Winter is here now and the temperatures are dropping in the nights and early mornings. With that, the Lebombo fireplace has become a popular area to sit around during the early mornings, watching the sunrise slowly lighting up the Lebombo Mountain’s ridges, whilst enjoying a steamy cup of coffee. The grasses have changed to a rich golden-brown colour, and most of the trees have dropped their leaves, making the spotting of wildlife a bit easier than in the lush green summer months.
Our wildlife review for the month of June is as follows:
Buffalos: True to the general pattern that we have experienced over the years on the N’wanetsi Concession, the first half of the year has been rather quiet in term of regular buffalo sightings. The month of June seems to have marked a turning point in that regard. Up until approximately the 15th of the month, we had to work very hard to find small groups of males, long left behind by the herds. They would often be very shy of the vehicles and would toss their heads in grumpy annoyance at being found. The character of these individuals is loved by all.
The second half of the month brought more regular sightings, which we were all very thankful for. There were three buffalo bulls that would turn up every now and then in the southern section of the concession, who have so far managed to avoid the attentions of the lions in the area. There were also a few sightings of a herd of approximately 150 buffalo up on the central depression. It is fantastic to see the return of the herds. Two days after this herd made its way towards us, the entire Shish Pride were seen together for the first time in about three weeks, and its highly likely that their arrival was not a coincidence.
Elephants: The changing of the seasons brings a change in the diets of elephants, and that changes their movements. They are still eating grass, as the late rain this year has allowed for some greenery to prevail well into winter. The elephants have been seen pulling out the grass, biting out the middle bit and eating that, whilst allowing the dry tips and sandy roots to fall to the floor. They are also starting to push over trees to get to roots and shoots to supplement their diet.
The main attraction for elephants to the N’wanetsi Concession is water. As the winter winds dry the grass as they rustle through them, the massive thirst of the elephants becomes stronger, and more and more are coming to the N’wanetsi River to drink as the sun beats down in the late morning. There is no better way to finish a morning game drive than to watch how they dig for water and jostle for position around the drinking holes where the cleaner water rises to the surface. The water cools them down and refreshes them, causing a new bout of playing amongst the young ones while the adults contentedly begin to rest under the trees. They then move on in their endless quest for food.
There have also been numerous sightings of elephant bulls in the grasslands below the ridges. There is always something special about being in the presence of a large male elephant. Our concession is one of the most beautiful places on earth and having an elephant bull standing alone amongst the winter palette is a sight that stays with one forever.
Spotted hyenas: We are pleased to say that there have been a great many sightings of spotted hyenas this month, even though, at the time of writing the Granophyre den seemed to no longer be in use. We have seen a mother with an older, but nevertheless suckling cub at the Nyokene den. The problem with that den is that it floods in summer and maybe now that it is drying up, we may seem more activity there.
The Xinkelengane den seems to have been frequented again, which is always a worthwhile when one is up in the north. On one occasion, our guides came across a leopard interacting with a hyena over an impala kill that had not been hoisted yet. Oddly enough, after a few mouthfuls, the hyena did not make off with the carcass and the leopard was able to hoist it to safety. There were also two porcupines in that sighting!
On the morning of the 25th, a hyena carcass was discovered. After some investigation, the conclusion was reached that the animal had been killed by lions, possibly the Mountain Pride. It bore the trademark signs of a lion attack; a torn neck and open belly, indicating that it was possibly caught by more than one lion.
Lions: There are lots of lions here, and we do not suffer for sightings of the biggest of the African cats. However, the largest of our prides, the Shish Pride, were somewhat elusive. Only in the last few days of the month, did they set up camp not too far from our lodges. They were very full when they did this, and we think it must have been a buffalo that they had caught.
The white lion has been a bit of an enigma, having been seen alone numerous times, then with part of the pride, and then with the entire pride. Unfortunately, most of these sightings have been from the staff bus, which comes in from approximately eight kilometres west of the concession. On one of these occasions he was looking terrible and had clearly been attacked, with deep red flows down the rich white of his body. He was eating grass and struggling to walk. Young lions are incredibly resilient as long as they have enough to eat, so it was a great relief to all of us seeing him back with the pride and with a full belly. At the time of writing he was well on the way to recovery.
