Savanna Blog - May 2016
Winter has arrived quickly and suddenly, so any possible thought of more rain has dissipated with the last few clouds of moisture which have been replaced by clouds of dust. We have all known that we were going to experience a drought this year, but the reality of it has finally hit home with the majority of our waterholes having dried up for good or very close to dry in May.
Having said this, it is not all doom and gloom. This is all part of a complicated system and these periods of drought are as natural as the wet periods. Where some animals struggle, some prevail. Buffalo and lion are a perfect example of this. We expect that the buffalo population will struggle over the next few months, with the weak succumbing to the stress of the drought. This, however, is a ‘cleansing’ of the system, removing the weak and so ensuring the survival of the fittest. With the buffalo struggling, it means that the lions don’t have to work as hard and should be able to find food much more easily over the next few months.
There is still some water in some of the larger dams, as well as in the Sand River. It remains to be seen if this will last through the dry season, but at the moment there is a lot of concentration of the game around the water sources. Hippo have been forced to the last few deeper waterholes and giraffe are seen regularly along the river now.
As would be expected, the large herds of elephant are still spending hours along the river, particularly during the heat of the day. They are exceptionally adaptable and it doesn’t seem that they will suffer too much during the drought. The large number of healthy calves in the herds suggests that they are doing well!
The bulls, as always, follow the herds and are very often seen quenching their thirst at the river.
With the scarcity of water forcing animals closer to permanent water, as well as the bush generally thinning out, game viewing has been superb! Leopard viewing, as most of you know, is generally unbelievable, and now it is even more so, with Tlangisa and her cubs being exceptionally good viewing! The cubs are now at an age where we can view them without the mother and they are always full of mischief and intrigue! On quite a number of occasions, we were privileged to see the two cubs play-fighting for hours while they waited for Tlangisa to return.
And when Tlangisa is with the cubs, her phenomenal parenting skills come to the fore, when she herself spends a lot of time stalking, chasing and playing with them. When she does take a break, however, she always keeps a very close eye on them!
When on her own, she maintains her reputation as one of our best viewing leopards with fantastic sightings of her hunting and posing in perfect locations!
In the central parts of our concession, Scotia has been providing equally great sightings! Although she does not have the attraction of the cubs, it seems that she is starting to think about it! She recently met up with Nyelethi and was very flirtatious with him, trying hard to get some attention from him. He seemed less amused and was not sure about her at all, snarling and backing off each time she approached him!
Eventually she got tired of his disinterest, ran up behind him and lashed at his head with her paw, claws extended! Understandably, he did not take too kindly to this, and she had to take evasive action to avoid being injured by Nyelethi!
Things did calm down, and the two of them went east off our concession, where they reportedly mated for the next two days or so. Perhaps we may have some new cubs to look forward to in the forthcoming summer! In the picture below, it clearly shows the size difference between the male and female leopard!
Dewane has been very dominant over the past few months and is walking tremendous distances to cover his entire territory. He makes regular forays down to the south, but is understandably concentrating around the river. This is where the most competition will be and he has had a number of altercations with the rarely-seen male in the north. Recently, he had a roaring match with the northern male across the river, but when they do meet up, it seems that Dewane has been dominating!
During one of his visits to the river, after extreme patience and a number of attempts at stalking impala, he finally had some success! In between the full moons of April and May, most of the mating happens in impala, and there is intense competition for dominance. During this period, the male impalas fight and rut, chasing each other incessantly and vocalising with distinctive guttural ‘roars’ often mistaken for those of a predator. During one of these ruts, Dewane became alerted to their presence and in a heartbeat slunk into position above the riverbank. It took us only a minute or two to get around to where he had gone, but by the time we got there, he already had a large male by the throat. As soon as it was dead, he dragged it down into the river next to a small pool where he would be able to have food and water for the next couple of days!
The battle between Ravenscourt and Torchwood continues. It seems that Kashane had decided to vacate the area in the south-east of the concession near Savanna, as we have hardly seen him at all over the past two months. With Dewane concentrating around the river, it has opened up the south slightly and there is a definite increase in the altercations between the two youngsters. As has proved to be the case for almost all of these battles, Ravenscourt seems to dominate and Torchwood always has to flee. It seems likely that Ravenscourt might take over in the south, but as we know in nature, nothing is certain.
Some of the less frequently viewed females have made appearances lately. Boulders has been seen with a few male impala kills, but one occasion particularly stands out. She was initially found by accident, as one of our vehicles went off-road to view the large herd of buffalo, only to discover her nestled in a tree above them! Unbeknown to us, she had a kill stashed not too far away under some thickets, and had obviously been discovered by the buffalo. She had to leave the kill in her haste to get up the tree! Once the buffalo lost interest, she quickly descended, grabbed her kill and dashed back to the same tree, dragging the kill with her. She quickly hoisted the kill just in time, as two hyena came dashing in. Although she had it safely up the tree, the mere presence of the hyena made her attempt to move it higher, causing her to lose her grip and drop the kill! The hyena immediately rushed onto the carcass, dragging it a short distance before starting to feed on it. However, they seemed very nervous, possibly due to the herd of buffalo still being fairly close, and eventually decided it was not worth it, left the kill and ran off! Boulders did not need a second invitation, and managed to get the carcass back up the tree before the hyena returned! This time she managed to keep it up the tree and fed off it for a few days!
The other two females we seldom see also had their share of male impala! Tassleberry had the remains of a young male grimly draped in a marula tree as she rested close by, while the Dam 3 female had the same approach, except she chose to rest in the same tree as the kill!
Our lion population has been a little up and down again, as has been the case over the last few months. The Ximungwe pride has made a few visits, but continues to move constantly. They are still in pretty good condition, but have not yet found an area that they are comfortable to settle in.
The Ottawa pride seems to be taking over the greater part of the western sector in the absence of any competition, and have been going even further afield. The Majingilane males have also been spending a lot of their time following the Ottawa pride, hoping to get the benefits of a free meal.
But by far the best enjoyment has been from the young Mhangeni pride! They made quite an extended visit at one point and spent five days almost constantly following the large herd of buffalo. The pride consists of five sub-adult females and two sub-adult males who are still finding out what they are capable of! Unfortunately, they were not successful, but the viewing during that time was incredible!
We have been having some brilliant hyena viewing at a new hyena den with at least nine youngsters of various ages. Late afternoon seems to be the best time to watch them, as they get their last bit of mischief in before the adults leave for the night’s scavenging. There has been a lot of energetic playfulness between cubs of various ages, and one sub-adult is particularly patient with the very young.
The pack of wild dog has made a few visits, and it seems that they have made a den just to the east of our concession. Although it means that it will be a few months before we see the pups, we are close enough for them to make hunting sorties into our concession fairly regularly, especially along the river. It is always incredible to watch the team work and see the efficiency of the pack as they move and hunt as one.
The male cheetah has been relatively scarce recently. But in many ways this makes it even more exhilarating when it does turn up!
At this time of the year, the dust levels increase dramatically due to the lack of rain and the trampling effect of all the animals. The advantage of this large amount of dust in the atmosphere is the spectacular sunrises and sunsets we are blessed to witness. All you need is a good subject and the photos are incredible…
The amazing work being done in the community continues with the help of Rinske and her team, together with fantastic support from so many of our guests. For the latest update, please click here.
To those who will be visiting us soon, we look forward to meeting new and familiar faces, while to those who have to wait a little while longer to return, we look forward to keeping you updated with the ways of the wild.