Winter is in now in full swing and the crisp mornings followed by warming golden rays mean prolific wildlife activity throughout the endless sunny days!
It has been a rather bizarre month for our regal lady of Leopard Hills. She spent well over a week way out of her territory in the east on Singita property, what on earth was she doing all the way over there (15km away) you may all ask?
She was persistently following a dominant territorial male (Kashane) while he moved through his territory so she could mate with him. His territory only just fringes on hers in the south east but she is so determined to mate with every possible male who may come into her territory in the future. She is cleverly ensuring that her next litter of cubs will be accepted and given every chance of survival.
She ventured back home towards the end of the month and was confidently marking her territory and even ambled through the lodge in the middle of the day as if she hadn‘t been away at all. When she arrived back from the east she looked rather skinny, possibly not feeding sufficiently for a few days with her mind focused on Kashane. This led to her stalking some impala rams in hot weather and bright sunshine at 10am! We were captivated by the concentration and patience she displayed during her ambush for over an hour…only for an alert ram to spot her at the final hurdle and prolong her hunger! See video highlights.
He has really come into his own lately, his dominant walk and commanding presence while busy patrolling is awe-inspiring. He has been very busy staking his claim on his territory and one morning we tried to follow him for hours on the scent of a young unidentified male he was chasing off.
She hasn‘t been seen as frequently this month, she is still mostly in the south and middle of the western sector trying to establish her self and claim a territory of her own.
Metsi and cubs
She has been mostly far in the south and west of our traversing area! Only 1 of her cubs has been seen for the last 2 weeks so we suspect that the other young male has been killed by one of the territorial males, Xhinzele or Kashane.
The remaining cub is now 14 months and very relaxed with vehicles even when on his own. He is spending a lot of time on the western boundary possibly as the dominant male leopards are less active in this area and he can keep a low profile.
He has been seen more than usual this month in the east of our traversing area, mostly when he was mating with Hlaba Nkunzi. He is a magnificent male in his prime (6 years old) and the largest leopard in the west. We hope to see more of him in the coming months!
Thrilling news is that the lioness with the two young cubs (around 9 weeks) has been very visible around Leopard Hills this month. She has teamed up with the short tail lioness with the two 7 month old cubs and all six have been seen together regularly. It seems the two lionesses are leaving the cubs hidden quite close to each other while they team up to hunt together. The older lioness with the 10 month old male cubs has been spending more time with the 3 Mapogo males and they all shared a large female buffalo kill during the month leading to some fierce interaction amongst the “Pride”.
There has been some fervent interaction between the three males as they contest for mating opportunities with the Ximungwe lioness who is still possibly in oestrus. We hypothesise that this female is battling to conceive as she has been seen mating with them for a while without falling pregnant. The younger two Mapogo managed to kill a female buffalo near the Sand River one night with the assistance of one of the lionesses. The arrival of the oldest Mapogo a day later when he picked up the scent of the kill resulted in quite a scuffle, the younger two were reluctant to share their hard earned meal but the older male held his own!
During the month the seasoned old males also had a scuffle with their sons, the two young Ottawa males, attempting to force the three year olds out of their territory! One of the Ottawa males has quite deep scarring on his back around the spine and his rear legs from the scuffle! They are resisting moving out of the Mapogo’s territory even after being injured and are still up in the north across the Sand River. It will be fascinating to see if they move off and begin a nomadic life looking for a territory or if they fancy their chances of challenging their fathers when they are a little more confident and stronger.
Parades of Elephants are bountiful this month especially along the rivers and drainage lines , we have had a number of great sightings from the deck of the lodge. Apart from spending much time with the parades along the Sand River we have also enjoyed them digging in the dry river courses for the crystal clear water that lies beneath. See video highlights.
We are so blessed with consistent and quality viewing of white rhino, spending time with them is often rewarded with fascinating behaviour. The highlight of the month was watching 2 bulls sparring for dominance, it was not a full on fight between dominant territorial bulls but more a tussle for dominance by 2 young aspiring bulls. See video highlights.
The large herd of around 500 has made an appearance towards the end of July! The old bulls (Daggaboys) have been moving between the Sand and Mabrak rivers a lot. An obstinancy of 5 old bulls are seen often around Leopard Hills and are imposing in their total disregard for the vehicle and arrogance!
The mild mid winter mornings are the optimum time of year to view hippo out of the water. The raft that resides at the aptly named Hippo dam are all back there after spending much of the summer spread out along the Sand river, see picture below.
The female with the tiny 7 month old calf has been on Leopard Hills property the whole month moving between a few different waterholes.
Painted Dog Pack
What a truly gratifying and memorable 4 months we have spent immersing ourselves in the social and reproductive behaviour of one of the most engaging yet endangered mammals on earth!
They have now resumed their nomadic lifestyle as the pups are now old enough (16 weeks) to run with the pack. They do still sometimes make use of different termite mounds as short term dens for the pups while out hunting! The pups are also getting old enough to begin joining in on some of hunts which is all part of the learning process.
Well the good news is that 6 of the 8 pups are still healthy and growing fast, we know 1 pup was killed by lions on Sabi Sabi but are not sure what happened to the 8th pup. The fact that 6 have made it this far is a credit to the experience of the Alpha pair and the hard working pack, so we now have a pack of 12 dogs! A far more successful breeding year for the pack than last year when only a couple of pups made it.
Biting a sibling’s tail, all part of the development of hunting skills.
When a kill is made the pups are mostly allowed to feed before the adults get to eat. They are allowed to eat first until they are a year old, which is the time that the hierarchy in the pack should be firmly established. The pups are dependent on the pack for 12 – 14 months.
So while we don’t know when the pack may appear on our traversing area we do eagerly await their periodic hunting forays to delight our guests for the rest of the year.
Spotted Hyaena Den
WOW!! We have been spoilt here this year with young wildlife! No sooner have the painted dogs resumed their nomadic lifestyle than we discover a Spotted Hyaena den with two 4 to 5 month old cubs! The cubs are very relaxed even when the mother is away from the den and we have enjoyed some wonderful viewing of their interaction and curiosity exploring their new world.
It seems like they are two male cubs with one slighter bigger than the other and more dominant. Clans use particular den sites for years whereas others may use several different dens within a year or even several den sites simultaneously. These may be separated by up to 7 km! Usually the lower ranking females use a den away from the communal den for their litters so we assume this mother is a lower ranking female. She could decide to move dens so let’s hope she stays at this site for a while…
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Some unusual sightings this past month.
A stand off between a sub adult african fish eagle and a goliath heron (The world’s largest Heron). The young raptor is in a phase where he is starting to become territorial and the large heron was an unwanted imposter. After chasing off the Heron he proceeded to nonchalantly have a drink right where the heron was standing!
A one eyed spotted eagle owl! Lucky for this individual that owls rely more on their hearing for pinpointing prey than their eyesight!
We observed a very unique kill, a lilac breasted roller had caught a burrowing scorpion on the sand and had just bitten off it’s tail when we turned around the corner. The Roller was clearly not used such large meals and battled for a few minutes before swallowing the unlucky scorpion!
A very unusual sighting of 2 water monitor lizards mating, the male on top was extremely alert and constantly looking around in case another male was coming to steal his female!
A tree squirrel sunning itself on a chilly winter morning with the safety of the nest hole close by!
A rare sighting of a yellow billed oxpecker in the extreme south of it’s range.