Kwara Concession – Many different prides of lion were seen on Kwara during January. A group of eight were seen feeding on a zebra foal. A smaller pride was also seen eating zebra. At the end of the month two lions took down and killed a large male warthog, right in front of the vehicle. A male and female lion were mating at Pelican Pan for several days and towards the end of the month the guides noticed that another two lionesses had moved away from their pride and suspected that one of them had cubs in the area.
The New Year started with a sighting of a female cheetah desperately calling for her sub-adult daughter. Our worst suspicions were confirmed when the next day we found the younger cheetah’s carcass. Judging by the bite marks on the animal’s neck, we suspect that she was killed by lions. Whilst sad to lose much a magnificent animal, inter-species competition is an important part of the natural world. Despite this incident the adult female was still spending a good deal of time in the same area, but regularly lost her kills to lions. Near Splash camp we found another female cheetah with her cub, feeding on an impala lamb and they were also seen chasing common reedbuck. The resident male cheetah is doing well and usually seen full-bellied. We watched him chase and bring down a common reedbuck, with tremendous views of him accelerating across the open floodplain. He was also seen with a female testing to see whether she was in oestrus.
One morning leopard tracks were found in camp and after following the prints for two hours we heard the alarm calls of a common reedbuck. Rounding the corner, we found a female leopard playing with a newly-born reedbuck lamb whilst its mother looked on helplessly. We then followed the leopard into the marshes. After the female leopard lost her cub in December, she changed her movement pattern and was spending more time in the mopane woodlands where she was seen doing some territorial marking. One time we saw her stalking a herd of tsessebe and seemed to be focused on their calves, but a troop of baboons spotted her and raised the alarm, sending the antelopes bolting. A male and female leopard were seen together on a tree and as we watched they climbed down to mate.
The wild dog pack of 7 has lost one of the two pups from the litter of 2017 – there is now only one pup left from the original nine. Towards the end of the month they were seen hunting and chasing impalas through Kwara camp. The pack of six is doing well and even the limping male is back on his feet. Guests enjoyed seeing them engage in playful interactions and successfully taking down and devouring an impala.
The spotted hyena clan started to take their cubs out and about on their hunting missions.
A very relaxed mother serval with her young kitten were seen more than once and we were even lucky enough to find them feeding on a fresh kill. We were also lucky enough to get great sightings of honey badgers.
The weather during the first half of January was unusually dry for the time of year and as a result large breeding herds of elephants were seen regularly in the afternoons as they made their way towards the main channels of Moremi Game Reserve to drink, feed and dust-bathe. Guests enjoyed watching teenagers playfighting and swimming.
The general game was very good with plentiful herds of zebra, tsessebe, wildebeest, impala, lechwe, reedbuck and giraffe. In addition to the more usual species we were fortunate enough to see sitatunga and bushbuck, the latter not as commonly seen in the Okavango Delta as in wooded areas.
The water levels were receding towards the end of the month and so many water birds could be seen feeding on the fish trapped in drying waterholes. In a most unusual sighting, a flap-necked chameleon was seen swimming across a channel.
Lagoon – At the start of the month the guides were thrilled to find an aardwolf den with three cubs in residence. This very rare sighting was a delight for our guests. Bat-eared foxes also had den sites in the area and were seen on almost every drive as well as both black-backed and side-striped jackals.
Four male lions who were new to the area were initially a bit shy towards our game viewers, but the guides’ patience was rewarded and the lions seemed to get more relaxed as the month progressed. Their presence seems to be influencing the Bonga Pride of 10 who are spending more time in the south of the area whilst the intruders occupy their usual territory. The Bonga pride were seen feeding on a baby giraffe; as they later walking up to the watering hole for a drink some spotted hyenas lying in wait, but keeping their distance at the lion’s kill. The Bonga pride were also seen hunting zebras and a male warthog, but without success. A young male lion who was pushed out of the pride was sometimes seen with his sister and together they managed to catch a warthog piglet. Another time the make was located feeding on old wildebeest carcass
The resident coalition of two cheetah brothers were in the concession and found feeding on an impala
A female leopard with two cubs had been missing from the area for a while, so our guides were pleased to find her back in the concession and feeding well on two kills at the same time – a zebra foal and warthog piglet. A male leopard was located a couple of times as he patrolled his territory, though he was still quite shy.
