We are now in April and the rainy season seems to have finished with a spectacular thunderstorm at the end of March. Totalled up the rainfall for the season was about average, despite the floods in January. The dams are still holding water well and should see us and the animals through to the next rainy season at the end of the year. The impala rutting season has begun and the sounds of the rams snorting and grunting are already a part of the constant background music of the bush here.
The last month has been dominated with the story of the fall of the Mapogo male lion coalition and the rise of the Selati coalition. That subject has been extensively covered in all formats already so there is not much need for all the details again here! The lion’s stories will instead continue from after the fight between the two coalitions.
The Ximhungwe pride have been avoiding the new coalition as much as possible but there have been two instances of contact between the two groups of lion as the new males try to establish themselves in the territory. The first, a daylight encounter ended badly for the smallest male in the Selati coalition as he unwisely left his brothers to pursue the lionesses. The four lionesses stood together to protect their cubs and presented the male with a ferocious beating that left him a lot more bloodied and scarred than the battle against the Mapogo did! The second encounter was not witnessed but the same male was seen walking away from the pride with a deep scratch in his nose, a floppy ear and a slight limp. For the most part the pride has done well to avoid the males, moving away when they hear them roaring and generally keeping a low profile. They have been eating well, their biggest meal being a wildebeest bull brought down close to the lodge. It may even be possible for them to avoid the Selati males for long enough to raise the current litter, after all the females of the pride were all cubs born before the Mapogo takeover and survived that themselves.
The Othawa pride have been seen infrequently and their four cubs, being a lot smaller than the Ximhungwe cubs are much more at risk from the Selati males, a quick takeover of this pride may be beneficial to all the lions in the area but we shall have to wait and see how everything pans out.
The Selati males themselves have been moving all over their new territory, scent marking and roaring regularly, apart from the two minor clashes with the Ximhungwe pride they seem to be content for now. Two buffalo kills have also played a part in keeping these four males fairly settled. The first was a small cow but the second was a nice big bull that they kindly brought down in an open space in broad daylight!
The two remaining Mapogo did make a brief appearance in the western sector, tracks showed that they may have even joined up with the Ximhungwe pride for a short time, the two old boys seem resigned to the fact their territory is gone and have been reported wandering far and wide over the Sabi Sand reserve, trying to avoid the other coalitions of males that are spread around. We may yet see them again but as nomadic males they will now be just passing through.
The leopard population still seems to be reorganising itself after the flooding. There have still been no confirmed sightings of either the Xinzele or Mashiabanj males and both The Kashane and Dewane males have been pushing north up to the river. The Xindlevhana male has been called in but as he was always a shy male it is not certain if the big shy male that has been seen is actually him. A few years ago a similar situation occurred with the Kinky-tail male leopard – all shy big males were called in as the Kinky-tail male without a positive ID, hopefully we will avoid this being the case again. As both Xinzele and Mashiabanj frequented the banks of the sand river it is a possibility that they have been lost in the floods< but it is also possible that their territories have just shifted to the less frequently driven areas of the reserve, only time will tell.
2 big male leopards were spotted in the Sand River recently, circling one another. Last year we could have guessed that it was Xinzele and Mashiabanj, but now we have no Idea which two leopards it was as they were too far away to ID and the river crossings close to where they were seen are still not crossable so there was no way to follow up at the time.
Another shift in territory is that of the Shangwa female, she seems to be spending a lot more time to the west of the area that we would usually expect her to be, it seems she has swapped places with her daughter Xikavi, who now seems to be concentrating further east. Shangwa is still often seen with her son, now 2 years old, and we hope that this handsome young male makes his home in the western sector eventually.
The Hlab’nkunzi female has also been spending more time in the centre of her main territory since she lost her cub, apart from a few excursions following the Dewane male to mate or at least try to get him to mate – it took a while to convince him!), and this has meant that we have been seeing the Ravenscourt female around the lodge fairly frequently. Ravenscourt is known to have cubs to the east of the boundary and it is only a matter of time before she brings them west.
The Metsi female has also been mating with the Dewane male and has often been seen a lot further north than usual as she follows his scent. This has brought her into contact with the Tlangisa female on a couple of occasions but so far there have been no serious confrontations. With Metsi spending time further north the Tassleberry female has pushed herself further west and is now seen much more frequently and is a lot more relaxed.
The Dam 3 female has also been seen regularly and she too is chasing after the Dewane male, for the most part Dewane has seemed uninterested to downright annoyed with the attention from all the females!
All in all the slight shifts in the territories and even the possible loss of some individuals has not affected the frequency or the quality of leopard sightings in the area which just goes to show what a special place it is!
As the bush is starting to become more open we have been seeing more of the smaller creatures - Mongoose (banded, Dwarf, White-tailed and slender), Serval, Genet etc. We had a very special sighting of a young side-striped jackal catching flying termites one evening too.
With all the waterholes being fairly full there has been plenty of opportunity to have drinks with hippos and occasionally other animals coming to quench their thirst too.
Buffalo have been sighted regularly, not just when the lions have been feeding on them! There are plenty of small groups of bulls along the riverine areas as well as the big herd making regular visits to the area, even coming past the front of the lodge a couple of times.
Elephants have been all over the reserve. Some huge bulls have been spotted regularly and, on the other end of the scale, plenty of tiny babies.
Many of the migratory birds have been seen for the last time this season and those that are still here should have started their trek north by the end of the month. There will still be plenty to see for the bird lovers; resident species far outnumber the migrants!
As always, the bush will continue to entertain, regular sightings updates can be found on the blog and on facebook along with videos and pictures.