All regular readers will by now know that the late dry season is definitely my favourite time of year. Well defined game trails meandering through brittle dry yellow grass eventually ending at a small little waterhole.
More mud than water, but they seem to sustain an endless variety of animals. From the dainty blue waxbill to the mighty elephant. To find one of these little oases when operating in a new area at this time of year is not difficult. Find a well-used game trail and find the general direction most animals using it are traveling and start walking. While walking you will occasionally find other paths joining yours. If these paths join from the back you are walking in the right direction. If the joining paths lead away from it, it means the water is behind you. Turn around and go back the opposite direction. You are getting close when you notice new paths joining at more regular intervals. The area will show signs of more animal activity and the grass will become sparser. If you find a large termite mound and on climbing it, it gives you a view into the distance, you might see a small spot in the bush that appears a little greener with a few big trees still sporting a lush canopy. This indicates that, yes, you have found your water.
Always approach these areas with caution. Predators often don’t go far away as they know animals have to drink. All they have to do is wait and dinner will come strolling by some time or another. Old buffalo bulls are also heavily attracted to these remote little waterholes. They often can’t sustain large herds so the old bull can lounge around in the cool mud all day in relative peace and quiet. The last thing you want to do however is to disturb one of these cranky old “gents” during his midday siesta. They simply tend to lose their sense of humour and all reasoning skills. Some fancy footwork and excellent tree climbing skills is required if you like the way your body is arranged and want to keep it that way. The absence of general game or the relentless chirping alarm call of a tree squirrel often means that there is a predator close by and the twittering calls of red billed oxpeckers means that there is definitely a large herbivore in the immediate surrounds. It might only be a herd of impala, but it might also be a buffalo. So heed these warnings and approach slowly, downwind and keep your eyes peeled.
Around the College the last remaining water is drying up fast. Hippo quarry only has a few weeks left and the little pump at Mabotlel pan is struggling to keep up. This means that there is not a lot of game in the area at the moment. We do however have a medium sized herd of elephant that have been seen around the College a few times. The matriarch has a very long thin pair of tusks that make the herd easy to recognise. We also have a group of elephant bulls, mostly youngsters between 15 and 25 years of age, but we have been lucky enough to also spot two large bulls in their late thirties or early fifties. We have not seen a herd of buffalo bigger that 20 in size in over a year. There are however a few bulls in the area. Lions seem scarce, but we have had few sightings of two youngish males and one sighting of a pride of females on foot one afternoon while investigating some vulture activity to the north of the College. The presence of the buffalo and a few blood stains still visible on some of the lions indicated that they must have made a kill the night before, but the long grass prevented us from determining what it was.
Although we often find tracks of leopards we have not had a sighting in a few weeks. We did however see a beautiful female cheetah with three half-grown cubs one mid morning on one of the open areas close to the Old Orpen road. A pack of wild dogs have also been seen a few times. One morning they killed an impala right next to the ranger camp fence and on another sighting, they were seen resting next to the College fence.
The August winds have been blowing well the last few weeks and the days are now warming up nicely. This afternoon we heard a cicada beetle rattling close to the shooting range so let’s hope this means an early Spring with an early Summer rain storm. Till next time….
Article supplied by Gawie Lindeque, Senior Field Guide and Trainer, Sustainable Use and Field Guiding Department