CyberDiary – 24 October 2010

Ostrich Koppies female leopard's cubs by Andrew Batchelor

All the action this week revolved mostly around the leopard population. Lions were abundant, as were all the other ‘usual suspects’, but it was the leopards that really put on a show for us.

For the numbers inclined among you, this is how many times we saw each of the Big 5: lion – 10; leopard – 24; elephant – 32; rhino – 25; buffalo – 18. Unfortunately the elusive wild dog and cheetah did not make an appearance.

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 18th October

Sometime after dark we found the Tamboti female leopard strutting her stuff along Bushbuck Drive. She looked very intent as she marched northwards, stopping at nothing until she came to a large Knob-thorn tree. She quickly scaled the tree and made her nimble way along one of its main branches, where she picked up the remains of a young male bushbuck. The female then backed down the branch until she found a comfortable spot, and began to feed.

Something in the way she’d approached the tree and moved the kill was amiss, but it was only when a second leopard suddenly materialized out of the darkness that all of the puzzle pieces fell into place.

This as yet unidentified leopard approached the base of the Knob-thorn three and climbed up. He went straight for the surprised Tamboti female, who immediately dropped the kill, leapt out of the tree and vanished into the reeds surrounding the Sand River.

A slightly bewildered second leopard was left standing over the carcass, wondering what had just happened. We then identified him as the Dudley female’s 15 month old cub.

The Dudley female must have killed the young bushbuck and been sharing it with her son, when the Tamboti female pitched up and chased them off. This is probably why she’d been so bold about returning to the kill site to move the kill.

When the inquisitive youngster returned, he caught her red-handed in the tree. She’d obviously weighed up her options and decided to err on the side of caution, leaving behind a rather baffled young male leopard.

Tuesday 19th October

Kikilezi female leopard's cub by Andrew Batchelor

This morning brought with it two (or so we thought) sad sightings for cane rat lovers. First we found the Kikilezi female leopard dragging something towards Mlowathi Crossing.

At first we thought it was a baby duiker, and then a baby warthog. It was only once she dumped it in a Guarry thicket that we were able to identify it as a cane rat.

Cane rats are very rarely seen, so it was a little disappointing for us that the first one we saw this year was utterly lifeless in the jaws of a leopard.

A short while later we found a martial eagle feasting on a cane rat carcass high in a dead Leadwood tree opposite Main Camp.

In the meantime the Kikilezi female had left her cane rat in order to find her cub, and when she returned to the kill, it was nowhere to be found.

It’s likely that the martial eagle saw an opportunity and seized it. If this is the case, then there was only one unfortunate cane rat all along.

It’s all heresay though. The true story we will never know.

Wednesday 20th October

While following some leopard tracks on foot, one of the rangers came across the Matshipiri female leopard’s young sub-adult male cub lying in some bushes on the southern bank of the Mathlabitini Donga.

After hastily returning to his vehicle he returned to the area. The young leopard then came strolling nonchalantly out of the thicket – very unusual for this shy youngster. He’s usually only this bold when Mom is around.

After a quick look around we saw a hyena feeding on an adult female impala, and shortly thereafter we spotted the Matshipiri female leopard sitting in a tree above the hyena. She’d clearly had her kill hijacked by the scavenger, and all she could do was watch from the safety of the tree as it was devoured by the bigger carnivore. The hyena then picked up the remains of the impala and jogged off, with both leopards following at a safe distance.

The sub-adult leopard stopped to eat some scraps that had dropped off the carcass, while his mother continued to shadow the thief.

When the hyena came to a stop in the shade of a Jackalberry tree to rest, the Matshipiri female stalked closer in the hope of catching it off guard and stealing back her kill.

But by then her gangly son had finished his scraps and come looking for her. Calling as he went, he stumbled right into the middle of a tense standoff between his mother and the hyena.

With much hesitation he bared his teeth and charged the hyena. It was either perfect timing or dumb luck, but somehow he managed to catch the hyena just as it turned its back on him. When it swung around again it was met with the ferocious sight of the charging young male. With no time to defend itself, the hyena had little choice but to run off. The brave youngster immediately snapped up the impala carcass and hoisted it into the Jackalberry tree before the hyena realized he’d been bluffed.

We found the Emsagwen male leopard later in the evening heading in the direction of the Matshipiri female and her sub-adult cub. We were left wondering whether or not he found them later that night, and if there was anything left of the impala kill by then. Because if there had been he would no doubt have stolen it, or at least tried to.

Thursday 21st October

When we followed up this morning we found the mother and son leopard pair a short way from the kill site, and both of them appeared well-fed and content. They spent the morning sleeping on a rocky outcrop. The question we’re all asking now is when the Matshipiri female leopard is finally going to boot this young male “out of the nest”. He is fast approaching two and a half years old, and with the kind of defiant acts he displayed yesterday, there is no doubt  that he is now able to take care of himself.

Friday 22nd October

The last significant sighting of the week definitely goes to the lions.

First we found two of the Manyelethi males and one of the Styx lionesses fast asleep in the northern reaches of the Mlowathi. And then later we came across the other two adult Styx females on the move a short distance to the south of these three.

The pair was actively hunting, but unfortunately we lost them in a donga once darkness set in.

Saturday 23rd October

We found the Styx pair early this morning at the Sand River opposite Main Camp. They hadn’t managed to kill anything during the night, so when a herd of kudu came down to drink at the river they stalked in their direction. The lions made one unsuccessful run-in on the kudu, and then went back to sleep.

Just as we were leaving camp in the afternoon we spotted the two lionesses resting in the shade of a Matumi tree, and next to them were the plump remains of an adult female kudu.

So while we were having lunch they had managed to catch a meal of their own.

Now let’s see if the Manyelethi males and the missing Styx female show up to join in on the feast.

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

Until next time,

The MalaMala Ranger Team.

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