Autumn is in full swing now and the grass has turned to gold. The temperatures in the mornings have started dropping and the sun is rising later. Right at the end of the month we were still receiving rain (very unusual for this time of the year). Most of the migrant birds have now left on their return migrations, back to Europe or north Africa. As a result of the good rains that we received this summer the grass layer grew well and this led to a bumper crop of young francolins, quails and buttonquails. So much so that some of the adults even managed to raise more than one clutch. We have also been fortunate to have large flocks of queleas nesting in the concession. By the end of April, most of the eggs had hatched and the adults were frantically trying to find seeds and insects to feed the chicks. Now that the temperatures have started dropping many of the insects and other invertebrates will begin disappearing. We will also start seeing fewer snakes around as they will start to hide in preparation for aestivation. With all the grass in the area we have had great general game sightings and there have been quite a few zebras and wildebeest in the area. The grass layer will hopefully continue to attract grazers into the area for the rest of the year. We are expecting to have really good game-viewing this winter as hopefully, there will be enough grass to tide the animals over during the drier months. There is also still a fair bit of standing water in the concession. Most of the pans are full and the river still has large pools. This will also help to attract animals into the area as winter approaches.
Buffalos: There have been 37 different buffalo sightings this month. After the harsh drought that led to most buffalos either moving away or dying off, we are now happy to be able to see large herds of buffalo almost daily. These herds have moved onto our concession due to the abundance of food that is available for them. In fact, most of the herds that we have seen this month were found in the northern grasslands of the Singita concession. The current favourable conditions have helped the buffalos to regain condition, and they are now looking very healthy and strong. As such, we have not recorded any of the lions in our area hunting buffalos, possibly because the risk of injury while hunting buffalo is a lot higher now that they are strong again. Another aspect that is interesting to note with regards to the lions not hunting buffalo is that the herds are actually mostly void of young calves, as most of them didn’t survive the harsh drought conditions that we experienced last year. As such, the task of hunting buffalo is even more difficult as there are very few vulnerable calves to pick from.
Elephants: There have been a whopping 153 elephant sightings recorded this month. We have had sightings of many breeding herds as well as lone elephant bulls. Elephants do not hold territories and will travel grand distances in search of food. At the moment, there is an abundance of resources thanks to the recent rains that we have received. These resources have attracted many elephants (as well as other non-territorial species) onto our concession. The grasses and leaves are plentiful, and there is water scattered almost everywhere. We have seen multiple elephant bulls in musth following some of the larger herds of females as they try to secure a mating opportunity. This has obviously been something that we have been watchful for, as elephant bulls in musth are known to be somewhat ill-tempered. We have watched elephants in the south bathe in the N’wanetsi River, and we have watched elephants in the north feed on the abundant grasses. Just about every spot on the concession provides the elephants with some sort of resource that they can enjoy. As the winter begins to settle in, the grasses will start to die off and the water will begin drying up which may lead to some elephants venturing further into the Kruger National Park in search of food and water. It will be interesting to see how the change of seasons will affect our elephant sightings.
Spotted hyenas: Most of the sightings that we enjoyed were of spotted hyenas either on the move, resting, or feeding. We have not been seeing spotted hyenas at their usual den-sites. The summer rains that transformed the landscape with full pans and drainage lines, as well as very long grasses have made finding the spotted hyenas’ new den-sites somewhat challenging. Furthermore, it seems that they may have changed their den-site several times! Although we have only had a limited amount of spotted hyena sightings this month, we do see their tracks almost daily, and we know that they are still in the area.
Lions: The lion sightings were of a very good quality right the way through the month of April, with sightings of all three prides ranging all over the concession. There has been interesting dynamics between the Shishangaan males and the pressure being applied on them by the new Southern males. What we are hoping for is that the Shishangaan males can fend off the challenge from this new coalition simply because all the females in the pride are at the point where they should all be looking to mate and fall pregnant. We are all extremely excited by the proposition of new cubs, especially the idea of potentially new white lion cubs that could be born. Up until this point we have not seen any interaction but the vocalizations and tracks running both north and south are clear indications that a “coming to blows” is not far away! What is definitely in the Shishangaan males’ favour is their group size – the Southern males are a coalition of just two mature males, whereas the Shishangaan males are at least four strong. The Shishangaan males are starting to show signs of aging though, and the male with the limp (often called the ‘’grumpy’’ male) is seldom seen with the rest of the coalition. All this interaction and noise is not only effecting the males but also the movement of the pride as well, who are trying to stay clear of any potential conflict. As a result, we are finding them further and further North and West, pushing in almost an exact straight line away from where these new males are coming.
Speaking about the white lion earlier, we should also mention that the young male is doing very well and every time we see him his physical condition is looking better and better. We are, however, still surprised to be seeing him with the pride, especially considering that he is at least three years old already. Once again, every time we see him, we think it’s the last time along with the other young males.
The Mountain pride have also made more of an appearance this month compared to last, and it appears as if they are moving more into the central parts of the concession again. The best sighting of them this month was undoubtedly the wildebeest kill they made right in the middle of the depression area and where they were seen for four consecutive days, feeding and interacting with hyenas, black-backed jackals and vultures. It is also great to report that the cub is doing very well, and is definitely the healthiest we’ve seen her in a long time.
The Xhirombe pride was seen only on a few occasions, but we found many of their tracks in and around the lodge, especially during the middle of the month.
Cheetahs: Cheetah sightings have been a little quieter this month, but we think it has got a lot to do with all the lion movement recently, as well as the length of the grass. The grass not only makes it very difficult to spot cheetahs, but also makes what was great habitat for them, suddenly a dangerous habitat. Adding to that, all the cheetah we were seeing had cubs and these long grassy areas are now places that could be dangerous for them, and therefore areas that the mother cheetahs would tend to avoid. Most of the cheetah sights have, interestingly, been seen on the transfers to and from the airstrip, which makes for either a great beginning or end to the trip at Singita Kruger National Park.
Leopards: What is exciting for us at the moment is that most of our sighting are of new leopards that we have not even named yet. The ones who’ve been most prolific are the young female and cub that have established themselves in the area between Green Apple Hill, Ostrich Link and the N’wanetsi River. Both individuals are very comfortable around vehicles and are only getting more relaxed with every sighting. We have been lucky enough to see both of them at a few kills this month, all adult impalas that were caught by the female. The cub is a young male of around eight months old.
Another individual that we have been seeing this last month is a young male who is trying to form his territory along the Xinkelengane drainage, in the area around Warthog Pan. He is at this point, very skittish around vehicles and only viewed by one car at a time. We hope, with a bit of time and effort, he’ll slowly get more habituated with our presence.
The Mhlangulene female has been seen more frequently this month. Most of the sightings have been in the eastern parts of the concession towards Mozambique, and this is proving to be a great place for her to raise her cub away from any lion activity. She was also seen with a kill for a couple of days that she hid on Sisal Line.
The Xinkelengane female was also seen on a few occasions this month. She has been moving in the area near Schotia Pan. There is a large leadwood tree that
overlooks this particular pan and this leopardess seems to have taken a liking to lying up on its large branches, watching for whatever might come down to drink. This is possibly one of our most relaxed leopards and is very easy to recognise because of the distinctive scar on her lip.