Climate and Landscape
We had many overcast days while other days had actual rain, the beautiful smell of which dressed the bush with its unique fragrance, especially in the mornings. Most interestingly, the rain did not stop the animals from pursuing their daily routine.
The bush has been rejuvenated and around camp the frogs were very busy in the evenings, the calls of reed frogs and toads reverberating throughout the camp almost every evening.
These rainy conditions lowered the temperature to an average maximum of 26 ⁰ Celsius and a 19⁰ C minimum. The bush around camp has been in full swing with birdcalls at all times of the day and night.
The frequency of leopard sightings increased this month, the highlights being two leopardesses with cubs. Though they are very young mothers, they are very successful hunters and there seems to be a better chance that they’ll raise their young successfully. We watched one with complete astonishment as she brought down a female impala and pulled it up into a tree afterwards.
On another occasion we came across one stalking a herd of impala that was grazing in the riverine bush. As she was moving around trying to find cover, her attention was drawn by a herd of kudu walking across the floodplain heading into the thickets. She seemed to change her mind and opt for the kudu since cover was not an issue there. She attempted to catch a kudu calf but had no success… this was a very ambitious hunt attempt as the calf was much bigger than her. Undeterred, she returned to the impala, now advancing through a perfect area with great cover. At one point I was certain that the impala would notice the advancing cat as she was completely out in the open, but they did not. She stalked them until she was right under their noses and then leaped into action. The impala went into panic mode, and were thoroughly confused, and before the more unsuspecting could sense any danger, one unlucky impala was taken down in a matter of seconds.
Cheetah sightings were also regular this month, especially the mother with the young cub, and she provided what I can only describe as breathtaking experiences on two occasions. She was found one morning just relaxing in the deep shade of a bush on a very hot day. We left the sighting and went back to camp for lunch; since it was such a hot day, we were certain we would find her at the same place in the afternoon.
We arrived back to find she had moved just a couple of bushes away from her original location. Soon after we arrived, as the clouds gathered, a slight breeze picked up making it comfortable for the cheetah to start an afternoon session of hunting. It didn’t take long before a herd of impala was spotted in a distance. She sat behind a bush as the impala were approaching the waterhole for an afternoon drink. We sat for some time and eventually were lost in conversation, discussing all the possible outcomes and not paying much attention to the prone cheetah. Our guide Dennis suddenly drew our attention to a remarkable scene at the waterhole. The cheetah had taken off in hot pursuit of an isolated impala. The impala tried to accelerate as much as it could, but to no avail. He could not escape this, the fastest cat, and as we negotiated our way through the bush to access the next available open area, we found she had already taken down the impala and was in the process of suffocating it. She then called the youngster to join her in the meal.
On another occasion, she also killed an impala and as we watched her feeding, two hyaena shot through the bushes into the opening, taking the cheetah completely by surprise. With a remarkable display of speed and agility, the cheetah and her cub made a lucky escape as the hyaena approached and stole the carcass; the good thing is the cheetah had already fed well.
Another solitary female cheetah was also viewed in the area recently.
We woke up to a roaring start one morning, which got the day off to soaring expectations of finding lions – after almost a week of no lions other than hearing them far away. This time they sounded very close. After tracking them for a long time, the guides finally had an epic sighting as they caught up with 11 lions walking in single file through the open grassland plains. The excitement was not just in finding the lions, but seeing the Chitabe Pride that has been away for a long period of time arriving back home, and still in their original number. The guides followed them for some time and it was clear that they had walked a long distance on a mission to get home; they seemed tired and eventually lay down for the rest of the day.
On the other side of our area, a guide found fresh tracks of the other lioness with two of her sub-adult cubs. Unlike the Chitabe Pride, they were more interesting to follow as they appeared to be in hunting mode. After two hours of following them, with a couple of unsuccessful hunting attempts, they finally got it right when they approached a herd of feeding zebra which were unaware of the lions’ presence. The lions took their time, applying their checks and balances with skill in every move. The cubs were very hungry, and needed to eat that day, as they had spoiled a hunt earlier on. These zebra were their last hope that morning as the sun was climbing in the sky and the temperature was rising and it was becoming uncomfortable to hunt. They took their mother’s communication very well at this point and trailed behind the experienced female as she advanced. As the vehicle approached the zebras, they stood perfectly still, as if posing for pictures, still unaware of the lions. The lion exploded at high speed and grabbed and took down a small zebra that could not keep up with the speed of the rest of the herd.
That day had many dimensions to it, making it a complete safari experience – from tracking lions in the morning to finding them, following them hunting and watching them chase and kill, watching them feed and then finally seeing a change in the cast as two hyaena moved in and stole the zebra carcass from the lions, with the lions avoiding the challenge by running up a tree bough for safety.
With the rains that we have had the waterholes are full, bringing joy to many animals. One morning we came across a herd of 15 giraffe in one spot. We watched them as they browsed, moving from tree to tree, eventually all gathering together unexpectedly, staring with concern. It took us some time to locate the source of their interest but eventually 21 wild dogs came trotting along the road heading for the waterhole ahead of us. It was still the early hours of the morning, so they stopped for a quick bath and drink, and then continued on their journey, which quickly became a hunting expedition.
No longer in a single-file trot, they all dispersed into the bush and begun to hunt, though we still managed to keep up with them for some time. They tried their luck with a herd of kudu but that didn’t work out too well. Their second try was on some impalas, but still no luck. Eventually they rested for the day. We started again with them in the afternoon as they began their hunt; this time the only attempt they made worked in their favour: within the first chase, two sub-adult impalas were taken down and we watched them in a frenzy of feeding just before the sun sank down below the horizon. The wild dogs did not otherwise make regular appearances this month but the little time they spent within our area of operation provided some of the most exciting sightings of the month.
The rainy season is the time for lots of babies. With the Gomoti River back to life after the decent rains we have had, we have been seeing elephant in large breeding herds here. Also lots of zebra with young foals and the hippos enjoying the presence of the long-awaited water along the river.
Birds and Birding
The abundance of birds is also fascinating, and recently guests spent 45 minutes in one of the open areas that was filled with thousands of termites emerging from their mounds after the heavy rain we had enjoyed earlier that day. The area was filled with both aerial- and ground-feeding birds such as lesser-spotted eagles, tawny eagles, swallows, nightjars and kites, all swooping in and out in a feeding frenzy. Surprisingly, two pearl-spotted owlets were also seen. All in all an extremely interesting sighting.
For storytelling from a visual point of view, our professional guide Dennis Smith has supplied some of his images; he really enjoys sharing his photographic skills and interest with guests and other guides.
By TL Moalosi @ Chitabe Lediba