Looking back at the happenings from June, we were treated to some great game viewing, with the elephants dominating the viewing through the month, as the herds moved into the area in big numbers as winter pushed on. The autum-coloured bush quickly gave way to the more drab colours of winter, but with clear blue skies and bright sunshine most days, the bush was looking great, and with 422 sightings of the Big 5, and fairly good general game, guides and guests enjoyed the month. Zebra herds could be seen mostly in the south, whilst in the north we were seeing bigger waterbuck herds than we have for a while. The giraffes seem to be concentrating on the riverbeds, with the Nhlaralumi drawing in many of them – Brad counted 40 in the area one morning!
Our lion viewing was fairly good for the month with 47 recorded sightings – a little lower than the 52 monthly average for the year to date – and these sightings were made up mostly of our Western Pride that frequented the area through the month. The smaller of the pride males was found in a pretty poor condition early in the month, but this wasn’t enough to stop him from mating with one of the adults that had come into estrus. The pride is doing well, but their search for food for its eleven members (sadly one of the small cubs died during the month) took them as far south as Masungulo before they returned north again; they even made an appearance in front of the lodge one evening before moving back towards Ingwelala. The Sumatra males were seen a couple of times during the month, and maybe it was their presence that led to the sole surviving lioness of the Machaton Pride moving as far north as Peru Cutline during the latter parts of the month; she hadn’t been in this area for a couple of years, but I suspect that the real reason is the very high density of hyenas in the Timbavati just south of our concession that are proving to be too powerful a force for a lone lioness. The rest of the lion sightings were made up of sightings of the Machimba males and the Sumatra lioness that are proving to be a more permanent presence in the east, and are still pushing more west. The males are slowly getting better with the vehicles, but are still the wildest lions that we have in our concession.
Despite the good lions, the leopards were still on show, and this month saw us tick of 73 leopard sightings – the highest monthly total for the year so far! The big improvement was that we were seeing more and more of our relaxed and habituated leopards in the area, and that some of the shier individuals were building their confidence slowly. Madzinyo male in the south-east has become extremely comfortable with the vehicles, and he provided good viewing one day when he spent the entire day on a termite mound waiting for a warthog to emerge from its burrow before he lost interest and walked off. Inkanye female was seen frequently in the north, and Shongile also spent some good time within our concession; her cub is not 6 months old, but still quite shy and we only saw it at a long distance a couple of times. Machaton male – the dominant male in the north – was much more in evidence and seems to eventually be growing in confidence and providing us with good viewing (its only taken 9 years!!!). Ntima male, Tshwukunyana male and Klakisa female provided for good viewing in the central regions, with the latter two being found mating again; in fact, I was watching an old male leopard on Java when we could hear the distant mating of the pair, but the big old male seemed to care less and carried on resting with his impala kill. Mondzweni male leopard eventually pitched up to finish the kill, proving that he is quite settled in the southern regions for now. Nthombi was seen too, but most of her movements were to the far south of the concession. In the east, we only managed a couple of sightings of Xiviti male leopard, but his tracks were always in evidence when we ventured east.
Buffalo sightings dropped even lower this month, with only 36 sightings being had for the whole month; this is half the average monthly total for the past 5 years! There were some small herds that moved through the region, but these seldom reached even 100 members. The old buffalo bulls that are resident in the reserve were seen from time to time, but all too scarce. Rhino sightings weren’t much better, and we could go days between sightings. The lack of these two animals was however more than made up for by the large numbers of elephants found across the reserve for the entire month, with a whopping 234 sightings making it into our sightings book. There were many herds moving around, as well as some impressive bulls drawn into the area by the abundance of females. Afternoons around the big dams often produced some lovely viewing of these pachyderms.
Other sightings of interest for the month included a sighting one evening of the always rare pangolin that some of our guides got to see. We were also treated to a young coalition of three male cheetahs that moved through the area, but were sadly only seen once, despite seeing their tracks for a couple of days. My personal highlight was seeing a white-crowned night heron – the first one I have seen in 10 years here!