It seems that, as a result of the chaos we find ourselves in across the globe, time just seems to fly by. I cannot believe that two months have passed since our last blog, and I know that there are many of you who have been missing our updates from the Wild. I sincerely apologise for the long wait, but hopefully this bumper issue will make up for it. I would also like to take this opportunity to encourage you to follow us on our social media platforms on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube if you are not already doing so.
So much has been happening since our last update, especially in the lion world. One of the highlights has been the constant presence of the Mhangene pride who, as a result of losing the Ottawa male, has moved much further west in an attempt to avoid a new coalition of males finding and killing the remaining two cubs. These cubs are now 8 months and 16 months old and are in fantastic condition. Fortunately, the two of them have each other to play with, without having to hassle the adults!
One of the reasons these cubs are doing so well is that this pride is a fantastic hunting unit. Over the past few months, they have taken down a number of buffalo bulls, and in one case killed two bulls within a week, without moving at all!
Buffalo is not their only prey, though, as they are opportunistic and will take on anything that might be unlucky enough to cross their path. We do not often see zebra kills in the West, but they managed to bring one down recently on Savanna’s property.
Being a pride of six large females, this did not last them long, and they had finished the kill by the next morning. After a long drink, they spent the next day being very lethargic in a clearing, doing what lions do best! This did give us an opportunity to get some great images, though!
They have also shown how adaptable they are in not just going for large prey. We witnessed a number of warthog hunts when the opportunity presented itself and they were successful on quite a few occasions. Here is a video of one of the hunts but be warned that it may be hard to watch if you are a sensitive viewer. Warthog are extremely tough and always put up an immense fight.
The viewing of this incredible pride has been phenomenal, and we hope that it continues for some time!
Lion will also not turn down the opportunity to steal a kill from another predator, even if it is a leopard kill high in a tree. Tisela learnt this the hard way when she had an impala kill high in a jackalberry tree and they discovered it. She could fortunately get higher up the tree away from the chaos, but the kill was fair game and our guests were treated to an incredible sight of the pride going up the tree to get the carcass! Click here to see the action caught on video!
At the same time as having the Mhangene pride almost permanently residing on our property, the Ottawa pride has also been remaining quite local in and around the Sand River. The six cubs have grown rapidly over the past two months and the pride has done well to keep all of them alive and healthy.
They have also been proving themselves very successful hunters of late, providing a constant source of protein as they slowly wean the cubs. A large kudu bull gave the cubs something to keep themselves busy and content with for a few days.
The Ottawa pride also showed their skills as hunters by bringing down a large buffalo bull in the Sand River, without the assistance of the Tumbela males! This is especially impressive, as two of the lionesses are now over 13 years old! Although there was more meat available, it proved to be pretty tricky to get to, and the young cubs had to sit on the carcass while waiting for the adults to make a bit of space to feed from. Here is a link to a short video of the sighting.
The Tumbela males eventually did arrive and enjoyed their share of the free meal. This provided a much-needed boost for the third male, who over the past few months has slowly been losing condition. Sadly, it seems that it was not enough and, as we haven’t seen him for some time since the end of September, we presume he has succumbed to his illness. This is a sad end to the individual, but we must remember that this is the way nature ensures the survival of the fittest, hence strengthening the species as a whole. The remaining Tumbela males are in great condition, and hopefully they can cement their dominance in the west for the years to come.
The four young ‘break-away’ sub-adults from the Ottawa pride have had some interesting wanderings since leaving their mothers, according to some reports. They have been seen as far away as in the heart of the Kruger National Park, but we were ecstatic to see the return of two of them recently. The young female and one male, both just under three years old, spent a few days in our concession. They both looked surprisingly well – in particular, the young female – and we are hoping there is a chance that she may join up with the rest of the Ottawa pride in the future. The whereabouts of the other two brothers, as well as the fate of this young male, is uncertain, but if they make it through and can stick together, we are sure that they will make a formidable coalition.
We had an interesting interaction with the young break-aways, when they came across a buffalo bull who had died of unknown causes. Being thankful for this gift from nature, they gorged themselves on the decaying buffalo, but were surprised by the arrival of one of the Nwalungu males (previously the Styx and Nkuhuma brothers). His brother (the Styx male) was sadly killed recently, although we are unsure by whom, and he was in need of a good meal. Although there was some growling and aggression between the three lions, they accepted each other and took turns feeding from the carcass. They eventually went their separate ways, but it may be an interesting option for these two single males to form a coalition. Time will tell what happens with these young nomads.
Our leopard viewing continues to impress local and international guests alike and it is the regulars who have provided the majority of sightings. Having lost her cub in July, Boulders has fallen back into her old habits of moving about a lot and going through periods of being easy to find, while at other times very difficult to track down. She continues to be a great hunter, and we regularly find her with a kill stashed in a suitable tree.
She recently had a kill in a large jackalberry, which was surprisingly quite far out of her usual territory. Thamba found the kill and she spent a few days with him, sharing the kill and mating. She then rushed off further north and west, to find Ravenscourt and mated with him as well, presumably to increase the chances of neither of these males killing the next litter again. For a quick clip of her with the two males, click here.
Tlangisa, one of our favourite leopards, has also been providing some brilliant viewing, as we watch her two young cubs grow. They are now nearing 8 months of age and we can confirm that she has one male and one female cub.
