Climate and Landscape
It’s quite exciting to see nature preparing for the new winter season in the Okavango; trees are losing leaves, the grass is getting drier and shorter and predators are taking advantage of the cool weather by becoming active for longer hours of the day. This weather is expected to remain the same for at least the next month or so. During June our lowest recorded temperature was 6° Celsius with the days warming up nicely and we had a maximum recorded temperature of 25° Celsius.
Wildlife sightings at Chitabe Lediba have been phenomenal throughout the month. Just as one begins to think that one has seen it all – Mother Nature throws something amazing our way once again.
Our guests were privileged to have witnessed one of the resident female leopards with two new cubs estimated to be at least two weeks old. They were discovered by one of the guides, who was following this particular female. She suddenly made a strange short meowing call, which was a rather unique sound for BB, who has been in the bush for many years and has witnessed lots of interesting things about wildlife, but had never heard this particular call before. As it turned out, the female leopard was calling for her two new cubs, which she had placed in a huge dead tree trunk, hiding and protecting them from other predators and animals since they are still highly vulnerable at this age. Seeing such tiny leopard cubs is indeed a wonderful sighting.
Earlier this month, we were lucky enough to come across some fresh wild dog tracks. One of the guides was able to follow the tracks, even though their spoor were on and off the road, and they led them straight to a pack of ten dogs that had appeared from the thickets and were playfully heading towards the vehicle. All of a sudden, the dogs charged through a herd of impala, targeting a herd of kudu. By choosing a bigger antelope, it would ensure enough food for the whole pack. Once they had selected their target, the dogs disappeared into what looked like a dust cloud. The guide and guests were forced to stop as it was difficult to keep up with the pack. The dust and the chaos finally settled and we could see that they had taken down a fully grown female kudu. Their unique hunting techniques often lead to success and considering that wild dogs are such an endangered species, having the opportunity to see this kind of behaviour is a real treat.
During the winter months, African wild dogs tend to search out a den site and it is always a challenge for the guides to try and find out where this will be as their territories are so large (approximately 250 miles or 400 km) that it feels like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Witnessing dogs at their den site is truly one of nature’s greatest gifts and the experience of watching these fascinating animals’ behaviour is always a highlight for our guests and our guides. When the dogs are denning, their home range is drastically reduced to about 40 miles or 60 km, improving the odds of regular sightings.
Chitabe’s remaining resident pack of four surprised us with their beautifully painted appearance at the beginning of this month after a long absence. They were found at a den with ten puppies estimated to be at least one month old. The pack will not leave the den until the puppies are at least two- to two-and-a-half months old, or unless disturbed – which is why the company’s ‘sensitive sightings protocol’ is in place.
As this is classified as a sensitive sighting, we won’t be visiting the den until the puppies are at least two months old. The risk of visiting the den too early is that the dogs may feel threatened and may opt to move around with the puppies which will leave them vulnerable to large predators like lion and hyaena. The puppies are extremely helpless and vulnerable at their current age.
One of their survival tactics is to change dens on a regular basis to avoid odours that may be emitted and attract predators – although they don’t move far. They have already changed den sites three times since they were located with the puppies.
The benefit is that we know where to look for them without having to get too close to the actual den, given that they won’t travel far from it. Another factor that will enhance regular sightings is that the area they selected for the den is an area of high prey concentration, which is a good choice. On the other hand, it poses a risk, as a high prey concentration can also attract other predators in the area. We’re keeping fingers crossed that the pack chooses its sites wisely and that the puppies continue to thrive.
The new male lions are continuing to cause havoc around Chitabe and the lionesses seem to be rather fragmented. Some are mating with these males, but those with youngsters are constantly on the run for fear of a dreadful encounter with the males. As mentioned last month we are now facing a problem where there are more males than females. Recently the four males were witnessed fighting fiercely among themselves in competition for access to the females in oestrus. It is, however, common to experience such turmoil within the pride when new males come into the area.
Elephant encounters were also regular on game drives. Herds of elephant roam the Chitabe Concession every day, with some solitary bulls and a small herd of females with calves ending their day in camp, making the evenings a fascinating experience as it literally reverberates with elephantine sounds. Watching them shaking the palm trees that could be as high as 20 m (60 ft) to dislodge palm-nuts is always fun to watch.
Cheetah sightings have also been a regular occurrence at Chitabe this month. The single male is still being seen in his prime territory which is dominated by a series of natural open grassland plains. The female with her three sub-adult cubs was also seen at least three times this month, still in excellent condition.
Our experienced guides, BB, Ant, Gordon, EBS, Luke, OD and Oats, who are always passionate about their work, had a busy month indeed. We are very fortunate to have such a strong guiding team as they continue to do what they know best, what they love most, what they are good at – and that is sharing the knowledge and experience they have with their guests, showing passion and enthusiasm on all activities from day and night game drives and sharing amazing stories around the dining table or camp fire.
The managers at Lediba were Moalosi and Kay while Chitabe Main Camp had Six, Connie, Kris and Josie. As managers we also try to give detailed attention to our guests and support and encouragement to every staff member to ensure that our guests have an unforgettable and memorable experience.
The photos in this newsletter are courtesy of some of our wonderful and very talented guests. We look forward to meeting new friends and hopefully welcoming some old friends back again to Chitabe next month.
News from TL Moalosi