The green season is in full swing with overhanging branches along the roads being weighed down by the thick foliage, leafy material and lots of berries and seedpods. The marula trees are decorated with fruit that scatters below the trunks of the tress. As they ripen the fresh, delicious sweet fruits are a treat for many species, in particular elephants. The wildlife has dispersed throughout the reserve as the time of plenty awards them the opportunity to move and utilize the season’s water resources without having to congregate around perennial waterholes or even along the Sand River.
During the start of the year, we have started with some really good news and some sad news, in particular to our felines that we encounter. As Stacey departed on an afternoon game drive in search of lions, there was no
thought that they would encounter a new litter of cubs by sheer accident. It was a highlight for her guests and many other fortunate guests and guides that have seen them since the first sighting two weeks ago. The sad news we received was that a female leopard had been caught and killed by two male lions just west of our land. It was difficult to identify the leopard, however through further review of spot markings on the remains of the carcass it was highly likely that it was Hlaba’Nkunzi. She was a female leopard that was well known in the Singita area. Field Guide and content creator, Ross’s tribute to a fallen queen sums up her eminence.
Here’s a Sightings Snapshot for January:
• New cubs welcomed a great start to the year, and we have been waiting patiently to see them more frequently. At the time that they were viewed it was reported that their estimated age was approximately two to three weeks old. The mother of the cubs was seen in close proximity of the Othawa male lion. The cubs with limited movement or sight were difficult to see, however they all looked healthy. With new additions to the pride, the return of the mighty Mhangene Pride will be reigning supreme with the hope that no new males venture further west from Kruger National Park as this will certainly upset the current situation, not to mention that the Othawa male will be in hot water being outnumbered, if a new male coalition decided to venture into unknown territory.
• Schotia has been extremely busy hunting various species to facilitate enough food for her ever growing male leopard cub. They continue to move in very close quarters of the lodges and are often viewed lying on the rocks in front of Boulders Lodge when the water level is low. They seem to enjoy the open area and large boulder rocks that allow them to warm up during cool evenings.
• Unfortunately, the cheetahs continue to elude us. Two new young males have rarely been sighted, along with three sub-adults. As the grass stalks are high in the green pastures of the south it makes it extremely difficult to find cheetahs. However, the trackers are always eager to follow tracks and catch up with some of the elusive felines.
• The elephants have been viewed in large numbers along the crested slopes capitalizing on the marula fruits. It has been a highlight to watch as they intricately move several fruits to balance them in the crevice of their lower trunk, then utilise the probing two tips to collect more delectable fruits before plunging a ‘trunkfull’ into their mouths. Conducting a walking trail this time of the year can be incredibly rewarding for interpreting various wildlife signs as often they can be well preserved in the wet earth. One particularly interesting investigation is inspecting elephant droppings as they can be filled with marula fruits that have not been chewed or even digested. It just goes to show how much can be consumed and how quickly the digestive tract works in an elephant, in addition to how poor their digestive system is.
• Larger numbers of buffalos have been sighted, particularly in the central and southern areas. Open grass plains of dense vegetation along with several seasonal water points have aided the return of the larger herds. This month the largest group that was recorded in the south was well over 300.
• Ah, the return of wild dogs, it was short but sweet this month! With two sightings being recorded for the month we are all hoping they will be revisiting soon.
• The total bird count for the month of January was 212 (219 in December).
Specials for the month included sightings of: black-crowned night-heron, squacco heron, dwarf bittern, several sightings of marabou storks, Montagu’s harrier, Eurasian hobby, kori bustard, greater painted-snipe, great spotted cuckoo, half-collared kingfisher, trumpeter hornbill, Eurasian golden oriole and capped wheatear.