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Month: December 2022

Nxai Pan Camp, December 2022

The rains finally arrived, and Nxai Pan was a spectrum of beautiful colours. The impressive resident Kalahari black-maned lions stood out amongst the yellow, green, and orange blossoms and fields.

Why do lions of the Kalahari have black manes?

There are plenty of theories to account for a darker mane, including making the males more attractive to a potential mate, more intimidating to rivals and higher testosterone levels. There is also a curious view that a black-maned lion will recover quicker from wounds than other lions. Regardless, being more prevalent in arid savannah regions such as the Central Kalahari and the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, the mane is undoubtedly a product of the dry and harsh environment to which they are acclimated.

Kalahari black-maned lion Nxai Pan

The resident male was seen in the company of a lioness with a cub and seemed well inclined towards the little one, which means there is a good chance it may be one of his offspring. South of Nxai Pan, we also spent time with three healthy lionesses and their six cubs. The cubs were still too young to join the fray, but we watched the three adults hunting several times.

Another resident, a male cheetah, was frequently spotted between the camp waterhole and the main Nxai Pan waterhole. He looked well-fed and content taking advantage of the grasses for extra camouflage while stalking his prey. His evident level of contentment may be fuelled by all the new springbok young we saw on the pan. Although they are “up and running” not long after birth, the springbok young rely heavily on their mother’s lessons and instructions. The cheetah is an expert in separating them, making the young antelope more vulnerable.

The Nxai Pan zebra migration has commenced

Alongside the arrival of the newborn springboks, we saw the start of the zebra migration. Plains zebra will converge on Nxai Pan in the coming months from north, south, east, and west. The zebras that have been taking advantage of the Boteti River waters to the south have started moving north, and we saw the arrival of these zebra. However, the Chobe and the Delta residents will soon join them to complete one of the largest mammal migrations in Africa.

With the arrival of the zebra, we also eagerly await the flocks of breeding flamingos that love to congregate at Kudiakam Pan under the watchful eyes of Baines Baobabs. After the first rains, the pan began to fill with water and brought some fantastic birdlife. Plovers, sandpipers and other waterfowls were a welcome addition to the incredible stories shared with guests below the giant baobabs. The baobabs looked very handsome with their new leaves and flowers. Some of them already had fruits too.

The baby ostriches still run amok and have been joined by other ground-nesting birds, such as the Double-banded coursers whose chicks are emerging to forage alongside the breeding herds of blue wildebeests, giraffes, and bat-eared foxes. The jackals were also aware of the baby coursers and until they fledge and can fly (at about five to six weeks), the adult coursers kept a watchful eye on their young.

Rampant raptor sightings at Nxai Pan during summer

We had great raptor sightings throughout the month, including goshawks, tawny eagles, secretarybirds and the majestic martial eagle. These didn’t hesitate to pounce on a distracted courser and, in the case of the martial eagle, even provided a threat to baby antelopes! It always pays to be on your guard in Nxai Pan.

Kalahari raptors

Migrant birds logged this month include lesser grey and Red-backed shrikes, Lanner falcons, Grey crowned cranes, Yellow-billed kites, and Black cuckoos. They have feasted upon the flush of insect life during the day, and we enjoyed watching community nest spiders foraging at 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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Pom Pom Camp, December 2022

Pom Pom was a lush, thriving wilderness of young antelopes, warthogs, and breeding herds of elephants during December. The predators picked off the weakest (or those simply not paying enough attention to their surroundings). Still, the herbivore populations remained strong, and the biodiversity easily handled the efforts of Pom Pom’s prolific hunters.

Cheetah roamed the plains

One morning on the eastern side of the airstrip, guests were graced by a striking male cheetah exploring the area. We followed him on his inspection of the floodplains, and it seemed he was enjoying a stroll because he looked well-fed and ignored the ample prey.

The hyenas were still thriving. However, with the abundance of hunting opportunities nearby, their campaign against the other predators in the area has calmed. One of the clan males living at the airstrip habitually walked past the front of camp first thing in the morning during our coffee around the fire at sunrise.

African wild dogs take down a red lechwe near camp

African wild dogs were seen throughout the month. Still, the most memorable sighting was discovering them scattering a small herd of red lechwe on the staff volleyball court and then taking down four calves near camp.

