The Bonga pride of lions were seen in the Halfway Pan for the first few weeks of December, but decided to move closer to Lagoon camp in time for the Christmas festivities, attracted by the huge mixed herds of eland and zebra which moved into the area. They had a kill of a sub-adult giraffe 4 kilometres from camp and were also seen feeding on wildebeest. A young male lion evicted from the pride has now been joined by his sister. A different lioness with three cubs was seen regularly near to John’s Pan, they all looked in great condition and one time were seen killing a pair of warthog piglets. The two dominant male lions were sometimes seen with the pride, however they spent much of their time patrolling and marking their territory as three new males have moved into the area and were seen mating with a lioness towards the end of the month near to Kwena Lagoon.
The resident female leopard with two cubs was seen a few times near to the airstrip where she was preying on baboons. She was frequently moving her offspring from one spot to another to try and ensure that they did not become a targeted by another predator. One time, guests had a lovely view of the mother taking her cubs to a kill which she had dragged up a nearby tree. The male cub decided that he preferred his dinner served at ground level and brought his portion down to enjoy underneath the tree. This little chap seems to be quite independent for his age and was seen another time on the move without his mother and sister, but appeared to be in good condition.
A pack of six wild dogs was seen hunting more than once. Although they failed to make a kill when we were watching them, they were in good condition.
The resident two cheetah brothers were seen chasing wildebeest on more than one occasion. They were targeting the calves, but did not manage to succeed in bringing down their prey. A new male cheetah to the area was found lying next to the road, but he was very skittish.
In addition to the large herds of zebra and eland, we also had great sightings of sable and roan antelope. There are good numbers of giraffe, wildebeest, kudu and tsessebe, but fewer elephants and buffalos as they started to move deeper into the Mopane woodlands. During night drives we saw servals, genets, springhares and honey badgers as well as a great sighting of an African wild cat hunting. The elusive aardwolf was seen more than once.
Endangered birds continue to thrive in the Kwando concession including a new family of ground hornbills, wattled cranes and black egrets. The blue-cheeked bee eaters have arrived back in the area and were seen feeding. An African scops owl is living in camp and often seen near to the main area.
The start of the rainy season brought some spectacular late afternoon lightning storms providing an authentic African light show to awe our guests. These welcome short but sharp storms freshened up the air and produced the most amazing scents.
The resident Wapoka pride of lions were still hunting very successfully. Over recently months they have mainly been hunting buffalo, but interestingly they seem to have recently changed their focus. They were found feeding on wildebeest carcasses most of the time, though also killed zebra and buffalo during the month. Some guests were lucky enough to see them stalking and pouncing. They seem to have gained experience in taking down buffalo and are now managing to make the kills more easily and without injury. It was the time of the year when most of the antelopes had given birth and the lions were deliberately targeting the easier prey. The pride was also seen feeding on smaller mammals such as warthog and more unusually with a honey badger carcass. Sadly, we have not seen one of lionesses with her two cubs recently; the last time the guides saw the lioness she was not in a good condition as she was getting too old to keep up with the rest of the pride. Guides suspected that the cubs were involved in a fight with the hyenas and were killed as they have seen the pride several times and the cubs were not there.
A pack of twenty-five wild dogs was seen hunting and successfully making a kill, these dogs were specializing in young antelope such as impala, tsessebe and wildebeest. The ongoing war between this pack of wild dogs and the resident hyenas is not over; they were found fighting for carcasses, but the large wild dog pack seems to be winning most of the battle through strength in numbers. This pack of wild dogs was doing very well, the adults seem to be doing a great job of feeding their eleven puppies and well making sure that they are protected from the other predators.
Hyenas were also seen trying to take a meal from a lioness but she managed to fend them off, although during the month the clan was seen scavenging on different carcasses. Some of the guests were lucky enough to see hyena cubs playing around their den.
A male leopard was seen going into burrows searching for warthogs and other small mammals; he was also found feeding on lechwe. He was being smart, most of the time immediately after making a kill taking it up a tree before the hyenas could arrive. He was also seen resting on top of the trees during the day in a very relaxed manner. Unfortunately we did not see the resident female leopard Jane and her cubs in the month of December; we suspected that she moved away from this predator-dominated area to raise her two cubs and she will return once they are old enough to survive encounters with lions and hyenas.
