As you walk along the archway of Lebombo ironwoods (Androstachys johnsonii) towards the lodge it sounds like popcorn is popping… but it’s the seed capsules bursting, and the seeds being shot from them, that you’re hearing. If you smelt popcorn that would be another story – the urine of a male leopard marking his territory smells reminiscent of popcorn, and on many occasions suddenly getting this familiar scent results in finding a leopard nearby!
Wildlife overview for February:
Rhinos: Rhino sightings have been scarce by our prolific standard, due to the bush being at its thickest and greenest in February. That said no safari will go by without seeing rhino, and we have had regular sightings of both black and white rhinos.
Wild dogs: We are delighted that the whole pack of 27 are still on the property, preferring the wide open plains which makes ideal viewing.
Elephants: The breeding herds of elephants have been hard to view, for the same reason as the rhinos, but you will see them from time to time crossing the roads, as well as lone bulls feeding heavily on the vegetation.
Lions: The River Pride have been the stars for the month, extending their territory well east, and going on a zebra hunting spree. One afternoon we noticed a zebra, close to the lodge, that didn’t look well – it’s mane wasn’t held erect and it looked bloated and sickly. The next morning it was found killed by the pride and the carcass almost finished. The pride comprises two lions, two lionesses and four cubs. They are still quite shy of the game viewers, except when on a kill – then they are only concerned about feeding themselves.
Leopards: The leopard sightings have been good as a result of the thick vegetation because they tend to prefer to use the road network in between hunts, thus avoiding the parasites and any unwelcome surprises hiding in the grass.
Hyenas: An interesting hyena sighting was of one walking on three legs. It had probably injured or broken the leg during a fight. Injured hyenas are incredibly adaptable – there’s one we know of in Botswana that walks on her two front legs due to hind leg injuries, and she has managed to survive for years like this.
Cheetah: We haven’t seen the more far-ranging females and cubs for a while, but we’ve had sightings of the two territorial males, and one other adult male.
Buffalo: Buffalo are in great supply. One drive alone found three consecutive herds of over 200 each. There are also quite a few chocolate-brown newborn calves about, still fumbling and struggling to cope with the movement of the rest of the herd. Cows first calve at five years of age, after a gestation period of 11.5 months. When a new calf is born, the bonding ends with the previous calf and the mother keeps it at bay with horn jabs. Nevertheless, the yearling follows its mother for another year or so. Males leave their mothers when they are two years old and join the bachelor groups.
Plains game: Zebras, giraffes and wildebeest can be seen in huge numbers, but more difficult at this time is plains game such as eland, sable and Lichtenstein hartebeest.
Birding: Birding enthusiasts spent two weeks with us, reaching a final bird count of 198. One of the specials for the area was a white-browed sparrow weaver (Plocepasser mahali) that many of us had not seen in the area before.