May 2020 Wildlife Sightings

In May, the water levels in the Zambezi river peaked, and have started to fall. The sausage trees drop their giant pods into the soft mud below.

Winter is certainly on its way; the days are shortening, and we don extra layers early morning and evening.

As the bush continues to thin out, we have better visibility in the forested areas through which large breeding herds of elephant move. And the grasslands along the vlei sections, which are turning from the bright green of the rainy season to the white gold of winter, are enjoyed by large numbers of grazers, including huge herds of buffalo.

Reports from our guiding team indicate a number of different breeding herds of buffalo moving across the property, from the Zambezi river in the north, through the teak forests and mopane woodlands to the open vlei areas in the south. 100+, 200+, 300+, plenty of prey for the numerous lions that are currently roaming across Matetsi Private Game Reserve.

The lion activity in May included at least one visit to camp, and one to our favourite picnic spot, as well as a kill (kudu) about 200m from Jedson’s pan. In early May, four different prides were evidenced across the property on a single day. Three prides in the south, and one pride of five lions in the north, including two lionesses, one sub-adult, and the two small cubs. We are pleased to report that the cubs have fully recovered! (To read their story, click here.)

One of the smaller prides observed in May comprises of just three lionesses. One of these had a broken hind leg some months back, but the injury is healing very well. We understand that this particular lioness used to live a solitary life but when she broke her leg, the other two strong females came to join her, in order to hunt for her. They have remained together and support each other.

Wild dogs (also known as the African Painted Wolf) were sighted frequently throughout May, mainly in the northern section of Matetsi Private Game Reserve, close to camp. It’s coming close to denning season, so we are keeping our eyes peeled for any evidence of pups.

Leopard sightings were more frequent this month – with great sightings of three different leopard. One resides near the staff village and was seen one evening hunting impalas on the football pitch. Another is close to the tunnel, where it has been sighted “feasting on baboon”. And the third, which Thabo spent time with while out on a staff game drive one afternoon, claims the area around Namakana pan.

Namakana pan also continues to prove a favourite for spotted hyenas, giraffes, zebras, kudus, impalas, warthogs, vervet monkeys and baboons, as well as, of course elephants and buffalo. Many of these species are also sighted on Westwood vlei, which provides an ideal habitat for jackal as well. The wildebeest have also returned to this area.

Sable (with calves) were sighted in the north and there were also good sightings in the south. These animals have certainly become more relaxed over the last few years. This is promising with regards to the other species found in the southern section, including roan, eland and tsessebe.

Our team were also thrilled to report a sighting of waterbuck in the northern section of the property. Although waterbuck are not uncommon, this is a species that has unfortunately not recovered well from the years of poaching that preceded the establishment of Matetsi Victoria Falls. So, we celebrate each one of these sightings, and do have plans to bolster the waterbuck population.

Bushbucks continue to enjoy the sanctuary around the camp, and elephant bulls and dagga-boy buffalos visit occasionally as well. As do nocturnal species such as the honey badger. Large crocodiles can be seen basking on the banks, or swimming leisurely along in the rapidly flowing water of the Zambezi.

There is also a large pod of hippos that spend their days lounging on a large sand bank in front of the western guest area. Occasionally rushing into the water with an almighty splash, for no apparent reason, and then slowly making their way back up on to the banks again. The pod seems to have increased in size, even in just the last few months. Wonderful to see.

Particularly interesting sightings

A brown hyena! In April, the team heard a call of this rarely-sighted species, and this month, two of our guiding team, Decent and Praise, sighted a brown hyena! They had been out on a night patrol in the south of the property. This can be tiresome activity, even for those most passionate about the bush, but is essential to maintain a positive human presence across this vast wilderness. It seems nature rewarded her guardians with this awesome “once-in-a-lifetime” sighting. This is the second recorded sighting on Matetsi Private Game Reserve, the last sighting (2008) was recorded by Ophious, Praise’s father.

AND an Aardwolf! Sighted in the north of the property. This is one of the Specially Protected Species (SPS) in Zimbabwe. They are very rare countrywide. On Matetsi Private Game Reserve, only a few sightings have been recorded. Two were seen near the vlei in July 2016 and one was seen at the vlei in Sept 2016. In 2017 only one sighting was recorded. In early May, the guiding team identified some tracks in the bush between Namakana and December pan, and finally two weeks later the aardwolf was sighted by Crawford and Mike.

Three bat-eared fox (another very rare sighting) were also seen this month, close to the jetty site.

On one occasion, two black-backed jackals were observed engaged in a serious fight with a secretary bird on westwood vlei. The cause is unknown. A pair of secretary birds has frequently been sighted in that area. Southern ground hornbill and kori bustard populations are also doing very well there.

The distinctive call of the Pel’s fishing owl was heard on many an evening. And the bird was sighted in camp on several days through May. On one occasion, early in the month, two birds were sighted. We’ll be looking out for juveniles in the future…

The Global Big Day of Birding took place on the 9th May. Fortunately, the Pel’s fishing owl did make an appearance then, and was recorded along with over 100 other species, including the collared palm thrush, which hangs around camp together with terrestrial brownbuls, which it mimics, much to the fascination of the team. For the full Global Big Day list from Matetsi Private Game Reserve, click here.

11 May 2020: International Space Station was viewed on this day at 18h47.

The team went out again on 12 May. “Waiting for the space station, we were looking at the wrong angle but finally saw it. We almost lost it because all the eyes were focusing on a bat hawk. One of the birds of prey that are not seen often”. A bat hawk, a crepuscular species (active at dusk), is a very rare sighting (“it can be seen once in 5 years or not at all.”). More commonly sighted birds of prey in the area include lizard buzzard, little sparrow hawk, Gabar goshawk (inc. melanistic form), ovambo goshawk, brown snake eagles and Bateleurs.

Many thanks to everyone who has contributed their stories and sightings to this month’s report. We are always nervous to give particular thanks, in case we miss anyone off, but certainly to Ophious and Trymore for compiling the weekly reports, Stephen, Thabo, Decent, Praise, Mike, Crawford and Simba for their field reports, and to Jono, Dan, Ian, Tinashe, Travolta, Shane, Sara E. and Chris who have all been actively sharing their photos.

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