On Safari at Savanna in South Africa
Often at Adventure World we receive emails from our partners throughout Africa updating us on the latest wildlife sightings in their area and keeping us informed with what the animals in their reserves have been up to. Our friends at Savanna Private Game Reserve
, situated in the Sabi Sand near Kruger National Park, have just sent us an update on what happened in the reserve throughout the month of June along with some amazing photos. Enjoy…
June has come and gone in a blink of an eye, and we have passed the half-way mark of the year. The days are getting longer, but the temperatures still remain relatively low. Having said that, we have not really had much of a winter yet, with the days maintaining comfortable warmth and the nights slipping to a snug minimum. The bush is drying out rapidly, though, and grass levels are diminishing fast. Smaller dams are drying up and the Sand River itself is remarkably low. This all indicates that, although the seasons have turned, it is still promising to be a very long dry season ahead.
Much of the activity is starting to concentrate around water sources. The large herd of buffalo creates a swirl of dust as they rush in unison to quench their thirst.
Other animals, too, are regularly seen drinking at dams and rivers, such as elephants, giraffe, wildebeest and hyena.
Every opportunity is taken to replenish liquid that has been lost to the dry and dusty landscape.
And then there is always still some enjoyment to be had at water holes. The regular swimming and the antics of elephant, in particular the bulls, always provides great amusement and pleasure to those of us privileged to witness it.
The trials and tribulations of the predators continued through June, and the sightings of leopard have been nothing short of spectacular. At the beginning of the month, Tassleberry and her cub were found near Nkombe Dam after the sound of some hyenas stealing their kill drew our attention towards them. Tassleberry was relaxing beautifully on a fallen marula tree, and not too far from her the cub was resting on a termite mound. Both the mother and the cub were becoming quite relaxed with the vehicles.
But just as things were looking up for them, the young Ravenscourt male found and killed the cub just outside the camp. Infanticide (killing of young by a member of the same species) accounts for over 40% of all cub mortalities, so although this was sad to witness, it is not that unusual in nature. She would have learnt some valuable lessons from rearing this cub, and hopefully she will be more successful with her next litter.
As always, where there are lows, there follow the inevitable highs. Xikavi’s den site has been found, and she has two brand-new cubs, probably only about four weeks old, and both mother and youngsters are very relaxed around the vehicles. Interestingly, Xikavi has not yet successfully reared a litter, but this is the first time she has brought them further from the river where there might be more activity from male leopards. We will have to wait and see if this move finally allows her to rear these youngsters to adulthood.
Tlangisa’s two sub-adults are doing exceptionally well. They are growing in confidence every day, and with both of them still alive, it means that they always have a playmate while mother is off hunting. As mentioned many times before, this playful behaviour has massive advantages with regard to learning techniques that will be necessary in adulthood. Judging by these two, they will have had an enormous amount of practice!
Scotia is now fully independent and - dare we say - territorial. She seems to have taken over the southern parts of her mother’s territory and has settled well. She will be learning every corner of this territory over the next year or two, until she is old enough to have a litter of her own. By then she will need to know where the best den sites are, best prey availability, and where is the least predator activity to ensure her offspring’s best survival chances. Thus, she is always very alert, focused and intent, providing brilliant photographic opportunities.
Having just mentioned play, these young leopards are fairly often seen catching a young antelope and ‘playing’ with it before killing it. They will let it go, only to chase and catch it again. This once again reinforces skills and techniques needed for hunting larger prey. Scotia did this recently with a young duiker, but unfortunately the skills she gained by this play were badly offset when a hyena heard the distress calls of the duiker and rushed over to steal the kill before Scotia had time to react! Another valuable lesson learned the hard way…The males are always great to spend some time with. Kashane seems to be noticing Ravenscourt’s presence more and more, and appears to be putting some pressure on him to move. As of yet he has not listened, but we are often hearing Kashane vocalising near camp and find him moving and following scent all the time.
Dewane is looking more formidable every day. There is a presence in him that is noticeable, and Nyelethi is seen here less frequently these days. Dewane has taken back much of the territory he lost while being injured and is walking around with attitude.
