herds of zebras and wildebeest around now. The N’wanetsi river has water again and this has attracted some large herds of elephants back into the concession. The impala babies are growing up quickly and we often see them running around, strengthening their legs and playing. The wildebeest also have babies now – it’s amazing to see the difference in colouration between them and the adults. The calves are a golden-brown, whereas the adults are a dark blackish-brown with a blueish tinge. The bird-life is also fantastic with most of the migrants having returned. There are swallows and swifts flying low over the grasslands, catching insects, and there are many European and southern carmine bee-eaters about. The monotonous larks are calling from the tops of the bushes and giving display flights, and there are many dead trees with flocks of Amur falcons perched in them. The guides recorded 233 species of birds seen this month. We are also starting to see some of the snakes again… We’ve seen, amongst others, puff adders, yellow-bellied sand snakes, African rock pythons and even a lovely female boomslang at the Lebombo turning circle. There are butterflies all over, adding to the beauty of the scenery. This is such a lovely time of the year!
Our wildlife review for the month is as follows:
Buffalos: Now that there is green grass in the concession again we have started to see the return of some buffalos to the area. Towards the beginning of the month the guides found a herd of over sixty individuals moving in the western part of the concession. We have also seen a small herd of approximately ten individuals moving in the hills in the north-eastern part of the concession. Buffalos are one of the so-called “Big 5” and many guests hope to see them while they are visiting Africa. It is so good to have them back in the area again.
Leopards: Towards the beginning of the month a large unknown male leopard was found walking near the N’wanetsi River Crossing on Park Road. He entered the concession on the northern bank of the river and some of the guides watched him ambling along until he disappeared into the thick vegetation. The same afternoon we found a female leopard coming out of the concession. She was lactating heavily and it is possible that she has cubs hidden somewhere on the ridge near James’ Road. We believe that this could be the Xikhova female, as she was very relaxed in the presence of the game-viewer and this area is known to be part of her territory. An unknown male leopard was found later on during the month in the same vicinity. He was seen up a tree with an impala carcass. A spotted hyena was standing at the base of the tree, hoping for some scraps of meat to fall down. The next day the tomcat was still seen at the kill. Towards the middle of the month Nick located a male leopard north of Gudzani Dam. He was walking along the bank of the river and Nick had great views of him leaping over the water to the other side. Brian was fortunate enough to see an unknown female leopard, one morning, on the H1-3 road, lying up in a large greenthorn tree with an impala carcass placed on one of the branches. On another occasion a large male leopard was seen in the area of Gudzani Dam up in a tree staring at a pride of lions that was moving through the area. The next morning the guides found this leopard again. He was quite shy, but he did have two kills stashed nearby. One of the kills was a porcupine and the other was a duiker.
Cheetahs: We have had an amazing month of cheetah viewing. In total, we have had over twenty recorded sightings of these beautiful cats. We had at least six sightings of a female cheetah with her two sub-adult cubs. Most of these sightings were in the region of the S41 road and Joe’s Quarry. We also had a few sightings of a female cheetah with five youngsters. Towards the beginning of the month Jonathan (Joffers) found these six cheetahs on the S100 road. They were walking in the grasslands when they were surprised by a pride of lions, who charged at them. Fortunately, the cheetahs managed to escape the lions. Later in the month they were seen on the road leading towards the Shishangaan Staff Village. They were stalking impalas. The guides lost sight of them when they moved deeper into the long grass after the antelope. Right at the end of the month these six cheetahs were seen in the northern part of the concession. Joffers was fortunate enough to watch the female chase and kill an impala in front of his car. Awesome! (well not for the impala though).
A coalition of two young males was also seen a few times. Towards the middle of the month Brian was driving along the S41 when he spotted these two male cheetahs walking up the road towards the car. He watched them for a while and then they headed into the open grasslands to the east of the road. One of the cheetahs spotted a steenbok lying in the grass up ahead. The cheetah started to trot towards the steenbok, but the antelope had seen the cat approaching and made good its escape. The cheetahs carried on looking for other prey species and climbed on top of fallen trees (and one of them even climbed up a thorny acacia tree) in order to get a better view of the surroundings. Brian left them resting in the shade and that afternoon they were seen again close to the location that they had been resting earlier. We have also seen a shy cheetah a few times this last month in the region of Ntsibitsane Road and Ma-4-pounds. Unfortunately, he does not like vehicles and runs away as soon as we see him. A lone female cheetah was also seen on a number of occasions. Margaux watched her one morning as she walked through the long, wet grass near Nyeleti Road. She was constantly climbing up onto fallen logs in order to look around.
Elephants: We have had a great month of elephant viewing. Since the river and the pans have filled up from the rain, and the grass and forbs have started growing, we have seen the return of large herds of these majestic creatures to the concession. The area around the Sticky Thorn thickets have been particularly good and we have seen huge herds of over a hundred individuals here on a few occasions.
