Wildlife Journal October 2011 by Khimbini Hlongwane

Summer is definitely here in the lowveld of Mpumalanga as daytime temperatures climb into the low 40s (Celsius). Dark and ominous rainclouds have filled the afternoon sky on the odd occasion, but we only had few showers so far just enough to transform the bush into brilliant green, the big rains are yet to come. The bush is still thin, In light of this, game viewing is amazing and guests don’t have to drive far from camp to see large herds of buffalo, waterbuck, wildebeest and elephant; obviously with predators taking full advantage of this situation. October is a spectacular month to visit, with the wildlife concentration along the river the game viewing is at its peak.

Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Tlangisa femaleLeopard viewing have been phenomenon during the month of this report, On 22 October morning there were total of 6 leopards seen in four different sightings, Metsi female, Tlangisa trailing behind Xindzele, Hlabankunzi arguing with Metsi’s young male and unknown young male at northwest corner.

The playful Tlangisa female have been entertaining throughout the month. On one morning we watched her stalk and caught a scrub hare, she played with it for a while before killing it and hoisted it in a jackal berry tree. She doesn’t move around the entire western sector like she uses to do she seems to have settled down in the territory near the western firebreak and south of the Machimbiri donga.

Hlabankunzi female appear to be pregnant and have been seen checking out some of her previous den sites. On one late morning we located her perched high up a knob thorn tree with carcass of an impala lamb. She was also seen in area with three other adult leopard, Tlangisa killed an impala, the aging Ndlevane stole the carcass it was not long before Xindzele knew about it , come growling at the old Ndlevane male who was in the tree finishing the remain of impala carcass. The old and wise, Ndlevane male came down the tree and run off avoiding the fight. Hlabankuzi sat on a termite mound a good distance away watching the whole commotion before venturing off in a patrol of her territory. From One drama to another! She was chased up a tree by a lioness. Luckily she saw the lion in time so this only gave her the opportunity to show off her climbing skills as the lioness looked on from terra firma.

Hlabankunzi femaleShangwa and her one year old male cub have also been seen a few times near the eastern boundary of our traversing area. We were treated with some great interaction between Shangwa and her two young of different generation. Shangwa killed an impala and was soon joined by her one year old male cub. Out of nowhere came out her 6-year old daughter, Xikhavi. There was a lot of resentment shown in growling between the young male cub and Xikhavi, but eventually the tension deteriorated and all three leopards fed at different times.

Xindzele continues to be the most viewed male leopard in our area he is always on the move patrolling and marking his territory. The growing numbers of male in the area are keeping him on his toes. He has been in a fight and is sporting some impressive bite marks. The injuries are not serious and he will recover well. The tension between himself and Mashiyabanci seems to have subsided as we haven’t seen Mashiyabanci for a while now. Consequently, we have seen Xindzele crossing the sand river going deeper into Mashiyabanci’s territory.

Leopard Causeway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lion (Panthera leo)

Our lions have been excMpogoeedingly active this month. The Ximungwe pride is still quite fragmented, although the older lioness and her 13-month old cubs are seen regularly she seem to be happy away from the rest of the pride. The one female with two new cubs is often seen alone probably because the cubs are still too young to keep up with the pride. The rest of the pride has been staying mostly along the Sand River. The three lionesses have four cubs from three different litters, ranging in age from three months to eight months. Kudus, nyalas and bushbucks is what they been feeding on mostly but they did manage to kill a giraffe this month.

We were fortunate to have the less seen Ottawa pride’s three lionesses staying on our property for few days.

Buffalo killThe notorious Mapogo boys have been venturing across to the eastern sections lately; they are possibly concern about the growing numbers of lion coalitions like Machingelane, Matimbas and others. On return of one their trip they killed a large buffalo bull, few days later they killed a young buffalo, the buffalo herd attempted to fight for about twenty minutes but they had to move on at some point. In less than 24 hours after the buffalo calf they manage to kill a ten months old hippo calf.

