As 2019 quickly comes to a close, it seems that October and November have flown by in a whirlwind of amazing sightings, new life and the blessings of the first rains of the season. Along with the arrival of the first impala lambs and wildebeest calves, we had the incredible experience of watching the Sand River come down in flood.

The bush has come alive with a blanket of greenery, and there is new life around every corner. The photographs from the months of October and November are in stark contrast to each other, and it has been incredible to see how the bush has changed almost overnight.

The male cheetah is doing well, although it seems that he is avoiding our concession a little, due to the constant presence of wild dogs in the area over the past four months. His visits have been short but rewarding, as he continues to explore new areas within his territory, and revel in the start of the lambing season.

The African Wild Dog have provided great viewing of late, with two packs on the property quite regularly.

As with most predators and particularly so with the wild dogs, it is not unusual to have a constant presence of hyenas in the area. They follow the scent of the wild dogs, watch their every move and wait for that opportune moment to steal a kill.

On one occasion, we watched the Investec Pack make three separate kills, two of which were stolen by hyenas. Up to fifteen hyenas were seen in the area and, needless to say, the interaction between these two predators was captivating. One of the kills was taken by the matriarch hyena and dragged into a pond nearby. Hyenas are often seen ‘storing’ their kills in water to keep them for later use.

There was an interaction between the two packs at some point during the month of October, which resulted in two of the puppies from the Sand River pack being killed. The rest of the pack, however, continues to do incredibly well and have stayed predominantly around Savanna for the last of the dry period, utilising the camp pan as their watering source.

Boulders’ two cubs continue to give us great viewing. As they move towards independence, they grow more curious and confident by the day. Although they are still taking full advantage of the kills that their mother makes, they have been seen on a few occasions with kills of their own. With the large number of newborn impala lambs around, they have a great opportunity to hone their hunting skills in the next few months. The young male was recently seen with an impala lamb whereupon he did not kill the lamb immediately, but rather ‘played’ with it to practise these vital skills.

One special sighting was when both cubs were found at a watering-hole and, as we got there, the young female cub managed to catch a terrapin in one of the muddy pools. This may not be the most conventional meal, but leopard are renowned for being opportunistic, and she is learning this skill early.

The male cub, however, chose not to be involved in the meal, but instead practised his stalking skills from the bank above. The two still continue to be seen together a lot of the time, although this tight-knit bond won’t last for much longer, as they both need to figure out independence for themselves.

Khokovela and her male cub continue to be excellent viewing when they are seen on the concession. Her male cub is now 14 months old and is moving around a lot more on his own. He is still very wary when he is alone, but continues to explore various areas of his mother’s territory.

Hukumuri and Nyelethi were seen mating on one occasion at the beginning of October. Hukumuri tends to stay further east of our concession, competing for territory with Khokovela, but when they come into season, they often move further afield. Leopards have a gestation period of roughly three months (90 -105 days), so we can only hope that in a few months we will be able to see if Nyelethi will continue his success as a dominant male.

Ravenscourt has continued to maintain his dominance in the concession, and it seems that he may have displaced Homelight in the north for good. He is seen regularly in the north as well as throughout his territory, thus creating great viewing as he travels through his territory with intent to mark and defend it.

Ravenscourt and Tlangisa have been seen on a few occasions together this month. As Ravenscourt has taken over most of her territory, she is now more comfortable moving further south. They were together for five days, moving as far as Mackenzie Camp as they mated regularly. The offspring from these two incredible leopards promises to be fantastic!  Click here to see the video of them mating.

Tlangisa has been seen along the river sporadically as she readjusts her territory. On one occasion, she had a big male impala kill and she dragged it to the base of a large tree, looking to hoist the kill later. We came back that afternoon to find the kill had been stolen by hyenas, so she did not get the full benefit from the kill.

As many of you may know, Tlangisa’s previous cub became independent towards the middle of the year. The young female, in search of her own territory, moved further north and east out of our concession and was not seen for months. However, she returned to the concession in November and spent a few weeks moving around the southern parts very close to Savanna. She was given the name Thlangelani, which means ‘Celebration’ in the local Tsonga language.

The young female spent the majority of her time exploring the new territory, seeking large marula trees in which to spend her days and utilising the panoramic view in order to watch out for any sign of danger. We can only hope that she will cement her territory in the area, and continue Thlangisa’s outstanding legacy.

Scotia made a few brief appearances on the property. Her male cub, the Tavangumi male, is now fully independent from her and it is going to be interesting to see how her territory evolves now that she is without a cub for a while. Hopefully, she will move more west once again.

Misava is growing into a beautiful young male leopard and is gaining in confidence as he starts moving further away from his natal territory. He is now just over three years old and should be moving around a bit more in the future.

He is proving to be a skilled hunter, but it is vital that he learns to retain these kills, as well as staying undetected by other males in the area. His father Nyelethi has been fairly tolerant of this young male in his territory, although we don’t know how much longer this will last.

Dewane continues his nomadic lifestyle as he moves through the concession, avoiding Ravenscourt and Nyelethi. He seems to favour areas that the dominant males do not often visit, either very far south around Savanna Lodge or far up north away from Ravenscourt. He continues to make opportunistic kills, but he does not stay in one area for too long.

Speaking of nomadic males, a new male, the Tortoise Pan male leopard, entered the concession early in December. He is a young male just over three years old and he has moved into the concession from the east in search of a territory for himself. With the high density of young males in the area, in addition to well-settled dominant males, it is unlikely that he will stay here permanently.

The large herd of buffalo came back onto the property for a short while, most likely in search of water. They moved through the southern parts of the property and, with over 1000 individuals in the herd, it was quite a spectacle to see as they covered the open clearings.

The Ottawa pride were yet again erratic in their visits to the concession. They only stayed long enough to finish off a few necessary kills before moving further east out of our concession. The recent shift in lion movements and dynamics goes unexplained, and it will certainly be an interesting few months ahead as we see how the movements continue.

On one occasion, we were lucky enough to witness one of the older lionesses dragging a fresh adult male nyala kill to a cooler, more secluded area. The younger cubs thought this was the best game ever and tried to ‘stalk and catch’ the nyala whilst it was being dragged. Although this looked like fun and games to us, it is a vital step in their learning towards adulthood. Being able to stalk and successfully catch their prey is imperative for their survival.

We are extremely fortunate to have had many great sightings, but those who have been here for a number of trips, will know how special a sighting of the elusive honey badger is! We were extremely lucky to get a great view of a young individual who had obviously been rushed into a temporary hole by the large herd of buffalo walking through the area. It either found, or quickly made, a temporary hole right next to the road, where it stuck its head under its body in an attempt to hide and wait it out! This afforded us some incredible views of this usually shy and skittish animal.

A pair of Spotted Eagle Owl have given guests the opportunity to see a normally nocturnal bird in the daytime. These owls form life-long pair bonds. They don’t build a nest, but use a suitable site, in this case the banks of a steep drainage line. Although they lay a clutch of about 2 – 4 eggs, they rarely raise more than one chick.

The Southern Ground Hornbill is the largest hornbill species in the world and is normally well adapted for the terrestrial lifestyle. It has five different calls, the most common of which is a four-note booming call, which is used as a territorial and long-range contact call. This particular individual gave us a spectacular display as he flew into a dead tree, calling for the rest of the members in the flock.

As the summer sunsets continue to stun us with their beauty, we leave you as the sun sets on 2019! May you and your families have a blessed Festive season, and all the best for the New Year.

With warm wishes,

Neil, Natasha and the Savanna Family