The first day of January and we began with a great sighting of the four big lions – the “Zulu Boys” – resting under a candle pod acacia. About five kilometers away, there were another two males, also resting up. On the same day, we also saw three cheetah hunting and killing a baby common reedbuck. A hyena was watching the events unfold from nearby, and stole the kill from the cheetah.
The same lions and cheetahs were seen over the next few days, as well as a leopardess with her very young cub – last month she had a den site close to the boat station, and this month she moved the den a little further to the west. The mother and the cub are extremely relaxed, and we were able to have wonderful sightings of them, with the cub often playing about near his mum.
The Kwara concession is known for its good sightings of predators, including lions, wild dogs, leopards and cheetahs. However, on the, one type of predator ruled the day: cheetahs. There were three separate sightings of cheetahs on the same day: A female with a sub adult male, another female with her two sub-adult cubs, and a solitary male. The two small families were resting up in an area fairly close to each other, whilst the male, in a different area, was feeding on a warthog.
Not so many sightings of wild dogs this month – but our most regular pack has had some individual members disperse, leaving a total of eight in the pack. They were seen a few times, including near the Bat Eared Fox den.
A youngish elephant was killed by five lions along the Machaba East road. Quite an amazing sighting. The lions fed on it for two days and then moved off, allowing the many vultures that had been waiting fairly patiently in the background, quickly arriving to squabble and hiss over what remained.
Unusually for this time of year, it is quite dry… this means a lot of game is attracted to the remaining waterways and lagoons, and with hardly any long grass, predators are still easy to see. The elephant herds are still around, and there are big groups of water birds feeding at the ‘fish pools’ – the waterholes that are slowly drying out.
Early January, and the lions were on the move: apart from a single female that was seen a few times throughout the week, the other lions had headed west, following the large herd of buffalo that moved in that direction. In their absence, the intruder males came into the Lagoon area, and started to make themselves at home. The male lions were seen several times, and seem to have focused on killing warthogs at the moment. Towards the end of the month, the lions were on the move again – walking as much as 32 kilometers in one night!
The wild dogs still frequent the area, but the pack of 23 has split. This is a normal part of the social system of wild dogs, and allows for more junior dogs to start their own packs, becoming alpha male and female, or joining up with other dogs and diversifying the gene pool. The remaining pack began with 14 (9 adults and 5 puppies) and then reduced again to 11. They could hunt more than enough on their own, with their main prey being warthogs and young impalas.
At the beginning of the month, there were lots of breeding herds of elephants in the area, with young babies. As we finally started to get some rain during this month, the herds began to move off though the woodlands to the mopane scrub. Solitary bulls and bachelor herds remain, but the breeding herds will come back soon. Although the buffalo herds have dispersed from the main drive area, a large group remain in the valley to the west.
General game was very good, with giraffes, wildebest, impala, eland, and lots and lots of zebras. Bat eared foxes, jackals, and several types of mongoose were seen as well as caracals, african wildcats and porcupines on night game drive.
And a great sighting one morning of a young honey badger, proudly scurrying along the road with a leopard tortoise in his mouth!
Nature is harsh. And sometimes we don’t realize how harsh it is until we witness the events ourselves. As part of their safari, most guests are keen to see a kill. The guides know that for many, when confronted with the reality, seeing a kill will actually be very very traumatic. Predator kills are rarely quick and clean cut.
Wild dogs, which have a reputation for being ‘cruel’ killers, as they don’tzkill their prey by suffocation, but by tearing it to pieces. However, they are very very fast, and the warthog was dead within a minute., there is normally nothing left of the animal. Something to bear in mind when considering the larger predators hunting techniques…
Just a few days before, two males lions had cleverly managed to stalk an adult warthog, using a tree as cover to come up on it unawares. One male grabbed the neck and held it to suffocate it, but a warthog neck is very thick, and it takes a long time to suffocate… the other male could not wait, and begin eating from the back. Soon after, the first male couldn’t hold his hunger any longer, released the neck and began eating as well. For seven minutes, all that could be heard was the screaming warthog, until it finally succumbed. Its one of the most distressing sounds that you can hear in the animal kingdom, and it chills you to the bone. Sadly, in nature, there’s not often happy endings…
The month continued to produce plenty of lion sightings including a male and female mating at the beginning of the month. Hopefully, more cubs are on the way! We did happen upon two lion cubs along the BDF turnoff – no mother in sight, but lots of tracks around, so she must have hidden the cubs and gone off to hunt. We also regularly saw the four lionesses in the area, working together in their attempts to hunt.
The lionesses and the wild dogs met up at one point, when we were following the dogs hunting. They had not had any luck flushing game, but suddenly stopped and stared in one direction. Not too far away, were the four lionesses staring back at them. Both parties decided that it was easier to do nothing on this occasion, and they moved off without a confrontation.
General game was great, with big herds of elephants, lechwe, a herd of wildebeest almost permanently stationed in front of the camp, giraffe, lots of zebra, and of course the common impala.
Nxai Pan Camp
Elephants still abound, with the lack of consistent rain, they are frequenting the pumped waterholes to drink. One week in January produced the hottest temperatures that we have ever experienced in Botswana – reaching up to 46 degrees C (114.8 degrees F) in the shade! (It’s exceptionally rare for us to reach 40 degrees C (104 degrees F)…) Water pumps were running 24 hours a day to try and ensure that the game had access to sufficient water, as both four legged and two legged mammals took strain.
And sadly this year, due to the drought, the zebra migration has not yet arrived in Nxai Pan. January is usually the peak of the numbers for zebras, but this year they have failed to arrive. Whether they will arrive in February or March is solely dependent on whether good rains arrive.
The big pride of fourteen lions was found along West Road, hunting giraffe. They were unsuccessful on this occasion. Whilst the ladies were out hunting, two male lions rested up near one of the camp sites (luckily unoccupied at the time), looking pretty hungry. Had the pride managed to bring down a giraffe, no doubt the two males would have made a dash for a share of the meal. A few days later, the whole gang of sixteen was seen together.
We also came across the two sub-adult cheetahs – away from their mum for a change – attempting to hunt close to the South camping grounds. They hadn’t quite honed their skills well enough for a successful hunt; however, practice makes perfect. The next day, the mother cheetah was found on her own near the Wildlife Camp.
Tau Pan Camp
Tau Pan area is looking beautiful and green at the moment, after having some reasonable rains in January – more than other areas. This has attracted lots of general game to the area, to enjoy the good life. However, the taller grass and availability of water is making it harder to see the predators.
After more than six years of the Tau Pan pride of lions being firmly established in the area, they are becoming harder and harder to see as the intruders from the Passarge area attempt to take over the area. As a result, the Tau Pan Pride have changed the times that they visit the camp waterhole, sneaking down at night to drink and not vocalising, in order to not attract any unwanted attention from the intruders.
A lioness was seen with five cubs about 8 kilometers from Tau Pan camp. They were attempting to hunt, but were not successful whilst we were watching, though there was plenty of game in the area. All the lions’ stomachs looked very empty….
A leopard was seen at the aptly named Leopard Pan in the middle of the month. Two cheetahs were lying down at the pan on the edge. The male cheetah then crossed the pan and headed north, before lying down again under the large trees at the edge.
On an afternoon game drive back to camp one day, an aardwolf was also spotted, coming out for its night-time feed of termites.