Elephant herds continued to move across the Okavango Delta islands in large numbers, and we enjoyed getting to know the young ones, each with their own personality. Some feisty youngsters made great sport of mock charging the vehicles, only to turn tail and hide behind their mother, realising they were closer than intended.

It’s been raining baby cats and dogs! And impalas. And both young serval cats and little Black-backed jackals were logged too. Then there was the heronry to the north of Pom Pom that has attracted much broody birdlife. At sunset, a veritable parade of waterbirds fed in the nearby waters during the day before returning to the breeding site for safety.

Buffalo Okavango Delta

The buffalos also moved through the area in their hundreds. While impressive and sizeable brutes (the serious face has been said to look like “a face that you owe money to”), Buffalos are often overlooked regarding the finer points of wildlife viewing. They have strong social bonds and are a match for virtually any lion pride — if they are organised and can avoid panic. However, they were constantly threatened by the marauding Pom Pom lions who stalked their every move. We saw the tables turned on more than one occasion when the herd rallied together to protect each other,  but they were by no means immune from the lions.

The Pom Pom lions feasted well this festive season

We found the lions on buffalo kills on several occasions this month. Near camp, we had a pride with four cubs and another with nine cubs we regularly saw throughout the month. We also located them on other antelope kills but the easiest target of the month came to one of the pride males known as Rude Boy. He was resting in the shade near a waterhole when a small sounder (group) of warthogs ventured too close to him. Given that a male lion can weigh considerably more than 150kg, the speed with which he got up and flung himself at the warthogs was truly impressive. This started a mad dash around the water hole but, with all the momentum on his side, he quickly pounced on to one of the piglets and the brief hunt was over.

Leopards were equally active, and we found them at various times with impala young picked out of the creches that sprung up throughout the area. One afternoon, the alarm call of the vervet monkeys also brought us to a leopard that had only recently taken down a red lechwe. The leopard fed briefly on the animal before stopping and looking around nervously. She went through this pattern of behaviour of stop-feed-stop until she eventually abandoned the lechwe and headed for the tree line. We were curious to see what had scared her off. This was answered later when we returned to find spotted hyenas finishing what must have been a lovely surprise on a warm summer afternoon.

(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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Lebala Camp, December 2022

Our headline news from Lebala? Families can overcome their differences and make up! 

As winter closed a few months ago, the Wapuka pride split up following the disappearance of the former pride males, Old Gun and Sebastian. The younger males (The Golden Boys) took over in their months of absence. Their inexperience in governing a growing pride would have been contributing factors in the breaking down of relations and led to the split of the five lionesses into smaller prides of two and three with six and nine cubs, respectively. 

We followed the adventures of these splinter groups, but they have since set aside their differences and are back together!

Alongside the three Golden Boys, five lionesses and nine cubs total a pride of 23 lions in a formidable grouping. Some cubs are still young, and we watched them regularly as they gained hunting practice with the plentiful herbivores that covered the grassy plains around Lebala. 

We monitored a handful of unsuccessful hunts during daylight activities, but at night the lions reigned supreme, and sunrise game drives brought superb sightings of the pride on their successful nocturnal kills. 

The life and times of the Lebala leopards

If something works, then why change it? This was the motto of one female leopard hanging out at Norman Pan. Over four days, she killed two wildebeest calves in almost precisely the same circumstances. We watched her hunting in the Motswiri Pan area, where she tried and failed several times. As such, she moved her focus and settled in to play the long game at Norman Pan where a small herd of wildebeest came to drink; a mix of adults, subadults (probably born the previous year) and the newest additions to the herd. 

Having selected her prey, she charged into the open and the herd scattered. Did you know? The collective noun for these grazers is ‘a confusion of wildebeest’. The leopard took a young animal down in the kerfuffle and applied a terminal bite to the throat before dragging it into the undergrowth. This scenario played out in an almost identical fashion two days later. It was also interesting that she didn’t drag her precious carcass into a tree. Many of the pans have filled with water, and newborns populate the plains, so typical enemies such as the lions and hyenas have easier hunting chances, which boosted her confidence in taking time over her meal.

She was not the only relaxed resident of Lebala. We frequently enjoyed time with a brown hyena as it happily went about its business near to the den. 

