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Game viewing through February was excellent with frequent sightings of lions and leopards, with numerous kills.
Despite low camp occupancy and therefore fewer entries into the sightings register, all the Big Five were seen regularly. Wild dogs were more active in the general area, perhaps a bit later than usual for the summer, but none the less they were seen every other day.
General game sightings included blue wildebeest, zebra, impala, kudu, nyala, grey duiker, steenbok, hyena, side-striped jackal, spring hare and porcupine.
The birders noted a great mixed bag of Red-crested Korhaan, Temminck’s Courser, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Ground Hornbill, Saddle-billed Stork, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Eurasian Hobby, Verreaux’s Eagle- Owl, and Little Sparrowhawk.
Game viewing was excellent for the reporting period. The bulk of the Big Five sightings were lions, leopards and breeding herds of elephants. There were several lion kills, with the lionesses seen often near Third Crossing on Buffelsbed, protecting their young cubs.
The elephant cow that has a hole in her forehead appeared as usual this summer, when this herd extends its range from the KNP. The trend that the elephant breeding herds are more plentiful on Ingwelala during the summer continues. Leopard sightings were considerably up when compared month on month. Disappointingly, the buffalo numbers dropped off, their dispersal most likely due to the regional improvement of grazing conditions.
Wild dogs were seen along the tar road.
General game sightings reported included impala, kudu, nyala, grey duiker, steenbok, hyena, side-striped jackal, spring hare and porcupine.
Very few birds were noted in the sightings register, but those mentioned were Ground Hornbill, African Spoonbill, Black Stork and White-headed Vulture.
Big Five sightings continued to be excellent with the lions active on buffalo kills and three young cubs seen frequently near Third Crossing on Buffelsbed. Leopard sightings were fewer than anticipated, perhaps a factor of improved concealment with the bush eventually thickening up?
There was only one sighting of wild dogs, which is disappointing as the dogs are usually very active in summer, coinciding with the impala lambing.
General game sightings recorded were hippo, impala, kudu, nyala, bush buck, grey duiker, steenbok, hyena, giraffe, zebra, blue wildebeest, waterbuck, genet, spring hare and honey badger. A crocodile was seen in Camp Dam.
The Birders listed Fish Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, European Bee-eater, Ground Hornbill, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Jacobin Cuckoo, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Spur-winged Goose, African Spoonbill, Black Stork, Marabou Stork, Woolly-necked Stork, Saddle-billed Stork, Bronze-winged Courser, Hadeda and Eurasian Hobby.
General recruitment in the overall impala population is high – estimated at 30% plus, so no ill-effects on the population fecundity following the drought.
General buffalo (body) condition is recovering slowly, to gain body mass, and the fragmented herds (drought effect) are regrouping into their original herd configurations.
There are newly born lion cubs in the northern reaches of Buffelsbed.
There are newly born leopard cubs on Argyle.
Although the veld looks impressively “green” the nutritional value for grazers remains at the lower end. Plenty of monocotyledons and unpalatable pioneer plants are dominating the biomass to stabilise the recent bare soils. This is a natural process and requires no man intervention. A lot more rain is needed to support the palatable grasses out-competing the pioneers.
It was the month of lions for the bulk of Big Five sightings. The lions (mostly nine of them) made several buffalo kills and continued their behaviour of abandoning carcasses part eaten to make a fresh kill. On one occasion, they killed two buffalo near Vuka Ingwe and only fed on the one carcass.
The large buffalo herds seem to fragment during the drought and appears remaining this way until the grass vigour improves. Elephant and leopard sightings were less plentiful than previous months. An elephant calf dependant on its mother got separated from the herd. It was captured in Camp, relocated to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species facility near Kapama, and is reported to be doing very well.
General game sightings were hippo, impala, kudu, nyala, hyena, giraffe, zebra and waterbuck.
