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Sightings report for December 2014
Kwara Concession – The most common lion sightings this month were of the three males – generally resting up and relaxing – not much in the way of activity was issued from them! On the other hand, three lionesses were seen attempting to hunt for zebra, but didn’t have any luck. Spotted hyenas were seen following the moving lions, in the hope that they will have success hunting, and throw a tid-bit to the hyenas in an unlikely fit of generosity…(it is Christmas after all…)
A lot of cheetah sightings this month – sometimes several individuals on one day – with a female feeding on an impala carcass close to the Kwara airstrip, and a male cheetah also found west of Kwando road. A few days later, a different male was seen attempting to hunt reedbuck, but was not successful. The two male brothers were still seen around Splash, mostly resting up during the heat of the day.
Five wild dogs were located in the Splash area. Another six were seen heading north, but we were able to keep pace with them as they moved through the area, investigating. It was a wonderful sighting. The big pack of dogs (26) were also seen this month, and we were able to watch them hunt and kill impala several days in a row! On the 20th, they managed to kill three impalas in one go!
Lovely leopard sightings this month, including a female with her cub. They were both feeding on an impala which they had caught in the Splash area.
Kwando concession, where Lagoon and Lebala camps are located, is normally well known for large herds of buffalo, but this month Kwara also had a huge herd of around four hundred individuals. Attracted to the fresh grass that has grown after the rains, in areas that had previously be burnt, they spent quite a bit of time in the area.
Also, we are seeing lots of zebra – up to a hundred in a herd at a time.
We also came upon two honey badgers moving with purpose towards the Kwara staff village – probably about to make an attempt to try and raid the staff kitchen again!
In a Christmas Eve rendition of Disney’s Fantasia, seventeen hippos in the Kwara lagoon leapt, pirouetted and splashed (rather heavily) back into the water. No pink tutus were visible, and the choreography was slightly less co-ordinated, but all seemed to be getting into the spirit of things. It’s not uncommon to see hippos appear to do water-aerobics at dusk, as they seem to get themselves warmed up for their evening excursions, but it’s a little surprising to see so many at once participating.
Lagoon – Any water that had collected in the waterholes in the mopane scrub appears to have dissipated, as large numbers of elephants and buffalos returned to the river to drink regularly early on in December. Later in the month, after heavy rainfalls, the population was more spread out, and not so dependent on the river water for quenching their thirst.
Two young male lions were seen at Water Cut, resting under the Kalahari apple leaf. After a while, they got up and began moving slowly, and we followed them on their patrol. As we followed, we saw a leopard dash out of the scrub when the lions inadvertently got too close for comfort. Hearing them calling though one night, we tracked the two males for about 10km before we found them along the old Lebala road. The next day, the two intruders were found feeding on a female adult hippo which they appear to have killed during the night.
Two cheetah brothers made a surprise appearance near the Lagoon airstrip. They began a hunt whilst we were there, and managed to catch an impala!
Always known as scavengers, hyenas are excellent hunters in their own right. We came across two hyenas who were working together in an attempt to hunt antelope, and followed them for a while. Unfortunately, we were not able to witness them on a successful hunt, but they were very focussed, and surely had better luck later in the evening.
We came across one of the hunters from the Kwando pack of dogs along the road, and then waited whilst she did the haunting “Whooo” call to connect up with the rest of her pack. 18 other dogs then arrived, and together they began to hunt, bringing down two impalas at the end of the chase.
Another morning, and the dogs and the two male lions appeared at the same spot – John’s Pan. Oddly, it was the lions that backed off, as they disappeared into the bush. The dogs must have been somewhat shaken up however, as we followed them on a hunt but they were unsuccessful.
A lovely morning drive was filled with the rarer antelope species – sable and roan were located early into the drive, and later, we finished off with a herd of eland. In addition there were lots of zebra and buffalo sightings on the same drive.
Lebala – Lots of lovely dog sightings this month, with the pack of 19 often managing to hunt and kill impala in the morning and then again in the afternoon.
One day they ended up in camp, and killed an impala just next to the guest walkway over the channel!
A leopardess killed a wildebeest and then fed on it with her cub for the next three days. This provided excellent sightings, and was wonderful to see both of the animals relaxed and in good condition.
Another wildebeest met an untimely death, killed by a pride of eight lionesses. With 8 of them feeding, the meal didn’t last very long, but would keep their energy levels up until the next chance to hunt. And yet another wildebeest made a starring appearance with a pack of wild dogs… This one managed to escape unscathed, but not before providing an entertaining dance of whilst he figured out whether he was about to become the main course on the dogs dinner plans for the day.
As with any child, it’s important for young animals to learn from their mistakes. It’s a tough world in the jungle, and nothing is tougher than when you miss out on a meal. Perhaps even tougher, when mum has spent all that time preparing it for you, and part of it is her meal too… What would be safer than making sure your dinner is free from harassment of other predators, than hanging it in a tree? For a leopard cub, this provides the perfect dining platform – you can relax on a branch, and then come and go to the meat as and when you get hungry. That is, of course, unless you are a little clumsy. Naturally being a little over-eager and hungry, one leopard cub forgot to check that the kill mum had provided was safely anchored to the branch, and before he knew it, the yummy mouthful he was chewing on was the last he would get, as the heavy kill slipped out of his paws and dropped to the bottom of the tree. No doubt soon to be hoovered up by hyenas standing by for such an opportunity. The cub looked rather confused about what had just happened, and mum was definitely going to be less than impressed.
It is sometimes hard to choose between sightings for the guests, when asked what was there favourite of the stay. In Lebala, the large numbers of elephants are always a hit, as they move across the open areas, and then disappear into the trees, only to be followed by another herd moving in the same direction. A visit to one of the large lagoons in the area, brings up a selection of hippo sightings, and when you get two territorial males together, then it is all action, as these huge animals leap in and out of the water trying a bit of one-upmanship and seemingly trying to capsize the other one. Their large teeth leave trails of blood, and scars on each other, and it’s a dangerous business for them. Or perhaps it was the sighting of the leopard killing the python… a strange looking battle, that, with a big enough snake, can end either way. For the python this time, it ended badly however.
Nxai Pan – The six wild dogs seen last month were back again at the beginning of the month for a couple of days, moving over the open pans looking for prey. Whilst we watched them in the area of West Road, they began hunting, and we were lucky enough to see them catching a springbok, and devouring it between them all.
A day later, and the pride of lions had managed to pull down a giraffe during the night in Baobab loop, as we found them feeding on it in the morning. They took about two days to finish off the meat – divide one giraffe by 17 hungry lions and you can see why it only lasted two days! After finishing their meal, they moved off to the nearby waterhole to drink.
On the same day the lions were found with the giraffe, the cheetah family were seen near to West Road, resting up under the shade of an umbrella thorn tree.
28th December and the predators were still in the area – seeing lions, wild dog and cheetah all in one day, is pretty good going at Nxai Pan! However, the last three days of the month, the prey species were able to relax, as no predators were seen. The zebra migration was growing in number, and there is probably plenty for the predators to eat elsewhere, so the ones near camp remain unmolested!
Although there are no elephant herds around, the bulls still remain in the area, swaggering up to the water holes to drink their fill, and then moving off to the tree-line to feed on the vegetation. This is a pleasant time for them, as the rains have made sure there is enough water in pans for them to drink regularly, and the cooler temperatures make life a little easier.
Tau Pan – Although last month the rains started, and we had a few days with rain during the month of December, overall, the rainfall has not been anything like last year. Sections of the Kalahari are still very dry, forcing some of the animals to move through to the greener regions – the area around Pipers Pan for example is normally a good area to see cheetahs at this time of year, hunting the antelope that congregate there. But this year, the grass has not had a chance to grow plentiful as yet, and so the antelope are not there in large numbers.
