While in recent years lion numbers have plummeted throughout Africa, the lion populations in South Africa’s Greater Kruger have done relatively well. The sizable open system available to them has created the perfect backdrop to allow for their fortunes and catastrophes to play out mostly undisturbed by anthropogenic influence. Lion coalitions and prides have come and gone, and some have achieved celebrity status.
Throughout the years, these lion coalitions and prides have been named by the assorted guides, trackers and researchers that have spent time with them. Most of these names are in some way a reference to the area associated with the pride or the territorial region of the males, but some extend to slightly more imaginative references. Given the tendency of humans to name things this is hardly surprising, but less expected was how social media has created fans across the globe who follow, research and adore certain lion coalitions and prides, most often from afar.
Here are just a handful of examples of these lion celebrities – some living, some legend and some teetering on the edge of survival.
Mapogo Male Lions
No article on famous lions would be complete without mentioning one of the most famous lion coalitions of all time (certainly in South Africa). Born to the Sparta/Eyrefield pride of the Sabi Sands around 2001/2, the Mapogo male lions, six individuals in total, have become something of a legend to the point of inspiring their own movie – Brothers in Blood. Named after a security company known for using somewhat brutal methods, the Mapogo boys: Makhulu, Rasta, Pretty Boy, Kinky Tail and Satan/Mr T, began their reign of terror in 2006 as they set out to claim domination over a massive portion of land on the western edges of the Greater Kruger.
Like all legends, the lines between fact and fiction have blurred over time. Tales of their brutality have been exaggerated by many, but they were known to have killed at least 40 (if not more) other lions, including females and cubs.
Their fortunes changed in 2010 when the first of the coalition was killed and, though they stayed dominant, their territory diminished until the oldest remaining members of the coalition were inevitably pushed out by younger, stronger lions in 2012. The last remaining individual was seen in 2013.
The Southern Matimba Male Lions
Initially a coalition of six male lions, the Matimba males ruled over the Manyeleti Game Reserve and surrounding areas in 2010 before splitting into two groups after the death of the oldest coalition member. The Southern Matimba coalition consisted of two individuals named Hairy-Belly and Ginger that initially established themselves in the southern portion of the Sabi Sands.
Quite apart from their extraordinary good looks, these two consummate survivors were exceptionally good at knowing when to fight and when to back down. As they aged, and whenever they found themselves outmatched, they shifted territories and set up in a different section of the Sabi Sands, somehow always managing to find themselves an area with limited competition. Ginger died in 2019 after contracting a severe mange infestation, but Hairy Belly continues to patrol his territory and mate, despite his advanced age.
The Ximhungwe Pride
The story of the Ximhungwe pride is a perfect example of how the fate of a lion pride can be inexorably linked to the changes in male lion dynamics. Initially the Castleton pride, their numbers boomed in 2006, and the pride numbered over 20 at one stage. The arrival of the Mapogos spelt disaster for this once massive pride – their numbers were decimated, and a combination of disease, bad luck and bad timing meant that the pride never managed to recover.
In 2015, the last adult lioness was killed in a clash with a rival lion pride, leaving behind young lions barely old enough to survive on their own. Two of these young lionesses survived by remaining as secretive as possible for years before finally managing to establish themselves in Manyeleti where they remain around Dixie Dam, far from their natal home range.
The Styx Pride
Named after the Styx River of ancient Egyptian mythology due to their efficiency in dispatching prey to the afterlife, the Styx Pride have been consummate survivors despite facing considerable challenges. Chronic mange infestation has claimed the lives of many of their cubs and worsens every dry season. With the death of their oldest and most experienced pride member in 2019, and with new males posing a threat to their cubs, the pride became nomadic before finally seeming to settle (for now) around the Sand River towards the western edge of the Sabi Sands.
The Birmingham Pride
The Birmingham Pride currently roams the Ngala Private Game Reserve and Timbavati regions under the watchful eye of the Ross Male. This impressive and successful pride of 14 currently has two of the three wild white (leucistic) lions in the world – a young male of 18 months and a little female not quite a year old. Their arrival caused a buzz of excitement but, like all wild lion cubs, their survival depends upon the care and skill of the pride, the continued dominance of the Ross male and no small amount of luck.