Spotted hyena den update

The spotted hyenas were also roaming within reach of their burrow, and the cubs were about six months old. They can eat solid food, but still rely on their mother for milk until they are 12 months. 

Large numbers of elephants and eland moved through the Kwando Private Reserve, but what staggered us was the sheer number of giraffes that appeared to be hiding (not very well) around each corner. There were also dozens and dozens of giraffes in the vicinity of Lebala Camp. 

While smaller in number, a family of seven Ground hornbills also drew attention this month. Three of them often wandered very near to the game drive vehicle providing wonderful photographic opportunities. 

Photograph by Grant Atkinson

Other birdlife sighted during December include Carmine bee-eaters, European rollers, Woodland kingfishers, Broad-billed rollers and many others, adding a fantastic splash of colour to this beautiful corner of Botswana, while Marsh owls and Verraux’s eagle owls were sighted on night drives.

(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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Kwara and Splash Camp, December 2022

We saw a beautiful female cheetah around Kwara Camp for much of this month. After an early morning start, we spotted her lying silently in the long grass. Curious about why she was hiding, we switched off the engine and waited as the sun slowly rose and the doves replaced the nighttime choir of frogs and toads.

Suddenly, a spotted hyena emerged from the bush and started a lazy walk toward the cheetah. The hyena paused. He had seen the cheetah, and with little hesitation, he charged. The cheetah lost any element of secrecy and exploded from the grass and into the open plain beyond. The hyena gave chase but his “paltry” 60km/h top speed was no match for her impressive acceleration.

Pack of 29 African wild dogs

While this encounter favoured the hyena, it didn’t always go that way. The pack of 29 African wild dogs was seen regularly between Kwara and Splash. One day, we were enjoying a lazy late afternoon watching the sleeping wild dogs when four hyenas wandered nearby. After a hurried discussion, over twenty pack members attacked the hyenas. Spinning and biting, the hyenas were almost overwhelmed by the pack before they retreated as fast as their legs could carry them. The following morning, we found three hyenas close to the battleground, where they sat licking some extensive wounds and bite marks.

Wild dogs of northern botswana

On the other hand, the wild dogs seemed no worse for wear as we found them that same morning with the remains of an impala. Another early morning we tracked the pack to find them chasing a group of bachelor roan antelopes from Lechwe Plains to False Splash Hippos. Three of the antelopes escaped to the south and one was trapped in the waterhole. The dogs watched and waited but eventually gave up, so the roan lived to see another day. There is another pack of African wild dogs, and during a nature walk from Splash Camp, guests encountered the trio on foot where the curious animals ventured relatively close.

Roan and sable sighted

With very low water levels, it was the perfect time to watch the elephants and buffalo crisscrossing their way across the Okavango Delta floodplains towing multiple generations of offspring. Zebras, wildebeest and impalas also covered the islands, and we relished sightings of the roan and sable herds. Not much smaller than the kudu or eland, these fine antelopes are always a wonder to admire. The longer grasses at this time of year proved ideal for hiding the young antelopes. Indeed both sable and roan hide their young for days and weeks after they are born before introducing them to the family herd. However, it wasn’t only little antelopes hidden in the long grasses.

As winter ended, we saw a lot of lion mating activity. With a gestation period of approximately three and a half months, we suspected some more success. Two females in the Kwara pride were lactating; one had cubs with her, while the other regularly came and went from the pride. This likely means she has hidden the cubs away for their first six weeks until they are strong enough to join the family and keep up as they move around the Kwara Private Reserve.

Kwara Lilac Breasted Roller

Pygmy geese floated in the last waterways. Pans were lined with African jacanas, spur-winged geese, white-faced whistling ducks, and the odd knob-billed duck and slaty egrets. During boat cruises, we also logged lesser jacanas, many species of bee-eaters,  kingfishers, herons with African openbills, cattle egrets and sacred ibises roosting at the Godikwe heronry.  Genets, springhares, African wild cats, servals and honey badgers were regular features on night drives. One day before daybreak, we picked up fresh leopard tracks as we left Splash Camp in the morning. As we were following the paw prints, we heard an alarm call from jackals, and quickly rushed there only to find two young side-striped jackals had been killed by a leopard, but the cat was nowhere to be found. 

(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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