August has been an incredible month filled with amazing interactions, special sightings and so much more. We are now officially in the second half of the year and with this comes the anticipation of Spring and hope of future rains.
August is traditionally known as the windy month and this year was no different. The warm wind dries the parched earth even more, as the valuable sources of water become scarcer. The attraction of game to these remaining water sources has been an important factor in much of this month’s viewing.
The elephant activity around the lodge continues to delight guests, as the herds come from far and wide to enjoy the fresh, clean water. They have the ability to smell water from kilometers away and the herds will rely on the older matriarchs to lead them to the freshest sources of water.
The big bulls have continued to provide incredible viewing throughout the month as well. Their relaxed nature around the vehicles and docile behaviour, allows for incredibly close and intimate sightings of these gentle giants.
It is an amazing experience to be able to see elephants using their unique trunks for drinking. With an estimate 150 000 muscle units in their trunk, they are able to hold between 8 and 10 liters of water at a time. Contrary to popular belief, elephants do not drink through their trunks – they suck water up into their trunks and then spray it into their mouths.
The Sand River has continued to flow through the dry season, although it is drying up significantly in some parts. The days are still cool in the early mornings and it only starts to warm up later. Large pods of hippos are still enjoying some sunbathing on the banks of the river and crocodiles, who are cold-blooded, also have to bask on the banks to raise their body temperature to increase digestion.
The Mhangene pride have been more sporadic in their visits this month, spending majority of their time in the central parts of their territory further east of us. On one occasion the pride had made a buffalo kill close to camp and utilized the waterholes in front of camp regularly, as this was their closest water. The Ottawa male continues to be a dominant feature of the pride as he expands and solidifies his dominance of the Eastern sections of the property.
As would be expected at this time of year, the remaining waterholes become a focus for most of the action. The wild dogs have been seen heading straight towards watering sources as they leave their den site, firstly for a drink and secondly for the possibility of prey which congregate around the waterholes! This often leads to incredibly exciting adventures while following them on the hunt.
Wild dogs are known as one of the most successful predators in the bushveld and with the pressure of extra mouths to feed, we have been seeing them hunt with more intention than ever.
The interactions between hyena and wild dogs have been a standout this month. The hyenas are a constant presence wherever the wild dogs are, thus making it incredibly difficult for the dogs to successfully keep their kills. On numerous occasions we have seen the hyenas chase the wild dogs off their kills.
As far as interactions go, a herd of buffalo versus a pack of wild dogs has to be one of the most interesting ones. We arrived to this sighting one morning, as the confident and cunning pack of wild dogs were maneuvering their way around a breeding herd of buffalo in a playful and taunting manner. This interaction played out for a few minutes, with the back and forth of wild dog and buffalo. Click here for video footage of the interaction.
The wild dog pups finally emerged from the den and we can confirm that there are eight pups in the litter. The pack has already moved den sites and the youngsters have started to get more active as they are now close to two months old.
With the open clearings continuing to dry up, many animals take the opportunity to enjoy a well-deserved dust bath. For wildebeest, this dust bathing, serves a vital purpose as it is a way of transmitting chemical signals to the ground which marks an individual’s territory. The clearings also provide grazing and safety for many more other animals.
As with last months white-headed vulture sighting, we had another unusual bird for this area of the Sabi Sand – the Kori Bustard. In South Africa, the estimated population of Kori bustards varies from 2000 to 5000 individuals. These birds are mainly terrestrial, meaning they spend most of their time on the ground. They do however, fly when they need to and are in fact the heaviest flying bird in the world. Their preferred habitat is dry sandy areas with short grass and they are omnivorous. On this occasion one was trying to find the nest of a pair of crowned lapwings, who harassed it constantly until it had moved far enough away from the nest.
Unlike wildebeest and impala, some animals do not have a strict breeding season. Rhinos and giraffe, for example, have a gestation period of 15 months and will give birth at any time of the year. We have been incredibly fortunate over the past month to see some of these youngsters around the concession.
Boulders and her two cubs continue to provide some of the best leopard viewing on our concession. She has been seen on numerous occasions taking her cubs to and from kills with a mandatory stop at a waterhole giving the opportunity for some great photographs.
