This month has presented us with huge fluctuations in temperature as pressure systems clash in the never-ending ebb and flow off seasonal change.
The temperature gauge has passed 40 degrees celsius already, one day late in October it crept up to 42 degrees celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit), this prefrontal heat wave was followed by a cool and rainy day of about 20 degrees celsius.
The variations in temperature translated to diversity in animal behavior. The piping hot days drew huge herds of Elephant to the water to quench their thirst and cool down in the waters of the Sand River. As Elephants, like many animals, do not sweat and their substantial surface area is covered in thick hide that bakes in the sun making temperature regulation a challenging feat.
The Buffalo bulls made the pan in front of camp their home and spent the hot days wallowing in the cool mud that in turn cakes on their bodies and assists in removing ecto-parasites and serves as a natural bush sunscreen.
The predators tend to find shade and lay low on hot days, only emerging after sunset when cool breezes wash over parched bushveld.
The days that the temperature dropped were accompanied by some welcome sprinkles of rain, just enough to sustain the green flush of grass and leaves after the winter. Even though we didn’t have any significant showers October produced a respectable 43 mm of rain.
The cool rainy days gave the predators an opportunity to extend their hunting hours. After the rain, the moist ground cover muffles foot falls and erratic wind conditions, cloaks their scent and sounds, making stalking prey an easier task.
Our resident leopards have still been passing through camp, creating unique viewing opportunities, and keeping the Nyala herd on their toes.
The Tumbela males have settled with the Othawa pride and have been spending a lot of time close to camp. As the males settled, they have now been vocalizing every night in an attempt to maintain their new territory. Magical evenings around the fire with lions roaring in the background have become a regular dinner treat at Inyati.
The game viewing in camp continues to delight staff and guests. Our local Nyala ewes have had lambs and the little “bambies” have quickly relaxed around staff and guests. A large herd of Impala spends its time in camp in the afternoon, if the leopards allow.
Misava, one of our male Leopards, was able to kill one of the Impala in camp. He dragged the carcass to the comfort of the veranda of Room 11 and spent a few days lounging on the daybed. We had guests that were supposed to check in to the room, but we had to move them as the house keepers at Inyati embrace many challenges but cleaning up after big cats is not one of them. Once again, the animals dictate what a happens at Inyati, as it should be.
The Lion population has remained stable this month. The Othawa pride and cubs are still the dominant force in the area, and the little ones have been thriving. The Lioness’ have made giraffe and buffalo kills so their hunting prowess seems to be progressing to larger species.
The Ximhungwe Lioness seems to be pregnant, and her daughter has rejoined her mother after a bit of a walkabout.
The Mungen pride is still roaming the south and killing the odd Buffalo. The two Tumbela males are still dominating the area and keeping their cubs safe.
The Leopard viewing has been amazing as per the norm at Inyati. The territorial dynamics with the males seem to have settled with Nyeleti occupying the east and Ravenscourt and Euphorbia setting south and north of the Sand River. Misava has accepted his status as a vagabond in the area. He is considerably smaller than the other males in the area so it seems unlikely that this situation will change.
Ravenscourt met up with Misava in Inyati camp, the large male lured by the scent of Misavas kill, and he once again put Misava in his place and chased him east.
Thamba is still holding the fort in the south.
The exciting news for the month is that we presume that both Khokovela and Basile have had cubs. Not one of the den sites have been established or viewed as the cubs are still too young.
Tlangisa and her cubs are doing well, and it seems she will again be able to raise these cubs to independence.
The humble Impala is probably the most overlooked mammal on safari in the Sabi Sand, and understandably so. There are thousands of them, and after the third herd of impala one can forgive people thinking “just another impala”.
Impala are plentiful indeed, but this is the very reason one should appreciate the species. Impala are probably the most well-adapted ungulate in the Greater Kruger National park. They make some very simple adaptions to life to be able to thrive. Impala are one of the only hooved animals that practice allogrooming, they simply groom each other as well as themselves. This removes ectoparasites such as ticks that in turn can carry an array of diseases.
Impala are selective in their feeding habits utilizing only the most nutrient rich plants species to maintain their condition. They also adapt their feeding habits seasonally. In the summer when grasses are juicy and sweet due to our summer rainfall, the impala predominantly graze. The nutrient yield from grasses is much higher than leaves so again good nutrient intake is maximized. Grasses are difficult to digest though, but the Impala have again improvised. In simple terms, the lining of the gut increases in thickness and surface area and the pH drops slightly to improve efficiency. The nutrient yield still outweighs the extra energy that the digestive track is using and again the Impala is ahead of the game.
In winter, as the bush dries out so do the grasses and Impala adapt by starting to browse leaves off the trees and the forbs. Dicots generally have deeper root systems and trees can tap into groundwater which means this browse is available even during the dry season. Leaves are easier to digest and the digestive tract changes to use less energy and make up for a lower nutrient yield from leaves. Now we see, these animals are more than cannon fodder for predators.
The core elements to thrive have been covered by the species, they look after themselves well, so parasites and other nasties are kept at a minimum due to a strict hygiene regime.
Their diet is optimized by intelligent feeding habits as well as physiological adaptions. And they stay in shape by moving around all the time to find food and water and, yes, being alert 24/7 so as not to get eaten.
The entire herd is always vigilant and skittish and their senses are well developed so predators are detected, most of the time. If a predator is observed or even smelt, the individuals and herd will sound an alarm to warn other herd members and let the predator know it has been detected.
Due to the Impalas impressive physique, they are very agile and are generally able to leave a detected predator in their dust if there is no element of surprise on the predator’s side.
The Impala’s reproduction is also a very streamlined and efficient process. In May when our days start to shorten as we head into winter in Southern Africa the shortening day stimulates a testosterone boost in male Impala. This testosterone boost makes for significant behavioral changes referred to as the rutt. Males will start becoming territorial driving other males out of the area with head dropping and snorting and running after fleeing intruders. If males are evenly matched ,violent fights may occur, but the lesser males usually will pick life and limb over territory and back off. Dominant males also create territorial beacons by defecating and urinating in middens in the periphery of their territories. These create a boundary of scent and sight that need to be adhered to by lesser males. Even unruly females that dare to stray away from the herd during the rutt are also quickly escorted back to the harem.
All this flexing, fighting, posturing and herding means less time to feed and more energy used, other males are thus able to oust dominant males from time to time but it is still the “crème de la crème” that are in charge. This ensures that only the best genes are allowed to filter into the next generation of impala. Impala ewes tend to synchronize their cycles and this in turn results in most of the fertilization happening at a similar time.
Our first report of a calf being born was late in October and by the end of the month many healthy little calves were frolicking in the herds.
That’s all from us this month. We thank you for spending few moments with us in the wilderness, sharing our experiences and joining our adventures. We are committed to keep you updated.
Hope to see you soon! Keith and the Inyati team.