Leucistic coloration is a rare recessive trait and not a separate species or sub-species. With only one exception, the Timbavati region is the home of the white lion gene pool, and it seems to flow strongly through the Birmingham Pride female line.
The Orpen Males
Junior and his coalition mate are perfect examples of how male lions are not necessarily particularly fussy when it comes to choosing coalition mates. More often than not, lion coalitions are formed when young male lions from the same pride – siblings and cousins – move away from their natal prides together. But this is not always possible. In Junior’s case, he was the only young male within his natal pride, when the Birmingham Males moved into the area and eventually forced him out.
During his nomadic wanderings, he encountered another young male, and the two found solace and support in each other. They are now the dominant males of a prime section of territory in Manyeleti Private Game Reserve and the Kruger National Park.
This is just a snapshot of some of the intricacies of lion coalitions and prides in the Greater Kruger. Unbeknownst to them, these lions have their own social media pages – with each individual’s photographs, movements and lineages documented with care and precision. This comprehensive, if somewhat piecemeal, record of their lives may not be good research material, but it certainly is a massive repository of information about the meta-dynamics of lions within the Greater Kruger.
Animals communicate in a variety of ways but the most obvious of these, to humans at least, is their body language. Anyone can learn to read the body language of animals to differing degrees – we spend our lives figuring out the complexities of human communication and animals are far less equivocal than human beings. With their complex social structure and high intelligence, not to mention their potential danger to humans, elephants are an excellent place to start. A little practice and some observational skills are all that’s needed to understand the basics. In turn, this understanding can add immeasurably to the enjoyment of an elephant sighting or ensure comfort for elephants and those viewing them.
Where to start
Are you looking at a breeding herd or a male or a group of males? This is important because different things can motivate bulls and cows. The older females of a breeding herd are the ones that will dictate what the herd does and how they respond to something, and their sole objective is to ensure the safety of their herd. The younger elephants can be playful, insecure or looking to establish their boundaries, so their signals are often misleading, meaning that it’s always a good idea to gauge the mood of the larger females first. The intentions of males can be harder to read or understand. The younger males that have left the security of their herds at puberty are often quite nervous, and this either translates into either moving away or attempting to intimidate a potential threat. Older males are the undisputed kings of all that they survey and should be treated as such – don’t block their routes or antagonise them, and most will behave like perfect gentlemen.
Believe it or not, the tail is the real key to reading elephant body language. Elephants are intelligent and often display what’s known as displacement behaviour – they sometimes pretend to feed, for example, while they figure out their next move in an uncomfortable situation. Their tail, however, gives them away. The tail of a relaxed elephant swings from side to side; the tail of an alert or uncomfortable elephant is held still, pointing downwards; and the tail of an upset, frightened or angry elephant is held out stiffly at right angles from the body.
An elephant that is flapping its ears isn’t angry, it’s hot and trying to cool down. They use wind cooling over the surface of their ears to lower the temperature of the blood and ultimately, their core body temperature. If an elephant is unsettled by something, they will raise their heads and spread their ears in an attempt to show off how large they are (this is mostly unnecessary, as anyone who has been close to an elephant will tell you). A headshake often accompanies this.
This is often something that older cows do close to vehicles and is their way of telling you not to try anything silly. You, in turn, can communicate your good intentions by staying still and quiet. If this movement from a female is accompanied by a few short running steps in your direction, it’s time for you to move off if you can – again calmly and as slowly as possible.
This complicated body part so unique to elephants often displays the nuances of elephant body language. An elephant uses its trunk for everything from eating and drinking to smelling and touching so it is continuously moving and interpreting its meaning can be quite complicated. A good general approach is that if the movement is focused – feeding, for example, then the elephant is relaxed. If the elephant is standing still with the trunk raised and curled with the tip pointing in a specific direction, the elephant has picked up on a particular scent and is working out what it is and what direction it is coming from. If the elephant is standing still with the trunk down and the tip twisting from side to side, this can mean that something has caught the elephant’s attention and it is deciding what to do next. A twisting trunk can be a sign of anxiety.
