October was definitely the month for wild dog. Besides having the alpha female with her pups providing fantastic viewing almost constantly, the beta female also dropped a litter of pups! The den was initially only moved a few hundred metres from the original den, but the access to the den was perfect and the guests who were here at the time were blessed with fantastic sightings!
The dogs then decided to move the den again, this time much further south, and more central in our concession. The actual den was a rocky outcrop along a dry riverbed, which was used both for protection as well as for a jungle gym!
The twice-daily hunting forays continue from the den and this, too, is a fantastic time to be with the dogs. The promise of excitement and action is tangible and it is just a matter of time before chaos erupts.
It is usually a hunt that gets the adrenalin flowing, and it is not only the Land Rovers that follow a hunting pack of wild dog. Hyenas, too, follow the strong scent of wild dog, hoping to find the scraps left by the highly successful pack. But occasionally they get too close to the pack of dogs, who display exceptional teamwork and tenacity to hound and harass the hyena. They try to protect themselves by backing up into a bush, or into water until they manage to get a gap to escape or the dogs lose interest!
The tactic to follow the scent of other predators does, however, pay off very often for the hyena. On a few occasions, we have found hyena with the spoils of rather large kills on which they could feast for some time! Hyena will often drag the excess meat from a kill and hide it by submerging it in water. On this occasion, however, it merely dragged it through the water and continued dragging it deeper into the brush. Why it did this is unclear, but perhaps it just wanted to wash the extra blood and scent off the carcass, before hiding it in a gully.
Often they will take scraps back to a den where little hungry mouths wait for food, but if it is too far to go, or if the mother came up empty-handed, milk is a fantastic substitute! In fact, milk is a very important source of calcium for the young, and hyena nurse much longer than similar carnivores, and will often do so for between 12 and 18 months, compared to lion and leopard that will seldom nurse longer than 6 months.
Other than following the scent of the predators, hyena often locate kills by the alarm calls or distress calls made by the prey when a kill has taken place. It is therefore imperative that the kill is made as quickly and as quietly as possible. This was not the case when we actually located Ravenscourt in the act of killing a large warthog boar. Due to the size of the warthog, he could not risk asphyxiating the warthog (cutting off the air supply) because of the large tusks, but instead had to go for the chest cavity. Fortunately for Ravenscourt, there was obviously no hyena in hearing distance, as the distress calls from the warthog were loud and continued for some time. Although this is a vey distressing kill to witness, one needs to remember that it is literally a fight for survival and Ravenscourt himself could easily have been killed by the powerful warthog if he made a mistake. In the end, he succeeded and had a supply of meat for the next two days, so the reward was clearly worth the risk.
But as always with Ravenscourt, it is not always about food! For a few days early in October, he was seen together with Xikavi, who is back in the mating game! With Mondzo now properly independent, she is mating again, and will hopefully succeed again, having successfully raised her first cub.
Having lost her cub last month, Scotia is on her own again, and moving about a bit more. We have seen her with numerous kills, and she is often seen hoisting them into trees to avoid other predators.
Tlangisa’s two young daughters are really settling well into their respective territories. Basile seems to be developing or settling a little quicker than Khokovela and, having lost one litter already, was seen mating with Dewane again this month. She is maturing quickly and has also relaxed completely around the vehicles. When they were young, Basile was much more nervous than Khokovela, so her change suggests that she is much more confident in herself now.
Khokovela, although seeming to develop more slowly than Basile, has been doing very well. Part of her slower development might be the result of older, more dominant females such as Xikavi being in close proximity to her. Basile seems to have taken over from the Dam 3 female, who disappeared some time ago, indicating she had no competition. It has been different for Khokovela, but she now too seems to be gaining in confidence.
Dewane is seen regularly on his territorial marches and is still in fantastic condition! Understandably, he is concentrating his movements around the river where habitat and food availability are much better at this time of the year.
The youngsters have also been making their presence known this month. Mondzo is still sticking around in the area where he grew up, but is not seen together with his mother Xikavi much at all. He is now two and a half years old and moving around quite a bit, but interestingly has an unusually comfortable relationship with his father, Dewane. There seems to be very little aggression from Dewane’s side, and he is putting no obvious pressure on Mondzo to move yet. We shall see how long this lasts!
