Time has flown by, and some of you may have noticed that we missed our blog for September! So we are here combining the past two months, so that you do not miss out on what has happened to date!
The one constant for the two months is the lack of early rain, so that the bush is quickly becoming very dry. Although there seems to be enough grass available, water is becoming scarce, with many of the dams completely dry, while the Sand River has stopped flowing, reducing it to large pools. Understandably, this has forced hippo to congregate in some of the larger pools and dams where enough water still remains. This causes pressure on the society, and the inevitable fight between bulls ensues.
These remaining pools, however, do provide fantastic hippo viewing, and there are quite a few young calves who do not seem to be aware of the strife and think life is just roses and sunshine!
As water is such an essential part of life, it is a great place to sit and observe. There is a constant flow of life around the waterholes, and inevitably something different happens all the time. On one occasion, a group of five rhino came to drink and guests were treated to an uplifting scene of these threatened pachyderms enjoying a mud bath!
It must have been a good day for a swim, too, as a group of elephant bulls came down to join them as a bonus!
As most of you know, elephants do love their time in and around water. Two bulls became very playful after a drink and started pushing and shoving one another. The tussle ended up right on the water’s edge and the retreating bull got a nasty surprise when his back foot slipped, and he had to continue his trunk wrestling on his knees! When he eventually recovered, he took his frustrations out on a nearby log to get some confidence back!
Nutrients are also getting hard to come by and the browsers in particular are struggling to find food, as so many of our trees are deciduous and lose their leaves during the dry months. Some are forced to pick at the forbs sprouting in the river beds, exposed by the receding water, while others gather in large groups under trees such as the sausage tree. This species, fortunately, has very nutritious flowers, which bloom early and drop to the floor, attracting the nyala in particular, as if it were chocolate!
Another sighting which demonstrated the shortage of nutrients was that of a large male baboon feeding on the carcass of a young bushbuck. How the bushbuck died is not clear, but it is known that baboons do on occasion eat meat. In east Africa, baboons are frequently seen to hunt flamingos on the banks of large lakes, but here in the Kruger area it is extremely rare.
One of the most memorable sightings of the past two months was with Torchwood, the male leopard who has started pushing back into the West now that Ravenscourt is spending more time near the river. Ally found him close to Savanna, sitting near a termite mound and staring intently. Soon after stopping, a large male warthog came tearing out of the mound, but not quickly enough to avoid Torchwood! As it was a large boar, Torchwood struggled to silence him quickly and the intense struggle attracted a hyena on the prowl nearby. He rushed at Torchwood in an attempt to chase him off before he had killed the warthog! He would not budge, however, so the hyena started feeding on the poor warthog, while Torchwood tried to finish the job and eventually they were both feeding on the carcass together.
Strangely, after managing to sever a hind leg from the carcass, the hyena took it and strolled away! Torchwood did not need a second invitation, and quickly dragged the kill to a nearby marula tree and hoisted it, securing at least 75% of the original kill. We all expected him to lose the majority of the kill, so he too was no doubt very surprised to be offered the chance to save the kill! This also meant that he could feed on the kill for the next few days, and give us some fantastic viewing! For a fantastic video of the entire event, click here.
Speaking of returning leopards, Hlabankunzi was seen a few times during the first couple of weeks of September and, although her ear still looks pretty bad, it is healing well and should pose no problem to her in the long run.
She is still as relaxed as ever, and one group of guests had to sit for a while with almost no view of her as she chose to use their vehicle as cover from the sun and prey by lying right underneath it! Eventually she moved and gave our guests a better view, as she was moving around a bit more.
Ravenscourt has been providing some fantastic viewing of late. In mid-October he surprised us all by bringing down an adult female kudu! Leopard do not usually bring down such big prey, as they are unable to move them to cover and they are almost certain to lose the kill to another predator. Ravenscourt, despite being a very large male, was definitely not able to move the kill at all, never mind try to take it up a tree for safe keeping. And so he once again surprised us by being there with the kill the following day. We assume this had more to do with him being lucky that no other predators had found it and he was able to feed off the kill for 36 hours. The second night, however, he did lose the kill to hyena.
Ravenscourt also managed to steal a kill from a cheetah in almost the same spot, but by the time we got there, the kill was already hoisted into a tree. The cheetah, however, did not want to give up his kill so easily and kept coming closer to where the kill was. Ravenscourt kept trying to chase away the cheetah, who kept a healthy distance, but never ran off! This went on to and fro for about 10 minutes until it started getting warm and they both lay down for the day, Ravenscourt in the shade of a gully and the cheetah on a termite mound! It is not often one gets to see the two large spotted cats in one scene!
