It was definitely a ‘lion week’ this week, with plenty of hunting and fighting counter-balanced by a lot of sleeping. Leopards were also in abundance, enthralling everyone with their antics. The buffalo herd held their own in the face of constant pressure, and elephants were at every turn: drinking, splashing, eating and flattening every tree in sight. Not to be outdone, a pangolin (scaly anteater) showed up and brought the game drives to a standstill. These normally nocturnal creatures spend most of the day sleeping, curled up into a ball!
We have summarised a few of the more astonishing sightings below. And remember to view the Wildlife Sightings Maps for a more detailed look at what we saw where this week!
Sunday 26th September
The week began on a slightly slower note than usual. The Eyrefield lion pride was found sleeping at Buffalo Pans, while the Styx lion pride and Manyelethi male lions were clearly taking it easy after finishing the rhino carcass. The Emsagwen male leopard was also found sleeping the day away, as was his offspring – the son of the Matshipiri female leopard.
Monday 27th September
Monday was a different story altogether! With the weather cooling slightly, the Eyrefield lion pride was on the move. When we first found them they were on the airstrip, but they soon moved north to intercept a herd of male buffalos (also known as ‘dugga boys’). The herd was on its way to the river, but they never quite made it. The lions ran in on the buffalo, and after a couple of false starts managed to separate one of the old bulls from the rest of the herd. The bull took off across the tarmac, with three of the young lionesses hot on his heels. When the lionesses finally caught up with him, they quickly surrounded him and proceeded to harass him while they waited for their backup to arrive.
But the rest of the pride never showed up.
The young males had been left so far behind that they’d eventually given up the chase without realising that the females had cornered a possible meal. Eventually the buffalo got fed up with the game, and charged right through the lionesses’ weak defense to rejoin his herd. The lions then regrouped and set off towards the river.
In the afternoon we went to find the pride again. They had since given up on the ‘dugga boy’ and gone in search of bigger prey, which is exactly what they found when they inadvertently walked right into a large herd of buffalo. The lions immediately went on the offensive and flanked out to the back of the herd. As they were jogging in, some of the young females got too excited and broke rank. They sprinted directly at the herd of buffalo in an attempt to single out any old or injured stragglers. Unfortunately for the lions, the buffalo were not alone. A family of elephants was at the tail end of their buffalo herd, and when the massive bovines stampeded off in alarm, the elephants came to their rescue.
With heads held high and ears billowing out, the matriarch and her ‘wingman’ came thundering down towards the lions. Suddenly there were about five hundred panicking buffalo running east, two very angry elephants charging west, and lions all over the place.
It was chaos.
The dust was so thick you couldn’t see the road. The cacophony of elephants trumpeting, buffalo bellowing and lions calling was deafening. Mayhem ensued as the elephants flattened bushes and cracked trees in half in their bid to get at the lions.
When the dust finally settled we went to inspect the scene.
The buffalo were milling about on the eastern bank of the Matshipiri River, while the Eyrefield lion pride members were all catching their breath in the riverbed. Some of the young buffalo bulls occasionally broke away from the herd to charge the lions as they shifted about in the sand, but each time they were met with an equally opportunistic retaliation from the lions. During one of these scuffles the adopted male lion jumped on the back of a bucking bull, although he was quickly thrown off again as the buffalo in question ran back to the herd.
This backwards and forwards scramble raged on into the night, with neither side giving an inch. It was well into dinner time when we finally left the combatants as they made their way into the Kruger National Park.
Tuesday 28th September
This morning we saw the Ostrich Koppies female leopard at her den site on Thlebe Rocks. As is the norm when she is home, the cubs were out and playing with wild abandon as they chased each other all over the rocky outcrop. Eventually being used as a “jungle-gym” got too much for mom. She sent the cubs back into hiding and descended the rocks. As she moved through the open fields, the Ostrich Koppies female leopard searched for a suitable meal, but nothing was forthcoming. At first she contemplated going back to the rambunctious youngsters, but quickly thought better of it. Instead she found a nice shady spot under a Knob-horn tree and fell fast asleep.
Wednesday 29th September
We experienced yet another exceptional sighting today. This one involved three leopards, a hyena and an impala. The Dudley female was the first of the three leopards to be found. She was at the base of a tree at Flockfield Camp with the remains of an impala. She then left the kill site and only returned again that evening, this time with her cub in tow. The Dudley female’s young son attacked the impala with such gusto that we thought he might swallow the whole thing in one go. Once he’d had his fill, he left the rest of the impala for his mother to feed on. Unfortunately, before she’d even had a bite, a hyena came bursting out from the undergrowth. Mother and cub abandoned the kill immediately and fled up the nearest tree.
The hyena then dragged the remains of the carcass a short distance off and settled down to eat. A short while later the leopards made their tentative descent from the tree and headed off in the opposite direction, all the while keeping a watchful eye on the thieving hyena. As they moved through the reeds, the cub was lost in the darkness. At first this didn’t seem to worry the Dudley female, but then the Bicycle Crossing male leopard suddenly appeared in front of her. At this point things quickly changed.
Even though this big male leopard is the father of her young cub, the Dudley female wasn’t taking any chances. She immediately began the courtship ritual in order to distract him, and in-so-doing bought her cub some time to hide. The two adults mated several times in quick succession, and each time the female would draw the Bicycle Crossing male further away from where her cub was. This is a common (and often successful) tactic used by both leopard and lion females when trying to draw a male’s attention away from their cubs. Fortunately for the cub the strategy worked perfectly. When we left them the mating pair was lying side by side, while the youngster slunk off into the darkness. Meanwhile the hyena – completely unperturbed by what was going on around it – noisily finished off the impala in the background.
Friday 1st October
The start of the new month brought with it five members of the Marthly lion pride. This was a welcome surprise indeed, as we haven’t seen these lions in almost a year. One lioness was present, with four sub-adult females close by. The quintet attempted to hunt some nyala, but soon gave up in order to seek refuge from the morning’s scorching heat. We also saw nine leopard throughout the day, which made for some excellent viewing.
Saturday 2nd October
Today arrived with the Styx lion pride and more excitement. The sighting began all the way back at lower Mlowathi Crossing, when four hyenas were found drinking at the crossing. Once the hyenas had quenched their thirst, they moved north in the river. Suddenly their tails shot upright and they broke into an all out sprint, heading straight for the Thlebe Rocks donga.
It appeared to be a false alarm, because after milling around in the donga for a while they came up with nothing. From there they moved back to the Mlowathi and continued north. When they reached Mlowathi Dam the hyenas crested the dam wall, where they were met by one of the Styx lionesses having a drink. The hyenas proceeded to the furthest part of the dam and had a quiet roll in the water, while the lioness continued to drink. When the lioness left the dam one of us followed her, while the rest stayed behind to watch the majestic Saddle-billed storks fishing in the water.
The hyenas again alerted us to the presence of something, and soon another lioness arrived at the dam for a drink. Both females’ faces were covered in blood, which immediately alerted us to the possibility of something interesting nearby. Leaving the lions at the dam, we went in search of the remaining two females. After driving a long way east of the Mlowathi, we picked up lion tracks and followed them into the bush. As we made our way through the bush, a lion (annoyed at having its sleep disturbed) suddenly popped its head up. As we closed in on the dozing lion, we spotted two of its mates. And then as we rounded a large termite mound, we discovered a large zebra carcass. With it were the remaining three Styx females, including the one that had initially been found drinking from the dam. All three were fat and content, and spent the day feeding and sleeping in the vicinity of the kill.
The following day we were in for an even bigger surprise, but that’s a story for next week.
Until next time,
The MalaMala Ranger Team.