The drought has certainly been a ‘hot’ topic over the last few months. It’s been reported on repeatedly on the blog and one has been able to see from the pictures over the last while how much more the bush has dried up. It has been incredible to watch the transformation of the bush, I don’t think we could quite have imagined just how sparse it could get.
Not only has the bush transformed, but certain animal behaviour has also changed over the last few months in order to cope with the ongoing dry conditions. We’ve noticed a huge amount of browsing from buffalo and zebra who, under normal circumstances, are predominantly grazers. I’ve witnessed hippos eating the reeds in the Sand River which is not usually on their menu and I’ve even watched a male hippo chomping away at a large pile of dry leaves one evening – certainly not his typical first choice.
Animal movements have changed slightly as well, with the majority of the herbivores being drawn to the river in search of food. Species like impala and rhino that we don’t usually see in the Sand River have become frequent visitors to this last little oasis and herds of elephants are moving through the area constantly trying to feed and hydrate their massive bodies. With the migration of the herbivores towards the rivers it has meant the predators are spending a lot more time close to or in the Sand River. The Tsalala pride has spent most of the last few months in the river in front of our camps – not needing to venture too far away with the abundance of food on their door step.
Having worked in the area for the last few years it has been really amazing to witness this change and this tough period for the animals. I’ve been astounded and humbled as to how the animals have reacted to the drought and how resilient they are, and their ability to adapt to change in their immediate surrounds. I have seen some things that I have never seen before and may not ever see again.
I have tried to capture as much of this new and strange behaviour whenever I can, unfortunately not always being successful, and so here we have a photographic journal of a few of the things I’ve been noticing lately.
Something we don’t see often, a white rhino in the Sand River. I’ve seen this male twice now in the river and on both occasions marking his territory. No doubt that with current conditions he is being forced down to this area in search of food. f5,6 @ 1/640 ; ISO 640.
The Mashaba female leopard has been a topic of conversation throughout this very interesting time. She managed to raise her cub to independence that ended in the drought and one wonders if the dry conditions contributed to her leaving her cub relatively early? When will this iconic Londolozi Leopard be having a new litter – we think very soon. f5.6 @ 1/250 ; ISO 1000.
With the increased predator activity during the drought the lion sightings have been amazing for us. We’ve been able to follow pride dynamics on a daily basis and always fascinates me as to whats happening in the lion world around Londolozi. Here one of the Majingilane males faces into the afternoon sun after hearing the distinctive sounds of a herd of buffalo in the distance. f5.6 @ 1/2000 ; ISO 800.
A tender moment between a female giraffe and her very young calf. Even though this calf was born into an extreme drought, the strong maternal instinct of the mother will ensure that her little one will receive sufficient milk and food in order to survive this harsh time. Giraffe have had to search far and wide in search of good browsing, often having to cover huge distances in order to achieve this. f6.3 @ 1/500 ; ISO 1000.
The Tsalala pride have been spending a majority of their time in the Sand River the last few months. With great hiding places for the cubs when the two lionesses are away hunting and a vast array of prey being attracted to the river in the drought, this makes for a perfect place for the two to raise their cubs. f7.1 @ 1/1600 ; ISO 640.
The granite boulders in the sand river make a fantastic playground for the young cubs. Here they watch as their mothers head off up the Sand River in search of food for their cubs ever growing stomachs. f8 @ 1/1000 ; ISO 640.
The lighter maned Matimba male lion is left to look after the cubs whilst the females are away hunting. He certainly wasn’t too chuffed with the idea as the cubs just wanted to play and he just wanted to sleep. The Matimbas have had an almost constant supply of food over the last few months, with the Tsalala and Mhangeni breakaway Prides being so successful during this dry period. f7.1 @ 1/800 ; ISO 1000.
Here the granite boulders are used by the two lionesses as a vantage point and potential ambush site on this cape buffalo that was feeding towards the pride. In this case the buffalo saw the lions well in advance and managed to get away unscathed. f5.6 @ 1/800 ; ISO 800.
A family portrait of one of my favourite stories to come out of Londolozi over the last few months. The amount of discussions these two ostriches have created between staff and guests is amazing and everyone is blown away by the love story. Let’s hope the two manage to raise their chicks to adulthood. f5.6 @ 1/800 ; ISO 640.
The two ostrich parents take the chicks for a walk along one of the quieter roads on Londolozi. I noticed that the chicks were constantly following the male around, could this be because he was the first parent they imprinted on, or just coincidence? f7.1 @ 1/800 ; ISO 1000.
With most of the prey species being attracted to the Sand River, the predators have had too follow, often forcing leopards slightly out of their territories. Here the Xidulu young female leopard watches over her nyala kill in the heart of her mother’s territory. The two had met earlier in the day and the Xidulu female was not happy with the presence of her now-independent daughter in her territory, close to her current cubs. f5.6 @ 1/250 : ISO 1250.
Elephant herds have needed to travel huge distances during these tough times in order to find food and water, often putting a lot of strain on the youngsters. I’ve certainly noticed a lot more young elephants lying down when the herd takes a rest, no doubt a sign that they have had too keep up with the herd for many kilometers. Here a matriarch leads her herd to a water hole after a very hot day. f6.3 @ 1/320 ; ISO 1000.
The dry conditions have meant a lot of the trees loosing their leaves, often creating very dappled light on the ground. This exact scenario made for an interesting photo of the Nanga female leopard who seemed to choose the perfect spot to lie down facing the sun. f5.6 @ 1/800 ; ISO 640.
Have a great weekend!