The lion population is still in a state of instability in the area. With the loss of the three adults from the Ximungwe pride, we had no idea what effect this might have on the remaining four sub-adults. Last month they headed far north-east and we were unsure if they would return. But they did! In the middle of June they came back into our concession and, surprisingly, after a short interaction with the Mhungene pride, continued their journey back. Apparently while in the north, they managed to bring down an adult zebra, and they are looking in good condition.
If there was any doubt before of their ability to hunt, it was completely put to rest when they made an attempt at the ultimate prize… an adult buffalo bull! Their mothers were never known for their ability to hunt buffalo, so perhaps this was a case of being young and full of bravado, not really knowing what is possible and what is not! After hearing the distress calls from the lodge, everybody rushed out to find the four sub-adults taking on the buffalo bull. Showing surprising skill and awareness, they avoided the dangerous horns and immediately attacked the legs, managing to snap the tendons of both back legs, rendering the buffalo immobile and much more vulnerable! Despite many successful attempts from other buffalo bulls to drive the lions off the injured bull, they showed the necessary patience, knowing that the damage had been done. When the other bulls slowly moved away from the injured bull, the lions would return to continue the hunt. After a battle of nearly six hours, the buffalo eventually succumbed to exhaustion and collapsed, giving the pride the opportunity to finally finish him off. It was a momentous occasion for these youngsters, who no doubt would gain hugely in confidence and wisdom from this experience.
Almost as expected, other predators were quick to respond and we were concerned that the four young lions would be unable to defend their prize kill from them. The next morning there was almost nothing left of the carcass, indicating that there were definitely many hyena at the carcass at some point, but the pride was still there with full bellies! Even more surprising was the fact that one of the Majingilane males had discovered the kill and this still did not scare the sub-adults away! Having spent the last year and a half with their mothers trying very hard to avoid these males which are not their fathers, they seemed to have made a decision that they had had enough running. After initial caution around the male, the young females slowly made a move at getting some of their kill back. Although the male tolerated them close by, this seemed too close for his liking, and he quickly chased the brave females off.
Once again, however, these brave young lionesses surprised us the next day when we arrived at the carcass to find them feeding right next to the male! Hopefully, this is a great sign for the future of these females, but we suspect that the real test will come when all four males are together, and there is more testosterone in the air…
The four males have been split quite a bit this month. Perhaps one or both of the other two Ottawa females are coming into season and the males are looking for them.
The third female with the three cubs is also doing very well. The cubs are recovering nicely from a bout of sarcoptic mange, which is caused by a small mite. Depending on many different factors, such as nutritional stress and individual immune response, this can have a devastating effect on an individual, as well as being passed on to other members of the pride. So it is good to see that the cubs appear healthy and are healing!
The hyena population is also doing very well and the discovery of a great den in the central area of our concession has been providing great viewing of these fascinating creatures. There are at least nine cubs of various ages present at the den, ranging from just over a couple of months to nearly ten months old. One never tires of the antics of these inquisitive and energetic youngsters!
Cheetah viewing has been a little quieter in July, but we had one very interesting observation when one of the adult males joined up with a skittish young male for a few days! They seemed to be wanting to form a coalition, as they do in areas where cheetah densities are much higher, but that didn’t seem to last. Unfortunately, viewing of them was tricky as we were never able to get close to the nervous male, and the relaxed male kept following him away from vehicles.
Some of the rarely-seen smaller nocturnal creatures were found this month. A very relaxed serval was viewed for some time, and a rare opportunity to photograph the elusive civet also presented itself briefly!
There have also been some great birds seen this month, considering this time of year is not the best if you are a twitcher! Some of the more colourful and magnificent birds were seen, as well as this extremely rare sighting of a Denham’s bustard, which usually occurs on the higher escarpment to the west. The other birds, in order, are the African Fish eagle, Purple-crested Turaco, Yellow-billed Oxpecker and a Spectacled Weaver.
We leave you with two images of some wildebeest having a rare playful session, running around a clearing in the cool of the morning chasing each other… As always, we look forward to seeing many new and old friends coming to see the daily miracles unfolding in the African savanna.
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