She provides regular kills for them, which is when we see them most often. If we are lucky, it is close to water, and we get the opportunity to watch her take them down for a drink.
But they are also now of an age that when she leaves them at a den site while she goes off to hunt, we are able to sit and watch them as they wait for her return. In the one photo, one can see a small ‘birthmark’ in the right eye of the female, which will make her very easy to identify in future! For a short clip of the two youngsters, have a look here.
The young female, Tisela, has been seen quite a bit as well, still remaining in the general area of her mother’s territory. She is super confident and looks well set to establish her own territory in our concession. It is common for a female to inherit a portion of her mother’s territory, which she will then expand on.
She recently bumped into her brother, Hlambela, who has also remained in the area for now, and managed to pick up quite a bad limp from the altercation between them. We will be keeping a close eye on her to see how she recovers. Hlambela himself is a chip off the old block, and also has the confidence that Ravenscourt showed when he was young. He has been seen scent-marking and vocalising quite a bit lately, and it will be interesting to see how long Ravenscourt puts up with it.
Ravenscourt is, however, doing exceptionally well, and although he seems to be consolidating his territory slightly in the core areas, he still walks around the majority of the West like a king. When he rests, he does so regally, on the top of a termite mound, keeping an eye all around him. And when he walks, he does so with confidence and grace, often patrolling the entire boundary of his territory in a single night.
But Thamba is pushing… and growing in confidence himself. Every day, he cuts just a little more into Ravenscourt’s territory in the south. He is, however, also starting to push more into Nyelethi’s territory. Nyelethi is older, and much less likely to put up too much of a fight, so it will be interesting to see how quickly he increases his territory and where exactly he will end up.
Other leopards have been seen a little less over the past few months. Basile is tending to hide in pretty thick vegetation at the moment, while Khokovela and Euphorbia are hanging out further north, where we do not get to very often.
A great development these last few weeks, has been Ntoma, who usually is a very nervous and skittish female. The last few sightings of her have shown us that she has relaxed significantly around the vehicles, allowing us to follow her for quite some time, and even resting on a termite mound for a while. This bodes well for the future, especially considering that she has two young cubs that will also need habituating around the vehicles.
Our resident male cheetah that pays us regular visits has been sticking to his routine. He comes in past Savanna, scent-marking on the prominent trees and logs, before moving quickly into the clearings, where he can rest and scout for prey.
In the past he has been pretty unsuccessful with his hunts in the south, but over the past few months we have seen him on a number of kills.
The wild dog have been rare sightings these past two months. They seem to be moving very far afield, and hence only return to the west sporadically. But when they do come around, it is always exciting! Watching them sense their prey, go into stalk mode and then take off is pure exhilaration.
We recently watched them chase an impala ewe into a nearby dam and then they realised that there were no crocodiles. It was inevitable, and they eventually dragged the impala out of the water before killing it very quickly and devouring it.
As the seasons change, and the days become longer and warmer, we see a change in behaviour in some of the animals. Thanks to some good rain at the end of our last summer, many of our dams still have plenty of water in them, and the elephants are starting to gather at these waterholes for some fun and swimming!
Although elephant do not have a strict breeding season, summer is a time when there are more births, and the number of youngsters we see is higher. They are always such great entertainment, as the adults let them explore and learn, under the careful watch of the mothers.
We have also discovered a new hyena den! It has been some time since we have been able to sit at a good den and watch the adorable cubs come slowly out of the termite mound, as they grow in confidence. Hopefully over the next few months, we will be able to bring you more pictures and updates from this den.
Rare and Seldom-Seen Creatures
Then there are the rare and seldom-seen creatures. Those who are familiar with the African bush will know how rare it is to see a pangolin. Some of our guests were very fortunate to be in the right place and right time to witness one of these elusive creatures! The pangolin, or scaly anteater, is one of the most trafficked animals on the planet, and to see one in its natural habitat is quite special.
In this area, where the density of large predators is so high, sightings of some of our smaller predators are also few and far between. Thus, you can imagine our excitement when we discovered the den of an African wild cat, which was not only out in the open, but also home to a relaxed individual, with a single kitten as well! These two have provided us with some of the best wild cat viewing any of the guides in the area have ever seen. Although in the pictures the mother seems very annoyed, she was extremely relaxed and has been viewed from a distance on numerous occasions.
Fire is a natural and very important part of the African bush. Although we work hard to prevent runaway fires occurring as a result of the carelessness of man on a day with dangerous weather conditions, it can be used as a very beneficial tool for the management of the habitat. When conditions are right, a burn can get rid of all the moribund material and stimulate regrowth to the benefit of most animals. We conducted one of these burns in a block that needed a fire, with the assistance of the Sabi Sands, which went off without a hitch. Thanks to a very skilled and dedicated team, we managed to complete the block in no time.
Although the initial look of the burn is that of devastation, very quickly the animals move onto the burnt area. As soon as the first rains fall on the blackened earth, life will erupt and the area will be teeming with wildlife again.
As the smoke lifts and the rains return, nature bounces back with a vengeance. And it is with hope that we anticipate the same for tourism in South Africa, as the travel restrictions are lifted across the world! So we look forward to welcoming you all back to Savanna in the very near future!
With warm wishes
Neil, Natasha and The Savanna Team