Two of the big male lions managed to kill a fully grown female giraffe along Carlos Road. Some distance away, two males from the Passage pride seemed to be waiting to see if there was a chance to get any thing from this meal, without clashing with the Tau males… As it happened, the two Tau males stayed with the carcass feeding on it for six days… by which point it was rather smelly, and had a rather large number of maggots…
The Tau Pan females with five cubs were seen in the southern area of Tau Pan, and the cubs were spending quite a bit of time playing around whilst their parents tried to heard them into the safety of the bushes for hiding.
The female cheetah with the two sub-adult cubs spent time in the Tau Pan area. These three are very relaxed, whereas the male that was seen in the same area a day or two later was very skittish, though he is seen quite often. Deception Valley also had cheetah sightings, with three sub-adult males proudly making their own way in the area, free from the watching eye of their mother.
Only one leopard sighting this month – a healthy looking male resting in the morning sunlight.
A few unusual sightings including caracal! Seen twice in one day, the animal was none-the less, very shy, and quickly moved off before we could take photos. Another unusual visitor – a male elephant! One was actually tracked via its GPS collar by researchers from the Delta, all the way down to south of the Tau Pan area, and then heading east. With little water in the region to drink, it’s a hard trip for an elephant, but the promise of rain collecting in small pans allows them occasionally to make forays into areas that they would not normally be seen.
For the birders, a few welcome guests and a very unwelcome one: black winged pratincole was a rare sight in the Kalahari, as well as a flamingo, in transit to the salt pans near Nata. And the unwelcome visitor? A very undesirable invader – an Indian mynah. These birds were originally transported as pets to South Africa in the early 1900s, and quickly adapted to their new habitat and became a pest. They take over niches filled by native birds, and are also known to be key dispersers of the invasive plant Lantana. So, although very unusual, it’s not good news to see one in the Kalahari!
Sightings report for November 2014
And the rains, finally, arrived. This is a huge high point on the calendar of anyone that lives in Botswana. In most areas, it will not have rained since March. That’s eight months of dust, drying grass, herbivores looking skinny, and not a cloud in the sky. The scent of the first rains, the first storm that produces enough water to actually make it to the ground, and everyone wanders round with big grins and a huge sigh of relief. Of course, if you have paid a lot of money to come to sunny Africa, it’s not every visitor’s idea of a dream weather, but for the vast majority, the happiness and the release of the months of build up is infective.
There is, however, one thing that every camp manager has to go through at some point of their career. No amount of training or coaching can prepare you for it, and when it happens there is, literally, nothing you can do but wait and see how the guests react. It’s often said that the two forms of wildlife that have had the most impact on the construction of the Okavango Delta are hippos and termites. Hippos, because of their movement through the water, clear channels and change the course of water over the years. Termites, because of the homes they build, are responsible for the land masses and islands that have formed the Delta. And its one of these two life forms that results in the Trial of the Camp Manager, soon after the first heavy rain fall.
I guess we should be grateful for small mercies – it is not thousands of hippos that come dancing out of the water and careen towards the nearest light with the ever perfect timing of Murphy’s Law – exactly at dinner time. But the termites do just that. For only one night a year, every young termite in the area launches out of their mound and uses brand new wings for just a couple of hours, whilst they look for love. Not only attracted to each other, they are attracted to any form of light source, and will completely swamp the light. They find their mate, drop their wings, and each happy couple goes off to be King and Queen of their own new termite mound.
It is one of the most amazing things you can witness – the air filled with fluttering wings, as they launch in the moonlight and jostle and dance in clouds or smoky columns. But, for the unsuspecting overseas visitor, it can swing either way…. They are going to love it or hate it. It’s kind of like going to see the Serengeti migration, when you don’t like wildebeest.
Although the night this event will occur is never known, the time it occurs is like clockwork. The first flutters will be timed perfectly with the guests sitting down to dinner at 8o clock. By 830, whatever your meal is, you won’t see it, as the only way to avoid eating termites is to eat in the dark. Generally, by the time dessert and coffee rolls around, the chaos is over, there are piles of lacy wings scattered over every surface, but it remains difficult to avoid regicide when walking anywhere.
Naturally, this occurrence is sometimes deemed the Camp Manager’s Fault, by those guests that are not keen on having the experience in 3D. But, without this experience, the Okavango Delta would not exist. So if it really is the Camp Manager’s Fault, you really should be thanking them profusely!
Kwara – The first day of the month and an appearance by the two male cheetahs. They attempted to hunt, but didn’t have much success, as one of the males was limping due to a leg injury. Perhaps all is not well between the two brother cheetahs – they were seen fighting later on in the month. We saw another male hunting a female impala, and successfully caught her whilst we were watching. We also has several sightings of the female cheetah this month.
A busy time for the impalas, as they all begin to give birth at roughly the same time. It’s wonderful watching the little lambs on their spindly little legs, learning to use them and play. Unfortunately, it’s also wonderful for the predators to watch them, as they know they have a much better chance of catching one of these inexperienced young kids, rather than a fully grown adult. And its important to remember that predators do not just come in the shape of cats and dogs: a group of 60 baboons were relaxing by the airstrip – one of them busy feeding on a baby impala he had caught.
Early on in the month we saw three sub-adult lions who are new to the area. One of the young lions is very shy with the vehicles, but two are relaxed. The two Marsh boys were also seen, and Setwala, the limping male, was found around Splash. In fact, lions were seen almost every day – generally three or four males, and sometimes the mother with two cubs.
The wild dogs – 28 adults and pups – sped through the Splash area, chasing an impala that was about to launch itself into the lagoon as a means of escape. They managed to catch her just before she got to the water’s edge. They also spent time around the airstrip, and came across a leopard that was hunting. Naturally, faced with 28 competitors, the male leopard did the sensible thing and jumped into a tree until the coast was clear again. On the 8th, and hour spent tracking the dogs proved fruitful, when we came across the pack hunting. In the one hunt, they managed to catch three adult impalas and one baby! Several days this month they were followed on hunts where they pulled down multiple prey, from impalas to lechwe, in a single go.
We also saw the pack of six wild dogs several times towards the end of the month. These dogs have likely made forays into the Kwara area from the nearby Khwai concession.
It’s very easy to tell when a predator is not used to vehicles – often, they slink down, and are shy. But the opposite is also true – curiosity can be overwhelming, as we discovered in a trip to the Tsum Tsum area. A young leopard was spotted, and the reaction to the car’s slow approach was quite different: not only staring almost goggle-eyed at this new thing that was arriving, but each time the car moved slightly, the leopard got closer, to try and investigate what these strange round black things were that kept rolling along….
A highly unusual discovery this month – aardwolf are not seen very often, but locating an aardwolf den is even rarer! One adult aardwolf was found at the den looking after four puppies! Another mum – an african wild cat – was also spotted teaching her kitten how to hunt for small rodents.
Lagoon – It was a sad month for the Kwando pack of dogs as they lost two of the puppies – one disappeared early in the month, and then another in the middle of the month. There are now 8 adults, and 11 youngsters – still a success for this highly unusual pack which had three litters at the same time. Whether lost to predators or illness, no one knows, but raising wild dog pups is a risky business and they have had high mortality rate before their first year. When we did see them, they all seem fit and healthy. And during the month, they were seen hunting most mornings and evenings, before heading back towards the Lebala area. They zig zagged between the two areas a few times this month, covering a huge amount of territory.
This month they hunted impala several times. The majority of the impala females are heavily pregnant, which may make it slightly easier to catch them. Later in the month, when the lambs were born, they provided an easy target for the dogs – and other predators.
