Januar 2013 Tiersichtungsreport der Kwando Safaris Camps
PULA! The rains arrived with a vengence in January..... read on
January forms part of the so-called rainy season in Northern Botswana. Unlike in other countries, the rainy season is not like monsoon, but simply indicates the time of year when rain is expected and hoped for, as opposed to the majority of the year when no rain at all falls. Generally, the clouds build up for a few days, and then there is a sudden and brief thunderstorm, which quickly settles the dust.
This January, about 27 out of 31 of those days followed this pattern. Four of them, however, broke all patterns. On the 16th January, it started raining. Hard. And it kept raining hard. For just over three days, it let up for only short periods, and by the end of that time, rain records that had been held for more forty years in Northern Botswana had been broken. Many camps reported over 55 mls of rain in each of the three days – figures that are rarely achieved. Just over one third of the annual expected total rainfall fell.
Although rain is a cause for celebration in Botswana, a country that is almost entirely covered by the Kalahari sands, all the staff sympathised with the guests who struggled through the rain to experience some of the safari they had travelled so far to see. For many, it was a bigger struggle than anyone anticipated, as the cloud cover remained so low, the small planes that act as the shuttle buses and supply vehicles of the safari industry were unable to fly. Some guests had to spend an extra night in a camp rather than moving on to the next, and a few missed their international connections, though with good humour – the camps are a slightly better place to spend a night rather than cramped inside a metal tube! .
Luckily, in most areas on the fourth day, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Areas such as Nxai that had been particularly parched prior to the rains, sucked up the water quickly, so that there was soon little to be found on the baked dry tracks. In Kwara, on the 15th of January, a manager noted how dry the area was, with no water under the three main bridges. Three days later, it was back to using the bridges, as the rain had re-filled the channels and pans. It has not rained again since.
So what does this mean for the coming flood season? Rainfall in Botswana does not form part of the catchment area for the rivers that make up the Delta. However, the cloud cover that provided the rain also covered most of Southern Africa, and resulted in the destruction of homes in many countries due to fast rising river waters A larger than normal rainfall in Angola will lead to a big flood in the Delta in a few months, depending on how much is sucked up by the vegetation as it travels along the slow moving river - for the Delta, it’s a matter of waiting and seeing!
January had lion sightings almost every day, including regular sightings of the Solo pride, (two males and four females). One of the females has two young cubs. We’ve also seen mating lions this month, so hopefully in a couple of months time, there will be even more cubs in the area!
Hyenas were also seen – both on drive and in camp! A pair of eyes glowing back at you as you are walked to your room, gives everyone a start, but they turn and move off with that easily-recognisable loping gait of a hyena. Out on drive, one car also came across four hyenas having an intense fight. After the fight, one of the hyenas had a broken leg, and the three other hyenas left him. It’s going to be a very harsh, short life too for that hyena, as it is essential that the hyena can hunt for him/herself, in order to survive.
Lots of general game throughout the concession, with large herds of zebra in the Splash area in particular, and many groups of giraffe dotted everywhere. One afternoon game drive found five giraffe sitting down together – an unusual sighting, and once they realised that we were watching, they clambered to their feet.
On the 7th January, three cheetahs were found to be hunting. The guests were lucky enough to see them chase and catch a tssesebe in front of the car. The cheetahs were seen several other times during the month.
The wild dogs were also fit and well, with the pack of eleven seen most often. They caught impala regularly, and with the odd variation in their diet of other young antelope. In addition, an adult female and two male dogs were found in the Splash area. They also had luck with their hunt, and were feasting on a young impala. Towards the end of the month, the pack numbered eight adults and five pups, so it’s likely the dogs are just hunting in different areas, separating for a little while before rejoining the main group.
Sometimes, a guest takes the time to write about what he or she has seen, rather than the guides filling out the sightings book. Here an extract from an anonymous guest, that sums up a couple of days at Kwara:
“We stayed for two days and had brilliant sightings. Day 1 – three cheetah brothers set up a fantastic and successful kill. Saw vultures attacking a baby zebra carcass. Caught three male intruder lions marking new territory. Saw a beautiful female lioness devouring a baby warthog. Had evening tea with more than 30 hippos basking in water with a beautiful sunset on one side and the rising moon on the other.”
Other great sightings this month included guests who recorded 95 bird species in the three days they were at Kwara, and a very rare sighting of a sitatunga antelope whilst out on the boat.
Three female lions (two adults and one subadult) were found sleeping south of John’s Pan at the beginning of the month, but sightings of lions were sparse for the rest of January.
Leopard sightings were good, with relaxed females and males being seen – including one which was seen when the guide was walking guests back to room number 4 at night! A female leopard was also seen several times in the area around the BDF camp – she was very relaxed.
The cheetahs remained absent, not having been seen since the lions chased them nearly two months ago. However, right at the end of January, the three brothers suddenly reappeared in the mopane scrub area, looking fit and healthy.
