singita-kruger-national-park-wildlife-report-august-2016

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singita-kruger-national-park-wildlife-report-august-2016
Photo by Ba rry Pei ser
WILDLIFE REPORT
SINGITA KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, SOUTH AFRICA
For the month of August, Two Thousand and Sixteen
Temperature
Average minimum:
Average maximum:
Minimum recorded:
Maximum recorded:
13.7 (56.7 °F)
27.8 (82.0 °F)
0.9 (48.2 °F)
32.0 (89.6 °F)
Rainfall Recorded
For the period:
2.3 mm
For the year to date: 114.8 mm
Sunrise & Sunset
Sunrise: 06h05
Sunset: 17h40
There is a sense of change in the air now. August is generally considered the windy month and it’s these
winds that bring in the change in the seasons. Spring is almost upon us now. The sun is peaking over the
Lebombos earlier in the morning and the animals and plant life are responding already. Many of the
knobthorn trees are already in flower and even the carrot tree behind the offices is in full bloom. Some of
the early migratory birds have already arrived. It is as if long lost friends have returned. The yellow-billed
kites are once again swooping through the skies and even the pair of Wahlbergs eagles that live along the
N’wanetsi River have returned to the area and are starting to get ready for the nesting season. The
concession is still very dry and there is very little grass left. Hopefully the change in seasons wi ll also herald
the return of the clouds and some rain. This will probably only come in October and there are still a few
weeks until then. The struggle for survival in this untamed wilderness will continue for a short while, but
there is now just a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Many of the herbivores have had a difficult
time this last winter. We, however, have had some amazing sightings.
Our wildlife review for the month is as follows:
Buffalos:
Photo by Bri a n Rode
The sightings have been few and far
between over the last couple of weeks, with
a total of just eleven sightings in August.
The only real chance to see buffalo on the
concession at the moment has been a small
group of buffalo bulls feeding in the very
northern parts of the concession. This small
group of bulls is often seen in and amongst
breeding herds of elephants, groups of
zebra and wildebeest. With Gudzani
windmill available and still holding water
I’m sure that is where they are moving for a
drink whenever necessary.
Leopards:
With the dry conditions and serious lack of cover on the concession the sightings of these normally elusive
cats have been fairly regular and consistent. In addition to that we’ve witnessed some fantastic behaviour.
The ‘One-Eyed-Male’ in particular has made for some great viewing this month. Without a doubt the most
intriguing sighting was the crocodile kill he made just to the north of Xinkwenyana crossing. At the time he
was really looking in very poor physical condition and had clearly made the bizarre kill out of pure
desperation, in saying this I believe you simply cannot deny the incredible adaptability of these amazing
cats and this will always be the reason for them being so successful! I have come to the conclusion that
nothing ever surprises me when it comes to leopards and their ability to survive. He was also see n a few
days later stealing an impala kill from a leopardess in the area around Pony Pan, the poor leopardess was
no match for the ambitious young male who seems to be suitably establishing himself in the central parts
of the concession.
Xinkelegane was also seen on at least eight occasions. Interestingly she seemed to be moving across quite a
large area, which could possibly mean that she has either lost her territory or she is ready to mate. The
timeline for her looking to have cubs would make a lot of sense and obviously we would be happiest with
that.
The Ndlovu male also made his fair share of appearances in the eastern half of the concession, and was
most commonly seen in the late evening scent-marking his territory.
Photo by Ja cques Briam
Cheetahs:
Cheetahs were recorded being seen on at least 15 occasions during August.
At the beginning of the month we were lucky to see a large adult male on the H6 public road.
A few days later we found a male cheetah near the sticky thorn (Vachellia borleae) thickets, who had
managed to kill an adult male impala and we had great views of him feeding upon it. He stayed around the
area for the next two days, and then headed out of the concession. Two or three days later we saw a male
cheetah (possibly the same male) on the H6 public road.
Towards the middle of the month Jacques managed to locate a female cheetah with four cubs in the far
north of the concession. She looked very hungry and was seen hunting impalas, while the cubs looked on
from a nearby termite heap. Unfortunately, she was not successful , but it was amazing watching her
sprinting at full speed after the antelope. The impalas, however, had seen her from a distance and she was
not able to catch up with them as they ran for their lives.
Towards the end of the month we found a different female cheetah with three sub -adults near the Cassia
Open Areas in the far north of the concession. This is probably the female that we were seeing regularly a
few months ago. Unfortunately, she and her cubs were heading in a northerly direction out of our area.
