March has crept up on us suddenly following a dry February; we are still expecting a bit more rain before the dry season starts in full. Last season the rains only ended in April. March usually is the last month that we see many of our migratory birds as they start their journey back north to various locations in Africa and Eurasia; it is also the month in which the impala rut begins. The impala’s breeding season is triggered by the equinox and lasts until the solstice in June, characterised by fierce battles between the many males for the right to occupy a territory the days and nights ring out with the roars of these usually quiet and peaceful antelope.
In the newsletter last month I reported that the female leopard Mabirri had been injured close to the lodge, it was hoped that since she had survived as a youngster after injuring the same foot she may be able to do so again, sadly since then her brave story has ended. She managed to carry her injury well but her survival instincts led her to the easy prey of the chickens and goats in the community adjacent to the reserve. Teams were sent out to try to catch her in order to assess her injury and to remove her from the vicinity of people but she managed to elude the tracking teams and refused to take the bait in the capture cages.
She was eventually spotted back inside the reserve and it was hoped she would stay around long enough to be darted but again she went outside to the village to feed. The next time she was spotted, it was again inside the reserve but right against the fence, the Sabi sand team were the ones who found her and the general assessment of her condition was not good. In front of the team, she again attempted to jump the fence into the village and reluctantly a decision was made to put her down, not only for the safety of the community but to end her suffering too. RIP Mabirri, you live on in our memories and the many photographs and videos that were taken during your life. Rudi has written a more complete story of her life that can be found here.
Mabirri’s passing is not all bad news, it means that her daughter Tlangisa inherits an unoccupied territory, and with Hlab’nkunzi shifting more to the east, Metsi (Mabirri’s older daughter) also has a bigger area to roam with her two sons. As these three females adjust to the new dynamics around their territories it may also mean that the Xikavi female will be seen more to the north of the lodge and our overall leopard sightings will not be affected.
All three of those females were seen regularly; Hlab’nkunzi seems to have taken up permanent residence in Makubela’s old territory and is often seen in or around the lodge. Her one remaining cub was left to herself close to the lodge area for quite a while and was seen frequently one sighting of her saw her killing a guinea fowl within earshot of the lodge, unfortunately there were lions close to the lodge and they came over to investigate and chased the youngster up a tree. During the time the youngster was alone Hlab’nkunzi was seen in the company of the Xinzele male ( who killed the other cub a few weeks earlier) and we were left wondering if the remaining cub had been left to an early independence – 13 months old being not all that unusual an age to be left alone. After a sighting of the Kashane male leopard close to the lodge and a long absence of sightings of the young leopard we began to wonder if she was still alive, but a couple of days ago mother and daughter were seen together on an impala kill at Ebony dam, just to the north-west of the lodge.
Metsi and her two sons were seen on a number of occasions and it seems she has not yet started to move into the central part of the reserve, most of the sightings of her were not far from the western boundary. A couple of times there were kills, one was unidentified, and the other was a scrub-hare caught by one of the youngsters.
One female we hardly see is the Dam 3 female as she is quite shy most of the time. This month we were lucky enough to see her mating with the Xinzele male out in the open in one of the dry watercourses that feeds the Sand River. She was unfazed by the vehicles and the courting couple performed a couple of times before Xinzele got tired and started to refuse the female’s advances, for this he got a big smack and the two moved into the undergrowth on the riverbank.
Kashane male was seen a few times in the areas to the south of the lodge, most recently Promise saw him interacting with the male cheetah Makumisa, the two spotted cats were racing across a clearing, needless to say, the cheetah won!
On the subject of cheetahs: We were lucky enough to have a coalition of three male cheetah move into our traversing area for a couple of weeks, at first they were quite shy with the vehicles but after a few days we were able to view them closely, they were seen hunting, climbing, feeding etc. very entertaining! One very interesting interaction was between these three males and the short-tailed Ximunghwe lioness: the lioness was moving towards her den site when she noticed the three cheetahs on the edge of a clearing, she proceeded to stalk them, and the cheetah noticed her approach and ran off. This is where most would expect the story to end but it continued further: as the lioness scouted around for scent one of the cheetahs started to walk up behind her, getting very close before she noticed, more running around followed and the situation repeated itself a few times before it got too dark to watch anymore!
Moving on to the Ximunghwe pride - the pride is in a rebuilding phase now that the Mapogo male coalition seems settled again. the two cubs belonging to the older female are doing well and two other litters have been spotted – the short-tailed female has two cubs in the region of 6-8 weeks old and one of the other females was found with 4 tiny cubs that at the time were 2-3 weeks old. The smallest cubs were seen with two of the big males in attendance although the mother did not let them get too close.
The three remaining males of the Mapogo coalition have been very happy to stay within our traversing area, rarely venturing east for more than a few hours; however, the male who many know as Mr.T due to his Mohawk styled mane suddenly decided to go on holiday recently. One evening he got up and left the other two males, heading straight east, a few days later he was reported as being up in the northern Sabi Sands where he used to spend most of his time before being chased off by the Majingalane males that moved up there last year. About a week passed after that report before he returned to our area having managed to elude the new males up north. During that time, it was reported that he had killed and eaten a baby giraffe. His brothers did not go without food as they shared a buffalo kill with the Ximunghwe pride (including the two oldest cubs).
The Ottawa pride were seen a number of times, mostly north of the river, they continue to look healthy and successful; the two young males in the pride are developing rapidly. The pride was seen in the company of one of the Mapogo males (Makulu, the oldest) and he was very relaxed with his heirs, in fact all three males were seen lying together at one point, the older male did become a bit aggressive as he started to feed on a huge leopard tortoise but this is usual for lions.
The elephant sightings have been phenomenal with herds all over the area as well as some impressive bulls; the fruit of the Marula trees has continued to provide an attraction to these huge creatures as well as providing us with great opportunities to watch their behaviour and interactions.
The buffalo herd was most often spotted in or around the dams or waterholes cooling off and quenching their thirst on the hot days. Many older bulls (dagga boys) were also spotted – one small group was regularly close to the lodge and often seen in Scotia or Ebony Dams.
The wild dog pack was seen on a number of occasions and Promise was lucky enough to see them take down an impala close to his vehicle a couple of days ago. One member of the pack managed to get itself caught in an old wire snare. After a long search it was located, darted and the snare removed with no harm to the animal and the pack reunited happily soon after.
As always there is more drama and excitement expected in the coming weeks, you can keep up to date with everything by following our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and you can see videos of the recent sightings posted on Youtube.
Rob the Ranger