December is a month crammed with new life. It is in particular the start of new life for impalas as thousands of new and very small youngsters are born during this time of the year.
They are truly one of the most beautiful antelopes in the bush and it still amasses me that these small creatures can run at a decent speed at only one week old….. nature is amazing!
It has also been a productive month as far a viewing is concerned. Leopard sightings remain high and Wild Dogs sightings were incredible. By far the best number of sightings this year though the year is drawing close to an end. Unfortunately lion sightings still remain on the lower end but were still better than the last month.
One particular lion sighting that took me by surprise was when the Shobele youngsters made an appearance during December. I have not seen these youngsters for more than 2 years and I was amazed to learn how much they have grown. These young males are the offspring of the original Shobele males that controlled most of Timbavati several years ago.
I noticed that one of the males had a piece of skin hanging from his face and I would assume that he obtained the damage in a fight with other lions or during a hunt. Receiving a blow to the face of this nature and having your mouth tissue damaged is no joke for any lion and can be catastrophic as these are the tools they need to kill and feed with.
One of the rangers believes that he obtained the scare during a fight with a large buffalo bull. I suppose this is possible as this young male which is part of coalition have been seen frequently perusing dangerous and large buffalo bulls at night.
Although the image is not a pretty sight it is merely a reminder of the dangers involved in the life of Africa’s largest terrestrial predator.
This stunning strong young mother is the perfect provider for her cub. This month she added 8 kills to her list that I recorded and possibly a few more. Ntombi seems to have no problem providing for her cub that is forever demanding not forgetting that the cub is nearing the 1 year mark.
I can’t believe how fast this little one is growing. He is already the size of his mother and I can already see his ravenousness behaviour becoming more noticeable at kill sightings. Being a good mother as she is she allows her son to take control of the carcass which is normal considering she has to get this little guy to grow as fast as possible. He has a long journey ahead before he will someday become a successful adult leopard. But for now it is also safe to state that he will still remain with mom for a complete year before she will noticeably become more aggressive towards him signalling that independence is closer. This means one more year of sightings from him before Ntombi can become a mother again, hopefully in 2014.
This rare and endangered super predator of Africa dominated the month of December with no less than 20 sightings being recorded. Two packs frequented our area of traversing with the largest pack numbering 22 and the smallest pack numbering 7 individuals.
The African wild dog is an endangered species due to habitat loss and predator control killing. It uses very large territories and it is strongly affected by competition with larger carnivores that rely on the same prey base, particularly the lion and the Spotted Hyena.
Most of Africa’s national parks are too small for a pack of wild dogs, so the packs expand to the unprotected areas, which tend to be ranches or farm land. Ranchers and farmers protect their domestic animals by killing the wild dogs unfortunately even though it is a criminal offensive to kill them.
Wild dogs are adapted for running at high speed and they pursue their prey in a long, open chase. Virtually 70 % of all wild dog hunts end in a kill compared to lions which is only on average 20% and this from the ultimate predator of the African bush. This tells one something about the facts that Wild Dogs are often overlooked especially when it comes to the hunting strategy not to mention the rest of the social behavior.
Truthfully, what I have seen and learned from this predator in all the time I have spent on game drives is that this medium sized vigorous predator puts the ultimate predator (Lions) to shame.
Not only just with regard to their brilliantly organised and well executed hunting technique but also their social system which allows for more caring and discipline approach to their structure. In other words they are extremely organised.
By now you most likely realise that I don’t give lions much credit. If fact I find them quite disappointing this being my personal opinion.
I believe that the only accomplish and dictate the predator pyramid system due to their large size and with this being able to use their power to control other predators in the same ecosystem competing for the same food source.
This brings me to the unusual sighting I experienced this month. I was extremely fortunate to firsthand experience this sighting and watched carefully how well planned the hunt took place.
One morning on my return to the camp at the end of the game drive we found a large pack of Wild dogs trotting down the road towards the camp. Minutes later the pack made contact with a small herd of Zebra and immediately started to engage in a hunt. Members of a pack vocalize to help coordinate their movements. Their voice is so unusual and consists of a series of chirping or squeaking sounds.
Zebra normally apply a different defence method when attacked by this smaller predator. The general idea is to remain together as a unit that is much stronger than an individual that break away from the group. Essentially defence lies in unity. Wild dogs don’t have the power and strength that lions have to take down its prey with almost immediate effect. They rely on well executed team work and with their athletic ability they will slowly draw the power out of its prey leaving it vulnerable for an attack.
Two members of the Wild Dogs used a closely coordinated attack, beginning with a rapid charge to stampede the herd. Hoping that one zebra will leave the formation of the herd. This could well have happened but the experienced stallion launched a series of counter attacks that took the pack by surprise. In no time the pack regrouped and made several attempts hoping that the less experienced and younger zebras will break away and leave the group. But this was not the case.
Long term studies indicate that this large-animal hunting tactic may be a learned behaviour, passed on from generation to generation within specific hunting packs, rather than an instinctive behaviour. Some studies have also shown that other information, such as the location of watering holes, may be passed on similarly.
Fortunately for this zebra herd I realised that they had another advantage and that was that it was late in the morning already and getting really warm. The pack showed signs of tiredness and I think this played a big role in the failed attempt to make a kill. Soon after the attack slowed down the stallion very slowly and carefully leading the herd away from the pack leaving them exhausted to rest under the shade of the trees.
Unfortunately Wild Dogs are still killed by farmers and locals for many reasons. One of them being that Wild Dogs frequently kill larger prey by disemboweling, a technique that is rapid but has caused this species to have a negative, ferocious reputation. However today this is a protected species and may not longer be harmed in any way.
I seldom write about these gentle giants of Africa in my reports as I find them not as attention-grabbing as the other social animals. But one sighting took me by hart this month when we found a small bond group close to the camp having fun in a small pool of water in the Nharalumi River. I had to climb down a ridge of more than 6 meters looking at a large hippo and a medium-size crocodile in the eye in order to witness an event on foot but still at a safe distance.
I sat on a huge boulder and watched these giants swim, play and sleep all within 45 minutes. This amazed me……….I don’t know of any other species that can take part in those 3 activities all in 45 minutes. I call this being productive.
Enjoy the pictures of this herd having fun.
That’s all for this month friends.
From all the guides a very happy Christmas and a prosperous 2014.
Game report by: Patrick O’Brien Head Guide of Kings Camp.
My Website: www.mandevowildlifephotography.zenfolio.com