After an interesting 2021 we welcomed 2022 with open arms at Inyati. The past year has been challenging: South Africa discovers a new variant of Covid 19 and lets the world know, and instead of a “high 5” from the world we get added to the naughty list, again. After that little hiccup it’s seems that sanity prevailed, and things are normalizing…breath held.
The beauty of vast wilderness areas is that they stay largely unaffected by turmoil beyond our borders. Visitors to these wilderness areas are drawn to this experience where time is still governed only by seasons and sunlight. Hence, the new year is a relatively subdued celebration at Inyati, where fireworks and music are replaced by the chorus of frogs in the Sand river and maybe a hyena calling in the distance. The festivities often end much earlier here as we are happy to focus on celebrating the first sunrise, with clear minds, and eyes.
The first morning of 2022 was celebrated with Sparkling wine and Fruit platters on game drive next to the Sand River with Frank and Christiana Maroschek one of the many guests that are now friends of the Inyati team. And we have welcomed back many old and made new friends this year.
The game viewing during the rain was surprisingly productive. Generally, animals, like humans will look for shelter form the elements. However, there are a few species that relish the opportunity to cool down and play in the mud. Elephants love the rain and spending time with a herd in the rain is akin to watching children playing in a downpour. Happiness is!
Apart for the mammals playing their part, the bird viewing during the rains was spectacular. As the mating and breeding season brings with it some impressive behavior and displays.
The African lowveld is a place of stark contrasts and heavy thunderstorms are often followed by beautiful golden light that draws out all the critters to dry themselves and bask in the golden light.
We spent time with a pair of Woodlands Kingfishers after a thunderstorm and were treated to a beautiful display of contrasting colours.
The little male would flitter off, go catch an insect and bring his lady a gift to nourish her. This “courtship feeding” is a common behavior in monogamous pair bonding birds, it secures the bond between the breeding pair and keeps her in tip top shape to handle the bourdon of egg laying and brooding. At times he even pushed the culinary envelope by bringing her scorpions as in the below image.
The Othawa pride has managed to keep all their cubs safe. The 6 cubs, of which 5 are females, are growing at a rapid rate as the mothers keep the kills coming at a consistent rate. The lioness’ have moved away for the river and have spent the majority of January and February south of the sand river, possibly feeling some pressure from the territorial spacing calls that the Plains Camp males have been bellowing out form the east.
The Plains Camp males, rather surprisingly, seem reluctant to venture further west. The sight of the large Tumbela male and his impressive mane may well have intimidated them just enough, for now.
The Ximhungwe lioness has caught the eye of the large Tumbela male. She has been venturing in to the Othawa prides territory and been vocalizing often. It seems the male has also taken a liking to her and will heed her call if the other females have not provided him with food, or entertainment.
On one of his visits to his new lioness the pair came across a large African Rock Python that was constricting a young Impala. The Ximhungwe female true to her fearless nature pounced on the coiled snake and quickly sent the serpent slithering into cover. The Tumbela male then simply muscled the lioness off her hard-earned impala and finished off the scavenged meal.
The python and the lioness were forced to watch him feed from the bleachers. Male lions are many things but chivalry is most certainly not one of them. The whole scene played out at night, and we were very careful with the use of the spotlight, this made photography impossible so the only snap we have of the encounter is the bloodied Tumbela savoring fresh impala veal.
It seems that the Othawa pride, the Tumbela males and our solo lioness (Othawa and Ximhungwe) have another set of unwelcome neighbors to live with.
The Talamati pride arrived in February. This pride is a break away from a large pride to the north of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin. It seems they made their way south into the Sabi Sand Wildtuin from Manyeleti and have slowly migrated west. It’s made up of six beautiful lioness’ and two large sub adult males. These new males are big boys even though their manes might induce a chuckle from the Tumbela male. For now, they are afraid of the Tumbela and have not made too many inroads into the west but in time they may pose a proper problem to both the Othawas and the Tumbela. Again, only time will tell.
Basiles’ unfortunate run with raising cubs has unfortunately continued. Both the cubs have not been seen for a very long time and she has been mating with the large males again. The resident males ability to oust the young guns fom their territories is the root of the problem.
