July had some very cool and overcast days, with a couple of days receiving a light drizzle. A minimum of 5°C and a maximum of 28°C were recorded. The Acacia trees are in full bloom, producing a sweet scent as you drive through these, and the Mopane trees are slowly turning to a beautiful copper orange in preparation for shedding their leaves.
Lion sightings over the month of July have been exceptional. A young lioness was found ‘denning’ with very young cubs in the Matabole riverine vegetation. We haven’t been able to confirm how many little ones there are yet, as they are still only a couple of weeks old. The collared Duma brother is believed to be the father, as he is the only other lion that has been near her since the birth of the cubs.
Meanwhile another two lionesses are denning in the south of Mashatu; one of them has three cubs, while the others have not yet emerged out of the den so we do not know how many there are. The pride of 11 is also regularly sighted; although the cubs are of different ages, it is already easy to discern the males from the females as the boys are far bigger than their sisters.
The Duma brothers managed to bring down a sub-adult giraffe, and have been seen feeding on it for the last few days. The carcass has brought in a large number of vultures.
Overall, lions were sighted on 87% of the days in July.
Leopards were seen almost every day in June. Mashatu is home to a number of very relaxed leopards, with five different individuals seen on one afternoon game drive! An injured female leopard was photographed on a camera trap earlier this year, and she was seen again just outside Tent Camp on the 22ndof July. It was a cool afternoon, and with the wind in her favour, she spotted a small herd of impala just outside of the tented camp’s waterhole. We followed her for quite some time, but although she showed a lot of interest, she did not dare make the chase with very little cover and in full daylight.
Dan, our guide, later pointed out that she used to have an injury on her front right leg. To the untrained eye she appeared perfectly normal. The photograph below shows the same individual with the incredible recovery of what at the time seemed like a fatal injury.
An injured predator stands very little chance of survival unless living in a group where other members will help to feed the injured individual. Leopards are solitary predators, and an injury of such an extent would make hunting almost impossible. This female may have had to rely on scavenging to survive.
With the return of Mapula and her cubs to Mashatu, cheetah viewing has been excellent. The cubs – now nearly three months old – are becoming very playful, chasing one another and climbing fallen trees as their mother keeps a close watch on them.
It is always incredible to see the interaction between mothers and their young. A soft chirp will make them quickly come back to their mother’s side, and a sound almost inaudible to our ears will tell them to stay put while she goes hunting. This can sometimes mean over five hours of ‘staying put’ waiting patiently for their mother’s return! Mapula’s daughter from her previous litter has been sighted a number of times. We hope she decides to stay on her mother’s home range. Overall cheetahs were sighted 29% of days in July.
There are currently four known active hyena dens on Mashatu. Hyenas den in abandoned Aardvark holes dug in the soft soil, usually on slightly raised ground. Hyenas are not the only animals that make use of these holes – warthogs, porcupines and pythons will also move in. On an afternoon game drive we passed by the hyena den to see if there was any activity with the young pups. The light was already fading by this point but we could clearly see eight adult hyenas lying by the hole, so we assumed that the pups must be in the warmth of the den. We switched off the vehicle’s engine, hoping that a little patience would be well rewarded. After a long wait, there was still no sign of movement. Feeling a little disappointed, we prepared to head off, when suddenly four large warthogs came shooting out of the hole one after the other!
The hyenas barely lifted their heads to see what the commotion was all about. The warthogs, startled by the sound of the engine, had come racing out of ‘their’ burrow, which also happens to be the burrow used by the hyenas.
The pups must have been inside with the warthogs, but as warthogs will go into their holes backwards, they were probably not even aware of its other occupants! The den is likely to have more than one chamber, with the pups sharing their lodging with these four pigs. After realising that all was safe, the four warthog reversed back into the hyena den.
There has been much elephant activity throughout the reserve, with the underground hide picking up in activity as the remaining fresh water starts to dry up. Elephants are the largest land mammal, and possibly safe from all predators due to their sheer size and also the safety in numbers, but the sight of a lion still sent them into some form of a panic. On a particular sighting, the pride of 11 were lying in the Matabole River in the thickets of the Croton trees, when a large herd of elephants approached. Due to the limited visibility, the elephants stumbled upon the lions quite unexpectedly. The mothers trumpeted and took a few steps of warning towards the lions. With their heads held high, they looked on, but quickly turned around and raced away as fast as they could with their tails up!
Some of the less commonly seen species this month included Aardvaark, Striped polecat, Honey badger, Civet, and an Albino Porcupine.
A large crocodile that resides in one of the large pools in the Majali River was seen catching an adult impala. After the floods in January, there are a number of very large crocodiles in the Limpopo River close to the Pont Drift Border – four crocodile between two and three metres long can often be seen basking in the sun!
Remember to visit our Facebook albums to see more photos from our game drives.
See you out there!