Savanna Blog - June 2018

 

We are now half-way through 2018 and in the middle of our winter months. Fortunately, we had quite a bit of rain towards the end of our wet season and the vegetation levels are still relatively high. However, the water levels in the river and dams are dropping quickly. The fresh water at the lodge has thus been very attractive to animals in close proximity, and elephant bulls in particular are constantly in front of the rooms.

 

This has also forced hippo to congregate in larger dams, as well as in the large pools in the Sand River. With the cooler temperatures in winter, it has also meant that the hippo are often found on the banks of the waterholes, sunning themselves and providing some of the best hippo viewing possible.

 

There is also a couple of very young hippo adding to the quality of the sightings with their antics!

 

As the young always attract so much attention and generate so much enjoyment, it is great still to have the three Ottawa cubs doing very well. They have relaxed completely around the vehicles, and we are privileged to witness incredible interactions between the various individuals within the pride. Initially, the mother was wary with the approach of the sub-adult male and would aggressively defend the young cubs.

 

However, it didn’t take long for the mother to trust the male and, more importantly, for the male to accept the youngsters. They now seem to seek him out and attempt to play with him all the time, almost like a big brother who will protect them if need be.

 

And then, as expected, there are the many tender moments between the cubs and the mother. She looks after them well and they are in great condition.

 

The Mhangene youngsters continue to be an incredible story. They are gaining in confidence, and are starting to believe in their own abilities. They still move large distances, but have made two buffalo kills this month on our concession. On one occasion, the buffalo was very weak, and it surprised us all how quickly they were able to bring it down.

 

They managed to get a good meal from this kill, but sadly they lost it to a large clan of hyena the next morning, who chased them up a fallen tree nearby.

 

The following buffalo kill was only three days later, but this time they managed to hold on to the kill a little longer. It was only during the following day that enough hyena had gathered to outnumber the lions, and once again chase them up a tall tree nearby. For a video of this interaction, have a look at this clip.

 

This month has once again been brilliant for cheetah viewing. There have been fewer individuals, as we have not seen the female with her two cubs again, but the two young brothers appeared once more. This time we were fortunate to see them on an impala kill, and they were much more relaxed.

 

The older dominant male has been seen regularly this month and has been giving us some incredible viewing! With the cooler temperatures during June, he has been more active than normal, and we often get to see him jumping up onto fallen-over trees to scent-mark and advertise his presence.

 

On one occasion, he came over the rise in a clearing to see the interaction between the Mhangene youngsters and the hyena. Fortunately for him, he was far enough away, and they were more interested in one another. So, after a short view of the goings-on, he turned and headed out of the area once again.

 

The sightings of Tlangisa and her cubs have blown hot and cold. She is brilliant at hiding them, but this month she started moving them around more. We would go some time without managing to find her, but when she and the cubs did appear, it made all the waiting worthwhile!

 

The male leopards have been very busy this month and Nyelethi has kept up the pressure on Dewane. After following Dewane for a short while on one occasion, Nyelethi suddenly appeared behind him, without Dewane knowing he was there! After following a short distance, Nyelethi pounced on the unsuspecting Dewane and a massive fight erupted. With Nyelethi’s element of surprise, as well as being younger and stronger, it was inevitable that Dewane would come off second-best! Once the battle was over, Dewane high-tailed it out of the area and, although he has been seen fairly regularly since then, it seems that he has become silent and is not scent-marking any more. Nyelethi, on the other hand, is still very confident and becoming more dominant. For a clip of the fight, click here.

 

Ravenscourt continues his dominance over the majority of the Western Sector, and once again has been seen together with Basile on numerous occasions. However, on the odd occasion they were rudely interrupted by other animals!

 

Every time Ravenscourt is seen, it is an impressive sight and he remains one of the best-viewed leopards.

 

The younger males continue to be nomadic in the sense that they are not challenging for any territory yet and remain below the radar of the big boys. They still remain in the general area where they grew up and we are getting some good views of them. Euphorbia, son of Hukumuri, is still unsure of himself and is initially nervous when the vehicles come upon him. With time, this will change and we are sure that he will relax more.

