December was a month of change in Nxai Pan. At the start of the month we were still receiving enormous numbers of elephants at the camp watering hole. Old bulls, younger bachelors and breeding herds congregated in their hundreds, together with wildebeest, buffalo and jackals. The desperately thirsty animals had to compete hard for their turn to drink, making for amazing game viewing from the main lodge area. One day, a young elephant climbed into the camp watering hole and then got itself very confused as to where the exit was. It’s elephant family and the camp staff watched nervously for a while as the calf tried in vain to clamber out. Eventually the matriarch elephant and her sisters worked together to show the youngster how it should be done.
Then, on the 4th December the first of the heavy rains arrived filling the natural watering holes. The trees, including the magnificent baobabs, all came into leaf, with many other species showing spring blossoms. These changes finally allowed the elephants to relocate to other areas of the National Park to drink and browse.
Nxai Pan is well known for the seasonal migration of zebras and wildebeest who move into the area because of the highly palatable and nutritious grasses that grow in the pan once the rains have fallen. The number of zebras started increasing day and night in the pan and viewings were easy due to the short grass and wide open spaces. Lots of giraffe were arriving to the region as well.
The two dominant male lions and three lionesses with six cubs were seen together regularly in the area and seemed to be making the most of the zebras arriving into the area for their diet.
The resident cheetah family of three were located frequently and in some cases hunting. One day we watched them for an hour trying to catch a baby wildebeest, however they didn’t manage because it was too open for them to get within close range. The Nxai Pan male cheetah was also seen, especially on Baobab loop, and we witnessed him killing a male springbok.
The alpha male wild dog with a female were spotted with full bellies near to the National Park watering hole.
With the start of the rains some water birds arrived to the area including African jacana, black-winged pratincoles, Abdim’s storks, yellow-billed storks, painted snipes, egrets, white-faced ducks and black-winged stilts.
The watering hole in front of Tau Pan always attracts a good deal of game and we were thrilled to get an early Christmas present in the form of an elusive brown hyena drinking right in front of camp.
As always, there was lots of lion action at the watering hole too. One day, three of the resident males were resting there together with a female and her three cubs. Whilst they were there, two nomadic lions to the area came to drink but were aggressively driven away. A few days later, this drama was repeated, this time they were chased by all five males of the Tau Pan pride. This pattern continued for the rest of the month, with the intruders continuing to try and gain access to the watering hole despite opposition from the formidable resident coalition. All of these exciting events could be clearly viewed from the camp’s main deck.
We saw a number of different cheetah individuals during December, but the most commonly sighted was a female cheetah and two sub-adults who were great condition. Their mother is a very successful hunter who changes areas frequently in order to find food. Towards the end of the month these three cheetahs had moved to Tau Pan where often seen hunting and feeding on springbok lambs. Once they were seen trying to separate wildebeest calves from their mothers, but these bigger antelope were too clever at defending their young.
A large male leopard was located with an oryx kill up on a tree branch. He was skittish when he saw our vehicle during the day, but returned to the carcass and finished everything apart from the antelope’s head.
Numbers of general game were increasing during December. There were plentiful herds of springbok with lambs at Tau Pan. At Passarge Valley we found oryx and red hartebeest with calves. A herd of six kudu were regularly visiting the watering hole, keenly keeping an eye out for predators. On one remarkable occasion we came across a large herd of wildebeest herding into Tau Pan, when all of a sudden two males started to fight for dominance. This fierce battle lasted about 30 minutes during which time the young calves started to run around behind the herd, seemingly confused as to what was happening.
One day the guides spotted a honey badger devouring a puff adder. In a remarkable interaction between the species, a tawny eagle bravely tried to steal the dead snake from the formidable honey badger, but he was not successful. A few days later two honey badgers were seen trying to hunt down jackal puppies, but they were not successful. Another time we found the jackals trying to take something away from the honey badger, but the honey badger was aggressively defending himself and a fight between the two predators ensued.
Both jackals and bat-eared foxes have dens in the area, and their small pups have delighted guests with their antics.
Red-billed queleas have been flocking in their tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands around the camp watering hole and camp itself. The density of these small finch-like birds was so great that the branches of the surrounding trees were breaking under their weight – despite the fact that each little bird only accounted for about 20 grams. The huge flocks attracted birds of prey such as yellow-billed kites, red-necked falcons and harriers who swooped back and forth feasting on the bounty.