Climate and Landscape
May was very busy for us here at Chitabe with great game viewing. The temperatures dropped considerably with an average morning temperature of around 6° Celsius and afternoon temperature on average around 25°. The coldest temperature measured was 0° C, which, combined with the wind-chill factor on the open game drive vehicles, could have made the morning activity a rather chilly affair for the unprepared! Fortunately we had lots of hot water bottles and warm ponchos and blankets to keep the winter wind out. The bush seems to be drying up fast, partly due to the cold winter weather. As is normal at this time of the year, the grass is getting shorter, which greatly enhances the game viewing in the area.
One of the lionesses of the Chitabe Pride – who is the mother of four cubs – eventually decided it was safe for them to venture out of their den. As usual, the young of any species are always fun to watch and these cubs have been very active. We have watched them playing ‘chase’, which helps to teach them important skills for hunting and stalking, but also makes for some exhilarating photographic opportunities. We also had the opportunity to watch the cubs feeding on a zebra for the first time. Their smaller “toothpick”-like teeth seemed to struggle a bit with the tough meat and we watched them moving around the carcass, carefully searching for softer meat that would be easier to bite, rip and chew.
The two new male lion coalitions, of four and three respectively, seemed to have fully asserted their presence in the territory, and the other prides appear to be accepting their presence – they are under pressure from these males who have overpowered the previously dominant males. They have been seen mating with quite a few females within the resident pride, which is good for genetic diversity.
As mentioned, the two previously dominant males appear to have been overpowered and overthrown. One of the outcast males is still being seen around, but he does not appear to have any position in the pride and is in very poor condition. The other male has been missing for more than a month now and it is possible that he was killed in a fatal clash with one of the new coalition’s males. We are all now waiting with bated breath to see which of the two coalitions will finally be declared the winner and fully settle into the territory. At the present time, they still seem to be avoiding each other and the guides suspect that they may have divided the territory amongst themselves – this is a critical factor with the females being the most attractive resource for them. We currently have more adult males than females in the area so we anticipate there will be lots of competition to win over the ladies.
During the month, the guides frequented the area north of the Chitabe airstrip, the prime territory of the single male cheetah. He was sighted often – virtually every trip into his territory produced a successful sighting. This male cheetah is well known to be a proficient hunter of impala and warthog.
On one of our full-day trips, the guests watched him hunt all day long. His goal clearly was impala and he took great care in his approaches, but the hunt was continually spoiled by birds’ alarm calls or being spotted due to the sparse cover. He was noticeably hungry. Then in the distance, a herd of wildebeest appeared. He walked closer to them and raised his head to check if there were any animals of a reasonable size that would require less energy for him to tackle. He spotted a small calf within the herd. He began his hunt with a very careful stalk, using every available bush and the tall grass for cover – a truly thrilling display for the guests to watch. At the perfect moment he took off at full speed and the wildebeest fled in panic. The cheetah maintained his focus on the targeted calf, pounced on it and quickly went straight for the throat; only one short bellow was let out. However, it was loud enough to draw the attention to two lionesses that were sleeping approximately 500 metres away. It didn’t take long before they showed up unannounced at the scene and promptly scared the cheetah away. Our male cheetah had no choice but to give up his kill before he had the opportunity to take even one bite. Being able to watch this entire scene unfold is truly a privilege of being in the right place at the right time – although the guests were disappointed that the cheetah was not allowed to reap the rewards of his efforts. However, this is a common occurrence in a predator’s life.
The female cheetah with three sub-adult cubs has also been seen regularly this month. The sub-adults were viewed on several occasions, chasing and killing prey themselves. Their role seems to have increased now from just suffocating to stalking, chasing and killing on their own without their mother’s assistance. From our observation, after their series of lessons, they now seem to be sufficiently competent to survive on their own.
A recently located hyaena den has given us some very enjoyable moments, as the three cubs would come out every morning and afternoon to get some fresh air and feed off their amazingly caring mother, just metres from the vehicles. Most of the time they would play and wrestle with each other, but sometimes they would stalk their mother and pounce on her. She was always extremely patient with them and on a few occasions even attempted to play with them as well.
The elephant herds are back in large numbers in the area and are roaming the concession providing thrilling experiences and sightings for Chitabe guests. When elephants are in a large herd they are not only fun to watch and photograph, but there is also a chance to gain insight into their behaviour. For example, they communicate with each other using a host of different methods, from body posture to infrasonic calls that are below the frequency range of human beings. Watching a big herd reacting to these various forms of communication is one of the best moments you can spend with elephants. We have also enjoyed watching them feeding on open floodplains, using both their feet and trunks in a well-coordinated manner to pull the grass and roots.
However, game drives are not just all about predators and big game… we also appreciate the beauty of such sightings as wattled cranes and the other prolific birdlife that Chitabe enjoys!
Our guests this month also enjoyed bush brunches and some even worked off the delicious food in a soccer game with the Chitabe staff. The camp recently purchased two sets of soccer uniforms for the staff to wear when they practice and play their games and the Chitabe Football Club is looking most professional indeed!
“We loved every minute of our stay, we feel you treated us like good friends and family, we are not ready to leave tomorrow and we will always remember all of you.”
“The area and animals were wonderful, compliments to the chefs who prepared outstanding menus. Everyone was outstanding in their attention to detail.”
“The pride and love your staff has for the camp was contagious, spills over to the guests, this felt like an authentic safari experience that we dreamed about.”
“Staff was exceptional and accommodation was very comfortable as well, was really good to have my request being followed.”
Newsletter by T L Moalosi
Photographs by guide Odumetse Modikwa