Giraffe kill

Lion (Panthera leo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

Elephant (Loxodonta africana)Large breeding herds, bachelor herds and some single bull elephants are a common sighting in, along and around the river. We have enjoyed numerous herds of these gently beasts and their young ones continuously parading through camp and along the sand river. A calf of two years old charged us on one morning; he was determined to see us drive off he put on such a show by flapping the ears, shaking of trunk and even trumpeting. He got disappointed when I didn’t move he then ran back to the shelter of his mum who was totally ignoring his antics.

Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

Inyati - buffalo bulls We are living up to our name Inyati, buffalo bulls were seen all around the property and in the lodge area. Big herds of buffalo are still visiting the area. Some new big herds of buffalo, some ranging between two hundred and five hundred animals were found along various plains and the river. The lions have been taking advantage of the situation sneaking in catching unsuspecting young and old individual.

More than the big five…..

We were privilege to see this night time creature in the daytime, a porcupine. This is Africa’s largest rodent; they are prickly creatures with more than 30,000 needle-like quills on their back, sides and tail. On contrarily to a popular belief, Porcupines do not shoot their quills. They do not have this capability. Physical contact with a porcupine is needed in order to be stuck with its quills. A peculiar mating ritual particular to porcupines is that the male will douse the female with urine prior to mating. Did you know that porcupine is one of the only few animals that mate for pleasure.porc espin (spined pig)

Yet another pangolin in daylight! These strange creatures are normally late night active, yet on two occasions in a two weeks period we have seen them in daylight ,we have been really spoilt with three pangolin sightings in the past two weeks period.

Our regular pack of wild dogs is still intact and in good condition, they are keeping themselves well fed on pregnant impala that are battling to run fast as their bellies swell. We have also seen two males that came into our traversing area.

Lycaon pictus
The African wild dog has a bite force quotient (BFQ, the strength of bite relative to the animal's mass) measured at 142, the highest of any extant mammal of the order Carnivora, although exceeded by the Tasmanian devil, a marsupial carnivore

InyatiThe Camp has also been wonderfully productive, with a steady supply of elephants moving through to drink and play in the river. At this time of the year elephants are at their highest concentrations along the water and so sightings of these magnificent beasts have been especially frequent and rewarding. We also had a herd of over hundred buffalo coming to graze on our lawn on few occasions.

That’s all from us this month, we thank you for spending few moments with us in the wilderness, shared our experiences and joined our adventures, and we are committed to keep you updated.

This month’s sightings report compiled by Khimbini Hlongwane

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A Journey With Giraffe by Keith Jenkinson

Africa is home to many iconic animals, and people flock from all corners of the globe to see and study these animals in their natural habitat. At first visitors are enthralled by the so called “big 5”, the usual suspects – one could say.

The term big five was first used by President Theodore Rooseveldt who often hunted in southern Africa and as a result grew to respect the dangers the Lion, Cape Buffalo, African Elephant, Leopard and Rhinoceros present to hunters. These animals are either: large, tough, cunning or ferocious, all traits that make them extremely dangerous if pursued with malice intent. In the safari or eco-tourism industry this is often very far from the truth as the big five we view have for many years not been hunted and the aggression that the hunters of old experienced has now turned to acceptance and, I would like to imagine, trust. Thus the
formerly frothing, head swinging, beady eyed buffalo has now become the relaxed ruminant allowing vehicles and their occupants a close view for that perfect out of Africa sunset. Don’t get me wrong, any of the big five can quickly undergo a personality change if mistreated or by getting carelessly close on foot, all I am getting at is that the term big five is often the reason for visitors to Africa arriving with an expectation that is far less than Africa can offer .

A visit to Africa is more spiritual and holistic than many a marketer would sell, simple things like the smell of the soil after the first rain, the colours that no wide angle lens or painters brush has been able to capture and the cool evening breeze that no health
therapist or spa can attempt to recreate. These are the things that combine to make Africa unique. There is also an animal unique to Africa that can capture the imagination of many without adrenaline or blood lust, the Giraffe.

Humans have always been fascinated by Giraffe, many etchings depicting giraffe are found throughout Africa proving that humans have been enthralled by Giraffe from the early stone-age.

You will often hear guides comment on how their guests have calmed down and relaxed after their first drive.