Birds noted were Martial Eagle, Ground Hornbill, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Scarlet-chested Cuckoo, Hooded Vulture, African Pygmy Kingfisher and a rare sighting of an ostrich on Argyle. A pair of Greater Painted-snipes were seen at Third Crossing.
The lack of grazing and browse biomass at the peak of the nutritional “bottle neck” in October caused most animals to move further afield in search of food. This is an advantage in unfenced areas where animals can move great distances in search of the basic requirements of food, water and shelter.
Species that found true hardship were hippo, buffalo, waterbuck and warthog. Thus, the sightings book in Reception was not overly populated with entries of sightings. In terms of the Big Five, leopards were seen frequently, perhaps an indication of them being more mobile and moving around more in search of prey, rendering them more visible? Lions were seen on only three occasions, a huge contrast to frequency of sightings in previous months. There were very few buffalo and elephant sightings, and no rhinos.
General game sightings were hippo, Sharpe’s Grysbok, Impala, Kudu, Nyala, warthog, klipspringer, genet, porcupine, honey badger, civet, hyena, side-striped jackal (lactating) and the less common spring hare.
A single cheetah was seen at Deadwood Pan, always a special sighting on Ingwelala as the habitat is generally a bit dense for their requirements.
Birds noted were Martial Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Spotted Eagle Owl, Ground Hornbill, African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Stork, White-backed Vulture, Hooded Vulture and Yellow-breasted Apalis.
Look out for the Woodlands Kingfisher arriving this month! At the time of writing the cuckoos are becoming increasingly mobile and vocal as they set about courting and looking for host nests to parasitize.
Leopard sightings have been excellent, a young adult female seen frequently in camp and heard calling most nights. She seems to be targeting the guineafowls that roost in the trees in the Workshop, so once again, be vigilant in the Workshop area after working hours when the human presence is less.
Elephant sightings have dropped off, no doubt the drought conditions forcing the animals to disperse and range further for food resources. Large buffalo herds (100 plus) continue to be seen on a regular basis, and attract a lot of attention from the lions as mentioned. 25 hyenas ganged up against 9 lions on a buffalo kill and successfully drove the lions off their kill. The lions having involuntary abandoned their meal tried unsuccessfully to kill another buffalo in the immediate vicinity. Lots of wonderful sightings and interaction between the predators.
Due to all the predator activity, the sightings book was not well represented with the more general game sightings, but thank you to those who mentioned seeing waterbuck, honey badger, zebra, porcupine and hippo. Sadly, one hippo died from a territorial fight at Aloe Ridge.
Wild dogs were seen at Timbavati Crossing, two spring hares on Buffelsbed and a cheetah on Argyle, these are the rare and interesting sightings.
Birds noted were Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Ground Hornbill, Southern White-faced Owl, Little Sparrowhawk, Yellow-billed Stork and Yellow-billed Oxpecker.
When viewing the content of this Reserve Report, it is clear that game sightings have been very interesting over the past few months. The drought conditions continue to influence game movement and behaviour very strongly, accentuated by the fact that availability of food resources is decreasing exponentially. The larger buffalo herds have fragmented into smaller groups, the lions targeting buffalos, making their kills, feeding briefly before moving on in search of another fresh meal.
A perspective was a personal sighting one evening of four leopards and nine lions at the causeway water. The leopards and lions were all there at the same time, not different individuals coming and going. The leopards were within a 200 metre radius of each other, the lions were bunched together on the eastern bank, lazing around, within spitting distance of the closest leopard.
Lions killed a buffalo outside Bungalow # 39, currently undertaking alterations. For (human) safety reasons Mark Shaw pulled the buffalo carcass into the river. The lions made no effort to unite and re-establish themselves on the kill. The female leopard that was eventually euthanased, scavenged off the carcass during the mid-day.
The elephants were in camp for 28 nights of the month, and on one reconnaissance at first light I counted another 13 bulls on the periphery of camp, in various groupings. No doubt the camp vegetation is like a green oasis to the elephants, some brave enough to bear the shock of the fence, others lingering on the outside hoping for an opportunity to enter.
