With a time of plenty, may also come a time of loss for some species, the leopards in particular this month. As Nature finds her balance again from an extremely dry condition to a very wet summer, a balance of prey and predator unfold. As large herbivores succumbed to the dry conditions, the carnivores gained in leaps and bounds, including the scavengers, and in the wild only the toughest will survive, adapting to the changes.
Autumn is a special time of the year as you can watch the grass colour change within a few days from a dark green to a tawny yellow, camouflaging the largest predators with ease. There is something truly special about watching the sun rise in the morning and being fortunate enough to watch it set again in the evening. The early departure time in the morning allows for a 20-minute window of crisp cool air blowing across your face, before the sun emerges on the horizon in a glow of red and within seconds drapes over the foliage of the green trees and lights up the dark green landscape with a warm golden glow. The cool temperatures are just enough for a warm jacket in the morning and occasionally in the evening.
The migratory bird species have started their long journey north for the duration of our winter, however there are a few still calling and moving through the bush gorging themselves on the last of the insects before the long flight.
Here’s a highlights package of the month’s sightings:
Leopards: Leopards have been active this month, and with some of the tribulations of having the privilege of following these incredible animals, there have been some sorrowful moments with the loss of a few cubs. The Hlab’Nkunzi female has unfortunately lost one of her cubs, presumably to a hyena. It was evident that during the last sighting of the two cubs that a large number of hyenas were in the area, and unfortunately the carcass that they were feeding on was not hoisted into a tree. The mortality rate on leopard cubs is often high, resulting in the survival of only one cub. There have been very limited sightings of the Schotia female, (Hlab’Nkunzi female’s daughter) who also has a single cub. The Schotia female has been reported with the cub residing more predominantly on our western boundary and thus she will occasionally move east into her mother’s territory but not for long periods of time. The Mobeni female lost her single cub due to a conflict with the Mhangene lion pride. This resulted in her calling and staying in the area for extended periods of time. The Hlangulene female was viewed on a brief occasion with her one sub-adult cub (female). Shortly after the carcass that they were feeding on had been devoured by the two leopards, a leopard carcass was found hoisted in a nearby tree. The guides suspect that the “new” male leopard (Flat Rock male leopard) that is shifting his territory further west may have encountered the two females, and the sub-adult female was subsequently killed and eaten by the male leopard. On a positive note, another female leopard, the Hukumuri female, has shown signs of distinctive suckle marks and we suspect that she will be hiding her new born cubs just north of the river.
Lions: The Mhangene pride continue to dominate the area and, on a few occasions with the Majingalane males present, fragment into smaller groups possibly for a more successful hunting strategy. The pride spent several days in the Wamtirana drainage – it was not only difficult for the trackers to find them, but for the Landrovers to navigate the thick vegetation in the area. Fortunately, the lions were lying in the drainage on sandy soil and the open clearing proved for some perfect photographic opportunities.
Elephants: Large herds have been viewed along the river in the mornings through midday as the last of the hot days of summer fade with the cooler autumn temperatures. This has also resulted in many elephants moving at night and a close encounter was recorded during a bush dinner as two bulls investigated what was going on. Then they playfully pushed and shoved each other in the distance, however close enough that they were viewed in the bright moonlight from the guest dinner tables.
Buffaloes: Two large groups of buffalo have been staying in the open grasslands in the south and as the seasonal pans start to dry up they are congregating around the larger water supplies. This is always a treat to watch as they shuffle and push their way towards the water source.
Birds: Bird count for the month was 212 (207 in February). Special sightings include a great spotted cuckoo, white-headed vulture, a southern white-faced scops owl, lesser kestrel and freckled nightjar.