The beginning of the month and it was lions every day, with adults feeding on an assortment of prey including zebra and tsessebe, whilst cubs played on the side. In fact, the ‘lions every day’ continued for the rest of the month, with only two days where lions were not found – or possibly no one wanted to look for them on those two days!
Cheetah sightings were also good, with a lovely sighting of a male walking in the Splash area, and then a couple of days later two males and a female in the same region. We also found a female early on in the month stalking impala with all the skill she could muster. Unfortunately, her hunting attempt was unsuccessful, and the impala escaped her grasp. Later in the month, the two male cheetahs were seen for several days at Splash, and we were lucky enough to witness them hunt a young impala.
A young group of lions had better luck when they stalked and managed to catch a fully grown zebra, as all in the game drive cars looked on in amazement. The next day, the two females and three cubs were found finishing off an ostrich kill – with a lot of feather dusters freely available in the surrounding area. Hippo also featured on the lion menu this month, with four males managing to kill a sub-adult hippo near Second Bridge. This provided food for the big males for several days – but the hunt is a very risky process, with the size of the animal involved.
The wild dogs made several appearances this month, with a pack of fifteen being found near Impala Pan in the middle of the month. All dogs participated in a fast-paced hunt, and successfully brought down two impalas – enough to divide amongst the big pack.
Elephants, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, tsessebe all provided good sightings, feeding on the still luxurious grass. With the grass so high this year, walking was quite restricted, but even a walk through the camp could provide enough excitement for most people, with elephants making surprise appearances at inopportune times. Guests are never on their most alert status at 530 in the morning, as they stumble towards the first tea or coffee of the day at fireplace. Luckily, the guides and managers are, and noticing an elephant was approaching the rooms one morning, the guides stationed themselves along the pathway between the rooms and shouted warnings to the guests to stay where they were for the moment. Either lost in translation, or lost in sleep, one guest stumbled out of their room and started along the pathway, oblivious of the rather large grey object next to his tent, nor the shouting and arm-waving guides. Luckily, the elephant was as surprised by this behaviour as the guides, and turned tail and left for more peaceful surrounds.
The cubs are still going strong, and growing into three healthy bundles of energy. For most of the month they were still kept at the latest den, however on the 29th March they were moved to a new location, as the scent in the area becomes too strong, and harder to hide from intruding males. One lioness was also seen mating with the two resident males – although both males tried to win her over, she chose the large blonde maned lion, rather than the black maned one.
Other sightings in the first week of the month included a very relaxed female leopard, that was seen in the morning and afternoon drives relaxing up a tree in the Water Cut area. Later in the month she was seen again hunting a male warthog, without success. We also found a shy male on an ostrich carcass – a difficult kill for a leopard!
The Lagoon pack of dogs continue to move through the concession, favouring the area between Lebala and Lagoon. They managed to bring down two warthogs at once – an achievement for 8 dogs – and that provided a good meal for the whole place. One morning was spent tracking the dogs without success, but they were then located in the afternoon. The dogs came across a herd of roan antelope, and spent some time chasing them around, although these large antelope are quite a formidable prey! The Roan ended up with the last laugh, as the dogs gave up and moved on in search of an easier target.
The large herds of elephants that are in the Lebala area have not made as big an impact on the Lagoon area, but we are still seeing lots of small breeding herds. Several huge herds of eland have been seen – numbering around 100 individuals – as well as the roan, and occasional sable sighting. Zebras, wildebeest, giraffes and kudus are continue to inhabit the areas where the grass is a little shorter – safer territory for them to see if someone is stalking them!
Hyenas benefitted from the lions this month, when the lionesses had eaten their fill of wildebeest they had killed, and a single hyena moved in to consume the rest of the carcass. A little over excited to have so much to himself, the hyena crunched and attempted to swallow a large piece of bone, which was just too big. It took some time for the hyena to cough the bone back out, and having gone through such a traumatic experience, he gave up on the rest of the carcass and left.
We also had great raptor sightings, with Brown Snake eagles, Tawny eagles, and lots of vultures (including white backed, and hooded) in the area due to the good number of kills that the lions have been bringing down.
The beginning of the month at Lebala, and excellent predator sightings with wild dog, leopard, hyena and cheetah being spotted. Two leopards were seen in the Sebokoboko, in excellent condition, hunting warthog. Very unusual to see leopards together. Another day we found a female leopard relaxing in the boughs of a sausage tree. She soon clambered down and began hunting the guinea fowl who were clucking around the nearby bushes. And it was not even necessary to leave the camp to see leopards – another relaxed female spent a day in the trees at the staff village, hunting the vervet monkeys that were around the camp.
We also had great wild dog sightings – the pack of eight managed to kill a warthog, which we witnessed from the beginning to the – very fast – end. All dogs fed together on the kill, free of the bickering that occurs when other species attempt hunt and then eat together. On the 21st March, we tracked and located the pack of 8 dogs resting at Twin Pools. Shortly after locating that pack, we found another pack of four males in the same area! Perhaps following the first pack in the hope of good hunting, or the chance of joining them? The good news is that the alpha pair of the pack of 8 have been seen mating several days during the month, so we are hoping for a successful litter of pups this year.
