The festive season has been a month of incredible sightings, much needed early rain, and the boom of babies across the concession. Along with the joy and happiness surrounding the festive period comes the birth of many animals, including impalas, wildebeest, zebra and warthogs, to name a few. With over 100mm (4 inches) of rain falling throughout the December period, the bush continues to be transformed into a green oasis, with the river continuing to flow and the majority of the dams filling up.
A sign of good, soaking rain is the presence of frogs and insects emerging from the saturated soil. This Bushveld Rain Frog, a firm favourite with all guides, was seen out and about after the rain. This little frog, after spending the winter underground, will dig itself out after the first of the summer rains. One of the most interesting facts about this frog is that when confronted by a potential predator, it will inflate itself, appearing bigger than it is.
The large herd of buffalo made an appearance on the concession towards the beginning of the month. In search of large bodies of water, the herd moved through the concession from one waterhole to the next, utilising the open clearings to rest during the heat of the day and the dark of the night. The majority of the females are heavily pregnant and will begin to give birth in the New Year.
Along with the large herd of buffalo, other pachyderms were seen taking full advantage of the full watering-holes. With the temperature soaring well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) during the summer days, these animals need to utilise the watering-holes, not only to quench their thirst, but to cool themselves down by rolling in the mud and water.
The herds of elephants have been great viewing throughout the month, as they too relish the abundance of food around. The herds are slowly growing in numbers, as some new additions join the ranks. Their playful nature and all-round cuteness are relished by guides and guests alike.
The welcome rain has created a blanket of greenery that is enjoyed by all. Herds of elephants and crashes of rhino move constantly throughout the day, feeding as they go, having to consume at least five percent of their body weight every single day!
There is also an abundance of wildebeest calves being born at this time of the year. Like the impala lambs, they are able to run with their mothers, albeit in a wobbly fashion, within a few minutes of being born.
The impala lambing season started towards the end of November and represents the ‘official’ start of summer. In a matter of a few weeks, the ubiquitous impala herds almost doubled in size. The lambs are up and standing in a matter of minutes and are running around on wobbly legs within the hour. Interestingly, we’ve noticed a few impala lambs that have been born with floppy ears, but the reason for this is unknown.
Some of the general game also have some new young to show off and these miniature versions of the adults are always a treat.
However, along with the excitement of seeing the new babies, there is the harsh reality that these youngsters are easy targets for the larger predators. With 70% percent of the kills during the month of December being impala lambs, many predators capitalise on the weak and inexperienced newcomers to the herd.
Hyenas are arguably one the most opportunistic animals in the African bush, with their constant presence and boldness leading to the continued survival of these predominant scavengers. Whilst often seen lurking around existing kills, they are also known to prey on the weak. On one occasion, an adult managed to kill a side-striped jackal pup and carried it back, presumably to her own youngsters. And so the circle of life continues.
The painted wolves have stayed within the property for the month, as they continue to cover great distances over the concession. The pack still consists of six adults and five pups that are now over six months old. These successful predators have also been seen to take advantage of the abundance of impala lambs. The hunt, an exhilarating and fast-paced activity, usually consists of the adults separating the lambs from their mothers. When the lamb is separated, the adults will occasionally let the youngsters practice their hunting and killing skills as they devour their prized meal. These playful animals also enjoy the abundance of water around, and take great pleasure in chasing each other through the puddles, or utilising small patches of water to cool down in the heat of the day.
The Boulders female has given excellent viewing this past month, as she continues to raise her cubs and still maintain a large territory.
As with most of the predators at this time of year, we have seen Boulders on two occasions with impala lamb kills. This opportunistic behaviour has been passed on to her cubs, as we have seen the male cub with small prey on a few occasions.
Her male and female cubs continue to provide incredible viewing and, as they move towards independence, they are spending more time on their own. The youngsters usually stay in the area where their mother left them, but as they grow more independent, they move further afield.
Khokovela continues to succeed in her territory along the Sand River, and patrols into our concession fairly regularly. Her male cub is now over a year old, and is often seen on his own, although his mother will continue to make the majority of the kills.
On one occasion, we were lucky enough to find Khokhovela on one of her territorial patrols. She started calling her cub as she moved through the dense vegetation, when suddenly her male cub came flying out of the thickets. He was evidently quite excited to see his mother, although she was clearly not as excited about the surprise. We followed them as they played and tackled each other along the river.
Tlangisa has been moving along the river throughout the month, as she continues to readjust her territory. She is heavily pregnant after mating with Ravenscourt recently and we are incredibly excited about the prospect of this successful female having another litter.
Keeping with the female leopards and their offspring, Kelly Dam, pictured to the right, who is usually a skittish female has been seen more regularly this past month. We suspect she has dropped a litter earlier this month. It will be interesting to see how her behaviour changes with her first litter.
Basile also has a new litter, but has already moved them once. Interestingly she has chosen the same rocky outcrop on which she had her previous litter. Recently, Kelly Dam must have followed Ravenscourt straight into Basile’s territory and was soon confronted by Basile. She immediately chased Kelly Dam up a tree and then lay salivating at the base. The tension was palpable, as all three leopards took a moment to calculate their next moves. Ravenscourt, seemingly oblivious to the chaos he caused, continued to move on his territorial patrol, leaving the females to figure the rest out for themselves. The whole scenario ended amicably with both females moving away in different directions.
Ravenscourt continues his dominant presence on the concession. His persistent patrolling brings him to the South regularly, pausing briefly during the midday heat on a termite mound, before once again continuing further north. With all the females in his territory either pregnant or with cubs, his routine territorial patrols often include a visit or two.
There was an interaction between Ravenscourt and Dewane sometime in the middle of the month. As Dewane continues his nomadic lifestyle, it was only a matter of time before he bumped into one of the dominant males. The scars on both of their bodies was a tell-tale sign that both put up quite a fight, but how this scrap ended we will never know.
The Ottawa pride continues to explore the open space further east of the concession, as the Mhangene pride and the Ottawa male push further south. They continue to move, followed closely by the remaining Matimba male, hunting regularly and ensuring that the younger cubs keep growing and remain healthy.
The Ottawa male made a brief appearance on the property along with the rest of the Mhangene pride. He is looking fantastic and it will be interesting to follow his path when the Matimba male is no longer around. It was also rewarding to see the pride again after so long. The recent shifting dynamics have seen the Mhangene pride move further south from the historical core of their territory, but hopefully they will return regularly again.
The male cheetah made his regular visits into the clearings in the south of our concession. He is often found resting on various termite mounds spread out through the clearings for better surveillance, searching for potential prey and keeping an eye out for danger.
A female African Wild Cat has been seen on a few occasions this past month. The African Wild Cat is generally solitary, except when mating, or when females have kittens. This female is slowly relaxing with the movement of vehicles around her, and we were lucky enough on one occasion to see the three kittens. Unfortunately, we were not able to photograph them, but hopefully they will relax as mom takes them hunting with her.