Nweti (which means ‘Moon’) is Hlabankunzi’s young male, who has also been independent for some time now. He is slightly older than Mondzo, and at just under three, is also moving about more. He has ventured a little further from where he grew up, and has been seen in the west a couple of times. We had a great sighting of him when he had caught and killed a sub-adult impala ram. As young leopards often do, he ‘played’ with it for a while, practising how to drag it up into a tree, and then dropping it! This he repeated a couple of times, until a hyena arrived and he had to take things a little more seriously!
We also had a brief visit from Hukumuri’s young male, who has just turned two. He too had a kill hoisted in a marula tree, giving us great views of this young leopard we see so rarely.
The Ntoma female, who is the independent daughter of Mobeni, seems to have taken over the territory in the southern parts of the western sector. She is now just under four years old (born in January 2014), but like her mother is very shy and we do not often see her. Hopefully, in time, she will learn to relax around vehicles as her confidence in her new territory develops.
The Mhangene pride seems to have settled well in the west and have been a constant source of viewing! This is probably due to the constant presence of the large herd of buffalo. As soon the herd moves, it is inevitable that the lions will follow. But in the meantime, we love spending some fantastic time with this impressive pride.
At one point, one of the adult females moved off with a Majingilane male for a few days. Although they were seen mating a few times, it is unlikely that she was ready for a new litter, and was probably in a state of false oestrus. She did not seem all that happy with the male’s presence, and she returned to the pride a few days later.
The elephant numbers have been fluctuating quite substantially this month. There were times when the breeding herds were around every corner, and then times when only a few bulls could be found in and around waterholes. The heat is rising and daily visits to the water sources are needed to quench their thirst and have a cooling mud bath!
One of the factors that determine elephant distribution within the reserve is food quality and availability and hence the concentration of elephant is mainly in and around waterholes. As soon as the big rains come, and the grass quality improves, we are bound to see an increase in elephant numbers, as well as a more even distribution across the concession. We were very excited to have our first good rains in the middle of the month, causing a burst of growth in the vegetation. This came, courtesy of a very impressive thunderstorm in the early evening, and it was fantastic to experience the power of such a storm. We look forward to some follow-up rain soon!
Although there are quite a few water sources drying up quickly, there are still some dams with good water levels. These allow for some great hippo viewing, and some guests were fortunate to see a mating pair! On another occasion a cheeky hamerkop (in the heron family) chose to use a hippo as a perch to fish from!
Our resident male cheetah continues his regular visits. A few years ago, there were two different males who used to come through this area, but we have not seen the second one now for some time. Since then our current male seems to be more settled in the area, and has worked out his favourite spots and routes he likes to follow. We mentioned his tree that he likes in the last blog, and we have an almost identical photo of him in the same tree this month!
Competition in this time of plenty is hotting up. The jostling for dominance and territory among the males is seen regularly and the different techniques used varies between species. The nyala male does an extravagant, slow motion ‘dance’ where the two males stand side by side and make themselves look as big as possible, raising all the hair on their backs. Actual contact is rare and the winner is usually decided without any risk of injury.
Impala actually do lock horns and, although not quite the season for them, these two young males thought it would be good to start practising for when it is more serious! They will also have some memory of who was stronger and bigger when the time comes to fight for the much sought-after territory.
Birds too are in the throws of the breeding season. Some are gathering nesting material in preparation, such as this red-billed oxpecker, while the African hoopoe is already bringing food to hungry chicks (they often nest in holes in the ground). And then there is the inevitable free-loader, even in the wild! The cuckoo is a renowned brood parasite, where it kicks the egg out of an unsuspecting host, and quickly lays its own egg, leaving the host to raise its chick. This Diederik cuckoo has food in its mouth, but does not have any young to look after and will selfishly eat it all!
We have also had some great sightings of some of the larger, more impressive birds! The Southern ground hornbill is listed as ‘vulnerable’ and there are only an estimated 600-700 birds in Kruger, which has the majority population in South Africa. The Tawny eagle is one of our large resident eagles and is often seen feeding on substantial prey. Owls are always a real highlight for many guests, and to see the largest Verreaux’s Eagle-owl during the daytime is extra special.
The one constant on safari are the vistas: big open spaces with even bigger skies. It is in these moments that we forget our First World problems, the daily stress of the rat race, and for once feel part of something bigger... a natural system. And it is here that we recharge completely…