Still two intruder male lions hanging around Watercart area, making occasional contact calls. The lionesses with three cubs were also seen a short distance away from the two intruders. A couple of days later, the two males were found again, with one of them mating with a lioness. What was interesting in this case, was that it was the female that took the initiative and encouraged the male to mate – it seemed as if the young male was really not sure what he should be doing!
The following week, the intruders were seen relaxing with the pride of 2 females and three cubs. The pride males were not seen, but the intruders show signs of having been involved in a fight, with cuts and scratches. Later on, the pride of three females and 5 cubs were seen heading south, looking hungry and hunting, but had no luck with any prey.
No cheetahs seen so far this month, but leopards were still making an appearance. Shy males were spotted, but the females are still providing more relaxed sightings. Two leopards (a male and a female, probably mating) were found up a tree having been chased there by the pack of dogs. To make the sighting even more bizarre, the remains of an aardvark were below them, which they had been feeding on!
More regularly seen at the Kwando camps at Nxai Pan or Tau Pan, a bat eared fox den was located. The adult pair have made their den to the west of the airstrip, and are busy raising four puppies.
Still a reasonable size herd of 200 buffalos around – a little distance out from the river area. There was a quiet-ish week for buffalos and elephants in early November, as the first hint of rain they disappear into the mopane scrub. However, they didn’t stay long in the mopane as the water that collects in the pans there won’t last long without heavier rain falls. Towards the end of the month, the herd was seen closer to the Kwando airstrip.
A lovely night drive produced a great experience where guests were able to watch an African wildcat stalk, chase and catch a scrub hare!
Boat drives are not always what everyone expects – many go just to enjoy the scenery, not really expecting to see anything much in the way of wildlife. It’s always a lovely surprise to people as to how much they have seen from the boat: the regulars are elephants and hippos in the water, but its not unheard of to see lions, leopards, or even wild dogs on the bank of the channel. But sometimes of year, it’s really the smaller things you should be concentrating on… A group of guests were enjoying watching a hippo from the boat, when, after some time, the guide suggested that they move on to go and see a bee-eater. This suggestion wasn’t received very well, even though it was explained it was a carmine bee eater – vibrant red and pink in colour – why go see a bird, when you’ve got big fat floating hippo to photograph? A little persistence from the guide paid off – and the guests were totally blown away, by not one bee eater, but hundreds of them, fluttering in and out of the mud banks of the channel where they were nesting – something you can only see for a month or two each year!
Lebala – A nice beginning to the month with several lion and leopard sightings. There was a very interesting sighting of a female leopard that was found excavating – she was trying to dig out a warthog from its refuge. In spite of her hard work, she was unsuccessful and the warthog remained safe for another day. The last day of the month, we had a lovely sighting of a mother and her cub, sitting in a sausage tree, feeding on a baby wildebeest that mum had killed.
Several times we also came across the small pack of wild dogs – five adults and just two young pups from this years litter. This pack stays in the southern section of the concession, and ranges through to the Selinda area. Although a small pack, they still work very well together and we saw them having great success at hunting impala. The bigger Kwando pack also spent time down at Lebala, seeming to alternate a week in Lagoon, with a week in the Lebala area, to make sure all their territory is patrolled.
Our most frequent lion sightings have been of the two males. As it has been a very warm month, when we have found the lions, they have not been the most active of all animals, and have been seen sleeping much of the time! In fact, the first six sightings of them at the beginning of the month were all of them resting and relaxing… one assumes to maintain their healthy look, they are doing plenty of hunting in the middle of the night, and are not surviving on thin air! By the middle of the month they had joined forces (or bumped into… ) a female with two young. The lioness had just managed to bring down a young zebra, and was feeding on it. Rather than being forced off the kill, the males were rather gentlemanly, and allowed the lioness to feed, though they did help themselves as well. The next day, their energy renewed, the two males were seen actually walking through the area to the south of the camp. Probably heading for a well earned nap…
Nxai Pan – The very beginnings of the zebra migration was seen at the end fo the month, close to Baines Baobabs. It’s only a few herds to begin with, but the numbers will start growing, as they move slowly into the area. It will take them some time for the bulk of them to move into the park, with January and February normally the prime months for sightings in and around the Pan. Still, day trips out to Baines have been productive as the herds begin to appear.
Early in the month the camp was visited by 15 lions – 5 lionesses and 10 cubs walked through the area, passing by the camp and the waterhole. It was a wonderful sighting for all to see of so many lions!
Mid month and the small pack of wild dogs again came to the waterhole in front of the camp to drink. Towards the end of the month the six dogs re-appeared and after drinking, proceeded to chase springbok around in circles. An unsuccessful hunt as far as we could see, but we are sure they had better luck a little later.
Regular sightings of cheetah and lion during the month out at the main waterhole. On one day we saw the mother cheetah playing with her two cubs near the waterhole, and a little later, a lioness calling for her four cubs to join her. The lion cubs came rushing out of the wild sage where they were hiding to meet up with mum.
A drive to Baines Baobabs late in the month located the big pride of lions who we hadn’t seen for a week or so. They had just made a kill, and the male was dragging the dead wildebeest to the shade of a tree, with the vultures already waiting in nearby trees.
Most unusual sighting this month: buffalo! They were see having a quick drink at the camp waterhole, before moving off at a very quick pace!
Tau Pan – Another early morning at Tau Pan, and its time for breakfast round the fire on the front deck. Almost like clockwork, it’s also time for the Tau Pan pride to move through towards the waterhole for their mornings refreshment whilst the guests enjoy theirs.
In fact, there were only 7 days in the month of November that we did not see lions. By the end of the month, the cubs were being seen on their own, very relaxed, while their mums were out hunting. There is likely to be more cubs on the way, as a male and female were seen to be mating for four days. from the 21st November, as well as another couple that were seen mating at the beginning of the month.
Cheetah were also seen quite regularly – not just the mother with her cubs, but a male, a female and then another female with three cubs. All seem to be having good success with their hunts – with the plentiful antelope babies it’s a reasonable time of year for them.
Leopards were a little harder to find this month, but with the prevalence of lions, its easy to understand why they were keeping a low profile.
And as the clouds roll in, so begins the amazing light shows at Tau Pan in the late afternoon and evening. From the elevated position, the horizon stretches far, and the deck can be the most spectacular viewing point to witness the events.
Sightings report for October 2014
October – a crazy month for wildlife sightings! Thankfully, the world of photography has changed to digital, or there might not have been enough film available!
Predators in particular were making successive appearances, where difficult decisions had to be made… shall we go watch that lioness hunting? Or those male lions snoozing? The wild dogs with their puppies playing, or the cheetah that’s just made a kill? The benefit of spending a few days in Kwara, is that at this time of year, you can probably catch up with all of the above – though there were quite a few mokoro and boat activities abandoned at the last minute as leopard sightings or hunts were called in from the cars out on drive…
The beauty of nature was slightly called into question one afternoon, when guests were enjoying seeing a very young zebra foal suckling from its mother. After watching this wonderful scene for a while, one car left, leaving another car behind to enjoy. Ten minutes later, the remaining car called the first car back to the scene, in order to watch a cheetah feeding on the very same zebra foal…. Life in the African bush can be very harsh sometimes.
Lion sightings were great, with the four male lions being seen at the airstrip – and heard – as they roared along the way. The female from One-Eyed pride was seen with her cubs, having killed a baboon. The hyenas came and stole it off her, but two young male lions suddenly appeared and then chased the hyenas off that as well! Three days later, the lioness was more successful with a red lechwe kill.
A male lion decided the heat of the morning was enough, and it was time to head for a shady patch, under a large tree. A female leopardess obviously was keeping slightly different hours, and the two cats surprised each other, as she was in the middle of a hunt for reedbuck.
