Singita Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park | September 2017

Spring is in the air now and, even though most of the trees are still bare, we are noticing some that are starting to get new green leaves and buds. There is still quite a lot of grass in the concession, although it is now golden yellow. In some places it has been flattened by the movement of animals. The impala lilies are still in flower and many of the long-tailed cassia trees are still in full bloom, with their bright yellow blossoms. Some of these trees, however, have finished flowering and are starting to get their lime-green foliage. Other plants that are in flower at the moment, or are starting to flower, include the russet bushwillows, the flame creepers and some of the weeping boerbean trees. The boerbeans have bunches of red, nectar-filled flowers and are attracting numerous birds. Some of the small forbs are also just starting to flower, including the Dyschoriste rogersii, with their bright purple petals, and Justicia flava with their small yellow flowers. Throughout the hills the Ipomoea creepers are also flowering, adding colour to the rocky areas.

Some of the migrant birds have already returned to the area and we are seeing yellow-billed kites sweeping around in the sky regularly again. We are also hearing the plaintive call of the Klaas’ cuckoo echoing from the trees beneath the cliffs of the Lebombo Ridges. We are very fortunate to still have pools of water in places in the N’wanetsi and Sweni Rivers and these water points are attracting a lot of game during the hotter hours. As some of the pools have become smaller and smaller we have witnessed many storks and other piscivorous birds gathering to catch the fish that are trapped in the isolated, drying ponds. One pool along the S41 road attracted quite a few species of birds, including yellow-billed storks, black storks, woolly-necked storks, saddle-billed storks, great white egrets and hamerkops all wading around in the shallow water looking for the last remaining fish and frogs. Solomon even witnessed two saddle-billed storks attacking a fish-eagle at Dave’s Crossing.  With the temperatures rising again we have started to see a few reptiles on the move. One afternoon we found a large Mozambique spitting cobra. The general game in the concession has been fantastic this month and we have seen large herds of plains zebras, blue wildebeest, impalas, kudus and giraffes. Because many of the trees still do not have leaves and because the grass layer is starting to get flattened and to thin out more we have started seeing some of the smaller antelope again, including the dainty Sharpe’s grysbok and steenbok. Gudzani Dam still has quite a bit of water and is also attracting a lot of animals to the area. We are starting to see clouds in the sky again, which is an omen that the rainy season will soon be upon us. The concession is looking amazing and the animal sightings have been spectacular this last month.

Our wildlife review for the month of September is as follows:

Buffalos: Unlike this time last year, this year there is still a fair amount of grass in the concession. There is also still water in parts of the N’wanetsi River and in Gudzani Dam and this has allowed the buffalos to remain in the area throughout our winter months. This last month we were still seeing quite large herds of these magnificent creatures in the Lebombo area. There have even been a few large herds that have a few hundred individuals in them. It is always impressive to see the large herds of these formidable animals. We have also had quite a few sightings of bachelor herds of “dagha boys” in the area. Buffalos are some of the favourite prey species for many prides of lions and we have on a few occasions, this last month, found the lions feeding on buffalo carcasses.

Spotted hyenas: Although the Nyokeng and H6 Dens have not been active this last month we have still had some great spotted hyena sightings. The den in the far north of the concession (which we refer to as the Xinkelengane den) has produced some fantastic viewing. This den is in a large hole in the ground that was possibly originally excavated by an aardvark and then later taken over by the hyenas. When we have managed to get to the den-site early enough in the morning we have been lucky enough to find a few of the adults and some of the youngsters lying near the mouth of the den warming themselves in the sun. As soon as it gets too hot, however, the youngsters return to the coolness of the den and the adults go and hide in the shade of the thickets, out of sight. Towards the beginning of the month three adult hyenas were witnessed harassing a young giraffe near the South Africa / Mozambique border. After a while the giraffe managed to run away and escape from the hyenas. At the beginning of the month we also had a sighting of five hyenas and numerous vultures feeding on a kudu carcass in the hills. We believe that the kudu was killed by a leopard and that the hyenas stole the carcass from the cat.

