The nights are getting colder and the days shorter, but one thing remains the same; game viewing on the N’wanetsi Concession of the world-famous Kruger Park is fantastic. We are confident that we have seen the last of the summer rains, but their effect on the concession is apparent. Now, it is as lush as it ever has been, giving it the appearance of an absolute Eden. The height and density of the grass after the rains is staggering. An afternoon drive on the central depression is beautiful as the sun lights up the grass seed, setting it aglow with reds, yellows and whites. The concession is definitely set up for later in the year though. We have seen animals old and young come and go, and it has been yet another thrilling month at Singita Kruger National Park. Our wildlife review for the month of April is as follows:
Buffalos: There have been twenty five different buffalo sightings this month. With the late rains the grass has become lush and plentiful, providing a great banquet of indulgence for these large bovids. (Buffalo prefer to graze on tall grasses as they possess the ability to digest these fibrous species which most of the smaller ruminants will avoid.) With this abundance of food, the buffalo are fat and healthy, and consequently the lions are struggling to catch these immensely powerful animals.
There have however been several opportunities for the lions to do so. A herd was found moving steadily towards two sleeping Shishangaan Males as the sun was setting. The wind was in favour of the big cats and they soon became aware of the familiar sound of masses of hooves moving over the rocky terrain of the Lebombo Mountains. The cats sat up, and started to move into ambush position, and it was only at the last minute that the herd became aware of their presence, causing the herd to stampede off at great speed towards an area of safety. The lions looked rather perplexed as a cloud of dust settled around them. Perhaps they would catch something later that night, but that was definitely a missed opportunity.
There were also several sightings of lone buffalo bulls. These animals tend to be more agitated and irritable as they do not have the protection of the rest of the herd, and on most occasions, with a head toss and a snort, the animals would curl their tales and canter off.
Elephants: The month of April had been relatively quiet in terms of elephant sightings on the N’wanetsi Concession, right up until the last few days of the month. That is not to say that we had not been seeing them; rather they were just not around in great numbers. The grass load on the concession is immense, and we were already seeing the return of the larger herds towards the end of April. The elephants will see the long grass as a great food source and we are certain that in the near future we see many large breeding herds. This is something we look forward to greatly!
Interestingly, the road to and from the Satara airstrip and Shishangaan Staff Village has been extremely good for elephant viewing. We have seen herds of more than fifty elephants on a few occasions, with one guide seeing quite literally hundreds of the great pachyderms on one trip to the airstrip. It was the most amazing airstrip transfer and everyone aboard was very lucky to have been there to witness such a spectacle.
There has also been quite a high presence of females in oestrus and males in musth, as the food quality is excellent at the moment. This has led to a few interesting sightings of elephants, both male and female chasing each other all around. Seeing an elephant in full flight is not the most common of sightings so it is something quite special to see.
As stated above, sightings of elephants became extremely regular towards the end of the month. On some occasions three or four herds would be seen by a single vehicle on one drive. There is never a dull moment with the largest of all land mammals, and we certainly consider ourselves lucky every time we see them.
Spotted Hyenas: The focal point for out hyena viewing has become the granophyre den, which can produce some spectacular sightings. One of our guides viewed interaction between 13 hyenas at this den. Set amongst the endemic Lebombo euphorbias and surrounded by the iconic granophyre rock formation, it is one of the most beautiful den-sites many of us have ever been to. There have also been the usual regular, but unpredictable, nocturnal sightings of hyenas on the concession roads at night. These are always exciting surprises!
Lions: Six different lion prides were seen during this month with a total of 77 sightings being recorded over this time period, and if that was not exciting enough there has been some interesting developments that have taken place amongst the lions of the N’wanetsi Concession. As always, sightings of the Shishangaan Pride have been fairly good and consistent, with the white lion and his brothers still offering great viewing opportunities.
Late one afternoon, as the sun was setting, the Shish Pride were found attempting to hunt a herd of buffalo. Slowly the lions crept forward, the wind in their favour and the buffalo none the wiser of the impending doom lurking in the long grass. Once within striking range the wind turned and the buffalo became aware of the presence of the big cats. Chaos ensued, with the herd stampeding towards and scattering the lions in all directions. As all in the sighting waited for the death bellow of a buffalo, something unusual happened. There was much growling and snarling, and it became apparent, unbeknown to all in the sighting, four unknown newcomer males had heard the commotion of the hunting attempt, and they had seized the opportunity to attack the hapless Shish Pride. The newcomers were chasing and biting some of the Shish youngsters, causing the pride and the buffalo to scatter in all directions. The sound of the victorious newcomers’ roars filled the night skies. Are these the new kings that might unseat the ruling Shishangaan Males?
The four newcomer males most likely made their way into the area because of the fact that two of the Shishangaan brothers were found courting a lioness from the Shishangaan Pride, causing the resident territory holders to be preoccupied in their mating endeavours and letting their guard down, allowing the intruders to temporarily breach their area.
The two brothers were however found on several occasions after that in the core of the territory, and the newcomers were lying low after their return. The third Shish male (with the injured hip) was found on several occasions with the Mountain Pride, where he too was seen showing interest in one of the Mountain Pride lionesses. We are hopeful that their mating sessions were successful and that we will see some new additions to both the Shishangaan as well as the Mountain Pride within the next couple of months.
Speaking of cubs, we are proud to announce that the Mountain Pride has three new additions that have made an appearance. They were first sighted early on morning drive just north of Double Crossing. They are estimated to be around two months old, and although their mother introduced them to the rest of the pride, they are still quite small and can’t walk too far with the other females. For that reason, the cubs and mom tend to keep around the Double Crossing and Cubs Crossing area.
The Northern Pride was also seen around the northern reaches of the concession, and the Xhirombe Pride was found towards the southern sections and towards the Mozambique border.
Cheetahs: In the first half of the month, there were seven cheetah sightings, which was very exciting. We were surprised to still be seeing the world’s fastest land mammal at this time as the grass was already quite long, which leads do a dip in the number of cheetahs in the area, and also our chances of seeing those that are still here. Most of these sightings were of a female and four youngsters, which is a spectacular thing to see!
Leopards: Fondly and aptly nicknamed ‘The Prince of Stealth’, leopards can be extremely elusive. The nature of this glorious cat, coupled with the long grass, makes finding one seem like an impossible mission. Fortunately, we are happy to report that this has not been the case. Leopard sightings have, in fact, been quite regular.
But once it enters grasslands the green sea swallows it whole and you may only glimpse a tail tip rising above the waves. It is amazing that they are able to find their way around at all!
Most of our leopard sightings have been of the ever growing Dumbana Young Male. He is looking good, and we can’t wait to see his progression as time goes by. He has been seen regularly around Pony Pan, which is incredible considering how long the grass is there. We have also followed him up the ridge to the east of that area on a few occasions, resulting in a number of off roading adventures, some of which have been very interesting…
There has also been the arrival of a female leopard that seems to have moved onto the southern section of our concession. She is, however, a leopard that is best treated with caution, as she can react unfavourably to vehicles at times. A leopard like this shows us how wild this area truly is, and she has become a favourite amongst a few members of the team.
We cannot write about this month without mentioning the morning of the 29th of April, otherwise known as ‘the morning of seven leopard sightings’. This is an incredible happening anywhere, and there are very few times that a team of guides can make that boast. Three of these leopards were in one sighting, chasing each other up and down trees, and two more were on a kill. It was definitely a morning not to be forgotten!