Three male cheetahs were found one morning, with two males having fought a third male. The third male was injured in the fight, and was seen trying to recover in the area close to Splash Hippo Pool.
The big pack of wild dogs were seen often and were very successful at their hunts. They were being followed regularly by hyenas, who would also grab any chance to take part of a kill away. Unfortunately, one of the pups became ill, and was not seen there after, bringing the total number of surviving puppies to 14, and the same number of adults. We also saw a pack of six dogs hunting near Lion Pan – first time in many months that we have seen these dogs. On two occasions we saw just three of the dogs – feeding on impala and resting – we think these are from the pack of six, and the rest may have been hunting elsewhere.
A big herd of buffalo has arrived in the Splash area – about 300 individuals! This size herd is more often seen in the Lebala/Lagoon region, so its nice to have a good size herd in the Kwara area as well.
A bush fire leapt across the southern boundary with Moremi Game Reserve, and before we knew it, had moved around to one side of the airstrip, and continued along towards Splash. Staff leapt into action, and made sure that all areas were not burning out of control. You could almost hear the zebras, wildebeest and antelope rubbing their hooves together gleefully – its just going to take one light rain fall, and the area will have to be renamed Kwara Golf Course, with fresh, succulent new grass shooting up. Zebras are not known for their talents at arson, but they do seem to have a vested interest in the results…
Lagoon – On the 1st of October, the two male lions known as Blondie and Blackie got separated for a short while, and then spent some time calling to each other until they located each other again. However, two young intruder males spent several weeks in the area, which made the lionesses of the pride retreat to the islands with their cubs for safety. They were not seen about for much of the month, hiding out of the way of the troubling intruder males.
On the same day, a male leopard was seen on Maheke Road, heading towards an old hyena den. At the den, he investigated a few of the burrows, but found nothing of interest on the inside, and then moved to the top of a termite mound to rest.
In the continued absence of the large numbers of lions the female leopards have been even more relaxed then usual, and were sighted often. One of the females managed to kill a porcupine, and was seen feeding on that – a rather prickly meal.
The wild dogs – 8 adults with 13 puppies – were seen several times in the first week of the month, including when they made a kill right in front of the car. With a pack that size, there was not enough food for everyone, as they had killed an impala that was not yet fully grown. No doubt they had more success later in the day. The dogs spent a few weeks in the Lagoon area, before returning to the Lebala for a visit.
Lions took down two buffalo in the morning, and by later afternoon, when the game drive returned, had managed to finish most of the meat!
The two cheetah brothers spent a week in the area, but still no sign of their brother. As they travel very large territories, it’s possible that at some point in one of their travels they crossed out of the wildlife management areas and into the surrounding farm lands. This can be a dangerous area for predators, as farmers see the cheetah as a threat to their stock, and may shoot them. Perhaps the third brother fell foul of some farmer in this area.
The big herds of buffalos have now broken down into smaller herds, and have started to spread out looking for more appetising grass. A hint of rain in the northern skies will see them heading in that direction to see if there is better grazing there.
With the rise in temperatures and no rains yet, the raptors are scanning the dry ground for prey, as visibility is excellent in the short grass. Hawk eagles, brown snake eagles and tawny eagles were sighted often. Summer migratories including Wahlbergs eagles have also arrived in the area to breed. The carmine bee-eaters are settling in to the holes in the side of the river bank, and raising their young.
October, and the day time temperatures have soared… A road trip from Lagoon to Lebala camp was needed to transfer staff and the only time available was at the rather warm time of 1pm. Travelling in the middle of the day, you would not think you would see much as everything will be safely tucked up under a shady tree, waiting for the cooler late afternoon. Certainly, giraffe seem happy to stick to this rule, and sit down as close to the tree trunk as possible, which looks rather odd, and could easily lead to the creation of a myth regarding the large numbers of legless giraffes in Botswana. (Am sure there will be a charity starting up to support them as I write…). However, apart from the rather sedentary giraffe, there seems to be plenty out under the midday sun, apart from the mad dogs, and Englishmen. Take several hundred zebras for example, or fifty wildebeest, assorted groupings of warthog, several herds of elephant, an amazing grouping of sixty eland (doing what eland do best, and dashing off into the distance as fast as they can go) and two fat, overwhelming hot, freshly fed to the brim (“No, I cant manage one more mint wafer”) male lions. What everyone was doing out and about at this time of day still remains a mystery, but it was certainly a productive game drive! Pity the guests weren’t on it!
Still the guests didn’t do too badly themselves. Within the first four days of October, there had been three leopard sightings, 6 lion sightings (including a pride of ten, a pride of eight, and two males), one sighting of a pack of wild dogs and assorted hyenas, tons of elephant (but then you don’t have to leave camp to see that), buffalo, large groupings of giraffe (they had miraculously regained their legs), herds of zebra looking for somewhere to migrate to, and wildebeest frolicking as only wildebeest can.
Actually, the area immediately in front of camp is highly productive at the moment, with a herd of around 40 wildebeest, several reedbuck, a herd of red lechwe, five ground hornbills, and assorted elephants meandering through. Obviously word got around, as the two male lions took a wander through the area as well, but were not successful at hunting, as the grass is so short, everyone could see them coming.
The big pack of dogs (8 adults and 13 pups) spent the first couple of weeks in the Lagoon area, but came back through to Lebala again to hunt. They attempted to take down impala whilst we were watching, but did not manage it this time.
The pride of 8 lions killed a sable in the middle of the month, and twenty hyena clamoured around trying to get a piece of the action. The two male lions, which are resident in the area, have also been seen regularly.
Nxai Pan – When lions start mating, it’s a good bet that you are going to have guaranteed lion sightings for three days, as they are totally preoccupied, and don’t hunt or move very far during this time. Sure enough on the 17th October, a mating pair were spotted, and they were seen in the same area, loving it up, until the 20th October! With all the lions in the area, it is not uncommon to see up to 16 on one drive.
We had other great cat sightings – the cheetah mother with her two cubs were seen on some days relaxing, and at other times, off on a hunt. This little family are totally relaxed with game drive vehicles watching them, and if the cubs survive to adulthood we will continue to have good sightings of them.
As with last month, we had another lucky visit of the pack of wild dogs. This time they came to the waterhole in front of camp early one morning, drank quickly, and then quickly left, off on a springbok or impala hunt no doubt.
Three of the largest vultures – Lappett faced vultures – were spotted drinking at the main park waterhole. This bird is designated as a Vulnerable species, by the IUCN, and there are thought to be around 8000 individuals left in the Africa and the Middle East. The Botswana population is not known, but they have been seen to nest in the area, with one nest being active last year very close to the camp.
The drier it gets, the more regularly elephants come and drink at the waterhole in front of camp. The bulls meander in, and stay for a while, often to socialise (or bully) with any other elephants that come to drink. The small breeding herds almost tip toe quickly in, drink, then leave as fast as they can, before some as yet unperceived threat arrives.
Tau Pan – The 3rd of October was definitely cat day, with the female cheetah and her two cubs seen along Middle Road heading east, and four different sightings of lions throughout the park. Later in the day, the lions joined up, making the pride of 2 males, five females and ten cubs! A rather large pride!
An interesting time at Tau Pan waterhole this month when four of the young Passage pan lions joined four young lions from the Tau Pan pride. It seemed they wanted to join forces, but this is difficult due to the older males that will try to keep the territory for themselves.