Elephants: We have had sightings of elephants on almost every drive (if not every drive) this last month. There have been quite a few large herds moving around the concession. As it heats up during the day the elephants tend to move closer to the pools of water in the river and towards the water at Gudzani Dam. We have had some great views of them drinking, wallowing in the mud and dust-bathing. Since the grass has started dying back the elephants have started knocking over trees again to get to the moisture and nutrients that are in the roots. They have also been removing the bark from many of the trees to feed upon the cambium layer, which is the part of the tree in which the nutrients and water are transported. Unfortunately, when the elephants remove the bark they often end up killing the trees or leaving the plants susceptible to insect and bacterial damage.

Lions: We have had regular sightings of lions during the month of September. The central area of the Kruger Park, and in particular the Singita Lebombo concession is well-known to have great lion sightings. This last month we had 85 reported sightings of these majestic large cats.

We have not seen much of the larger portion of the Shishangaan Pride this last month. At the beginning of the month we saw them resting just north of the Gumba Drainage. The young white male was with them. While we were watching them we saw a male waterbuck approaching. The antelope was not aware of the lions that were lying flat in the grass and some of the lionesses suddenly became interested. We watched as they started stalking towards the waterbuck, utilizing the bushes and thick grass as cover. The remaining lions all sat up to watch the progress of the hunt. One of the lionesses circled around to the other side of the antelope and two other lionesses headed to the west to block off any escape route. Unfortunately, or fortunately for the waterbuck, the lions were spotted before they could get close enough to launch an attack and the antelope managed to evade the cats. The lions then mock-stalked each other and went back to lie down in the grass. Approximately 800 meters to the north (not visible to the lions) there was a herd of approximately one hundred buffalos that were resting in the grassland, busy ruminating. Shortly after the sun had set the lions woke up and started heading north. They soon realised that there were buffalos ahead of them and the pride then spread out and started stalking the bovids. It was already dark and the guides turned off the spotlights as the lions started to approach the buffalos (if they carried on spotlighting the lions the buffalos would have seen the cats approaching, which would have been unfair for the lions, and if the guides had spotlighted the buffalos it would have temporarily blinded the herbivores, and would thus have been unfair on the buffalos. It is Singita policy not to spotlight hunting predators or their prey at night). The guides then sat in the dark waiting for the sounds of hooves running across the grassland or the death cries of a buffalo, if the lions were successful. The stars were bright in the sky as the guides waited for any sign that the lions were going for the buffalos. In the past, it has sometimes happened that we have seen predators starting to hunt and have therefore turned off the lights and waited only to find that after quite a while, when we turned the lights back on, both the predators and prey had moved off totally and neither were in the area any more. The guides, therefore, sat in the dark wondering whether the lions were still stalking the buffalos or whether the cats had decided not to go for them and had instead circled around carried on walking away from the area. Then suddenly all chaos erupted and the noise of the hooves running through the grass and the bellowing of the buffalos, interspersed with the death cries of an unfortunate individual echoed through the night. The guides immediately turned the spotlights back on and soon found the lions in the process of killing one of the buffalos.  One of the cats had the buffalo by the throat while the others were all over its back. It was not long before the buffalo succumbed and the lions started to feed, arguing amongst each other and jostling for a position around the carcass.

The Smaller Portion of the Shishangaan Pride (3 lionesses with six cubs) have been outside of the concession for the last few months and this last month was no exception. One morning, however, the staff bus driver reported that he had seen lions feeding on a buffalo on the entrance road to the staff quarters. The guides responded to the sighting and when we arrived there we found the lions approximately 50 metres from the road, busy feeding. We could see one lioness, three adult Shish Males and a few cubs feasting on the remains of the buffalo. They had already almost finished the carcass. It was a great sighting.

We have seen the dominant Shishangaan Males fairly regularly this last month. Usually, when we see them, three of the males are together and the fourth is often separate from them, and frequently seen in the company of the Mountain Pride.

