Weather-wise it’s been a month of extremes. A relentless heat baked the land. The trees had used their reserves to sprout new leaves, yet the ground was barren of grass. Impending doom signalled for the grazers. Then at the 11th hour the storm clouds gathered, a thunder drumroll rang out, lightening flashed and rain poured – 195 mm of it. We are so thankful, especially since most of southern Africa is suffering pre-drought symptoms. In celebration of the rain I’m giving this month’s report a water theme with tales of fishing, cruising and wallowing.
Here’s the wildlife overview for January:
Lions: Thanks to our dedicated lion tracking team sightings are very good. The coalition of three males was on patrol, and the southern pride seemed more pre-occupied with mating rituals than finding their lost cub that was wandering around calling pitifully. Another big black-maned male enjoyed the peace of solitude after what must have been a very filling meal. I really enjoyed watching the three males one night as they emerged like ghosts from the darkness, barely visible, drifting towards us on a dusty track.
Rhinos: It’s been really tough for the white rhinos due to the lack of grazing, but thanks to the rain and new grass growth they’re gaining condition. Black rhinos are less affected by rainfall as they browse on the twigs and branches of woody bushes and trees, and are quite suited to semi-arid areas.
Wild dogs: We are catching glimpses of the split pack all over the reserve. It is wonderful when you start recognising individuals. The old alpha male, a particularly light individual, is hanging in there; and one of the pups that’s missing the white length of its tail as though it were docked, is thriving and seems to be a dominant character.
Cheetahs: The female offspring of the short-tail female has gained independence by going off on her own. The coalition of two males was in evidence, and it’s not unlikely that they would have already mated with this female. It was such a beautiful moment when she rested among the string-of-stars flowers as a shaft of late afternoon light shone on her cheek.
Elephants: There were wonderful regular sightings of large breeding herds of elephants at the pans and dams that still held water during the first half of January. Now that seasonal pans have filled with rainwater all the wildlife has returned to the normal routine of drinking when and where it suits them.
Buffalo & Plains Game: As thankful as the white rhinos are for the new grass growth are the buffalo population. This old bull was calmly grazing (a nice change from their generally cranky demeanour) with his clean glistening, soft, black coat looking like he’d just had a shampoo and conditioner session.
There are also quite a few chocolate brown calves being born at the moment, which are a joy to see. Buffalo are very water dependent and were found on several occasions, early on in January, spending their nights right next to the permanent water sources. Now that the rains have arrived they are able to graze far and wide, drinking from the seasonal pans as they go.
Sightings of eland have been good too – and we’ve noticed how they tend to stay near the wildebeest herds for a ‘more eyes = less danger’ advantage. The wildebeest are doing very well, and the herds are steadily on the increase.
Glimpses of sable and Lichtenstein hartebeest are always a bonus, and there’ve been many this month.
An absolute delight are the impala lambs springing about on their stilt-like legs. There are possibly less than there have been before in good rainfall seasons, but they’re still plentiful, and band together in nursery groups. Believe it or not they are quite tricky to get a good photo of – they’ll stop and stare at you for a second, then as you lift your camera they dash off. This little lamb gave me the opportunity though – it’s mother wanted to move away, but it insisted on a drink then and there.