Climate and Landscape
November was cooler than October with the promise of rain all around, and temperatures were lower than expected at this time of the year. Around mid-month we experienced some minor rainfall accompanied by some of the most electrifying thunderstorms, several times signalling the long-awaited rainy season, and making noticeable changes to the vegetation in general.
In response to these first rains, animals seemed to rejoice and we immediately started seeing baby impala running around, while zebra, kudu, wildebeest and tsessebe have also dropped their young. At this time of the year there is always a feeding frenzy among predators like the wild dog, leopard and jackals due to the vulnerability and abundance of these new-born herbivores.
Other animals like the elephant dispersed immediately as drinking water became abundant in the northern woodland – their normal routine every year. Towards the end of the month large herds were seen back in our area, enjoying the greenery that has had a chance to grow while they were away. As usual, it’s always interesting to watch a big herd of elephants interacting. The various family engagements are fascinating to watch as they have full self-awareness and understanding for others; to watch these animals expressing care, loyalty, concern and huge affection for other is an amazing spectacle.
Lion cubs were seen joyfully bounding up and down the termite mounds after the first morning rains. Some lionesses have broken away from the pride temporarily but have continued to be efficient at hunting, even though in a smaller group. Some days got off to a ‘roaring’ start with a tremendous commotion between the lions and hyaenas fighting over carcasses. This happened quite often because the isolated prides have always been successful at hunting; however, because the cats are fewer in number now, the opportunistic hyaenas tended to win; some lionesses have sub-adult cubs which are at risk in any interaction with hyaenas.
Two buffalo kills were witnessed this month, and guests observed strategically-planned ambushes which the lions are so good at – and even though they were not always successful, to watch their hunting formation is highly entertaining.
Wild dog were around often, resulting in thrilling sightings as they continued their twice-daily hunting forays. With dogs it is always the hunt that gets the adrenalin going. Recently, while following a hunting pack we realised we were not the only ones following – hopeful hyaenas were loping along behind them. Whatever leftovers are available after the dogs have fed is potentially a good feed for a hyaena.
Our pack recently lost their alpha male to the lions after an intense encounter. Despite the fact that the dogs displayed exceptional teamwork and tenacity to hound and harass the lions, they eventually found a gap and the alpha male was unfortunately caught off guard and killed as he stayed behind to protect his fleeing pack. However, a new alpha male is sure to emerge soon.
A new young female cheetah with two cubs has been frequenting our area on a regular basis. Most of the time she was seen hunting impala in the open areas in our concession and is believed to be one of the trio that had settled here previously. She does not seem to have any issues with vehicles around her, a clear sign that she is habituated. However, her cubs still need to work on their trust of the vehicles. She is a successful hunter and has been observed a couple of times successfully taking down fully-grown impala. Her success can also be judged by her healthy and well-fed cubs.
The young leopards that became independent from their mothers recently have also been making their presence felt this month. They are sticking to the area where they grew up but not with their mothers. They avoid any chance of running into each other as much as they can. One of them, interestingly, has an unusually comfortable relationship with her father. There seems to be very little aggression from the father’s side, but he isn’t adding any pressure. They aren’t sharing space at all but often they will encounter each other along the way during their normal daily activities.
Her mother, who has ventured a little further to the north, gave us a steady supply of good sightings with her two new cubs throughout the month. The young cubs seem to have accepted the presence of the vehicles and have habituated very nicely to us coming in to get some images of them as they get on with the daily chore of being leopards.
They had the fright of their lives recently when they were unintentionally stuck up in a tree with nine lions sleeping below. The lions had no clue that they were causing so much concern to the young cats overhead. The guide was also unaware that there were leopard cubs until he spotted the mother walking towards them. When she saw the lions she acted strangely, showing no fear of the lions’ presence, indeed she challenged them with a hiss accompanied by exposed teeth and scowling face. The lions were predictably unconcerned by her presence and we followed the leopard and watched her leap up into another tree. She flew from tree to tree, taking advantage of the extended canopy that joined each tree, until she eventually got to the cubs. It was only then we realised that we had been in the previously-undetected company of the cubs.
We also watched her one day with a baby impala kill that she let her cubs play with on the ground. They played with it for some time until they saw a hyaena appear; the mother quickly got serious and pulled the kill up into the tree and signalled for the cubs to follow her. The hyaena was disappointed but that’s how life works in the bush.
The buffalo herd numbers fluctuated quite substantially this month; there were times when large herds of approximately 800-1 000 were seen around every corner, and times where only smaller bachelor herds were found, especially at water sources and in the marsh enjoying the green grasses. With the minimal rains we have received, the grass quality improved faster in the marsh areas than in the woodland – a key reason for the buffalo herds to congregate in our prime game-viewing areas after the first rains. Water has also tended to accumulate more in these areas, water the buffalo need to quench their thirst and cool themselves in while wallowing in the mud.
Newsletter by Moalosi @ Chitabe