Savanna Blog - July 2016

We have been mentioning the looming drought for a number of months now, but July has been the month when it has really made its presence felt. At the beginning of the month, all of the dams and pans had dried out completely and there was very little or no grazing to speak of. Only some of the pans that have solar panels at boreholes have a small trickle of water.

A lot of the grasslands have been reduced to dust bowls, and the animals need to walk further between decent grazing and waterholes.

But this is not all bad! The water level at the waterhole in front of the lodge has been maintained, meaning that the game viewing close to the lodge has been fantastic! There is a constant flow of general game with herds of up to 50 zebra, 35 wildebeest, impala and buffalo. Elephant are also frequenting the pans, very often at night while all the guests are enjoying dinner!

As the conditions become tougher, so the old and weak struggle more and eventually succumb to the conditions. This is nature’s way of taking off the excess and is the driving force behind natural selection. But in its wake follows the inevitable drama! A very old buffalo cow was seen around camp for a few days and we eventually woke one morning to a raucous cackling of hyenas just outside the camp! We are not sure if the cow had succumbed on her own, or if the hyena had actually taken the opportunity and killed the much weakened buffalo, but we found about 17 hyena fighting over the carcass! As always, this number of hyena fighting over a kill is quite a sight to see, as well as to hear!

To our surprise, as dawn began to break, and the light revealed more of the scene unfolding, we found Kashane in a tree very close to the kill! Again, we are not sure if he had found the buffalo before the hyena and was then chased up the tree, or whether he had in fact sneaked up on the hyena in response to their commotion, hoping to collect a few scraps. In the end, as it heated up and the hyena moved off one by one with very full bellies, Kashane made himself at home at the kill and had his fill. In the photo below, you can see the proximity all the action was to our staff quarters!

If the attention from the hyena was not enough for Kashane, the large herd of buffalo once again returned to the waterhole for their twice-daily drink and was attracted to the kill by all the smells. Kashane tried to ignore the approaching mass of bovids, but eventually had to trot off to safety closer to the lodge.

The herd continued to the carcass of the old cow and was very interested in the scents that were lingering around the carcass.  They hung around the area for some time before the ever-present thirst drew them away.

Thankfully, later in the month, we had a very unseasonal thunderstorm which dropped a quick 30 mm of rain in a fairly short time. This caused quite a bit of run-off which in turn topped up the empty dams just a little. Although far from enough, this will hopefully give quite a good respite until the big rains come in November.

As is usual with the drier season, the game viewing has been fantastic! There have also been some interesting developments within our male leopard dominance. It seems that Ravenscourt has well and truly cemented himself into the southern sections of our concession, and is often around the camp now. He is vocalising constantly, walking non-stop and scent marking wherever he goes. He is turning into a phenomenal male, so hopefully he will stay for some time!

In fact, this month we saw him mating with two different females at pretty much the same time. Initially he was with Mobeni, which is a relatively skittish and seldom-seen female in these parts. But she came from the east and followed him very far into the west while they were mating over a couple of days!

We then found them together with the Boulders female and an impala kill hoisted into a jackalberry tree! Interestingly, he was mating with both at the same time and they showed mild tolerance of one another. The following day everyone had moved off, and Ravenscourt then stayed with Boulders for the next four days, mating regularly!

Dewane has been seen often as well, but has remained close to the river. It seems as though he has ‘given’ up some of his territory in the south to Ravenscourt, most likely as he is spending more time along the river, which is a much better territory.

Sadly, it seems that Torchwood has lost the battle with Ravenscourt for now, as we are seeing him much less, and he is walking around in a much larger area. It is going to be interesting to see where he eventually settles.

We have also had some great viewing of the females that we do not often see. The Dam 3 female has been seen a few times, and on one particular occasion she suddenly produced a single cub from between the cracks of the rocky outcrop she had been lying on. Being a cautious mother, she didn’t keep it out for long, moving it a little deeper into the thickets. A few weeks later she was seen again with the cub, but at a different den. Let’s hope we get a few more glimpses of the youngster!

The Hukumuri female is seen even less, but more because of her territory falling mainly outside our concession. A few of our guests were fortunate to see her and her sub-adult cub briefly.

Hlabankunzi was seen together with Nyelethi a few times, and they too were apparently mating. Scotia has been seen very little again this month, still choosing to be closer to Nyelethi than to the younger males fighting for dominance.

It also seems that Tlangisa has lost her last cub, but once again we are unsure of what the cause was. She was recently seen mating with the skittish male in the north again, so it seems that she is starting once more. Cub mortality in all predators is very high, so although it is sad to see, this is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the fittest. One of Tlangisa’s previous litter, Basile, has been seen quite a bit south of the river, and it seems that she is looking for a place to settle. She is looking very relaxed and in good condition. It will be very interesting to follow her movements over the next year or so.

The Ottawa pride has been very active this month and moving constantly. The Majingilane males are also with them very often, with all four frequently seen with them. The females seem to have been showing a preference for wildebeest this month, with at least three kills. This has really helped the cubs, and they are looking in very good condition!

A pride from far east, the Tsalala pride, has suddenly arrived, and although we have seen them once or twice over the past few years, this is very far west for them. The pride consists of one adult female (who has interestingly lost her tail), one sub-adult female and three sub-adult males. The thought is that a new coalition of males has moved into their territory, none of whom is the father of the sub-adults. This makes the sub-adults very vulnerable to being killed by the new coalition. Interestingly, their fathers are the Majingilane, so they obviously feel safer here. They seem to have taken residence in the north, and it will be interesting to see how long they decide to stay, and how the resident prides here will react to them! The Ximungwe pride has not been seen at all this month.

This month saw the return of the wild dog pack, but this time with the long-awaited pups in tow! Seven healthy, energetic pups followed the pack as they moved into the central part of our concession for about a week, before heading back east again! Hopefully, now that the pups are old enough to move with the pack, we will be seeing them a little more regularly here in the west!

We suspect that one of the reasons our lion population has had such a tough time lately is because of the high hyena densities we are having at the moment. The current hyena den has been giving us fantastic views of at least nine cubs of various ages, and we have just discovered a second den not too far from Savanna! These huge termite mounds provide fantastic protection to the young cubs when danger lurks nearby.

Speaking of protection… since 2009 we have seen a steady increase in the amount of rhino poaching throughout the whole of South Africa. We too have had our share of losses, the rhino viewing taking a knock as a result. Thanks to some incredibly dedicated people within the Sabi Sands management, as well as fantastic support from sponsors and guests, our anti-poaching team is having great success and we are once again seeing relaxed, peaceful rhino on our clearings.

We have also been seeing our male cheetah regularly, often scent marking and posing on large fallen trees where he is also able to get great vantage points to survey the savanna.

We recently followed him while he was walking steadily through a clearing, when he suddenly flushed out a scrub hare! With lightning reactions and speed, he quickly caught the hare and then interestingly carried it off a very long way before feeding off it. Perhaps he was concerned that another predator might be in the area and he wanted to make sure he was well clear before settling down to feed.

Winter is not known for being a time for young, but we have had a few young elephant calves in the numerous herds that have been around recently, providing great enjoyment for all. A pair of Egyptian Geese has also had chicks at the causeway.

As always, birds add a different dimension and enjoyment to the safaris, and we are spoilt for variety, from the gangly Secretary Bird and the majestic Bateleur to the perfection of the Little Bee-eater.

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