Guide News – Imbali Concession

2024 another year of remarkable sightings and interesting moments lies ahead for the guides and guests of the Imbali Concession. We also remember those who left us in 2023 and 2024 being familiar Lions, Leopards and even people who made a huge impression in all our lives.

From all of the guides on the concession we would like to dedicate this newsletter to someone who was well known over the year with not only Imbali Concession but the whole of the Extraordinary brand – Harold (Mafiri) – he shared so many unbelievable sightings with us through the years, the camp manager from Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge. It is our belief he will continue to watch over the concession – may you always be remembered for the passion and dedication you showed the guests and thank you for all the incredible bush breakfast and amazing gin stops.

LIONS

In all of the years of this concession actively operating, the lions have never remained a constant. Males use this small piece of protected wilderness to cross borders, hide from altercations and try to hold territory. Males whether single or in coalitions have never managed to remain a constant for longer than 2 – 3 years. During the last 10 – 12 years we have been privileged to come to know the two prides which are common on the concession – they are the Imbali and Hamiltons prides.

The Imbali pride consists of between 4 – 5 adult females and their offspring but we have never seen the pride with more than 10 members, they are seen from Imbali to Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge and as far as Djuma and Buffelshoek in Sabi Sands.

The Hamiltons pride – consisted of between 15 adult females during the drought of 2015 and 2016 to 7 adult females when there is an abundance of food. They are more than often around Hamiltons but do occasionally move down towards Broken Dam and Imbali Safari Lodge.

It is often considered that once upon a time the Imbali females formed part of this pride hence there never really being much conflict between them and allowing the two prides to often cross each other’s paths without a scuffle.

Males – well where to begin – a long time ago Hamiltons and Imbali prides were run by a coalition which would later become known as the Kumana Dam males, but also Hilda Rock Fig males, they left the concession around 2015/2016 when the severe drought happened. This left the concession without dominant males for about a year but we would often fine individuals walking through the concession but never staying. Blondie and Madala what a team, they were the first coalition to take up residence on the concession after the drought. Madala was around 4 years old and Blondie although big in stature never had much of a mane at that stage. Madala kept all mating rights with both Hamiltons and Imbali females while Blondie would never be to far away he would be put in his place very quickly should he start showing any interest. Looking back on this we have seen names which are well known to all such at The Birmingham males, Mbiri male, Avocas, S8 male/Einstein, and the well knows Matimbas. Towards the end of 2022 – through 2023 the concession experienced another shift in the males of the concession with Blondie and Madala being killed by two males who are thought to be the Lebron males their origin is further south towards Skukuza.

2023 also saw the death of the S8 male – he had left the concession and moved west into the Kumana pride territory – Sabi Sands.

Good news for all our followers and guests in that our Hamiltons pride females have now got cubs again which we have been sighting a little further east up the S125 they are around 4 months old at this stage. But the best news of all is a little male who everyone will have fond memories of, Jack Sparrow was his nickname, is still alive and doing well after loosing his eye while still a cub. He has shown incredible resilience throughout his life and continues to survive the odds.

LEOPARDS

We have always discussed the most amazing sightings and happenings of the two idols and most well-known leopards being Nkhanye and Wabayisa our resident Hamiltons male and female. Today the balance has shifted and 2022/2023 saw the passing of both iconic individuals.

Tiyasela – from a naughty, self-motivate and often inquisitive cub, she has grown into a beautiful, strong individual just like her mother. The most exciting news of all she is to become a mother herself – the birthplace of Wabayisa, Nkhanye and Tiyasela – new memories and special moments await all our visitors. Although it is thought she has had her first litter already and lost them we are hoping this litter will see young leopard cubs growing up strong and healthy on the concession. The father is thought to be the Tswyeni male but this is not yet 100% confirmed. Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge still has their amazing sightings of both male and female leopards who come and visit the water hole in the late evenings and early mornings. With the expanding populations of leopard in Sabi Sands and Manyeleti we often have individuals passing through in search of a territory of their own.

We hope to bring you new and exciting updates of some of the newer members of the concession with guides keeping an eye on physical features and spot patterns we hope to start seeing some individuals more frequently.

