Savanna Blog - February 2017

The good rains continued during February, with 132 mm (just over 5 inches) falling during the month. A hurricane threatened to drop a torrential amount of rain, but fortunately for us, it moved north and affected mainly the northern part of Mozambique, leaving us with an ample amount of rain. 

We mentioned last month how the elephants are once again enjoying the full dams and rivers, and we continually find groups of bulls and herds swimming in the larger dams. 

During the drought, any dams which still had water in them were very dirty and full of algae. Now the dams are providing good, clean drinking water and we often find the large herds coming down to the dams for a drink.

As mentioned before, the large bulls are also taking advantage of the abundance of food, and are constantly in musth! There is a belief that these big bulls in musth are much more aggressive, but in fact, if given the respect they deserve, these gentle giants pay us little attention and move past. 

The tall grass that comes after the terrific rain we have had, can make for some tough game viewing, particularly in finding some of the more elusive cats, but it can also allow for some great photographic opportunities in the most unlikely species. Impala are often overlooked as they are so abundant, and the grass itself can be spectacular in its detail.

One of the particularly elusive cats that is proving tough to find is the cheetah, not only because of the very low numbers, but also as a result of its habit of avoiding the roads! The tall grass hides them well, and we are very lucky when we catch a glimpse of one of them through the tall grass, or if it sits up on a log or a rock to use as a vantage point. 

The buffalo are remaining in large herds, which seem to be getting bigger as the season progresses. The one herd which frequents the grasslands near Savanna is now in excess of 300, and is really enjoying the tall grass and full dams.

Some of the buffalo, however, are still weakened from the long drought, and possibly due to disease, have not been able to recover. These are targeted by the predators, and the Ottawa pride has been taking down quite a number this month. This is a classical example of survival of the fittest!

These good meals on a constant basis have been proving a godsend for the little cubs, and they are looking in very good condition. They are enjoying the regular meat provisions, but still whine for mother’s milk during the weaning period. 

The leopard viewing has not been too much affected by good rainfall and long grass. In fact, in many ways it has improved somewhat. Due to the long grass, the leopards prefer to stay on the roads or stick to the dry river beds. Dewane has been holding on to as much of his territory as he can, walking long distances, scent-marking and vocalising constantly to define his boundaries.

Ravenscourt seems to be pushing north continuously, trying to take over as much territory as he can! It still amazes us how dominantly he is acting, considering his age, as well as the fact that he has lost his upper left canine, which does not seem to affect him in the slightest!

Torchwood is still the anomaly! He continues to persist in the area, without challenging for dominance or territory, but he has been extending the areas that he normally frequents and is constantly on the move. 

He has been seen as far east as Londolozi, and this month we found him just outside Savanna for the first time! When he was found, he was in the process of stalking a family of warthog feeding on the marula fruit lying just outside Paddy’s house! Fortunately for them, the adult saw him just as he started his chase. This allowed her to control her fear and turn defence into attack! Torchwood had focused on one of the small piglets, but soon had to reassess, being forced to focus on defence as she came at him. That small hesitation meant that the piglet had enough time to get some distance between it and the leopard, and make its escape! For a short clip of this chase right outside Paddy’s house, click here!

Tlangisa’s cubs are doing well, and she has started moving them quite frequently. This means that we are able to find them a little more easily, as she leaves good tracks when she goes to fetch the cubs, and takes them back to kills. They are really relaxed around the vehicles already, and she is being her normal perfect mother self. 

Her older daughters are doing just as well. Kokovela recently was found watching a herd of impala through some long grass, hoping they would edge closer to where she was hiding. Suddenly, the bush erupted with snorts and alarm calls from the herd that she was watching, but it was clear that it was not her they had seen. Upon investigation, we found that an African Rock Python had caught a young impala and was busy strangling it in its death grip. Kokovela was understandably nervous about approaching the chaos, as she was still unsure of what was going on, and suspected another leopard in the area. Eventually, she approached the commotion and discovered the python. The python made one defensive strike at Kokovela, which she easily avoided, and then abandoned the prey for safety. Kokovela gladly accepted the free meal, and dragged it into a deep thicket, where she could eat in peace. 

Basile is seen regularly now south of the Sand River, and seems to have taken over the territory of Dam 3, after she had disappeared. It is a very good territory, so she can consider herself lucky to have this territory fall in her lap without having to compete for it! She is still young, however, so she will need to watch out for older females, who may also in the future have an eye on taking over. For now, though, she is relaxed, settled and doing very well!

Early in February we had some great viewing of the pack of wild dog, who have since then done a disappearing act! But not before our lucky guests were treated to vintage wild dog viewing.  On one occasion, an inquisitive youngster tried to investigate a pair of water thick-knees who are ground-nesting birds. However, they are renowned for their bravery when the nest is threatened and stood their ground, with loud vocalising and displaying to chase off the wild dog. 

They are also always alert and ready for anything that might stumble into their path, or something they in turn might stumble upon. A scrub hare, although not much of a meal for 15 or more wild dogs, is definitely a toy worth playing with, and after catching one of these, they spent the next few minutes chasing one another in their own version of ‘tag’!

We have mentioned on a few occasions how summer is the time for births. This usually has a peak early to mid-summer, but it seems that we have been blessed with an extra long birthing season this year. Recently, we were extremely fortunate to find a rhino cow which had just given birth next to a small dam, and we watched as the baby slowly found its strength to stand. 

The general game has also been great, with plenty of wildebeest, zebra and giraffe found on the clearings. They, too, have had some late births and there is a great sense of plenty in the bush at the moment. 

Primates are not spoken about often, as they are the ones that have the intelligence to realise that we are humans, travelling about in a vehicle. Most species see the vehicle as a completely different animal, and are therefore not afraid of it, but with primates it is different. They see the humans, and are instinctively afraid of us. So viewing of them is challenging and tough at the best of times. Recently, however, we were spoiled with a great view of a troop of monkeys sitting in a dead tree, and they did not run away. It was great to see their playfulness, and likeness to us humans!

Birds are often overlooked, but this time of the year is particularly good for birds for those guests who are interested in them: from the cute Egyptian Goose chicks, the rare Eurasian Hobby, and the sleek Black-shouldered Kite, to the stunning colours of the Woodland Kingfisher!

Before we leave you, please click on this link to get an update on all the happenings with our community projects! Until next time.


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