Entries in the sightings book reflect crocodile, civet, serval, porcupine, honey badger, African wild cat, genet, waterbuck, zebra, blue wildebeest, kudu, bushbuck, giraffe, grey duiker, steenbok, warthog, hyena and hippo.
There was a rare sighting of an aardvark on Serengeti.
One hippo death from natural causes, most likely malnutrition from the drought.
Buffalos continue to lose condition due to the drought, three carcasses reported with no signs of predation as the cause of death.
Birds noted were Pied Barbet, Ground Hornbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Spoonbill and melanistic form Gabar Goshawk.
Predator sightings have been excellent, a pride of lions fragmenting and joining, between 7 and 11, making several buffalo kills have provided outstanding Big Five viewing. At one buffalo kill, 9 lions and 9 hyenas, went about their respective predator roles and purpose, reiterating their niche hierarchy and no love for one another! The nights have been filled with the lions territorial roaring and hyena cackling and giggling.
A large male leopard has been active in camp, especially along the banks of the Nhlaralumi, also very vocal, calling and scent marking most nights. The cool crisp winter air accentuates these bush calls, what a wonderful place to be, surrounded by all this action.
Buffalo herds ranged on Ingwelala, the largest herd numbering about 100 animals. It is also interesting to observe that because of the drought, the large buffalo herds have fragmented into smaller groups, less immediate grazing competition, smaller water bodies to drink at, more mobility to access areas usually avoided and more difficult detection from predators because a smaller group is quieter? These adaptations are very interesting to observe.
The ratio of elephant bulls to small breeding herds is also a point of further interest where at this time of the year the bulls usually outnumber breeding herds, but this is not the case, with breeding herd sightings remaining plentiful.
The sightings register in Reception was frequently visited (thank you to its contributors!) listing crocodile, civet, spring hare, scrub hare, porcupine, honey badger, African wild cat, genet, waterbuck, zebra, blue wildebeest, impala, kudu, nyala, bushbuck, giraffe, grey duiker, steenbok, warthog and side striped jackal (with a pup). 5, 4 and 1 wild dogs were seen on separate occasions.
Birds noted were Grey Heron, Ground Hornbill, Marabou Stork, Yellow-billed Stork and Saddle-billed Stork.
There have been fantastic lion sightings, several of these with buffalo kills close to roads for excellent viewing opportunities. Most nights have been filled with the sound of lions roaring which is always an awesome reminder of how special the bush really is.
Leopard activity in camp has also been substantial, and vocal too! Members in Bungalow #107 had the pleasure of a leopard sighting outside their bedroom window on a cloudy morning just after sunrise. The leopard literally brushed past the window, and peered in while they sipped their coffees. What a start to any day!
Entries in the sightings register were not plentiful through June, but this is not a true reflection on the actual sightings. Elephants (including breeding herds) and buffalo were seen regularly when monitoring sightings called in on the radio.
4 wild dogs were seen together on several occasions.
Other mammal species noted were spring hare, porcupine, waterbuck (plenty waterbuck around), honey badger, zebra, serval and Sharpe’s grysbok.
Birds noted were Martial Eagle, Fish Eagle, Vultures, and Woolly-necked Stork.
It was a very quiet month in terms of anecdotes entered into the Reception sightings book. However, the Big Five prospered with plenty of leopard and lion activity. The lions in particular drew significant interest and provided spectacular sightings. These included several kills in close proximity to roads and good viewing vantages.
Sadly, three young cubs, still suckling, all succumbed during the reporting period. Hind quarter paralysis set in amongst all three in a close enough time frame. Two of the carcasses were handed over to the State Vet for autopsy and further blood analysis. The test results for Rabies have confirmed negative, which is a huge relief. In discussion with the State Vet, both autopsies showed muscle necrosis (muscle damage). This is usually a result of stress, and in this case appears to be from malnutrition. The cubs were of an age being weaned from suckling to ingesting solids, and at these early stages of diet progression may have had limited access to regular healthy lion food. Intra species competition is extremely high amongst lions which results in high cub mortality. Examples of other tests are for Distemper and Parvovirus.