Lions: The Lebombo Concession is well known for lion sightings and this month has been no exception. We have had over fifty recorded sightings of these large, tawny cats this month. Most of our sightings have been of the two portions of the Shish Pride. On the 4th of January Nick and Jani were watching the larger portion of the Shish Pride as they were walking through the grasslands near Gudzani North. They crossed the river and disappeared into the bush when Jani and Nick heard the death cries of a buffalo emanating from the direction that the lions had headed. They found a way to cross the river and when they located the lions again they found that they had just killed an adult female buffalo. The clouds had been building all afternoon and as soon as they found the lions feeding on the cow, the heavens opened up and the rain poured down upon them. The guests were really excited to see the lions feeding, but the lions themselves seemed quite miserable with all the water drenching them as they were feeding. Nick and Jani did not remain with the lions for long as the rain was really pelting down.
The larger portion of the Shish Pride were seen again, on Nuthlwa Rd, in the last week of the month. They were busy feeding on a zebra that they had killed during the night. While we were watching them a herd of elephants came walking towards them. When the grey giants saw the lions they immediately started chasing the cats around. It was great viewing! The cats all managed to evade the elephants and when the pachyderms had left the area the lions slowly started returning to the carcass.
Towards the middle of the month the smaller portion of the Shish Pride were found quite close to camp. The sub-adult male white lion was with the group. We watched them for a while and later on in the afternoon the lions headed south, out of the concession towards the Sweni Bird Hide. That night we could hear male lions roaring to the south of camp and then lots of growling and more roaring. The sounds carried on for quite a while and we realised that the Southern Males had obviously come across the Shish Pride and were fighting with them. The next morning, we found the white lion on his own. He had clearly been involved in the confrontation and had injuries all over his body. He was lucky to have escaped from the larger Southern Males. He looked quite miserable and sorry for himself. We saw the smaller portion of the Shish Pride later on in the month again and the white lion was back with the group. Unfortunately, it appeared that there were two lions missing from the pride and we wondered if they had not been killed in the dispute with the big males. A day or two after that day that we found the white lion on his own we found a lone, thin female on the H6 road. She had killed a wildebeest. Sadly for her, the hyenas had been alerted to the sounds of the dying wildebeest and were gathering all around her. Soon the jackals arrived as well and eventually with the advantage of numbers on their side the scavengers drove her away and took over the carcass.
The four Shish Males were seen on a few occasions this month. They have been moving much further west than normal and we presume that they are fighting with other males that have their territory there.
We have not had many sightings of the Mountain pride this month. We believe that they have been moving around the hills and in some of the steep-sided valleys. At the end of the first week of January they were seen feeding on a zebra with their three cubs. A week or two later the three lionesses were seen again in the hills near Xidulu Pan. This time there was only one cub. At the end of the month the lionesses were seen in the Central area. The females were alone. We were quite concerned that they could have lost the last cub as well. However, right at the end of the month they were seen again, feeding on a wildebeest with the four Shish Males, and the cub was present and very fat!
We have only seen the Xhirombe Pride once in January and that was right at the end of the month. It made us very happy to see the Xhirombe Male as we have not seen him in a long time and we were even contemplating whether he had been killed by other males in the area (particularly when Nick found the remains of a blonde lion’s mane and skin below the Granophyre ridge in the area that we do sometimes see the Xhirombe Pride). These lions have obviously been hiding in the hills and valleys in the south of the concession (or even in Mozambique), where there are very few roads and access by vehicle is limited due to the steep cliffs and rocky areas. Since we did see the two females mating a few months ago, we were expecting them to have given birth to new cubs. However, right at the end of the month, when we saw these lions near the camp, and we were surprised to see that the females do not have swollen teats. It appears that they may have lost their cubs.
Spotted hyenas: We are very fortunate to see spotted hyenas on a regular basis in the Lebombo Concession. This month we have had over twenty recorded sightings of these misunderstood animals. Hyenas are extremely interesting, brave animals, with great stamina and a complex social structure within the clan. They are definitely one of Africa’s “super-predators”. Even though hyenas do often scavenge and steal food from other predators, they do also hunt for themselves and can even kill large animals up to and including animals the size of adult zebras.
The two main clans that we have been seeing this last month have been the H6 Clan, and the Nyokeng Clan. As a result of the heavy rains during the last month the stream in the Nyokeng Valley started flowing. The two dens of the Nyokeng Clan are situated very close to this stream and therefore the hyenas decided to move to a third cave higher up in the valley.
Both of these clans presently have young cubs, although those cubs from the Nyokeng Clan are already old enough that they are showing the spotted coat patterns typical of the adults. The H6 Clan still have two cubs that are black in colour (younger than three months). They are very cute when still young and we have had some great viewing of these two clans this month.