Winter is slowly creeping up on us as we move into June. The morning drives are accompanied by warm blankets and hot water bottles, which are quickly discarded as the sun rises and the day quickly warms up. Daytime temperatures are still in the 25-30C region. The cooler weather during the game drive times often means increased animal activity and the sightings reflect that fact.
The last few weeks sightings have included many high points, the most obvious being the activity around the wild dog den site, the 8 pups are getting big now and are outside playing a lot more often than when they were smaller. The adults are seen hunting every day, sometimes twice, usually successfully.
One such hunt ended up with the dogs running in front of the lodge and catching an impala on the firebreak. Another hunt ended with the pack running past Andries, Titus and the guests at a drinks break and killing an impala about 50m away.
A very special sighting was that of an, as yet, unidentified female leopard which was found on Idube property one morning. Andries came across this individual one morning on the bank of the Ximobonyane drainage line. Hidden in a recess behind a root system it soon became clear that she was nursing two tiny cubs, only a few days old. The female is a slightly nervous individual that we sometimes come across on the main road, usually running away from us. She was remarkably tolerant of both Andries and me as we came to view her and the youngsters, she eventually moved the cubs to a thicker spot along the riverbank, and we have not been able to see them since.
The Xikavi female leopard was reported vas being seen carrying a small cub too, she was also seen flirting with the Xinzele male a week or so later so we are not sure if this was to make Xinzele think the cub is his or if she has lost it.
The Hlab’nkunzi female was also seen in the company of Xinzele for a few days; her attempts to initiate mating seemed to be unsuccessful though.
The Metsi female was seen with her two 1yr old sons in the south with a kill, the kill was eventually stolen by hyenas, and the trio moved off. Metsi then left the two boys behind as she went off to hunt again – this time in an accessible place so the two boys have been seen more often these last few weeks than the last six months!
The Shangwa female also returned to our area for the first time in around 8 months, she brought her young son with her who was a little bit wary of the cars at first but soon relaxed when he saw mum was fine. The sighting that we saw the two in was an unusual one – A buffalo had died in the bed of the Sand River and the first scavengers were these two leopards. In the morning, we watched the pair take turns feeding on the carcass and hiding in the reeds, by the afternoon some vultures had arrived and the leopards were sitting on the bank looking quite contented. Whilst we were watching the leopards, we head something in the bushes closer to the water. It sounded like a small animal being killed, Shangwa jumped up to investigate, leaving her son with us. A hyena suddenly appeared and chased the young leopard, crunching could be heard in the bushes where the sound had come from earlier and Shangwa returned from that area, a second hyena was then seen with half an impala in its mouth. It seems that the hyena had been attracted by the vultures and caught an impala opportunistically. The leopards moved back towards the buffalo and the hyenas moved off with their impala kill. Later in the evening, the hyena took over the buffalo carcass as the leopards watched from the bank of the river. By the next morning, the Ottawa lion pride had taken over from the hyenas and the leopards were nowhere to be seen.
Another unidentified female leopard was seen in the south with a reedbuck kill close to the old railway line. She was nervous in the day but was relaxed from a distance at night.
The male leopards seen regularly were Xinzele, Xindlevhana, Mashiabanj, and Kashane. The young skittish male on Idube property was also seen to the north of the lodge trying to get some scraps from a kill that Hlab’nkunzi had made.
The lion population in the area has also been added to; one more of the Ximunghwe lionesses was seen with tiny cubs a few weeks ago. The four older cubs in the pride are still doing well and are seen regularly. The five females are seldom seen all together but are still all looking well and healthy.
The Mapogo males are seen most days either with the Ximunghwe females or off on their own, the last few days saw two of the males feeding on a young hippo that they killed close to the western boundary.
The females in the Ximunghwe pride without cubs have been mating with various members of the coalition. One such pairing led to a huge fight between two of the males (Makulu and Mr.T) which ended with both of them limping and bloodied and the older male victorious.
The Makulu Mapogo killed a huge old male warthog at ebony dam, close to the lodge and he ate undisturbed for two days, he then joined the Ximunghwe lionesses on a hunt and stole an impala kill from them, the lionesses left him to it, killed a second impala a short distance away, and fed undisturbed.
The Ottawa pride were not seen so often and did lose a second member of the pride in as many months, the female cub was killed in a confrontation with a pair of male lions far in the north east, we only received the report so I have no idea which males these were. The remaining members of the pride are in excellent condition though and they still look good for the future now with the females reaching breeding age sometime in the next 18 months.
The big herd of buffalo has been seen regularly and the elephant herds have been around the lodge almost every day.
There have been some nice sightings of serval, genet, and white tailed mongoose (even a mating pair) after dark now that the grass is starting to die back.
There was also another great sighting of the relaxed caracal a few days ago.
We have also had some great sightings of hippo out of the water the past few weeks, a nice contrast to the eyes, ears, and nostrils that we usually get to see.
As always there was a lot more than this going on, and as always, there will be more to add to these stories in the coming weeks.
Until next time,
Rob The Ranger