November saw a pleasing increase in the number of Big 7 sightings, and we ended the month just marginally above the yearly average with 393 Big 7 sightings – which again included no cheetahs passing through the area.
We will begin with the lions as usual, and the month of November was actually the worst month in terms of lion viewing for the year, with 36 sightings recorded of five different sets of lions; as usual it was the mighty Western Pride that dominated things as they moved through the area looking for food – with Ingwelala being even drier than our concession, their trips to the northern part of their territory usually didn’t take them out of action for too long, although at one point they were absent for a whole week when they managed to kill a buffalo far north of us. The fact that two of the lionesses are pregnant – in fact, one might even have had cubs already – is no doubt moving the pride back into the core of their territory and towards their usual birthing grounds along the Nhlaralumi north of us. This might work in our favour if the six younger lions tire of the mothers focusing their attention there, and like last time, spend more and more time away from the pride. They did actually do that for a period this month, but after having stolen a buffalo kill from some hyenas, appears that they got chased north by the two new Kruger males. Luckily no injuries occurred, and I found it very interesting that the next time the pride males appeared, the two of them walked straight south into the heart of where the Kruger males roam, scent-marked, and then walked straight back north! Sadly, the one Western Pride male was in an awful condition, and actually succumbed to his poor state of health towards the end of the month, leaving just one strong male with the pride – the last of the Jacaranda males. Further south, the two Mbiri males showed up from time to time, occasionally in the company of the two Ross females. The one remaining Machimba male seems to have vacated the eastern sections and was seen once, but far in the west of our concession, so we are not sure what will happen to the lone Sumatra lioness. She was seen a handful of times this month across the reserve – she is also looking like she is pregnant, but I know I have thought that more than once before, and always been wrong! The one highlight for the month was when the Western Pride killed a buffalo bull just east of the camp, and spent two successive evenings walking backwards and forwards from the camp when they came to drink; definitely kept the guides and night security on their toes!
Sticking with cats, the leopards did just about what we would expect leopards to do in November, and for the second month running, they were spot on the average number of sightings for the month, with 56 sightings being recorded of more than a dozen individuals being seen. Inkanye female roamed far and wide again looking for mates – she was seen way down south mating with Madzinyo before arriving back in the north and visiting Giraffe’s Nest a couple of times; later in the month she was in the east with Xiviti male leopard, but that may have been more about the presence of a kill rather than for mating. Speaking of mating, Shongile female was found mating with Ntima male in the north – now that is unusual for a female with a cub, but sad news is that early in the month, after being seen around camp for several days, a male leopard killed Shongile’s ten month old cub and our guides and guests awoke one morning to see the poor leopard draped lifelessly over the branch of a large Marula tree opposite camp – the culprit was never identified. Both Ntima and Tshwukunyana made their presence felt in the north, to the point where we didn’t record any sightings of Machaton male; it is even possible that he may no longer be around. We also saw a new male in the west, as well as had a couple of visits from Goya Rd male on our western boundary. Mondzweni male was very evident in the central regions this month, and was possibly our most viewed leopard? His mother – Nthombi female – made an appearance at long last and she was reported several times in the far south; on one occasion she was walking around calling for the cub which could indicate that it might still be alive, but this is not a very likely scenario.
Closing off on the predator reports was that of another fantastic month of wild dog viewing with 27 recorded sightings this month of two packs; the pack of 12 and the pack of 19. The beginning of the month was quiet, and we went through a quiet patch as the month was closing out, but when the packs were around, they made their presence very well known and took advantage of a bounty of baby impalas.
Rhino sightings were down a touch this month with 37 recorded sightings of seven individuals, but they were a constant presence. The injured cow was treated again this month, and the vet was happy with her progress although it is clear that she is still struggling to walk; that being said, she is looking healthy and feeding and making her way to water regularly. We had another female rhino that was injured, but her injuries were confirmed to have been inflicted by a male rhino – sadly she could not be fund when the vet was around, so we were unable to treat her.
The buffalo viewing shot up this month with the return of a handful of small herds to the west, south but mostly in the east – the buffalo bulls were however found across the reserve where ever water could be found; we more than doubled last months views with a total of 72 sightings being recorded. They are all looking in good condition despite the lack of early summer rains, and a far cry from what we saw this time last year. November also saw a marked increase of some 30 percent in elephant sightings, with 165 recorded across the reserve. Despite the high count, it never really felt like they were too abundant, as the north was devoid of breeding herds for much of the duration of the month; at one point we had gone for two weeks without a herd in the north. The rainfall was better in the south and south-west in November, and this has drawn the herds to that corner of our concession, and even further away – if you braved the trip, you would usually be rewarded with some herds. The bulls were very evident in the mopane woodlands of the north-east and the west, and allowed for daily elephant sightings in one form or another.
November is usually the month of change, and this month did change – it got a lot hotter, drier and browner than last month, which is not how the script should have gone!!! Some of the characters played along, and the first baby impalas showed themselves on the 14th November, which also happened to be the first day that the woodland’s kingfishers could be heard calling around the reserve; later in the month they were joined by the Eurasian roller. Almost all our migrants are back now, with the exception of the carmine bee-eaters. Other birding highlights included some baby kori bustards that are not overly common around here, and the continued presence of the collared-pratincoles around Argyle Dam. Other than that, the general game was fair; plenty of impala, kudu and waterbuck in the north, especially around the dams, but the giraffes have moved to the central regions where the rainfall was kinder; we did however get to see a baby giraffe that was less than a day old up on the north.