Singita Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park | August 2018

As the year moves along, the days are becoming hotter and longer. The mornings are no longer as crisp as they had been two weeks before, and guides and guests alike do not reach for their jackets after the sun has gone down anymore.

August is a windy month and this year has been no exception. It seems to become drier by the day and the little green grass that was left has given way to hues of gold and brown. The wind kicks up the dust and the sun sets blood-red in the west each evening. The bright orange of the flame creeper (Combretum microphyllum) is dotting the Lebombo’s ridges now, adding a pop of colour to the stark contrast of the harsh mountainous terrain.

We are also seeing some of the migratory birds making their return, with the first yellow-billed kites already having made an appearance from their journey from central-east Africa. An exciting find was a small flock of great white pelicans that had moved to Dave’s crossing where most guides had an opportunity to view these rare birds that are seldom seen in this part of Kruger.

As the water disappears, the movements of the animals change, and waiting at any water point is bound to yield some action if you are prepared to wait long enough. Some of these sightings can be found below:

Buffalos: Buffalos are probably the most seasonal of all the high-profile animals we have the privilege of viewing out here. The have been extremely scarce the months prior to this, but now it is fairly reasonable to expect to see a large herd at some point during a guest stay. Towards the end of the month, a herd of over two hundred had been seen every few days on their way to the N’wanetsi River to drink at the famous Dumbana Pools. So far, they have been able to stay out of the clutches of the many lions there, but that may all change as the prides realise the prey animals’ dependence on the few water sources available to them. It never gets old to see the dark forms of Cape buffalo moving down to the water, dust clouds above them, driven to run by their thirst.

We have also seen the odd bachelor group up in the mountains, reminding us to always keep our attention levels right up there whenever we walk, as they can be quite grumpy without the comfort and security of the herd. They can be vulnerable to lions, but we haven’t seen any kills in this regard just yet.

Elephants: Elephant viewing on our concession has always been one of our strong suits. The south-eastern section of the concession holds some of the only standing water around at the moment, and this attracts the elephants. Early mornings, evenings and overcast days draw them up into the ridges and into the grasslands where there is less pressure on the food sources. On hot days, however, the draw of the water is impossible for the largest of all our land mammals to resist, and they congregate along the river as we head home from morning drive, and out on afternoon drive.

Sightings of breeding herds drinking in front of Singita Lebombo’s weir are offering great photographic opportunities, and on one such afternoon some of the elephants got so excited and splashed around so much that some of the safari vehicles and guests got sprayed by a fine mist of water and mud.

We have not seen too many big bulls this month, but there has been one large bull in musth that was found trailing several of the breeding herds as they slowly made their way towards the river. (“Musth” is a term used to describe when there is an increase in testosterone levels in an elephant bull. This can cause the male to become excessively irritable and aggressive. It is best to avoid such an animal as they can be rather unpredictable in nature.) Most of the other sightings of males have been in the open grasslands just west of the N’wanetsi River, either greeting guests on arrival, or wishing them farewell when they leave as they are taken to and from the airstrip.

Spotted hyenas: We are pleased to say that the Granophyre den is still active. There do not seem to be any new cubs at the den-site but at times guides have seen as many as thirteen individuals there. It really is an excellent place to view hyenas as the road to it is one of the concession’s most scenic, and the actual location of the den, amongst the boulders and Lebombo euphorbias, make for excellent photographic opportunities – especially in the late afternoon when the fading light casts its golden glow on the cubs playing and wrestling around the den’s entrance.

As you will read below, there has been mayhem in terms of lion dynamics, which has led to a fair few sightings of hyenas feeding on lion carcasses this month. In fact, one of Singita’s guides, on exchange from the Sabi Sands, was welcomed to the Kruger National Park by a hyena dragging a dead young male lion out on to the road in front of him on his first morning drive, and some of the cubs were seen chewing on a piece of skin resembling that of a lion.

