Savanna Blog - December 2016
December saw the continuation of the rain which started towards the end of November and is possibly hinting at the end of the drought. It has been some time since we have seen decent thunderstorms and, on more than one occasion, the game drives had to rush back to avoid being caught in some powerful lightning storms!
As some of you who were here at the time will remember, less than two months ago, we saw barren land with not a blade of grass to be seen, and no hope of recovery in sight. But nature is phenomenal in its ability to recover, and after a few very good rainstorms, the Sand River is flowing strongly once again, and all of our dams are full to the brim, with many of them overflowing. The grass, too, has made a miraculous recovery and it is hard to believe that we are in the same place as two months ago. For a short video of the flowing Sand River, click here.
What is just as amazing is the transfer of energy to the wildlife. Lethargy and the sole purpose of survival have almost instantly been replaced by energetic playfulness and a lift in spirit!
Suddenly, many of the animals have energy for other important things, such as breeding! This is normally the season where most of the herbivores drop their young, as food, water, and cover are abundant. We have mentioned the impalas already dropping, but many of the other species are catching up quickly!
On more than one occasion, some of our guests were privileged to witness the birth of a wildebeest calf and one vehicle actually saw two being born at the same time! As they are plains animals which prefer the wide open spaces, it is imperative that these newborn calves get up to follow the herd as soon as possible, in order to avoid predators. Even so, it was astounding to see the two calves up and running six and seven minutes respectively after being born!
The birdlife also loves this time of plenty and the dawn chorus is often deafening! Breeding here too is in full swing, with the males in particular busy with territorial displays, nest-building and showing off breeding plumages!
One of the interesting things we noticed in hindsight was how none of the elephant bulls were coming into musth during the drought. It makes sense, however, as this would be a waste of valuable energy at a time when breeding was not high on the priority list! It also seems that bulls come into musth in response to females in heat. They too, might not have been coming into heat as a response to the poor conditions. This, however, has changed drastically and quickly! Almost all of the adult bulls seem to be in various stages of musth and it is great to see fairly large bachelor groups strutting around the savanna in search of females, who no doubt are also coming into heat!
The predators have also been doing their fair share of procreating! With the large number of impala lambs around, food is also plenty for them and energy levels are up! Ravenscourt has been acting with exceptional dominance over the past month, which at an age of less than five years old, is quite unbelievable! He has been seen mating with Boulders on a number of occasions, and not much beats the sight of two leopards together, surrounded by the lush green of the vegetation at the moment!
More surprisingly is that this month saw him stand up to and push Dewane back north from the common boundary, and he seems to be getting the upper hand over Dewane! This is going to be interesting to follow over the next few months!
Dewane, however, has maintained his dominance in the north, along the river, where it counts! Here, he too has been very busy, mating in particular with Xikavi!
It seems that Xikavi’s time with her son, Mondzo, is coming to an end, and her mating with Dewane is confirmation of this. On a few occasions, however, she still instinctively goes to fetch him when she has made a kill in the vicinity.
But when they are together, the relationship is less than amicable! There is always an underlying aggression between the two, and both seem reluctant to share a kill. This is all part of the separation process, and it won’t be long before Mondzo is on his own for good.
As one female prepares to leave her offspring, another is only just revealing hers! Tlangisa brought her cubs out for the first time this month, and we were fortunate to get a glimpse of them as she moved them to a new den. Unfortunately for us, but brilliant for her, the den is very well hidden, and we have not had much opportunity to see her or the cubs there.
She still remains one of the best viewing leopards, and when she is away from the den, she is fantastic to spend time with. It won’t be long, before she starts taking the cubs to kills, when the viewing of them should drastically improve!
Her two previous daughters, Basile and Kokovela, are both doing very well, and are seen regularly. They seem to be settling into their own respective ‘territories’ and are growing in confidence. Basile, who always used to be the shyer of the two, is relaxing beautifully as she matures. Kokovela is much like her mother, and poses on every possible occasion!
Scotia has not been seen very often of late, but it seems that she, too, has dropped her first litter very close to where she was born herself! It is very close to our eastern boundary, and hunting forays to the east means that we have not had much opportunity to see her or her cubs yet. This fantastic photo, taken by Billy …… , grandson of one of our owners, was one of the few occasions she was seen.
Tassleberry is the master of concealment and has the ability to completely blend into her environment when she chooses to! When there are hyena around, however, she chooses the safety of higher ground and quickly climbs the nearest tree. It is then that it becomes clear what a beautiful leopard she is. We suspect that she, too, has cubs.
Another one of our seldom seen leopards is Hukumuri, not because she is she and illusive, but rather because the majority of her territory lies outside our concession. Her sub-adult male cub is also nearing independence and should be moving around on his own soon. He will have many lessons to learn in the coming years, one of them being to avoid as much as possible standing on a thorn! Have a look at this clip, taken by Bruce Ward-Smith, of him dealing with a pesky thorn.
Our lion viewing has improved greatly this month, and the female with new cubs has finally brought them out to show them to the world! There are three of them, who all look fit and healthy, and it seems to be two females and one male.
The remaining two sub-adults are also looking very good and are becoming formidable lions. They are starting to assist in a productive way with the hunting and the three of them have taken down a few buffalo already.
Our resident male cheetah has made a few visits to the clearings in the south. He is also enjoying the abundance of small impala lambs, as they are no match for his speed! Cheetah are also not known for their tree-climbing ability, but if the tree is not too high, or the cheetah can run up the trunk, they will often use them as vantage points and scent posts.
The hyena population is still very high, especially in the south. Most of the dens have been inactive for some time, but this month a female and two very young cubs have taken residence in one of them again. As always at these dens, the young cubs go a long way in restoring some of the bad press these amazing creatures often receive!
We seem to have been taking them for granted over the last few months, but the wild dog continue to amaze us and our guests with their incredible stamina, energy and speed. They are also very caring and social in their pack structure, which resonates so deeply with us. We hope that they too remain in the area for a little while longer.
Although the impala have been seriously targeted this month, due to all the lambs being born, their numbers are still very healthy and they are very common. Because of this, they are often overlooked, but they remain one of the most beautiful and striking of our antelope.
This is also a time for the smaller things, and the abundance of little creatures, flowers and smaller species greatly complement the fantastic high-profile game we are privileged to observe. We leave you with two of these - a flap-necked chameleon and a pearl charaxes - and hope that you have all had a safe and enjoyable festive season. We wish you all the very best for 2017 and look forward to bringing you updates of all the happenings here at Savanna.