CyberDiary – 15 November 2010

Hippo by Donald MacCrimmon

It’s been a great week here at MalaMala. Yesterday we saw our first impala lamb of the season. We also found a dead crocodile, and watched the Eyrefield lion pride as they took on a herd of buffalo. And finally, we had one welcome sighting that left us all breathing a collective sigh of relief.

For the number-crunchers among you, here are the amount of times each of the following animals was seen during the past week: lion – 10; leopard – 14; elephant – 13; rhino – 19; buffalo – 15. The cheetah has gone back into hiding, and the wild dog remains as elusive as ever.

Don’t forget that you can always refer to the Wildlife Sightings Maps for a more detailed look at what was seen where.

Enjoy!

Monday 8th November

Crocodiles don’t normally ‘headline’ in the CyberDiaries, but we’ve had two interesting sightings of them in as many weeks. Last week we saw drama at Hippo Pools, and then this week we found a dead crocodile in a small pool next to the Sand River’s main water channel.

When we pulled the croc’s carcass out the water, we found a massive, gaping wound on the side of its abdomen. We often saw this crocodile in and around this pool, which it shared with a few hippos. By the look and size of the wound, all evidence pointed squarely at a hippo being the culprit. This is not that unusual however, as there have been many cases of hippos killing crocodiles throughout Africa.

An exciting morning for leopards.

When we found the Emsagwen male leopard he was enjoying a leisurely stroll close to the airstrip, scent marking as he went. After walking for a few hundred meters he lay down. But instead of going to sleep he remained alert, keeping a vigilant eye on his surroundings.

It was only after about ten minutes that we noticed the Kikilezi female leopard resting in a nearby tree. She then descended the tree and tried to sneak out the area without arousing the attention of the Emsagwen male. She very nearly succeeded too, but at the last moment the Emsagwen male looked over his shoulder and spotted her.

In a flash he was up and after her.

The Kikilezi female saw him coming and took off like a bolt of lightning. A leopard’s first instinct when threatened is always to seek refuge up the nearest tree, which is exactly what she did. When the Emsagwen male arrived at the base of the tree he seemed to recognize that it was her (or at least another female leopard), because he visibly relaxed.

After a short while he moved away from the tree and lay down. This gave the Kikilezi female the gap she needed, and she quickly climbed back down the tree and walked briskly off in the opposite direction. She then made a beeline for the thick reeds of the Sand River, which were conveniently close by. Once she entered the reeds we lost all visual of her. The Emsagwen male followed suit, and he too was lost shortly after walking into the reeds.

The first lions of the day came in the last hour of the afternoon drive.

When we found the Manyelethi male he was by himself and roaring (this is what gave his position away to begin with). He’d only just roused himself from the day’s slumber, and was walking slowly along the road. He nonchalantly strolled less than a meter from our vehicles, thereby affording all of us a magnificent view of him as he passed by. When lions come this close, if you’re quiet enough you can hear the soft crunching of their feet padding on the sand. It’s a truly magnificent experience.

After a while the Manyelethi male lay down again and went back to sleep. A little further away we found two of the Styx lionesses, and shortly thereafter they were joined by the remaining three Manyelethi males.

The lionesses greeted the males very affectionately, showing signs of subordinate behavior. Once the salutations were out the way, the lions all lay down. We heard audio of the lone Manyelethi male roaring in the distance, but his three brothers made no effort to reply. After a while the two lionesses got up and left, leaving the male lions to their lazy ways.

On this evening the insect life really came alive, which always happens after a good downpour. The downside of this is that while sitting stationary with the spotlight on, we were immediately swarmed by insects of all shape and size. This was naturally followed by the occasional shriek from a guest.

We left the four Manyelethi male lions to themselves as they walked off into the night.

Saturday 13th November

Kikilezi female leopard's cub by Donald MacCrimmon

Although we’d spotted the Kikilezi female leopard on a number of occasions, we hadn’t seen her cub for nearly three weeks. While driving on the banks of the Manyelethi River – which is also the rockiest section of the reserve – we saw her in the distance draped over a large boulder. A little while later she moved off down into the Manyelethi River. This section of river is very beautiful, but extremely tricky to negotiate as there are large rocks to avoid and deep ravines to traverse through. Fortunately we found a gap big enough to squeeze a Land Rover through, and from there made our careful way down into the river. When we reached the bottom we spotted the Kikilezi female again, and shortly thereafter her cub appeared.

There was an audible sigh of relief from all of us.

As is usually the case with young leopards, she showed only passing curiosity towards the Land Rovers before drifting back to sleep. Those of us patient enough to hang around, however, were richly rewarded. Because after her nap the cub leapt down from where she’d been sleeping, and walked towards a large rock not five meters from where we’d parked. She then lay down on the rock and stared at us. After watching for a while she became bored and ambled off towards Mom for a game of stalk and pounce. And when she tired of that she settled down to get groomed.

We noticed drag marks going through the riverbed, but it was only when we returned in the afternoon that we saw the duiker carcass. There wasn’t much left of it, which indicated to us that mother and cub had probably been there for about two days already.

The return of a large herd of buffalo saw the return of the Eyrefield pride of lions as well.

Where previous sightings of the Eyrefield pride consisted of just a few members, on this afternoon we found the entire entourage – all nine members – together. And once we’d ascertained that the herd of buffalo was within earshot, their intentions became clear to us.

The lions employed their usual fastidious hunting tactics, and didn’t immediately rush in and cause a riot. Instead they took their time ambling behind the herd, always within earshot but never in sight. After some careful maneuvering and stalking, the lions in the lead were finally within thirty meters of the buffalo. But still they hung back, watching patiently as the buffalo grazed in front of them.

It was well after dark when the young lead lioness made the first move and ran in on the buffalo that she’d singled out. For a fleeting moment she managed to get onto the back of the buffalo, but without the support and weight of her pride members the buffalo quickly tossed her off again.

Thus began the age old battle between hunter and hunted.

For the next hour the two species battled it out, one fighting for hunger and the other for survival. Time and again the lions would run and try their luck, but the alert buffalo had formed an impenetrable wall that prevented them from singling out an individual and taking it down.

When we finally left the area, the lions were resting and gathering their wits for the next onslaught. The buffalo were clearly in need of rest, but knew that letting their guard down at that point would prove fatal. So they continued moving rather than lie down to rest and ruminate.

When we followed up the next morning we found the pride a long way from where we’d left them. And on the ground next to them were the remains of a small buffalo calf.

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

Until next time,

The MalaMala Ranger Team.

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