It is really hard to believe that we are already two thirds of the way through the year 2016! Winter seemed to be a very short one, and certainly a mild one, and now there are numerous signs of spring being upon us. There is an abundance of knobthorn blossom, whose slightly citrusy fragrance is quite noticeable and very welcome. The flowers of the knobthorn trees (Acacia nigrescens) are edible to various animals, such as monkeys, baboons, giraffe, kudu and a number of birds. The fruits of the jackalberry or African ebony trees (Diospyros mespiliformes) are now ripe and in abundant supply, also much to the delight of monkeys, turacos, green pigeons and various antelope that will pick them up from the ground, after the arboreal feeders have dropped pieces while feeding in the branches. Days are becoming noticeably hotter already, and the return of fireflies at night, along with the calls of numerous nightjars, frogs and toads, reminds us that we are indeed entering a new and exciting season. Of the migratory birds that have already returned, the most obvious are probably the yellow-billed kites, Wahlberg’s eagles and red-chested swallows. We now await the rainfall! Perhaps in next month’s journal we will be able to report some good spring rain.
Here’s a highlights package of the month’s sightings:
Leopards: This has been another great month of leopard viewing, with most of the regulars being seen on several occasions, as well as some good sightings of less well-known leopards. A considerable number of the leopard sightings this month saw two or more leopards being seen together. Mating activity between the Nyelethi male and the Hlab’nkunzi female was witnessed separately by both the N’weti male (Hlab’nkunzi female’s adolescent son) and the Schotia female (Hlab’nkunzi female’s young adult daughter).
Wild Dogs: August was an absolute bumper month for wild dog (or African / painted hunting dog), with one of the packs producing a second litter of pups. There are 8 adults in this pack, and now at least 14 pups, 7 of which are about three months younger than the others. This pack is operating from a den-site north of the Sand River, and it remains to be seen whether both litters of pups will be raised together. Very interesting and exciting times!
Lions: There has been some great lion viewing once again, with the Othawa pride, Mhangene pride and the four old Majingilane males making up the bulk of the viewing. With the four adult lionesses of the Mhangene pride having all produced cubs this year (some of which are still very young), the nine sub-adult members of the pride have continued to operate separately from their mothers. They have sometimes been seen all together, and sometimes the young females are separate from the young males. All the lions seem to be doing very well in terms of nourishing themselves, and buffaloes have featured prominently in their diets.
Buffaloes: Large numbers of buffalo bulls in small groups have been seen daily in close proximity to the lodges, enjoying the grass cover that is still available to them. The bigger herds of buffalo need to cover a lot of ground these days, in order to meet their dietary requirements. Inevitably, the condition of some of the buffaloes has dropped somewhat due to the drought, but on the whole they have coped admirably. We have been seeing very large numbers of buffalo in total, and they are clearly having a significant impact on the vegetation. While many buffalo have succumbed to predation by lions, it does not seem that any have died as a direct result of drought.
Elephants: Elephant viewing has continued to be really good, with most of the sightings being of breeding herds of elephants, rather than single bulls or small groups of bulls. One would expect the majority of elephant sightings to be along the Sand River, but actually there have been great sightings on all parts of the reserve. Elephants are very resourceful creatures, and will find suitable food almost anywhere.