As we completed the past month to draw to a close the first quarter of the year, we could again bask in the fact that we had enjoyed a fairly good month of game viewing – and despite being a few dozen Big 5 sightings behind February’s figures, it was still a better than average March.
March was the month of change, where we started out with a very green environment, but ended off 31 days later with a landscape taking on some very distinctive winter colours; this despite 18mm of rain that fell unexpectedly one evening towards the end of the month. Although it will have little impact on the long-term fitness of the bush, it was enough to return a slight shade of green to the northern reaches of the concession – the southern properties received 0mm. In addition to that, March saw the minimum temperatures starting to drop, and despite some very warm days, the mornings and late evenings were starting to get their winter crispness.
From a game viewing point of view, March was a third month of good lion viewing, with a total of 51 sightings recorded. We did have one almost lionless week, but for most of the month, there were at least some lions to keep us going. The nine lions of the Western Pride were less present this month, mostly as a result of the pride reuniting to make up a nine-member strong; this was fantastic to see when they were on the property (such as the day they killed a buffalo on the western boundary, fending off both a clan of hyenas and 100-plus buffalos, only to then lose the kill to a large male lion that chased them off), but as one of the adult lionesses has new cubs on Ingwelala, she would always lead the pride back north, and out of our concession. The hope is that the subadult lions will not be tolerated around the pride when the cubs are eventually introduced, and that this will cause them to return to our area. In their absence, we enjoyed sightings of our slightly mysterious pride presently dubbed the “Timbavati” Pride – these seven lions are becoming much more habituated to the vehicles, and were also responsible for chasing the Western Pride off a giraffe calf kill one morning. Later in the month, they returned from Kruger with only six members (the nervous young male wasn’t with them) and wandered far and wide across our concession, being seen on a buffalo kill as far south as Kings Camp towards the end of the month. The three Ross lions ended the month as only two members after the injured young male eventually met his end at the hands of the Sumatra males somewhere south of our concession. The lone Sumatra lioness has lost her cub and is struggling a bit to maintain her usual good condition, as despite plenty greenery and water in the east, it is devoid of general game; signs of the two large Machimba males are popping up more and more in the central regions, but they are still proving very difficult to actually see. Then lastly, the nomadic – but gorgeous – Duma male lion is still visiting us with some regularity, although we have no idea how long he plans to stay in the area.
On the leopard front, it was a better month for their viewing this month with 56 sightings, although still not with the regularity that we are used to seeing. Shongile female was much more in evidence this month, but sadly it was not always pleasant to see, as she lost both of her new cubs this month. The first cub was killed by a hyena that was trying to scavenge one of her kills, but she was seen the next day with one cub (a mere glimpse of a cub). Sadly though, a week later when she had two kills near the camp, she spent almost all of her time walking around calling for the cub, but with no answer. As the month went by, her calling became less frequent until it eventually stopped. Lets hope that she can fall pregnant again soon and have some cubs before the end of the year. Shongile’s previous daughter was seen a few times close to the camp, but her shy nature is unlikely to lead to many quality sightings any time soon. Inkanye female was very scarce for most the month, only reappearing towards the end of the month in the company of Tshwukunyana male. Ntima male seems to be making himself at home again in our concession, and he was seen a number of times, including once with a relatively large male waterbuck kill. Tshwukunyana male, Machaton male, Xiviti male and Mondzweni male were all seen this month, and Nthombi female (also seen mating), Nyelti female, Leadwood female completed our list of recorded leopards this month. On two separate occasions, guests at Giraffe’s Nest were lucky enough to see leopard coming to drink at the dam whilst staying out in the bush (the luckiest people however were those that saw an aardvark drinking late one evening!!!)
The elephant sightings remained high for the month, with 165 sightings being recorded; there were a few dips in their presence towards the end of the month following the rain (again, herds likely moved towards Kruger to make use of the temporary pans of water and underutilized grazing and browsing there), but as the temperatures returned and the bush started drying again, they started to move back into the area. The buffalo herds remained very scarce, but the bulls kept our sightings ticking over to give a total of 73 sightings for the month. We hope that with the winter conditions returning, the herds will start moving in to the Timbavati for the water and good grazing in the east. There is still a very distinctive lack of calves in the herds that do show up from time to time. Despite the lack of herds, the lions did manage to make a few buffalo kills this month. Rhino sightings were below average this month.
The general game was not quite as good as the past two months, but the northern parts of the concession provided consistent viewing of zebras, giraffes, impalas, kudus, nyalas, hippos, waterbuck and warthogs. The impala rams started their rutting behaviour, and this could lead to an earlier rut this year. The migratory birds were all still around, but their long journeys back to the northern hemisphere will be starting very shortly.