The Mountain Pride presently consist of three adult lionesses and one cub of approximately one-year-old. This pride is often accompanied by one of the Shish Males, and has been seen frequently this last month. On the morning of the 8th the Mountain Pride were located on Leadwood Road, near the Central Depression. They were busy hunting, but were not successful. They then went to Pony Pan, where they were eyeing out the general game that wanted to come down to drink. We headed back there in the afternoon to see if they had managed to catch anything, but the lions were not there. Glass (our Head-tracker) found the tracks of the lions heading in a north-easterly direction away from the pan, towards the ridges. After following the tracks for a while he found the lions on the side of the hill. They were busy feeding on something in the long grass. When we brought the vehicle closer we saw that it appeared that they had caught and were feeding on an adult bushpig. Bushpigs are very seldom seen in the Lebombo Concession. The next day we found the Mountain Pride following a herd of buffalos near the Sticky Thorn thickets. They were accompanied by the Shish Male. The buffalos were headed towards the western border of the concession. The lions did not seem committed to the hunt and soon disappeared into the thickets, where we assume they rested for the rest of the day. On the morning of the 18th we found the Mountain Pride in an open area to the east of Gudzani Dam. They were obviously waiting for animals to come down to the water to drink. Unfortunately, the young cub was far too enthusiastic and started moving towards the herd of zebras that were following the game path past where the lionesses were hiding. The cub obviously has not yet learned about using cover when hunting and she strolled right out into the open area, giving away the location of the lions!

We have also seen the Xhirombe Pride on a handful of occasions this month. At the moment this pride consists of only one female and her son (the Xhirombe Male). We have not seen his sister for quite few months now and are not sure if she is still alive or whether she is hiding out in the hills where she might have new cubs. The two remaining Xhirombe members are generally active in the hills close to the border of Mozambique, although this month we have seen them a few times just north of camp, nearby the N’wanetsi River. The name of this Pride comes from Shangaan name for a tree (Large-leaf Rock Fig – Ficus abutifolia), that grows on the rocky cliffs and in the hills. This pride was given this name because they tend to favour the hilly habitats on the south-eastern side of the concession. One evening a few of the guides had stopped for sundowners at the Poort (we were all driving a large group of guests that had booked out the entire Lebombo Lodge). The sundowner spot that we refer to as “the Poort” is right at the top of the cliffs overlooking the N’wanetsi, where the river exits South Africa and flows into Mozambique. It is a place of particular beauty and a great place to watch the sun setting over Kruger Park. While we were having drinks and snacks with the guests at the top of the ridge, Lawrence (one of our trackers), saw some movement in the gorge below us. Looking through binoculars, we could see that it was the two members of the Xhirombe Pride. It was an unbelievable spot by Lawrence. Even with binoculars it was difficult to see them.

The Southern Pride is a pride that we do not see very often. Their territory is mainly to the south of our concession and it is only when they go to the far northern area of their territory that we have a chance of finding them. Since we do not see them very often we do not know the exact composition of the pride. This month we saw the Southern Pride on at least three different occasions. On the morning of the 7th of September we saw them and one of the Southern Males on the H6 road, not far from camp. We counted ten lions (including the male). They were busy stalking giraffes, but were not successful. On the morning of the 10th some of the staff were at the main area of Lebombo Lodge when they saw movement on the ridge between the Villa and the Boutique & Gallery. They soon realised that it was a pride of lions that were resting in the camp. There were at least six lions resting on the rocks (including a large male). It was the Southern Pride. They remained in the camp for the rest of the day and when the sun set in the late afternoon they got up and headed west, out of the concession.