The male cheetah has continued his regular visits, returning every other week or so, and frequenting his usual haunts. I would love to know how many photographs have been taken of him on this particular fallen tree!
Tlangisa and her remaining female cub have been seen regularly over the past few months. They are both in very good condition, and Tlangisa provides regular meals for the young cub. The cub, however, is not so good at sharing, and gets pretty upset when mother wants her turn on the kill!
There are, however, plenty of tender moments between these two, and the young female is fast becoming one of our poster leopards as she has clearly learnt from her mother.
Tlangisa’s genes continue with great viewing of her two daughters, Basile and Khokovela. Although it is still very early, the great news is that Khokovela has cubs which hopefully will be continuing Tlangisa’s legacy.
Scotia also came across west again during this period and brought her cub to a large female nyala kill she had made. Unfortunately, she lost it to hyena during the night, so they did not get the full benefit from the kill. Her cub is growing quickly and at nine months old is getting pretty confident!
Although Nyelethi is still in his prime, he is starting to pick up some tell-tale signs that he has been dominant for a while, and has seen his fair share of scraps! We are not sure who gave him the latest injury, but he picked up quite a serious-looking blow to his right eye. Initially, we thought it was some permanent damage, but fortunately over time it has already healed well! Perhaps this will make him look even more dominant!
The Ottawa pride is doing well. At one point we thought that one cub had been lost, as we had only seen them with two cubs for about 10 days!
Incredibly, however, the missing cub survived this entire time, and was reunited with the pride. When the third cub was found, the pride was posing perfectly on a large rock in the Sand River, almost as if to show off the complete pride to all.
Since then the cubs have been treating us to brilliant viewing, playing with one another constantly and loving life!
The younger female of the pride has not always shown much compassion for the younger cubs of the pride, but she will have to learn very quickly how to deal with cubs, as it seems that she herself has dropped her litter in a dense drainage line in the middle of the property! We have not seen the cubs yet, as they are still too young, but we are hoping that by the next blog, we may have some pictures to share with you!
The Mhangene adult females made a brief visit this month, coming in near Savanna while hunting buffalo. It seems that the sub-adult pride has sadly dwindled away, but two of the young females have joined the adults. The adults also have some new cubs, although we have not yet seen them. Hopefully, now that the younger cubs are growing and are moving with the pride more, we will see more of them in the future.
The Matimba males have been following the Ottawa pride constantly, and as they are nearing the end of their reign, it seems that the only thing that they are interested in is getting free food. They have accepted the cubs, whose fathers were the Majingilane, as their own, and do not roam their territory far and wide to check for intruders. They are content to follow the females and take over any of the kills that they happen to make. This seems to be quite a good strategy, as they are still looking in fairly good condition.
The hyena den is doing extremely well, with up to 12 cubs of various ages being counted at one stage! The older cubs are particularly entertaining and find various and interesting poses while waiting for the adults to return with food! For a very cute video of the den site, have a look here.
There is never a shortage of food when it comes to hyena. They are incredible at finding scraps and the remains of kills from other predators.
Lately, we have also seen an increase in baby elephant! Many of the herds have very small calves running around and one particular herd had a calf that could only have been a few hours old! It was struggling to stand and had trouble finding and reaching the mother’s teat. The mother was very patient and stood still for a long time to allow the calf the time to get the important first drinks of milk.
For those of you who are interested in birds, summer is definitely the time to come! Many migrants have returned and then there are many that develop incredible breeding plumage to impress possible mates. But even the regular resident birds are spectacular when you take the time to stop and enjoy them inbetween the incredible game viewing. This Dark-chanting Goshawk ignored us for some time while he devoured a little morsel he had caught.
Lilac-breasted rollers are common in the area, but one never tires of the myriad of colours they possess. At this time of the year they start their aerial displays where they ‘roll’ on the wing to impress their mates, an action which gives this family of birds their name.
The African Green Pigeon is often overlooked. This bird is usually well hidden in large evergreen trees and lives on a diet of fruit and berries. To see one out in the open is rare, so it is always a pleasure to take in their colours when the opportunity arises!
Kingfishers are always a favourite of guests and guides alike, from the common Brown-hooded Kingfisher to the rare Half-collared Kingfisher which is a summer migrant. A good pair of binoculars makes a world of difference, so be sure to pack a pair when coming to visit us again.
A trip to our community projects is also a worthwhile excursion, so be sure to book one when at the lodge, but for an update on the incredible work being done by our team with the support of volunteers and guests, please click here.
With fond regards,
Neil, Natasha and the Savanna Family