 

Nweti was always more relaxed to start with, having Hlabankunzi as his mother. Leopard are not very fussy hunters and often supplement their diet with smaller animals such as rodents and birds. On one occasion, we were lucky enough to see him catch a scrub hare that jumped up in front of him.

 

We had a brief view of the wild dog this month, but the alpha female must be close to denning and so they are probably starting to look for a suitable site.

 

The mega-herbivores have been doing well and there are quite a number of young around. We mentioned in the last blog that there were a number of species with young, but one never tires of this.

 

Giraffe have never been abundant in the Sabi Sands, but of late we have been seeing quite a few of them and also a few young here as well. For many people, the giraffe is one of the quintessential species to see, and the first sightings are always breath-taking!

 

We leave you with a pair of male ostriches that were seen for a large part of June. Having not seen them often in the past, it was quite special for us to have regular sightings on our clearings. It seems that the competition for dominance in this area is increasing, as we witnessed these two having a display ‘dance’. Click here for a short video of the dance!

 

Warm regards,

Neil, Natasha and the Savanna Team

Savanna Blog - May 2018

It seems that the month of May was definitely a ‘baby’ month! Although there were a few cubs seen last month, it has definitely continued and even improved. We knew last month that the one Ottawa female had dropped her cubs, but they were too young to come out of the den. On the 10th May they finally made it out and have been providing fantastic viewing since then. 

They are super-relaxed and are already giving the mother a few headaches when she wants to sleep and they need a drink of milk! Their aunt is also not too keen on the new arrivals, and shows them a clean set of teeth if they get too close to her. 

There are also many tender moments that melt our hearts, but remind us that we should not mess with the mother at all! For a short video of the cubs, please click here.

Tlangisa has also brought her two cubs out for the first time this month. She has chosen the same den in the north that she had used the last time and it is just perfect for leopard cubs. There are plenty of rocks to play on and a few very good climbing trees to practise their skills on, yet at the same time plenty of cover for the youngsters. 

As we have mentioned so many times in the past, the attention and care that Tlangisa bestows on her offspring is remarkable. She is still one of the most fantastic mothers we have seen, and the obvious joy she exhibits when playing with the cubs is a privilege to watch.

The hyena den also provided some great viewing during the first few weeks of May. They seemed to have moved during the latter part of May, but hopefully we will find this den soon, as the two cubs are still very young.

Baby elephants are always a major hit and this month we have witnessed quite a few youngsters and some newborn calves that have just managed to get the hang of walking! 

Those who have managed to get full control of all of their limbs, under the watchful eye of the mother, soon become cocky with the Land Rovers and seem to attempt to protect the herd all on their own!

Thanks to the wonderful support of many of the guests and the incredible dedication of our anti-poaching team, as well as the hard work from all of the Sabi Sands staff, our rhino population is well protected. The results are showing and we are privileged to see the next generation flourishing here as well. 

We were even blessed to have a female cheetah and her two youngsters arrive here for a few days! It has been quite a number of years since we have seen a female cheetah, so one can imagine the thrills and excitement during these few days. Unfortunately, they did not stay very long and the few that saw them were very privileged indeed.

When there weren’t any babies involved, quite often the act of making babies was witnessed! This was particularly true of Ravenscourt who was seen mating with Basile on a few occasions. She is definitely ready for a new litter, having lost two litters already. Hopefully, she will soon be able to raise her first litter to adulthood. 

On the lion side, the Majingilane males have all succumbed or disappeared and, as expected, it didn’t take long for the void to be filled. Without the roaring of dominant males, the Matimba males from the east quickly moved west in search of space and females. Although these two brothers are also getting on in life (they are approximately 13 years old) they have taken over the area with confidence. They are strolling around as if it has been theirs all along, and vocalising regularly, as if announcing their presence to the wild. 

They quickly found the Ottawa female with no cubs and wasted no time checking her reproductive status. The Flehmen grimace is used to waft the chemicals found in the urine across the vomaronasal organ, which in turn allows the male to ‘test’ her reproductive readiness. Sadly, as these males are pretty old already, it is very unlikely that they will be able to sire and successfully protect their cubs to independence. 