Cheetahs: We have had a fantastic month of cheetah viewing. For quite a few months now we have not been seeing many of these beautiful spotted cats. This is possibly because the grass in the area was too long and thick to allow cheetahs to hunt successfully (cheetahs are the fastest of the land mammals. They are able attain speeds of up to 110 kilometres per hour / 70 miles per hour. They tend to chase down their prey, which is generally one of the small or medium antelopes such as impalas or steenbok. In order to attain this type of speed cheetahs need open areas in which to run. When the grass is too long it inhibits the cheetahs). The grass in the concession is now slowly being flattened by the movement of animals and therefore there are areas in the concession that are more conducive to the hunting techniques of cheetahs. This month we have had at least 13 recorded sightings of these striking cats. Most of these sightings have been of two different groups (cheetahs are generally considered to be solitary animals, however, males do sometimes form coalitions with other males particularly if they are related e.g. brothers. Females may be accompanied by cubs and when these cubs get to sub-adulthood they may look like adults, thus giving the impression that they are gregarious animals).

At the beginning of the month we found two male cheetahs walking in the grasslands near the H6 road. One of these two males was limping badly, with an injured back leg. Towards the middle of the month Eckson (one of our senior trackers) noticed tracks of two cheetahs entering into the concession from the west. Nick and Christoff were driving along Leadwood Road when they heard some jackals giving alarm calls. Upon investigation they found the two male cheetahs walking in an easterly direction across the open plains. The two cheetahs then headed into the hills where we were unable to follow them anymore.  A few days later Margaux and her guests had stopped for sundowner drinks on Name Badge Hill to watch the sunset with a gin and tonic in hand when the familiar alarm calls of impala started to fill the air. Their calls started to increase in intensity, and soon the zebras joined in. Margaux and Tracker Lawrence moved towards where the impalas were calling from and that was when they saw the silhouette of a cat that was peering through the vegetation and past the rocks towards where all the guests were standing. As it was unclear which predator was in the area, the guests were quickly ushered into the vehicle, and with glasses still in hand everyone leapt into action whilst Margaux and Lawrence quickly cleared the drinks table and just placed all of the game drive snacks and wine bottles on the ground. They barely drove a couple of meters before they spotted a Black-backed Jackal. Jackals often give away the presence of other carnivores, and by looking at the body language of the jackal, he quickly pointed out where the cat was… he was staring right next to the vehicle, where not one, but two male cheetahs were lying on a small plateau overlooking the spot where all of the guests were standing just seconds before. The brothers casually got up and walked past the abandoned coolerbox before sauntering off into the sunset. A great and unexpected sighting indeed. The next morning the two brothers were found heading west towards the border of the concession. They had just walked past a herd of elephants when they spotted (pardon the pun) some impalas up ahead and the healthy brother tried to circle around the antelopes in order to get closer. The limping brother waited in the shade of a knobthorn tree while his brother stalked through the grassland. Unfortunately for the two cats the impalas noticed the cheetah’s approach before he was close enough to start the chase and they made good their escape.

At the end of the first week of September Chantelle was driving near Gudzani Dam when she was happily surprised to find a female cheetah with three small cubs. The cubs were only a few weeks old. When young, cheetah cubs are very dark below and have longer pale fur on their backs. It is thought that this makes them resemble the formidable honey badgers, thus making them less likely to be killed by other predators (most predators know that to harass a honey badger is a very bad idea). The cheetahs were resting in the shade of a large knobthorn tree nearby a large game path that animals use to get to the water at the dam. Later on, that afternoon, we returned to the area to see if the cheetahs were still there. They were still in the same position, but soon got up and moved to the open area nearby. A black-backed jackal started following the female cheetah and her cubs and the young cats then decided to stalk the canid. The mother watched on from where she was lying and called the cubs back, knowing that the jackal could be dangerous to the young kittens. The cubs started playing with each other and moved a little bit away from the mom. The jackal started to move closer to them and the mother cheetah then thought that enough was enough and got up and chased the jackal away. The next day these cheetahs were seen again in the central depression near Leadwood Road. The female was stalking some impalas and gave chase just before the sun went down. She was not successful with the hunt and the guides then left the area (we do not watch diurnal animals at night as their eyes do not cope well with spotlights. It is also Singita policy to not spotlight baby animals).

