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Nxai Pan Camp, December 2023

At the Nxai Pan Camp swimming pool, two lionesses and a single cub quenched their thirst. 

This unexpected spectacle left us wondering, where was their missing cub? As the lionesses concluded their drink, a harmonious contact call filled the air, guiding us to the lost cub. A heartwarming reunion that put us all at ease!

Another day, the lions headed on an eastern journey, converging at the Wildlife waterhole. There, the trio of lionesses and two cubs revealed themselves again. 

On the west road of the camp, two lionesses and their cubs were engrossed in a feast, the remnants of a giraffe kill. On another occasion, a lone lioness on the middle road indulged in a unique dining experience, savouring a leopard tortoise. 

Lion cubs Nxai Pan

Meanwhile, the Nxai Pan pride, composed of two lionesses and their cubs, graced the eastern side of the Wildlife waterhole, partaking in a wildebeest kill. We also tracked two mysterious male lions that lingered near the camp waterhole, fuelling our suspicions of new arrivals. 

At Baines Baobabs, there was a pride of six lions featuring two lionesses and four subadults orchestrating a hunting expedition. A lone lioness with three adorable cubs perched at the edge of the scrub added a touch of innocence to the carnivorous endeavours. The same lioness, later seen on the Mini Baobab Road, engaged in a spirited but futile attempt to chase down springboks.

The birds and the big mammals

December’s birdwatching in Nxai Pan showcased a display of intra-African and Palearctic migratory birds. Red-backed shrikes, lesser grey shrikes, collared pratincoles, and the vibrant Southern Carmine bee-eaters, European bee-eaters and yellow-billed kites were all spotted. 

Breeding males among the ostriches adorned vibrant hues around their feet and beaks, signifying the mating season. Guests were also treated to the kori bustard courtship rituals, where the male showcased throat puffing and lekking. Northern black korhaan and red-crested korhaans displayed their own mesmerizing courtship behaviours, ascending to great heights before descending in a show of wings and song. Similarly, the southern masked weavers and red-billed queleas exhibited stunning displays. Witnessing the male southern masked weaver engage in nest building, with the female patiently observing, delighted our guests, creating a memorable craftsmanship moment. 

The road in Nxai Pan

The vast numbers of African elephants engaged in water-drinking rituals to aid digestion of their coarse diet were particularly striking. It was fascinating to witness these creatures perform thermoregulation exercises by mixing water with mud and spraying it on their bodies for cooling and parasite removal. Elephants’ ear-flapping, initially perceived as a cooling mechanism, also serves the vital function of cooling blood capillaries behind the ears, where they pump approximately 12 litres of blood every minute. 

Blue wildebeests exhibited territorial behaviours, including soil-raking with their feet to release pedal glands, rubbing faces on the ground to release pre-orbital glands, and tossing mud with horns to appear more imposing. The birthing season commenced, with springboks and impalas adding numerous lambs to the landscape. The imminent arrival of zebras hinted at an approaching migration. Kudus thrived in their preferred thickets, and gemsbok populations, especially around Baines Baobab, witnessed successful calving. 

Giraffes, seen as solitary bulls or in loose social structures, contributed to the sightings. African buffaloes gathered in large herds and bachelor groups, using mud-bathing for cooling and parasite control. Red Hartebeest, numbering around seven, added a special touch to the sightings near Baines’ Baobabs. The Nxai Pan landscape turned green thanks to recent rains. Baobab trees flowered, adding to the scenery, and there were more waterholes.

Cicadas were particularly intriguing, producing a continuous high-pitched sound. Grasshoppers also contributed to the acoustic environment by making sounds concealed in the grass. Other notable sightings included ground beetles, tenebrionids, and alates (flying termites) drawn to the camp lights during their post-wedding flight, marking the beginning of new colonies. The diversity extended to Matabele ants, bombardier insects, stick insects, scorpions, millipedes, centipedes, and various spiders such as community nest spiders, baboon spiders, and assassin bugs. Butterflies, including African monarchs, yellow pansies, common diadems, and white-veined brown butterflies, added vibrant colours to the insect panorama. Dung beetles were observed rolling away dung balls, and other notable sightings included spider-hunting wasps, moths, tree agamas, velvet mites, and African land giant snails.

The area’s thriving population of black-backed jackals was noteworthy, evidenced by their playful puppies around dens throughout the month. Bat-eared foxes were spotted with their adorable pups in the vicinity. The loyal bonds of steenboks, observed in pairs, showcased their commitment as lifelong mates, often found solitarily along the edges of their territories.

Summer stars at Nxai Pan Camp

The stargazing experience was exceptional, with captivating views of significant constellations. One prominent feature was the Mighty Hunter Orion, a summer constellation between November and May adorned with the twelfth brightest star, Betelgeuse, forming one of Orion’s shoulders. Taurus graced the night sky, with its fourteenth brightest star, Aldebaran, serving as the eye of the bull in the V-shaped constellation. Taurus also boasts the Pleiades, known as the Seven Sisters. Sirius, a star in Canis Major, adds its brilliance near Orion. The Southern Cross, or Crux, is easily identified with its Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri pointers. 

(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!)