The remaining nine Mhangene sub-adult lions have continued to surprise us and hold on, despite the odds against them. Although a few of them are looking pretty good, the smaller and weaker ones are still in need of a good meal. They are truly nomadic, moving as far south as the Sabi River and back again. But the good news is that if they get through this, they will truly be a serious pride to contend with!

We mentioned the female cheetah with cubs earlier, but they were not the only new arrivals for May. We seemed to have a sudden influx of new cheetah this month. A new relaxed male pitched up in the south around Savanna, firstly with a young waterbuck kill, and then a few times after that. He is very relaxed and hopefully will stay in this area for good!

However, it didn’t take long for the regular male to pitch up and he was clearly aware that a new male had arrived. He very quickly followed the same routes as the new male, and scent-marked profusely in an attempt to discourage the newcomer. He was always very alert, focusing continuously on his surroundings in case he spotted him. On one occasion, we were fortunate to see the old male take a break from his territorial marking and successfully chase down and catch an adult male impala.

Two young male cheetah who had clearly just become independent also arrived briefly in May. This brought the total number of cheetah seen this month to seven different cheetah! These two youngsters were clearly nervous of their new environment and were initially very skittish of the vehicles. After a short while, however, they relaxed quite significantly. 

With elephant, it is not only the cute young calves that attract all the attention. What makes elephants such remarkable and fascinating creatures is their many similarities to humans. The bulls that are found in small bachelor groups, learning from one another and acting cocky and brave, or the older single mammoths that walk by so close to the vehicle that you can smell them, all make for breath-taking experiences. 

And then you get the huge herds, filled with individuals of all ages, from grandmothers and aunts, through to the various teen years and all the way down to the clumsy calves, learning from their elders. This is very much how we humans used to enjoy the massive family get-togethers over the holidays. Please click here to see a short video of a massive herd of close to 120 elephants!

Of course, the usual leopard viewing has been up to its usual high standard, excluding the cubs! When Basile is not gallivanting with the resident males, she is posing perfectly on large boulders!

Her sister, Khokovela, is also becoming a force to be reckoned with, and has for all intents and purposes completely displaced Xikavi. She is now owning her territory around the river, and is heard vocalising regularly.

After all the pressure Dewane has been under from Ravenscourt and Nyelethi, he is somehow still holding on to a portion of his territory along the river. He is also still looking pretty good, despite some superficial scarring from his battles last month. 

It was also interesting to see Torchwood again after a very long absence. He has settled into his new territory in the concession east of us and has apparently been doing very well. He has obviously grown in confidence and is looking really good! It will be interesting to see how his territory shifts and grows as he gets older and more confident.

Some of our youngsters who have recently become independent have also been giving us some good viewing. Euphorbia has been moving a little further south, away from his mother Hukumuri’s territory. He is now two and a half and filling out well. He was seen recently with a duiker kill hoisted in a large Marula tree.

Tlangisa’s young independent daughter, Sasekile, has been seen a few times in the north. It is a long way to get up to the area she frequents, so it is seldom that we find her, but when we make the trip north it is always worth it. Being the daughter of Tlangisa, she is extremely playful as well, and loves running up and down large trees.

As always, the viewing of the general game has been just as great. When stopping to sit with some of the more common species, one always finds something special, such as mating hippo, an impala catching a ray of sunshine or a posing journey of giraffe!

And then there are the rare animals which often excite the guides more than the guests! Guests that return, however, have usually learnt which of these are seldom seen, and share in our excitement. One of these species is the Serval which was seen late afternoon one day and was especially relaxed! We spent quite some time with it as it hunted in the long grass. 

Summer is more known for birds while all the migrants are here, but we have been blessed with some incredible sightings lately. The birds shown below are a Spotted Eagle-Owl, an African Openbill, the stunning Lilac-breasted Roller and two Malachite Kingfishers. A rare sighting of an Ostrich was also enjoyed by all.

The work in the community continues to flourish, together with the support of our guests, as well as hard work and dedication from community members. For an update on our community projects, have a look at this link

If you would like create a beautiful memoir of your trip to Africa, we now have photobooks with a Savanna template available on our website at www.savannalodge.com.