Lions: This month has seen some interesting changes taking place amongst the lion population of the N’wanetsi Concession. Visitors and loyal social media followers might be familiar with our largest pride of lions that are known as the Shishangaan Pride. (The famous white lion is a member of this pride). As described in last month’s wildlife report, some of the young males of the Shishangaan pride, including the white lion, were looking worse for wear, as they have been in altercations with the resident pride males, the Shishangaan Males. At least two of these youngsters have sustained serious injuries to their lower backs and hips, as lions will often bite each other on their lower backs when fighting with and challenging one another.

One of these young males got so weak that he could not keep up with his pride anymore, but he would always be on the lookout for any sign of vultures, as these would often indicate the presence of a kill or of his pride. On the afternoon of the 8th, vultures started to descend towards Big Croc View, and the said animal, slowly and painstakingly made his way towards that area where the vultures had congregated
around a zebra carcass. Unbeknown to him, the kill had been made by three young rogue male lions, that have recently been found trespassing around the southern sections of the concession.

As lions are notoriously aggressive towards unknown members of the same sex, the three brothers banded together and started to attack the young Shish male. He stood no chance, as they grabbed him by the neck and shook him around like a rag doll. He put up a brave fight, that some of the guides managed to witness, but unfortunately, the injuries he sustained were too severe for him to recover. The Shishangaan Pride was minus one…

Less than a week later, the nomadic male lions were found again close to Ntsibitsane, this time resting next to the carcass of their second Shishangaan victim, another young male who had also sustained severe injuries from a previous fight with the Pride Males. The spotted hyenas, vultures and black-backed jackals quickly cleaned up the scene of the carnage.

This was however not the end, as the nomads struck for a third time, killing at least one other young Shishangaan male. This time, the victim was one of the fitter and healthier youngsters. A clean bite to his throat ended his life.

With all of this happening, the Shishangaan Pride became very skittish and cautious, moving off towards the west away from the nomadic males. With the nomads becoming more and more confident, it would only be a matter of time before the resident Shishangaan Males would become aware of the fact that their territory had been breached, and that one of their prides had been under attack.

Fortunately, the resident pride males realised that new intruders were causing havoc amongst their pride, and mid-month all three coalition members were found patrolling and calling in earnest. The nomadic male lions have not been seen since. On several occasions after that the big male with the injured hip was found in close attendance of the Mountain Pride.

With all of the chaos going on between the nomadic lions, and the Shishangaan Pride, the Mountain Pride lionesses managed to steer clear of the turmoil. The three cubs are still doing well, and they were found on a few occasions with their mothers where they have been feeding on carcasses of either kudu or wildebeest. The new cubs have not yet been introduced to the pride, but we know she is still denning in the Central area. Hopefully we will be able to see the new youngsters within the next couple of weeks.

Cheetahs: With the drying grasses and the improved visibility, cheetah viewing seems to be getting better and better. Although we have enjoyed some good sightings of cheetah this month, our sightings of them have been quite irregular, especially towards the beginning of the month. In total, we recorded 12 cheetah sightings throughout this month of August. Most of these sightings were of a group of five cheetahs, which includes two males and three females. This particular group has provided us with some good quality sightings. They
were seen in the far north of our concession towards the beginning of the month, and then were only seen again weeks later. We have been incredibly lucky to have enjoyed sightings of them in different settings and behaving in different ways. Although some of the highlights were watching them hunt and catch a steenbok on the 19th, we also enjoyed great views of them scanning from vantage points, grooming one another, and communicating with one another using their high-pitched call.

Leopards: The dry conditions associated with this time of year have ensured good leopard viewing throughout the month. In fact, we have recorded a total of 38 leopard sightings. Although there have been a few unknown leopards that have been seen, most of our top-quality leopard sightings were of the young Dumbana male leopard. He has been found on multiple occasions near the N’wanetsi River.

One of the more memorable sightings of him was when he was found resting near an impala carcass that he had hoisted in a large leadwood tree. He must have already been full-bellied when he hunted this impala as he took over five days to finish the carcass. Because the carcass was hoisted for so long, the pungent smell also attracted a number of hyenas to the area, and the interaction between both species was remarkable at times. He was also found one morning attempting to hunt a porcupine. He was unsuccessful, and spent the remainder of the morning removing quills from his paws and chest. A painful lesson indeed!

Read the full wildlife report here: Singita Kruger National Park Wildlife Journal August 2018