Bull elephants, particularly those in musth (see below), sometimes drape their trunks over their tusks. This is almost always an attempt at intimidation and should be interpreted as such – those new to elephant behaviour should take this as a sign to move out of the male’s way.
Feet and general body language
Elephants use their feet constantly to dig up roots or kick up dirt or dust, so an elephant kicking the ground repeatedly is no cause for concern. Elephants are constantly moving so any stillness (unless they are resting with sleeping youngsters) is a sign that something is amiss or that they are listening intently – either to other elephants or something else. Rocking from side to side can also be a sign of indecision or anxiety.
Musth bulls are deserving of their own section based on the fact that they can be more unpredictable and occasionally more aggressive while in this state. All mature bulls experience musth cycles where their testosterone levels skyrocket to around 60 times the normal levels. They secrete liquid from their temporal glands (see below) and that, combined with a constant urine drip that coats their legs, gives them a distinctive musky odour. Musth bulls hold their heads high with the ears above the level of the shoulders and walk with a self-assured swagger.
Elephants have glands between their eyes and ears (the temporal region) that secrete an oily substance containing hormones and other substances. Often these secretions go into overdrive when the elephant is nervous, stressed or excited, although interpreting the reasons behind this can often be quite tricky.
Final word and disclaimer
Elephants are complex creatures, and it is impossible to apply any rules with absolute certainty. Discretion is always the better part of valour where elephants are concerned, and they should never be taken for granted – if you are uncomfortable with a situation, move away slowly and calmly. This guide is intended to assist beginners in reading an elephant, rather than encourage a sense of overconfidence. All wild animals should be treated with respect and elephants are no exception.
The 3rd March is World Wildlife Day – an opportunity to celebrate the many beautiful and varied forms of wild fauna and flora across Africa and throughout the rest of the world.
World Wildlife Day was proclaimed by the United Nations on the 20th December 2013. It falls on the 3rd of March, the same day where back in 1973, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was founded. World Wildlife Day is a day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants and the multitude of benefits that their conservation provides to people.
To celebrate this day, Southern Camp Ranger Mike Brown shared a few of his personal wildlife photographs taken on Kapama Private Game Reserve in 2019.
Comment on your favorite photo!
Photos by Southern Camp Ranger – Mike Brown
When you think of a Hyena, what comes to mind? A scavenger, the creepy laugh that fills the bush after the sun has set? Or the bad guy from the Lion King? But, they are not the lazy creatures that documentaries and animated stories make them out to be. Yes, they steal food from other animals, but most of their meals come from their hunting.
Hyenas often hunt in groups and can take down a wide range of animals such as wildebeest, zebra and other species of antelope. Other snacks on the menu include snakes, birds, fish, lizards as well as insects. They sure make the most of their meals and eat every part of the animal, except the horns. Yes, that’s rights they even eat the bones. They are equipped with super-strong jaws and teeth that can crunch through anything.
The family of Hyaenidae has four members. The Spotted Hyena, the Brown Hyena, the Side-stripped Hyena and the Aardwolf. Of all the above species the Spotted Hyena is the biggest and most common. They are very social animals and live in a group called a clan that can reach up to 80. There’s a strict hierarchy where the females rank higher than the males and the clan is led by a powerful alpha female. The females are also about 25% bigger than the males!
A female Hyena can give birth to one or two cubs a year, which she will nurse in a den. When they grow up the males will often leave to join a different clan, but the females will stay with the same clan for the rest of their lives. Hyenas have an interesting behaviour known as siblicide between the youngsters. If the female has two of the same sex cubs, she will make them fight one another so one will kill the other to eliminate competition in the clan.
Hyenas are one of my favourite animals to see on Kapama Game Reserve. Recently we have been very lucky to come across 3 different den sites situated in the northwestern part of the reserve. One of the dens is not too far from Kapama River Lodge. One afternoon my guests and I were treated to one female Hyena lying outside the den. She eventually stood up to have a look around. Suddenly out came her curious cub which was about less than a month old. So small, still black and just as curious. But this little fella was not that brave yet and stood between moms two front legs as if to say “I’m brave but moms braver”.