After an incredible journey at Savanna over the past 24 years, Paddy has finally decided to take a break from full-time guiding and retired as of this month. Paddy played an important part in the start of Savanna and put his heart and soul into the lodge. Although he will be sorely missed, his sun has not set, and he fortunately will be returning regularly to visit and remain an important part of the Savanna family. 

He has also just published his second incredible book and, for a preview of the new book, please click here. If you would like to order a copy, please contact Molly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

With warm wishes,

Neil, Natasha and the Savanna Team

 

Savanna Blog - April 2018

As the animals prepare for the long winter ahead, we will see a huge change in the bush over the coming months. The grass gets lower and the smaller pans that hold water throughout the summer slowly begin to disappear. The bush starts to thin out and animals are forced to move towards the river and larger dams to quench their thirst.

The Mhangene sub-adults have been learning how to survive without their mothers, as they have still not returned to the youngsters, and it definitely seems permanent now. It has been a tough time for the young lions as they continue to struggle to hunt the large prey that they need to survive. One of the young males died mid-way through the month from a lack of food.

Two of the sub-adult females are still missing from the pride, although one is believed to be back with her mother. The other was seen with the Ximungwe pride earlier in the month. They were actually seen together ‘sharing’ a kill where the Ximungwe females  seemed  almost submissive or protective over the young Mhangene female. Have a look here at a video of the three fighting off some hyena at the kill! They spent five days together before the Ottawa pride chased all three out of the north.

The nine sub-adults that remain together managed to kill a large female buffalo during the month. This was a great boost to the pride, as they were starting to look worse for wear. Watch the video here, but a warning that it is not for sensitive viewers.

The young Ottawa male is growing quickly. With the death of all three Majingilane males over the past couple of months and no sign of larger males moving into the area yet, the young male has stepped into the dominant male role. Although still too young to take over the territory, if given the opportunity there, he will gladly take the easy way to the top.

There have been many changes in territories of the large male leopards over the past month. The most noticeable is that Dewane has been under huge pressure from both Ravenscourt and Nyelethi. He was seen having very intense territorial battles with both males at the beginning of the month and Ravenscourt has moved right into the heart of Dewane’s territory. After a short fight along the river, they parted ways with Dewane looking worse than Ravenscourt. 

Shortly after the attack from Ravenscourt, Dewane was found with a large male impala kill in the Mabrak, close to where Khokovela was keeping her cubs. Nyelethi was quick to find him and was far more interested in Dewane than the impala carcass. After a few minutes of growling and sizing each other up, Nyelethi made his move. Have a look at the incredible fight here

Khokovela’s cubs were seen briefly at the start of the month, but with the huge pressure being put on Dewane, the father of the cubs, Nyelethi unfortunately killed them when they were only eight weeks old. Khokovela was seen trying to mate with Nyelethi towards the end of the month, as he now seems to be the more dominant male in her territory.

Ravenscourt has been our best viewing leopard again this month. We have been able to follow him through his many patrols of the area and view his behaviour throughout the month. His territory seems to have expanded northwards towards the river, taking up most of Dewane’s old territory. As Ravenscourt’s territory grows, he is spending far less time around the southern parts of the property. This is an exciting opportunity for new younger males to expand their territory to fill this gap.

Scotia has given us a few incredible sightings this month, as she has been moving her cubs from her original den westwards towards the central parts of the property. As the cubs approach eight weeks, she has started to move them more regularly as she makes kills further from the den site.

Boulders has been seen in the central parts of the property quite regularly this month, as she starts to feel the pressure from younger females around her. Over the past few years she has had the sole use of the central parts of the property, but with the emergence of the Kelly Dam female, Basile, Khokovela and Ntoma, she has been feeling the pressure from all sides. She has thus been actively patrolling and marking over the past month, affording us great viewing. 

The young Euphorbia male is growing into a beautiful leopard, and at two and a half years old he has been exploring new boundaries and territories outside his father Nyelethi’s territory. We have seen him on one occasion with Scotia, following her with the presumed intention of stealing one of her kills.

