January has been another amazing month at Singita Kruger National Park. Summer is in full swing now, the vegetation is lush and dense and the scenery and landscape is emerald in colour. The grass is long and in full seed and many of the forbs are flowering, as are many of the trees and bushes. The migrant birds are all back and the insects and reptiles have started to make an appearance again. The sounds of cuckoos and woodland kingfishers echo through the bushveld and at night every puddle and pool is a cacophony of frog harmonies. The baby impalas are growing stronger every day and have started to form small creches. The herds of wildebeest also have young calves, which are completely different in colour to the adults. Many of the zebra herds also have young foals at the moment. The general game has been amazing and we have been seeing large journeys of giraffes feeding on the fresh green leaves of the knobthorn trees throughout the concession. Towards the beginning of the month we received a fair amount of rain in the north and the Xinkelengane stream started flowing. This rain also filled up many of the streams in the Lebombo Hills. The Gudzani Drainage also flowed and Gudzani Dam, in the western side of the concession, filled up. This is fantastic news for us as it means that the water there will probably last throughout the dry winter period, providing drinking water for the animals for the rest of the year. The weir in front of camp also flowed over and once again we were able to witness the crocodiles hunting the catfish as they attempted to swim upstream. Although the grass is long now and the vegetation is dense the scenery is absolutely stunning and there is a sense of life everywhere.
Here’s a Sightings Snapshot for January
Even though the vegetation is dense and the grass is long we have still had good lion sightings this last month. Altogether we have recorded 57 sightings of these magnificent cats in January.
Towards the beginning of the month the Mountain Pride had split into two distinct groups with one of the lionesses moving away from the rest and taking her two younger cubs with her. She then headed towards the northern part of the concession. The rest of the pride (consisting of two adult females, one sub-adult female, two young lionesses and one young male) started to move around more in the hills and even further south than we normally see them. Towards the end of the month the young male was missing and was not seen with the rest of the pride. We hope that he is still alive.
Mananga Pride have been utilising the western side of the concession near Gudzani Dam and have also been going outside of the concession towards the S100 public road. At the beginning of the month there were seven lionesses and six cubs. Towards the middle of the month we were only seeing two cubs with the pride and at the end of the month we were only seeing the adult lionesses without any of the cubs. We are not sure what has happened to the cubs or whether the females have hidden them somewhere. One of the guides did however find two brand new cubs hidden in the cliffs just north of Gudzani Dam and the area was thus zoned and the guides have not followed up there for a while. We will only be checking the area out when these new cubs are deemed to be at least four weeks old.
The three dominant Shish Males are still well and healthy and were seen on a few occasions this month. The biggest of the three is often seen with either the Mountain Pride or Mananga Pride. The other two brothers are usually seen together.
The Shishangaan Pride were only seen twice this last month and we believe that they are mainly moving in the area to the south-west of the concession. Towards the end of the month we saw at least five of these lionesses near the Boom Gate. At least two of the females were limping badly and one of them is looking extremely thin and in poor condition.
The Kumana Males were not seen this last month, although we have heard them roaring to the south of the lodges on a few occasions at night.
We have had 17 recorded sightings of leopards this last month.
A young male leopard was seen a few times just north of the camp and near Euphorbia Crossing. This leopard is fairly relaxed and we have had some good views of him. We believe he is the son of a fairly aggressive female leopard, who often either runs away from the vehicles or charges towards us while growling and snarling.
We have also been seeing three different leopards in the vicinity of Gudzani Dam. One of these is a large tomcat and the other two are a female and her sub-adult male cub. The female is very shy, while the sub-adult is very relaxed with the vehicles.
We have been fortunate enough to have regular cheetah sightings this last month. Altogether we have recorded 26 sightings of these spectacular cats during January. Most of these sightings were of a coalition of four male cheetahs. One of these cats is limping and seems to have an injured leg. Fortunately for him his brothers have been quite successful in hunting and have been sharing their meals with him. We have also been seeing a single female cheetah. On one occasion we were lucky enough to see her chase down and kill a young impala. It was spectacular to witness her running at full pace.
