There’s an almost incessant hum in the air – ga gona pula ga gona pula…. There’s no rain! Temperatures soared, with many records beaten, regularly reaching over 40 degrees during the day, when 35 degrees is more the norm.
In and around Maun, the wildlife merges with the domestic… elephants move along with cows on the river banks, breaking fences to get to the juicier vegetation (with the cows and goats following in their trail…). A leopard is found in someone’s backyard, and crocodiles that are getting too big for their own good in the shrinking river, are relocated to areas more suitable, up to the top of the delta. Everyone, is waiting for the rain.
Lions were seen nearly every day, and cheetahs almost as regularly. The Tsum Tsum area was very productive, for both of these predators. The cheetah with her three cubs was seen often, and once we saw them in the company of a male cheetah. They were all very relaxed together, and the male was interested to see if the female was ready to mate. It appears not, as after a while the male left them and headed north.
The pride of eight lions (3 females and 5 young) were seen most often, and regularly hunting. They were joined by the two black maned lions, and together they killed a buffalo. They spent several days together eating this. The female lion with two subadult males was also seen regularly – one of the young males has had an unfortunate interaction with a porcupine – several quills were stuck in around his neck! We were also lucky enough to see leopards mating. They had a kill waiting for them in the branches of a nearby tree.
A hippo died – probably of natural causes – at Pelican Pan, so it became a feeding frenzy for the local carnivores. Three males lions and a lioness spent time feeding there, and several groups of hyenas joined in as well.
An unusual sighting of a large number of hyenas (over 10) feeding on a red lechwe as well as a female leopard!
Some of the summer migratory birds were a little slow to arrive this year, with the late rains. The call of the woodland kingfisher is so distinct, the first day you hear it, you realise how many months it has been since it was last here… Normally arriving in early November, they didn’t arrive in force until the end of the month. How they know the rain in Botswana is delayed, before they set off to travel here, is a mystery. It must be something like Heathrow airport grounding all flights on the first day of school holidays. Every kingfisher waiting at the departure point, fluttering their wings, frustrated, looking at the “departures board” (the sun? the moon? The stars?), and then a mad rush with everyone taking off when the all clear is announced. Well, at least they made it this year, if somewhat tardy.
The Northern pack of dogs was seen regularly, with good sighting of hunts and feeding. One of their kills was a baby roan antelope – a rare kill for them.
Several male lions were sighted in the area. This is creating problems for the females with cubs, as they face the danger of these intruder males killing their cubs if they get hold of them. On the 12th of the month, we found a female with four cubs, but within 10 days she had lost them all. On the 26th, she was seen mating again with one of the Chobe males. The resident males are still hanging around, and battling with the Chobe boys often. Male lions, as big and impressive as they appear most of the time, can sometimes look a bit insecure and as if they are feeling sorry for themselves: following the sound of roaring, a male was found lying down, and calling to his colleagues (who weren’t answering…).
Again, good sightings of female leopards, including one that had killed a young tsessebe and was feeding on it, and another with an impala kill up a sausage tree. Male leopards are very shy and we seem to only be able to see them at a distance, or in the quiet of night. The two male cheetahs made a quick visit to the area, staying for a day or so, before moving off again to the north west section of the concession, and then returned a week or so later to hunt. By the end of the month, they had disappeared again.
The big herds of buffalo have split up, and we currently remain with the bachelor herds and solitary males. The bulk of the numbers of buffalo have moved off in search, literally, of greener pastures: any where that there has been the possibility of rain, and new grass growth. There are, however, still lots of elephants in the area, including lots of breeding herds.
Good birding with the carmine bee eaters still at their breeding sites in the banks of Kwena Lagoon, and the other summer migratories having arrived.
We came across the pack of 23 wild dogs at Half Way Pan, and followed the dogs for about half and hour as they moved quickly through the bush. All the dogs were on the hunt for prey, and senses were at their peak. Sadly for them, they did not manage to flush out any game, and they moved off still searching. A few days later we found them again hunting, this time managing to catch two impalas at the same time one morning. The very same day, the dogs arrived in camp in the afternoon, and killed a kudu, quickly demolishing it.
