The great start to 2017 continued, and the fact that for most of the month the areas within our concession stayed greener than the areas further south was well evidenced by the great sightings we enjoyed throughout the month, as well as the fact that the southern lodges were spending their time in the north! I was away for the last two weeks of the month, but returned to find a much greener bush than when I left, mostly thanks to the 70mm of rain that we received in the latter half of the month. Our lodge occupancies were up, so the more vehicles out there, the more sightings we can record, but as can be seen from the sightings counts, there was plenty to see!
The month of February belonged to the lions, with a whopping 80 sightings recorded over the course of the month, of multiple different prides! As I always say, this is part of the beauty of being in an open system, when one just doesn’t know who or what will move into the area; but I always have to remind my team that as easily as things move in, they can move out, so they should enjoy the bounty of lion sightings on offer at the moment – February 2015 was also very busy with lions, but the months following that abundance were frustratingly sparse on the lion front, so fingers crossed that this cycle is not a repeat of two years ago. What was most pleasing was the continued use of our concession by the seven Western Pride lions, with the occasional joining up of one other adult lioness. Although this pride was struggling for food at the beginning of the month, after a week of not eating, they went on a slight buffalo killing spree and were found on several buffalo kills towards the end of the month which helped regain their impressive stature. Fortunately, they weren’t the only lions around; the two Machimba males in the east were seen sporadiacally, although they used the area far more often than the sightings reflect, with tracks regularly seen traversing our eastern sections. The three Ross lions remained as occasional visitors to the south, as were the two Sumatra males – one morning they were one of four different prides in the area when the trackers heard them killing a buffalo whilst on the tracks of another pride of six lions, presumably the Hercules Pride from the Klaserie. In addition to those regulars, a skittish pride of four or five young lions were seen – but they were very shy of the vehicles, two new, large males from the Ndlopfu area were picked up a couple of times, Duma male lion from the Balule was also seen several times on buffalo kills in our area, as was the decrepit old male that is still somehow managing to hang onto his breaths! Add to this two other lionesses (one of which was lactating heavily) killing a male kudu on our Western Boundary and you can see why we had such a great month of lion viewing!
The leopard viewing was spot on average for February, with 46 sightings being recorded over the course of the month – the thick bush still making it difficult to find the kings and queens of camouflage. Nthombi female was more evident this month after her long period of absence; initial signs look like she might be pregnant again, which would be great news for us! Ntima male also made his presence more well known this month and was found on several occasions, once after having killed a young kudu near Java. Xiviti male still continues to dominate the east, and as far north as Motswari, mostly likely following the scent of Inkanye female into this area. Shongile female was sadly quite absent for most of the month, and there have been no reports of her cubs from the north, so I am not sure where they might be. A young but nervous female leopard was also seen in the north, but she has the potential to become a viewable leopard if she hangs around, and without the presence of any other female leopards in that area, it might end up working out for her (and us!). Towards the end of the month the Goya Rd male leopard was found mating with an unidentified female (possibly the long lost Voël Dam female???) on our western boundary.
The big herbivores thrived this month, with elephant viewing in particular being extremely good throughout the month (173 sightings), mostly in the form of large breeding herds, and bulls looking to mate! The warm afternoons led to many a herd being found swimming in the large dams to help cool off. The buffalo herds continue to enlarge as conditions improve (71 sightings), and there was a good increase in the rhinos sightings too this month.
Most pleasingly though, was the continued presence of herds of general game in the area – some afternoons on the open clearings were like being in east Africa, almost! Giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, impala, warthogs, waterbuck all in the same field of view. It makes such a difference having these herds around, as even the drives that are devoid of Big 5 sightings have so much to look at that it doesn’t feel quiet.