A few days later this female cheetah was seen near the western border of the concession. It was late afternoon and she had just killed an adult female impala. We then noticed that there were only two cubs with her. This was very sad. She had obviously lost one of the cubs between the time we saw her last and now. We watched as she and the cubs fed upon the impala carcass. As it was starting to get dark we decided to leave her. Cheetahs are the least powerful of the super-predators in the area and often get chased away from their kills by either hyenas or lions, and for this reason we assumed that they would feed and then leave the carcass before other predators got wind of the fact that there was a kill there (particularly as it was starting to get dark and it was then the time that lions and hyenas become active). We were certainly not expecting to find them at the same place the next morning, but there they were! We watched as they fed upon the remains of the kill and then finally, when the vultures started to arrive, she took the cubs and left the area.

Leopards:  We have had good leopard-viewing this month. Altogether we have had 25 recorded sightings in September.

The stars this last month were definitely the Dumbana female and her youngster. These two leopards have been seen a few times in September. The Dumbana female is generally seen in the area between Milkberry Ridge and Xinkwenyana Crossing. She also likes the area around Dumbana and Puff Adder Pools. This leopard is a fairly relaxed female and she is often seen with her sub-adult male youngster, who is also getting more and more relaxed with vehicles.

On the evening of the 6th Brian and Jani had a spectacular sighting of the Dumbana female near Pony Pan. In Brian’s words: “We were so lucky last night. We had just finished our sundowner drinks when Jani called on the radio saying that she had found a female leopard. I was quite close and so I decided to go and take a look at her. When we arrived there, we found that the leopard was stalking some impalas. These impalas were making their way towards a dry riverbed and the leopard had seen the direction that they were headed. She quickly slunk past our car and entered into the riverbed, making her way quickly towards where the antelope were headed. She hid behind the side of the embankment and as the first male impala came over the edge the leopard leapt up and grabbed hold of the impala, pulling it to the ground. There was chaos as the other impalas ran away giving loud warning snorts and then staring at the leopard who was in the process of killing the unfortunate antelope. We watched as the impala gave a last few kicks and saw how the spark disappeared from its eyes. As soon as the impala was dead the leopard dragged it amongst the rocks and started feeding upon it. It was truely exhilarating to see the stalk, pounce and the eventual kill. Many of the guides went to the area the next morning to see if they could find the leopard again, but all they found were some entrails and the footprints of hyenas. It appears that she did not manage to place the carcass in a tree and that it was stolen by the scavengers.riverbed, making her way quickly towards where the antelope were headed. She hid behind the side of the embankment and as the first male impala came over the edge the leopard leapt up and grabbed hold of the impala, pulling it to the ground. There was chaos as the other impalas ran away giving loud warning snorts and then staring at the leopard who was in the process of killing the unfortunate antelope. We watched as the impala gave a last few kicks and saw how the spark disappeared from its eyes. As soon as the impala was dead the leopard dragged it amongst the rocks and started feeding upon it. It was truely exhilarating to see the stalk, pounce and the eventual kill. Many of the guides went to the area the next morning to see if they could find the leopard again, but all they found were some entrails and the footprints of hyenas. It appears that she did not manage to place the carcass in a tree and that it was stolen by the scavengers.riverbed, making her way quickly towards where the antelope were headed. She hid behind the side of the embankment and as the first male impala came over the edge the leopard leapt up and grabbed hold of the impala, pulling it to the ground. There was chaos as the other impalas ran away giving loud warning snorts and then staring at the leopard who was in the process of killing the unfortunate antelope. We watched as the impala gave a last few kicks and saw how the spark disappeared from its eyes. As soon as the impala was dead the leopard dragged it amongst the rocks and started feeding upon it. It was truely exhilarating to see the stalk, pounce and the eventual kill. Many of the guides went to the area the next morning to see if they could find the leopard again, but all they found were some entrails and the footprints of hyenas. It appears that she did not manage to place the carcass in a tree and that it was stolen by the scavengers.riverbed, making her way quickly towards where the antelope were headed. She hid behind the side of the embankment and as the first male impala came over the edge the leopard leapt up and grabbed hold of the impala, pulling it to the ground. There was chaos as the other impalas ran away giving loud warning snorts and then staring at the leopard who was in the process of killing the unfortunate antelope. We watched as the impala gave a last few kicks and saw how the spark disappeared from its eyes. As soon as the impala was dead the leopard dragged it amongst the rocks and started feeding upon it. It was truely exhilarating to see the stalk, pounce and the eventual kill. Many of the guides went to the area the next morning to see if they could find the leopard again, but all they found were some entrails and the footprints of hyenas. It appears that she did not manage to place the carcass in a tree and that it was stolen by the scavengers.riverbed, making her way towards where the antelope were going. She hid behind the side of the embankment and as the first male impala came over the edge the leopard leapt up and grabbed hold of the impala, pulling it to the ground. There was chaos as the other impalas ran away giving loud warning snorts and then staring at the leopard who was in the process of killing the unfortunate antelope. We watched as the impala gave a last few kicks and saw how the spark disappeared from its eyes. As soon as the impala was dead the leopard dragged it amongst the rocks and started feeding upon it. It was truly exhilarating to see the stalk, pounce and the eventual kill. Many of the guides went to the area the next morning to see if they could find the leopard again, but all they found were some entrails and the footprints of hyenas. It appears that she did not manage to place the carcass in a tree and that it was stolen by the scavengers”.