CHEETAH

Through the years these apex predators have crept into our hearts on the concession with us being one of the areas who are lucky enough to have constant sightings of these incredible predators. We became well known for the coalition of 5 males who were often seen in the south west of the concession. For about 8 years we were amazed to watch these males develop and roam the plains, often found on the termite mounds or lying in the road. Towards the end of 2022 one of the males was found to be limping and shortly after this the coalition dropped to 4 individuals. There was news from our neighbours in Manyeleti a few months later that one of them had been killed by lions this took them down to 3 males. By the end of 2023 there were only two males left with their home range being so large they are no longer seen that often on the concession but we are hoping this will improve over time. A female with 2 cubs was seen at the end of 2022 she moved between Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge and S145 ridge road area of the concession. 2024 has been a good start with the female and single cub being seen regularly around the concession and in the southern section. We hope she will stay around in the area and look forward to being able to update everyone as the year progresses.

Roughly 15% of cheetah kills are ceded to large predators, although they will still chase away jackals and vultures to a certain extent, lions and spotted hyenas pose the greatest of danger. Their light bone structure does not allow them to fight and they run the risk of injuries with often fatal consequences. Cheetah are not dependant on water but they will drink when available. Necessary fluids are normally obtained from the blood of its victims and even its own urine if needed. Females who are not in oestrus can be very aggressive toward males and may often swipe at them viciously. Cheetah do not have a season when births occur, this can be at any time during the year, although in some regions there is a peak during the birth season of their preferred primary prey, in Kruger this would be impala. The mortality rate in cheetah cubs is exceptionally high with cubs being killed by leopard, lion, and hyena. It has been observed that cubs have even been killed by secretary birds and honey badgers.

A cheetah lifespan in captivity is on average 12 – 14 years, in exceptional cases cheetah have reached 16 – 17 years. However, cheetah in the wild have an expectancy of only 8 – 10 years, with males, less than 50% will live longer than 6 – 8 years making this proportionally a more female dominated species. Numbers of naturally occurring cheetah are extremely low with less than 6 700 cheetahs estimated in October 2019, the conservation status of these animals varies from vulnerable in certain areas like Botswana and Namibia to critically endangered in other areas. The smaller the population of cheetah in an area, the smaller the gene pool which results in more being susceptible to viral diseases.

AFRICAN WILD DOGS

Did you know next to the Ethiopian wolf these carnivores are second on the list of endangered species in Africa. They have vanished from 25 of the 39 countries they were originally found and sustainable numbers are only present in 6 of these countries. Hunting of these animals is prohibited by international legislation. Permits are required for their capture and for keeping them in captivity. They may only be allowed to roam free on a property exceeding 10 000 hectares in size. For Kruger the populations of African wild dogs are known to cross their northern and southern boundaries which takes them into the local communities where they are often found hunting sheep and goats causing their demise through a variety of methods including shooting, poisoning and disease including distemper and other diseases common in the local dog population. The presence of larger predators like lion and spotted hyena also poses a great danger and will frequently rob them of their kills. Wild dogs prefer relatively open veld for hunting and tend to avoid dense woodland and forests. Pack sizes can vary between 16 and 50 individuals, on average 12 dogs. Packs of 30 or more are most successful, however, when the number becomes unsustainable, smaller groups of the same sex will break away and form new groups with other breakaways.

African wild dogs are notorious for their cruel hunting methods, and as guides who have been in the situation it is a rather unsettling thing to witness a pack tearing its prey apart while it is still alive. We can regard this as cruel but for the dogs it is efficient, their prey dies much quicker than when killed by suffocation in the case of big cats. The success rate of hunting for these predators is as high as 70% making them among the most successful hunters, only one out of every 3 potential prey victim’s escape.

SPOTTED HYAENA

Always carrying a bad omen with them through movies like Lion King and other stories which people have heard, these scavengers are some of the most interesting you will find in the bush. Known for the opportunistic food habits, though they are more than capable of hunting on their own. Diets vary from insects, to prey such as large antelope including impala, wildebeest, and zebra. Its digestive system has been adapted to process bones, hooves, and skin. There are some documented cases where they have been seen eating the scat of lions and wild dogs – with this in mind they are rightfully regarded as scavengers of the veld, and eats the weak, ill, injured and dead of pretty much any mammal, bird, fish, reptile, or insect species.

An average success rate of 31% in hunting, lone hyaena are just a successful as a clan. A hyaena can eat up to a third of its body weight at a time, after which they may not eat for up to 5 days.

In the last few months Hyaenas have been in the news for negative reasons however it is important to note that we have often been the cause for the occurrence of these attacks on humans. These are opportunist animals always on the lookout for free food, once they have been fed by people they will always come back for more. They easily make the association between man and food and the expectation is thus created leading them to losing their natural fear for humans.