The very successful hyena clan in the south has been rather active in the past month. They have re-established a den in the central parts of the property, giving us great viewing of two very young hyena cubs. These cubs are predominantly black within the first six to eight weeks, and will only start developing the typical hyena spots after three months.

The two packs of wild dogs have been using the property throughout the month, giving us incredible viewing of their activities. The Sand River pack chased a herd of waterbuck into Georgie’s Dam right in front of the lodge, and they managed to surround a very young calf in the middle of the dam. This, however, is exactly how waterbuck evade predators, and after what seemed like an eternity for the dogs, they grew impatient and moved off in search of the large herd of impala in the area. The young waterbuck managed to escape out of the dam and join a large male waterbuck for protection. In the end, the pack managed to pull down a large male impala.

On a second occasion, they chased an impala ram, which also chose to run into a dam in a last-minute attempt to avoid the very successful wild dogs. Unfortunately for him, he chose a large dam filled with crocodile and hippo. Initially, the impala was killed by a large crocodile, but the latter was quickly harassed by the many hippo in the dam, so he relinquished his kill. Hippo are herbivores, but they have been known to eat meat when it is available. A fascinating tug of war and battle over the impala remains ensued, leaving the wild dog and hyena on the bank wondering about what could have been.

There has been a large influx of elephant into the Western part of the Sabi Sands this month. As the water becomes harder to find and the food is concentrated in a smaller area, the elephants move together in search of the same resources. With the large breeding herds come many young calves, providing us with hours of entertainment. Their antics are a firm favourite with guests and staff alike! And with the large herd of females inevitably come the large bulls in musth. Elephant bulls have a similar cycle to females, which results in increased levels of testosterone, and can last anything from three days to three months! 

As winter approaches, we get to view our animals in the most spectacular light and this is a photographer’s paradise. The bush and soil get drier and the animals, vehicles and wind kick up dust which rises into the air, creating a much softer light. The ‘golden hour’ for photographers becomes longer and the quality of the photographs just gets better. 

For the latest updates from the work done outside the reserve with our community projects, please have a look here. Also, a reminder that if you want to keep up to date with our video clips, subscribe to our YouTube Channel here.

 

Warm regards,

The Savanna Family

 

Savanna Blog - October 2017

October was definitely the month for wild dog. Besides having the alpha female with her pups providing fantastic viewing almost constantly, the beta female also dropped a litter of pups! The den was initially only moved a few hundred metres from the original den, but the access to the den was perfect and the guests who were here at the time were blessed with fantastic sightings!

 

The dogs then decided to move the den again, this time much further south, and more central in our concession. The actual den was a rocky outcrop along a dry   riverbed, which was used both for protection as well as for a jungle gym!

The twice-daily hunting forays continue from the den and this, too, is a fantastic time to be with the dogs. The promise of excitement and action is tangible and it is just a matter of time before chaos erupts.

It is usually a hunt that gets the adrenalin flowing, and it is not only the Land Rovers that follow a hunting pack of wild dog. Hyenas, too, follow the strong scent of wild dog, hoping to find the scraps left by the highly successful pack. But occasionally they get too close to the pack of dogs, who display exceptional teamwork and tenacity to hound and harass the hyena. They try to protect themselves by backing up into a bush, or into water until they manage to get a gap to escape or the dogs lose interest!

The tactic to follow the scent of other predators does, however, pay off very often for the hyena. On a few occasions, we have found hyena with the spoils of rather large kills on which they could feast for some time! Hyena will often drag the excess meat from a kill and hide it by submerging it in water. On this occasion, however, it merely dragged it through the water and continued dragging it deeper into the brush. Why it did this is unclear, but perhaps it just wanted to wash the extra blood and scent off the carcass, before hiding it in a gully.

Often they will take scraps back to a den where little hungry mouths wait for food, but if it is too far to go, or if the mother came up empty-handed, milk is a fantastic substitute! In fact, milk is a very important source of calcium for the young, and hyena nurse much longer than similar carnivores, and will often do so for between 12 and 18 months, compared to lion and leopard that will seldom nurse longer than 6 months.