The pride of ten lions is very productive at the moment and has had great success with their hunts. One day we found them eating both a wildebeest, and a warthog as a side dish! Even more lions are on the way, as we came across two couples mating for several days in the middle of the month. Hopefully, in another 90 days, there were more little cubs to add to the pride.
Little warthogs were not so lucky – a very newly born baby was being fed on by a female leopard and her cub. A few days later, we watched the whole hunt of another warthog by five lions – starting with the stalking process, the kill itself, and then the crunching of bones as everyone digs in.
Nxai Pan Camp
It’s the right time of year for many to have their young – the springbok are grouping together, nearly ready to all give birth within days of each other. Ostriches already have lots of tiny fluffy chicks, following their parents around as fast as their little legs can carry them.
It was also a predator filled month: almost every day lions were seen, and often with the addition of either cheetah, or wild dogs – sometimes both, as well as hyenas! You would think with up to 19 lions roaming around, other predators would be in scarce supply, but there is plenty of space (and food) for everyone. The normal pride of 16 lions (10 sub-adults and with six adults, was joined by the one female with her two young cubs. The main waterhole was their choice resting place. A giraffe carcass was particularly enticing for all of them, which made them move between the waterhole and the wildlife camp. With 19 lions feeding on a large, old giraffe, there was something for everyone! (including a few good photos for the guests!). Whenever they moved from the main waterhole, other animals would sneak in, including the cheetah mother and her two sub-adult cubs, finally able to quench their thirst.
The small pack of dogs – two males and three females – was also seen at the wildlife camp. They also came to the Nxai Pan camp waterhole several times to drink. They appeared for several days, just at sunrise, a perfect time for them to be able to get to the waterhole and get a drink without so many elephants.
The camp waterhole has also been attracting spotted hyenas, coming individually, and in groups of up to five at a time. It’s difficult to negotiate the way around the elephants to get a drink, so this required a lot of patience, and a long time of waiting for the right chance.
Following on from last month, the elephants continued to congregate. The pump for the park main waterhole failed for a short time, making the situation tougher still. With the camp pumping water as fast as it could, any overflow was quickly turned into a mudbath by the elephants. Still not happy with that, nor happy with the queuing system, their attention turned again to the camp. What an elephant wants, an elephant gets, and for this reason, we sadly had to close the camp to re-lay almost an entire camps-worth of water pipe, sewerage systems, and elephant-prevention systems. On the second day of closure, the rain arrived. Perhaps only a start, but it is enough of a signal that there will be water pools somewhere else, and the next morning, not an elephant was seen! They returned, of course, but not in the numbers that required a “damage to property” insurance form to be filled out.
Tau Pan Camp
A very relaxed male leopard opened the month for us at Tau Pan waterhole, quenching his thirst.
The saga that began last month continued on, with the three young intruder male lions chasing the territorial male again. They were also seen along the eastern firebreak, marking territory in an attempt to claim it as their own. The two females with five cubs still venture down to the waterhole, but are very cautious – one was injured when they were harassed at the end of the last month by the same intruders. Mid way through the month, things got even more confusing, when the three males were seen near the old borehole, with two lionesses. The males were mating with one of the lionesses. In the meantime, two “resident” male lions were resting not too far away at the waterhole – not looking very comfortable about the whole situation.
Several cheetah sightings, including two shy males in the Deception Valley Area, one relaxed male close to the old borehole near the camp, who was seen for several days.
A very unusual and lovely sighting of a family of spotted eagle owls… a mother owl with her two youngsters in the branch of a tree, and another adult – perhaps the father – high up in the top branches.
Lots of general game in the area, including the oryx – several of which look heavily pregnant – springboks, hartebeest and wildebeest. Green patches of land are starting to show, in spite of having hardly any rain at all. And for the first time in over five years, there has not been a fire in the area!