A New Year and a new decade – a time for new beginnings. We had some very welcome rain in the first few weeks of January and it has transformed the bush into a lush sea of green!
With the summer temperatures soaring well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (35+ degrees Celsius), and the average humidity at 77 %, the early rainfall was a welcome relief for all. With the total rainfall for January at 109.24 mm (close to 4,5 inches), this was undoubtedly the highlight of the month. To be able to sit on the banks of the Sand River while it steadily rises is a sight that cannot be explained. In just a matter of minutes, the river goes from a small stream to a rushing torrent.
The Khokhovela female also had a front row view of the spectacle of the river coming down in flood. As a major part of her territory encompasses the Sand River, she seemed to have been lucky enough to be on higher ground, out of danger, when the water quickly rose. We were unsure which side of the river her cub was at the time, but he is growing quickly and is dependent enough to survive on his own until the water recedes.
The pack continues its success in terms of hunting, and has on multiple occasions been seen taunting and chasing herds of wildebeest. With the majority of the herds containing inexperienced newcomers, the adults will often form a barrier between the dogs and the calves. The dogs are met with quizzical looks, snorts and charges from the adult wildebeest. It really is an interesting interaction that often ends with the wild dogs moving off, after having had their ‘play’ time for the day.
The two packs of Wild dogs have been doing incredibly well as we move swiftly into the new year, revelling in the abundance of water around them. As with most canine species, they too enjoy wallowing and playing in the water. We were lucky to be able to watch the Investec pack playing in a crossing of the Sand River before it came down in flood. It was all fun and games as they chased each other in and out of the river, while some of the younger dogs tried to catch fish in the shallow pools.
Wild dogs often need large spaces in which to roam freely, as they cover huge distances when on the move. Thus, having two packs within a relatively close distance of each other has not always been a good thing. The Sand River Pack has had a few altercations with the larger Investec Pack, and has lost some of the adults. They now comprise four adults and five youngsters, but nevertheless continue to do well.
The waterholes have also been great places from which to sit and watch the abundance and variety of wildlife. With the majority of the larger dams filling up, it is common to see a wide range of species all sharing the same space on a hot summer’s day.
With rain creating mud wallows around the concession, the elephants have enjoyed the cool mud on a hot day. By wallowing and spraying themselves with mud, which is often followed by a dust bath, they cool themselves down, as well as protecting themselves from biting insects.
It is also very entertaining to watch the antics of elephants when they are in and around a waterhole.
The other youngsters in the animal world are still doing exceptionally well under the good conditions we are currently experiencing. As the green grass continues to grow and the bush thickens, the general game congregates in the clearings in an attempt to protect these youngsters from predation.
New life continues to pop up throughout the concession, and we were fortunate to see this female waterbuck and her calf after a summer rainstorm. The youngster, who could not have been more than a few hours old, stood up on wobbly legs and enjoyed a good clean from its mother. Most antelope mothers will leave their youngsters hidden in thick grass as they move off grazing in the area, but always remain close enough in case any dangers do arise.
On the topic of mothers, we were lucky enough to get our first viewings of Basile’s new litter. She has chosen to keep her litter of two in the same rocky outcrop as her previous cubs. We can only hope that she will have more luck with these little ones.
The Boulders cubs are always incredibly special to see, as we continue to watch them both moving towards independence in their own style. They have both been seen on a few occasions with their mother, although these interactions are becoming fewer as they gain the confidence to go it alone.
The male cub grows more confident by the day, often seen venturing further than his sister. He has even been seen on one occasion alone with his father, Ravenscourt. The interaction was very interesting to watch as the cub, although submissive to the dominant male, started to vocalise in front of his father.
The female cub is growing up to be one of the most beautiful and striking females in the area. She generally stays in one area for longer than her brother and seems to prefer the more southern parts of her mother’s territory, already establishing her ‘favourite’ places.
Ravenscourt has continued his constant presence throughout the concession, successfully covering his large territory with regular patrols. As a result of his growing territory, we have been seeing less of the other dominant males.
Somewhere in the middle of all of his territorial patrols, Ravenscourt still finds time to visit the females within his territory. He was seen for a couple of days mating with the Kelly Dam female. It was thought that she had dropped a litter towards the end of 2019, still having evident suckle marks whilst mating with Ravenscourt. Sometimes females will spend time with a male if he comes close to the location of her den in order to appease him, thus ensuring the safety of her cubs.
Scotia continues to be one of the most successful older females in the concession, moving through her territorial patrols in an almost calculated way. With her previous cub, the Tavangumi male, being completely independent from her, it is thought that she has had another litter further east off our concession.
Dewane continues his nomadic presence throughout the concession. Moving around seemingly undetected by the dominant males, yet continuing to successfully hunt and keep the majority of his kills. By continuing to make kills, he has been able to maintain his good condition.
The Matimba male remains the dominant male, continuously following the Ottawa pride in their movements through the property. When on kills, he still manages to dominate the major part of the carcass, often resulting in the females of the pride getting less than they would prefer!
The sub-adult male (pictured on the right) of the pride grows in stature and confidence daily. With the beginnings of a mane and his boisterous behaviour, he is becoming a crowd favourite. While the Matimba male still maintains his dominance within the pride, the sub-adult male is safe for now.
The Ottawa pride has spent a fair amount of time on the property this past month and we have been lucky enough to see them on a few kills. As with most predators, lions need to drink after a large meal and this gave us the amazing opportunity to view the whole pride drinking together. The one thing everyone enjoys seeing, whether it be a guide or guest, is when a pride of lions made up of various ages comes down to drink.
The male cheetah has been seen periodically throughout the month, as he continues to cement his dominance of the area. Generally, territorial males will defend an area of 15 to 30 square miles (39 – 78 square kilometres). This is a large area, so we have been lucky to see this male on the move as he tries to cover as much distance as possible, only resting to digest a meal and cool down in the heat of the day.
With a hunting success rate of around 50%, they are one of the most successful predators. Their sleek build, semi-retractable claws and unmatchable speed attribute to their relatively high success rate. However, their ability to keep their kill decreases significantly, and their hard-earned meal is often stolen by lurking hyenas, vultures and other opportunistic species. Thus, it was incredibly lucky for us to have found this male on the carcass of a large male impala, and it was his good fortune that there were no other predators around to steal his kill.
One special sighting that stands out was when the cheetah was found in the beautiful early morning light on top of the Savanna sign! This is a photographic opportunity that most guides only dream of, and for the guests… well, this was a definite ‘sign’ that Savanna welcomes all.
One of the most unusual sightings of the month was seeing two steenboks mating. The species is abundant and relatively common, although they are not often seen in the open, as they generally favour areas where they can gain cover and camouflage from shrubs and grasses. The pair, although coming together to mate, will live a fairly solitary existence within their large territory. After a gestation period of approximately five and a half months, a single fawn will be born.
As the New Year continues with amazing sightings, and with the prospect of a luscious summer, we wish you all the best for the months to come.
With warm wishes
Neil, Natasha and The Savanna Team