As can happen with the Tau Pan lions, one morning one of them decided to take a stroll through the camp to try and find a shady spot to lie down. All the guests were out on drive, and the camp staff are always aware that this is a possibility, so they move around cautiously. Noticing that one male lion was heading towards the camp, one staff member quickly moved towards the rooms to alert the housekeepers that were cleaning there. On his way back, he found that the lion was now heading towards a room he was approaching – but still some distance away – so he opted to go into the room rather than come head to head with the lion. The lion, then decided that the coolest spot at the moment was to lie in the sand near the side of the wall to the room. A sensible decision on his behalf, but not very helpful to the man who was now stuck in the room. Other staff, realising their colleague’s predicament, came to the back of the room to help him out that way. Much to their amusement, they could hear their friend whispering: “Don’t worry! I am hiding in the toilet so the lion can’t hear me breath!” After a fair bit of encouragement, the staff member was coaxed out of the bathroom, and left the lion to sleep in peace.
As hot as it’s been getting, and without the relief of the rain yet, the animals are sticking to the shade of the trees, where ever possible. The middle of Tau Pan itself is dry and dusty, with very little vegetation at the moment, so that antelope have had to spread out quite a bit to find shade and food. Compared to the abundance of springbok, oryx, wildebeest, giraffe and other members of the menagerie that congregate there after the rains, its looking a little empty, but is just a matter of time. It also makes it easier to spot the normally harder to find animals – leopard, aardwolf made an appearance this month as well.
Over the years, those of you that are familiar with this monthly report will remember that Tau Pan is quite well known for honey badgers. They’ve been recorded regularly breaking in to the kitchen, been spotted helping themselves to the tea and coffee station in the lounge in the late afternoon, and on drive the record for sightings in one morning is six. So it should come as no surprise that, eventually, someone wanted to research them and make a documentary about them. And Tau Pan would naturally be the best place to start. Word got around to the honey badgers, who suddenly turned camera shy, no longer wanted to break into anything, and were quite fine without their afternoon cup of tea, thank you very much. Luckily, when the researcher was about to abandon all hope, and head to somewhere with more reliable subjects (perhaps the donkeys of Maun?) out came the honey badgers – if not quite en masse but with very respectable sightings.
Sightings report for September 2014
Kwara Concession – The wild dog pack were quite mobile this month, but were still seen regularly. At some point during the month, they lost one of the pups – but not a bad success rate with still 15 puppies strong and healthy, and catching up to their adult family. We saw several hunts this month, with one impala being taken down by the pack right in front of the game drive vehicle! A fast and furious business – dog hunts are reasonably common to see if there is a pack in the area, but its very rare to see the whole thing from beginning to end, as if the pack is big and you are following a hunt, an impala will be totally consumed before the car can get to the actual kill location.
With that many mouths to feed, you wouldn’t think there was much left of any kill, but they are such successful hunters, and there is often more than enough to go around. So much so, that a leopard – an excellent hunter in its own right – was found snacking on the remains of an impala the wild dogs had finished with. Another leopard was found eating a spring hare that she had caught during the night.
We saw lots of lions snoozing this month, but when they did get up and active, the stalking and chasing was an event to behold. The lioness with two cubs was seen stalking on several occasions. We saw her take down a red lechwe, but she must have been successful more than we saw her, for they were all looking well fed. Another lioness from the Solo pride was seen mating with one of the Marsh Boys – the coalition of three big males. Hopefully, more cubs on the way in a few months time!
We also had a variety of cheetah this month – including a shy male who ran off each time the car got a glimpse, and the much more relaxed brothers, who killed an impala at Bat Eared Fox Den. The injury of the previous month of one of the male’s legs, does not appear to be holding him back now.
Great elephant activity, as the herds and bulls move through the area, looking for nice shady trees to rest under, and cool water to drink. A big herd of buffalo arrived as well.
The summer migratory birds are starting to arrive, with the appearance of the yellow billed kites, and the carmine bee-eaters. Other wonderful avian residents were seen as well – including wattled cranes, saddle billed storks, and the large ground hornbills.
Lagoon – The Lagoon lion pride consists of two males, 3 lionesses (one sub-adult) with five cubs. With this many hungry lions in a pride, its tough on the buffalo herds that frequent the area, as their calves are taken almost daily to sustain the pride. Calves are a much easier target than facing off with a fully grown adult buffalo – male or female – so lions will take this opportunity whilst there are plenty of youngsters about to ‘stock up’. There are also two ‘Intruder” males in the area that are not shy about killing adult buffalo. Soon after killing one, they came face to face with the whole Lagoon Pride, and there was some fighting between the males, before the Intruders headed off quickly.
On the last day of the month, we could hear lots of lions calling during the night, and the morning drive located tracks of the four males – and signs of a scuffle. A carcass of a kudu was found near by that we think had been abandoned by one of the pride lionesses, as she and her cubs moved out of the males, seeking safety. Later that day, the two intruder males were located near WaterCart.
Later in the month, the big buffalo herds split into smaller herds – a short storm led them to believe that the rains have started, and some of them moved off in search of, literally, greener pastures.
Interestingly, although we are seeing plenty of leopard sightings, the males continue to appear much shyer than the females. Several of both sexes have been seen with successful hunts completed, and their meals stored up in the tree for safety.
After having spent the last few months denning on the Lebala side of the concession, the big pack of wild dogs – 8 adults and 13 puppies – made a return to the Lagoon area in the middle of the month, now that the puppies are fully mobile. The adults are showing the youngsters the rest of their territory, and reacquainting themselves with the area after their long absence. They made plenty of impala kills in the area around Lagoon – the impalas themselves had had a relatively happy few months with their absence!
The carmine bee-eaters have arrived, and have begun nesting in the earthen banks at the sides of Kwena Lagoon – a wonderful sight to see over the next months as they fly in and out of their little mud caves.
A highly unusual sighting of a pack of hyenas, which managed to separate a young elephant calf from its mother and kill it, only a few minutes from camp.
Other fantastic sightings this month – roan and sable which are now more and more relaxed with the cars, eland – which being Africa’s largest antelope, still have to retain some quirks, and continually run away as fast as they can , civet, porcupines and african wild cats.
Lebala – For the first two weeks of September, the wild dogs provided plenty of sightings for the Lebala guests, as they were still mostly around the den site. Later in the month, the puppies were old enough to become more mobile, and Lagoon benefited from a few visits from them – the first time in a few months. The pack also had a fight with a group of hyenas – everyone tussling over an impala kill, that the dogs had made, but that the hyenas wanted to grab.
Although there have been plenty of dogs around, the lions have certainly not been in short supply. A pride of ten, and two males, were seen regularly. They spent quite a bit of time following a buffalo herd, and were eventually rewarded with a lovely meal. A pride of eight lions were also found eating buffalo – not content with one, they had managed to kill four of them! A little later in the month, and appetites had changed somewhat, with the focus now being on zebra – the pride of eight bringing down two.
At the start of the month, leopards were seen almost daily, including a mother and a young cub, who were seen up in a tree feeding on an impala kill. A few days later, the same pair were again seen eating impala up a tree – this time safely anchored in a sausage tree. And another four days after that, the same mother was found having just caught another impala, and was dragging it up a tree – obviously she has found this is definitely the method to choose when keeping her meat safe from any other predators. Interestingly, another leopard was found feeding on a black backed jackal. Leopards will kill other predators – who they see as competitors in the food chain – but it is not very often that they feed on them.
One of the older female leopards also bumped into one of her daughters – they had long since separated. Female leopards have home ranges rather than territories –the difference being that ranges can overlap, where as a territory is actively defended – which tends to be more of the males forte. However, the old female was certainly not keen on having her daughter at close quarters, and there was a short spat between them. With the older leopard moving off, the game drive vehicle followed, and soon the same leopardess was venting her frustrations on a potentially equally dangerous animal – a honey badger! A risky business for both animals, as although the leopard is much larger – and with bigger teeth – badgers are known for their ferocious and “never give up” attitude. With loose skin that enables it almost to twist around inside of itself, it’s hard for any predator to catch a safe hold of it, and not have it suddenly bite the back of your neck. Both animals escaped unscathed… Definitely a grumpy day for mother leopard.
