December came and went in a blur of magnificent sightings, and what a marvelous time it was for all who were visiting Arathusa. And even though very little rain fell during the month, the bush was still lush and green.
On some days the mercury soared to more than 45Ã‚ÂºC. But although the high temperatures brought on huge rain clouds, and some spectacular lightening storms, the dark skies seldom produced much more than loud threats. Which was unfortunate, because the waterhole in front of the lodge was in dire need of a good downpour.
Although when the rains did finally arrive, it made for some interesting sightings.
A fish eagle frequented the dam on a regular basis in order to take advantage of the large concentration of barbel (sharp toothed catfish) that found themselves stuck in the shallow waters. And there’s nothing quite like the sight of a fish eagle swooping down on the water and flying off with a fish firmly clasped in its formidable talons.
Even with the paltry amount of rain we got in December, it didn’t take the dam long to start filling up nicely again. And with the major rain months still ahead, it won’t be long before its completely full.
We had a number of spectacular sightings during December.
One morning in particular really stood out for us. We set out in the direction of the airstrip to see if there’d been any animal activity around the small pan during the night. On the way down from the northern link, we noticed two odd looking shapes lying in the short grass. We stopped to take a closer look, and spotted a female cheetah and her youngster lying close to the road.
We hung around for a while in the hope that they’d get active and start hunting the impala that were milling about the area, but they obviously weren’t hungry because they studiously ignored the smorgasbord in front of them.
Eventually we gave up and moved on.
We continued south towards the other side of the airstrip, where we came across the Styx pride of lions. When we saw them last the pride was lying in the middle of the airstrip after feeding on a young buffalo. And now they were a mere 80m from where the two cheetahs were lying, although the pride had absolutely no idea at all who they were sharing space with. They just continued to do what lions do best, which is laze about digesting their last meal.
We spent a short amount of time with the pride, and then headed east to see what other marvels the bush had in store for us on this already fantastic morning.
Not 60m from where we left the lions, our tracker spotted some fresh male leopard tracks. We stopped briefly to check the direction, and then carried on down the road. Before long we came across Mafufunyane – one of the big male leopards on Arathusa – marking his territory. He too was oblivious to the fact that he had company just up the road.
The morning was fast turning into an episode from Big Cat Diaries. It was the kind of game drive you hope for, but don’t often get.
Although we did see a fair amount of Mafufunyane during December, he also spent a lot of time in some of the neighbouring properties. His habit was to keep a low profile for a few days, and then suddenly make a grand appearance. He’s apparently still convinced that Emsagwen – the male leopard from the south – is after his territory. He is getting on in age now though, and it probably won’t be long before he loses his grip on his territory and becomes nomadic. And so the circle of life turns.
We were also extremely fortunate to see a pack of seven wild dogs going in and out of the area on a regular basis. These dogs are one of Africa’s most endangered carnivores, so seeing them is always special. We were out on drive one morning, when we heard on the radio that the dogs had been seen in the far western sector of the reserve. We decided to see if we could reach the area before they disappeared. After a long drive covering a huge distance, we eventually managed to find these magnificent creatures.
They were just lying on the road grooming each other, almost as if they’d been expecting us all along. They didn’t stay still for long however. Within a few minutes of us arriving they got up, and in a flash they were running. And once wild dogs get going, keeping up with them is no mean feat. We did our best though, as we followed them to a waterhole where they stopped for a quick drink. We trailed them further, and were fortunate enough to witness the pack killing a baby impala – another rare and equally incredible sighting.
Shadow and her one remaining cub are also doing very well. We saw them around the lodge on a regular basis, with an impala kill here and there as well. We even noticed Shadow’s tracks going into the lodge to drink from the water features in the parking area. This was an old trait of Safari’s – her grandmother – who seems to be making space for Shadow in parts of her territory.
Ntima is heavily pregnant, and appeared to be on the lookout for a den sight. We think she might give birth around the beginning of January. Let’s hope that her new cubs survive into adulthood, as she lost her last two litters to predation.
We didn’t see much of the buffalo and elephant herds during December. This is due to the fact that food and water is freely available in other areas, so they don’t have to travel as far. We did have a couple of lone bull elephants and some small male buffalo herds milling around, but none of the big herds like we saw in some of the winter months. We’ve found that the larger herds tend to split up in the summer months, and then during winter they join up again in order to search for food and water further afield.
Rhino sightings were really awesome, especially around most of the waterholes. We saw plenty of bulls fighting over territory, as well as males and females just frolicking in the rain.
The Styx pride of lions was in the area a lot, as they are under a lot of pressure from the dominant Macinghilane males. The young Styx male is probably going to be pushed out of the pride very soon, as he was seen trying to mate with his sister not too long ago. The older lionesses weren’t too happy about this, so it’s only a matter of time before he finds himself out on his own. Life will no doubt be tough for him, but lately he has really proved that he can hold his own against other the lions, so maybe things won’t be all bad.
General game was also abundant, with lots of youngsters around as well. We had some wonderful sightings of inquisitive warthog piglets, baby giraffe and zebra, and even the occasional wildebeest calf. Impala lambs were everywhere, and these little buck provided us with many amusing sightings, especially in the early mornings as they chased each other around.
Greetings from all of us at Arathusa 😉