While statistically July proved to be the quietest month we have had for almost two years (only 306 sightings of the Big 5 this month), with the effect of elephants on the total removed, it didn’t prove to be all that different from the last few months. I was away for the first couple of weeks of July, but when I returned, the bush had its full winter coat on, and most of the trees (barring those on the drainage lines and the mopane woodlands) had lost all of their leaves, leading to the animals having to concentrate their activities along the riverbeds. There is still plenty of grass and water around, so conditions are still considerably better than the animals have had to endure for the last couple of years. And whilst the quantity of game might not have been amazing, the quality certainly made up for that, and our guests were treated to some very special viewing out there.
As always, beginning with the lions, we again got to experience what it felt like to not have lions for extended periods of time, but the way that the month started off, this didn’t seem like it would be the case, as the Western Pride – with the two cubs – spent most of the first two weeks of July within our concession, before venturing north and not visiting us for ten days. When they returned, they did so with a bang when our night-watchman radioed to tell us that the lions had made a kill in the middle of the camp! The visit was short lived and a couple of days later they were back in Ingwelala. The pride males even paid us a visit late in the month when we woke up to the sound of them roaring on the airstrip, and they proceeded to walk past the lodge and carry on to the north east; the good news is that both males were looking in much better condition and their limps are gone. The Sumatra lioness was seen mating again, indicating that she is no longer pregnant, and possibly lost her cubs already; she had a good few days feasting on a large male kudu that she killed near Argyle Dam. The Machimba males could be heard roaring in the distance most nights, but their behaviour is not getting any better, and when the female is in estrus, they become very possessive and defensive of her, and we need to give them a lot of space! These males also did a good job of chasing the Timbavati Pride away during their solitary visit to our concession this month; when they were found, they had managed to catch a large male zebra and spent the day feasting on it before being chased off. We ended off the month with 44 lion sightings being recorded, although most of those were in the first two weeks of the month.
On the leopard front, sightings were down from June’s 73 sightings, and sat exactly at the average of 53 sightings for the month. We had some very good quality sightings, with interesting interactions this month; Madzinyo male was seen mating with Nyelti female in the south (she was almost presumed dead due to her long absence from the area), Tshwukunyana male and Klakisa female were also found mating towards the end of the month. Tshwukunyana was also found harassing Inkanye female on a couple of occasions and stealing her kills. Shongile female was seen fairly regularly in the north, and her cub was also seen and is slowly getting more relaxed with the vehicles. The biggest change in demeanor though was the Machaton male who is now very, very relaxed with the vehicles, and worth following up on when his tracks are found – time will tell if this is just a phase or if he has eventually settled completely. Leadwood female though is not showing great signs of relaxing. Another indivual that is proving to provide good viewing is the mightily impressive Goya Rd male in the far west, and he was found one night having stolen a kill from a small female in that area; although all the guides called her a young female, her ears told a different story, and a quick comparison proved her to be the long-lost Voël Dam female that I hadn’t seen since 2009!!! Xiviti male, Ntima male and Monzweni male remained active in the central regions and provided for great viewing whenever they were found. The best news for the month though was the fact that Nthombi female has had cubs – we didn’t even know she was pregnant – following seeing her with suckle marks, and then a tracker stumbling upon her den site one afternoon. We immediately closed of the area, and will give the cubs space to grow up, and when they are a few weeks older, we will hopefully be able to enjoy them (if they survive).
On the large animal front, the elephant sightings were almost half of what they were last month, but we still had a very respectable 129 sightings of herds and bulls. The herds are moving greater distance each day in the search for food, which means that as quickly as they disappear, they can return. The Nhlaralumi riverbed ahs yet to prove to be as big a magnet for elephants as it usually is at this time of year, but no doubt this will start to attract the herds in the near future. Buffalo numbers were marginally up, with 41 sightings being had of small herds (less than 100), the occasional herd of over 100, and then a few scattered bulls in the north and central regions. Rhino sightings remain sporadic and this winter is proving to be a big struggle for these pre-historic looking animals.
The month however belonged to my favourite animal, the wild dogs! The 17 sightings might not sound like a lot, but it included some excellent quality. The Investec pack from the Kruger still appear to be denning just east of our boundary, and with the pups now two-months old, they should start to move the den site more regularly, and with some luck, August will see them moving the den into our area. The pack still used our area to hunt every other day. Another pack (not seen by us) has also moved only Ingwelala with some pups, but I am not sure of their make-up. The best news was that our pack of eleven (from last year’s den site) has had nine pups and have now got them denning within our concession! The pack moves the den every few days, but for the last week of the month, they provided for daily viewing of these incredibly energetic pups – a real treat and privilege to be able to see!
Although this month didn’t have any pangolin or cheetah sightings, it did provide something much rarer – a caracal sighting! It is the first caracal our guides have seen for a few years now.