Hyena sightings were more common than usual during January and were often seen morning and afternoon as they frequented carcasses along the woodlands and floodplains. A hippo carcass in the marshes at Watercut attracted scavengers including hyenas and many vultures. Another single hyena was seen feeding on an old elephant carcass that was been soaked by the previous day’s rain.
The general game was excellent with a phenomenal influx of zebra and giraffe throughout the area. Large herds of eland moved in from the north west of the concession, grazing in a mixed herd with the zebra. Wildebeest were also spotted in large numbers and we also had wonderful sightings of shy roan and sable antelope herds. All of the plains game including impala, tsessebe and warthogs have babies, making for delightful photographs. As the unusually dry weather continued during January, elephants started to return back towards the river area from the mopane woodlands where they would usually be found at this time of year.
The resident pack of wild dogs has reduced in number over time from 12 individuals to just 6 at the moment, although the remaining dogs were looking well-fed and healthy. They were often hunting at the airstrip area, one time flushing out a group of three leopards, a mother with her one-year-old cubs. We saw them making other kills including an impala and warthog piglet.
In terms of smaller mammals, we saw included slender, yellow and dwarf mongoose. Wild cats were seen from time to time.
There were plentiful ostrich and many had chicks following them as they grazed – up to 12 at a time trotting along behind their parents. One time, hundreds of vultures were seen by the river having a bath. Four species of vulture were still being seen in the area; white-backed, hooded, lappet-faced and white-headed, some of them had nest sites. Secretary birds and ground hornbills were also breeding in the area and wattled cranes were seen with nestlings were found at the inland waterholes. Following the first heavy rains insectivores such as bee-eaters were attracted to the alates, sometimes known as flying ants, that took to the wing in huge numbers. Raptors identified included tawny eagles, bataleurs, wahlberg’s eagles and lesser-spotted eagles.
Lebala – One morning, a reedbuck made its alarm call while the guests were having early morning breakfast, so the guides went to check and found a resident male leopard in the bushes. The guides went back to the main area and told the guests, who quickly jumped in the vehicles and drove around to the rooms. When they got there, to their amazement, they found that the leopard had killed a bushbuck in front of room seven. There was no sign of the main resident female, known as Jane, in the area and the guides thought that she moved to a new location to raise her two baby cubs. However, a different female leopard (one of Jane’s daughters from a previous year) was seen stalking impalas though not successfully. She was also observed seen resting on top of the trees on several occasions. The resident male leopard was also seen stalking game and posing beautifully for photographs on branches.
The Wapoka resident pride of lions were kept on top of their game during the month of January, as there was another pride of lions in the area known as the Bonga pride, who were moving down from the north of the concession. This affected the behaviour of the Wapoka Pride who spent most of their time in the southern woodland to avoid coming face to face with the Bonga Pride. Having lost two of their cubs this year already, the Wapoka Pride were being very cautious and they know that if the two prides were to meet then there would likely be a big fight over the territory.
A male and female from Wapoka pride were found mating which was regarded as one of the special sightings of the month, some of the guests were lucky to see the courting couple in action. It was a very busy month because of the two prides of lions in the area stalking the herds of zebra and wildebeest. These antelope were still dropping their young. The Wapoka pride was found feeding on a kudu carcass in the woodland after the guide and tracker tracked them for more than an hour.
The pack of ten wild dogs was been located in the area both hunting and on kills. They were targeting different species, but mostly impalas. It was still a good time for the dogs when it came to hunting as there were so many young antelopes, however the size of the pack means that they need to kill frequently in order for all the dogs to have sufficient food.
Two male cheetahs were spotted hunting by the airstrip; we did not see the two cheetahs for some weeks and it was nice to see them again. The guides and trackers followed them for some time and the cheetahs started stalking some wildebeest but without luck.
The hyena den was still active and some of the guests were able to watch the cubs playing. Hyenas were also found feeding on leftover carcasses from the other predators. The clan was often seen waiting for the lions to finish feeding so that they could scavenge.
An African wild cat was spotted one afternoon walking around the termite mounds looking for mice and small rodents. An African civet was also seen during one evening game drive just after the sundowner drink.
General game was very good at Lebala during January which is one of the reasons why we had more predators in the area. There were a good number of wildebeest, impalas and breeding herds of elephants. Bird life was also excellent as we still had carmine bee – eaters in the area, African skimmers, wattled cranes and flocks of beautiful red bishops.
