This year, 2017, got off to a great start at Motswari, if for no other reason than the fact that we had green grass! The contrasts from this time last year are just too great for word – the dust bowl devoid of grass that has greeted us on a daily basis for the last two years is now a distant memory as a covering of lush greenery blankets the reserve. While there are still many annual flowers contributing to this greenery, a closer look soon reveals that a good covering of grass is taking over, more noticeable in the north and east, which bodes well for Motswari. Whilst this report will focus on the Big 5 counts, the most noticeable improvement has been in the general game sightings with wildebeest, zebra and giraffe being found on almost all drives, with the open areas of the east in particular being very productive. The frequent encounters that we have had with the general game species have contributed greatly to the rather good Big 5 sightings, even in the face of a thicker environment than we have had to deal with for a long time.
The biggest losers this month with the leopard sightings which dipped to a disappointing (by our standards anyway) 39 sightings – down from an average of 61 sightings per month last year. This is however normal for this time of year, as the thick bush conceals them with ease, but we still had good viewing of some of regulars. Shongile female continued to visit the area around the lodge with some regularity, but it appears that her cubs are still being kept on Ingwelala, with reports being that they are in the camp area (strangely, right next to my family’s bungalow). Inkanye female was also seen more frequently than she has been of late, with one sighting being had of her and Xiviti male mating – cubs in a few months time? Nthombi in the south was practically AWOL this month, and we all sincerely hope that this absence is just temporary; her son, Mondzweni was recorded a couple of times, but also less frequently than normal. Tshwukunyana male was quite prevalent in the central region of Java and Mbali, and this seems to be where he has set up his territory, whilst his brotherm Ntima, has sadly moved west into Klaserie, and he was only seen on a couple of occasions.
The lions were, as is often the case in the early part of the year, better than normal, and we had something that approached a “resident pride” with the seven lions that have broken away from the Western Pride, and spent the last three weeks of the month mostly camped within our traversing area; even when they did return to Ingwelala, it was only for a couple of days before they made their way back, sometimes as far south as Java, as well as to our eastern boundary with the Kruger Park. The three lions of the Ross Pride also popped in more regularly than usual, but our Sumatra lioness and her cubs stayed south of our concession for the entire month. Luckily though, the two big male lions in the east were seen from time to time, and on these occasions, they did put on a wonderful roaring display for those in attendance.
The buffalos have all but returned to their old ways, and the large herds are starting to reform, with groups as large as 150 now being seen. They have improved their condition remarkably, and many of the females look like they might actually be getting ready to give birth in the coming months. The elephants however made themselves even more well known this month, and there were drives where we were just inundated with them, to the point where we didn’t even stop for them anymore! The majority of sightings were of the numerous breeding herds that could be found across the reserve, although, as the month moved on, they were most prevalent in the north and central regions. The rhino sightings also picked up this month.
If there was one disappointment this month, it was that our usual wild dog boom of summer was not seen this month, and we only had 8 sightings of these rare and exciting predators; still, 8 sightings is more than most areas have, but we hope that as the summer carries on, they move back to our area, and with some luck, they decide to den in our area again.
On the bird front, some interesting sightings this month included sightings of a martial eagle with a baby steenbuck kill, as well as very rare sightings of an osprey and a couple of collared (red winged) pratincoles!