Savanna Blog - April and May 2019

Having missed the chance to send out the blog after April, there are many exciting updates to give you. There are constantly things happening out in the bush, and the past two months have been, as always, no different. 

A little surprising for this time of the year is the fantastic viewing we have had of the juvenile members of nature. Summer is usually known for being the best time of the year to see youngsters, but occasionally there are a few late arrivals, and this year has been very good in this regard. 

We have been privileged to have the Mhangene pride make a number of visits to our concession. They have three young cubs that are now just over four months old and seem to be doing very well! Although they have shown some infestation of mange, they are recovering well! Mange usually surfaces during periods of malnutrition and weak immunity, but with a few good meals, this seldom lasts very long. 

The Ottawa youngsters are all still alive and seem to love climbing trees. Every opportunity to scramble up onto fallen trees is taken, and the young sub-adult male joins in most of the times!

Large kills also seem to be fair game for their climbing fetish, whether it is standing on a large buffalo kill, or creeping through the carcass of a zebra. 

The Matimba males amazingly are still hanging on and follow the Ottawa pride constantly. This is primarily for food, as they are now approaching 14 and a half years old and find it very hard to hunt. But the male instinct is still there, and if there is any hint of one of the females coming into oestrus, the interest in them peaks instantly! They also have been extremely patient and caring of the youngsters, but show their irritation when the boisterous youth disturb them during their nap.

The Ottawa male, who is now four and a half years old, sticks with the Mhangene pride like glue! This too must have been for food initially and some sense of protection, but over the past year he has grown in confidence and is becoming more and more dominant. Interestingly, he too is very good with the young, particularly with the older sub-adult who is not his son. Perhaps this is due to the fact that when he joined the pride, he was not acting dominantly at all!

The one thing everyone enjoys seeing, whether it be guide or guest, is when a pride of lions, made up of various ages, comes down to drink. Both the Ottawa and Mhangene pride have given us quite a few of these opportunities over the past few months.

There has been some great viewing of the younger leopards over the past two months as well, and the two cubs from Boulders have been taking centre stage. Interestingly, Boulders has been spending quite long periods away from the cubs, and they have been forced to look after themselves much of the time. But when she does return to them, a lot of affection is shown. 

One of the best sightings we had of them was when Boulders was forced to take an impala kill up a tree, as some hyena were lurking. This resulted in some fantastic viewing of the cubs in a marula tree in some early morning light, as well as allowing some great silhouette sightings at sunset. 

Khokovela’s young male cub is growing quickly, and at seven months is developing an incredible personality! He is getting to the age where he wants to chase and hunt anything that moves. Unfortunately for Khokovela, as he is the only one from the litter, this generally turns out to be mom! But she is very much like Tlangisa (her mother) and is extremely patient and tolerant with him. 

On one occasion, she managed to catch a young duiker close to him, which she duly brought back without killing it. She then let him ‘play’ with it, which is part of the lessons he needs to perfect his own hunting skills. He is also constantly exploring his surroundings, discovering new environments at every opportunity. 

Tlangisa’s youngster is approaching independence quickly. When she is with her mother at a kill, she is quite dominant and wants to do her own thing. On one occasion when Tlangisa had a large impala kill in a tall Jackalberry tree, she got it into her head that it needed moving. As is often the case, she dropped the kill, but fortunately it got wedged on the way down, and was not lost to the ever-present hyena.

They still play a lot, although it is getting rougher and often ends with a serious growl or a more than gentle smack with a paw! It won’t be long now before she goes off on her own. 

The offspring of some of the other species have also been ‘performing’ brilliantly. In particular, we have had some spectacular viewing of the hippo and their young at the Causeway. With the cooler temperatures and water levels dropping, many of the hippo have congregated here. The extra energy of the young calves has provided great sightings, as they play-fight in the shallows, chase each other on the edge, and rush back into the water. 

A large male hippo at Tassleberry has also been providing some great entertainment in the late afternoons.  He has been very active, ‘yawning’ in display and constantly rolling onto his back and giving ‘high fives’. The reason for this rolling is unclear, but hugely entertaining!

It seems that a lot of sightings are happening around the water at the moment. This is not completely unexpected, as the bush starts drying out and animals congregate close to the remaining water sources. This also means increased danger for prey species at these hotspots, but on one occasion the water came as a source of safety for one of the youngsters! The extremely efficient pack of wild dogs chased a waterbuck female and her young calf, and surely would have been successful if it had not been for a small waterhole close by. She took it straight into the water where the dogs were uneasy at following. They eventually moved off, allowing a group of hyena to try their luck. They too felt it was too risky, leaving the clever mother and calf to live another day!

The waterholes have also been great places to sit and view the herds of elephant needing to quench their thirsts as the dry season sets in. 

It has been a very successful breeding season for the elephant, and each herd has many calves at foot. We have been blessed with some great viewing of a few very young calves who still rely heavily on milk, rather than water, to satisfy their needs. 

The rut has also been in full swing during April and May. The constant guttural sound of impala rams chasing one another in a battle for dominance and territory is heard for kilometres, with the successful males earning the right to mate. 

Other males are also fighting for dominance, and the winner of the misleading ‘dance’ of the giraffe gets to father the next generation. 

There is a cost, however, to chasing and fighting for territory and dominance, particularly for the male impala. With the noise of the rutting added to the distraction of chasing other males and herding the females, they are much more susceptible to predation. During the months of April and May, the percentage of male impala kills increases from 20% to 65-70%! Torchwood, the male leopard, is usually found further east of our concession, but we were privileged to see him dragging one of these male impala kills toward some cover. 

Ravenscourt seems to be spending more time in the north, with only the odd visit down to the south, but he is still dominating the majority of the western sector. He is one of our favourite leopards to photograph, as he is in such great condition and a very large male indeed!

An example of how dominant and sought after he is was indicated when Hukumuri (a female in the north-east) came a long way south to mate with him. This is a clear indication that she is either very impressed by him, or concerned that he may soon increase the size of his territory into that of hers. If this happens, she may need him to believe her future cubs have a chance of being his, in order for him not to kill them.

Dewane has moved south, staying low and avoiding Ravenscourt. With Ravenscourt not coming south that often any more, it has given Dewane some reprieve, and he is looking very good still. We are seeing him regularly around Savanna and it is fantastic to have such a relaxed male in close proximity to the lodge. 

As most of you who have been here know, there is always something special that pops up unexpectedly. One of the most common (unrealistic) requests is to see a honey badger! These animals are famous for their tenacity and cunning, but are extremely rare and difficult to see. So you can imagine the excitement when one was found early morning, drinking at a small pan not far from camp! 

We have also had some great bird viewing, even though it is not the season renowned for bird watching! The colourful white-fronted bee-eaters have been congregating along the exposed river banks, allowing great photographic opportunities as they roost, take off and land in the same spot for hours on end!

In almost everything in nature, there are two main activities that make up the reason for living, i.e. breeding and feeding. In the bird world this is no different, and below are two examples of a hamerkop bringing in nesting material and a pied kingfisher hovering above some water searching for prey. 

The dust of the dry winter makes for incredible sunrises and sunsets, and we leave you with pictures of one of each, as time sets on another Savanna Blog… 

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