Kwara, Splash

Splash and Kwara Camp, June 2022

Our highlight this month has to be the surfacing of African wild dog puppies at the Kwara den site! Just over a month old, these cute canids comprise a litter of nine, and they frequently left the burrow to feed on their regurgitated meals.

Wild Dog Puppies Kwara Camp

African wild dogs denning at Kwara

The alpha female rejoined the pack for hunting (instead of babysitting) because it’s been cold and challenging for the group to start hunting early. They often left the den as late as ten in the morning. One day, we followed the pack as they hunted west of Kwara and killed an impala. They chased, cornered, and killed a kudu just west of Mothusi Crossing a few days later. Another afternoon during siesta, guests heard splashing in the Kwara Lagoon and glimpsed the group chasing impala through the water from the deck of tent eight at Kwara Camp.

During a boat cruise, the pack was caught at the edge of the Maunachira Channel in hot pursuit of Red Lechwe, but they quickly disappeared into the papyrus walls. Following each successful hunt, the dogs hurriedly returned to the den to feed the pups. Interestingly, this year the dogs have denned very close to the channel and have often been seen hunting in the afternoons through the flood plains. This strategy has helped keep them away from their usual predators, but it certainly increases the risk of attack by crocodiles, both while they are hunting and the den itself is well within reach of their powerful jaws. During a boat cruise, guides were highly impressed by one spectacular specimen measuring four metres in length. An enormous Southern African python was also spied in these waters.  

The Okavango Delta floodwaters still rose slightly, and we noticed water freshly refilled some of the regularly-used vehicle tracks. Buffalo herds have started to emerge in more significant numbers from woodlands. The tall, dry grass has turned a golden brown and broken down with these growing mammal hordes. The proliferation of elephants has significantly opened the thickets and bushes, making sightings of smaller mammals, especially cats, more frequent. Serval, African wild cat, spotted genets, Honey badgers, Civets, Aardwolfs, Springhares, and Porcupines were commonly encountered on evening game drives. One particularly thrilling nightfall, our spotlight illuminated a serval cat on the stalk, and it killed a springhare.

The general game concentrated chiefly on the western side of the reserve, where we saw zebras, wildebeest, Tsessebe, Red lechwe, kudus, Waterbucks, Impalas, and occasionally Sable antelope.

The winter landscape

Large Fever berry and the Leadwood trees changed colour, and the harsh winter brought heavy winds that dropped most leaves. Fortunately, the striking Cat’s claw flaunted its cranberry-red flowers, brightening the Kalahari landscape. This botanical blooms in winter and has an extended taproot to reach the water that sits far below the sandy surface, and it is a critical source of nectar during these colder months.

The Bat-eared fox area remains one of the most beautiful and was preferred by herbivores, although we have started to see a shift as animals move nearer to the Splash region. The resident male cheetah, Mr. Special, liked this prey-abundant area, and we often found him resting on termite mounds or marking his territory. One day, guides trailed his hunt, and he grabbed a baby warthog. Another day, he caught a young impala that had left the herd and walked straight into the cheetah, which acted fast and seized his meal.

Mr Special Cheetah

Our lion sightings have been dominated by the Kwara Pride, and we repeatedly found two male lions that form part of the coalition of five brothers. They were usually vocal and communicated with the rest of the pride, but we did not see them together as five brothers this month.

Guides picked up lion tracks along Elephant West Road and tracked the pride feasting on a giraffe kill, where they spent two days eating. Guides also found them on buffalo, Red lechwe, and baboon kills, and once attempting to stalk waterbuck. One morning, three male lions were spotted at Mabala-a-Mmoloki heading west. Guides followed them to females of the Kwara pride, but the lionesses did not welcome these males and charged them. Two resident males were spotted in front of Splash Camp, actively roaring and marking territory.

Two lionesses were nursing. We located them resting at Jackal Den junction with four tiny cubs. They relocated from the previous den as the young lions were now strong to walk. Another lioness was discovered with three new cubs, and she crossed into the centre of Sable Island, where they are presumably denning.

A fair number of Spotted hyenas were encountered along Elephant west road as they tried to scavenge from the Kwara Pride’s giraffe kill. Two mothers and cubs played and were active at the Kwara hyena den. Intriguingly, we found one gripping an old elephant foot.

Winter birding is all about the hunt

Many raptors were seen in the area. Eagles such as Martial, Bateleur, Tawny, Brown snake-eagle, Black-chested snake eagle, and terrestrial hunters, such as Southern ground hornbills, Secretary birds, plus a variety of storks have been common throughout the month. Namaqua doves frequented the grasslands along with bounding ostriches and Kori bustards. Pelicans were seen across the flood plains as the water table rose daily, and we witnessed lots of change in the floodplains as the water pushed in. Still, the water birds preferred the drying pans where they dined on the stranded aquatic animals.

A female leopard, apparently a nursing mum, was located at Green Pan on the hunt. Another early-morning game drive kickstarted with a relaxed female leopard walking along the Middle East Pan on Splash camp’s eastern flank. They followed her as she marked her territory until she disappeared into thickets, but she was seen again stalking impalas during an evening drive. Another leopardess was located the following day at Splash Hippos, and there were three different sightings of different leopards on one day at the end of the month. High baboon numbers and increased lion activities across the area have pushed leopards to act more cautiously. However, a male leopard was briefly located by the third bridge at Kwara before disappearing into the long grass, and a female leopard was found a few days later, feeding on an impala at Willie’s Valley. Almost in defiance, the Kwara Island male was spotted at the airstrip, where it rested all day and night.  

(Please note: For the safety of the animals, we do not disclose the location of either rhino or pangolin sightings. 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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