A few weeks later I went back to the den site and found the mother laying outside the den again, as it was a very hot day. After a while, what I thought was only one cub, became two cubs. They were as playful as any very young animal that is learning and exploring its new environment. They were running up and down, all-around mom and of course all over mom’s head and body, as if she was a jungle gym. Now and again she would let them know they are overstepping their boundary. This playful act soon became a tackling game but because their legs are still short and unfamiliar, they would clumsily fall over a stick or even something as simple as grass.
It was such a treat to see a different side of Hyenas and my guests left with a changed sense of what these creatures are.
Story by River Lodge Ranger Lisa – Photos by Lisa and Ben
THE – WHAT, WHO, WHERE, WHY & HOW
The 15th February is World Pangolin Day. Not too many of us are familiar with these shy and elusive animals so we would like to take this opportunity to give a bit more insight into these amazing creatures.
What exactly is a Pangolin? Many people think of this animal as a reptile, because its whole body is covered in hard scales, but it is, in fact, a mammal. It uses these hard sharp-edged scales to defend itself by curling into a tight ball when threatened. It is the only mammal to be fully covered in hard scales which are comprised of keratin (the same substance as our hair and fingernails) which start soft when a baby pangolin is born and harden within a day or two.
Female Pangolins give birth to a single baby. These babies nurse for 3-4 months, although they do start eating insects at around a month old. During the early stages of life, they ride around on moms’ tail.
Pangolins are often referred to as scaly anteaters, due to the fact their diet consists primarily of ants, termites and their larvae, Pangolins are insectivores and do not have any teeth so they use their long sticky tongues to slurp up insects!
It is believed that a single pangolin can consume up to 70 000 000 insects in a year, the majority of that being ants and termites! 70 million!! That equates to around 191 781 per day!
Pangolins have very poor vision, but a great sense of smell which they use to help locate food. They have strong feet for digging open termite mounds with five toes, each containing claws, these claws also help them to climb trees, Pangolins are also very capable swimmers.
Who is the biggest threat to Pangolins? Sadly, the answer to this is Humans, Pangolins are the second most trafficked mammal in the world next to humans!
Pangolins are in huge demand in the Asian market, especially countries like China and Vietnam, where their meat is considered a delicacy. Their scales are used in traditional medicine and folk remedies while their nails are used to make jewellery and ornaments.
Where do Pangolins naturally occur in the wild?
There are 8 species of Pangolin worldwide, they can be found in China, India, South East Asia and Africa.
Pangolins are nocturnal (active at night) solitary animals and they live in burrows in the ground. This makes them difficult to see, and sightings are very rare.
Why is it important to raise awareness about these unique creatures?
The truth of the matter is the Pangolin is considered vulnerable and they stand the chance of going extinct in the years to come, should poaching continue at the rate it’s at.
Because of their specialised diet, they form a major part of “pest control”, and by digging looking for food with their long nails, they turn, mix and aerate the soil. This improves the nutrient quality of the soil and aids decomposition.
Although it may seem a minimal loss to some, the more naturally occurring parts you remove from a system the closer you get to total system collapse, and we are inching closer day by day to losing the Pangolin forever.
You might be thinking to yourself what you can do to help raise awareness about these fascinating and unique creatures?
This Pangolin day join us in raising awareness by
> Liking and sharing this blog article, or our Instagram post on https://www.instagram.com/kapamaprivategamereserve/ or our tweet on Twitter – https://twitter.com/KapamaReserve or our Facebook post at https://www.facebook.com/kapamaprivategamereserve/
> Use the hashtag #WorldPangolinDay
> Spreading the word of why they get poached and dispel myths of local medicine
Report any activity of people dealing or trading with any pangolin parts
Tim was an enormous bull elephant, with massive tusks that touched the ground. His fame catalysed many conservation programs, and he was a popular photographic subject for safari tourists, who would travel from across the world to see him. He is Africa’s most photographed elephant.
