As 2018 comes to a close, the thought of the New Year is full of excitement. This time of the year brings blessed relief for the wildlife, with the nourishing rains. The month of December has been an incredible time of the summer season as dung beetles have been prevalent, along with many other smaller insect species emerging after the rains. With the influx of insects, this brings birdlife to the forefront of wildlife viewing, with some of the most spectacular raptor species returning from a long absence from the continent during the winter months. Weavers are breeding and the intricate nest builders are hard at work trying to impress the prospective mates. Each season brings its own special feeling in the bush and summer is no different with green engulfing the bush from ground level up to the tree canopies. Currently the yellow hue has been dominating the bush as the sjambok pod/ long-tailed cassia and knob-thorn trees started flowering in early November and the colour continues into the summer season for approximately six weeks. The natural excitement of being outdoors and on a game drive is amplified by the brilliant stage of greenery and the most majestic evening thunderstorms that occur. Lightning streaks across the sky illuminating the bushveld below, and often it can be the best show on earth – especially if you are enjoying dinner on one of the open decks, when the frog orchestra is in full swing with the promise of rain.
The Mhangene pride continues to grow with ‘pride’ with the seven young cubs being a highlight of the group’s dynamic. On a few occasions this month, one of the older litters of four cubs was missing a single cub for longer than a week and on these occasions, we had been under the presumption that the single cub may have been killed. However, fortunately this was not the case and it has since been seen. Unfortunately, the mortality on cubs is high at young ages, particularly as there are dominant males moving amongst the pride at present. The only large male moving amongst the pride’s females is the Othawa male who has shown no threat to the cubs, however he dominates over the lionesses during feeding opportunities due to his brute strength and instinct to survive. This is an interesting saga that continues to amazes us in every encounter that we have with this pride.
The Othawa pride has also been thriving extremely well, with a new litter of three cubs as an addition to the existing six pride members.
As the lion prides continue to grow, so does the leopard population. The Khokovela female was seen early this month with a new litter of leopard cubs. Unfortunately, since the initial sighting of the two cubs, only one cub has survived. We look forward to watching this single cub growing in the wild. This is Khokovela’s second litter and with her recent movements she has shifted her territory further east into the Mhakubela drainage.
Large herds continue to move in wider directions from perennial water sources as the rains continue to fill the seasonal pans of water and streams.
The drier conditions during the start of summer have continued to have the hyena dens flourishing with activity. As the season progresses, the young cubs start moving with the adults and rarely will return to the sanctuary of the den-site. The den-sites are often used during the following winter by dominant alpha females. Sub-ordinate beta females will also use the den-site later in the winter season. With very high temperatures of late we have been viewing a number of hyenas in and around our waterholes seeking some refuge from the sweltering heat.
The wild dog packs have been rarely viewed this month as they have been moving far less in search of food. With the abundance of impalas and other younger species that are vulnerable to the pack, the dogs will move less in the summer season and rarely will spend long periods of time in one particular area.
Other unique sightings that have been reported this month, included three porcupine sightings, two honey badgers that have been very active in the open areas south of Castleton Camp, along with three different sightings of a male serval. The serval sighting has been very rewarding, as the single male has shown signs of being habituated to the vehicles which has been very exciting to see. Servals are shy by nature and often scurry off away from any sounds that don’t sound familiar to them.