Winter is almost here now and the grass is starting to change colour to golden-brown hues. It is slowly being flattened and eaten by the various large herbivores in the area. Some of the leaves on the trees, particularly the marulas and false marulas, have changed and are bright yellow. Very soon now the leaves are going to start dropping from the deciduous trees and shrubs and the visibility is going to get much better. The temperatures have started dropping and the early mornings have become quite chilly. Quite a few mornings have been misty. It is always amazing to see large animals walking through the grasslands shrouded in mist. Most of the migrant birds have left and the numbers of insects and reptiles are significantly less. Although most of the red-billed queleas have finished breeding we have still been seeing large flocks in the concession. It is most spectacular in the late afternoons when flocks trail across the reddening sunset like twists of smoke in the sky, as they head back to the last remaining active colonies in the granophyres. We have also been fortunate enough to see large flocks of marabou storks in the concession. These unusual-looking birds (one of the so-called “Ugly 5”) are also sometimes referred to as the undertakers of the bushveld. They are like the stork version of vultures, with naked necks and heads, and are often seen at carcasses and at rubbish heaps throughout Africa. We think that the large flocks of marabous in the concession are due to the large numbers of armoured ground crickets that have been present. May is also the time of the height of the impala rut. This month there has been a great amount of activity in impala society. It is the time of the year that the impala rams set up territories, defend them against other males and try to herd the females into their areas. This month we have found quite a few impala male carcasses in the concession. These were mainly as a result of deaths occurring from over-zealous fighting. In many of the cases it was obvious that the impalas died from injuries sustained from opponent’s horns. Impalas generally have a synchronised birthing season, after a gestation period of six and a half months, and we can expect to see the new babies being born in mid-December. The water levels in the rivers are now starting to drop and the streams are not continuous anymore. There are still deep pools, interspersed with dry patches. Due to the good rains that we had during this last summer season it is possible that some of these deep pools will last through the dry winter, providing the necessary water for animals to drink. The rains we received this last wet season also allowed for luxurious grass growth and, even though the grass is starting to change colour now, it is thick and lush and will hopefully provide decent grazing for the animals during the winter months ahead. This last month we have had quite a lot of general game in the area. We are expecting to have great game viewing in the next few months.
Our wildlife review for the month of May is as follows:
Buffalos: We have had some super buffalo viewing this last month. There have been a few large herds moving around the concession. One of these herds, numbering over 150 individuals, spent quite a bit of time in the area near Green Apple Hill and in the region of the Sticky-Thorn Thickets. Later in the month a large herd of over 400 individuals entered into the concession in the far north. We have also had quite a few sightings of dagha boys (older male buffalos that have left the herds). The word “dagha” is a South African colloquial
term used to describe cement and “dagha boys” therefore refers to builders who mix the cement. Since older male buffalos often wallow in mud-pools they are sometimes seen all covered in mud and when it dries it looks like they are covered in cement, hence the name.
Elephants: Elephant numbers have been strong in the concession this last month and we have had some fantastic viewing. We have seen elephants on almost every drive. There have also been quite a few large herds moving through the area. We saw herds in excess of fifty individuals on at least six occasions during May. It is wonderful to see such large herds in the wild. Generally, wherever there are large herds there is a lot of interaction between the individuals. It is fun to watch the babies and young calves frolicking and chasing each other around. Sometimes they seem to throw tantrums for no apparent reason and a loud squeal from a calf almost inevitably results in the adult females rushing across to check whether everything is okay. Female elephants are great mothers. The large herds also attract many bulls into the concession, who join the herds temporarily in order to check whether there are any receptive cows around. Some of the bulls that have been seen in the concession this month have been in a state of musth and we have had to be careful when in close proximity to them as they are unpredictable when in that condition.
Spotted hyenas: Although we have not found any active hyena dens we have still managed to see these characters of the bushveld on at least fifteen occasions this month. We saw them feeding on impalas a few times. Since these were all adult male impalas we assume that they died in fights with other male impalas, although it is quite possible that some of these antelope were killed by the hyenas. Although spotted hyenas are often seen as scavengers they are also very good hunters, taking prey even up to the size of adult zebras (they are definitely one of Africa’s super-predators). On one occasion a clan of hyenas came across a dead male lion and fed upon it (see the article written further on in the report).
Lions: We have had some great sightings of lions this last month. By far the most exciting, and yet thought-provoking and sad at the same time occurred on the morning of the 10th (This sighting is described in greater depth further on). The four Shishangaan Males have been seen a few times this last month. This coalition is very powerful and has a large territory that they control. Towards the beginning of the month they were spending a lot of time outside of the concession in the area of the Shishangaan Staff Village and near the S100. After the fight with the Rogue Males on the 10th the four males were obviously very sore and did not travel far. The Shishangaan Pride seems to be at the point of splitting up now. This was expected as the young sub-adult males are of the age that they now need to “leave home and get jobs”. On a few occasions, we saw the pride (with the white sub-adult male) and there were between 14 and 19 individuals. In the last week of May we found four of the sub-adults with an adult lioness just north of camp. The next day the four sub-adult males were seen further north and the lioness was found in a very bad state near where they were seen before. It seems as if she had had a confrontation with another lion (possibly even with the sub-adult males) and had some serious puncture wounds on her body. We did not see her after this again. The two Rogue Males were seen at the beginning of the month just north of camp. They had come into the area and were headed straight towards the Shish Males territory. They looked like they were ready for a fight. On the 10th they met up with the Shish Males. The Mountain Pride consists of three lionesses and one cub (unfortunately the other cubs did not survive). They are often seen accompanied by the Grumpy Shish Male. We have had approximately ten sightings of the Mountain Pride this month. Towards the middle of the month they were seen in the hills near Ntoma Road. They were busy hunting and were successful, catching an impala. Towards the end of the month we saw them again in the hills in the central area. The Xhirombe Pride was only seen on two occasions this month. On both occasions it was just one female and the young male. He is looking quite handsome now and his mane is full.
Cheetahs: Cheetahs have been conspicuous by their absence this month. We have not had a single reported sighting of these magnificent, beautiful cats on the concession in May. It feels like we have been cheated (couldn’t resist the pun). The Lebombo area and the Basalt Plains, on the eastern side of the Kruger National Park, have good habitats for cheetahs and this area is known to support some of the highest densities of these rare cats in the whole park. Cheetahs, however, are not usually territorial (they do have a home-range though) and therefore may walk large distances and cover huge areas. The grass is still long in the concession, and the hard substrate has made for difficult tracking conditions, and it is therefore possible that one or two may have visited the area without our knowledge. This month there has been a lot of vocalisation from the lions and we generally find that when the lions are more obvious and active the cheetahs avoid the area. Cheetahs are the weakest of the super-predators in the area and, unfortunately, in a confrontation the spotted cats are the ones who will lose. Therefore, if the lions roar a lot the cheetahs will probably avoid the area.
Leopards: This month we had a minimum of eighteen recorded sightings of these beautiful cats. The Xinkelengane Female, easily recognisable by the scar on her lip and her relaxed behaviour around vehicles, was seen on a few occasions near Schotia Pan in the hills in the northern part of our concession. She looked as though she was lactating. Perhaps she has cubs in that area? At least three different shy males were seen this last month. One of them was found with an impala carcass in a tree in the hills in the east. On the 17th, in the morning, an unidentified pair of leopards were seen mating near the far western border of the concession. The as yet unnamed leopardess (we will have to get around to naming her as she seems to have set up her territory right in the middle of the concession near Dumbana Pools) and her youngster were seen on at least three occasions this month.