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Lebala Camp, December 2023

In the stillness of one unforgettable night game drive late in December, we were treated to an exceptional sighting — a pangolin.

Initially shy, it became a star of the night, captivating us with its distinctive scales and comically short front legs. 

Oribi antelopes and enormous journeys of giraffes

Game drives along the boundary road by Python Pan and around Tsaro Pan revealed a spectacular sight of approximately eighty-six giraffes. Tsessebe Island treated us to the elusive sitatunga antelope. Oribi antelopes also appeared near James’s Pool, while a grand dazzle of zebras was a photographic highlight on the area’s western side along Zebra Road and Eland Pan.

Following the abundant rains, the entire Kwando Private Concession became a lush green expanse — the natural waterholes brimmed with water, where bullfrogs sounded their sonorous calls and banded rubber frogs appeared along the camp’s walkways.

The leopards and lions of Lebala

To the western side of the camp along Impala Road, we uncovered cat tracks weaving back and forth near a natural waterhole. As we traversed through the Kalahari apple leaf trees and approached the mopane trees, the tracks grew fresher. Our reward was discovering the leopard, a nursing mother with a two-and-a-half-month-old cub. The joyous sight of the cub cautiously emerging from the bushes to reunite with its mother brought immense delight to our guests!

During our expedition along the southern route, we stumbled upon a subadult female leopard’s faint but intriguing tracks near Motswiri Pan. Despite the rain causing the tracks to fade, our perseverance paid off as we tracked her down, gracefully resting along the road west of Twin Pools.   

On another morning expedition south of Lebala Camp along Vlei Road, we encountered the eleven lions from the Scarface Pride. Hoping for a hunt (as they appeared hungry), we followed them back to camp and kept tracking as they passed west of the staff quarters, heading north along Elephant Trail. To our surprise, they swam across the river!

Lions at Lebala

We also encountered the Scarface Pride along Crane Road. They were on the move north of camp, comprising two lionesses, nine sub-adults of different ages, and three big males. Attempting to hunt red lechwe, their efforts were unsuccessful as the lechwe spotted them, distracted by the playful antics of the subadults. During our morning drive along the main road via Baobab Pan, we found three male lions, the Golden Boys, and followed them as they roared, heading east. We witnessed a lion cub being introduced to the Scarface Pride, with the subadults keen on playing but held back by the growling mother.

One morning game drive, we heard lions roaring north of Lebala Camp. We headed in that direction for about forty minutes and found a male and female near Mike’s Crossing, north of James Pool. We spent at least half an hour photographing them, only to realise they had just started mating, which brought smiles to our faces.

Along the main road near the BDF junction, lion tracks etched a story of their recent passage, crossing the road westward. We navigated through the bush, where the lions, with a keen sense of smell, cornered a female on a leadwood tree. Bathed in the sun’s golden hues, the guests seized the moment, capturing exquisite photographs of this remarkable scene.

A walk on the wild side in the Kwando Private Concession

Walking safaris were extraordinary throughout the month. Engaging discussions on the medicinal uses of plants unfolded against the backdrop of blooming flowers, creating a sensory-rich experience. As we walked amidst the flora, guests could touch and smell various species, connecting with nature intimately. Encounters with wildlife during these walks, including warthogs, black-backed jackals, wildebeests, and red lechwe, offered a unique perspective into their fascinating behaviours.

For over an hour and a half, we diligently tracked two male cheetahs until we discovered them resting under the comforting shade of a leadwood tree along the westward stretch of the ten-kilometre road. Sated from a recent meal, we observed their laboured breathing and playful rolls from side to side.

On the 3rd, our expedition took us on an extensive drive along the boundary road, following the tracks of these magnificent cheetahs weaving through the mopane woodland. After a dedicated effort lasting two and a half hours, we found them reclined, their round bellies hinting at a substantial feast.

Later in the month, a drive along Bale’s Road presented fresh tracks of two male cheetahs heading towards a waterhole. Suddenly, with a burst of energy, the cheetahs leapt up and darted into the bushes. Following their trail, we uncovered a dramatic scene: the cheetahs overpowering a baby impala. Cameras clicked as they devoured every part, including the crunching of bones, culminating in a thorough session of cleaning and mutual grooming.

Due to the notable presence of lions and hyenas, we persisted in our efforts to locate the playful African wild dogs. A breakthrough occurred during our productive morning game drive along Zebra Road. We were drawn to descending vultures. The dogs, a pack of ten (nine adults and one subadult puppy), were found near Zebra Pan, satiated after feasting on the remains of a male impala. The dogs treated us to delightful antics, playing with sticks and frolicking in the water to cleanse themselves of blood.

There were abundant sightings of spotted hyenas, particularly in the vicinity of Twin Pools, where the presence of elephant carcasses drew them in, benefitting from the wetness brought by the rain. One extraordinary event unfolded as seven spotted hyenas engaged in a dramatic battle with the lions from Stricker Pride, consisting of two adults and five subadults, over a lechwe kill. In a surprising turn, the hyenas emerged victorious, claiming the spoils, while the lions were left to lick their wounds.

Adding to our hyena experiences, we spotted a shy brown hyena north of the camp along Crane Road. Swiftly, it darted into the marshes, giving our guests a fleeting yet captivating glimpse as it vanished through the tall grass.

During our morning and afternoon game drives, the landscape came alive with the presence of black-backed and side-striped jackals, scrub hares, and bat-eared foxes. Impalas with their adorable offspring, sizable herds of elephants accompanied by tiny calves, and glimpses of sable and roan antelopes in small woodland groups.

Kwando Lebala Dining Area

In camp, closer to the kitchen and dining area, encounters with the olive grass snake and green-spotted snake provided fascinating insights into the local wildlife. Along the tributary east and south of the camp by the stadium, both large and small crocodiles gracefully navigated the waters. The air buzzed with the mesmerising flight of click beetles, net-winged beetles, and fruit chafers moving from one flower to another. A particular favourite among our guests was observing dung beetles skilfully rolling their dung balls from animal droppings.

Yellow-billed kites, Walberg’s eagles, tawny eagles, and various adults and juveniles of bateleur eagles soared overhead. Southern carmine bee-eaters, broad-billed rollers, lanner falcons, and red-footed falcons danced in the air in large groups, creating memorable visual displays. Meanwhile, thick-billed weavers, brown-throated weavers, and white-browed weavers diligently built and rebuilt their nests, providing a captivating glimpse into their nesting behaviours.

(Please note: For the safety of the animals, we do not disclose the precise 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!)