It was with great excitement that we entered into 2021, after an extremely testing, frustrating and scary 2020. When we look back, it still seems completely unbelievable that anything of this magnitude could happen. The world effectively shut down and the safari industry was no different. Savanna shut its doors towards the end of March and only started a slow reopening in September, when some of the restrictions started to be lifted. Savanna had to reinvent itself to allow the safari operations to continue within the Covid-19 regulations, and it was a very tough and weird way for us to do business. But we managed to get a ‘Covid Model’ working and cannot wait for international travel to open up once again!
During lockdown, however, we managed to branch out into more videos through our Stay@Home Safari series (click here to look back at all our videos) and to bring some of Savanna back to you, our guests, stuck in your various countries without the chance to travel. We were able to keep everyone up to date on all the various animals, as they carried on with their lives, oblivious to the chaos around them, and we hope you all enjoyed the videos. Logistically, this meant that our monthly blogs had to take a back seat, as we were focusing mainly on videos, and ended up taking much fewer photographs. But as the restrictions lifted, and we started welcoming guests back, it became increasingly difficult to maintain our daily video updates. It seems that now, at the end of January 2021, is a good time for us to resume our monthly updates through our blogs, although we will obviously continue the video updates and try to bring them out as weekly highlights.
In this blog, I will attempt to give a brief history of what has happened during the past twelve months for the various animals, and how the bush has been coping in your absence.
By September, however, they had settled in quite comfortably and, with almost no pressure from the one remaining Matimba male, soon started mating with the Ottawa females.
Some of the biggest developments we have seen have been in the lion population. Those of you who have been following our video updates will have noticed the arrival and settlement of the three young Thumbela males. They are now approaching five years old, but first came into our area in mid-2020. Having been nomadic for some time, they were initially a little nervous, lacking in confidence and skinny.
Incredibly, the Matimba male has managed to hang on and survive for a lot longer than any of us expected. He is now over 15 and a half years old, and it has been at least a year and a half since his brother died. This is partly due to the fact that he has had no real challengers vying for his territory, and the Thumbela males that came in last year were too young to have any confidence in challenging the old King.
On a few occasions, when he got wind of the new upstarts, he would head towards them, roaring continuously, reminding them that he is still in charge! In the new year, however, he has lost contact with the Ottawa pride, who have seemed to accept the Thumbela males, and he now needs to fend for himself.
The new year has also brought a new dynamic, with the short stay of the young Styx and Nkuhuma males. These two males have been together for about a year and are also looking for a vacant territory. They are about half a year younger than the Thumbela males, and being only two brothers, are unlikely to challenge them for the Western Sector.
Before the arrival of the new males, the Ottawa pride was thriving. They had a large giraffe kill in the middle of the year which was not stolen by other lions or hyena, and they managed to stay on it for nearly a week. This seemed to really boost their condition, and the four sub-adults grew quickly.
This could not have come at a better time, as the arrival of the Thumbela males has meant that the sub-adults had to leave the pride a little earlier than expected. The older male is three years old, while the younger three are two and a half, but seem to be coping well for now on their own. It is going to be interesting to see if they survive and if the young female will rejoin her pride when the dust settles.
The Mhungene pride and the Ottawa male are also doing exceptionally well and we have seen them quite often over the past year. With no competition at all, the Ottawa male has developed a fantastic mane, and shows very few battle scars.
The five adult females are also in excellent condition and currently have three young cubs, which are now 8 and 5 months old. It has been interesting to see how patient and tender the Ottawa male has been with them. Being the only adult male in the pride probably means that his testosterone levels do not need to be as high as normal, giving him a much calmer demeanour.
Within the leopard population, Ravenscourt continues his dominance in the Western Sector, although his territory is shrinking. It is hard to believe that he is nearly nine years old already, and has been dominant for over four years. He seems to be concentrating mostly around the productive banks of the Sand River and seldom comes down south, limiting these forays to a few times a month.
This has, however, opened up a small gap for Thamba to move into. He is only four and a half, and it is interesting to note that Thamba is copying Ravenscourt’s own strategy when he started eating away at Dewane’s territory. As Ravenscourt spends less time in the south, it allows Thamba to move around more freely and to gain confidence.
The females in the south also seem to have acknowledged his arrival and he has been seen mating with a few females. Most notably was Boulders, who spent a few days with him in September, and recent reports suggest that she is showing signs of suckle marks and thus possibly has a new litter somewhere!
Dewane (pictured right) has now completely lost his territory and is nomadic once again. He started his nomadic life by staying in the area of his original territory, but has lately been seen back in the area where he was born in the southern parts of the Sabi Sands. He is, however, still in very good condition, and we will hopefully still be viewing him for some time.
