There’s a change in the air at Savanna. We are currently in the transition period between summer and winter, where we still have the yellow and brown winter palette across the concession, which is sometimes interrupted with a small flash of new and bright green or the distant calls signalling the arrival of the migratory birds. While sightings have been fast-paced, exciting and constantly moving, it has been amazing to witness the slow transition from winter to summer.
While on the topic of birds, the guiding team here at Savanna has enrolled in a national competition called the Kruger Bird Challenge, which has challenged bird watchers across the country to try and photograph 400 different Kruger bird species over 400 days. Seeing 400 bird species in 400 days is difficult enough, but trying to photograph the sometimes-brief sightings is where the real challenge lies. Here is a collection of some of the ones the team enjoyed capturing.
There has been a great deal of movement and some interesting developments in the dynamics of the lion prides on the concessions.
The bulk of the Mhangene pride was not seen during the first three to four weeks of the month, but a lone lioness from the pride partnered up with the last remaining male of the Nwalungu coalition, previously known as the Nkuhuma male. We were lucky enough to see the courting pair on a few different buffalo kills during the past month. At this point, we can only speculate and hope that the young Nwalungu male will complete the pride takeover, and all the adult females rejoin and accept him as their pride male. He is still young and has a bit of growing to do, but if he carries on with his current trajectory, he will take complete control of the pride and we hope to see him sire many cubs.
The Ottawa pride has been rather sedentary during the past month, especially compared to the highly nomadic life of the Mhangene pride, and they are spending most of their time close to the Sand River. We are very happy to report that all six cubs are still doing very well under the guidance of their experienced mothers and protective fathers.
We were treated to incredible viewing of the whole pride and coalition when they had found a dead buffalo, which provided many guests with great sightings and valuable insight into the degradation of the carcass, as the 11 lions fed on it over three to four days.
The three lionesses usually target small to medium-sized prey, but at the end of the month the small pride brought down a young giraffe which provided a banquet for the hungry and ever-growing cubs once again.
The two Tumbela males are looking very confident at the moment, with the constant improvement in the smaller male’s condition and strength. It seems as if the coalition is in comfortable control of the Western Sector. We have been rewarded with many great sightings of the duo all around the concession, roaring later in the evening on most nights. The larger Tumbela has been seen with the Ximungwe female a few times, but is otherwise mainly with the Ottawa pride.
Tlangisa and her two seven-month-old cubs are still doing very well. Tlangisa is a phenomenal huntress, and she has kept up her good kill rate this month. Most kills are stashed away in the deep inaccessible drainage lines far north on the concession. Although this is not conducive to good or even frequent viewing, it is very good for the long-term survival of the cubs. When the kills are well hidden, it makes it harder for other predators to find, and the cubs can eat and play relatively undisturbed.
Tisela has been through a difficult few months, with a recent serious altercation with her brother, Hlambela. She limped away from the interaction with a very bad injury to her front right leg and she was seen resting and recuperating on a termite mound for the following five days! With some concern for her chances of survival, we were elated to hear her name on the radio this month. We had a few beautiful sightings of her, including one where Aidan was lucky enough to see her resting in a drainage line, at eye level, during the beautiful afternoon light. Dan had an equally photographic sighting of her atop a termite mound and it seems that her leg is well on the way to healing.
Thamba is still proving to be an exciting leopard to view and observe, not only as a beautiful male, but also as a piece in the chess game that is the leopard dynamics in the concession. He is looking bigger and stronger at almost every sighting.
On one occasion, we were lucky enough to see him in action! Initially patrolling and marking his territory in the heart of Savanna, he changed tack within a second and showed us the incredible speed of these big cats as he pounced on a warthog firing out of its hole. Strangely, he dragged the kill far into the distance, past many suitable trees, until he finally put the kill up a small thin silver cluster leaf. Another bush mystery that we are happy to add to the many collected in day-to-day bush life.
Not all leopards are acclimatised to vehicles and can be quite skittish. This can either be the result of coming into the Sabi Sands from an area where they were not exposed to vehicles, or because their mother was a nervous leopard and they did not get the habituation from a young age. This is the case with Ntoma, who at nearly eight years old, has always been pretty skittish around vehicles. Her mother, Mobeni, is also a nervous individual who managed to hide her as a cub from sightings, and she was therefore seldom exposed to vehicles. We see her very occasionally, but a few months ago we viewed her and two six-month-old cubs running away into the night. This month we were more fortunate and, after finding a drag mark, we found a grey duiker hoisted in a tree. There was no sign of either adult or cub but when we returned that afternoon, we were treated to both adult and cub feeding on the kill. This gave us the opportunity to habituate Ntoma and her cub a little more and we hope to have many more sightings of the mother and daughter duo. It seems as if the cub has some damage to its right eye and although it seems to be doing fine, only time will tell if the injury is permanent.
African Wild Cats
Incredibly, we are getting more amazing sightings of the resident wild cat and her now fast-growing kitten. What is truly interesting is how relaxed they are with the vehicles, especially the kitten which, if all goes well, will make it to adulthood and take over some of its mother’s territory, thus sticking around Savanna and providing continued viewing of this shy species. But for now, this pair has been such an incredible addition to a game drive, and we are enjoying every moment watching them! For a video of the two click here.
Our resident cheetah is still making his regular visits through the beautiful open areas of Savanna. He usually has quite a strict routine, and there are areas, certain termite mounds or even the Savanna sign we often find him on.
Sometimes, a distraction such as a herd of impala will draw him away from that routine. One set of guests was fortunate enough to be present on such an occasion. As he passed the lodge on his usual route, a herd of impala in front of the lodge caught his attention. After quite a long stalk and a quick chase, he managed to catch an adult female just before dark. As he knew hyena would soon be active, he had to stay vigilant as he ate as much as he could before dark.
The hippo pod in the dam in front of the lodge is doing well and giving us brilliant sightings as we exit the lodge, with a newborn hippo to boot. The somewhat resident pod always sets a brilliant tone as we start our drives, especially in the mornings when the fast-rising golden light of an African sunrise provides the backdrop to the hippo pod and dam.
Elephant numbers seem to be on the increase on the concession, potentially in anticipation of the coming marula season. With the combined heat of the season, we are expecting more and more fantastic sightings such as large herds on the clearings, and bulls swimming and sparring to cool off in the heat of the day!
The general game seems to be on the verge of a birth explosion as well, with most animals preparing to coincide the birth of their offspring with the approaching summer rains and resulting season of plenty. We are expecting to see plenty of babies in the coming weeks and months, and hope that you will be here to enjoy them with us.
With warm wishes
Neil, Natasha and The Savanna Team