CyberDiary -17 October 2010

Eyrefield pride by Donald MacCrimmon

It definitely wasn’t a good week to be a buffalo. We found a total of four killed by lions – two by the Manyelethi males, and the other two by the Eyrefield pride.

Male leopards were in abundance, but the highlight (again) was the Ostrich Koppies female’s adorable cubs. They are growing in size and confidence daily, and will no doubt still provide many hours of happy viewing for us.

Sable Antelope showed themselves again this week. Everybody who got to see them was in awe of their size and beauty, and marveled at their majestic (and menacing) scimitar shaped horns.

And making it a truly memorable week, we were fortunate enough to have one sighting of the extremely rare African wild dog.

For numbers inclined among you, this is how many times we saw each of the Big 7:  Lion – 21; Leopard – 16; Elephant – 20; Rhino – 16; Buffalo – 11; Wild Dog – 0; Cheetah – 3.

Don’t forget that you can always refer to the Wildlife Sightings Maps for a more detailed look at what we saw where this week!

Enjoy!

Monday 11th October

It proved to be the start of a long week for the buffalo herd. They suffered their first loss this evening, when the four Manyelethi males cornered and killed an adult cow in the Manyelethi River.

The four lions have been spending more and more time on the property lately, and we finally witnessed their first kill on MalaMala.

In the morning we found the four brothers asleep in front of camp, so we knew we were in for some action when the buffalo came down to drink later. As the sun set the males got active, and headed straight for the unsuspecting herd.

Just as the buffalo began moving out of the river, the males attacked. They charged straight into the heart of the herd, creating mass hysteria in the process. They took advantage of the chaos they’d caused, and quickly brought down a panic stricken cow.

The lions were already feasting on their prize while the herd was still stampeding over the bank of the river.

Simple. Easy. And ruthlessly effective.

We also saw a herd of sable drinking from the river to the north of Rattray’s Camp. And a male cheetah popped up quite unexpectedly on the airstrip.

Tuesday 12th October

By this morning the Manyelethi males had made short work of their kill.

More action was to follow, but this time from the Eyrefield pride. We found the rather lean looking lions asleep in the Tamboti thickets in the morning. They got active earlier than usual, and the breezy afternoon soon offered up a scent they approved of.

Moving swiftly through the bush, they surprised a hyena busily feeding on a fetus of some description. The group milled about for a while, seemingly dissatisfied with what they’d turned up.

And were it not for the sharp nose of one of the young females, they would have missed out on another free meal. She suddenly sprinted off in the direction of a bare Marula tree. Figuring she must be onto something, the rest of the pride followed close behind.

We were all surprised to find the Tamboti female leopard high in the Marula’s branches. She’d obviously taken refuge in the tree in order to escape a potentially sticky situation.

As the pride neared the clearing, they spotted another hyena feeding on the remains of a female nyala. The mere sight of the approaching lions was enough to send the scavenger howling for cover, leaving the Eyrefield group free to devour the abandoned kill at their leisure.

All the Tamboti female could do was watch from the safety of the tree, as her hard-earned meal disappeared in front of her.

The lions and leopard then went their separate ways. The Tamboti female slunk off into the river, while the lions strutted north along the bank.

We lost the lions as they moved into some thick foliage, and try as we might we couldn’t find them again. We were on the verge of giving up, when one of the rangers rounded the corner to return to camp just in time to see the pride taking down a large male buffalo.

In the short time we’d spent looking for them, the pride had spotted, stalked and caught a very big ‘dugga boy’. The lions set about bringing down and killing this large male buffalo with razor sharp precision.

They were still full from their last buffalo kill, as well as the nyala they’d stolen, so there was none of the usual feeding frenzy that accompanies a kill. Instead they opened the bull slowly and proceeded to feed with decorum, the likes of which is not normally displayed by lions.

Wednesday 13th October

Following up on the Eyrefield pride, we found them fat and lazy, but still eating. We then left them and went to see if we could find where the Manyelethi males had gotten to during the night.

As it turned out they had moved all of 500 meters away from the river, and when we found them they were lounging around a plump adult male buffalo.

As fat and full as they still were from the female buffalo, they had somehow managed to muster the energy to kill and partially eat another of these large bovines. With their guts all but dragging on the ground, the lions took turns to feed and guard the kill from gathering vultures.

It has to be said, no other animal can come close to topping a male lion when it comes to gluttony. And these guys were definitely getting a lot of practice.

Friday 15th October

This morning brought with it cold, miserable weather, and the threat of rain. But it’s only us humans that seem to take note of the weather, animals tend to carry on with their business regardless.

We found the Styx lion pride on the airstrip, the Eyrefield lion pride on our western boundary, and two of the (still fat) Manyelethi male lions at the old bore hole.

We saw the Emsagwen male leopard wandering east towards the Kruger National Park in the morning. And in the afternoon we saw him again, this time opposite Main Camp heading north. By that point he’d already covered a distance of almost 7 kilometers, and the day was far from over.

This is one large and in charge male, and covering such vast distances just proves how intent he is on keeping the enormous empire he has built up.

We also spotted his nemesis – the Bicycle Crossing male leopard – in the afternoon, although he was way down south on central Charleston.

The highlight of the morning drive came when we discovered the four male cheetah coalition. When we saw them the night before they were to the north of our boundary, but now were firmly on MalaMala and looking lean.

As they came into Wild Dog Rocks open area, they spotted a herd of zebra and headed in their direction. As the zebra moved through the open area, so the cheetah followed. Jogging closer just as the zebra reached the bush line.

Just then one of the stallions turned and noticed the predators. Recognising that they had lost their advantage, the cheetah immediately gave chase. Hurling themselves through the bush, the zebra took off with the cheetah at half speed close behind.

As it happened the cheetah were just having fun, and soon broke off the attack in order to regroup and play among themselves in the short grass.

Saturday 16th October

The Eyrefield lions were back in action again. We tracked them down to the Kapen River, where we found them finishing off a nyala bull carcass.

It is astounding just how much meat a lion can fit in its stomach. And they never waste anything either, every kill this pride had this week was picked clean.

We found the Styx pride again as well. The young male was back with the four females. The five of them all looked very healthy, and much more relaxed, than they were a few months ago.

Hopefully this signals the return of the Styx pride to MalaMala.

You can view the rest of week’s photos on Facebook or Flikr. And click here to download the CyberDiary in PDF format.

Until next time,

The MalaMala Ranger Team.

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