The highly strung A-type personality can forget his all-conquering ways and just relax as the bush and its rhythms are
not affected by the business world and it stresses. Africa has a way to unknowingly force its visitors into this ancient rhythm, and an animal that in my opinion epitomizes this is the Giraffe.

Giraffe evolved from a smaller horse like animal that frequented the forests. There are only two members of the Giraffe family in existence today, the giraffe and the Okapi that occurs in the rain forests of central Africa and surprisingly was only described in 1901. The Okapi is also very similar looking to the giraffes’ forest dwelling ancestors.

Okapia johnstoni,

The giraffe is an engineering marvel and has many fascinating traits to deal with it’s at times cumbersome height.
The reason for it evolving into the World’s tallest mammal and largest ruminant is simple, it is socially aloof and likes things to itself, it has thus evolved to be the tallest animal in Africa that has a band of approximately two meters of leaves mostly to itself, mostly only because they share with elephants at this level. Exclusivity comes at a price though, having your head in the clouds means your heart needs to work extremely hard to fuel the brain with blood, a giraffes heart is about 60 centimetres (2 feet) long and can weigh up to ten kilograms. This heart is so powerful that the arteries split into a delta of elastic vessels that bring the blood pressure down before damaging the fine capillaries in the brain. This system is called a Rete mirable and is also found in many other ruminants, another function of the delta of vessels is to transfer heat to intertwined blood vessels not flowing to the brain, a kind of biological radiator.

The Zulu name for Giraffe is ndlulamiti (ndlula-pass; miti-trees) this beautifully descriptive name points out another problem giraffe are faced with. If you are taller than many of the trees your access to shade is limited and overheating of your brain in a sweltering African summer could be fatal. A giraffes ears and head is very light in colour, this reflects a lot of the heat from the sun and acts as a beacon to other
giraffe, both male and female giraffe have “horns”, these horns are an
extension of the scull that gives the cranium more surface area and more
surface area means more heat can be radiated from the brain!

Weight and the distribution thereof is yet another challenge for giraffe, a giraffe bull can weigh more than a ton, and that on stilts. As a result giraffe have only two gaits a sauntering walk and a gallop. When a giraffe is walking the right and left legs work in unison unlike the scissor like action of other ungulates.
This swagger largely contributes to the animals well documented grace. When in a gallop the front legs and back legs kick and push together in long strides that look slow but due to leverage propel the animal forward in excess of 50km/h. It is speculated that the Genus and common English name “Giraffe” was derived from an Arabic word Zirapha that translates to moving with haste or walking swiftly.

Giraffe have only 7 vertebrae in the neck

The weight of the head and neck has also led so some interesting physical adaptions. The head and vertebrae are very dense and heavy and as you can see in the image, Giraffe have only 7 vertebrae in the neck, the same amount as a human. A giraffe has a very strong tendon that runs below the skin on the back of the neck, this tendon is under  constant strain as it short and wide thus being able to hold up the neck and head automatically. A giraffe has to strain to drop its head but the weight of the head and neck put stain on the tendon and keeps the head and neck up an a natural position with little to no energy being wasted.

Giraffe have phenomenal eyesight, together with their height this makes them the periscopes of the bushveld, many animals such as Impala and Zebra will associate with giraffe as they rely on the giraffe to spot predators at a distance. Rangers often also use giraffe as sentries as a group of giraffe staring intently in the same direction is often and indication of the whereabouts of a predator.
There is actually and Egyptian hieroglyph that depicts a giraffe, it is said to signify a prophecy or future vision, this most probably due to the animals astounding eyesight.

Inyati camp and the surrounding area is a preferred winter feeding ground for giraffe. The Sand River is one of the few rivers in the Greater Kruger National Park to hold water throughout the year and trees with deep tap root systems such as Knob-Thorns and Bush-willows bear green leaves well into late winter.  A journey of about 16 bulls is often seen on the clearings in front of camp in the afternoons. Groups of cows and their calves are often a highlight of guided walks as giraffe will allow you
surprisingly close if approached correctly. These graceful turrets often complete a day’s game viewing.