Our rains usually begin during October and November, but this year we did not have much in October at all, and we thought that we might be in for a dry season. The first few weeks of November also did not look very promising, but a cold front came through in the third week and it rained almost constantly for eight days, providing some much-needed water to jump start the growing season! Sadly, for those who were here at the time, it meant that the scarcest sighting for the week was the sun!
But what rain brings is life, and the results are showing quickly! As this is the time of plenty, most of the breeding happens in early summer, when food and water is readily available. Impala ‘flood the market’ with their lambs, coinciding their births so that the majority of lambs are born within a month.
And they are not the only ones. Wildebeest and zebra have also started dropping their young, and the clearings are filling up with calves and foals running with the herds.
The breeding herds of elephant have been moving about quite a bit during November, possibly as a result of the rain, and having lots of options available. During the second half of November, elephant sightings were few and far between, but when they were seen, they almost always had one or two very young calves with them. These are always a firm favourite with guides and guests alike and we are blessed to have such relaxed elephant herds that allow us to get fantastic viewing of them.
Just A Little Different
Another explosion as a result of the rain is the insect world in general, and when conditions are right, we experience huge termite emergences! Often termite colonies synchronise their emergences, resulting in millions of winged aletes taking flight. These are the kings and queens of the next generation which, after the nuptial flight, lose their wings, pair up with the opposite sex, and burrow down into the earth to start a new colony. These are, however, one of nature’s best forms of protein, and everything from mammals and birds to frogs and other insects have a feeding frenzy when these emergences are discovered.
And while nature is bursting with abundance, the regular performers continue to contribute to the incredible game viewing we have become accustomed to. The Mhangene pride have been regular visitors to the south and are a joy to observe. Being close to the lodge quite often, it allows us plenty of opportunity to view them on the move, before they find shade as the heat of the day approaches.
On one of these occasions, having found the pride resting on a termite mound, they suddenly noticed a lone wildebeest bull approaching and quickly went into stalk mode. They actually managed to stay focused, even with two large elephant bulls in the way, laid the ambush and successfully hunted the bull! To see a video of this action, click here.
The two young cubs are both doing very well and are a constant source of entertainment. The younger one recently found a large leopard tortoise which, while the adults were being pretty lazy, provided some great amusement. I am sure that the tortoise did not find this as amusing, but fortunately it was large enough to avoid being crushed by their jaws, and after a long game, they finally left it in peace.
The Ottawa pride have also done very well. All six cubs are thriving and are growing by the day. They are now seven and nine months old and we are very hopeful that they will pull through. They are now at the ages that make for a lot of enjoyment out on drives, and with the mothers providing them with regular kills, they have some extra energy to burn! Play has become a very important part of their development and they constantly chase one another in mock hunting and fighting.
The single lioness from the break-away group once again made a visit in the West, and we were hopeful that she would join up with the adults, as at one point she was very close to them, but unfortunately she did not. She is in good health, though, and it will be interesting to see where she ends up in the future.
We have also seen the two Tsalala females quite a bit this month. They have been mainly sticking to the river, not moving too much and trying to keep a low profile. Sadly, they did not keep a low enough profile, and the older female was killed in the Sand River on the 20th of November. From the tracks in the area, we assume it was the Plains Camp males, who have been pushing further west and getting close to our concession on a few occasions. The young remaining female has moved a long way east and we have not seen her since.
The Thumbela males are going to have to defend their territory well to ensure that these two males do not encroach on their space and threaten their prides. We need them to protect the six young Ottawa cubs and ensure that the pride has some new young females to keep the pride going. To date, however, they are doing very well! The larger of the two males is looking in fantastic condition and is growing in confidence daily. His brother is not recovering as quickly but is nevertheless starting to look good. The limp that he has had since they arrived is still there and is perhaps hindering his progress. We are confident, however, that they will continue to protect their territory and cubs.
On the leopard front, Tlangisa has been doing exceptionally well with her two cubs. She has been having some phenomenal success with making kills of late, but not so much at keeping them! We recently had a great view of her dragging a fresh impala kill to a secluded spot, but before she could return with the cubs, a hyena had stolen it.