‘Tim was, without a doubt, mischievous’. During the first year, he made 183 attempts to enter farmlands and raid crops. The monitoring team were able to stop around 50% of these from going any further, Save the Elephants said. In February last year, Tim nearly died after he became trapped in a muddy swamp. However was later rescued by KWS and animal protection groups. Former Save the Elephants field assistant Ryan Wilkie said: “Tim was a special elephant – not just to me but to hundreds, thousands of people who would flock to Amboseli just for the chance to see him.
“He was so incredibly intelligent, mischievous, yes, but also a truly gentle giant and in that way a real ambassador for his species.”
Tim captured the hearts of people around the world because of his gentle demeanor. He is an ambassador for his species, as his legend will live on.
We celebrate his life with these images, which were submitted by entrants to our Photographer of the Year.
The magnificent elephant bull, nicknamed “Julian”, was believed to be well over 50 years old, had lived out his life in the Rukinga region of Kenya that lies between Tsavo West and East National Parks and was a sight to behold should you you have come across him on a safari game drive. He was well known to conservationists of the area and his enormous tusks that brushed the ground as he walked made him instantly recognizable. His carcass was found on 14th January 2020 after it was spotted by a gyrocopter pilot who reported it to authorities. We reported last week that the famous tusker ‘Tim’ died last week, also of natural causes.
A tusker is the description given to an elephant with tusks that touch the ground, and there are very few remaining tuskers in Africa – some estimates suggest that there may be less than 40 individuals remaining on the entire continent. Their numbers have been decimated through decades of indiscriminate hunting and ivory poaching. The Tsavo area is known for its spectacular big tuskers.
The announcement was made by Wildlife Works – a REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) project development and management company responsible for establishing the Kasigau Corridor in the Rukinga region. Julian was regularly seen within the project area, and officials estimated him to be approximately 50 years old. Wildlife Works aerial surveillance team started to officially keep an eye on him during the Kenya poaching crisis in 2014 when he was the second-largest resident bull. The only bull larger than Julian died during the 2017 drought in Tsavo.
Wildlife Works described Julian as one of the more mobile bulls on the ranches; he would move right down to northern Tanzania’s Mkomazi Game Reserve, and Kenya’s southeastern ranches Koranze and Lungalunga. He would often not be seen for several months at a time, making much of his life a mystery. He would, however, always return to Rukinga ranch to socialize with the large herds, often accompanied by other bulls – almost acting as his bodyguards. Locals say that he would often hide his tusks in bushes when aircraft flew overhead, as if he knew he was a target for poachers.
Julian was not known as an aggressive bull, vehicles or rangers never had to be cautious around him, nor was he known as a crop raider. He had a scar on his right side, a possible attempt on his life from a poisoned arrow of a poacher.
He was found on 14th January 2020 under a tree in the long grass of Rukinga ranch, eyes closed as if he went to sleep peacefully. His death was deemed to be as a result of natural causes.
My guests and I began our morning safari with a sense of excitement and intrigue as we made our way out of Buffalo Camp. I heard from colleagues a pair of male Lions had been spotted earlier that morning not too far away from us. As Lions, especially male Lions, are always high up on our guests’ wish list, we decided to head in their direction. With good tracking from my assistant guide, Ishmael, we hoped to come across a good sighting.
The tracks we followed to one area showed the Lions had moved off. Determined to find them we tried to pick up on their movements. In the distance, we could see several vultures in the air. Slowly one by one they moved down to the ground which is a really good indicator that something was dead. It seemed it was not just us who had noticed the vultures, as Ishmael pointed out the Lion tracks were heading straight towards the birds of prey.
Lions use vultures to find food. They know vultures will only flock in numbers and go to the ground if there is something dead which the Lions use this to their advantage. We looped around straight to the circling vultures hoping we would see some sign of the male Lions. When we got to the location we went to investigate what was causing the flock of vultures to congregate. But we could not see or pinpoint anything as there were so many vultures. Suddenly out of the bushes, the two male Lions we were hunting emerged into view and started to sniff around.
