Savanna Blog - June 2016

The drought is really starting to take a strong hold on the bush as we pass through the middle of the year. We have thus been talking quite a bit about the coming winter, and the effect that the drought will have. The majority of the dams dried up completely during June, with the few exceptions of the larger dams, as well as the ones that are fed from boreholes.  As the last of the water evaporated, African Fish Eagles and Saddle-billed Storks took the opportunity of an easy meal, with the catfish trapped in the small pools. Some of the mammals also got trapped in the surrounding mud in an attempt to get to the last water.

But as always, not all is doom and gloom! There are still many places with water available to the animals, and the wildlife is teeming around them. The White-breasted Cormorants are having a field day at the causeway, where one of the last remaining deep pools provides an abundance of food!

It is also here that one gets fantastic views of the hippo as they now come out occasionally to bask in the sun, as well as some of the huge crocodiles that we find along the river.

Buffalo require a lot of water each day, and so they too have been camping near prominent waterholes. The one in front of the camp has seen plenty of activity over the past month, with a large herd of buffalo visiting it on regular occasions.

But the distance that they have to walk to get from the water to good grazing is increasing, as the grass nearest the water diminishes first. This means that they lose quite a lot of the energy that they have just gained and start becoming more susceptible to becoming prey.

Some of our guests were fortunate to witness one of these hunts from the Ottawa pride, which are not renowned for their buffalo-hunting prowess. We were all very surprised when one lioness did not pause at all during her stalk, and rushed into the buffalo herd with no warning! The buffalo herd had no time to react or regroup, and did not come back at all to try to save a young female, so the lions were able to bring it down without too much difficulty!

The elephants seem to have been doing well, which is quite expected. They are some of the last to be affected by the drought. They are able to walk large distances to and from water easily, and are also able to dig for water if and when necessary.

They even seem to have extra energy for some play-fighting between the younger bulls!

The predators are the one group that has an advantage during the drier times, and our viewing has been fantastic! Xikavi and her cub are still doing brilliantly. Although he is not the most relaxed cub we have seen, we still have great sightings. Being along the river is a massive advantage for her and the cub, with water and food being in great supply.

Ravenscourt seems to have upped his claim on the southern part of our concession and has been frequently seen. He is vocalising and scent-marking excessively, while moving constantly. This provides ample opportunity to see him in active mode and the photographers are enjoying the many occasions he poses perfectly for them!

Torchwood has definitely had to retreat and seems to have moved further north-west to avoid conflict with Ravenscourt. His dietary habits have not changed much, though, and he is still often found with interesting kills. On one occasion, he opportunistically dashed after and caught a young scrub hare, while one set of guests were witness to him hauling a porcupine out of a termite mound and successfully killing it! It came at some cost, though, as he had to deal with a number of quills stuck into his flesh for a few hours afterwards!

The other two dominant males continue with their daily routine of patrolling their respective territories. With Ravenscourt filling the south east, Kashane is not seen too often, but Dewane is very active. This is especially true of the northern part of his area along the Sand River, as the prey concentration is so much higher there at this time of the year.

The females have been unusually scarce this month. Sadly, it seems as if Tlangisa has lost one more of her cubs, and now only has one left.

Scotia seems to have moved more to the east after mating with Nyelethi. Hopefully she is pregnant, and therefore will be wary of putting her den in close proximity to Torchwood or Ravenscourt, but we hope this is not a permanent move!

We have had good viewing of male lions this month. The Mhangene males have split from their sisters for the time being and have been on our side a few times! They are getting fairly large already and are going to be a formidable coalition when they mature.

All four of the Majingilane males are still alive and dominant. The one brother has for some time been looking rather weak, possibly due to bovine tuberculosis, and we keep thinking he is not going to make it much longer. So far, however, he seems to be doing all right and hanging in there! The other three are still very impressive and do not look as if they are going to be handing over their territory any time soon!

The male cheetah have made quite regular visits through our concession, especially through the clearings in the south. Although not strictly territorial, these two males scent-mark quite regularly, usually on large fallen trees, posing brilliantly in the process!

Although the bush is drying out quickly, for now the animals are coping well. Species such as wildebeest actually prefer the more open environment, as they rely heavily on eyesight to detect predators. Along the rivers, the browsers such as kudu and bushbuck are still doing well, provided they keep a good eye open for the predators!

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