Climate and Landscape
In January we experienced lower temperatures than usual, and an increasing promise of rain; thunderstorms prevailed in the afternoons and evenings, cooling off the warm temperatures of the day. The summer sunrise brought with it a multitude of birdsong and calls from different species such as woodland kingfishers, pigeons, francolins and many others.
Getting to some of the game viewing highlights, I would be remiss in starting with any sightings other than the incredible encounters we had with wild dog, leopard, lion and cheetah this month.
Wild dogs travel vast distances daily and do not stay within a defined territory; this month our healthy wild dog pack was highly active, and thus endlessly fascinating to watch in our prime game-drive areas. Their hunting, socialising and playing before the start of their highly coordinated hunts was fascinating to watch and photograph. Even watching resting dogs ensures there is never a dull moment. Our guests were thrilled to watch them at rest, yet at the same time being quite active, licking and nudging one another, and it didn’t take long before they stood up to move once the sun started to set and the light reached the golden hour. This is the best time to watch the dogs as they run around sniffing and continuing to play as they trot along the road, while some dash through the bush in search of prey.
Knowing how wild dogs move in hunting mode, we knew very well we were in for an interesting drive as they kept stopping for some to catch up. This allowed us to catch up too and spend some quality time with them. As they were running along, we could not believe our eyes when a leopard flushed out of the bush and leaped up into a tree for safety. Once the leopard was up in the tree and relaxed, the dogs knew there was nothing much they could do, though they kept on intimidating the cat, jumping up and down. They then continued with their hunting expedition which ended with them catching and devouring a male impala right in front of us. Several times this month we watched their hunts and chases, many of which ended unsuccessfully – but they are always fascinating to experience. We recently counted 23 out of the known 26 dogs in our area’s pack.
One evening, after we stopped for sundowner drinks and the sun had just gone down, it was proven that sunset does not always signal the end of the day’s safari – rather the beginning of a different exploration. This is when we begin to look for less-frequently found nocturnal species. As we were driving along with our red-filtered spotlight, the guide’s attention was drawn to some tall grasses by a rattling sound, and as he moved his light across the road, he came across a female leopard and a porcupine in a fearless standoff with each other, within few steps of each other, but with neither seeming to want to initiate an attack. The leopard was clearly aware of what porcupines are capable of when it comes to self-defence, as it was not the first time she had been encountered in a battle with a porcupine. On a previous occasion she had been seen walking away with a quill stuck in her face. A few minutes after coming across them the leopard walked away submissively, giving the porcupine a chance to move away and continue its usual foraging. After this leopard and porcupine encounter, we continued with our drive; almost immediately we caught a set of eyes shining back at us. As we moved closer we realised it was another leopard sitting on the road; suddenly something in the distance caught the leopard’s attention and she darted off into the tall grass. We knew it had to be that the leopard was about to fall prey to another predator. The leopard froze among the tall grasses as we watched another pair of eyes approaching and silently move past.
The Chitabe Pride of lions also consistently astonished us with some amazing sightings. Mmakgosi (the lioness) and her two cubs which appear to have an endless desire to learn how to hunt, was very active this month. She faces the challenge of hunting alone since her cubs are still too inexperienced to participate successfully. However, she is a very skilled hunter and doing very well. One day we located her on a zebra kill she was protecting against a couple of hyaena that were trying their luck taking it over. What was most astonishing was to see her two sub-adult cubs also standing their ground and resisting the hyaenas. Other hyaenas joined and managed to oust the lions. Mmakgosi was very clever to let the kill go to protect her cubs; it was a good thing they had already fed well on the carcass.
The guides recently revealed that one of the females from the Tsame Pride had brand new cubs. At first she was seen lying next to thick bushes, and the meowing sound of small cats was heard coming from nearby. It was obvious she had given birth since she had been walking around heavily pregnant up to that point. Now that we knew she had cubs our guides decided to leave her alone and stay away from the den for a time. This is so as to not irritate her or make her uncomfortable with the area, which could lead her to moving the cubs and endangering their lives because she might encounter other predators in the process. After four days she was found moving her tiny cubs somewhere else and it was clear that she felt threatened anyway. We did not follow her to the new den in order to allow her to feel safe; we know once the cubs are able to move around, we will definitely encounter her often because she is resident here.
Being a very experienced mother, she was seen diverting an intruder male away from the cubs and leading him towards the dominant males so he would be chased out of the area by them. The dominant males have been in hunt, seek and destroy mode for the intruders, and when they saw him walking with Mmakgosi, all they did was to make themselves visible to him, and roared twice, signalling their presence. Without wasting a moment the intruder turned and ran off. The guides followed him for a short while. The dominant males also followed but with no enthusiasm.
Other lions were located often along the Gomoti River where there is an abundance of prey.
One day we took a drive towards Cheetah Plains, and we came across a female cheetah with her cub. They were very relaxed as we approached them, the cub sneaking through the grass as we arrived. At first we thought the cub wasn’t comfortable with our presence, only to find out he was hunting as he pounced and missed a guineafowl that was scattering elephant dung in search of food. We followed them for some time as they definitely seemed to be in hunting mode. Just then a leopard came down from a tree and interrupted the hunt; he ran towards the cub but the mother cheetah was very clever and growled at the leopard to attract its attention while her cub disappeared into the tall grass. The leopard was very young and the cheetah knew very well she could handle the leopard; there followed the cheetah chasing the leopard in circles until the leopard had to surrender and climb up a tree for safety. The cheetah walked away and reunited with her cub; they developed a mission to get out of the area since they were running out of light as the sun was slowly sinking towards the horizon. The cheetah and her cub were found the following morning feeding on a male impala that she had killed just before our arrival.
Another female cheetah with two cubs also did not disappoint, making a number of appearances this month.
Birds and Birding
Drives along the Gomoti River and some of the drying water channels were consistently rewarding as we saw many different species of birds catching fish, frogs and aquatic insects.
African fish-eagles (in awesome vocal displays), ospreys and African marsh-harriers were also seen soaring in the sky above the water as they kept a look out for prey.
I would like to thank Dennis Smith for supplying of some of the pictures attached. Dennis recently joined us as part of our valuable guiding team at Chitabe. He has worked as a guide at various camps within Wilderness Safaris, and with his great passion for photography we believe he will be of tremendous assistance for many guests with his photographic tips.
Further appreciation for the supply of photos goes to Jane Lee Winter, a travel agent from Town and Country Tours, Cruises & Safaris in the USA who recently visited us and had an amazing Chitabe experience watching the wild dogs chase the leopard up the tree.
Newsletter by Lenchwe Moalosi @ Chitabe