Can you believe that this is the last TWIP of 2019…? What a year it has been.
From the excitement of the birth of the Mashaba female’s litter on 25 December 2018 followed by their unfortunate disappearance a few weeks later, to them being all but forgotten as we watched the cubs of the Nkoveni, Ximungwe and Nhlanguleni females being raised to independence in 2019. As I write this, the Nhlanguleni female is raising a new litter, only weeks old that we have still not seen but have been heard whining in response to their mother.
The Tsalala lioness lost her pride in late 2018. Through 2019 she proved her will to survive and gave birth to a litter of three. Now she is still raising her single remaining cub and is doing well.
The Ntsevu pride has grown significantly as their contingent of cubs has reached 15 strong with the four youngest, born in May this year. The Birmingham males still reign strong over the reserve, even though they are now down to two.
An exciting occurrence this year was the number of pangolin sightings. Towards the end of spring, it was not uncommon to have several sightings in a month!
As we move away from Christmas and into the New Year, we have been spoilt this week with two prides of lions, two packs of wild dogs and an abundance of leopard sightings.
Seasons Greetings to everyone and enjoy This Week in Pictures…
A Nile Crocodile crossing the Londolozi causeway. The Sand River is in good flow and once again the Causeway river crossing is a good place to find crocodiles. They will often be found waiting just downstream with their mouths open, waiting for fish to flush down straight into their trap. A lazy way of feeding?
A large pack of wild dogs was seen on more than one occasion this week. Here a pup – in the region of about six months old – walked toward ranger and tracker team Shaun D’Araujo and Jerry Sibiya. It paused inquisitively to investigate the vehicle, providing the guests, ranger and tracker with a lifetime memory. As the second rarest carnivore in Africa, moments like this are a real treat that should be cherished!
A cub from the Ntsevu pride bumps heads with a lioness in greeting. The pride has been quite central on Londolozi this week, having not moved too far, probably due to the warm temperatures we have been experiencing. In this photo, one can see the full belly of the youngster hanging down from a large meal.
While waiting for a clan of hyenas to emerge from their den in the north of Londolozi, repeat guest and friend Nils Skattum glanced over his shoulder and noticed the distinct outline of a giraffe far on the horizon. It was part of a herd on Ximpalapala crest and fitted in beautifully between two marula trees. Having had plenty of rain, the landscape is lush and green with an abundance of general game spread out everywhere again.
A lappet-faced vulture sits perched on a dead tree. This is the largest vulture species that occurs in the area, able to eat tendons and tough skin that other vultures with smaller beaks are unable to manage. It is estimated that there are less than 50 breeding pairs left in the Kruger National Park.
The same sighting as the drinking shot below; we had to negotiate a lot of bushes while following the Mashaba female. While photos of leopards with no branches obstructing the view are great, it is sometimes nice to depict them in their more preferred habitat of thick bush. The window in the bushes and the ray of light created a secretive feel here.
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best-known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the vehicles.
A yellow-billed oxpecker sits perched atop the back of a cape buffalo. This rare cousin to the red-billed oxpecker is typically seen on large game like buffalo, rather than on smaller species such as impala. Being hot, the bird was opening its beak and passing air over the blood vessels in its mouth. Through evaporative cooling – just as in cats and dogs – the blood vessels in the mouth are cooled thereby passing cooler blood into the system. This is a way of trying to keep cool on hot days.
An elephant chews on a mouthful of fresh, bright green grass. Elephants will adjust their diet according to what is available throughout the year. Being soft and high in protein, fresh grass is favoured by many herbivores over the woody alternative of branches and leaves.
The majestic profile of a male lion is synonymous with Africa. One lifts his head here as he produces the Flehmen grimace to investigate the scent of a lioness. With the help of a spotlight from the opposite side, this backlit view creates a mysterious and somewhat regal feel about him.
We were about to leave the Mashaba female as she walked into thick bush but noticed her walking straight towards a small mud wallow. She lay facing us and began to lap up the water. Every now and then she would lift her eyelids and glare straight towards us. After utilising a lot of liquid while scent-marking on territorial patrols, it is essential for these large cats to rehydrate.
A member of the Little Five – the leopard tortoise. Obtaining its name from the mottled appearance on its shell and its resemblance to a leopard’s colours, the leopard tortoise is a common reptile after good rains. They can live for more than 70 years, taking a break from life each winter as they aestivate to avoid the harsh, dry conditions. Aestivation refers to dormancy during a dry period, rather than hibernation, which refers to dormancy during a cold period.
The same big wild dog pack was found late one morning after a team of rangers and trackers had almost given up after three hours of searching. It was all worth it though, as the dogs jumped in and out of a small waterhole, which was being shared with a huge, territorial rhino bull. Interestingly, the rhino eventually relaxed, tucked his legs under his belly and lay down in the middle of the water again! Seeing two of these endangered animals interacting was a truly special sighting, that just happened to fall on Christmas morning.
A common sandpiper on the Londolozi causeway. The Sand River really is a huge source of life through the reserve. It provides homes and food for a plethora of species, both tiny and massive. This small bird leaves Eastern Europe in June/July and reaches Southern Africa in September/October. They come all the way to Londolozi but do not breed here like some other migratory species. With the onset of the summer heat and rains though, there is an abundance of insects for them to feed off, unlike in the frozen habitats from where they came.
The Londolozi airstrip is a fantastic place to get low angle shots of animals with a clear background. As we left camp one morning, a herd of zebra paused before crossing over, giving us enough time to position and get some photos of them from just next to the vehicle.
Elephants have been quite abundant across the reserve lately, providing some amazing viewing. This afternoon we found a breeding herd walking steadily across and open crest. We sat ahead of them and waited for their approach. In an incredibly relaxed and peaceful manner, the entire herd ambled past within a few metres of us. There is nothing as humbling as being dwarfed by these gentle giants.