Fortunately, the rivers and the dams are still very full, and we have been enjoying the constant hippo activity at Georgie’s Dam at the beginning and end of every game drive. With all the food and water available, they seem to be in a great mood, with lots of displaying of teeth and rolling.
Wildlife Blog – March 2021
March finally saw us enjoy some drier weather, with much less rain, and weeks on end without any rain at all. We only had around two inches of rain in total for March, which meant that we were able to start enjoying some more off-road driving, giving us more access to sightings. It also meant that we were not getting stuck as often!
Early in March, the pack of Painted Wolves made their way briefly onto our concession and we were treated to a great view of them along the Sand River. Somehow, a few of the pack had managed to chase and kill an impala on the northern bank, while the rest of the pack were on the southern side. We spent some time watching the three individuals trying to figure out how to get across, with the water still flowing strongly and the ever-present risk of crocodiles lurking. Eventually, the pull of the bond within the pack overcame the fear, and the three managed to get across unscathed.
March has certainly been a bumper month with respect to our already well-known cat sightings! The male cheetah who regularly visits made several circuits through our concession. He often comes into our concession right past Savanna at first light and we were very fortunate to catch him scent-marking on a large fallen-over tree stump.
The large clearings around Savanna have been very productive with general game, and we were hoping that we might see the cheetah in full flight across the wide-open spaces on a chase. Although we had a few chances, he never seemed to get his act together while we were watching! We did, however, have some great views of him lying on his favourite termite mounds.
On one occasion, he made a kill, and finished it between drives, so when we found him again on the afternoon drive, he had already left the kill, heading back to his mound with a VERY full belly (pictured right).
We also had a brief visit from a young male cheetah, who was understandably quite nervous at being in a new area, and not having enough confidence in himself yet. He was not seen again and will probably be nomadic for some time to come, moving huge distances until he finds an area at an age when he can feel more settled.
Khokovela finally showed us her cub this month. We first saw it at her den site on the edge of the Mabrak drainage line late one afternoon. The light was fading quickly, but we were able to get a few photos of the inquisitive, but nervous cub.
A few nights later, we bumped into Khokovela just as she caught a scrub hare in the road right in front of us! She then carried the kill back to the cub for 1,5 km without stopping.
As the cub was still too young to be viewed under spotlight, we did not stay, but managed to find them again the next day. She was moving the cub to another location, and we got our first good view of them together in great lighting conditions. It is a young female, and we really hope that Khokovela can raise this one to independence. To see a highlight reel of these two, please click here
Boulders (pictured right) also has some new cubs stashed away, but we have not been able to get photos of them yet. She is a master at hiding her kills, but hopefully as they get older and more confident, we will start seeing more of them.
Boulders’ previous offspring continue to provide fantastic viewing. The young female, Tisela, is seen regularly now, and is very inquisitive and energetic. She is constantly climbing trees and running up termite mounds, giving fantastic photographic opportunities to us all as seen on the left and below.
Ravenscourt, who is the father of both of Boulders’ litters, is still in prime condition and dominant in her territory, so it bodes well for her current litter. He seems to have picked up on the increase in Thamba’s confidence and has been seen down south more regularly this month. The relationship between these two is going to be interesting to follow in the coming months!
Thamba is, however, growing rapidly in confidence and is pushing further north and west, so that we are constantly seeing him scent-marking on the boundary of Ravenscourt’s territory. These are direct challenges to the dominant male, and Ravenscourt will constantly be on the defensive from now on to keep the young Thamba at bay for as long as possible.
Misava has also been seen a few times, but it is interesting that, although he is only four months younger than Thamba, he is nowhere near as dominant. He is still in his natal territory and has not shown signs of looking for his own territory yet. His mother, Hlabankunzi, was a particularly small female and perhaps these genes have meant that he has needed to take a little longer before trying to push his dominance through.
The high density of elephants on the concession has continued during March and there have been numerous very young calves with them. These are always much loved and often the highlights with our guests, as their antics are so comical. Their trunks seem to have a life of their own, as it takes up to two years to gain full control of these complex limbs.
For a change, we have not seen too much of the Ottawa pride, but we have had some good viewing of the Mhangene pride. They have six adult females at the moment and one young cub, all of them appearing to be in great condition.
At the end of March, we were spoilt with them managing to catch a large buffalo bull only about a kilometre north of Savanna, giving us two days of fantastic viewing of the pride, as well as the very impressive Ottawa male.
The Thumbela males are continuing their presence in the northern part of our concession, and they seem to be growing in confidence. Most of the time they are still split, with two of the males sticking together, while the third has been spending a lot of time with the one Ottawa female.
The large herd of buffalo finally made it back after a long absence, which fortunately brought the Mhangene pride with them! It is always so good to the see the mass of animals as they come out onto the clearings or come down to the waterholes. Due to the good rainfall of late, they are all in fantastic condition and the females are dropping their calves at quite a rate. Interestingly, however, at this time of the year they suffer from a parasite called Parafilaria, which infests the subcutaneous and intramuscular connective tissues and causes bleeding points on the skin. These particularly form in the middle of the back, where neither the horns nor the tail can reach to chase away irritating flies. It is also aggravated by the oxpeckers that peck at the damaged skin, thus causing the wound to enlarge. This is, nevertheless, a naturally-occurring parasite, and generally does not cause any long-term problems, subsiding in the drier seasons when there are fewer flies.
Competition for dominance in the wild is constant, and we are about to enter the mating season for impala. This rut is quite something to observe and we will hopefully bring you some images and video of this in the next blog. The ‘fight’ between two male giraffes is also one of the renowned activities of the African bush. They will stand next to one another and have a graceful ‘dance’ while trying to hit one another with their necks and heads. This can get very serious, but often two youngsters will practise this sparring technique in a much more gentle ‘play fight’.
Full moons are one of the more spectacular things to see while in Africa. The space, the clear skies and the silence all combine to make it a magical experience. Unfortunately, it is a very difficult subject to capture photographically, but every now and then one gets it right and can get quite creative with it.
It also adds extra pressure on our anti-poaching teams as the visibility at night increases, so we would like to take this opportunity to recognise the incredible work that is constantly being done by this dedicated team of people. They often work in very difficult conditions and seldom get recognised for the sacrifices they make to protect our wildlife. Thanks to them, we are still able to enjoy these remarkable creatures, and we hope to welcome more of you to see them in their natural habitat as restrictions start to ease.