Kwara, Splash

Splash/Kwara, December 2021

The Kwara Private Reserve sure felt like cat country this month! There were several memorable lion observations, serval sightings and cheetah tracking. 

During December, a pride of five lionesses and their five cubs were frequently encountered. Guests loved watching the happy cubs bounding about in the early morning hours under the watchful eye of the females. Though they appeared relaxed, they were always on high alert! One day, a troop of baboons in the vicinity sounded their brash alarm calls,  which forced the pride to move along. Later, we checked in on the pride and approached the area in time with a single warthog closing in on the sleeping cats. On realising his error, the warthog quickly dashed into an aardvark burrow, and the pride surrounded the hole and started digging. They eventually gave up since the terrain was too tricky.

We often found the five lioness mothers without their cubs, but they never seemed distressed. They are still relatively young, so we know they were likely stashed away somewhere safe during hunts. 

On 27 December, a lioness walked through Splash Camp looking for her pride members, making a contact call as she went along, and we found her the next day at Pelican Pan reunited with her pride and the cubs.

At the end of the month,  five females and four cubs sat at the Kwara airstrip. The pride seemed very hungry and was actively searching for a meal. We followed them until they came to a lagoon with a dead hippo floating in the water. There were dozens of crocodiles feeding on it. For the safety of their cubs, the mother lions decided not to risk it with the crocs and moved on. 

The Mmaleitho pride and the five resident males rested at Splash Enclave the following morning. They spent the whole morning dozing around the fireplace before drinking from the waterhole and proceeding to the other side of the camp, where they spent the afternoon in the shade between rooms 9 and 10.

The male cheetah, Mr Special, was located at Sethabana close to his marking post, but there was little action thanks to wet drizzling rain. Guides noticed that he genuinely did not like to get wet! Guides Josiah and See tracked the animal for eight kilometres one day, only to find him tucked into thick bushes, avoiding the weather. On another more action-packed day, he was seen hunting Tsessebe calves and some wildebeest calves but was unsuccessful in landing any.  

On 28 December, a cheetah and her subadult cub were located north of Wild Dog Pan, but the animals were slightly skittish because lions were calling a mere kilometre away. We followed them north towards the mopane woodland, where they chased some warthogs and managed to catch and kill a piglet. However, the duo could not enjoy their meal as their foe, a male lion, appeared and took over their kill. The following day the guides went to locate them again, finding them at Tau Island, where they were lucky to bring down a reedbuck which they feasted upon peacefully this time around.

A young leopard was located at Motswere pan with an impala kill, and the animal was very comfortable until dusk set in. The animal then started feeding quickly. We suspected the presence of another leopard created this anxious behaviour. Another male leopard was located in Tau Island east of Splash boat station. This big male was wonderfully relaxed, and the team followed him as he climbed trees to demarcate territory.

We also saw small cats throughout the month, especially serval and the African wild cat. Recent bush fires opened the grassland areas, making these secretive and elusive small cats easier to see.  

One day, we found a serval hunting on the edge of marshland along Xugana main road and on another night drive, guests spotted two Serval cats feeding on African bullfrogs that had erupted after the rains. On yet another occasion, there was a great sighting of a relaxed serval along hippo road, but the challenge here was photographing the animal hidden in the tall grass. 

In the aftermath of the aforementioned recent fires, those fresh grasses that revealed shy cats have attracted huge zebras and wildebeests, assembling with other antelopes like tsessebes and impalas, waterbucks and red lechwes, common reedbucks and kudus. Lechwe sightings were a daily sight in front of Kwara Camp. 

In early December, a pack of 18 wild dogs chased a herd of these Red lechwes into the water in front of Kwara Camp. Being unsuccessful, they moved off towards a shaded island and rested until another group of lechwes came through. They gave chase again and killed three animals.

One afternoon we were lucky enough to locate the pack as they started their haunting greeting ceremony before setting off to hunt. The target this time? Zebra and wildebeest calves. The pack tried their best, but the adult grazers kept a strong defence stowing their young safely in the middle of the herd.  

Another pack of 13 dogs were located feeding on an impala. Surprisingly, two male wild dogs arrived on the scene. Strangers to the pack kept their distance until the alpha pair approached the animals. As the alphas came close, the two males displayed submission. However, the rest of the group was unimpressed and left their meal to give chase. 

Another pack of 8 dogs was located in front of Splash Camp with full bellies and bloodied muzzles running towards the eastern side. On the last day of the year, yet another pack of wild dogs was located at Mabala-a-Dikgokong on the hunt. Guests were lucky to send off 2021 with the sighting of a kudu kill.

Three hyenas were located at Hippo Road chasing a young reedbuck into the water, successfully killing it. Our guides noted with interest that the third hyena was a young one, and the two older hyenas would not share the meal until only bone and skin were left. 

A clan of four hungry hyenas were also encountered at Double Crossing, trying to isolate a baby elephant but failed because the matriarchs were simply formidable in their defence. The commotion went on for quite some time until the hyenas gave up.

We witnessed big groups of breeding herds of elephants around and quite an astounding number of giraffes in the area. During a bush walk, guests saw a single elephant bull loping from a safe distance while nearby, plenty of Angolan reed frogs lay in the reeds. Guides also reported a few frogs hiding in the buildings, trying to get away from hungry egrets and herons. 

Common platannas sightings were, er, common. Especially on the roads in the early morning when we found them hopping along the road with hamerkops giving chase. Reptiles were also active this month. A Black Mamba was seen close to Tsum Tsum bridge. It seemed like the serpent was trying to escape the vibration of the oncoming vehicle. On returning from a drive, a bright Spotted bush snake was located at the Splash Camp entrance.

On 19 December, we had an incredible sighting of a female Sitatunga during a memorable boat cruise. The water level in the channels increased a bit thanks to the rain but not significantly.

Civets and genets were commonly spied during night drives, but sightings of White-tailed mongooses were rather notable! We located one close to New Bridge and another at Leadwood Island. An aardvark was also seen south of Splash camp. This strictly nocturnal animal was incredibly relaxed, and guests got some great shots of this rare creature. 

We were also fascinated to watch a Verreaux’s eagle owl swallowing a bullfrog and sat in awe at Kwara Camp when two African fish eagles fought over a barbel with their talons locked to each other until both fell to the ground.

(Note: Some of the accompanying pictures are from our Kwando Photo Library which consists of all your great photo submissions over the years, it may not be the most up to date, but we felt it was worthy of a feature alongside this month’s Sightings Report!)

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