Two brother cheetahs were seen a few days this month including feeding on a baby kudu they had just killed. Close by, a clan of 15 hyenas hit the jackpot when they came across a dead elephant, and fed voraciously on it. The next day, hyenas also chased a female leopard off her kill, just after she had brought down an impala. Towards the end of the month, the hyenas either killed or came across a dead hippo, and again it was mass action as they all attempted to feed on it.
Lots of general game this month, with zebras, wildebeest, impala, giraffe and elephants seemingly everywhere! And the birds are starting to get ready for the summer season, with the swallows starting to build their mud nests, and bee-eaters flitting about. Lots of vultures in the area benefitting from the many kills made by predators – the vultures are a good indicator of a healthy environment.
More unusual sightings – a beautiful caracal, and close to the end of the month, two honey badgers were found digging for mice – a mother and young. The mother managed to catch a small rodent for the youngster. A lovely sighting!
Nxai Pan – The mother cheetah and her two cubs were seen regularly this month – the mother attempted to hunt on several occasions, and show her offspring exactly how it is done. It will take the young cheetah up to two years to learn to hunt well without their mother’s assistance – and there will be some lean times ahead for them until they do…In the mean time, they try perfecting their skills on hunting for rodents, whilst their mother does the hard work of pulling down larger game.
A rare group of visitors to the park: wild dogs! The small pack was seen drinking at the main water hole in the middle of the month, and a few lions followed up at the same place with a drink. The dogs cover huge areas in their territory, and with plenty of impala and springbok in the outer lying reaches of the park, we don’t get to see them very often.
Seen more often, but still a beauty to behold – bat eared foxes… These attractive little predators are a little smaller than the jackals that roam the area. With their huge ears you would imagine you could see them from far away, but they camouflage themselves very well, often in the shade of a small bush. Their big ears are sensitive enough to allow them to hear insects and small animals moving just below the surface of the ground, which they then quickly dig out.
Another unusual visitor – three buffalo! These large herbivores need good quality grazing and a good quantity of water to survive. They very occasionally make trips through the park, but tend not to stay for long, being reliant on the few watering holes that are in the park. Last year, five of them visited, but the lions were quick to catch a couple of them, and with such a big pride in the area now, the buffalos may not make it out of the park all together.
A huge martial eagle – the biggest raptor in Southern Africa – was seen resting on top of an Umbrella Thorn tree. It was being continually harassed by another predatory bird – the much smaller pale chanting goshawk.
The breeding herds of elephants are still around – each herd up to around 40 in size. One small calf looked as though it had had a run in with a lion at some point, as it’s tail was missing.
Tau Pan – A month later, and the fire that had previously threatened Tau Pan camp in September was still burning in parts to the south of Deception Valley! Eventually, the parks board had the fires under control, and they were finally extinguished – all before we got even one thunderstorm! What this means now is that when the rains do begin next month or so, the new grass will not have to fight its way through the moribund vegetation, and there will be plenty for all to eat.
The very relaxed female leopard was seen strolling her home range – along the Eastern Firebreak road. She is well known to the camp guides and seen regularly.
We are lucky enough to be able to see cheetahs several times a week at the moment, with a total of five cheetahs in the area being very relaxed. This is a good hunting area for them, with the big open plain of Tau Pan, and lots of general game to chase, and the benefit of a good permanent water hole to drink from. In particular, we see the female cheetah with her two cubs most often. One of the other cheetahs managed to kill an ostrich – a tricky catch for the light-weight cat – but a great feast!
The Tau Pan pride is growing. Five and half years since the opening of the Kwando camp, the lions we have come to know so well are moving into their third generation. One of the females of the pride has recently had three cubs – they are still very small, but we think they are two female cubs and one male. Since the mother of these cubs was raised so well by her mother and aunts that all her brothers and sisters survived, there is a good chance that the current Tau Pan pride structure will ensure that these cubs do well. Naturally, there is a chance that the males will be over thrown at some point, but there do not seem to be any likely contenders at the moment.
This healthy pride now totals 14 individuals – and again, well established in an area that provides plentiful food, water, and as they realised last month, a safe haven when the bush fires move through the area!
Sightings report for August 2014
– beste Sichtungen von Raubtieren, Neues vom Wildhundrudel um Lebala – und vieles mehr!
Kwara Concession – Early August and two young lion cubs didn’t stay put when mum told them to, and were found along Xugana main road looking for their mother. The guide and trackers tracking skills went into action, but the female was not located nearby. It was likely that she had stashed the cubs to go off hunting, and the cubs are at the stage where curiosity is just too much… no doubt she will return later in the night.
The happy family were seen together a few days later, with the mother hunting a sub-adult warthog. An unusual situation arose, where another predator became involved in the feeding, and a large crocodile managed to secure part of the kill for itself!
After the big fights last month, resulting in the death of an intruder male, the three big male lions of the Splash area were seen a lot this month, relaxing and lounging around in the warming sunshine. Full bellied, they were obviously content with their hunts, and have had success during the nights.
The 15th was hyena day, with 8 being found in a fairly close area – one feeding on a wildebeest carcass, one feeding on an impala, and six feeding on another impala. It was a sad day if you were a prey species…
A new male cheetah was seen in the area of Machaba East – initially shy of the vehicle, he soon relaxed and was scent marking the same areas that the two cheetah brothers had been seen a few days prior. For cheetahs, speed is often promoted as the key to their success, but for one female, it was patience and persistence that paid off. On the 9th of August, guests watched on as the female attempted to hunt in the Splash area. Three times she chased and missed her prey. But on the fourth attempt – success! And she pulled down an adult male impala.
Around the middle of the month, one of the two male cheetahs appeared to have sustained an injury to this right hind leg. He seemed to be unable to hunt, and they spent five days in one area, whilst his brother brought down an impala, close to the water. The two males were seen throughout the month, and although the injured one still seemed to be in pain, he was attempting to hunt with his brother towards the end of the month, and are still patrolling their territory.
Although the fifteen adult wild dogs and sixteen pups are still going strong, and were seen at the den site early in the month, three un-identified adult dogs passed through the Splash area on the 8th of August, having hunted recently. By the second week of the month, the puppies were deemed old enough by the Alphas to leave the den, and begin travelling with their family. Although they won’t be able to travel the distances or at the same speed as the adult dogs, by moving around the area, they will get to familiarise themselves with the environment, learn about different dangers, and slowly learn to hunt as part of a pack. A total of 31 dogs is a very big pack, and so is going to require a lot of hunting to keep everyone in good condition.
Wonderful elephant sightings this month as well, with one game drive counting around 100 adults and 40 youngsters between Impala Pan and the Splash area! And sometimes, it all just comes together at the same time, as one guest wrote: lions, a leopard, three serval, a genet, and jackals all in one day!
The heronry at Xobega is slowly getting busy, and some “early” birds have already started establishing their nesting sites. This will grow over the coming months, but does fluctuate each year as particular areas seem to win and lose favour – sometimes tied in to the number of elephants that were passing by and pulling down branches of the nesting trees! A few chicks were already seen having hatched late in the month.
Lagoon – Great lion sightings this month, with the resident males being seen regularly, as well as the two different lionesses with cubs – one set of three now eight months old, and the other two around 9.5 months old. One of the lionesses kept pretty much to herself with her cubs, and stayed in the cutline area. The rest of the pride caught several buffalo calves. Around the 23rd of the month, another female from the pride left the main group and moved away for three days – she was heavily pregnant and went off to give birth. Unfortunately, it appears that cubs did not survive, as she does not appear to be suckling.
