Holding a steaming cup of hot chocolate, warming against the open fire, wisps of flames waving in the winter air and the music of the bush begins to play… Looking out onto the Sand River before the morning drive is a highlight in winter. This essential water source draws many creatures and as day begins to break, the calls from hyenas, wild dogs and lions can be heard. On one such morning, we observed a pack of wild dogs hunting an impala in between the granite rocks of the river outside Boulders Lodge. Such a commotion drew the attention of many hyenas; their shrieks and yelps adding more to the scene. Like a race against time this crescendo mounted as some hooded vultures soared over us, hoping to join the commotion. Watching moments like this unfold can be so unexpected and no sooner have they begun, they end. Peace pushes over the scene and the sound of the flowing river water and bird tunes can be heard once more. Our hot chocolates are now lukewarm, but a new energy fills the air as we depart on morning game drive.
Here’s a Sightings Snapshot for July:
Mhangene Pride have been spending a lot more time in the Sand River. They’ve been very successful at hunting, including killing a male buffalo. This brought a lot of attention to the area from other predators like hyenas and vultures. With the river being such an active area for many creatures during this time of year, we’ve watched as the pride have been forced to move around by the large herds of elephants that’ve occupied the same space.
The Othawa male remains with the Mhangene Pride.
We’ve been very fortunate to view the Nkuhuma Pride of lions as well as two of the Avoca Males in the northern part of the reserve, with two very young cubs.
The Styx Pride have been making themselves at home north of the river lately, but still tend to move in and out of the property making numerous kills here over the past month.
Earlier in the month, the Othawa Pride made an appearance in the river in front of the lodges and managed to bring down a large male waterbuck which fed the whole pride along with the two Matimba males.
The condition of the Matimba males seems to be deteriorating, especially for the one male who has become a lot thinner over the past month or so.
An incredible number of elephants patrol the reserve through the winter days. Herds represent a living family tree and are a delight to watch. Very young calves, only a few weeks old, walk slackly next to their mothers. Teenagers, still learning the ropes, kick up small shrubs to get to the roots to eat. Larger bull elephants are moving in the shadows trailing these herds, some with exceptionally large tusks.
How incredible to find the wild dogs have chosen a special place on our property to den. With a healthy pack of 10 adults, it’s incredible to be a part of the next generation. Buried deep inside a termite mound come whimpering and high pitch cries as tiny voices beg for milk. The lactating alpha female keeps guard at the entrance.
We’ve watched this pack move to a new den-site and after a few days, they brought out 12 beautiful puppies. High pitch cries and excited squeals fill the air as we view their loving caring nature unfold in front of us. What a privilege to see this new generation.
The number of spotted hyenas seems to have risen dramatically as new den-sites appear around the reserve. They are such successful hunters and scavengers with immense patience and greed – and this seems to be the key for their success. Listening to their calls at sundown bring an exciting energy into the bush. Competition for prey seems to be at an all-time high and it’s an interesting time to watch.
An exciting time as there have been two pairs of mating leopards on the property over the past month. The Mobeni female has been seen mating with the Thamba Male leopard and the Hukumuri female has been mating once again with the Nyelethi Male.
The Khokhovela female seems to be spending more time on her own hunting and giving her young male cub more freedom as it gets older. We’ve observed this female lose some recent impala kills to hyena, there seems to be more pressure on these animals from the scavengers.
There have been some incredible leopard sightings this month, mainly interacting with hyena. One in particular showcased the Nyelethi male chasing some hyenas away from a young hippo carcass in the Sand River. The altercation left the male leopard limping and he ended up watching longingly from the bank as the hyenas fought each other for scraps of meat. A crocodile also became a target as the hyena chased it into the water away from the carcass.
Although a very rare sighting, we have been privileged to watch part of a male cheetah’s story as he moves across our southern part of the reserve. This male was seen with an impala kill and we hope to see more of him as autumn arrives.
A white-headed vulture was seen at the southern side of the reserve accompanied by some white-backed vultures and hooded vultures feeding on a carcass.
We added a peregrine falcon to the list this month bringing our total number for the year to 261.
A Meller’s mongoose seen a few times, running across the road into some bushes close to Boulders lodge.