The Xinkelengane female leopard is one of the most relaxed leopards in the concession. She has, however, set up her present territory quite far north in the concession, in an area where it is very difficult to follow tracks (due to the rocky nature of the substrate) and where it is difficult to access with a vehicle (there are quite a few steep-sided valleys and rocky ridges in the area). We were lucky enough to see her one day this last month. In the early hours of the morning of the 19th Margaux and her tracker, Lawrence, found her tracks and the footprints of one of her cubs, and decided to follow them. After a short while they found her and the cub (we do not know if the second cub is still alive) in a thickly vegetated drainage line. They had a brief visual of the cub before it headed into the thick bushes. The female leopard then left the cub hidden in the dense undergrowth and started walking up the dry riverbed. Margaux then left the area where the cub was hidden and carried on following the adult leopardess. She continued walking along the riverbed until she found a nice cool place in the shade where she rested and fell asleep.

At the beginning of the month we were also lucky enough to have a few sightings of the Mhlangulene female and her youngster. The Mhlangulene female is another very relaxed leopard in the area. We do not see her very often as she tends to be active in the far north-east of the concession, close to the border with Mozambique, and she often goes into the neighbouring country where we cannot go. Towards the end of the month Walter found the Mhlangulene female and her youngster with an impala kill in a tree nearby the Mozambique border. This was an amazing sighting, with great views of the two leopards resting on a fallen marula tree. At one point the marula branch broke causing both leopards to fall to the ground!

We have also had a few sightings of male leopards this month. The Ndlovu male (the most relaxed adult male leopard in the area) was seen once this month, right at the access road to the camp. He was busy watching some impala as they were feeding, but he soon lost interest and headed south over the rocky ridges. We also saw a large male leopard one afternoon, on the H6 road, as we were bringing guests to the lodge from the airstrip. How amazing is that…. to see a leopard before you have even arrived at the camp and before you have even gone on one game-drive? Another slightly shy male was seen on the S41 road (the western border of the Lebombo Concession) one morning.  Brian had decided to take the boundary road on his way to northern parts of the concession, hoping to get to the Xinkelengane hyena den before the temperatures rose and before the hyenas returned into the hole in the ground, hiding from the sun. As they were passing by the sticky-thorn thickets Brian and Glass (our Head Tracker) saw a herd of buffalos grazing in the distance. Shortly after leaving the buffalos they were surprised to find a large male leopard right by the side of the road. The leopard was busy smelling something in the grass and did not initially notice the vehicle nearby. When he did finally realise that there was a vehicle close by he stopped sniffing the ground and slowly and casually walked across the road into the concession towards where the herd of buffalos had been seen. It is always exciting to have good views of leopards that are unknown to us.

 

Read the full wildlife report here: Singita Kruger National Park Wildlife Report September 2017