Kwara Concession – The sweet short grass that sprang up after December’s fire continued to bring in substantial herds of general game, especially zebra which were present in huge numbers.
One time as soon as we left camp we picked up very fresh cheetah tracks and after following them for about 30 minutes we found the resident male cheetah known as Mr Special sitting up on a termite mound. Whilst watching we saw a dazzle of zebra approaching from the south. The cheetah got ready and when the herd was about 30 metres he burst forth to chase one of the foals out of the group. However the zebra stallion did his job well and was able to rescue the foal from the cat. After giving up the hunt Special started to mark his territory including climbing up and jumping on trees. During the month we saw the same cheetah also preying on impala and common reedbuck. One time we saw Special being chased by a lioness from the Mother Eye Pride. Initially it didn’t look like a serious situation for the cheetah, but when the lioness got close he burst into top speed to escape. The chase lasted about five minutes.
For about 6 weeks we have been seeing three young cheetahs, two sisters and a brother. As yet these youngsters were still a bit shy so the guides are patiently working to slowly let them get used to the vehicles.
A pack of nine wild dogs were seen often, one male of this pack was described as a „killing machine“ by our guides and has been nicknamed Boko. When he is hunting the chances of seeing prey brought down is very high indeed. One time we were following for about 10 minutes when the chase started on a herd of impala with Boko in the lead. When we caught up with them Boko was fighting with a young ram. Immediately the rest of the pack arrived and disembowelled the antelope.
On another occasion the wild dog pack started chasing a full grown common waterbuck. Boko as ever was leading and putting pressure on the antelope which ran into a small pool of water. The pack tried to harass their prey out of the water until eventually Boko leapt into the water and attacked the waterbuck from the tail whereupon the buck ran out of the pool. He was chased by the pack but he escaped and went back to the same water again. This time three dogs chased him into the water and attached him at the same time. The waterbuck decided to sit down in the water and defend himself with his large horns, but Boko was still holding onto the antelope’s tail until he managed to cut it off and ate it. By this stage both predator and prey were exhausted so everyone seemed to decide to take a rest and after about 10-15 minutes the dogs gave up and moved on leaving the tailless buck still in the water.
Another time the pack killed an impala right inside camp near to Room 8. Because lions were not far away they picked up the distress call of the antelope and chased the dogs off the kill. The two male lions started fighting over the kill and they, together with two lionesses, spent the whole day in camp including lying right in front of the main area during brunch time.
A different pack of four wild dogs – two adults and two youngsters – were also seen hunting through the mopane woodlands.
The male lions known as „Big Man“ and „Puffy“ were located close to the boat station. We tracked them to find them posing beautifully on a termite mound. The Splash pride with their cubs were also successfully tracked.
After being missing in action for a while the resident lioness known as Mma Leitlho was located south of Splash camp feeding on a warthog. Our guides were alerted to the kill by the presence of a tawny eagle and hooded vulture who had been sitting in a branch above the carcass for a while. Once she started moving our guides noticed that she was lactating, so we suspected she had cubs hidden nearby.
Whilst we were enjoying bush dinner we heard two male lions roaring about a kilometre east of camp. Ten minutes later we saw a lioness followed by two males walk between the main area and where we were sitting. The lions and the guests all remained calm and the guests even managed to get some photos to record this extraordinary moment.
A mother leopard with her cub seemed to be new to the area and were still quite shy. The female leopard had killed a reedbuck which was hanging in a tree, with hyena and jackals waiting underneath hoping for some meal to fall to the ground
There was an active spotted hyena den near to Kwara camp. We saw three adults and four cubs. The cubs were of a playful age and were coming over inquisitively to the vehicles, to the delight of the guests.
Termites flying out after the first rains made a feast for other species including giant bullfrogs, snakes, mongoose and many species of birds such as eagles, bee-eaters and swallows. We saw African rock pythons as well as tortoises.
Night drives were interesting with plenty of good sightings of the smaller mammals such as African wild cats, civets, aardwolf, servals and genets
There was very good birdlife in the area and we saw wattled cranes, secretary birds and southern ground hornbills almost every day.
Lagoon – The two lionesses to the north of the reserve are known to the guides as Litikazi and Mma Mosetha. As they were patrolling they found a dead wildebeest on the runway which had been killed by hyenas the previous night. They moved on from the carcass and promptly despatched the calf who was still looking for its mother. A couple of days later they were seen hunting warthogs. Further south the Bonga Pride were pushing back into the Lagoon side of the Kwando Reserve after spending the last few months closer to Lebala camp. This pride comprises seven females and two dominant males. One of the lionesses has three cubs of 3-4 months old; we found them feeding on a zebra that appeared to have been killed the previous night. Sometimes she was accompanied by one of the males and at the same time the other male was mating a different lioness nearby. One of the cubs is not faring as well as the others and it was sometimes left behind. Two new very shy male lions were found hunting and patrolling at Kwena Lagoon. Males from the new coalition were seen at Zebra Pan looking very restless.
