A record number of African elephants are roaming the currently dry bush of Mapungubwe National Park. On the 9th and 10th of October SANParks conducted the annual aerial gamecount in South Africa’s most northern park and this confirmed what rangers and tourists already noticed: the tuskers are growing in numbers every year.
Most elephants are found in the western section of the park, where they move in from Mashatu Game Reserve, a privately owned reserve in the Tuli Block in Botswana – on the other side of the Limpopo river. Fences cannot keep the world’s largest land mammal from migrating into the impressive and less dry riverine forest in Mapungubwe. The gamehide at Maloutswa Pan and the track along the river presently almost guarantee spectacular elephant sightings.
From their Squirrel helicopter Dr. Ian Whyte and other SANParks staff counted a total of 114 elephants (65 last year, even less before), but this number can rise quickly if the numerous herds that are roaming the riverbed of the Limpopo move into the park. Usually most elephants move back to Botswana after the summer rains.
The census shows that Mapungubwe is not only a very important World Heritage Site and a haven for birdwatchers, but also an excellent place to spot most famous African game. The counters noted a total number of 903 impala, 340 blue wildebeest, 271 eland, 228 Burchell’s zebra, 88 greater kudu, 84 waterbuck, 48 giraffe, 20 red hartebeest and 8 tsessebe.
They also counted 125 gemsbok, a very special animal since Mapungubwe forms the most eastern wing of its distribution area – gemsboks are typically found on the Kalahari plains. There are 4 white rhino’s in the park, although only 3 were spotted from the air. There are 2 sables, which were recently introduced. Two other introduced sables have recently been killed, most probably by leopards.
The count also showed 3 resident donkeys, which have moved in from a neighboring farm and have lived in the national park ever since.
The occurrence of predators hardly shows during an aerial census. It is certain that the rocky sandstone areas are home to many leopards. Spotted and brown hyenas, black-backed jackals and smaller predators like African wild cats are also regularly seen. Significant is the increasing number of lion sightings, in both the western and eastern sections. The eastern section of Mapungubwe is now home to a small but apparently growing number of resident lions, which originally came from Botswana.
Many smaller mammal species are even harder to count accurately from 150 feet high, but definitely occur in good numbers. These species include bushbuck, klipspringer, common duiker, steenbok, bushpig, warthog, baboon and vervet monkey, various species of mongoose and many rodents.