Chitabe, Botswana

Wilderness Chitabe & Chitabe Lediba News – January 2023

Camp news

Moalosi Livi


Summer in Chitabe

December and January once again spoilt our Wilderness Chitabe guests with fabulous sightings in the wild. Also, we have had a reasonable amount of rain over the past two months, which greatly excited the animals as it encouraged phenomenal growth of the grass and vegetation. Even though the bush is lush and green and the grass is tall, we still had incredible wildlife viewing, with the advantage of the thick bush being that many animals prefer to use the roads as their natural pathways.

All three packs of wild dogs (numbering 19, 14 and four) were sighted on many occasions. With all the packs frequenting the area and having to avoid encountering each other, it became easy for our guides to predict their movements around Chitabe. One morning we followed the pack of 19 on a hunt. They faced fierce resistance from their prey, a herd of wildebeest with young calves, as the dogs tried to penetrate the defensive wall of the animals by steering them around, attempting to hunt the young calves within the large herd. The herd managed to defend the calves, making it impossible for the wild dogs, and so, resigned to the loss, the hunters submissively walked away.


The sudden abundance of baby animals has provided easy pickings for many predators, including the wild dogs. We watched them on several occasions catching impala lambs, which may not be a big meal for a large pack, but is always very welcome.



We also had great cheetah sightings, with some breathtaking action. The female with six young cubs continued to provide powerful sightings for some time, hunting mostly in the open plains. Raising the cubs alone, she has to keep hunting, and over the last two months our guests got to spend a lot of time watching her thrilling skills and technique, with her tremendous speed accompanied by dramatic twists and turns. On a few occasions, we encountered her teaching her cubs how to kill prey while she kept an eye on the surroundings for danger. This is an introduction to the skills that will dictate the cubs’ survival in future, and strengthen their bond too. She will chase and catch a baby impala and then let the cubs figure out how to kill it. As the cubs appear not to know what to do, the high-spirited youngsters instead play with it. It was, however, fascinating to watch one cub going for the throat to try and suffocate it. Searching for prey has often put her in her enemy’s paths, and when encountering lions and hyenas, she skilfully moves her cubs to safety.


The female with two sub-adult cubs stayed in the area and we had frequent sightings of her. We watched her hunt successfully, although on some occasions she missed, due to her cubs’ playful characters spoiling the hunt by revealing their presence. Even though these cubs are big, they are still kittens and playful. However, this female co-ordinated her hunting cleverly, for the cubs to start realising that every hunt is a gamble, and to start taking things seriously, and to behave.

Cheetah haven in the last 3 years

We have recorded at least 5 different litters of cheetah, which has improved our cheetah sightings markedly. 1 female broke a record of raising all 6 cubs until they became independent, while most of the mothers managed to raise at least 2 or 3 cubs to adulthood. We also recorded regular sightings of a mother with 3 sub-adult offspring, 2 near-adult males, a single female and single older male.
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There has been the usual amazing leopard activity around the area too. The most fascinating sighting our guests had was on a morning drive, seeing a young female on heat, caught between two males. First she was encountered mating with a younger male; then suddenly a big male arrived, attracted by the growling mating sounds. He is large, and obviously has been in the territory longer than the younger male, and so claimed his mating right over the young female. The drama started when the female’s preference was for the young male. This didn’t sit well with the big male, and a fight erupted between the three, chasing each other around. Although they avoided physical contact, the fight was extremely vocal, with lots of violent growling, hissing and spitting in intimidation. The female wasn’t receptive to the older male’s advances and showed aggression when he approached her. Instead she kept luring the young male toward her. Finally, the older male accepted the rejection and moved off.


The other young female, who was regularly sighted in the vicinity of her mother – even after becoming independent – recently had to deal with her mother no longer wanting her around. Although she is now independent, the luxury of sharing meals and space with her mother is over. We encountered them one morning in a serious standoff, and were surprised, until one of the guides heard soft mewing coming from the thick bushes, where he spotted a new cub playing around. Upon realising her mother has a new cub, the young female decided to move away, and was seen the following day far from her mother’s prime territory. Our guests had the opportunity to see the mother gently carrying her cub in her mouth, moving it to a new hiding place. It is very common for cats to keep changing hide-out places.



