October is generally known to be hot, but this year it was exceptionally cool, overcast and windy. The first light dusting of rain arrived, and with that the new green grass and leaves are starting to push through the arid landscape. The rain was not enough to contribute much to levels of the drying rivers and dams, but fortunately there is still enough water to sustain the wildlife in the area, and consequently great numbers of impala, wildebeest and zebras have arrived. More migratory birds are also returning, and the turquoise and brown fluttering of the European beeeaters’ wings are dotting the skies again. The Wahlberg’s eagles are building and remodelling their nests, and breeding is in full swing.
Here’s a Sightings Snapshot for October:
Buffalos: Buffalo sightings have been fairly sporadic this month, with regular gaps between sightings of these formidable bovids. Herds of over 200 individuals have been seen moving into the concession from the West. They are forced to make the arduous journey to drink at the dwindling water that remains in isolated pools along the N’wanetsi River. The noise of hundreds of hooves, and the bellowing of quarrelling herd members can be heard from a great distance, and it is this “music to the lions’ ears” that draws the attention of the big cats. The arrival of the lions is usually the driving force behind the buffalo leaving the area. Some guides and guests were fortunate enough to witness a sensational battle between the herd and the Shishangaan Pride. The pride killed a fully-grown buffalo cow and, while they were feeding, the entire herd came back and chased them off. A 45-minute standoff ensued, accompanied by snorting, grunting and
lots of growling from these, somewhat forlorn looking cats. What was interesting, is the behaviour as the herd almost ritualistically came one by one to smell the deceased cow – some licked their fallen comrade, and one big buffalo bull even managed to hook the carcass and lift the deceased cow completely off the ground. It definitely showed a more emotionally complex side to buffalo. While this was happening the cows and calves moved safely off to the west, leaving the concession and the lions to continue feeding. The full encounter can be found in the Lion report. Various other smaller herds have also been spotted along the Mozambique Border, residing in the ridges in the north of the concession. They too move up and down to drink at Dumbana pools. It was one of these herds that lost a small calf to the Mountain Pride earlier this month.
Elephants: Elephants have been viewed daily this month. In fact, there have been over 120 different elephant sightings recorded. With the dry conditions, most of the water-dependent species, including elephants, have been found mostly around the N’wanetsi River as there are a few remaining pools in which these animals can quench their thirst and find some relief from the heat. Some of these remaining pools of water are in front of both Lebombo and Sweni Lodges and, as such, guests have also been treated to some wonderful sightings of elephants (as well as other species) in between the morning and afternoon game drives.
Spotted Hyenas: There have been 40 different recorded sightings of spotted hyenas during this month of October. Of these, most were of hyenas at the den-site that is nestled in the Granophyre Ridge. There have also been a few sightings of hyenas on the move, or around carcasses. In fact, we were privileged to watch hyenas and leopards interact around carcasses on multiple occasions this month. Usually,
the hyenas were seen patiently waiting for scraps at the base of the trees in which the leopards had hoisted their food.
Lions: The stars for this month in terms of frequent viewing was definitely the Mountain Pride. The cubs are a definite highlight, especially when they are found playing with each other and with their older cousins. The older cubs that have been suffering from mange are slowly recovering from the itchy ordeal and their fur is starting to grow back. Mange is not an uncommon disease, but unfortunately it can weaken an animal, and in some cases, the decreased immunity can even be fatal, so it is no surprise that everybody is relieved that
the youngsters are getting better. The fact that the Mountain Pride lionesses are exceptional hunters attributes to the cubs wellbeing, as the mothers are getting enough food for themselves to produce sufficient milk which the cubs thrive on.
During this month they were seen feeding on a buffalo calf, and as usual the commotion lured in the Shishangaan Males, that ended up stealing the kill from the females. Fortunately, the mothers and young managed to get some food before their quarry was stolen.
The Shishangaan Males were seen regularly this last month, with mostly the big, black maned, temperamental male being found. As he has a hip injury, he cannot patrol as far as his able-bodied brothers can, and unfortunately with the coalition of three often having to break up in order for the males to protect their turf from intruders, the two smaller bothers were attacked by another coalition of unknown male
lions. Fortunately, they were not too badly injured, but with bite marks on one’s shoulders, and with fresh blood still oozing from the other’s back, the males are walking a bit slower than usual. Hopefully this won’t hinder their patrolling, as their defence against intruder males is vital for the cubs’ survival.
The possible intruders were found on the 27th of this month, very close to the lodge. These unfamiliar newcomers are very relaxed around vehicles, so it is assumed that they have not come from Mozambique. They are also much bigger and older than the rogue male lions that were killing off members of the Shishangaan Pride earlier this year. Only time will tell if these three will become the new pride males of the Singita concession.
The Xhirombe Pride was also found, and the mother and son duo had made several kills next to the Mozambique border. He is looking as handsome as ever.
Cheetahs: We have recorded about 15 different cheetah sightings this month. Most of these sightings were of a mother cheetah and her three sub-adult cubs. Cheetahs are rare and camouflage very well in the dry grasses, which has made finding them even more challenging. On October 12th, a few guides were treated to an amazing sighting of the mother cheetah hunting and catching a heavily pregnant impala ewe. While the mother was busy killing the impala, the three cubs ran towards their mother and watched attentively as
she killed the impala. Although these cubs are still too young to be hunting themselves, it is through these kinds of experiences that they learn how to go about it.
Leopards: October has been extremely productive with sightings of these elusive cats. The sparse vegetation and concentrations of game has provided pretty reliable viewing. Our young and upcoming star, the young Dumbana Male, has a relaxed attitude and his preferred areas have enabled our guides and their guests some spectacular viewing! A few nights ago, the nervous barking of a troop of baboons alerted all to the presence of this youngster as he was found sauntering along the banks of the N’wanetsi River. Suddenly the youngster stopped dead in his tracks, and with his head lowered towards a dense clump of grass it became obvious that he had found something in the thicket. Upon further inspection it was noted that he had walked into a huge crocodile that was lying out on the bank. He moved closer to a crocodile out of curiosity and began snarling, and after prodding at the croc, the huge reptile hissed and lunged backwards. The youngster then carried on with his patrol, sniffing the cool night air, when out of nowhere another leopard was spotted on the opposite bank of the river. The second leopard walked straight towards the young male, and upon further inspection it was realised that it was his mother, the Dumbana Female who we have not seen in a long time on the concession. Together the duo was left unattended, disappearing into the cover of darkness.
Other interesting sightings: This month has also seen the early arrival of some baby animals. Some guests were fortunate enough to
witness a baby giraffe being born near Ndlovu Look-out. The mother stood close by, grooming her wet offspring as the baby tried to stand up for the first time. After many failed attempts the baby finally managed to gain its footing in order for the mom to nurse it. A truly magnificent sighting.
Another interesting sighting occurred at Puff Adder Pools, where two large crocodiles were seen mating in the water. This is very unusual to see.