The first quenching rains have already transformed the landscape into a lavish vibrant green which means rich colours for photography and wonderful game viewing as the vegetation is still thin. Most of the migrant birds have returned who along with the resident species are mostly in full breeding plumage engaging in courtship rituals and displays.
She has been wandering far and wide again this month scent marking her prime expansive central territory while also searching for possible den sites. Towards the beginning of October we were indulged with her frequent visits near the lodge.
The most memorable leopard sighting of the month had to be the leap of 4 leopards one morning a mere 800m from the lodge! (See video)
Thlangisa was perched high up a knob thorn tree with the ageing Ndlevane male just below her finishing off what probably was her impala kill…Xhinzele heard the commotion and was down below on the ground keeping an annoyed eye on Ndlevane! Hlaba Nkunzi nonchalantly sat a further 100m away atop a termite mound keeping a watchful eye on the outcome of the interaction between the 2 males and wasn‘t visibly bothered by the youthful Thlangisa’s presence.
Eventually Ndlevane took the gap, launched himself down and high tailed it away avoiding a tussle with the more dominant Xhinzele! Hlaba Nkunzi then lost interest and strolled off leaving Thlangisa to contemplate the current state of affairs in the territory she has been residing in.
Memorably she also strode through the lodge one afternoon popping in at all the rooms and then relaxed on the deck of room 4 while pondering whether or not to launch an attack on some bushbuck below. She was also found feeding on one of her kills during the month.
Her development into a confident young leopardess continued in a month where she spent most of her time in Hlaba Nkunzi’s territory…why wouldn‘t she, it is prime leopard habitat! She has learnt a vast amount about her current status and that of the older territorial leopards in the area. She was most likely the cause of the leap of 4 leopards that were in the same sighting as it was her impala kill that attracted the others to the area.
Metsi and cubs
Apart from early in the month when she was offering herself to no avail to the young Dayone male in the south, she has been keeping a low profile.
Her relaxed 18 month old male cub has again obliged us with sensational viewing and has been remaining within a few kilometres radius of the lodge. He seems to have a penchant for unusual prey and added to his porcupine trophy last month with a side striped jackal!
She has been rather scarce for most of month and has probably been mostly up in the north of her territory. In the last few days of the month she appeared and spoilt us with her graceful presence on the northern bank of the sand river.
Shangwa and her 1 year old male cub have also been seen a few times again this month on the boundary of our traversing area.
Consistently our most viewed male leopard and this month was no different, he is mostly seen while on the move and patrolling. The tension between himself and Mashiabanje seems to have eased for now and he is now also facing a potential threat from the Dayone male south of him. He has the upper hand over the ageing Ndlevane as we witnessed during the interaction involving the leap of 4 leopards!
He hasn‘t been viewed as much in October and has been mostly in the north west of his territory north of the sand river. Xhinzele has been sneaking across the river and scent marking on the northern bank while the water is still low, laying down the challenge to his fiercest rival!
As we know this edgy male is a bit of a mystery and could even be over 9 or 10 years old?? He has been seen limping a few times this month and judging by his behaviour when he avoided Xhinzele he could be nearing the end of his time as a territory holder. He is usually skittish during the day and the leap of leopards provided us with some rare photo opportunities and you can visibly see his age looking at the below images.
He was frequently seen early in the month but has been in the east of his territory mating with a female towards month end. He has met up with Hlaba Nkunzi again on a number of occasions now that her territory stretches further east.
This relaxed male has added so much to the leopard dynamics in the west, he seems to be pushing further north into Ndlevane’s space bordering on that of Xhinzele. He does lack confidence though and watching him take flight and slink off when the Metsi female suddenly appeared was rather amusing. He possibly thought she was a rival male! Metsi has also been presenting and offering herself to him but he is showing no interest at all at this stage.
Before we immerse ourselves with the lions let’s have a detailed look at the lineage/family trees of the legendary Makwela female as well as the 13 year old Shangwa female bloodlines as at Jan 2011.
Thanks to Guy Balme from Panthera for putting these together.
Notice that the most consistently viewed leopards in some way relate back to Makwela, none more so than her daughter Hlaba Nkunzi but also Thlangisa, Metsi & Xhinzele.
