It has been a good month for sightings, especially lion sightings… Mornings have been really cold (gloves and beanies are out already) but days quite pleasant. Fire breaks are busy being completed by lodges as well as the reserve; let us hope everyone is prepared this time… The bush is also starting to look very colourful with all the autumn colours coming through.
May has been great for lion sightings (25 sightings this month) and guests have had some “lekker” experiences. One of the females from the western pride is in oestrus at the moment and has often been seen around the western airstrip area with our biggest male lion never too far (hopefully there will be some new arrivals soon)… The other female that has 3 cubs has been hanging around the far north, but has also given us a few amazing sightings (great to see the cubs still strong and doing well). The southern pride lioness that has 4 cubs has been in the Sterkstroom for the first week and lately just below our access road on the old eastern airstrip. It has been great to have her and the cubs so close for a change.
The majority of the elephants have come down to the south of the reserve. We were lucky enough to see a breeding herd of about +- 70 the other day in the open southern plains. We have also had a few bulls around our lodge keeping guests entertained between game drives. I also managed to get a great picture of a baby elephant the other day giving us a small charge…
We have had a few nice leopard sightings this month; even in the south (would you believe it). We have on the odd occasion spotted a young male between leopard and rhino dam and managed to get some great pictures as well. Some of our guests and I have also recently been hearing a male calling at night close to the lodge…
There were 2 buffalo bulls seen in the Sterkstroom valley the other day and have been around broken bridge and jackal road for a few days. We have not really had a lot of buffalo sightings this month, but the few we have had have been good. We even got to see one bull at fig tree plains. The breeding herd are still doing well and were seen just once this month in the buffalo camp…
Sighting for the month
This month the sighting that stands out for me is searching and finding the 4 cubs of the southern pride as well as watching the breeding herd of elephants we found along the way.
One afternoon we decided to head out a little earlier for game drive to cover a bit of distance and search for the lioness with the 4 cubs that had been seen in the Sterkstroom valley earlier that day. The drive started out good and about 30 minutes later we found a small breeding herd of elephants quite close to the road. I switched off the engine and sat in silence to enjoy the sighting. Two young bulls were busy sparing on our right and a small baby under the matriarchs legs busy eating on the left. It was such a nice sighting so we decided to stay a while and enjoy it. The young bulls put on quite a show and looked like they were playing hide and seek, one would back into a thicket until he was not visible and then come charging out to surprise the other bull. It was very interesting to watch them playing around but it became a bit more intense after a few minutes. Two more vehicles pulled into the sighting a bit later which made the females in the herd a bit nervous. At this point the light started to fade and one of the big females with the small baby had moved right next to our vehicle to feed. One of the other rangers in the sighting started his vehicle to give another female a bit of space to pass and join the rest of the herd but this made the herd very tense and they all trumpeted and formed a circle around the little one. They were very uncomfortable and were looking around, heads high and ears out to look bigger. I told my guest to remain calm and just to keep very quiet until the elephants relax again because of them being so close to the road and the vehicle. Once there was complete silence for a bit the elephants became a bit more relaxed and slowly started to move off into the bush. It was quite hectic for a few moments especially when they trumpeted so close to the vehicle but at the same time an awesome experience to hear and see that motherly behaviour. The guests, although a bit rattled, had a great experience and once I explained the situation to them they understood why the elephants reacted the way they did.
As the herd moved off into the bush where they felt more comfortable we decided to turn around and slowly start making our way back to the lodge as it was getting dark already. I turned around, got the spot light out and continued with the drive, keen to spot some nocturnal animals. Not even 10 minutes later we found a lioness walking in the road towards us. She walked right passed us towards the area where we first spotted the elephants. I turned around…again and followed her down the road for about 1km. She then stopped in the middle of the road looking towards where the elephants went off, I assumed she could hear them, and then gave a low pitched roar. She did this twice and could you believe it…out came 4 cubs from the bush (a few metres from where a breeding herd of elephants was standing) to greet their mom. We had driven right passed the cubs and it made me realise how quiet and still they had been while hiding in the bush, waiting for their mom (who probably went off to hunt), even with a herd of elephants around. She then passed us with her cubs again and started heading back to where she had came from. I then turned around…again and followed them down the road. They stuck to the road for long and often stopped on a few of the bridges to look back and have a drink. We followed this lioness and here 4 cubs for about 5km down the road until they got to the old eastern airstrip where they then went towards the ridge. The visual was on and off while they went up the ridge a bit until they stopped mid way. Once I got a clearer view we saw a kill, a wildebeest that this female had killed earlier and dragged up the ridge for concealment from other predators before fetching her cubs. We watched the cubs eat for a while before leaving. What a GREAT sighting and excellent drive to watch 2 different species of mothers do so much for their young…!
Cheetah sightings have been a bit quiet this month (only 5 sightings) but all of them have been fantastic. At the moment there is a female with two sub adults in the south that we have spotted 3 times this month. The two sub adults (about 20 months old now) are doing great and have been seen on a kill twice already this month…good job mom. Since a big section of the south had been burnt by the reserve to attract more game from the plains around three dams road, the cheetahs have sighted around there quite regularly. We have also had one of my best cheetah sightings to date this month. It was a 30 minute sighting of a male cheetah on middle dam wall just relaxing and eventually marking territory. My guests and I were privileged to enjoy this sighting all by ourselves and get some awesome pictures. The male cheetahs are some of the hardest to find on the reserve at the moment and to spend so much time with one and follow it while he marks territory was epic…
We did however manage to see him on the last day of the month again just quickly (2 weeks after the first sighting) also doing his rounds.
We have had a good month and have managed to see some of the rarer guys on the property as well… BUSHPIGS and SPOTTED HYENA!!!
Rhino Poaching Update
Total Rhinos poached in for end of May 2015: 496
Total poacher-related arrests this year until end May 2015: 50+