May has been a fantastic month! We are already deep into autumn (fall) and the grass is still lush and thick. The grass is, however, changing colour now and has become a beautiful tawny golden hue, the colour of a lion’s pelt. Most of the trees still have leaves, although the leaves of the wooden banana and pod mahogany trees are now starting to turn yellow. The temperatures are starting to drop and we have started to wear fleeces on the early morning drives. There are still a few clouds in the sky and these will probably disappear as winter arrives. Most of the migrant birds have left and the numbers of insects have drastically reduced. There is still water lying in some of the pans that are spread throughout the concession and the game is quite dispersed across the area. There has been good general game (zebras, wildebeest, giraffes etc) in the concession this last month. There is still a fair bit of water in pools along the N’wanetsi River and along with the thicker grass layer we are expecting these resources to attract a lot of animals into the concession this winter.
Buffalos: With all the lush grass in the area we have had quite a few sightings of buffalos. There were at least 25 recorded sightings of these impressive bovids in the concession this last month. Most of these sightings have been of dagha boys or bachelor herds, although we have seen quite a few large “breeding herds” in the basalt grasslands to the west of the concession. We have been seeing these herds on most of the guest transfers to and from the airstrip. As the water in the temporary pans starts to disappear we are expecting that these larger herds will start to move deeper into the concession, particularly to the larger pools in the river such as Puff Adder Pool, Dumbana Pool, The Weir and Gudzani Dam.
Elephants: May has been a month of much variety in terms of elephants. The concession is drying out by the day and this has had the effect of the game viewing beginning to move towards the winter pattern once again. Late morning, elephants are coming down to the river to quench their thirst and then move off to feed close by. However, as there was some rain mid-May, there was a small flush of green, which meant that the elephants could go back to eating green grass and obtaining some moisture from it.
We are not seeing large congregations of elephants along the river just yet, but there have been a few sightings of more than fifty elephants together at the remaining pans up in the mountains. It is always a spectacle to see so many of these great animals together, and we are happy that the concession is beginning to fill with them once again.
As the vegetation dries, the elephants have to change the way they feed, so we are seeing more trees pushed over as bull, cow and calf try to gain extra nutrients from the new shoots at the top, or from chewing roots that are then exposed.
Spotted Hyenas: During this month over 36 sightings of these animals were recorded here. Of these, the majority of the sightings were recorded around the Granophyre Den site. On one occasion 16 animals were seen together, with several young cubs playing with each other and the adults. As hyenas are often seen as vicious killers and cowardly scavengers, it is always special to see the softer side of these super carnivores with the doting mothers nursing their offspring, and
with the young cubs curiously mustering up the courage to come and inspect the guests on the Landrovers.
Driving back one evening Quintin had found a member of the Shish pride that had her kill stolen by a single hyaena. The lioness could not do much but sit and stare at the animal as her prey was devoured right in front of her eyes!
Lions: Lion movements at Singita Kruger National Park are always fascinating, and the month of May proved no different. There has been much head scratching whilst trying to work out what exactly is going on between the various prides and coalitions.
The flagship Shish Pride continues to surprise us by occasionally being found as an entire group of 18, and then are located apart once more. The young males are getting big now, and it is unlikely that they will stay with us for too much longer. The lionesses in the pride look to be in good health barring one, which is limping rather heavily. The white lion got horribly lost at one point about midway through the month. We found him heading straight north in a great hurry one day, when the rest of the pride had already been seen about ten kilometres south of him. He was spotted alone again a few times, until one day out of the blue, he was reunited again with the pride.
The Mountain Pride youngsters are doing well, and all three are still alive. They have been seen with the largest Shish male on a few occasions and, though the mother never seems entirely relaxed in this situation, he seems to have accepted them. We can safely say that they are now on a diet of meat (as well as mother’s milk) and the mother is now moving them from kill to kill and then hiding them in between hunts. This definitely keeps us on our toes when trying to find them for our guests.
The Shish males appear to be holding on to their territory. Other than one morning when all three were particularly vocal and they were possibly on the scent of an intruder, it appears to have been a drama-free month for them. As we all know, Mother Nature often guards her secrets closely, so there may be much about which we do not know.
The Xhirombe young male has also been sighted on a few occasions without his mother, which is a new development. He is looking very good, but without any brothers with whom to form a coalition, he has a long hard road ahead of him.
Cheetahs: As the temperature drops and the surface moisture is wicked away by the winter winds, it is getting drier here. This means the grass is getting shorter and it is getting better for cheetah. Nevertheless, cheetah viewing is not quite in full swing yet. We have, however, been truly blessed with the presence of a female and four older cubs, who are almost the same size as she is! Seeing five cheetahs together is always special, and they have provided us with some absolutely spectacular sightings.
There have also been two males that have been spotted around the staff village road on a few occasions.
Leopards: It has been an interesting month in regard to leopards on the N’wanetsi / Lebombo Concession. The Dumbana Young Male continues to be our most reliable leopard, but as he gets older, his horizons broaden and he is found in more and more unusual areas. We are hoping that he finds somewhere on the concession to set up a territory, so we can watch him grow to maturity.
The Dumbana female has been seen just once this month. We hope that sightings of her will become more regular as the water in the ridges begins to dry, forcing her to follow her prey down to the river as they search for water.
The female that is seen around Joe’s Road has been seen a few times, but because of her unreliable temperament, we continue to treat her with a degree of caution.
There have been a few sightings of large, power-exuding, male leopards. We are convinced that at least one of these sightings was of the N’wanetsi male, who has been scarce in the last while.
Towards the end of the month guides Wessel and Brian were following a female leopard that was walking along the road below Green Apple Hill. Suddenly a male impala came running out of the long grass and leapt right over the cat. The leopard immediately jumped up and grabbed hold of the antelope. Both tumbled into the long grass behind some bushes and as the vehicles approached the area the leopard was struggling to get a good grip on the impala. She had the antelope by the shoulder, instead of by the throat, and with a big shrug the impala got loose and managed to run away.