The 3 fearless rulers demonstrated their unrivalled power this month with 2 monstrous conquests in less than 24 hours…a young buffalo and a 10 month old hippo calf! They have been spending more time in the east seemingly unconcerned with the threat from the Majingilanes and Matimbas!
See opening sequence of video highlights section for some great interaction as one of the Mapogo chases off his 1 year old cubs from his left over kudu kill!
See youtube footage of the buffalo kill below
We now showcase a complete pride of lionesses all proudly sporting cubs with the latest 4 week old additions having just been discovered. A thrilling first for many of us was watching the lioness gently carry the tiny fur balls in her mouth to a new den (See video). Many gratifying moments have also been enjoyed watching the other playful cubs of all ages interact! (See video for playtime)
We were reminded of the severity of nature a few days ago when we found one of the 3 month old cubs with an apparent broken leg and severely bleeding from the mouth. It appears there was an altercation with hyaenas during the night and the cub was injured! The pride must move on to find prey and survive but it was heart wrenching to see the mother’s concern and constant grunting calls to encourage her hobbling little one along as he attempted to keep up.
The cub was abandoned by the pride but remarkably we have seen tracks of the compassionate mother going back to suckle the little one in his hiding place…time will tell and we are ever hopeful but his chances of survival are looking slim!
Crashes abounded this month and it is not unusual to see 6 rhino together as they concentrate around food sources. Playful calves are always a joy to watch and it was amusing to see one curious young male calf introducing himself when the dominant bull joined the sighting (see video).
The story of the adopted calf came to a rather harsh and abrupt ending this month. We have all been speculating his fate and been hoping that the little chap didn‘t meet all 3 Mapogo’s together one night and regrettably this is exactly what happened to the unlucky youngster!
Some cherished truly authentic African scenes unfolded at the aptly named “Hippo dam” this month, none more so than one early afternoon when we arrived to the hippo’s basking in the warm rays joined by a lioness and 2 bull white rhino!
Painted Dog Pack
The painted pack is now down to 9 dogs with the disappearance of another pup, this is sad but a harsh reality for painted wolves! During the month 2 nomadic male dogs from the Kruger appeared on the scene and there was some interaction with the pack.
As males form the core of the pack it seems unlikely that the pack will accept the 2 nomadic males. Nomadic males have been documented stealing females from resident packs and even injuring the resident males but males don’t seem to ever settle their differences and join up! Females on the other hand have accepted other nomadic females into a pack before.
Brief history of the pack
Apparently an original pack of 8 wild dogs moved into the Western sector in 2009 however several members of the pack were killed by lion and hyaena including the Alpha male. The pack was left with only 3 members, the Alpha female, a young female and a young male and shortly after that a pack of 4 adult males moved into the area. They chased away the young male and formed a pack of 6, which is the core of the pack that we now see on a regular basis.
Spotted hyaena are now present at most leopard kills and the leopards are having to tree their kills to avoid losing them! (See video). General sightings of these fascinating yet often misunderstood predators are also steadily on the increase.
The large herds have again been plentiful this month as well as regular sightings of an obstinancy of “Daggaboys” along the sand river.
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We think this is a female that has eggs in the mound, see interesting python reproductive behaviour below.
During the spring to summer months the female lays between 20 and 60 eggs in a termite mound or aardvark burrow, large pythons can lay as many as 100 eggs.
The female remains with her eggs for the 2 – 3 month incubation period. During this period she will not feed but will leave on occasion to drink.
On warm days she will often bask in the sun and then use the absorbed body heat to help incubate the eggs by coiling around them. By constantly twitching her body she also generates heat to help raise the temperature of the eggs. Another advantage of coiling around the eggs is their protection against predators such as mongoose, rats and monitor lizards.
After the eggs hatch, the female remains with the hatchlings for a further 2 weeks and once the have shed their first skin they then leave the security of the female to go off on their own.
It’s breeding time for most birds!
Grey penduline tit peering out of her oval-shaped nest built of woven spider web, plant down and other woolly material. A collapsible entrance spout is placed near the top, which can be opened and closed by drawing the top and bottom sides of the tube together.