The brown hyena den was still active and the cubs were seen playing nearby, but as the month progressed we noticed that they increasingly spent time away from the main den and moved to a new spot to the east of camp. They are now being seen less regularly and their behaviour is becoming more typical of the shy and elusive species. On several occasions we located solitary spotted hyenas mobile to and from a hippo carcass on a channel near to the army camp. A clan of four were also seen hunting.
The resident pack of wild dogs were seen feeding on an impala. Last time we saw the pack they numbered seven so they appear to have lost a female. The dogs did not appear to be calling for her, so our guides deduced that she must have been missing for a while.
The resident coalition of two male cheetahs was located and the animals looked well-fed. We watched them patrolling to the southern part of the Kwando Reserve.
A shy male leopard was seen a couple of times near to Second Lagoon.
There was very good general game in the area with 12 buffalo bulls hanging out north of Second Lagoon. Several breeding herds of elephant were located drinking and mudbathing at waterholes that had trapped rainwater and also at the river in front of camp. Guests enjoyed the excitement of the young elephants as they rolled around in the mud. A huge herd of over 150 eland was grazing amongst zebra and wildebeest on the periphery of the mophane woodlands. Other antelope species seen included impala, tsessebe, red lechwe, common reedbuck, waterbuck, giraffe, roan and sable. Twelve kudu bulls made a magnificent sight, this being a larger than usual bachelor herd.
Several troops of baboon were seen along the edge of the river and we watched as a male baboon flushed out a newborn reedbuck from its hiding spot chased it for a long distance. We were not able to see the end of the action, but the guides suspected that the baboon killed the young antelope in the end.
Various families of bat-eared foxes with their young cubs of approximately six months old were seen. Other smaller mammals included different species of mongoose, jackals, servals, genets and African wild cats.
Crocodiles and hippos were seen along the river and flood plains. Hippos had also moved into inland waterholes now that they have been filled with rainwater. There was a particularly bad-tempered hippo at Zebra Pan.
Lots of vultures responded to a hippo carcass near to the army camp. All four species that we have resident in the area were seen, including the rare white-headed vulture. Raptors were seen feeding in large numbers on termites. We saw one feeding frenzy that included Wahlberg’s eagles, tawny eagles, kites, swallows and rollers. Other notable bird sightings included fish eagles, snake eagles, martial eagles, storks, cranes, hornbills and pelicans. Summer migrants such as swallows and bee-eaters were present.
Lebala – Wapuka Pride was located near to the airstrip with a blue wildebeest carcass. The following day we found the ten lions on a giraffe that they had managed to kill overnight. As we came in there were lots of scavengers around. The next morning the pride’s two dominant males had moved into the kill and one of the males was mating a lioness. Later in the month we watched two of the females hunting down a large warthog boar, but the prey managed to escape. We also came across the pride hunting red lechwe, again without success.
Bonga Pride were also in the area, although they had pushed closer to the Lagoon side of the Kwando Reserve. We watched as they eyed up a herd of zebra, but chose not to make an attempt in the end. We saw them a couple of days later looking full-bellied and this time the five lionesses and three cubs were joined by the dominant males, Old Gun and Sebastian. The two male lions were seen patrolling and marking their territory by spraying urine on bushes.
A tom leopard was located in a tree but eventually climbed down
A pack of six wild dogs were located at Halfway Pan. They looked starving and we watched as they tried their luck but they didn’t catch anything.
We were fortunate enough to locate a wild cat after picking up some guests from the airstrip. Although the animal was a bit shy it was a treat to see this species during the day. Black-backed jackals were observed sifting through elephant dung looking for beetles.
One morning drive we managed to come across a coalition of four cheetahs who were trying to hunt wildebeest, but they were still skittish to the vehicles and ran away. A few days later we saw them feeding on a warthog and were able to watch them from a distance. The guides will need to work patiently get these new animals to our area used to the vehicles.
Spotted hyenas were seen mobile, and one was running away holding onto a wildebeest skin. We also found a clan of eight in camp just as we were leaving for morning game drive.
A black mamba snake was observed sunbathing on a termite mound. And in other reptile action, guests enjoyed the rather comical mating of two tortoises.
We saw big herds of elephants coming through the area, moving from east to west as though they had a definite purpose in mind.
Lots of general game was seen in the area, especially around Nare Pan. Species recorded included giraffe, zebra, impala, wildebeest, tsessebe and red lechwe. Many of the antelopes had new offspring with them.
Birdlife was excellent, especially along the marsh. We saw three species of bee-eater (Little, Carmine and Blue-cheeked) as well as many different egrets and herons. Open-billed, saddle-billed and yellow-billed storks were all present. Raptors included tawny eagles, Wahlberg’s eagles and fish eagles. A special sighting was watching a martial eagle swooping down to take a banded mongoose, with the rest of the mongoose trying to rescue their family member..