General game sightings were very good as most of the antelopes were giving birth, and they spent most of their time in open pans so that they could see predators from a distance. Some of the guests watched a fight between two hornbills and wild cat, but in the end the wild cat lost a fight and ran away. They also watched two hippos fighting; initially the encounter started in the water but the massive animals came bursting out of the channel and started chasing each other through the bushes.
The bird life was very interesting as we had different species of birds such as African skimmers and bee- eaters in good numbers. True to their name, African skimmers are entertaining to watch as they fly just over the water with their lower bill ‘skimming’ the surface to feed. Guests also saw different species of vultures feeding on leftover carcasses.
Guests at Kwara enjoyed some remarkable leopard sightings during December, the most notable of which was when two males were fighting over the right to mate with a female. We were able to watch the amazing interaction between these three cats for over an hour. This same female was often seen with her young cub and guests enjoyed scenes of them nursing and playing together. However, towards the end of the month the female leopard was seen plaintively calling around the Sable Island area and it was feared that she may have lost her cub. A different female with two cubs was found with an impala kill on a leadwood tree.
A female cheetah with a cub posed on top of a termite mound looking intently at a mixed herd of impala and tsessebe, all with newly born young at foot. We watched as the cheetahs stalked, chased and caught a tsessebe calf, but then the female antelope came back and drove the cats away. Once again, the sub-adult cheetah attacked the same calf but the heroic tsessebe cow returned to the fray to save her baby from the claws and jaws of the cheetah. A magnificent sighting which was the highlight of our guests’ safari.
In another dramatic encounter we watched the two females hunt and kill an impala lamb. Whilst they were finishing their meal a pack of wild dogs arrived and started fighting with the cheetahs. Everyone anxiously held their breath as they feared for the worst, but were relieved to see the two cats manage to escape and run for their lives. Another time we watched their kill being stolen by a hungry hyena looking for an easy meal. The resident male cheetah known as Special was seen often and seemed to be targeting tsessebes making for some lightning quick pursuits between the fastest predator and the fastest antelope. He was not always successful, but managed to grab a calf to eat on more than one occasion.
The clan of hyenas were still using their den, although the cubs were now big enough to follow the adults on their hunting missions. Up to twelve adults and four cubs were being seen, sometimes showing interesting interactions with mothers feeding their offspring and the young members of the clan playing together. A female hyena was located hunting alone and she managed to bring down and kill an impala lamb as we were watching.
Two packs of wild dogs were in the concession, a pack of six towards Splash and the usual resident pack of seven seen often nearer to camp. Both packs were seen making kills and devouring carcasses, making the most of the plentiful impala lambs. One time a noisy interaction between the wild dogs and some hyena was heard during the sundowner stop. We quickly packed up the drinks and followed the sounds to find that the clan of hyenas had managed to overpower the dogs through strength in numbers and were busy stealing the impala kill.
As is often the case on Kwara, there were many different prides of lions in the concession, leading to some impressive displays of territorial roaring and marking. The four big male lions known as the Zulu Boys were still in the area, one of them scavenging on a dead hippo for three days. A pride of three lionesses and a sub-adult were seen hunting and killing a warthog piglet, though such a small meal would barely count as a starter for these huge cats. The next day they brought down an adult impala right in front of the vehicle, a much more satisfying meal for the pride. A male and female lion were seen mating – this was a surprise to our guides as last time we saw that particular lioness she was heavily pregnant, so it was unusual to see her mating so soon. Unfortunately, it was an indication that she may have lost her cubs.
Of the smaller predators, we saw honey badgers digging for food, black-backed jackals foraging, African wild cat and serval hunting frogs and water mongoose in the marsh.
General game in the area continued to be excellent, with large herds of elephant feeding, dust-bathing and debarking the mopane shrubs. There were plentiful zebra, many with foals at foot, and lots of giraffe. The temperatures were hot, causing large pods of hippos to congregate in the Kwara lagoon. During the boat cruises we were fortunate enough to see relaxed male sitatungas and huge Nile crocodiles.
Endangered bird species continued to find Kwara a safe haven, including saddle-billed storks, wattled cranes, ground hornbills and four species of vulture (white-headed, lappet-faced, hooded and white-backed). A pair of secretary birds was seen nesting in the concession.