Photo by Bri a n Rode
Elephants:
The elephant
sightings have been
phenomenal this
month, so much so
that I really don’t
know where to begin
other than the fact
that you often get to
the point on
afternoon drive that
you just stop calling in
the sightings. With
the heat starting to
rise again in the
middle of the day
both breeding herds
and large bulls have
been congregating along the N’wanetsi River on a daily basis.
Photo by Ba rry Peiser
Lions:
The most significant
change, in August, has
involved the smallest of
the prides that we see at
SKNP, known as the
Xhirombe pride. There is
a new coalition of four
males (possibly the
Southern Males) that
have ‘officially’ taken
over. It was only a
matter of time that this
unaccompanied male
was over-powered by a
larger coalition. This
small pride consists of a
single adult lioness and
her two adolescent cubs
(one female and one
young male).
Photo by Bri a n Rode
So far as we can tell the new males have come from the south and have been slowly pushing in over the
last few weeks. The take-over was completed when we saw one of the males mating with the adult lioness
on both sides of the Mozambique fence-line around the Poort. This would mean that she has accepted
them as the new dominant coalition.
The Shishangaan pride has been somewhat inconsistent, with them constantly crossing over our western
concession boundary and on at least one occasion east into Mozambique. This is an incredibly large
territory that they are controlling and with two smaller prides on either side it only seems to be getting
larger. This pride, which is the largest pride in the area, is still split into two separate groups of ten and
thirteen individuals. The larger of the groups have many young males that are of the age where they will
soon be forced to move out of the area and are constantly pushing the patience of their mothers at every
opportunity. The white male lion is one of these boisterous males that will probably soon be pushed out
and we are presently making the most of any sighting of him.
The Mountain pride looks to be doing well with the three lioness and seven cubs all still present, most of
our sightings of the pride have been around the general vicinity of Pony Pan, either on a kill or looking very
well fed which is great news for the cubs which are at a crucial stage.
Spotted hyenas:
We have had numerous sightings of hyenas this month. The five Nyokeng cubs are doing well and are
growing quickly. They are moving further away from the den now and are exploring their surroundings
more. They are very vulnerable at this age as they are very curious and have been moving a fair distance
from the mouth of the cave. They have also become much more interested in the vehicles now and often
come right up to the game-drive vehicles.
We have also seen the hyenas at the H6 den a few times this month. They are denning in a culvert
underneath the H6 tar road. At the beginning of the month there was a dead hippo lying near Sonop
waterhole. The Shish pride came and fed upon it for a while and when the lions left the area the hyenas
from this clan took over the carcass and made short work of it. We counted almost twenty hyenas at the
carcass once the lions left it.
Photo by Ba rry Pei ser
Other interesting sightings:
One of our guides, Jacques Briam, describes an amazing sighting of a caracal as follows:
“Caracals are definitely one of the most elusive and secretive animals of the Kruger National Park. In
addition to their fairly small size and natural camouflage, caracals are usually extremely skittish and will
often run away well before they are even seen by humans. With that in mind, you can imagine how special
it is to see a caracal in its natural environment, even if only a glimpse.
I consider myself to be fairly lucky, as I have enjoyed two very brief caracal sightings since starting my
guiding career. Although I have always enjoyed the brief glimpses I have had of these small cats in the past,
I have never been able to get a good photograph of a caracal. But that all changed the other day…
We left Singita Lebombo around 7:30 am, about an hour later than most of the other game drive vehicles,
and drove north along the N’wanetsi River. We were hoping that with the temperatures starting to rise,
animals would be
attracted to the last
remaining water
available. We were
driving very slowly when
my tracker, Glass,
exclaimed, “Caracal!
Caracal! Caracal!”
Several metres away
from the vehicle we saw
a cloud of dust that was
being kicked up. A
caracal was in full chase
behind a scrub hare.
Within seconds the
caracal had caught the
scrub hare by the throat
and began to suffocate
it. The caracal then
started to walk away
from the road, with its
prize in its mouth.
After dragging the scrub hare away, the caracal found a spot in the shade and laid next to its kill. We
watched it for over 10 minutes before we decided to leave it so that it could enjoy its catch in peace.
This sighting is definitely one that I will remember for the rest of my life. It is also a great reminder to
always expect the unexpected, especially on safari at Singita KNP”.
Some sightings of smaller mammals:
With the lack of leaves and grass in the bush the visibility has been great this month. We have, therefore,
had quite a few sightings of some of the more elusive smaller mammals. These have included at least ten
recorded sightings of honey badgers, a few sightings of side-striped and black-backed jackals, some
sightings of thick-tailed bushbabies at night along the river, many sightings of African civets and both large
and small-spotted genets, and even a single sighting of a serval!
Photo by Ja cques Briam
The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis)
The giraffe is one of the quintessential large African mammals. It is one of those creatures that many
people travel right across the world hoping to see. It is a completely unique animal that is synonymous with
the African savannas.