Nyelethi (pictured left) is still the dominant male to the east of Ravenscourt, and we see him quite regularly on the eastern parts of our concession. At just under 12 years old, he is nearing the end of his tenure and it is going to be interesting to see who will start putting pressure on him, and when.
Ironically, his son, Euphorbia, seems to have putting his stakes down in the north and this has put pressure on Ravenscourt. We have not seen any major altercations between the two, but it definitely seems that Euphorbia is feeling more and more comfortable in the north. He is now just over five years old and perhaps, as Nyelethi ages, he may start pushing further east into his father’s territory as well.
A number of young sub-adult males are still in their natal territories and are discovering life on their own. Shangwa, Khokovela’s son, is just over two and a half and is becoming a fantastic viewing leopard. He is slowly starting to push further and further away from his mother’s care, showing that he is gaining in confidence.
Hlambela is another two and a half year old male, the son of Boulders, who is doing exceptionally well. Like Shangwa, he too is still in his mother’s territory, patiently waiting for the time to arrive when he will be old enough and big enough to go out on his own. In the meantime, he is providing us with fantastic sightings, with the promise of many more to come.
Our female leopards have been doing very well, although they have not had much luck with raising any litters during 2020. Basile sadly lost her cub born early in 2020 and has been quite elusive since then. Owing to the number of vehicles moving about during the Covid pandemic, sightings of her have been relatively scarce, but every time we do see her, it is usually a quality sighting.
Her sister, Khokovela has been seen much more often, and seems to have moved her territory slightly further south and west, and more into Ravenscourt’s territory. Her independent son, Shangwa, still hangs around in her territory, but we have just recently discovered that she has a new litter and is therefore less than keen to see her son hanging about. She bumped into him just over a month ago, and quite aggressively followed him and ‘encouraged’ him further away from her potential den site.
Like Basile, she is in her prime, and looking exceptionally good. She is still a fantastic hunter, and we regularly find her on fresh impala kills. We hope that soon she will start taking her new litter to the kills, so that we can bring you regular updates on their progress!
Tisela, the daughter of Boulders, is really flourishing. She is still in her mother’s territory, but it is not unusual for a daughter to inherit a portion of her mother’s territory. We hope this will be true of Tisela as well, so that we can continue to follow this incredible female as she matures and hopefully raises some young of her own.
She recently bumped into Ravenscourt, her father, not too far from Mackenzie Camp, and after a short bout of hissing and growling at each other, they settled into the same large marula tree.
Tlangisa has also not been seen much at all in 2020. We have also had a great deal of rain during the first month of 2021, and so we have not been able to cross the river much to go north to look for her. During the middle of 2020, it seemed from a few sightings that she had also dropped a litter, but the viewings of her have been so few and far between that we are not sure if she still has any cubs or not. She is, however, still in fantastic condition, and as soon as we are able to head north more regularly, we hope to bring you more updates of her.
Our elephant population has been doing extremely well, as would be expected, with regular sightings filling our game drives with great joy. The breeding herds always bring gasps of delight from the guests, as there are inevitably a number of young calves present who are up to some interesting antics.
The larger bulls have a particular presence about them and it is almost as if they ‘allow’ us to be with them. These massive gentle giants are a true joy to watch as they stroll closely past the vehicle, with merely a subtle glance. With all the recent rains, and most of the dams full up to the brim, we cannot wait to bring you images and videos of the elephants enjoying one of their favourite pastimes – swimming!
The large herd of buffalo have been quite noticeable by their absence during most of 2020, most probably as a result of the low water levels of our dams. With the fantastic recent rains, however, we expect this to change as they move west onto the rich grasslands of the black cotton soils around Savanna. There are always our resident groups of bachelor bulls hanging around, however, looking particularly grumpy and as if you owe them money!
Sightings of the wild dog, or painted wolves as they are also known, have been sporadic with long gaps with no sightings, but then they are back again with a vengeance. They bred on one of our neighbouring concessions in April, and so for about four months we had no real sightings of them. They are, however, looking in fantastic condition, and providing great entertainment when seen.
Our resident male cheetah still does his regular circuits into our concession and we have been fortunate to see him with regular kills. As the bush thickens up after all the rain, it will be more difficult to track and find him, but in winter during the hard lockdown, we were treated to some great sightings.
We are now nearing the end of our summer, but there is still quite a bit more rain predicted which bodes exceptionally well for the coming winter. This year, more so than in the past seven years, it has been a time of plenty and new beginnings. The bush is looking in really lush condition, with all of the young animals fit and healthy.
Hopefully, we will soon see the end of this Covid storm…
And when it does, you know where to find us!