Lion viewing in the Western Sector of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve over the past twelve months has been difficult, with the instability in male coalitions since the departure of the impressive Mapogo. This resulted in a low rate of cub survival, and the eventual loss of the Ximungwe pride, leaving us with just the Ottawa pride which in turn spent a lot of its time further east. March, however, has seen a dramatic turnaround, with guides and guests alike really loving it! The lions have returned!
The Mhangene pride which has come across from the east a few times in the past has made regular visits west, and we suspect that there must be some pressure on them in some form further east. The pride consists of 4 adult females and 12 sub-adults and, when a few of the Majingilane males are around, it is an incredible sight!
Amazingly, 9 of the 12 sub-adults are male, so if they all make it to adulthood, it is going to be fascinating to see what happens in the brotherly coalition. Will they all stay together, or will they split into two? But they are only 8 and 12 months old now, so it is still at least 3 years away.
The Ottawa pride has also been seen many times this month and all members are in great condition! The three young cubs are growing rapidly and, thanks to the adult females, always have full bellies! The unity in the pride is clear to see and the sub-adult male and female look after them almost as much as the adults do!
For a long time, we thought that the sub-adults would not make it, as a take-over from new males was imminent, but that did not materialise and it is getting more and more unlikely now that they will succumb to a take-over. There are too many factors to be completely sure, however, so it remains to be seen what will materialise.
Although we feel that there is something happening further east of us with regard to male coalitions, the three Majingilane males are still in top condition and are very vocal. They have also been mating with the one Ottawa female this month, so hopefully in a few months we may have some more cubs running around!
At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we are continuing to enjoy the lushness and greenery that is still lingering. With two and a half inches of rain in March, the dams and rivers are still full of water, and there is plenty of food and water available for the herbivores. They have all recovered beautifully from the drought and are in fantastic condition.
The leopard, too, have been enjoying the extra cover that the thick bush offers. Basile stands out fairly clearly in her golden coat against the green grass, but will disappear if she were to drop down!
The Kelly Dam female also used the cover to good use when she was forced up a tamboti tree by Dewane, who did not seem to be in the mood for female attention on that particular morning.
He and Ravenscourt seem to have settled down and agreed for now on the boundaries of their respective territories. There have not been any altercations of late and Dewane seems comfortable in his current area. Although he has lost quite a bit of territory to Ravenscourt, the part that he has held on to along the Sand River is still very much prime leopard habitat, and has the highest density of females.
Ravenscourt is growing in size and stature and is dominating the south. He still seems restless, though, and is constantly on the move - usually at a very fast pace! After all the rain, however, there are plenty of pools where he can quench his thirst during these marathon walks!
On one particular afternoon drive, his route march took him past Savanna, and we were fortunate to follow him all the way in through the main gate, where he claimed our car park as part of his territory, before turning around and calmly walking out again!
The young leopard cubs have been giving great viewing during this time as well. Tlangisa, as one would expect, has been of fantastic value. Unfortunately, she recently lost her young male cub, but the remaining female cub is very relaxed. Tlangisa, ‘The Playful One’, has lived up to her name and plays constantly with her young cub, oblivious of all the attention she is receiving!
Scotia and her cub are seen much less, as she is still remaining on the boundary of our concession, and is often in the east. She has, however, made a few trips west where we were able to enjoy some great viewing of them. The cub is not quite as relaxed, and so is much more cautious around the vehicles.
The hyena den near Skwenga Dam is providing some wonderful viewing, particularly because it is right next to the very large rocks where the vehicles park. As most areas are covered in long grass, these rocks provide unobscured views of the antics of the young hyena!
We have also had the wild dogs in the area for quite a large part of the month of March. Wild dogs always strike me as an ‘all or nothing’ species! Whatever they decide to do, they do it with enthusiasm! When they sleep, it seems that they are perhaps in some state of near-death, but when they play, it is at 110%! However, they always do it as a unit.
But for some, this is not the time to play! For the impala rams, the rutting season is approaching, and they are starting to sort out who is in peak physical condition. The male who is in the dominant position at the right time will have the right to mate with the females and winner takes all!
As we approach the end of our rainy season, most of our migratory birds start preparing for departure to warmer climates further north. But it has been a good season, and there are still some species squeezing the last bit out of the good conditions. A few weavers are still busy with building nests, and the magnificent red bishop is still in breeding plumage.
With the increase in vegetation, the food source for many of the raptors seems to be increasing, and we have seen quite a few of them with full crops or still busy eating!
This also seems true of the increase of rodents, as viewing of many of the favourite owls is enjoyed regularly by our guests. The nocturnal species always seem to be more mysterious, so to get great views of these incredible predators is always special, particularly if you catch them out in broad daylight!
We leave you with an image of a couple of elephants approaching, in anticipation of those who have the incredible privilege of going on safari to look forward to!