The name ‘giraffe’ supposedly comes from the Arabic word ‘zarafah’, which means to ‘walk swiftly’. The
species name camelopardalis is derived from ancient Greek and refers to a combination of camel and
leopard (i.e. a camel with leopard-like spots).
Due to their strange shape, with long legs, necks and faces, giraffes cannot really be mistaken for any other
animal. They are the tallest land mammals, reaching a maximum height of over 5 metres and a shoulder
height of up to 3.5 metres. They are able to feed on plant matter that almost no other animals can get to
and thus fill their own niche, with very little competition from other herbivores.
Giraffes are browsers and particularly like to feed on Acacia (now Vachellia or Senegalia) trees, as well as
Combretums and Terminalias. Since Acacia trees in Africa generally have thorns, the tongue of the giraffe
has been purposefully adapted to deal with this. A giraffe’s purple-coloured tongue is exceptionally long
(over 40 cm) and highly manoeuvrable. It also has a hard surface, covered with papillae and the saliva is
thick and sticky. The upper palate is hard, in order to deal with the thorns.
Photos by Brian Rode
Giraffes fall under the Order Ruminantia and have a four-chambered stomach. They chew the cud, like
cattle and antelope, and it is amazing to watch them as they fill their mouths up with leaf matter until their
cheeks are bulging. They then chew the plant matter and one can see the food (in the form of a lump)
going all the way down the long throat and neck towards the stomach. A few seconds later a bulge travels
all the way up the neck and the cheeks puff out again as some of the less-processed plant matter is
regurgitated back into the mouth for re-chewing.
The family Giraffidae is comprised of two species, namely the giraffe and the okapi (Okapia johnstoni). The
okapi is a smaller, darker, antelope-like giraffe with a dark chocolate-brown coat and white zebra-like
stripes on the legs and rump. Their necks are not as long as those of giraffes and they are found in the
dense jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. They are exceptionally rare to see.
There are three main groupings of true giraffes i.e. those that occur in central -western Africa, those that
occur near the Horn of Africa and those that occur from the equator south to South Africa. There are nine
sub-species of giraffes, namely:
 the West-African giraffe (subsp. peralta)
 the Kardofan giraffe (subsp. antiquorum)
 the Nubian giraffe (subsp. camelopardalis)
 the reticulated giraffe (subsp. reticulata)
 the Rothschild’s giraffe (subsp. rothschildi)
 the Masai giraffe (subsp. tippelskirchi)
 the Cape / southern giraffe (subsp. giraffa)
 the Angolan giraffe (subsp. angolensis)
 the Luangwa / Thornicroft’s giraffe (subsp. thornicrofti)
The only subspecies that occurs in South Africa is the southern giraffe. The subspecies differ mainly in slight
changes to the lattice patterning on the body. In the southern giraffe the older males often get darker and
darker with age and some of the big bulls in our area have almost black patches interspersed with paler
bands.
Photo by Bri a n Rode
The main differences between male and female giraffes are in the size (males can get much taller and
heavier – up to 1 400 kg, as opposed to 950 kg for females) and the shape of the horns (also known as
ossicles). The horns of females are slightly thinner and are tufted on top, whereas the horns of the males
get thicker and go bald on top. Giraffes are born with horns. Ini tially they are not attached to the skull and
are composed of cartilage. They are neatly folded back on the head and only straighten out and calcify as
the young giraffe grows. Male giraffes often get up to three other horns or bony lumps on their face. Th ese
include a large bump on the forehead and two smaller bumps behind the head.
Male giraffes use the horns when fighting and establishing a hierarchy amongst each other. Older bulls
generally have much heavier heads and stronger horns than younger ones. When sparring the males tend
to stand side to side and swing their heads at each other like battering rams. They are able to knock their
opponent down with a good blow and can in fact kill the other with a well -timed accurate hit, particularly if
one knocks the other to the ground, as a hard fall may break the neck of a giraffe.
Giraffes do not have a set social structure and are considered to be non-territorial. One can see giraffes
either alone or in groups. These herds / journeys / towers may consist of only one sex or both together.
It is believed that giraffes evolved their long necks for various reasons. These include to eliminate
competition for food from other browsers, to give them better visibility of potential predators and to get
better power and leverage when fighting. This evolutionary growth of the long neck and long legs have
meant that the entire body of the giraffe has had to adapt in order to function properly. The cervical
vertebrae are much longer and thicker than most other animals (although there are still only seven neck
vertebrae, as with most other mammals).