A mother leopard has an amazing ability to find the perfect areas to hide cubs, they use rocky outcrops, gnarled roots along riverbeds or any little crevice where small cubs can crawl into to avoid danger and the elements. As the cubs grow older, their physical development is astoundingly quick and leopard cubs are often able to outmaneuver potential threats from a surprising age. In many areas hyenas and lions can make a considerable impact on leopard population but in the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, it seems that intra specific competition is the main limiting factor to leopard population density. In short, leopard are mostly responsible for the leopard mortalities here. This is often an indication of a satiated population, and we presume this is the case at Inyati and the data supports that assumption.
The driving factor in this intra specific competition is infanticide. If a dominant male leopard comes across a cub that he presumes is not his he will kill it. If the female remains in his territory, she will come into estrus shortly after the cubs are killed and afford him the opportunity to mate and have his own cubs. Male leopards are all about maintaining their genetic lineage. No raising the milk mans cubs, or so he thinks.
When a female leopard goes into estrus, she will expand her territory and make an attempt to mate with the territorial male, but, also lure in all the males on the periphery. She does this by scent marking within the males’ territories and even vocalizing to entice the male straight down the garden path.
If they do locate each other and the male approves of her – yes in this species the males get to pic – the rather violent mating process will commence.
Male leopards have a barbed penis that hurts the female when they dismount after mating. This pain stimulus results in the release of an egg cell, optimizing the chance of inception. As a result, mating is quite an aggressive affair with the male attempting to subdue the female by biting the nape of her neck. This “scruffing” tends to subdue the females, as it does when a mother picks up a cub by the scruff to move it. Males still often get a slap in the process. These relationships are complicated I guess.
The process is repeated with multiple males during her estrus. A leopard can thus give birth to cubs that have been sired by multiple fathers. In theory, if she mates with three males and gives birth to three cubs all three cubs could have separate fathers. So many males end up raising their neighbors’ cubs. A sneaky way to confuse paternity but a vital behavior to ensure cub survival.
If young males are allowed to overstay their welcome cub survival rates will plummet. Young males often don’t mate with the resident females and will instinctively still kill the cubs. At present there are many males in the area, and the resident males seem reluctant to oust their sons. Our big boys need to toughen up and oust all the young vagabonds to create stability, if the cub’s survival rate is to improve. But we do need to keep in mind that these populations have been in flux for hundreds of thousand of years and, as tough as it is, we cannot intervene but should rather observe and learn.
Khokovela has had more success although she has lost one cub. We have no idea how the cub was killed but it could have happened as above. The dominant male in the north seems to have less patience with young males in his territory so hyena or the lone lioness are more likely culprits in Khokovela’s case.
The remaining cub we are happy to report, is thriving. The little cub has become very accustomed to the game drive vehicles and has given us some amazing sighting and fantastic photographic opportunities.
Tlangisa, once again seems to be the success story in the west of the Sabi Sand. Her cubs have now well and truly earned “sub- adult” status and are likely to survive to independence.
Their adult trials will then only start but we look forward to reporting on their progress.
The male leopard population and dynamics seems to have settled, barring some young guns still loitering in their natal territories.
As mentioned before, we have many young males that drift between the large males territory with Misava still frequenting Inyati camp when Nyeleti is not around. Euphorbia seems to be holding the area north of the Sand river and inadevrtently keeping Tlangisa and Khokovela’ss cubs safe. He has been pushing south of the Sand river as well slowly putting the screws on Ravenscourt.
Ravenscourt has held the territory south of the Sand river but he has been guilty of allowing his son Hlambela free reign in his domain. Ravenscourt is also getting pressured form the impressive Hlambela male that has settled in the south. Lets hope these smaller territories for the males will translate to areas being better patrolled and young males being forced out.
Nyeleti, now the elder statesman, is holding his own in the east. His face is now showing signs of ageing but he still remains a formidable male.
The herds of general game have thrived on the green flush grasses created by the lovely rainfall. The little herd of wildebeest on the Inyati airstrip have managed to keep their calves alive amidst all the lions on the reserve and the dazzles of zebra have congregated in fair numbers in the northern clearings to enthrall all on safari.
As mentioned before, the light has been beautiful as always this time of year, moisture laiden air painting the horizon vibrant reds and yellow at sunrise and sunset.
The season of brilliant colours and contrasts in in full swing, birdsong fills the days as males do their utmost to court and nest females and by night a cacophony of frog chorus keeps the bush evenings vibrant.
We cannot wait to share this beautiful vibrant place with you as the world re awakens in 2022.
Keith and the Inyati team