November was another amazing month. Right at the beginning of the month we saw the first baby impala. Since then the majority of pregnant female impalas have given birth and the babies have gathered into small crèches. They are very cute! We are well into spring now and have already had a few drops of rain. The deciduous trees are starting to come into leaf and we are seeing more and more green vegetation sprouting. On the 10th of November we experienced an electrical storm in the area and the lightning managed to start a fire just to the west of the concession. The grass was extremely dry and the fire spread quickly, the flames stimulated by the strong breeze that was blowing. The fire continued to burn the grasslands for quite a few days. The dead leadwood logs continued to smoulder and it was an amazing sight to see the glowing red patches in amongst the black of night. The winds stirred the embers causing sparks to fly which resulted in much of the unburnt grass to catch alight. Eventually the majority of the large block between the S41, the H6, the S100 and the H1-3 public roads was burnt, leaving a blackened, scorched area. While the fires burned we saw many birds of prey and other insectivorous birds chasing and catching the insects and smaller creatures that were fleeing the inferno. It was quite an amazing spectacle. Fortunately, the fire did not enter into the concession. In the next few months, as the summer rains arrive, we are expecting the new grass to start sprouting in these charred patches, which in turn will attract many grazers such as zebras and wildebeest to the area.
Although we have had a little bit of rain the rivers have not yet started flowing and the remaining pools in the N’wanetsi River have been attracting quite a lot game to the central and southern areas of the concession. Many of the migrant birds have started returning to the area and we have seen, amongst others, woodland kingfishers, European bee-eaters, yellow-billed kites, barn swallows, red-backed and lesser grey shrikes and quite a few of the cuckoos. The warmer temperatures, longer daylight hours and the little bit of the rain that we have had has encouraged many of the smaller creatures to make an appearance and we have been seeing frogs, snakes and various insects again.
Our wildlife review for the month of November is as follows:
Buffalos: Most of our sightings this month have been of small groups of bachelor bulls. We have also had a few sightings of small breeding herds, although these have not exceeded twenty individuals. The buffalos have been seen mainly in the area near the N’wanetsi River and near Gudzane Dam. Unfortunately for the buffalos the Shishangaan (Shish) Pride have been actively hunting these bovids this month and have killed at least four individuals, including a pregnant cow. One morning we found an old bull resting in the water near Gudzane Dam. As we were watching him a large male lion came down to drink and saw the dagha boy lying in the water. The bull was very thin and when he stood up we could see that he was limping slightly. He also seemed to have a milky layer over at least one of his eyes and therefore was probably slightly blind in that eye. The lion watched the buffalo and saw that he was old and weak and therefore decided to stalk him. Fortunately for the buffalo, he saw the lion approaching him and immediately got up and ran towards the cat, who got a fright from the charging beast and hastily made a retreat. The buffalo then headed in the opposite direction to the one the lion took. Nick, who had also been watching the lion, then drove past the buffalo, who saw the vehicle moving and decided to charge towards it as well. Fortunately, Nick had seen the bull and managed to evade it!
Spotted hyenas: The Xinkelengane den is still active but it’s situated very far in the north of the concession. On the few occasions that the guides have ventured to this otherwise unproductive dry area in the far north they have seen the hyenas (including at least two youngsters) near the den. One morning a cheetah was seen close by the area of the den. It had killed a baby impala and after feeding, a hyena arrived to clear up the remains of the carcass. On another occasion five adult hyenas were seen resting in the shade of a knobthorn tree near Golf Course Clearing.
Although we know that there must be one or two hyena clans denning in the southern part of the concession we believe that these dens are probably in the hills or possibly in the steep-sided valleys where we cannot access with a vehicle.
Elephants: We have had some great elephant viewing this month! All in all, we have had over 100 recorded sightings. Most of these sightings have been of bulls or bachelor herds. There have, however, been a few sightings of breeding herds, including a sighting of a herd of approximately eighty individuals in the hills just north-east of the camp and another of over sixty individuals near Pony Pan towards the end of the month. Since the marula trees are just starting to come into fruit we assume that many of the herds of elephants have moved towards the west of the Kruger Park, where Marula trees are more common. This last month most of our elephant sightings have been in the vicinity of the N’Wanetsi River and in the hills nearby.
