October month has been referred to as suicide month in the Kruger National Park. Conditions are hot, dry and dusty, bleak, barren and dead. It is also the time of the year for bushfires. The hot dry windy conditions are perfect for fires and almost every year large parts of the Kruger National Park burn. The blackened veld adds to the depressed conditions of October.
There are no new green leaves and the bush is colourless without flowers. There is very little life. Small creatures are well hidden to get away from the dry heat of a fierce sun and the devastating heat of a fire. It is dry, very hot and there is no escape from it. The trees are leafless and shade is scarce. Even birdsong sounds tired.
There is as yet no sign of humidity that would bring the promise of rain. The heat taps energy and sucks everything dry. Not only humans feel it but animals are also affected by it. Tempers are short and the lack of food and limited water put stress on all. It is best to stay well clear from dangerous animals in these conditions. Especially bulk feeders and big drinkers like elephant, rhino and hippo.
Depressing as it sounds, October is the best month to see big game in Kruger National Park, if that is the only thing that you are interested in. Game concentrates around water points during this time and it is therefore relatively easy to locate animals.
This and the fact that there are no leaves on bushes and trees, make visibility in the bush at its best. Predators normally do well, as prey animals tend to lose condition and become weaker and thus easier to catch.
Fires are important and not unwanted as it does rejuvenate the bush by getting rid of old dead plant material and stimulates new growth. Then, as anticipated, it becomes humid. It builds up slowly over weeks. It becomes windy late afternoons at the end of sweltering hot days and clouds start to build up. At first it is just a tease, like a rhino cow in early oestrus. She will get all the bulls excited, but will let them wait till she is ready.
Like the rhino cow's rumblings, the heavens would also rumble, but it would wait for the right time. The next day it may all be gone and the process would start all over again. When the time is right there would be other little signs. Snakes would move around more, scorpions would come out of hiding and ants and termites would be more active.
These will be signs that weather conditions are definitely changing and a high humidity building up. After the end of another hot day the wind would blow clouds together, thunder would announce the coming of a storm and noses and other senses would tell that there is rain in the air.
African thunderstorms are impressive to say the least. Incredible amounts of energy get released in split seconds that can keep large mega cities of the world in power for years. The loud claps would wake you up at night, but it would comfort you at the same time because of the promise of rain. Dark rain filled clouds would roll in and open up like a sieve to bless the parched hot earth with a life giving substance - water.
Rain immediately lifts the suicidal mood of all and brings with it new growth and new life. It cools the hot earth and hot tempers. It changes the hot, dry, dusty, bleak, barren and dead landscape into a cool, wet, muddy, green and fertile paradise. Frogs sing their love songs in full pans. Dung beetles become dung stirrers and love machines. Termite princes and princesses emerge to fly away to new honeymoon destinations.
Tshongololos are all over in constricting love embraces. Bird song becomes much more energetic and migrants arrive to share in the good times. Flowers pop up everywhere to add colour and new grass and leaves appear within hours giving a crisp freshness to the bush. With the "tjip chrrrrrrr" of the first woodland kingfisher, the first impala lamb appears and thousands will follow.
Other game species in Kruger Park have also been waiting in anticipation for the rain to bring new plant growth to sustain mothers while rearing their young. The happy season has arrived, and thank goodness that it will last till the end of March. Continuous rain replenishes the water supply in pans, dams, rivers and fountains.
Water is such an important aspect of life. So many people take water for granted and abuse the privilege. There can be no life without it. Without water we would be on a suicide mission and we would be stuck in an eternal "October".
By Jaco Badenhorst