Nxai Pan – As the rainy season got under way the sweet grasses in the pan came to life creating a beautiful green landscape. This nutritionally important grass is what attracts huge of zebra and wildebeest herds to the Nxai Pan National Park in an annual migration. As expected, the numbers of animals multiplied rapidly as the month progressed.
We saw the resident pride of lions comprising two adult females, three sub-adult males and a sub-adult female. The cats appeared to be well-fed as you would expect during this time of plentiful game. One time they were hanging out in camp near to Room 1 and we watched them hunting zebra, but the prey species saw them in enough time and galloped away to safety. Another time the lions got luckier and killed a pregnant zebra close to camp. We saw the subadults on their own whilst their parents were away hunting. We watched them drinking and then one jumped up onto a termite mound posing beautifully for the cameras. That day they looked hungry, but we came across them the following day looking full-bellied and contented. We were pleased to find one of the lionesses who we had not seen for a while back in the area accompanied by three young cubs.
The resident male cheetah was located a few times, always looking well-fed.
There were still elephants in the area and guests enjoyed watching them drinking and bathing at the waterhole outside the camp.
Black-backed jackals were seen, often near to the lions where they were hoping to steal some scraps from their kills. One pair of jackals currently have six puppies aged approximately five months old.
Aside from the massive herds of zebra and wildebeest, other general game was good with lots of oryx, giraffe, impala and red hartebeest. Springbok were seen in herds up to 100
Guests enjoyed spending time dung beetles rolling their dung balls and African monarch butterflies getting moisture from the elephant dung.
Kori bustards were spotted regularly and guests photographed male masked weaver birds building their intricate nests. Flocks of Abdim storks and black storks were seen hanging out close to camp. A pied avocet which is a rare bird to see in the region was located at the Department of Wildlife waterhole. Pale chanting goshawks were feeding on other birds such as Cape turtle doves and once on a black-winged pratincole (we saw up to 500 pratincoles in a single day). Other raptors included martial eagle, tawny eagles, steppe buzzard, pallid harrier, yellow-billed kites and greater kestrels. Different prides of ostrich were in the area, some with chicks. A mixed flock of white-backed and lappet-faced vultures were seen feeding on a zebra carcass.
Tau Pan – After some summer rains Tau Pan was transformed into a carpet of green and slowly attracted more animals into the area to take advantage of the nutritious grasses.
After the rain at the start of the month, the resident pride of lions seemed less reliant on the camp waterhole and we saw them drinking from the natural pans that had filled. However, as the month progressed, it was much dryer than usual for the time of year and so we saw the pride back at the camp waterhole more regularly, including a lovely sighting of three generations of lioness. For part of the month the lions were quite unusually in a group of 4-5 males with just one lioness, she seemed to be anxious to find the other three females who usually make up the family group and was doing a lot of sniffing, tracking and calling. One night three males showed up in camp and their roared the whole night to the guests’ delight.
We watched the lions approach a group of jackals, but it turned out that the jackals were in that spot because there was a leopard with a kill behind a nearby bush. As the lions approached, one of the jackals made an alarm call and the leopard bolted away with its kill. Another time we saw a female leopard who has been known to us in the area for over nine years now. A rather shy tom leopard was found on the way to San Pan.
A female cheetah was seen relaxing at Phukwi Pan, a herd of springbok nearby seemed aware of the predator but did not seem unduly disturbed by being in the company of their natural enemy. A different female cheetah was observed at Piper Pan. A single male cheetah was located at Letia Hau; he was running back and forth calling as though looking for his coalition partner.
An enormous bull elephant was seen at Phukwi Pan moving easterly towards the camp.
Herds of springbok with their new lambs were enjoying the new shoots of green grass in Tau Pan. Red hartebeest were also found at the pan and guests enjoyed photographing their calves jumping around in the afternoon light. A large herd of wildebeest were seen running with their calves, apparently fleeing from some jackals although these small predators should not usually pose much of a threat to the much larger herbivores. At Phukwi Pan we saw a large herd of oryx with calves together with red hartebeest and springbok. There were a big herds of giraffe on the western firebreak and around Tau Pan feeding on thorn trees. We enjoyed watching a tower of 15 giraffe, including five calves, drinking at Passarge waterhole. Other antelope species seen included common duiker and steenbok.
An adult aardwolf was seen at Tau Pan as well as some very relaxed bat-eared foxes with their cubs. We saw an interesting commotion between some bat-eared foxes and some black-backed jackals after they discovered a giant bullfrog. Although they both chased it and had a quick skirmish over it, the jackals as the larger more dominant predator took the prey. It was unusual to see the bat-eared foxes interested in such a large frog as they more typically feed on insects. An African wild cat was seen walking through the short grass at Tau Pan.
Raptors commonly seen during January included tawny eagles, bateleur eagles, yellow-billed kites and pale chanting goshawks. A summer migrant, the pallid harrier, was also still in the area. Ostriches, secretary birds and kori bustards were seen frequently as they walked the plains. Smaller notable passerines included fawn coloured larks, sabota larks and black-chested prinias.