Lions: Once again, the lion sightings have been phenomenal! The central grasslands of the Kruger National Park tend to attract quite a few zebras and wildebeest, which in turn attract lions. This part of the park is therefore well-known for lion sightings and many tourists come to the Satara area looking for these big cats. The Singita Kruger Park Concession lies to the east of Satara and we are in the fortunate position where we also have amazing lion sightings. In fact, one of the prides that we see in the concession, on occasion, is possibly one of the most famous prides in the Kruger Park. This pride is known as the Shishangaan Pride (often referred to as the Shish Pride). Approximately 70 % of this pride’s territory lies outside of the concession, but fortunately we do see them fairly often. This pride is very large – at present there are between fifteen and nineteen members. The pride used to be larger, but a few years ago it got so large (approximately thirty members) that it split into two (or more) separate groups. The smaller portion moved out of the concession and seemed to have settled in the area nearby our staff quarters (which is a twenty-minute bus drive from the lodge). There are no roads in this area and as it is not part of our concession we do not venture there, other than driving the access road to the staff quarters. A few months back three lionesses were seen in that area and they had six small cubs with them. We believe that these lionesses are part of the break-away group from the old Shish mega-pride. The portion of the Shish Pride that we sometimes see in the concession is not only famous because of the numbers of individuals, but also due to the fact that it has a leucistic individual (a white lion) in it. This leucistic individual is a sub-adult male and is of the age where he will have to leave the pride soon and he will then have to go and search for a territory of his own. In fact, many of the subadults in the Shish Pride are males and they are all at the age where they will have to leave the area soon. Once they leave it may give one of the other prides, such as the Mountain Pride, to start growing in numbers and to become more dominant in the area.
The Shish Pride have been pretty active in the concession this last month and we have had great sightings of them. On at least four occasions we have seen them feeding on buffalos. On two of these occasions the guides and guests were lucky enough to witness the whole stalk and kill.
We have seen the Mountain Pride regularly in November. This is the only pride in our area whose territory falls entirely within the concession. At present the pride consists of three adult females and a cub of approximately one year of age. This pride is often seen with one of the large Shish Males. On the morning of the 23rd they were seen feeding on a waterbuck to the north of the dam.
The Xhirombe Pride were seen on a few occasions. This pride usually consists of three lions viz. an old lioness, a subadult male (of approximately 4 years of age) and a subadult female. The younger female has not been seen for a few months now. We initially assumed that she was pregnant and that she had left the pride to give birth to cubs but, due to the fact that we have not seen her for quite a while, we are not sure if she is still alive. The other two lions mainly utilise the area along the Mozambique border, high up in the hills to the east of camp, although on occasion they are seen near the N’wanetsi River close to the camp. The young male now has a full mane and is starting to look quite impressive.
Cheetahs: This month has been fantastic in terms of cheetah viewing. We have had 16 recorded sightings, and most of these have been of a single female cheetah. On the morning of the 8th, however, we had three different sightings of cheetahs. On one occasion guests were fortunate enough to see the female cheetah chase after and catch a baby impala.
Leopards: This last month we had 17 recorded sightings of leopards. We saw the young Dumbana Male leopard on four occasions. This leopard is much more relaxed with vehicles now and quite a few of the guests in camp at the time got to see him. At the end of the month he was seen feeding on an impala in the Nyokeng Valley. The Ndlovu male was also seen on two occasions. This large male leopard does not seem to care about the presence of vehicles. Solomon was the guide who found this leopard on both occasions. On the afternoon of the 23rd he was spotted feeding on a baby impala on top of a ridge to the east of camp, and many of the guests got good views of him feeding. Late one afternoon Nick was on his way to have sundowners on top of the cliffs overlooking the N’Wanetsi River when he found the Tingala female leopard stalking impalas. Jani came to join the sighting, but the leopard soon moved into an area that was inaccessible to vehicles, and they both left her following after the impalas.