Other than following the scent of the predators, hyena often locate kills by the alarm calls or distress calls made by the prey when a kill has taken place. It is therefore imperative that the kill is made as quickly and as quietly as possible. This was not the case when we actually located Ravenscourt in the act of killing a large warthog boar. Due to the size of the warthog, he could not risk asphyxiating the warthog (cutting off the air supply) because of the large tusks, but instead had to go for the chest cavity. Fortunately for Ravenscourt, there was obviously no hyena in hearing distance, as the distress calls from the warthog were loud and continued for some time. Although this is a vey distressing kill to witness, one needs to remember that it is literally a fight for survival and Ravenscourt himself could easily have been killed by the powerful warthog if he made a mistake. In the end, he succeeded and had a supply of meat for the next two days, so the reward was clearly worth the risk.

But as always with Ravenscourt, it is not always about food! For a few days early in October, he was seen together with Xikavi, who is back in the mating game! With Mondzo now properly independent, she is mating again, and will hopefully succeed again, having successfully raised her first cub.

Having lost her cub last month, Scotia is on her own again, and moving about a bit more. We have seen her with numerous kills, and she is often seen hoisting them into trees to avoid other predators. 

Tlangisa’s two young daughters are really settling well into their respective territories. Basile seems to be developing or settling a little quicker than Khokovela and, having lost one litter already, was seen mating with Dewane again this month. She is maturing quickly and has also relaxed completely around the vehicles. When they were young, Basile was much more nervous than Khokovela, so her change suggests that she is much more confident in herself now.

Khokovela, although seeming to develop more slowly than Basile, has been doing very well. Part of her slower development might be the result of older, more dominant females such as Xikavi being in close proximity to her. Basile seems to have taken over from the Dam 3 female, who disappeared some time ago, indicating she had no competition. It has been different for Khokovela, but she now too seems to be gaining in confidence.

Dewane is seen regularly on his territorial marches and is still in fantastic condition! Understandably, he is concentrating his movements around the river where habitat and food availability are much better at this time of the year.

The youngsters have also been making their presence known this month. Mondzo is still sticking around in the area where he grew up, but is not seen together with his mother Xikavi much at all. He is now two and a half years old and moving around quite a bit, but interestingly has an unusually comfortable relationship with his father, Dewane. There seems to be very little aggression from Dewane’s side, and he is putting no obvious pressure on Mondzo to move yet. We shall see how long this lasts!

Nweti (which means ‘Moon’) is Hlabankunzi’s young male, who has also been independent for some time now. He is slightly older than Mondzo, and at just under three, is also moving about more. He has ventured a little further from where he grew up, and has been seen in the west a couple of times. We had a great sighting of him when he had caught and killed a sub-adult impala ram. As young leopards often do, he ‘played’ with it for a while, practising how to drag it up into a tree, and then dropping it! This he repeated a couple of times, until a hyena arrived and he had to take things a little more seriously!

We also had a brief visit from Hukumuri’s young male, who has just turned two.  He too had a kill hoisted in a marula tree, giving us great views of this young leopard we see so rarely.

The Ntoma female, who is the independent daughter of Mobeni, seems to have taken over the territory in the southern parts of the western sector. She is now just under four years old (born in January 2014), but like her mother is very shy and we do not often see her. Hopefully, in time, she will learn to relax around vehicles as her confidence in her new territory develops.

The Mhangene pride seems to have settled well in the west and have been a constant source of viewing! This is probably due to the constant presence of the large herd of buffalo. As soon the herd moves, it is inevitable that the lions will follow. But in the meantime, we love spending some fantastic time with this impressive pride.

At one point, one of the adult females moved off with a Majingilane male for a few days. Although they were seen mating a few times, it is unlikely that she was ready for a new litter, and was probably in a state of false oestrus. She did not seem all that happy with the male’s presence, and she returned to the pride a few days later.

The elephant numbers have been fluctuating quite substantially this month. There were times when the breeding herds were around every corner, and then times when only a few bulls could be found in and around waterholes. The heat is rising and daily visits to the water sources are needed to quench their thirst and have a cooling mud bath!