Hippos are moving vast distances in search of suitable grazing, and intra species competition may drive them into areas that are traditionally avoided. Such areas can include more rocky terrain (avoided because of their softer feet) and courser grassed areas they find less palatable. It can also happen that moving longer distances from their daily water hideouts will sometimes prevent them from returning daily to their water points (energy conservation). In these cases they lay up in shady thickets. Their state of sleepy slumber in these carefully chosen thickets creates the impression that they are perhaps not well or injured, but generally it is a case of conserving energy and choosing more grazing time over water time. Bear in mind the sun is less intense at this time of the year, so they can tolerate a day or two away from water.
Wild dogs have also been on the hunt, wrestling their spoils from marauding hyenas, it’s a tough and competitive arena out there!
General sightings listed include side-striped jackal, giraffe, kudu, zebra, impala, nyala, African wild cat, and porcupine.
Birds noted in the register were African Fish Eagle, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Saddle-billed Stork, White Stork, Great Egret, Green-backed Heron, Egyptian Goose and melanistic form Gabar Goshawk.
Amongst the Big Five sightings, the cats certainly dominated the sightings register. It is fantastic to see a pride of 14 lions on Ingwelala, especially the new recruit cubs, who always provide the human viewer much joy and amusement through their playfulness. Leopard sightings remain outstanding, a number of these producing fresh impala kills hoisted into trees. Elephant sightings continue to be a mixed bag of breeding herds and bulls, this ratio should change through the dry winter when the breeding herds range over larger areas following water courses. The bulls remain in the mopane veld. Buffalo sightings were fewer with only one large herd of 150 noted in the sightings book. The late March rains produced some surface water in the veld and this is the likely cause of game dispersal.
Wild dog sightings varied from 6 to 15 in a pack.
General sightings included hippo (x7 at Farm House), spotted hyena, side-striped jackal, waterbuck, giraffe, kudu, zebra, impala, nyala, bushbuck, Sharpe’s grysbok, grey duiker, steenbok, klipspringer, African wild cat, civet, honey badger, genet and porcupine.
A short list of birds noted in the register were African Fish Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Saddle-billed Stork, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Ground Hornbill and Temminck’s Courser.
Game sightings appeared to run “hot and cold” with moments of wildlife bliss and then just as suddenly isolated reports of fresh dung mentioned in the sightings register.
Despite this mosaic movement, the lion sightings were generally pleasing, with 10 lions seen on at least three occasions and pride fragments in between. An almost devoured zebra carcass attracted three spotted hyenas to chase off two lionesses and lay claim to the rotting spoils. Leopards were seen most days and on two different afternoons five different leopard sightings were called in, in the space of under four hours. There was a good balance between elephant breeding herds and groups of bulls. The relative late rains may well result in the breeding herds ranging in the mopane veld for longer than usual at this time of the year, especially with the available ground water in the river bed. Buffalo sightings declined with previous months comparisons, the largest herd estimated at about 150 individuals. Up to 16 wild dogs were seen regularly on all the properties and along Argyle Road.
General sightings included hippo, waterbuck, giraffe, kudu, blue wildebeest, zebra, impala, nyala, Sharpe’s grysbok, grey duiker, steenbok, African wild cat, civet, spring hare, honey badger, porcupine, water monitor and crocodile.
Bird species seen were Fish Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Little Sparrow-hawk, Ground Hornbill, Saddle-billed Stork, African Open-bill and Acacia Pied Barbet. Of real interest was a surprise visit from a Trumpeter Hornbill, a lone character that appeared to be blown off course!
Plenty of tortoises ventured onto the roads with the rains, lapping from the puddles which form.