Here’s a highlights package of the month’s sightings:
The green month was upon us with some sizzling temperatures during the midday that were countered by the guests as they plunged into a refreshing private plunge pool. We welcomed the sight of several hundred elephants moving along the Sand River. The intermittent overcast conditions resulted in some of the best predator viewing for the month. The wild dog pack movements were sporadic, the hyenas were highly active and the elephants dominated the water sources throughout the reserve in the late afternoon – these are just a few of the highlights that come to mind for the month of January. With all the plant life in full bloom, it has been a time of plenty and we have not had to drive far out of the lodges before being surrounded with abundant opportunities to interpret the dynamics of the species of wildlife literally minutes away from the lodges.
Lions: The Mhangene Pride has been seen fragmented into two smaller prides for a few days. Is this the start of division amongst the younger lions and will we watch the nine young males move together before being chased off by the dominant coalition males? Two of the younger lions from the Othawa Pride have been seen moving on their own too. The sub-adult male of the Othawa Pride is arguably the best looking young male in the area. With the Mhangene Pride and Othawa Pride lionesses looking to breed again, one can but wonder whether the Majingalane males can sire yet another few litters of cubs before their time in charge of their territory comes to an end.
Leopards: The Hlaba’Nkunzi female has been viewed on fewer occasions this month, due to further pressure from her daughter, the Schotia female. The younger female continues to move within the same area as her mother, now adopting the well-worn territorial pathways. The Schotia female, now with a broken tail tip, is clearly pregnant, and may be investigating areas close to the lodges as potential lair sites for when she has her new cubs. On the subject of new cubs, the Hukumuri female’s cubs were seen for the first time towards the end of January. Their mother had just killed a young bushbuck, which she dragged down into the Hukumuri, before calling her two cubs, which eagerly came to meet her. Still less than three months old, these cubs are probably not yet eating meat, but this ingredient will soon be included in their diet. We can look forward to some good leopard cub viewing over the next few months. Of the male leopards, perhaps the biggest surprise of the month was the fact that the Kashane male was seen on a few occasions, occupying some of his old favourite areas, and still looking very impressive and strong. While he may not still hold his old territory, he could conceivably continue to do well, even within the territories of other male leopards, as long as he keeps a low profile and does not advertise his presence with vocalising and scent-marking.
Elephants: Elephant numbers have been unprecedented over the last few weeks, with large numbers of herds soaring well past 100 individuals on some occasions. Large bulls in musth continued to disrupt the herds and the permanent water availability continued to draw the large pachyderms, along with the fallen marula fruit. It is hard to believe that only a few short weeks ago, there were times when elephants were relatively scarce in the area.
Wild dogs: Wild dogs have made a few appearances and on occasion throughout the month and they have provided some high quality viewing. We are still seeing wild dogs from at least two different packs.
Buffalo: A few sporadic sightings have been seen of buffalo, old bulls moving along the Sand River and further west of the lodges along with a few larger groups in the south. With the excitement of viewing a few new young buffalo calves at the end of January, we recognise that this is the season that we will start to see more of them. Their calving season is quite an extended one, continuing through the whole of summer and into early winter.
Hyena: Hyenas continue to predominate the scavenging opportunities amongst the leopards and wild dogs.