The second week of March had rain on most days, and all animals looked for drier spots, bringing their young ones with. It was a good bonding time, as well as play time, for the baby giraffes, wildebeest, zebra and even hippos.
In spite of the rains, we still had some lovely sightings, including that of a male leopard, who in the early evening was found in a tree, scanning and scenting the area. He then dropped to the ground to pose for pictures, leaving guests speechless with admiration.
We are lucky to have an active hyena den at the moment, and have had good views of a hyena with her two young cubs that are homed there until they become big and fast enough to elude predators themselves.
The breeding herds of elephants continue to dot the landscape, moving through the grasses which are as tall as their young in some areas. Junior rushes to keep up, occasionally losing sight of mum’s tail, and trumpeting in alarm as he quickens his pace. Even the roads to the camp are sometimes ‘covered’ in elephants, and before you know it, you are in the middle of a quiet elephant herd, that is spending the time feeding. Unbothered adults look on, as youngsters display their bravado and mock charge a vehicle that is four times as big as them. In other groups, concerned aunts shoo the youngsters away from the vehicle, and herd the family off into the deeper grasses.
One thing that is noticeable with elephants, is their love of baobab trees. One particular tree – always referred to in capitals! – has been a landmark in the area for longer than can be remembered. In recent months, however, its large three-branched trunks have slowly been chewed away, and now only one main trunk remains. The trunk has been completely ring-barked – not necessarily a fatal problem in a baobab – but the elephants have chewed deep into the trunk – leaving it looking rather like a corn cob that has been gnawed by a giant mouse. It is now in danger of toppling over, probably in the next few months, if not weeks. And soon after that, there will be nothing to indicate that The Baobab that has stood for hundreds of years was ever in existence – just a road that takes an unusual bend around a seemingly open space.
Any visitor to Lebala will have seen the lesser striped swallow nests that line our thatched roofs in the main area. Even if they have not been in the right season to see the birds themselves making the nests, the mud nest usually remains. Even if the empty nests fall down during the year, the returning swallows will build them in exactly the same place a few months later, so the camp staff try to leave them where they are. Perhaps word has got around in the avian world, that nest building is not interfered with at Lebala camp, for another species has recently decided to make the bar home for the next generation. Brown waxbills have made a lovely, if somewhat ‘sunny’ nest, in the lamp shade that overhangs the bar. Perhaps the extra hours of light act as an incubator for the eggs and encourage growth? It will be interesting to see if we end up with chicks twice the size of the parents….
The national animal of Botswana – the zebra – still abound in Nxai Pan. Every where you look, every which way you turn, the herds are there. Towards the end of the month, they began moving off, but there were such large numbers this year, that it will take some time for the majority to leave the area. In the meant time, they are providing a plentiful food supply to the lions in the area.
Early in the month, and the lions and their three cubs – now around 3.5 months old – were seen every other day. The cubs would always provide plenty of entertainment, chasing each other around, and when bored with that, chasing their mother’s tail. One morning, we came across the whole pride, feeding on a zebra they had killed during the night. One male was mating with one of the lionesses. The cubs continued to play on and the other male, obviously sick of all the fuss, chose to drag the heavy zebra carcass off under the shade of a bush, where he could feed more peacefully.
Lions sightings continued to be excellent throughout the month, with them being sighted for 24 days out of 31. The males continued to hunt for zebra – not always successful in spite of the large number of them. Vultures watched their every move, in the hope that they will be successful and provide a second hand meal for them as well.
Another wonderful visit by the uncommon predator – three wild dogs made an appearance on the 20th March. We found them near West road, chasing springboks out in the open. Unfortunately for them, they did not manage to catch one, and so they moved off across the plains.
A special trip to KgamaKgama – some distance from the main area of the park – was rewarded with a herd of eland – around 40 individuals. Very rare to see in Nxai Pan, it was with this specific intent that the car had set off to KgamaKgama, so wonderful that it all paid off.
With so many lions around, the cheetahs were needing to be careful, so we did not see as many this month as hoped for. However, we did find a female that was stalking through the bushes, in the hope of catching her dinner.
Still great general game around, with lots of the smaller predators – the jackals that trot around the open areas constantly, and the wonderful bat eared foxes that hunker down under the shade of low bushes, and come out to play in the early morning or late afternoon.
A lovely start to the month with a female cheetah found in Phukwe Pan with three cubs. They have been lucky to avoid the lions that have been frequenting the area, and the mother cheetah has her work cut out for her to raise all three offspring to adulthood.
Speaking of lions, it is likely that there are going to be even more on the way – the Tau Pan pride adults were seen mating early in the month, as well as the two male “intruders” who were seen mating with the younger females from the original pride. This could lead to a lot of offspring, and a lot of territorial disputes as to who controls which area, and which cubs get to survive. The mating continued on and off for around two weeks – an unusually long time!
One of the younger males of the pride has quite a reputation for being rather lazy. Not only is he not being permitted (or perhaps it is simply not being bothered?) to mate, but whenever a car arrives to admire his wonderful looks, he does not even raise his head or open an eye at the intrusion. Obviously, sleep is very important for conservation of energy for lions, yet other individuals seem a little more active than this one. He managed to stagger awake and over to feed on an oryx carcass when the rest of the pride pulled one down, however.