The brother to the latter young female has become an incredibly strong young male leopard. Even though he was raised feeding on the ground – as his mother wasn’t keen on climbing with a carcass – he is able to run up a tree with a full-grown impala carcass and hoist it well into the branches for safety. He is well-known for ambushing impalas from a tree, waiting for them to stray towards his tree, then run down and launch an explosive attack. Like his mother, he is very wise and patient. He is a very relaxed individual and always a pleasure for our guests to spend some time with him. Another older male was seen in a standoff with a hyena that had tried to intimidate him by stealing his food. The leopard bravely stood his ground and protected his meal until the hyena gave up and moved off.



There is a fairly large population of hyenas in the area, and we had regular sightings of these larger numbers at carcasses. The most recent big gathering totalled at least 30 on an elephant carcass. The hyena den close to the airstrip is still active, and the guests often visit the den for fantastic viewing of the curious cubs – some resting at the mouth of the burrows, while others investigate the vehicle out of curiosity.


Lion sightings were also great and we saw the two different prides with their little cubs numerous times. The other set of four cubs from the Matsebe Pride is a new find, sighted for the first time in mid-January. The Tsame Pride is the one we see regularly since they have most of their territory in our prime game-drive area. It’s a large pride numbering around 19 adults and sub-adults, with at least eight small cubs, though they often split into smaller sub-segments before reconnecting.  They recently lost one of the most senior females in the pride from a giraffe kick to the head. She had four cubs, but at least they are no longer dependent on milk but meat. They are now in the high-quality maternal care of the rest of the pride, who all treat them as their own.

The Tsame Pride has many cubs of different ages, and they provide wonderful interactions, both when the pride is at rest, or walking about. These cubs are a definite highlight for our guests, watching them play with each other, and practising their chasing and tripping skills on each other. The fact that Tsame Pride females are exceptional hunters attributes greatly to the wellbeing of their family. The pride’s preferred prey species are still giraffes and zebras since they can feed a pride that large, but they will very often take advantage of anything they have an opportunity to hunt, such as wildebeest, impala, kudu, warthogs and tsessebe. However, in the past two months, they were frequently seen feeding on giraffe and zebra kills.


The coalition of four young males that broke away from the Gomoti Pride is still together, and they have been seen regularly along the Gomoti River and other parts of the reserve.



We have seen fantastically big herds of elephants in the area. Although there haven’t been heavy rains yet, there is a lot of standing water in the area and the large breeding herds utilise these waterholes for drinking, wallowing and splashing themselves to cool down. This is the time of the year when there is a lot of green vegetation, tall grass and creepers for the elephants, making for very good feeding in every type of habitat everywhere in the reserve. They are very often seen in open grassland plains feeding on nutritious creepers. One top sighting was near Wilderness Chitabe Lediba – as the day started to warm up, we watched a large herd of 100-plus animals coming to drink clean water from the channel that runs past camp.


These waterholes also attract the small isolated herds of buffalo bulls in the area, as they enjoy mud-wallowing to fight off the heat as much as the elephants do. We came across these bulls on a regular basis, with their bodies completely covered in mud.


With the recent rains, an abundance of insects, frogs and other creatures have come out to breed. They create a feeding frenzy for many bird species, making for particularly fascinating bird-watching at this time of year, with numerous raptors, both local and migratory, coming out in large numbers to feed on these creatures. Our birding enthusiasts were excited to watch and photograph species such as avocets, painted snipes and sandpipers at the small waterholes and around other surface water.



The highlight of the month on the birding side was seeing a Pel’s fishing owl perched on a bridge pole near Chitabe. To many people who have been here for many years, this was the first sighting they had ever heard of. I personally saw a pair in the area near Chitabe’s Tent 1 during the Covid closure. I suspect they live in the tree canopy at Chitabe and we just never noticed them before. In camp, the birdlife is particularly active in the early hours of the morning, with guests waking up to many different calls, and hearing the bush come alive.

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