The Mountain Pride was our most regular pride this month, and we can happily say that the cubs are doing very well, and that all three are still alive. They seem to have been able to evade the Shish Male with the bad leg, even though he is often seen looking for them, as he likes to steal any kill that the lionesses make. Also, the sub-adult female is looking as good as any young lion can.
We have not had as many sightings of the other Shish Males as we would have liked, but they have been around. It was only towards the end of the month that the three coalition members were found around the Xinenene Poort, and on the morning of the 29th, all three were trailing the Mountain Pride lionesses with the cubs. With the young Mountain Pride cubs around, and one of the lionesses in that pride possibly pregnant, we hope that the males are able to remain strong for the sake of the little ones, as two rogue males were also seen close to camp at Mbeki’s Crossing.
The mysterious Xhirombe Pride pop up every now and then, usually near the border with Mozambique. The female is very old now but seems to be in reasonable condition. The young male is getting to be quite large, and we are sure that, should he be found by dominant males, they will surely try to remove him as a threat by killing him. During a hosted stop at The Poort, right on the border with Mozambique, Ben’s guests witnessed the Xhirombe Pride chasing a kudu right into the border fence, where they managed to kill the animal as the guests were trying to enjoy a peaceful sundowner with a gin and tonic in hand! That was definitely a memorable experience that neither guide nor guest will forget anytime soon.
Near the end of the month, there was a sighting of the Northern Pride up on Cassia Road. Other than that, they seem to be keeping a lower profile than they have in the previous months.
Cheetahs: This month, there were at least 16 different sightings of cheetahs. All of these sightings were of a group of five sub-adult cheetahs that have been frequenting Rhino Skull and the N4 area close to the Gudzani Dam. (Read the article in “Other interesting sightings” to see what interaction the cheetahs had with a leopardess…)
On the afternoon of the 16th, the five were found where they were resting in an open clearing, enjoying the last warming rays of the winter sun. As the golden light started to fall, the cats started to become more active. Big yawns, stretches and clawing of trees ensued, and with that, a black-backed jackal spotted the cats.
Being an opportunistic scavenger, the jackal, quite brazenly walked up towards the cheetahs. It was quite obvious that the one cat was becoming annoyed with the canine’s presence, as his tail started to swish and twitch ever so slightly from side to side. The jackal made the mistake of turning its back to the cats, and that is when the irritable cat seized the opportunity to chase after the jackal.
Being chased by the fastest predator on land, the jackal tried his best to steer clear of the cat’s fast approaching claws. It was rather comical watching how he tucked his tail and tried to swerve to get away from the rapidly approaching sprinter. Puffs of dust filled the air as he managed to barely get away from the cheetah, who eventually decided to give up on the chase and return to the rest of the coalition members. A loud bout of laughter filled the air from all guides and guests on the safari vehicles.
Leopards: Singita Lebombo is known to be “The Land of the Lions”, and consequently other predators such as leopards and cheetahs can be quite elusive and hard to find as lions don’t like to share resources with other predators. With that being said however, we’ve had a great month of leopard sightings, as for a big portion of the month the Shish Pride was found off of the concession, allowing the elusive leopards to move around in a more relaxed manner. A total of 30 sightings were recorded.
The biggest stars of this month had to be the young Dumbana male and his mother who were found on numerous occasions. The Dumbana female was found by Jacques close to Shidulu pan after she had killed an impala ram. The commotion attracted the unwanted attention of a nearby hyena who managed to steal the kill from her. She sat at a distance staring as her hard-earned kill was being devoured, but fortunately for her the hyena had dropped his guard, and she managed to storm in and grab the kill back before hoisting it up a leadwood tree out of the hyena’s reach. There she managed to enjoy her meal in peace and quiet. Towards the end of the month her son, the young Dumbana male, was found in front of Lebombo lodge as he casually strolled past the suites. He was also found around the Granophyre Link where he was stalking some giraffe. Obviously, his eyes were bigger than his stomach and he eventually gave up on the idea.