Wonderful sightings were seen at Mashatu during the month of May. The three cheetah brothers made their way back into the reserve, and there were frequent sightings of them. As with African Wild Dogs, cheetah traverse large tracts of land and this was quite evident from sightings of these three boys – they were seen in the far east of the reserve, and a day or two later they were seen entering back into the area, but from the west!
Large herds of eland were observed, as well as numerous smaller herds of zebra. Wildebeest are still mostly concentrated along areas of the Vlei. Elephant herds are becoming smaller in size due to the drought conditions setting in. This ‘fission-fusion’ dynamic among herds is commonplace. With food resources only to be seen in patches across the landscape, competition for these valuable food sources is obvious. There is a sense of tension between the animals, especially around waterholes. All this might seem harsh, but nature has a way of clearing away all the weak individuals, which makes for a stronger and more resilient gene pool after this type of drought.
For now the carnivores are still doing very well. A total of 12 kills were found this month: eight leopard kills (all impala) and four lion kills (three impala and one kudu). A noticeable number of impala kills, made by spotted hyaenas, were also in evidence. Spotted hyaenas are considered cursorial predators i.e. predators that run down their prey, unlike lions and leopards that stalk their prey. With animals becoming weaker due to a lower intake of suitable nutrients, chasing them makes for easy meals for the spotted hyenas – an apex predator is definitely not given the credit it’s due.
An Aardwolf borrow was found near the open plains south of Cheetah’s Koppie. There are at least two adults present, but the pups have not been seen yet. They can only be heard inside the borrow. These predators are in the same family as hyaenas, however they only eat insects. They particularly like termites. Aardwolfs are quite rare to see in the wild, so having a den site in our central area is something really special.
Lion and leopard sightings were plentiful during May. Another mating pair of lions were seen, as well as a pair of mating leopards. The female was recognised as the famous mother with three cubs, seen almost daily during the last year. Interestingly enough, the male she mated with on this occasion was not the same male that fathered the previous litter, but the neighbouring male – a monstrous male that frequents the WhiteCliffs along the Majale River. Her previous litter is now 16 months old and hopefully within the next 3 months another litter will be raised successfully.
All in all, a very productive and rewarding month for game viewing at Mashatu.