She has, however, managed to provide well and her two cubs are growing well. She has one male and one female, that are now 7 months old. They are extremely relaxed and are found regularly around the Sand River. Although Tlangisa has lost many kills of late, she still manages to find enough to feed the cubs and keep them growing!
Boulders also seems to be pregnant again, and we wait in anticipation for news of her cubs. She is notoriously good at hiding her den sites, so hopefully we will be able to find it soon after the birth, so we can follow the progress of the cubs from early on.
Ntoma, whom we mentioned last month for appearing to be more relaxed, has been seen on a number of occasions again this month. She allowed us to follow her recently and she actually managed to catch a scrub hare while we were following her. She turned immediately, and walked quickly in the opposite direction, initially making us think that she was not happy with our presence. We managed to keep up with her, however, and to our surprise, she led us back to the two cubs who were hidden in a drainage line nearby. The cubs were a little nervous, but relaxed significantly at night, and we had some great viewing of the three of them together. Sadly, we have learnt that one cub was later killed by hyena.
We mentioned last month that Tisela had been in a scrap with her brother, Hlambela, and that her leg was badly injured, but on the mend. This healing process has continued, and we are happy to say that her limp is much better, and she is in perfect condition!
Her brother has grown up very quickly and, like his father Ravenscourt, is starting to act in a dominant fashion at a very early age! At three years and five months, he was seen mating with the Kelly Dam female for a period of five days! It is not uncommon for a female to mate briefly with a young nomadic male in her territory, in order to convince him that her cubs (if she had any) could potentially be his. It is, however, very unusual for it to last so long! To make it even more surprising, Ravenscourt met up with the pair, and instead of chasing his son away, he just joined in and we had them making turns mating with Kelly Dam, with almost no aggression between the two males. Ravenscourt then moved on, with Hlambela staying with Kelly Dam! For a fantastic video of this, have a look here.
Ravenscourt still dominates the West, as he did last month. We have mentioned that he has contenders on all sides, waiting for an opportunity to challenge, but they will have to wait.
Thamba seems to be content with what he has at the moment and is not putting any obvious pressure on Ravenscourt for the time being. He seems to have settled with his territory for now and has made the south his own.
Euphorbia is also settling down in the north. Both he and Thamba seem more intent on putting pressure on Nyelethi further east, as Ravenscourt is still in his prime.
The other predators have had some fantastic showing this month. At one point, we had two packs of wild dog on the concession, giving us unbelievable viewing of this endangered species. These animals have some of the tightest bonds between the individuals, and these bonds are strengthened by playing. Wild dog play more than any other species and we were spoilt with a phenomenal sighting of one of the packs chasing each other around and through a small pond for over 20 minutes! We have a short clip of that sighting here.
Our excellent hyena viewing has continued, with the den still being active and providing some fantastic sightings of the young cubs. We also regularly see adults scattered around the concession, as they look, listen and smell for any chance of a meal that may be found.
African Wild Cats
We had some more good viewing of the African Wild cat and her kitten at the beginning of the month, but they seemed to disappear toward the end of November. As the cub gets older, she will move more readily with the mother and be less constrained to the den.
Our male cheetah has been a little scarce this month, with not too many sightings being recorded. This could be a result of all the impala lambs that are about, which are very easy pickings for him, and so he does not have to move too far before finding and successfully catching prey.
For those of you who are keen birders, this is a great time of the year, as many migrants return to feed on the huge abundance of food that is available during summer. It is the time for breeding and displaying, by making use of bright colours, wonderful displays and lots of singing from prominent perches.
We do not often mention rhino, as there is such huge pressure on their populations that are crashing rapidly as a result of the massive poaching problem facing all reserves in Africa at the moment. But as we approach Christmas and the Festive Season, we would like to pause to think about, and thank, those unsung heroes who will be spending their time protecting and fighting for the survival of our rhino.
With warm wishes
Neil, Natasha and The Savanna Team