This was a perfect opportunity for us to take some time and enjoy their behavior and interaction with each other and the vultures. Suddenly one of the male Lions started to move quickly past our vehicle. We all turned around to see what caused this sudden reaction. With awe, we watched as the male Lion picked up speed, sprinted then jumped on the trunk of a tree and began to climb. Following his movements I noticed a dead impala hanging quite high up in the tree. It was a kill from a leopard who had chosen this particular tree as its hiding spot for its meal. Unlucky for the leopard, the male Lion had found its prize. The male Lion got higher up in the tree and started to pull on the impala body trying to loosen it from its hiding spot. The more he pulled the more the horn of the impala caught on the branch.
The male Lion took a breather and I could see that he was a bit nervous to be so high up. The fear in his eyes was evident. Normally Lions don’t climb trees as they are too heavy and very uncomfortable to be high up in a tree trying to keep their balance as not to fall.
But this male Lion seemed to put his fears aside and continued to concentrate on getting the impala kill loose. He seemed determined to do anything to get it. With a second attempt, he gripped tighter, and with one more mighty pull managed to dislodge the impala. That was only one part of his mission.
Now he had to still get down. Step by step he tried to move slowly down the tree, then suddenly he slipped and fell straight down. As he hit the ground the other male Lion charged in and grabbed the impala, attempting to steal it. As quickly as he fell he swung around and gripped his prize trying hard not to give it up. A classic tug of war commenced between these two great beasts, each one pulling as hard as possible trying to take the meal for themselves. With this incredible force, the impala split in half and both Lions ran to separate corners, pleased with their winnings.
What an experience this was, not only for my guests but for myself and Ishamel as well. From the tracking of the two Lions to the vultures. From witnessing a Lion climbing a tree to the stealing of the carcass and finally the ultimate tug of war. Such an unexpected and unforgettable sighting of a Big Five. Another terrific ending to our guests’ safari stays at Kapama.
Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger Ben Scheepers
Of all the animals in Africa, perhaps the most beloved and revered is its one true giant – the African bush elephant. The world’s largest land mammal is also Africa’s biggest icon, and, sadly, one of its most threatened, thanks to the demand for ivory.
Some conservation organizations suggest that we lose around 100 elephants a day in Africa to ivory poaching. That’s potentially one elephant every 15 minutes. Gone. Forever. On the Balule Private Nature Reserve, home to Sausage Tree Safari Camp, our elephant population is well-protected and shared with the Greater Kruger. They move between the reserves that make up this amazing grouping as well as the legendary Kruger National Park itself, that borders the Balule.
We regularly see large breeding herds on game drives, as well as some magnificent individual bulls and bachelor groups. We consider it a privilege to see them and switch off our vehicles so that we can spend time quietly observing them and appreciating their presence.
Elephants are, quite simply, incredible mammals. Intelligent, emotional, empathetic and acknowledged as being sentient. They are capable of using tools, recognize themselves in mirrors, have incredible spatial awareness and recent research has even shown that they have the ability under certain circumstances to identify potentially dangerous humans.
Elephants are thought to “grieve” for their dead and have been recorded offering assistance to distressed members of their family unit. The oldest members of herds have acquired “wisdom” and store both knowledge and experience of their social groups and environment. They can communicate over enormous distances through low frequency, infrasonic rumbles which resonate at a frequency that other elephants can detect through the ground. For this reason, elephants have enlarged ear bones and sensitive nerve endings in their feet that “hear” these sounds through the soft skin pads on their feet, picking up the sensitive, seismic vibrations. They are also thought to also lay their trunks on the ground to detect vibrations.
There is so much written about elephants: so many facts and figures, and so much research that sheds light on their way of life. There is much being done throughout Africa to try and protect them from their biggest threat – us. It’s sometimes hard to cut through this mountain of information and focus on what we can do to help ensure our children and grandchildren live in a world where African elephants still roam wild and free. Here at Sausage Tree Safari Camp we believe that protecting their habitat is key to the survival of elephants. Their range is hampered by human expansion and human competition for the same resources – access to water and food. It’s restricted by the fence lines we put up to protect both them and us. Elephants need space, and it’s up to us to ensure that there is enough space for them, and that we learn to live alongside them through better understanding their needs.