Nxai Pan – After some good early rains in November and December, January was much drier than expected and as the natural watering holes dried up, the game started to concentrate once again on the two man-made watering holes. The camp watering hole was extremely productive with lots of elephants and mixed herds of giraffe, zebra, impala, buffalo and wildebeest, many accompanied by their new offspring. Jackals were often seen active in front of the camp. At the wildlife watering hole, the mix of game was a little different including kudu, springboks and oryx.
The unexpected dry spell in January seemed to confuse the zebra, wildebeest and giraffe herds who usually congregate in their thousands at this time of the year. The animals had started to arrive, but as the heat continued we saw their numbers decline again. Eventually towards the end of January the rains started in earnest, so it will be interesting to see what the herds decide to do next. There have been occasions in the past when the migration has returned for a second time in similar circumstances.
Three lionesses with six cubs were located trying to hunt some zebras, but as the area was so open they were not able to stalk close enough to launch a successful ambush. A couple of days later they obviously had more luck and were seen feasting on a zebra kill, surrounded by vultures and about twenty black-backed jackals. One time these cubs provided delightful photo opportunities by climbing some trees, to make the experience even better their three mothers started roaring.
One afternoon the guides spotted a single lioness who was previously known to us as part of the “Seven Sisters” walking from the middle of the pan to some bushes when all of a sudden two tiny lion cubs came out of the undergrowth to greet her. We were delighted to find this unexpected little family in Nxai Pan. The new additions brought the total number in the Nxai Pan pride to twenty, although they were most often seen in smaller sub-groups.
The resident male cheetah was seen looking in very good condition. Meanwhile the female cheetah with her two sub-adult offspring was venturing further afield and even seen towards Baines Baobabs.
At the start of January we started to see migratory birds in the area such as Abdim’s storks, steppe buzzards and blue-cheeked bee-eaters. Once the rains recommenced towards the end of the month we started to see new birds in the area that we would usually associate more with wetter areas such as African jacanas, black-winged practincoles and spurwing geese.
The increase in herbs and flowers in the area made for some interesting explanations during the bushman cultural walks. Along the road to Baines Baobabs there were lots of berries for the trackers to talk about in terms of their value to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the San tribe. In this area, the guides and trackers were also able to show guests some of the smaller points of interest such as dung beetles rolling their balls, and aardvark tracks. The famous baobab trees themselves were looking beautiful with seed pods and leaves.
Tau Pan – The Tau Pan pride was seen regularly as they spent a lot of time moving between the camp watering hole and their nearby den. The five impressive males were often baby-sitting the youngsters – presumably whilst the lionesses were out looking for food. Two of the lionesses often joined the pride, but halfway through the month the third lioness went missing and the guides though that perhaps she had gone to give birth. Different prides were seen at Passarge Valley and Deception Valley during full day trips.
A brown hyena was visiting the camp watering hole from time to time, usually at dawn or dusk. It was a really special treat to see this usually nocturnal animal in good natural light.
The resident female cheetah was seen hunting springbok at Tau Pan, but the antelopes’ strategy of staying in the middle of the wide-open pan helped them to spot the cat in enough time to thwart her attempts. A male cheetah was having good success in Tau Pan and was seen feasting on a wildebeest calf. A family of three cheetahs were located at Letitia Hau.
General game at Tau Pan included springbok, oryx, kudu and wildebeest. This particular herd of wildebeest are always resident in the area, although they move quite considerable distances within the vicinity to find the best grazing, according to where the most rain has fallen. We saw a big herd of 30 oryx, including 10 calves feeding alongside two male red hartebeest at Makgoa Pan. Guests enjoyed seeing large journeys of giraffes with their young calves browsing on the acacia trees and drinking from the camp watering hole.
Bat-eared foxes, honey badgers and black-backed jackals were all smaller mammals seen frequently around the edges of Tau Pan.
As the dry weather continued, massive flocks of red-billed queleas in their thousands came to drink at the watering hole, their combined weight breaking branches of the nearby trees. The bushes in the area seemed to be made of feathers rather than leaves as the little birds huddled together. Raptors including lanner falcons, steppe buzzards, yellow-billed kites, Gabar goshawks and pale chanting-goshawk swooped in and out of the flocks of quelea, snatching their prey. Guests enjoyed seeing secretary birds and kori bustards stride out across the open grasslands as they searched for food.