Time… it is such a strange concept and sometimes it really seems to fly, while in different circumstances one feels that it stands still. I cannot believe that we are halfway through August already, and that Spring is just around the corner! But it has also crept very slowly when we consider where the world finds itself and wonder when we will finally see the end of this global pandemic. From our side, however, there is a glimmer of hope and it feels as if the sun is slowly rising on a new dawn. The vaccine rollout in South Africa is picking up speed, and the majority of our staff have now been vaccinated. Hopefully, we will soon be off the list of travel bans and be able to welcome you all back to Savanna!
In the meantime, however, we will keep you all posted with the updates from the wild, as life in the bush continues, oblivious to the chaos elsewhere.
The great news is that the lion cubs mentioned in the previous blog continue to thrive and, as would be expected, have dominated our viewing this month. It is amazing how quickly they grow and change. At the beginning of the month, they were still very small, unsteady on their feet, and quite pale.
However, as they have grown through the month, they have become much more confident, tackling each other, practicing their stalking techniques, and even taking on the adults at times!
The adults have been very successful hunters of late, and on one occasion two of the lionesses managed to take down a large warthog. Warthogs tend to be on the small side for a large pride of lions and there was quite a bit of competition for the best part of the carcass. A much-needed drink after the kill is always welcome.
The Ottawa pride have not been moving very much and have been spending all their time in the small territory of the Tumbela males. With competition to the east, the pride has been staying in the central parts of the Western sector, providing regular sightings.
The Mhangene pride have also been spending plenty of time around Savanna, trying to avoid all contact with other male lions now that they do not have the protection of the Ottawa male. They still have two cubs, one that is about five months old and one older cub which is closer to a year old. They have been spending a lot of time hunting buffalo and the larger prey around Savanna.
The two Tsalala females have been seen frequently along the eastern part of our concession, around the Sand River, and the largest of the Tumbela males has been mating with the older female for the past few weeks. It would be great if these lionesses stay on the Western Sector and produce a litter of cubs for us to view.
We had an incredible sighting of the Kelly Dam female right along the edge of one of the river systems recently. She and the Boulders female leopard share a territorial boundary and have been challenging each other for the area around Skwenga Dam.
With the pressure that Thamba has been putting on Ravenscourt in the past few months, Boulders has been trying to keep to the northern part of her territory. Unfortunately, after making a kill in the southern part of her territory, Thamba managed to find her and the cub on an impala kill hoisted in a tree. Sadly, the cub could not escape from Thamba and, as he is not the father of the cub, he ended up killing the young cub. Ravenscourt (the father of the cub) was not too far away and rushed into the area after hearing the commotion. A massive territorial battle ensued between the two large males, and Ravenscourt managed to chase Thamba out of the area. Ravenscourt found the dead cub and moved it a few hundred yards away before feeding on the carcass.
Infanticide is the largest cause of deaths, whereby male leopards will kill cubs that are not their own, in order to bring the females back into oestrus. As their tenure of their territories is limited, males need to maximise the time that they have to raise their own young. Boulders has been seen mating with both Ravenscourt and Thamba in the weeks following the loss of her cub. Hopefully, she can trick the males into thinking that the new litter belongs to either one of them!
Tisela and Hlambela have been viewed many times over the past few months. We had a young elephant that had died of natural causes in the middle of the property and both Hlambela and Tisela were seen feeding on this carcass. Have a look at this link to see a short video of them on the carcass. Tisela is over three years old now and is starting to mark her own territory. It is common for young females to take a portion of their mother’s territory and we are very interested to see exactly where she settles over the next year or so.
Scotia’s young male cub has become independent and has been named Kangela, which means ‘The one who sees’. This means that Scotia is ready for a new litter and has been mating with Nyeleti in the past couple of weeks. Hopefully, she can raise a third successful litter.
Our resident male cheetah has been providing us with incredible sightings this month. He continues to love the clearings around Savanna and has been very successful in hunting impala. He uses the large termite mounds in the clearing to keep an eye out for potential threats, but also as an elevated position from which to spot prey in the distance.
The Wild Dogs have been denning in the eastern parts of the Sabi Sands for the past three months, so we were happily surprised one morning when the pack made their way back to the Western Sector. Sadly, they lost their entire litter to a pride of lions in the east, but this means that they are on the move again. Following the pack on a morning or evening hunt has to be one of the most exhilarating experiences while being on safari. The wild dogs will hunt twice a day and are always full of energy, providing some unique photographic opportunities.
The large herd of buffalo have returned to the west and have been spending a lot of time along the warm ridges just north of Savanna. With plenty of water after the good rainy season at the beginning of the year, they move down to the different waterholes during the day and it is a special experience seeing in excess of five hundred buffalo out in an open clearing.
The winter season is not known as the best time to see birds at Savanna, but with the foliage being very thin at the moment, we have been having some great sightings of some of the more secretive birds. The Pearl-spotted owlet is one of the smallest owls in the African bush and hunts mostly at night from a low perch, feeding on insects, rodents, bats, lizards, snakes and other birds.
We have been seeing a pair of Secretary birds moving through the clearings this month. We really hope that these two will stay together and nest in one of the big trees along the edge of the clearings. The clearings provide fantastic feeding grounds for the large carnivorous birds, as they hunt their prey by walking through the clearings looking for rodents, snakes and insects.
Another small raptor that we have been seeing a lot of lately is the Lizard buzzard which is easily Identified by the black stripe running down its throat. It has a similar diet to that of the Pearl-spotted owlet, but is more active during the day.
In between all these amazing high-profile sightings, we are blessed with incredible general game viewing in stunning settings. It is in these moments that we realise that life continues, despite the chaos of the world, and that we are part of a much greater system, rather than separate from it.
As more and more international travellers start trickling in, we are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to share these moments with more and more of you in the near future.
With warm wishes
Neil, Natasha and The Savanna Team