2016 is an el Niño year, and for East Africa this means lots more rain than usual. January is typically a dry-season month, with the short rains ending at the very beginning of the month and the sun coming out for the remainder. January 2016 was far from typical. Almost every afternoon the rain came down, varying from short ten-minute sprinkles on some days to longer heavy thunderstorms on others.
The conditions that resulted were lush green landscapes and cooler temperatures.
Here’s a look at some of our sighting highlights:
Lions: Almost all of the lion sightings in January took place out west, mainly in the Sabora area. The seemingly increasing numbers of lions in the area has made it difficult for the team to keep track of which pride is which! The Butamtam Pride lionesses stayed mostly in the central areas of the concession. In addition to the two cubs first spotted late in 2015, two more Butamtam cubs were seen with some of the females in January.
Leopards: Leopard sightings were stable in January. While most predator sightings this month took place in the western part of the concession, leopard sightings were mainly in the eastern and central sections. Special sightings included a mother and a cub east of Sasakwa airstrip and a male and a female together on Sasakwa Hill.
About 70% of the sightings were of female leopards, which is also very unusual and exciting. Female leopards tend to be shyer than males and therefore are generally seen less. The fact that the majority of the sightings were of females means that the leopard population in the area is growing continuously more confident and comfortable with the safari vehicles.
Cheetahs: The two mother cheetahs each with two cubs once again dominated cheetah sightings in January. The mother with the two younger cubs made the immediate Sabora area their home for the month. It was a good place to be, and the family was seen on many different occasions with gazelle kills. The mother with the two older cubs also spent most of the month in the western section of the concession, but further west of Sabora. They were mainly in the Nyasirori and Explore west camp areas.
Elephants: Elephant sightings were steady in January. We saw less of the large hundred-strong breeding herds that are seen during the dryer months. Due to it being an el Niño year, this January was unseasonably rainy. With more rain comes more water sources, and therefore elephants tend to disperse into smaller immediate family groups.
Wild Dogs: There was one sighting of wild dogs in January. The pack of six-strong was seen west of Sabora on New Grumeti Airstrip Road, with a gazelle kill.
Specials in January were some small predators: an aardwolf, a serval and a pair of side striped jackals.
Read the full wildlife report here: Singita Grumeti Wildlife Report Jan 2016
This month I witnessed how predators are so incredibly good at assessing a situation, weighing up the potential benefits of a hunt and analysing the potential costs or risks at the same time.
We set off under the cover of darkness in the early morning and on to one of my favourite drainage lines to look for lions. As it began to get light I caught site of the Butamtam lionesses and their youngsters. We gently approached the lionesses and then switched the engine off and watched. One of the more mature lionesses, the daughter of ‘Mama Scar’, was busy nursing her five youngsters. This is interesting as lionesses only possess four teats.
I was out one morning looking for elephants as my guests were still hoping for further interaction with these special creatures. What we came across that day, we could not have prepared for – it was simply magical.