One of the factors that determine elephant distribution within the reserve is food quality and availability and hence the concentration of elephant is mainly in and around waterholes. As soon as the big rains come, and the grass quality improves, we are bound to see an increase in elephant numbers, as well as a more even distribution across the concession. We were very excited to have our first good rains in the middle of the month, causing a burst of growth in the vegetation. This came, courtesy of a very impressive thunderstorm in the early evening, and it was fantastic to experience the power of such a storm. We look forward to some follow-up rain soon!

Although there are quite a few water sources drying up quickly, there are still some dams with good water levels. These allow for some great hippo viewing, and some guests were fortunate to see a mating pair! On another occasion a cheeky hamerkop (in the heron family) chose to use a hippo as a perch to fish from!

Our resident male cheetah continues his regular visits. A few years ago, there were two different males who used to come through this area, but we have not seen the second one now for some time. Since then our current male seems to be more settled in the area, and has worked out his favourite spots and routes he likes to follow. We mentioned his tree that he likes in the last blog, and we have an almost identical photo of him in the same tree this month!

Competition in this time of plenty is hotting up. The jostling for dominance and territory among the males is seen regularly and the different techniques used varies between species. The nyala male does an extravagant, slow motion ‘dance’ where the two males stand side by side and make themselves look as big as possible, raising all the hair on their backs. Actual contact is rare and the winner is usually decided without any risk of injury.

Impala actually do lock horns and, although not quite the season for them, these two young males thought it would be good to start practising for when it is more serious! They will also have some memory of who was stronger and bigger when the time comes to fight for the much sought-after territory.

Birds too are in the throws of the breeding season. Some are gathering nesting material in preparation, such as this red-billed oxpecker, while the African hoopoe is already bringing food to hungry chicks (they often nest in holes in the ground). And then there is the inevitable free-loader, even in the wild! The cuckoo is a renowned brood parasite, where it kicks the egg out of an unsuspecting host, and quickly lays its own egg, leaving the host to raise its chick. This Diederik cuckoo has food in its mouth, but does not have any young to look after and will selfishly eat it all!

We have also had some great sightings of some of the larger, more impressive birds! The Southern ground hornbill is listed as ‘vulnerable’ and there are only an estimated 600-700 birds in Kruger, which has the majority population in South Africa. The Tawny eagle is one of our large resident eagles and is often seen feeding on substantial prey. Owls are always a real highlight for many guests, and to see the largest Verreaux’s Eagle-owl during the daytime is extra special.

 

The one constant on safari are the vistas: big open spaces with even bigger skies. It is in these moments that we forget our First World problems, the daily stress of the rat race, and for once feel part of something bigger... a natural system. And it is here that we recharge completely…

Savanna Blog - September 2017

September is usually the driest month of the year, as quite often our first rains only come in October. This means that the visibility is best, as the grass is short and thin, and the leaves from the deciduous trees have not yet started sprouting. It is one of the favourite times of the year for most guests, as the game viewing is at its optimum, and September this year was no exception.

One of the highlights was the almost continuous presence of the Mhangene pride, which as usual has been following the large herd of buffalo. Due to the general lack of grazing and dependence on good water sources, the buffalo have also been camping in the south where the best grazing is.

Within the herd there are also some very impressive huge bulls, which would normally cause some hesitation for the lions when it comes to attempting to hunt buffalo.

But this does not seem to deter the Mhangene pride at all, with 16 members needing to feed on large mammals regularly! It has even become quite common for them to catch more than one buffalo at a time. On one occasion, they caught an adult cow, as well as a year-old calf, about 100m apart. Even one of the Majingilane males seemed hesitant to try and get mixed up in the feeding frenzy!

After a large meal, usually the first thing they do is find some water. This is a photographer’s dream - to have a large pride drinking in a row - and the Mhangene pride does this quite often.

The pride consists of four adult females, nine sub-adult males and three sub-adult females, varying between 13 and 18 months old. With the good and consistent meals provided by the four mothers, the condition of the sub-adults is incredible, and the young males in particular are growing very fast. It is already obvious that this will be a formidable coalition if they all survive and stay together!

