Climate and Landscape
Over the past few days as the grip of the dry season has taken hold, both people and animals have been waiting with great anticipation for the expected rain; but light showers came down on two days only. However, October was much cooler than usual, with the highest temperature recorded being 37° Celsius, and the lowest 21° C. Throughout the month, we enjoyed a daily breeze that lasted almost the whole day.
Below are some game drives stories from our sightings diary to share with you.
The centre of attention regarding our leopard sightings was the big male who covers a larger territory than other known males in the area, and he continues to impress every time we see him. Our attention was attracted by a female leopard who was walking through the bushes, calling at a very low pitch. As we started wondering what her mission was, the big male appeared from the thickets and they moved off together for a while, attempting to mate. This was disturbed by the appearance of another female in search of the same male, as they had just been together mating. The two leopardesses respected each other and did not fight over him; also, the male knew what to do and moved away with the female he had been with and left the other in disappointment.
On another occasion a leopardess was followed on a hunt and, as she approached a feeding herd of impala, she froze in the tall grasses for a while, negotiating her target. One unlucky impala slowly drifted off ahead of the rest of the herd, enjoying the serenity of her surroundings and completely unaware of the presence of a leopardess a few steps ahead of her. At the last moment, she walked straight into the leopard which immediately exploded out of the grass, took the impala down by the snout and suffocated it. What was most fascinating about this situation was seeing how quickly this young leopardess has acquired such great hunting skills in her short period of independence.
On the other side of the same territory her sister is also doing very well on her own. She was seen several times feeding on impala carcasses up in trees. On one occasion we watched her losing her kill to a pride of lions that intimidated her by pretending to jump up the tree. Out of fright she let go and the carcass dropped to the ground. It has been very impressive to watch her hunt recently: we followed her walking along the road, enjoying the cool early morning. She continued in hunting mode for some distance, then stopped and raised her head, looking way ahead of her. As her gait began to change, her head lowered and her back dropped and the guide knew she had spotted potential prey.
As she approached her target, she went off the road and took a different direction. A warthog, completely unaware of the leopard, was busy moving along on her knees, feeding on the palatable green grass shoots. Before the leopardess made her lethal move, she stopped and looked in both directions, obviously checking for other bigger predators like lions or hyaenas, which are a threat to her. The wind direction and cover were excellent and favoured her. She trotted for a few minutes, then within a few seconds was moving at full speed and hit the warthog. The shrill squeals of the warthog attracted two hyaenas that were in the distance but by the time they arrived on the scene, it was too late, the carcass was already pulled up into a tree for safety in exactly such a situation.
Certainly one of the top highlights for our entire team and guests at Chitabe was an unexpected and brief encounter with a caracal cat on an impala kill which he had taken down himself. Unfortunately he dashed into the thickets before any opportunity to take a photo arose. Then, a day after this sighting, another caracal was briefly seen with two cubs. The caracal is a very elusive animal and is very seldom seen, so it was a great bonus to see it (especially with cubs), even briefly with no chance of taking pictures.
One morning started with little action but great intentions of finding two cheetah sisters that had been spotted the previous night. Within a short time we had caught up with them as they were hunting in the open grassland plains. They were definitely hungry, and we knew from watching their intent that it was a matter of minutes before they would attempt to take something down. They frequently used termite mounds as vantage points to check for possible prey ahead or around them. They ran down the mound and sneaked through the tall grass; as we looked ahead we saw a large herd of impala. We were certain that the hunt was about to happen… but would it be successful or not? That would be determined by their patience and experience.
The impala were in an open area which created comfort and security for them as they could see clearly at all angles. Just then a pair of jackal happened to walk right in front of the impala, diverting all the attention towards the smaller predators, happily giving the cheetah an opportunity to focus on their target. They sped towards the herd at full speed with both cats focused on one animal. It wasn’t a long chase and they caught a male impala.
Our local pride of lions is doing exceptionally well. The disputes between the dominant males and the two intruder males that used to put pressure on the pride seem to be settled, leaving the dominant males in peace, if rather more scarred as a result of defending their stronghold. The females in this pride are brilliant mothers who have given the cub whose mother died a month ago all the attention she needs. This has provided ideal security for the cub to explore and gain confidence around the other cubs. The growing cubs are now heading towards their sub-adult stage and have endless amounts of energy. They have already started imitating hunting skills like stalking, pouncing and coordination, which they will need in future when they have to participate in hunts.
As the water has receded we have had a few encounters between territorial bull hippos, which are fed up with the overcrowded, shrinking pools. They fight the sub-adult males, even the adult ones, viciously and we have seen a few males with major scarring all over their bodies. One grumpy bull has been spending time in a small pan near the Gomoti River; whether or not he was forced out of the main pool by a more dominant bull is unclear, but he didn’t seem too happy with life. We watched him one day, after a quick dip in the pan, return to the water and make it very clear that he was not in the mood for visitors.
With the wild dog puppies having grown so much, they have started moving about more, and now cover a large home range. However, in response to the prey density in our area, they made a number of excursions around our prime game drive area this month and treated us to some fantastic sightings. We also watched the dogs exercising their excellent parental care over their puppies. They killed an impala and we watched them feeding in stages, all 10 puppies feeding first, followed by the alpha male and female, then the rest of the dogs last. The carcass was rationed very well with every individual getting at least enough for the day. It was phenomenal to watch 23 wild dogs cooperatively sharing a small carcass like that.
Elephant, zebra, giraffe and other general game were seen frequently roaming the floodplains, even during the day, to access the water. We experienced large numbers of elephant feeding, especially on the floodplains around the Chitabe and Lediba camps; these animals created fantastic sightings for our guests watching from the lunch table as they enjoyed a meal.
Birds and Birding
As it is summer, this is the time of year when those who love birds get really excited at the promise of the fantastic bird watching. Summer is the time to experience interesting details in birds, it is when most of the birds are building nests, displaying, calling and changing into breeding plumage.
The open grassland, and some dried waterways produced great sightings of the rare southern ground hornbill, and we were very privileged to enjoy sightings of a few separate flocks foraging regularly in the open grassland.
Staff in Camp
Ant, Gordon, OD, Phinley, Tank, BB and Lesh made up our guiding team this month.
We look forward to sharing more stories from the wildlife of Chitabe with you at the end of November.
By Moalosi @ Chitabe