Elephant numbers in the concession have been slightly lower than usual, but this is expected for this time of the year. It is at this time that the marula trees are fruiting. Marula fruit are much favoured by elephants. Since these trees mainly grow in the western half of the Kruger National Park (they prefer to grow in the granitic soils) many of the elephants head west, out of the concession, when the marula fruits ripen. We expect that they will return to the concession to feed on the lush green grass when the marulas have finished fruiting. Even though we have seen fewer elephants this last month there have been the occasions when we did come across some large herds moving through the area. On at least four occasions herds in excess of 150 individuals were seen in the concession. We have also been lucky enough to see a few large bull elephants with very long tusks moving through the area.
We have had 33 recorded sightings of Cape buffalos in the concession this last month.
Many of these sightings were of a large herd of animals (a few hundred at least). This herd has split and re-joined a few times during the month. The majority of the herd has been moving around in the area near the western side of the concession. Fortunately, we have had some good rainfall and the grass layer is lush and thick and we therefore think that we will have good buffalo sightings throughout the coming winter months.
We have also had a few sightings of a group of at least seven dagha boys (old bulls) that have been hanging around the area of Dave’s Crossing. They have been seen wallowing regularly in the river on hot afternoons. One of these bulls has particularly impressive horns.
It appears that, at the moment, none of the known hyena den-sites are being actively used. Towards the end of the month we were driving along the road known as Sisal Line when we found what appeared to be a drag mark across the road. Upon following the drag mark we found a dead impala lying hidden under a bush. Knowing that the leopard that lived in this area was a very shy female we decided to return after dark to see if she returned to the carcass. When we arrived back there after the sun had set there was no sign of the leopard, but a large female hyena had discovered the scent of the drag mark and followed it to the carcass which it then quickly devoured.
The general game in the area has been amazing this last month. Many of the herbivores have young at the moment (including the impalas, zebras and wildebeest). The antelope are all looking very healthy and fat, with all the lush grass and new green leaves in the area. We have been seeing large herds of mixed herbivores. We have had a few sightings of large herds of giraffes (in excess of twenty individuals) and have been lucky to see small groups of large male kudus with very impressive horns throughout the concession.
We have been lucky enough to have a few sightings of a pair of African wild dogs this last month. African wild dogs (painted wolves) are not seen very often on the eastern side of the Kruger National Park. It is assumed that the reason we do not see dogs regularly this side of the park is that the soils are not conducive to the dogs denning here (the soils on the eastern side of the park tend to be clay-based or rocky). Dogs usually den in June/July in southern Africa and usually hide their pups in old aardvark or warthog burrows. Because of the soils in the area we do not have many warthogs or aardvarks in the area. After denning the dogs range widely and it therefore during this period (our summer months) that we could stand the possibility of seeing these rare animals in the area. However, in order to get to our concession from the western side of the park the dogs would have to cross the wide basalt plains / grasslands. These grasslands are not great habitat for dogs as they would be highly visible to their prey (mainly impalas and smaller antelope such as steenbok) and these grasslands do not support large populations of impalas, which prefer more bushy terrain. The dogs that we saw this last month were two females. We believe that they are looking for a group of males who they can join in order to start their own breeding pack.
Eckson, one of our more experienced trackers, was busy checking the road along the border between South Africa and Mozambique one morning when he found a ground pangolin (also known as a Cape pangolin or Temminck’s pangolin). This is a critically endangered species and one that is very rarely seen in the area. (Prior to this sighting we had only seen one pangolin in the last fifteen years). Quite a few guides rushed to the area to see the pangolin and to many of them it was either their first or possibly second pangolin that they had seen in their lives.
Summer is when we see the most species of birds in the concession. Many of the birds that we see here are migrants that arrive from either Europe or central Africa. This last month we recorded 223 species of birds in the concession. Some of the highlights included common ostrich, corncrake, dark-chanting goshawk, kori bustard, woodland kingfisher, various cuckoos, African quailfinch, thick-billed weaver, yellow-billed oxpecker, olive-tree warbler, Eurasian and African golden orioles and southern ground hornbills, amongst others.