The Majingilane coalition continues to hold on to their dominance in the Western Sector. On quite a few occasions they moved much further east, demonstrating that they are still confident, and although they are getting old, are in good condition. They have remained with the Ottawa pride quite a lot this month since the pride lost the younger cubs, hoping to sire a new litter as well as score a free meal!

One of the other highlights for the month involved Ravenscourt. One of the greatest privileges we have as both guides and guests is the opportunity to witness and experience nature in its wildest and truest form. This was particularly true the morning we found Ravenscourt lying on a termite mound. He was clearly waiting for a warthog to emerge, and when it did he was on it in a flash. An epic battle ensued, as is normally the case with warthog, as they are so tough. It always takes a while to kill, due the very thick neck, but the leopard needs to do this as quickly as possible. For Ravenscourt, this unfortunately took too long and the distress calls made by the warthog inevitably attracted two hyenas. Ravenscourt knew it was fruitless trying to hold onto his kill, and abandoned it immediately, but to the hyenas’ surprise, the warthog was not dead, and jumped up and rushed at the hyena! This caught them off-guard, and they backed away from the charging warthog, giving it a chance to make it back to the termite mound and safety!

For some inexplicable reason, the warthog did not run deep into the middle of the mound, but instead stayed at the entrance, trying to fight off the hyena, which had now regained their composure, and were trying to get at the warthog. Unfortunately for the warthog, they managed to get their incredibly powerful jaws on it, and dragged it out. At least they managed to finish the warthog off quickly.

Ravenscourt remains one of the best viewing leopards, being seen regularly, and he almost always chooses a good place to rest, even when completely exhausted from his long territorial boundary checks.

Scotia came across west a little more often in September, and brought her cub to a number of kills in the Western Sector. She has remained an extremely relaxed female, and her cub showed the exact same temperament around the vehicles, allowing some incredible viewing. Sadly, toward the end of the month, the Mhangene pride found and killed the cub.

Khokovela seems to be moving quite a bit further south these days, and is often seen south of the river. She is pushing further and further into Xikavi’s territory and it is going to be very interesting to see how this develops. She is very much like her mother, Tlangisa, giving fantastic viewing on a regular basis.

Dewane is his usual constant self. There is still some territorial battling going on between him and Ravenscourt, and it is great to watch the conflict between the young exuberance of Ravenscourt, compared to the steely resolve of the ‘old dog’. Dewane is still commanding the better territory, while Ravenscourt has the biggest.

Since the pack of wild dog came onto our concession last month, they actually moved the den into the north and we have been having constant viewing of them. The alpha female’s pups are starting to run with the pack on the odd hunting excursion, and learning how the pack dynamics work.

The adults, as always, spend a lot of time strengthening the bonds within the pack, through playful fighting and chasing. The energetic levels of the wild dogs are unrivalled and legendary. They can make a full chase for over two km at 60 km per hour, and then still have energy for play after the kill!

The male cheetah has also been making regular visits into the West. It is always amazing to see how he follows very similar routes every time he does his patrols. He has a number of favourite termite mounds to rest on and fallen-over trees on which he ‘picks up other scent messages’ and leaves some of his own! Who of you have pictures of him on any of these tree stumps?

We have been having some spectacular elephant viewing, particularly of the large bulls close to the camp. They have been enjoying daily visits to Georgie’s dam and feeding constantly on the round-leaved teak, which grows in abundance close to Savanna. They are also a constant source of viewing to the guests during the day, in between drives. Click here for a short clip of two bulls play-fighting at one of the waterholes.

The hyena population also seems to be healthy, and most likely has been boosted by the presence of the Mhangene pride. There is suddenly a large source of food available to them, thanks to the large carcasses left by the pride.

The general game has also been consistently good throughout the dry season. This is particularly true down in the south, where the good grazing has sustained better numbers of wildebeest and zebra than we have seen for some time.

The seasons are changing fast now, with the temperatures and the humidity on the rise. The clouds are also starting to build up in the late afternoons, which provide spectacular effects for the sunsets. With no rain, however, the dust still lingers, and also allows for some good photographic images.

We leave you this month with some images of the often-overlooked birdlife which, with the approaching summer, is going to get even better!

Please also have a look here at all the latest updates from our community programs!

 

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