It has been rather unusual that Boulders has not been hoisting many of her kills lately. This leaves room for scavengers, like hyenas, to challenge her for the prize.
On one occasion we were lucky to find all three leopards together with a kill, which we presume she had just lost to hyenas. We arrived to witness hyenas feeding on the kill and the three leopards lying not far off, watching the intruders. Suddenly one of the cubs crouched down, staring intently into the distance at Ravenscourt approaching. It was clear that his intention was to steal the kill back from the hyenas but luck, however, was not on his side. The hyenas fought back and all four leopards scattered in separate directions.
On another occasion when Boulders failed to hoist her kill to safety, she lost it to a young, unknown lioness! Being the ultimate opportunist, she took a chance when the lioness was lying some distance from the kill and managed to steal it back and drag it under some rocks not too far away. Again, she chose not to hoist the kill and she lost the kill for a second time to the lioness not long afterwards!
As they move towards independence, the two youngsters have been spending more and more time by themselves. They have started making their own small kills and fend for themselves. On one occasion the young male was seen on his own with a stolen civet kill, which he actually did hoist away from danger. Unfortunately it was badly decomposed already and after leaving it to go for a drink, he did not return to it.
Ravenscourt continues to be on constant patrol, seen throughout the month as he explores and expands his territory. As a result, many of the other males have been seen less this month, as Ravenscourt cements his dominance in the western sector.
Thamba made a brief appearance on the property this month. He has been moving further east, towards Torchwoods territory. He has been seen mating in our neighbouring concession, which could this be a sign that he is starting to become a more dominant feature further east.
Dewane has continued to live the nomadic lifestyle and is in surprisingly good condition. He has been using his experience to avoid any conflict, successfully making kills and generally keeping a low profile.
Basile has been under a lot of pressure from other leopards this past month. With the continued movement of her den site and moving her remaining cub to and from kills, she seems to have lost her remaining cub. This is unfortunately the sad reality of a female leopard’s life and is not unusual to lose litters.
The male cheetah seems to have settled into the western parts of his new home-range. He has been seen more frequently this month, scent-marking and using fallen over dead trees to survey his new territory.
Cheetah are perfectly adapted for hunting in large open areas. Although these areas are not common in our concession, we have seen him on a few occasions chasing impala out in the open. He did not succeed every time, but we did find him on the odd kill.
The incredible cheetah viewing continued when two young cheetahs appeared on the concession towards the latter half of the month. For those who were here in August 2018, these are the same male and female youngsters that were seen with their mother. They are now just over two years old and the sibling duo caused quite a bit of excitement around the reserve, as they moved through the area without the protection of their mother.
A mother cheetah will generally leave her cubs to fend for themselves anywhere from 16 to 24 months old. As their hunting skills are better together than alone, the siblings will stay together until the female reaches sexual maturity (around 3 years old).
The Ottawa pride has been spending majority of their time around the river. The older cub is around seventeen months now and beginning to develop a mane, but still has the patience to teach the younger cubs a lesson or two.
The Matimba male coalition is sadly down to one male. The male that was struggling was found towards the latter half of the month, having eventually died of old age. The darker maned male and the last remaining Matimba, still seems to be in relatively good condition and continues to follow the pride. The inevitable question is how long can he hold the territory without the assistance of his brother.
We have also seen some of the rare and unusual sightings this month. Cape Clawless Otters are usually found in and around the perennial rivers where they feed on fresh water crabs, fish, frogs and worms. We were therefor completely surprised when we first saw tracks and then the otter around Savanna! This is about ten kilometers from the nearest river and for the next two weeks we had regular sightings of the otter in the dams at the camp, as well as slightly further afield. This must have been one dispersing, looking for new territories as the Sand River continues to dry.
A rare sighting of an African Wild Cat, as well as two separate sightings of pangolin is surely going to make those who have been coming to Africa regularly jealous beyond words! Both of these are on most people’s bucket list and get even the most experienced of guides very excited when they are found!
As we approach Spring, we look forward to longer, warmer days with more incredible game viewing to share with you all.