It was an eventful month of safari sightings; we have seen some spectacular sightings with magnificent colours seeping through. The bushveld is still in immaculate condition and the abundance of life is evidence of a healthy summer. Mvubu dam is still overflowing, strongly fed by Ngulubi and Heysteck gullies. Waterholes are still full to the brim and mud wallows a worthwhile attraction. Sunsets have been superb, and the only challenge is choosing what beverage to accompany it.
Cheetah update on the reserve.
Our young male cheetah coalition has been roaming the entire reserve and making a name for themselves. We are hoping for cubs very soon from the female as we have seen these males mating with our resident female.
This month they have been using the central parts of the reserve and were succesful a few times with impalas, wildebeest and zebra fowls. I suspect the reason for the coalition to move to the central parts of the reserve is due to wild dogs occupying the outskirts of the reserve and the resecently increased leopard sightings.
I was very fortunate to come across them on a bamble safari lying next to the road. It only took a few minutes before I found them, one of the males sat up and started scanning ahead of him where he was looking at zebras in the distance.
They begun walking in the direction of where the zebras were. Although they are successful hunters on the reserve, in an open plain like this with not much cover, I think they were pushing their luck. It was not long before the herd spotted them, and the alarm calls began. At some point I got so excited that were about to witness a kill, it was not a day for that to happen as the zebras were high on alert for any danger. We left them alone and proceeded with our safari.
Wild dogs pack still dominating prey species on the reserve.
The pack of 10 wild dogs including the pups born last year turn up and spend some time on rainmeter plain and little rainmeter plain this month.
I can safely say when it comes to entertainment out here on safari, wild dogs are right on top of the list. You will never find them doing nothing when you encounter them. They will either be playing with each other or chasing each other around.
One morning we were on our way to follow up on leopards tracks that we had left the previous afternoon on the western parts of the reserve. Our plan changed when a call came through the radio that wild dogs have just made a kill of wildebeest cow and her calf on little rainmeter plain. That was something we were not planning to miss out, turned the car and headed to rainmeter plain.
I was very lucky we were only two vehicles on the sighting and we had a long time to spend with the pack while they were enjoying their breakfast. There was enogh food for all the members of the pack that some ate and went to lie down while the others continued eating.
A pack of about 10 members have to hunt atleast every second day. And that is what we mostly see with this pack that they hunt every second day after they were successful with their hunt and also depending on what they kill.
It was not long before the scavengers arrived on the scene, black-backed jackal. They forced themselves into the carcass of the wildebeest calf, the wild dogs chased them away but they kept coming back until wild dogs gave up and jackals feed on the carcass of the calf, while the wild dogs were feeding on the adult cow.
While we are watching the interaction between wild dogs and black-backed jackal, vultures also arrived in the area and started circling around looking at the carcass. A few minutes later more than forty vultures were on the ground, at this point the wild dogs gave up on the fight and abondoned their kill.
The one thing that vultures are best known for is for being scavengers. In fact, they are not just any scavengers, they are obligate scavengers. Being an obligate scavenger means that they rely almost entirely on dead animals for their food. However, vultures are the only land-based vertebrate scavengers. It might seem surprising since hyenas also have a reputation for being scavengers, but they actually supplement their diet by actively catching prey such as small antelope.
As scavengers, vultures eat all manner of dead and rotting carcasses. With this in mind, you’re probably wondering how they don’t end up sick, right? Well, the secret is in their stomach acid. This is because vultures stomach acid is highly acidic which allows them to safely digest bacteria which would be otherwise lethal to other scavengers such as anthrax, botulium toxin, and hog cholera.
This makes vultures incredibly important as they are able to safely remove dangerous bacteria from the environment. With a pH of 1.0, vultures stomachs have the lowest pH of any other animal in the world.
As it is highly acidic it is also extremely corrosive. This is particularly useful for vultures as they also consume bones, so their stomach acid is able to break them down easily.
As disgusting as it sounds, vultures really do urinate right down their legs, but it actually has a purpose. When vultures are eating, they often walk in and around rotting carcasses which contain lots of bacteria as we’ve mentioned above, and all of this can accumulate on their legs.
By urinating down their legs, a process called urohidrosis that can kill this bacteria with their urine. The other reason that vultures urinate down their legs is to help cool themselves down while they are in the blistering heat. This is because it actually cools them down as it evaporates.
With vultures in the area, the wild dogs decided to leave and make space for vultures and head south on bungi boulevard. It was great to see vultures so relaxed and focusing on the carcass and not even worried about our presence. Normally they would fly away from us.
Elephants update on the reserve.
This month we have seen elephants spending the whole month in the southern parts of the reserve. It is the first time in few months they spent a whole month in the south.
With recent late rains on the reserve, plants are still good with lots of food for them, they have not started pushing over trees to get to the roots. We have aslo seen them exploring the mountaineous areas of the south, these are normally areas they don’t explore during summer when food is abundantly available.
An elephant’s trunk is its principal feeding tool. Its main function is to reach downward to harvest grass, the bulk of the elephant’s diet. The trunk, an astonishingly mobile and dextrous collection of muscles, evolved from a combining nose and upper lip. It has a “two-fingered” tip, used for smelling, picking and plucking.
Tusks are also important tools and are actually modified front biting teeth, not canines, as might be expected. They are used for chiseling, digging, prizing, levering and stabbing. Elephant ivory grows four inches per year, so the frequently broken tips are continually replaced by new growth.
This fact has inspired suggestions of “live harvesting” of ivory in order to save elephant lives, which is a complicated and costly technique, but feasible. The other elephant teeth, the molars, are also unique. In its lifetime, an elephant has only six teeth on each side of each jaw, 24 in all.