A few relaxed female leopards have provided excellent sightings this month, though for some reason the males that we see are much more nervous. It may be that there have been too much overlapping of their territories, and the males are now cautious of where a more dominant male will be coming from.
Two of the three cheetah brothers were seen heading north in the second week of the month – the missing one may have gone on ahead, or be loitering looking for a female in the area.
With the main pack having denned in the Lebala area, wild dog sightings have not been as regular as other years this month, but we did find a pack of nine (that is normally 13 individuals) along Baruti Road, feeding on an impala.
Two or three large herds of buffalo seen in the area each day, with many calves. The biggest grouping we have seen so far was around 2000 individuals! This is proving a great enticement for the lions to stay in the area, with so much prey. They are focussing on killing the calves and sub-adults, which are much easier to take down than the fully grown adults. Not only the lions benefit from this supply, but ten hyenas were also found feeding on a dead adult buffalo.
Night drives have been a little quiet of late – but we still have good viewings of honey badger, bush-baby, and a very active clan of hyenas. The hyena den that is located near the airstrip has 4 cubs, all of different ages, so it provides a lot of entertainment with the cubs pushing and shoving each other around.
Sable and roan antelope seem to be increasing in numbers in the area, and we are getting quite regular sightings of these normally more elusive animals. Elephants are making the boat cruises very interesting, as they come down to drink in the late afternoon. As the temperatures rise, more and more will spend at least part of the day on the channel.
Lebala – The pack of wild dogs have 13 puppies remaining, and this figure was stable through the past month, so there should be no more deaths other than from other predators. They have moved their den site a little west, along Fish Road. This is normal to move dens, as the den becomes infested with fleas, and can become too obvious for other predators to find. All dogs and puppies appear to be in good condition, and the adults are now trying for larger game than impala – such as sub-adult giraffe!
A fantastic tracking effort for about half an hour lead to a female leopard being found. She was very relaxed, and was in the process of hunting. We followed her for some time, but she had no success in her hunt. A little later in the month, we saw another female with a cub in the southern part of the concession. Both were relaxed. We also saw a female killing a reedbuck, and another female feeding on an impala. The males, this month, have been keeping a low profile, with only tracks seen of them.
A pride of nine lions killed a big male warthog and one male lion was feeding whilst the rest of the pride slept and rested under the shade. The pride of six has also been in the area of a long time, and there are also two male lions that are new to the area. These two males killed two fully grown buffalos in one day, and then two days later killed another one close to camp – rather excessive.
For those that live in the bush, baboons tend not to be a favourite animal…. For the people running camps, the baboons can be destructive, breaking into secure food bins, leaving rather stinky piles on tops of tents, pool decks, pathways, and usually ignoring any lady staff members attempts at chasing them out. For the animals in the bush, baboons can either be aggressors – they are quite adept at hunting and killing anything up to and including impala-sized prey – or simply a very noisy neighbour – as they alarm call continually when they spy any predator moving through an area. Suffice to say, baboons are not very well loved by anyone and anything. Tables were turned one day in August, when six lionesses came upon a troop of baboons. Suddenly, there were six lionesses bounding after them, and the baboons moving as fast as they could to get out of the way, up a tree or wherever. The sound effects of a group of screeching baboons is rather overwhelming….
Great viewing of breeding herds of elephants, and large herds of buffalo also around. Excellent birding, especially in the Southern part of the concession.
Nxai Pan – Predator sightings have been great – although it’s a quiet time of year for guests to visit Nxai Pan, the guests that do visit, get the park pretty much to themselves – and the animals as well..
Two intrude male lions came through the artificial water hole, and managed to chase off the resident males that were resting up there! Quite a spectacle. They then lay down to relax, after their efforts! As for lions, it’s sometimes not just the one or two that we see – on the 5th of August, there were a total of 16 lions at the Main water hole – seven adults and nine youngsters. The adults rested up, while the youngsters played around, and annoyed the adults a little.
A large male leopard was seen along the elephant pathway to the east of the camp. He was a little skittish, so didn’t stay around for long. Later in the month another big male was seen on West Road, relaxing. He was completely undisturbed by the car, and its very excited occupants!
A cheetah and her two cubs were seen sleeping off Kgama Kgama road. No sign of the two adult males, so we suspect these have been chased off by lions. Later in the month we saw them feeding on a springbok they killed, then they all stretched, and strolled across the road in front of the vehicle for a great photo opportunity.
These cheetahs are regular sightings for us this month, and were seen every two to three days.
Lots of bull elephants in the area, and a few small breeding herds.
A martial eagle caught a guinea fowl, and spent the rest of the morning on top of a tree, clutching the bird and feeding on it.
Tau Pan – Every year, as those who have been reading this report for the last five years will know, there are fires in the Kalahari. Normally, they don’t happen until October, or later, with the earliest one we have had being 30th September. This is because they are, generally, started by lightning and the thunder clouds don’t start building until October or so. This year, everyone was caught by surprise when a fire started at Phokoje Pan camp site – about 25km to the South of Tau Pan. Self drive tourists were camping there, when a cooking fire they had lit got out of hand, and in the tinder-dry conditions was more than they could cope with. Luckily they got away without injury, but what then happens in the Kalahari is something you only believe if you have seen it: the fire moving through the grasses at a huge speed.
Tau Pan camp and its staff are well used to this situation. Even so, it’s a worrying time when you know there is a fire in the reserve. Extra hands were flown in to ensure that the fire could be diverted before reaching the camp if the wind changed, and to make sure the firebreak was extra wide. With some staff in the camp having recently moved from the Delta, and used to handling bush fires there, it took the rest of the team a lot to convince them of how much faster things move in the Kalahari. 25km sounds like a long way away, but it can move that fast in an hour. And sure enough, it tried!
With the help of a team from the neighbouring lodge (over 2 hours drive away!), workers from the Department of Wildlife, the whole camp staff, and a lot of help from the wind, the fire moved around the edges of Tau Pan, up to the firebreak in parts, and then shot off to the north. This created a huge second natural firebreak for the camp itself, so unless lightning decides to strike within the ring of the fire break, the camp should be safe for the year! (Touch wood!)
There was a small group of guests in camp at the time, who slept through the night-time excitement – but had their bags packed just to be on the safe side. Departing the next day, after their morning safari in a quite different looking landscape, they all said they would love to come back. And come back they do – the following week and the camp manageress was welcoming back a couple who two years prior, had spent a midnight hour with her and other guests at the centre of Tau Pan itself, when the a bush fire had come much closer and the guests & staff had evacuated to be on the safe side. A 1am glass of champagne back at the camp to toast the firebreak that held, and an experience that few have had.
And as for the animals, what do they do, not having cars to climb into and zoom off? If you are a lion, having grown up in the area, you do the sensible thing and move across the fire break to spend the day/night in camp. If you are a small animal, you hunker down in one of the many holes in the ground – the grass fire moves so quickly it’s passed in a matter of seconds. The antelope and predators (at least the ones that are not as well-acquainted with firebreaks) smell the fire coming, and move out of the way, or to an area with little or no grass (Tau Pan itself being a huge safe-zone). If you are a bird – of any shape or size – and the grass fire is burning during the day, you swoop in and out, dancing between the flames, feasting on the many insects that fly up to escape the fire.
And now that the area is burnt? Is it not depressing? No, for now you can see far, without the moribund dry grass in the way. You can see the honey badgers digging for grubs, or chasing lizards. You have a clearer view of the bat-eared fox’s den. The antelope still graze on the open pan, and the cheetahs can stalk them – though with not much way of hiding! And everyone waits, for the first few drops of rain, that will turn the dry desert into a carpet of lush green.
