December Game Report

Upper Majole in the evening - Jena Casey

Upper Majole in the evening - Jena Casey

A season in review

The month of December started with a nice quantity of rain following a nearly totally dry November.  The single event brought measures of 12 – 55 mm of rain throughout the Northern Tuli Game Reserve. Heavy erosive action was experienced north of the airport where the greatest amount of rainfall was measured.  Now with road passage regained the land as well has shown the clear signs of recovery we have been waiting for.  Although grass cover has not been regained throughout the greater reserve, a vast expanse of greenery can now be seen near the marsh and surrounding low lying areas.  Here zebra and wildebeest along with most other herbivores are spending their time gaining weight and energy as they consume mouthfuls of rich fresh grass.

The marsh returns to life - Jena Casey

The marsh returns to life - Jena Casey

Riparian pools - Jena Casey

Riparian pools - Jena Casey

Vegetation change has brought a new color and texture to the ‘viewshed’. Where previously only Mopane and Croton leaves stood out across the basalt and sandstone landscape as we enter the new year Umbrella thorn, Bushwillow and many other species have joined the show. Umbrella thorn particularly at lower recently browsed heights have burst with new bright green shoots and leaves, and many with small buds and flowers. Red Bushwillow from the smallest shrubs to the largest trees have a growing density of leaf coverage. The reluctant Terminalia have filled-in, and are starting to form new fruit while the Russet Bushwillow have begun to catch up, sprouting new leaves. Croton are baring fruit and the occasional flower. Wild sage is growing tall and the small Stink shepherd has produced its fruit. The Mopane are now beginning to flower in higher basalt ridges. The picture is then completed with the emergence of many smaller forbes, sprinkling colourful flowers of yellow, indigo, and orange beneath the growing canopy.

Stocky little Zebra recovering - Jena Casey

Stocky little Zebra recovering - Jena Casey

Teaming with impala - Jena Casey

Teaming with impala - Jena Casey

The ‘leaf-on’ condition is a benefit not only for browsing, but also providing valuable coverage from increased temperatures and a growing predator population especially important to the newest members of the reserve. For most herbivores, the young-of-the-year arrived earlier in the season. Young eland dropped in early spring and following the October rains, young wildebeest and kudu were seen. Baby zebra have recently been observed in the marsh area. Elephant calves continue to arrive throughout the year, and stay well protected in family circles beneath the canopy.  However, the baby impala are yet to arrive possibly reflecting low or delayed reproduction rates during an already dry period going into last winter. The predators likewise have also birthed litters of many new young during the past few months. Lion cubs were among the first to arrive and several new cubs were recently added to the count. Jackal pups were observed in mid November, followed shortly after by the leopard cubs. These young also benefit from increased cover, as their guardians often tuck them away to hunt for food.

Predator numbers are looking stable, for most species as reflected by game sightings over the last month. Lions held the greatest number of sightings, accounting for 152 individuals – 75 of which were cubs. Sightings of spotted hyena are likewise stable, with a total of 118 individuals observed – 29 of which were cubs. Cheetah, by their nature, remain elusive at times, however there were 58 sightings of individuals for this month. Leopards, like other species, are now more difficult to spot in the dense foliage, and with cubs in tow they are careful to remain well hidden. Several fortunate viewers were able to see 45 individuals, including six cubs at sightings. One particular event brought two adult offspring together with their mother, and her two new cubs, as the adults fed on an impala freshly captured by the mother.

Through December kills continued to be primarily impala (92%) with wildebeest (8%) as the only other species this month. One wildebeest, however, was seen to be fed at by 14 spotted hyenas, and it is likely by other carnivores and birds of prey as well. According to the observed feeding bouts, Leopards hold the highest kill record for the month with six impala providing sustenance to 12 individuals in total. A group of four leopards was seen to share one of the kills. Spotted hyena were a close second, with four kills supporting 25 individuals. Interestingly, lion feeding was only observed once, and this was also on impala. The cheetah likewise focused on impala this month, where a group of six and a group of three were found with their kills on separate occasions. This shift in prey away from larger antelope is a good sign for the recovery of herbivores following the rains and fortunately there remain a good supply of impala to keep the predators strong as they work to raise the next generation.

Wildlife return to the marsh - Jena Casey

Wildlife return to the marsh - Jena Casey

Stork stillness - Jena Casey

Stork stillness - Jena Casey

Juvenile stork falling in line - Jena Casey

Juvenile stork falling in line - Jena Casey

Reflections of Summer - Jena Casey

Reflections of Summer - Jena Casey

As we entered the new year, just before the dial struck midnight, sprinkles were followed by rain across Northern Tuli Game Reserve. Patchy episodes of rain persisted through the next two days, bringing with it the hope for a year with greater rainfall totals, more food supply and a continuously stabilising wildlife system.

Jena Casey MS.

Northern Tuli Elephant Researcher



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