Our role is easy – by helping our guests to understand these incredible animals we create elephant ambassadors who help to fuel and drive conservation programs. And through these programs, we are slowly finding ways to co-exist with this wonderful African icon to create hope for their future.
Blog & Photos by Sausage Tree Safari Camp
Summer in the South African bush is something to behold. Trees, shrubs and plants that have endured our long dry season have transformed into lush, verdant thickets and forests and the Balule Private Nature Reserve is green, green, green! The perfect time for an African Safari Adventure!
This is the difference that rain makes to our water-scarce environment. The clouds began to build up in mid-November last year as the heat built to a crescendo and our first storms of the season were a blessing. Within a few days, new growth began to appear everywhere, from the first tentative blades of grass that pushed their way through the soil to buds forming on every tree and shrub. Slowly but surely the bush rejuvenated, given new life with every downpour.
The coming of the rains is a signal to our wildlife that the season of plenty is about to begin. Many species time the birth of their babies perfectly to take advantage of the increase in food sources. Impala and wildebeest are what we call synchronous breeders – this means they synchronize mating and giving birth and you know that after spotting the first lamb or calf of the season, there will soon be many more! In fact, research has shown that as many as 90% of impala births happen in a three to five-week period each lambing season.
The secret to synchronized birth is synchronized breeding, so animals like impala have a breeding or mating (rutting) season and the birth of the young will happen more or less at the same time following the gestation period. It’s a survival strategy – births are synchronized to mitigate the high mortality rate of young from predation.
It’s always lovely to see a range of baby animals on game drives here at Sausage Tree Safari Camp, and summer is most definitely “baby heaven”, as we regularly see the young of many different species: from impala lambs and zebra foals to cute warthog piglets and baby giraffes. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to see a newborn, still wobbly on its legs, or cute goslings following their Egyptian geese parents across dams and waterholes.
Here’s an interesting fact – the young of antelope species and others like zebra, buffalo and even larger species like rhino and elephant are known as precocial – they can stand within a few minutes of being born. The big cat babies, on the other hand, are what’s called altricial – born underdeveloped – and they remain completely dependent and relatively immobile for the first few weeks of their lives. As the reasons for this difference are clear: the first group of animals are prey species and the big cats, of course, are predators. It makes sense that prey species have evolved to get up and running as quickly as possible! Predator species like lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dogs and hyena are all altricial and use a den to hide their young.
Summer in Southern Africa is also the season for amazing birding, as the bush is filled with both endemic and migrant species, many of which choose this season to breed and hatch young. The Wahlberg’s eagles arrived at the start of the season and immediately began nesting, as did the African paradise flycatchers, whose impressive russet red tail plumage gives it away as it flits between branches in riverine and savannah thickets. The male has beautiful elongated tail feathers more than twice its body length during the breeding season, making it one of the stand-out species to spot.
The skies are also filled with European bee-eaters which spend the European winters with us, as do many of the swallow species and the gorgeous Amur falcon, which makes its way from Asia to make the most of our season of plenty!
And of course, the “creepy crawlies” are also at their most prolific during the summer, with an increase in insects and arachnid species. We’re seeing a lot of elegant grasshoppers at the moment, with their distinctive, bright red and yellow coloring. Color has a huge role to play where insects are concerned, often warning would-be predators that they are in for a nasty surprise if they’re thinking about an easy meal! And that is most certainly the case where the elegant grasshopper is concerned – it is full of unpleasant-tasting toxins, meaning that birds and other predators tend to steer clear. This method of warning predators is called aposematic coloration.
The elegant grasshopper has been exceptionally successful at warning off predators to the point that it has no real need to escape anything. As a result, the grasshopper’s wings, especially in the male, are very underdeveloped and while they can jump well, they often come back down to earth upside down or on their sides, before clumsily getting to their feet.
