Wildlife at Mountain Zebra National Park October 6th, 2017
A few of the firm favourites at Mountain Zebra National Park
Prior to the introduction of lions in 2013, the buffalo were primarily active at night and preferred to rest in thicketed areas during the day. However since the re-introduction of lions, the buffalo are more visible and can be seen along the entire Wilgerboom River from its source to its exit out of the Park. Buffalo are bulk grazers and require a considerable amount of food and water daily and thus prefer to concentrate their movements where their requirements are readily accessible. They can be seen in the early morning and late afternoon feeding on the white buffalo grass (Panicum maximum) that grows readily along the Wilgerboom River.
Red-billed oxpeckers are often seen on the buffalo and help rid them of parasites, but also warn them against any danger. The buffalo usually occur in herds of 15-30 but sometimes form larger herds, especially during summer or when occupying the areas where lions are present. Solitary males or bachelor groups also occur. They are some of the most dangerous animals to encounter on foot and even vehicles should give them right of way. They like to take mud baths, especially when hot, and are water dependent, needing to drink water on a daily basis. Look out for buffalo drinking water in the late morning at the waterpoint just outside the restcamp.
Good areas to spot them are along the Wilgerboom River on the Kranskop Loop, on the main road, the Ubejane loop and Sonnenrust 4x4 trail. They are generally more active in the early mornings and late afternoons. They are also quite active at night and might be spotted on guided night drives.
Introduced in 2007, this adaptable species has done remarkably well in this mountainous park. The cheetah population varies in number on a yearly basis. Cheetah have a unique social system and sightings can vary from a mother with cubs to a lone cheetah or a coalition of males. Males show a higher degree of territoriality than females and tend to establish their territories at the convergence of female home ranges. Recently, male cheetahs have concentrated their movements to the Rooiplaat Plateau, while females utilize the entire Park.
Cheetah are visual hunters with excellent eyesight and can be seen sitting on high points scanning the flats for potential prey, particularly springbok. It is advisable to scan prominent high points especially along the main road in search of these cats. They are not easily seen due to their excellent camouflage. The presence of a cheetah is often given away by the alarm calls of monkeys and antelope, or by the fixed stares in one direction of antelope and monkeys, who have spotted the sleek predator. Their favourite prey include springbok, kudu (especially calves), mountain reedbuck and blesbok.
Cheetah do not stay on their kills for very long and generally go and sleep on the slopes of the hills or mountains when fully fed. Some cheetahs in the Park are fitted with radio tracking collars and sightings during guided cheetah tracking activities are generally very good. Report any sightings to Rangers and Park staff as this often helps with the management of the population. Good areas to spot them are along the main road, Ubejane and Rooiplaat Loops, the link road and Juriesdam and Sonnenrust 4x4 trails. In winter they may be more active during mid-day but during summer one has a better chance to spot them in the cooler hours of the day. They are best seen in the early morning and late afternoon in search of prey.
As a new introduction to Mountain Zebra Park in April 2013, the Park has a small lion population but despite this they are frequently seen. The two male lions have proclaimed the Park as theirs and regularly patrol the entire area scent-marking and calling. Interestingly, every time the male lions move past the rest camp area they roar - definitely something to listen out for.
They often move along the Wilgerboom River in search of their preferred prey species of buffalo and eland. The thicker vegetation along the river provides more concealment for these predators and allows them to stalk relatively close to unsuspecting prey. They are primarily active at night but they are still active in the morning before resting in the shade of any available trees.
The lionesses frequent the Rooiplaat Plateau and they are primarily active at night but can be seen moving in early morning before resting. All of the Park’s lions interact on a regular basis and are frequently seen together especially in and around Rooiplaat.
Look out for the presence of a few black-backed jackals or pied crows to give away the location of a possible lion kill, or listen out for antelope appearing alert or alarming others. Also check the sightings board at camp reception.