Photo by Bri a n Rode
The circulatory system of the giraffe has several adaptations for its great height. Its heart is very large and
can weigh more than 11 kg. As the blood must travel a long way from the heart to the head a giraffe’s
blood pressure is approximately double that required by humans. Giraffes, furthermore, have unusually
high heart rates for their size, at 150 beats per minute.
When the animal lowers its head the blood rushes down fairly unopposed and a rete mirabile ( a complex
system of arteries and veins lying very close to each other) in the upper neck prevents excess blood flow to
the brain. When it raises again, the blood vessels constrict and direct the blood into the brain so the animal
doesn't faint.
Another problem that the giraffe faces, as a result of its long neck, is that i t is very difficult to lower its head
down to water to drink. In order to accomplish this a giraffe needs to spread its front legs wide open. They
are very vulnerable when drinking, as they tend to rely on their eyesight to spot predators, and when their
heads are down they cannot see very far around them.
Because of their strange shape giraffes are unable to reach many areas of their bodies for grooming
purposes and therefore are often infested with parasites such as ticks (particularly on the belly and under
the tail) and are therefore quite reliant on oxpecker birds to help get rid of these pests.
The growth of the long neck in giraffes has also affected the sounds that a giraffe makes. They are generally
considered to be silent animals although they do sometimes make noises such as coughing and bleating
noises. At night it is rumoured that giraffes appear to hum to each other above the infrasound range. The
reason for this is still unclear.
Photo by Bri a n Rode
Giraffes tend to have only two forms of locomotion / gaits i.e. walking and galloping. While walking giraffes
move both legs on the left hand side at the same time, followed by the movement of both right -hand legs.
The long neck sways from side to side in order to counter-balance the giraffe. This particular style of
walking is known as parallel walking (as opposed to cross-waking, which is the style that most antelope use,
where the left front foot moves at the same time as the right back foot and vice versa). When galloping
giraffes are able to attain speeds up to 60 kilometres per hour.
Giraffes do occasionally sit down with their legs tucked under their bodies. They tend to sleep in this
position, although they are able to sleep standing up. They are, however, very vulnerable when sitting
down (it takes a while to stand up from that position), and therefore do not sit down for long periods of
time and usually only when there are other giraffes in the nearby vicinity. It is estimated that giraffes only
sleep intermittently for a total of 4-5 hours per day / night.
The life-span of a giraffe is generally in the region of 25 years, although a particular giraffe that was kept in
a zoo managed to attain an age of 36 years.
Males giraffes test the sexual readiness of females by tasting the hormones in their urine. Once an oestrous
female is detected, the male will attempt to court her. When courting older, larger males will keep younger
ones at bay. A courting male may lick a female's tail, rest his head and neck on her body or nudge her with
his horns. During copulation, the male stands on his hind legs with his head held up and his front legs
resting on the female's sides. This is quite a difficult position to maintain and there are many false starts
before the male gets it right. Mating is very brief.
The gestation (pregnancy) period of a giraffe is approximately 15 months and a single calf is usually born.
Females give birth to their calves while standing. The calf then falls quite a distance to the ground (a rather
rude awakening to the world). The young calf grows very quickly and within the first year it may even may
double its height. Within a few hours of birth, the calf can run around. For the first 1–3 weeks, it spends
most of its time hiding, where after it may join up in a nursery herd. They are generally weaned within a
year. Females reach sexual maturity at the age of four years whereas males will generally only get to mate
after seven years when they are better able to compete with other males.
The main predators of giraffes are lions and humans, although it has been recorded that crocodiles may
also kill them on occasion.
Giraffes are categorized by the IUCN as animals of ‘least concern’ and it is estimated that there are at least
80 000 giraffes living in the wild. The West-African giraffe and the Rothschild giraffes are both considered
to be endangered and there are only a few hundred individuals of each of these sub-species left. It is very
likely that these sub-species, as well as the Nubian giraffe and the Kardofan giraffe may go extinct in the
near future.
Just another interesting tit-bit of information about the giraffe is that one of the constellations of stars in
the sky, described and named in the seventeenth century, is known as Camelopardalis and supposedly
depicts a giraffe.
August moments in time
Photo by Ba rry Pei ser
Photo by Ba rry Pei ser
Photo by Bri a n Rode
Photo by Bri an Rode
Photo by Ja cques Briam
Photo by Bri a n Rode
Photo by Ba rry Pei ser
Photo by Ja cques Briam
Photo by Ba rry Pei ser
Photo by Ja cques Briam
Photo by Ba rry Pei ser
Articles by Nick du Plessis, Jacques Briam and Brian Rode
Photos by Brian Rode, Barry Peiser and Jacques Briam
Singita Kruger National Park, South Africa
Thirty-first of August 2016