The dry and rustic red leaves of the Tamboti trees shower down on the red soil of Timbavati and the green grass turned golden brown.
These are all signs that winter is here. The cold mornings and evenings often coincide with a lot of animal behaviour especially from the big cats. Lions and leopards prefer the cooler months and one can notice in their daily behaviour that they tend to stay active for longer. This means hunting in day light for us to see and be part of.
The Machattan pride was dealt with another brutal blow when two of the seven male cubs were killed in two separate attacks by two new male lions. The two males are both adults and are in an early stage of development of dominance. Both look fantastic and are extremely muscular. Their manes though are not fully developed yet and this indicates an age of approximately 6-7 years.
So, before you think it is unjustifiable for the cubs being killed we must remember that it is essential that new blood enters the area which is important for the prides future. I am still not 100% convinced the two new males will remain in our area but if they do then we have new male lions that could mean more stability for the resident prides in the future. The Timbavati males have been absent from our area for more than a year and it is safe to say that there tenure is over. For the last year nomadic lions moved in and caused a lot of disruption to the lodges game drives but more importantly the resident prides. I am hoping that the new males will make a positive stand and take action against the nomadic lions as they try to establish a fixed range during the next few months. This is going to be an exciting and thrilling time for us to witness.
Our leopard sightings are on a high and every month the numbers of total leopard sightings keep on increasing. Part of this is due to two young male leopards in our area named Xinope and Mfana. Both adult resident female leopards Ntombi and Rockfig Jnr still produce most of these sightings.
Ntombi and her cub need to be mentioned simply because her small cub of 7 months is finally showing signs of habituation. This is great because I thought at one stage that there is no chance of this cub ever becoming relaxed. Well, I am glad to tell you that he has proven me wrong. I have managed to capture a few close-up images of this young animal. I would assume that he will produce good sightings over the next 2 years.
Another exciting male leopard that is fast becoming a resident male to our area is the 3+ year old Xinope male. This is truly a stunning looking leopard as rich dark colours covering his spotted coat. He is super relaxed and produces great sightings. Our guests can‘t believe that he is a wild animal due to his relaxed nature. Several kills were recorded from this male close to our bush dinner spot and he is also spending more time in the proximity of the camp. I managed to capture this great image of him drinking late one afternoon.
The spotted hyena is a social animal which lives in large communities called “clans”, which can consist of 12-13 individuals in our area of Kruger Park. Group-sizes also vary geographically.
All females dominate over all males, with even the lowest ranking female being dominant over the highest ranking male. It is common for females to remain with their natal clan and the males typically disperse from at the age of 2 years.
The clan is a fission-fusion society and this means that clan-members do not always remain together, but may forage alone or in small groups. High-ranking hyenas maintain their position through aggression directed against lower-ranking clan-members and we tend to see a lot of this kind of aggressive behaviour at the dens. Few people also know that hyena hierarchy is nepotistic meaning that the offspring of dominant females automatically outrank adult females subordinate to their mother. However, rank in spotted hyena cubs is greatly dependent on the presence of the mother; low-ranking adults may act aggressively toward higher-ranking cubs when the mother is absent although this is rarely seen at the dens. The females only care for their own young and males take no part in raising their offspring; cubs are able to identify relatives as distantly related as great-aunts.
The clan’s social life revolves around a communal den and this is interesting as we see most of the behaviour around the dens too with guests often being surprised at how beautiful these underrated animals are. It is also important that we as guides inform guests properly about hyenas and their ecological role in the system.
The dens can have more than a dozen entrances, and are mostly located in old unused termite mounds in our area. They almost never dig their own dens, having been observed for the most part to use the abandoned burrows of warthogs, springhares and jackals. The tunnels are usually oval in section, being wider than they are high, and narrow down from an entrance width of ?-1 metre. Dens have large bare patches around their entrances, where hyenas move or lie down on. Because of their size, adult hyenas are incapable of using the full extent of their burrows, as most tunnels are dug by cubs or smaller animals. The structure of the den, consisting of small underground channels, is likely an effective anti-predator device which protects cubs from predation during the absence of the mother.
Our dens are mostly used by several females at once, and it is not uncommon to see up to 5 cubs at a single site.
The next time your visits the camp and the dens are active please ask your ranger to take you to a den and witness firsthand the remarkable behaviour of this misunderstood animal.
Thank you for taking the time to read this report and please feel free to email me with questions regarding the above.