However, other predators are making up for their absence, with the Lagoon Pack of dogs being seen almost every day with kills. They are focussing on baby impala and tsessebe, but kills have also included adult warthogs, impala and reedbuck. The pack spent three days closer to the Lebala camp, but then moved back in the direction of Lagoon.
A very lucky night drive found an aardvark moving along the Old Lebala road, but hyenas, serval cat, porcupine and side-striped jackals were more commonly seen on the night drives.
Although large buffalo herds are absent, there have been amazing sightings of a herd of eland numbering more than 100 individuals. Eland are notoriously shy – in spite of being the largest antelope – and often people are only able to have a fleeting glimpse as an eland departs. With such a large herd, they are slightly more relaxed.
The beginning of the year saw the Southern pack of dogs moving north west of Lebala camp. After feeding on impala one day, the pack spent the whole day along the edge of the water at Leopard road, before heavy rains arrived and they moved off to the thick Kalahari apple-leaf for cover. The next day they were found again, eating two baby impalas, and interacting with a group of hyenas. The dog pack was seen regularly throughout the month of January.
The hyenas started the month with full stomachs, when a clan of 20 were seen feeding on a baby elephant. It could not be determined what had killed the baby, or if it had died of natural causes.
Lots of breeding herds of elephants are back in the concession, and are seen daily feeding and having mud baths after the good rains.
A phenomenal month at Nxai Pan with the zebra migration in full swing. The foals are already quite big, and all the herds look in great condition – apart from the odd one or two that show tell-tale signs of having a close shave with a lion.
Everywhere you look on the pan, hundreds and hundreds of springbok are milling around, with their young offspring bouncing and pronking (yes that is a real word, it describes the vertical springing jump with arched back that springbok make!) . Not exactly sure of the cars, the young sometimes approach closer than the adults out of curiosity, before moving off, with their out of proportion rabbit-like ears flicking to and fro.
With there being so many zebra around the park, the lions have dispersed, as there is no need to stay close to the waterholes, hoping that something will come down to drink. In addition, three days of heavy rain – the most rain northern Botswana has seen in 40 years! – meant that there are pans in many more spots, rather than the few isolated waterholes. Two male intruder lions were seen at the beginning of the month, but the young pride also saw them and moved out of the way quickly! Sadly, it’s thought that these male lions then moved out of the park and into the surrounding areas to the west, where they spent several weeks in January catching the much easier prey of domestic cows. There was a report at the end of the month of farmers shooting these ‘problem animals’.
The cheetahs, however, are still around, and we have had some lovely sightings. One of these included a young male who was seen close to the road, only a few minutes after heading out of the camp on morning game drive. He was posing elegantly, and was very photogenic. At one point, he decided that he needed to practice his hunting skills, and instead of focusing on one of the numerous springboks that were never far away, his attention was drawn to a very suspicious looking pile of elephant dung. He leapt and pounced on it, and created his own game of football with the dried dung, much to the amusement of the on-lookers!
The waterholes do still draw different species together, though perhaps not with as much angst as it can be during the dry season, it’s still important to be cautious when drinking. That must somehow explain the interesting meeting of a zebra and a leopard tortoise at one waterhole one afternoon. The tortoise had made it to the edge of the water, and was about to drink, when an approaching zebra startled him. He quickly withdrew his head and legs into the safety of his shell, but the sudden movement in turn startled the zebra. The two animals then proceeded into a ‘duet of startlement’ as each one alternately relaxed, then noticed the other one, made a quick withdrawal, in turn startling the other animal. Eventually, both animals realised they were not under immediate attack, and managed to get on with the business of drinking.
Tau Pan lion pride (currently just the two females and six young lions from the litters two years ago) had a good start to January, and killed an oryx on the southern side of the pan. They were seen feeding on it, after having taken it down during the night.
By the middle of the month, they had killed another oryx, which they seem to finally be developing a skill at catching!
A couple of days later, a cheetah was seen hunting to the west of the waterhole, and managed to catch a duiker. He was able to feed on the duiker for some time, before the jackals that had moved in on seeing him catch something, irritated him too much and he left.
A large number of white storks arrived in Tau Pan- 105 to be exact (!)… - and spent the days feeding on insects. The jackals – several families live on the Pan – tried their luck at catching them, but were unsuccessful. Jackals have an interesting family structure – the parents normally mate for life, and one or two pups from the first litter they have stay with the parents to help raise the next litter, before moving off and finding their own mate.
Our lovely visitors from last month – the wild dogs – also came back this month to the waterhole in front of camp. Numbering seven – two adults and five subadults – spent time running through the waterhole and playing. All look healthy, though the alpha female does have some scars on her shoulder and back, but these seem not to be bothering her. Last month there were eight in number, so we are hoping that the missing one was busy out hunting at the time they were seen.
Autor: Kwando Safaris