If you have had the pleasure of seeing these animals up close you may have notice that they always smell really bad, other than them eating carrion in various states of decomposition they are also know for urinating while resting. Their urine carries a very strong smell, and they will often urinate on grass and then sit in it. Also known for rolling in the dung of other large mammals this creates new smells, eliciting the interest of the other clan members.

Hyaenas are way ahead of lions when it comes to finding and utilising carrion. They use not only their keen sense of smell but, they also listen for sounds, in particular, of other predators and often keep an eye on the activity of vultures. Hyaena can smell carrion from up to 4km away and can hear the sounds of a predator killing prey up to 10km away.

ELEPHANT

From information gathered by climatologists it seems we may be heading into a drier season than was experienced last year. The grass has already started turning brown and water which was pooled up in areas through December and January has started to disappear. This is leading to the concentration of elephants around the dam at Hamiltons Tented Camp and the waterholes at Imbali Safari Lodge and Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge. Have you ever just sat and watched a herd of elephants, the characters of each individual and the sparing of the youngsters are extremely important to the stability of the family and the relationships they build with each other.

Elephants love water not only for drinking but also spend a large amount of time bathing and playing in water. Water is sucked up into the trunk and squirted into the mouth or sprayed over the body to cool down. They must drink water at least every second day, but if water is freely available, they will drink at least once a day. In drier areas or during times a drought elephants will walk up to 70km between food and water and drink every third to fourth day.

With a life expectancy of 60 years in the wild, and 70 years in captivity Kruger National Park elephants are a long-term species which needs to be monitored and protected. The most common causes of death in elephants are droughts which affect the availability of food, as well as fighting, poaching, hunting and old age. During severe droughts calves are mostly susceptible to dying between the ages of 4 and 7 years.

Elephants are known as a keystone species, which means that other species benefit from their presence. They play an important role in seed dispersal and is not unusual to see certain species of fast-growing trees growing out of the dung itself. The dung consists of fibrous matter which is perfect for the germination of seeds. Elephants will often make use of long-established routes which are also utilised by other animals, thereby creating natural firebreaks. They are responsible for the thinning of thickets which in turn make it easier for other animals to access and opens the way for new plant growth which may have been dormant while waiting for the correct conditions and access to the sun.

Along with the species which we often talk about, we must consider some of our other smaller species which are often found and seen on the concession, in the up-and-coming months we will discuss some of these other interesting critters.

No visit to the concession would be complete without seeing a familiar little group of mongooses. These are commonly known as dwarf mongoose.

DWARF MONGOOSE

Southern Africa’s smallest carnivore, with their dark brown coats with a speckled appearance which when seen from a distance looks almost black in colour. Early mornings and late afternoons these little critters are often seen lying out of the holes of termite mounds while enjoying their time basking in the sun, and will only leave their dwellings in the morning once the sun is well up.

Insects such as termites, crickets and grasshoppers are the most important prey, but they are also known to eat scorpions, snails, earthworms, centipedes, lizards, birds and eggs, as well as larvae which they dig up out of rotten tree trunks or the earth. They will also enjoy the occasional wild fruit and berries when available.

Groups are run by a dominant male and female with group sizes being between 2 and 21 individuals. This is usually the only breeding pair and the rest of the group assist in the raising of the young. Dominant females are generally bigger than the dominant male, and is generally the first to appear in the morning – she will take initiative in daily activities and movements as well as deciding where the group will sleep for the night.

Southern Africa’s smallest carnivore, with their dark brown coats with a speckled appearance which when seen from a distance looks almost black in colour. Early mornings and late afternoons these little critters are often seen lying out of the holes of termite mounds while enjoying their time basking in the sun, and will only leave their dwellings in the morning once the sun is well up.

Insects such as termites, crickets and grasshoppers are the most important prey, but they are also known to eat scorpions, snails, earthworms, centipedes, lizards, birds and eggs, as well as larvae which they dig up out of rotten tree trunks or the earth. They will also enjoy the occasional wild fruit and berries when available.

Groups are run by a dominant male and female with group sizes being between 2 and 21 individuals. This is usually the only breeding pair and the rest of the group assist in the raising of the young. Dominant females are generally bigger than the dominant male, and is generally the first to appear in the morning – she will take initiative in daily activities and movements as well as deciding where the group will sleep for the night.

“May the call of the African Fish Eagle ring out through the savannas and may the roar of the lion vibrate through your soul….”

THE GUIDES OF THE IMBALI CONCESSION

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