Sightings report for July 2014
Der Monat Juli stand ganz im Zeichen der Raubtiere: Viele Wildhunde in Lebala und Kwara…und wie immer auch Löwen, Geparden und Leoparden satt –
KWARA – Wild dog pup numbers are now confirmed at 16 – after numerous countings of them since they don’t sit still for long…. The fifteen adults are doing a great job of hunting twice daily for the pack, and then coming back to regurgitate food for the pups and the Alpha female who is left behind to watch over them. The pups are still suckling, but will also chew on any meat that is brought back for them, or in fact, will chew on anything, including each other, as is the norm with any young predator!
With the dogs having lots of extra mouths to feed, guests were lucky enough to witness several hunts this month. The whole process is over very quickly, even if you do get to see it, so you really do have to be in exactly the right place at the right time!
While key activities this month have focussed on the wild dogs, as everyone wants to see the cute little pups, other predators also provided some good sightings.
Male lions were seen every couple of days, either resting up, or on a few occasions, hunting lechwe and other prey. The lionesses and cubs kept a very low profile this month, and we only saw them a few times, as the males patrolled the territory. It was a sad day early in the month, when we found an intruder male lion feeding on a lioness – the sister of the lioness who has three cubs – and one cub was missing, so she had probably been killed while trying to defend the cubs. Lions do kill each other from time to time, but it is very rare for them to feed on the meat of any dead lion. At the end of the month, tensions were high, as two males – one regular from Splash and the intruder that had killed the lioness were found fighting each other. Tables were turned this time, and the Splash male killed the intruder male lion!
The cheetahs have also provided us with some tremendous sightings this month. The two males were seen often, and there was an exciting scene when they chased an impala, and caught one. The days following that they were seen snoozing and sunning themselves, and they had obviously made another kill between us seeing them.
A serval was also seen hunting in the marsh – this time for frogs. Experts at focusing in on prey by the sound of it’s movement, they take pouncing leaps to land on the hunted animal.
Lots of general game including red lechwe, large numbers of zebra with young, giraffes and tssessebe. Elephants have also dominated the area, with bulls and breeding herds being seen along many of the game drive routes – and in camp!
LAGOON – The first day of the month, and we came across the one of the resident male lions – Blackie – with the two females and three cubs. One of the lionesses made a mad dash to catch a warthog, but it got away, and no one lifted a paw to help her! Soon after that, the whole family got up and started walking west. Blondie – the other male of the pride – was located some distance away. A few days later, Blackie and Blondie had a bit of an altercation, over one of the females in the pride. Blackie is the dominant lion, and the matter was quickly settled, but it was certainly an unexpected event, with great sound effects!
The pride (together with their three cubs, though they weren’t really helping!) also managed to kill a fully grown buffalo near one of the waterholes, and spend a couple of days feeding on the carcass, and going to the waterhole to drink. They were seen many more times throughout the month, and seemed to be focussing on the large movements of buffalo throughout the area.
Buffalo numbers are growing (apart from the odd one or two that get taken out by the lions!) as they collect together near the larger water ways to drink and feed on the short grasses there. Some of the herds have giraffe mingling on the outskirts – more safety in numbers, and extra protection for everyone! A huge herd of around 2000 individuals has been several times this month.
Alarm calling vervet monkeys indicated a predator to us, and we were quickly able to spot a female leopard strolling through the plateau area, and then resting beneath a bush. She seemed oblivious to the 500 buffalo that were also in the area!
Another exciting morning, with a big herd of buffalo. Soon after, following the tracks, we found the lion pride resting on top of high ground and scanning the area. Not far away, a female leopard was lounging in the branches of a sausage tree.
This month, we also saw the relaxed female leopard with the young cub.
We had a brief visit by two male cheetahs – one of the males is missing again! However, they didn’t stay long, and we only got to see them a couple of times.
The hyenas have moved back into their den near the airstrip – possibly leaving the other dens when the number of fleas gets to a point where they have to abandon it!
Being that close, they are also heard and seen around the camp quite often!
We also had a lucky week at the end of the month where we saw not only genet and civets, but two caracal sightings as well! and at the end of the month, we had two days of lovely sightings at the hyena den where three cubs were being suckled by their mum!
LEBALA – After the confusion of June, with all females of the pack of eight dogs denning in the same area, there was soon a surplus of puppies…. In July, as they emerged, numbers couldn’t really be certain, as there were just too many, but appeared to be in excess of 20. Oddly, later in the month, the female dog who had appeared to be the most sub-ordinate one at the beginning of the denning, suddenly came out on top after a tussle between the other two females, and harassment from the rest of the pack. She was now left in charge of all the puppies, and had assumed the role of the Alpha female. With that number to care for, it was inevitable that the numbers had to be reduced. Likely, she killed the puppies that were not her own, but with the remaining pups, there is some disparity in sizes, so it may be that she has adopted a few from one of the other litters.
All the females apart from her are now hunting with the pack, and bringing back food and regurgitating for the alpha and the pups. Although it seems harsh that not all the litters can be raised, there is simply no way that the five males would be able to support three females each raising a litter. This gives them the best chance of having at least some of the pups making it to adult-hood.
Two strong male lions strode into the area, and by the middle of the month had come face to face with King, the resident male lion. A huge fight ensued – grown lions fighting is one of the most scary, awe-inspiring scenes you can witness and the sound effects make the metal of the car hum and resonate! The two new boys managed to oust the King from his territory, so we shall see what the future holds for him!
A lovely sighting of a female leopard and her cub, feeding on a warthog kill, not too far from the camp. We also saw a relaxed male leopard, walking along close to Northern pan.
Later in the month we followed the same leopard as she walked along Elephant Road, for about half an hour. Suddenly, her young cub appeared in the bush, and the mother met up with it. The mother was very relaxed, and it was fantastic to be able to watch this. Later in the day, a big male leopard was located some distance away, also relaxed, and in very good condition.
Two male cheetahs were located near Wild Dog Pan, and we were able to follow them on their patrol for about an hour. As they got close to the airstrip, they could be seen stalking impalas, and they were successful in their hunt and managed to catch and kill an adult.
NXAI PAN – With a new waterhole, everyone is queuing up to make use of it. A regular visitor is a solitary spotted hyena, who has the unfortunate timing of arriving when elephants are on the way as well. Elephants, not known for their love of anything other than elephants, make the hyena’s life a little more exciting, and chase him at any opportunity possible.
Other drinkers at the lodge waterhole included the lion pride – three adults and seven youngsters. A few days later, they were seen out towards Kgamakgama road. There are intruder males passing through the Nxai area as well, so this may be why they have moved off a little, till the dust settles somewhat.
The mother cheetah with two young cubs (now around five months old) still frequent the open plains of the central Nxai Pan. All look in good condition, though it must be harder to hunt a little now, as stalking cover is vastly reduced as the grass dies away. The mother had managed to kill a springbok using the cover along Baobab road, and she and her cubs were found there for a couple of days, feeding on the carcass, before moving along to the lodge waterhole for a drink.
TAU PAN – And this month it was Tau Pan’s turn for a bit of ‘R and R’ – well for the staff at least. The camp closed whilst maintenance was undertaken on the airstrip – it’s a bit hard to get in and out of camp when you can’t fly in. Although the work was being done by an outside contracting company, a couple of Tau Pan staff stayed on to ensure that nothing irregular happened to the camp during the time.
Well, for the Tau Pan staff, nothing irregular did happen to the camp. But for the airstrip maintenance crew who were staying within our staff enclosure, it was not quite what they were used to. Perhaps they thought the name of the camp was just a historical reference to lions being in the area at some point… This was soon corrected, when the Tau Pan pride decided to spend a bit of their time snoozing around the camp, since it was all wonderfully peaceful and quiet now.
Whether we have the lions to thank for it, or the super-efficiency of the airstrip contractors, the airstrip was completed a whole week earlier than planned!