The teeth are large, eight to 12 inches long, so only one or two halves, end to end, are exposed on each jaw side at a time. Molars grow progressively forward, which provides scientists with a means of telling an elephant’s age.
Chewing is done forward and backward; the lower jaw grinds against the upper in the forward stroke. Since elephants spend most of the day eating, they are almost continuously chewing.
Mating – Should we expect cubs very soon.
It has been a busy month for our resident male on the reserve. He has been mating with two lioness that came on oestrus one after the other during the month. Our guests were very lucky to witness them mating.
They would mate about every 20 minutes over a period of up to 5 days which add to up to 250 times over the period. An incredible feat, but there is some sound reasoning behind it. When a lioness goes into estrous, a hormonal condition where a lioness would be able to produce eggs, she would advertise this condition by frequent scent marking and roaring to attract the dominant male lions in her area.
Male lions can assess this condition of females through a process called flehmen. They would smell her urine while pulling back the lips as if snarling. By doing this, ducts between the mouth and nose would open towards the vomero-nasal organ whose function is to aid in this process.
Mating is a turbulent affair with lots snarling and growling interspersed with some real tenderness. The male’s penis is barbed and would hurt the female during retraction causing her to often lash out. This stimulation is required to start ovulation. A human produces an egg every 28 days which would be discarded along with the lining of the uterus if not fertilized. Lions do not have the luxury to waste that much energy and would need this extra stimulation, and lots of it, to produce an egg. This in conjunction with lions’ notorious low sperm count necessitates the frantic mating activity.
An interesting fact is that lionesses can go into what we call a fake estrous where they will mate with new territorial males while giving them time to assess whether they will be able to hold onto their territory for long enough for them to raise cubs safely.
Update on Buffalo herd
In general, buffaloes favor grassland, whether it be open, wooded or bushed. They feed and travel most often during the early morning, evening and nighttime.
Buffalos spend the rest of their time lying in shade, similar to cows in a field, although they likely sleep for only about an hour per day. An explosive snort from a buffalo heralds alarm. This is followed by a nose-up posture oriented at the intruder, who should begin looking for the nearest tree if the buffalo is a lone male.
An alarm in a cow-calf herd will bring the others to attention, and those close to the intruder may even move forward, as if to have a better look. If the intruder stands its ground or even advances a few paces, the buffaloes will invariably turn tail with high head tosses, and the entire herd will run off.
Wallowing in mud holes is a common practice that appears to have a social function in addition to keeping animals cool and discouraging skin parasites. A particular wallow, apart from being foul smelling in its own right, may take on the scent of the bull which lays claim to it.
The wallow thus serves as a passive territory marker. Cattle egrets can often be found in the company of wallowing buffaloes, and these birds give away the presence of buffalo concealed within a swamp.
We have been very fortunate to get beautiful sightings like this on the reserve. Normally during the summer months buffaloes separate into smaller herds for the duration of summer, it is only during this time of the year that we see them congregate into big herds for protection for one another.
It is very important to always keep your ears open when on a bushwalk or even on safari to listen to the sound of the bush, being the redbilled oxperckers. They are the biggest warning for buffaloes of a presence of humans or danger.
Hippos have also been active this month. They are still dominating ngulubi dam everyday. They will leave the dam in the evening and return in the morning.
Hippos are gregarious and territorial. Group size averages 10 to 15 females with young, led by one dominant male. Dominant males space themselves out along the dam shore, advertising their dominance with the familiar “MUH-Muh-muh” call.
Sexually mature males are kept on the edges of the group by threats and fights until, at eight to 10 years old, they feel strong enough to take on a territory holder. As the flow of rivers changes with seasons, territories can break down.
Hippos have a curious habit of spraying their dung around a two-meter radius by rapidly whirling their stubby tails as they defecate. This is done simply to show exactly where their boundaries stand, as they are fiercely territorial, both in the water and on land. Hippos have even been known to kill each other for dominance.
General game sightings update on the reserve.
A mutualistic relationship is when two organisms of different species “work together,” each benefiting from the relationship. One example of a mutualistic relationship is that of the oxpecker and zebra.
Oxpeckers land on zebras or buffaloes and eat ticks and other parasites that live on their skin. The oxpeckers get food and the animals get pest control. Also, when there is danger, the oxpeckers fly upward and scream a warning, which helps the symbiont.
The tsessebe are grazers and prefer feeding on new shoots. They are known to be the first animals to arrive in an area after a burn, where they feed on the new growth. The tsessebe are often found with other species such as zebra and wildebeest.
Rainmeter plain is currently the best place on the reserve to get beautiful sightings of tsessebe, although they are slow breeders, we are very lucky to still see them on the reserve and they have not become the prey for wild dogs and cheetahs.
With the grass getting shorter, it allows for opportunities of the smaller things such as this Steenbok. They are always moving away when we find them, this time I was very lucky to find this one relaxed while on safari.
Warthogs have been very active this month around the reserve. One of the most intersting animal on the reserve, warthog has the face and head of a ferocious fighter, large, and decorated with warts and tusks. Looks can be deceiving though.
The warthog generally does not behave as ferociously as it appears. It is an omnivore that quietly goes about rooting for, well, roots. It does most of its foraging at dusk and at night. It uses its huge tusks to root up the roots. It also eats grasses, berries and other fruits, kneeling down on its thick and calloused knees to graze more easily.
Your safari is not complete without a beautiful sunset with a drink of your own choice. Apart from a selection of refreshing drinks beer, wine or gin and tonic sundowner drink, you will also be served with delicious bites, like chips, nuts, and dried fruits.
Until next time…
From Isaiah Banda & Mabula family.