Content & Photography by Sausage Tree Safari Camp
It’s always absolutely amazing to see the miraculous transformation of the African bush as the wet season arrives and the grounds burst with an explosion of green and color. Dams fill up, and the almost incessant din of frogs calling all day and night becomes part of the soundtrack to the bush in summer. We have also welcomed all those unique migrant birds that fly down from the north to enjoy the summer rains here in South Africa. And, of course, there are the numerous impala lambs now littering the savannah as they wobble their way to adulthood and navigate their first frightening days in the bush.
It can be a little tougher to find animals in the rainy season as they tend to migrate away from the water sources with all the extra puddles, dams and rivers that form through the Manyeleti. But as is always the case here at Tintswalo Safari Lodge, it’s never a dull moment and we are blessed with incredible game viewing all year round.
The formidable Mbiri Pride has been hanging around the lodge area and they are constantly taking down great big buffalo – which is their specialty. The males are growing by the day and becoming very impressive figures – a dominant force in the Manyeleti to come. Some of the females are once again showing signs of oestrus, meaning they are ready to mate again. There’s also love inside the Koppies Pride, as some of these females have been mating with the Orpen Males.
Leopard sightings have been dominated by the beautiful Nompethu and her cub. She is outstandingly skilled at hunting duiker, and she seems to always have a fresh one at the ready for her growing cub. No doubt the young impalas will also start succumbing to her hunting prowess soon.
One particularly amazing sighting happened this month when a lioness tried to steal steal a warthog from a leopard – at the very top of a tree! The warthog had been hauled up into the tree and the lioness eventually gave up trying to pull it down, leaving the leopard to her meal.
© Lizi Andersen
The cheetah are regular visitors to the reserve, with six males making up the bulk of the sightings. The coalition of three brothers continue to roam the central and southern sections of the reserve. They are extremely relaxed with the vehicles and it’s been wonderful to see how they have grown used to our presence. The lone male seems to wander between the other two groups’ territories and is happy to go under their radar it seems. His range has shrunk quite a bit with the arrival of the other three males in the area. It’s a constant competition among the cats.
The lush greenery has drawn in big buffalo herds from the Kruger as they feast on the season’s bounty. It’s remarkable to see the effect that these herds have on all the animals of the area – from the birds who follow in search of insects, to the predators and all the seasonal dramas they bring along.
We look forward to updating you more in 2020! Until next time!
Leopards are solitary animals and very rarely seen together. The only times we will see them together is a female with her cubs or perhaps males fighting for territory or even mating leopards, but usually only the male and one female.
On one of our safari drives in South Africa’s Kapama Reserve, we were extremely fortunate to experience something truly special. Not only did we come across the elusive leopard, but it was leopards mating. However, what was even more special about this sighting was the male was mating with two females at the same time.
The two females were mother and daughter, who had such a close relationship that they did not mind sharing, as the male alternated between the two. This particular male was one of our big territorial males.
As you could see from the video clip when a female is ready to mate she will indicate this by moving in front of the male by rubbing her backside in front of him. The mating itself only last about 5 to 10 seconds then the male will rest for 15 minutes and begin again. This will go on for the next 5 days. During this time, they can easily mate over 250 times.
The female leopard is not a seasonal breeding animal, she can mate and have cubs any time of the year. The gestation period of a female leopard is between 3 month and 100 days roughly. When the cubs are born, they weigh less than a kilogram and are blind at birth. Leopard cubs are extremely vulnerable in the wild and the mother will hide them very well in dense vegetation or in old burrows or termite mounds. At the age of 6 to 8 weeks old, they will start to follow the mother. They are weaned at 3 months old. Leopard cubs will remain with their mother until about 18 months when they can hunt and defend for themselves.
We were lucky to come across this memorable moment and we were able to get some great photos and videos. After a while, they start walking into the bush and decided rather to leave them in peace so that they can have their privacy.
The three leopards where up and down walking and then just go lay down the male will mate with the one rest for 15 minutes mate with the other female and then start walking again. We were so lucky to experience this, leopards can be difficult to find and can be very elusive but able to see 3 at the same time was just a magical moment for me and my guest that was on safari with me.
Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger – Ben Scheepers