CyberDiary – 22 November 2010

Styx sub-adult male (replete with bulging belly) by Chris Hall

We were treated to some amazing sightings this past week. Most notably, the return of the elusive Cape hunting dog! We also saw the Styx pride of lions a whopping six days out of seven, a grand total of thirteen different leopards, and the cheetah coalition (albeit rather briefly).

If numbers do it for you, then you’d probably like to know how many times we saw each of the following animals during the past week: lion – 12; leopard – 21; elephant – 21; rhino – 23; buffalo – 16; wild dog – 1; cheetah – 1.

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

Enjoy!

Sunday 14th – Saturday 20th November (excluding Monday 15th)

It seems as though the Styx pride of lions is fast returning to their glory days when they held one of the largest territories on MalaMala. The five remaining members of the pride – three adult lionesses, one sub-adult male, and one sub-adult female – were all accounted for. Unfortunately the sub-adults are still young enough to be in danger of being killed by the Manyelethi male lions. But hopefully the older members will assist in keeping them out of harm’s way until such time that they reach maturity.

Most of our sightings of the pride occurred around the Matshipiri River, although we did see them in the Mlowathi River region as well.

When we found them on Tuesday night, it was clear that the lions were hungry and on the hunt. As dusk turned into darkness, the pride came across a small group of zebra. They immediately began flanking out, but the striped equines were too sharp for their “tricks”. The zebra knew something was afoot, they just didn’t know what. So instead of running off and drawing even more attention to themselves, they just walked briskly out of the area. Fortunately for them this tactic proved successful, as the hungry predators soon moved off.

The following morning we tracked the pride going north around Buffalo Pans, but all efforts to locate them proved futile. It was only during the afternoon drive that we found the sub-adult male close to Fred’s Tree. And from the look of his bulging belly, it was obvious he’d just eaten. Shortly thereafter we came across three more of the pride members, and like the male, they too looked as if they’d swallowed an elephant a-piece.

It was then that we spotted the vultures, which led us to discover the last member of the pride, relaxing beneath a Bushwillow tree next to a half-eaten sub-adult buffalo carcass.

The pride – bulging bellies not withstanding – continued feeding on the carcass for the rest of the night, and by the end of it they’d managed to reduce it to nothing more than a paltry pile of bones.

They spent the next day lazing and sleeping in the shade of some Gwarrie bushes in Piccadilly Triangle. What we found surprising was that we’d heard at least two male lions roaring in the area the previous evening while the Styx pride was still on the carcass.

We were all convinced that the two sub-adults would have fled by the following morning, but they were both still there. Even more perplexing was the fact that we only found the tracks of a single male lion in the area.

The following day the situation changed, but we’ll keep that story for next week….

Wednesday 17th November

Cape hunting dog by Ryan Driemeyer

Cape hunting dogs…finally!

This is the first sighting we’ve had of these rare predators since January. Although we found their tracks on numerous occasions, and had many reports of them coming towards our boundary, this never amounted to anything more than wishful thinking.

But this morning that ‘dry, white season’ finally came to an end when we found a pack of eight wild dogs fast asleep on the runway. After being rudely awakened by the sound of our approaching Land Rover (and enthusiastic occupants), the disgruntled dogs got up and jogged south.

It was clear from the outset that they were on the hunt for breakfast. The dogs moved south through some thickets, and – unbeknown to them – landed themselves within range of a herd of impala. Fortunately for the buck the dense vegetation to the south of the airstrip prevented the dogs from noticing them.

The dogs just kept jogging at the same seemingly effortless pace. At one stage we saw a troop of baboons on the road ahead of them, but the primates had long since marked the hunters. So by the time the pack came past them, they were all safely up in the trees, and vigorously barking insults from up high.

A hyena in the vicinity heard the commotion and came to investigate further, but although it picked up the dogs’ scent, it didn’t follow them. We finally left the pack to themselves as they continued jogging south along MalaMala’s boundary road.

Hopefully it won’t be another ten months before we see these rare and magnificent animals again.

Thursday 18th November

We had just settled in to watch the female leopard from Sparta (who was sleeping close to the Main Camp booms) when we heard the deep guttural roar of a male leopard coming from the airstrip.

Twice we went to look for the leopard, and both times we were disappointed. When the leopard roared a third time, the ranger (who’d drawn the ‘you go investigate’ short stick) left the female leopard from Sparta to look for the elusive male.

This time his efforts weren’t in vain, and he finally found the Emsagwen male leopard strolling down a road close to the Sand River. Needless to say, the rest of us were hot on his heels (sleeping leopards are only interesting when there are no active ones to look at).

Before long the Emsagwen male deviated from his original course and turned towards the river. We lost sight of him momentarily as he went into some thick reeds next to the river, but then found him again a short while later on a sand bank next to the watercourse.

After scanning the immediate area, as well as the far bank, he moved along the river until he found a satisfactory place to cross through the water. Without hesitation he plunged in, and even when the water came up to his belly, he continued unperturbed. When he reached the other side he merely shook himself off and carried on.

A troop of baboons roosting in some large trees near the river bank saw him, and immediately began frantically alarm calling. An adult male leopard is by no means averse to hunting baboons, but on this occasion the Emsagwen male was clearly not interested in making the effort. A short while later he changed course and moved out of the area.

When we next located him, the Emsagwen male was in some long grass with the remains of an impala lamb. Earlier on in the afternoon we’d seen a large male baboon with this same dead impala lamb, and it now became apparent that he’d only partially eaten it.

Baboons will often kill impala lambs (mainly to get at the milk in their bellies).

The leopard, however, wasted no time at all in devouring the small carcass. After consuming everything (including the skull, skin and hooves), we left him to sleep off his snack.

Saturday 20th November

One of the thirteen different leopards we saw this week – and still a firm favorite among the rangers – was the Tamboti female. Most of her recent appearances have been south of West Street, on the eastern bank of the Sand River. So it came as something of a surprise to find her on the western bank of the river, and north of West Street.

Standing just off the road, this confident female didn’t even bat an eyelid when the Land Rover pulled up alongside her. Although, with a herd impala not even thirty meters away, it was no wonder that our arrival didn’t even warrant a blip on her radar.

Her alert fixation on the herd was short-lived, however, as they slowly began moving off in the opposite direction. With every step they took her eyelids grew heavier (almost as if she was being hypnotised). And by the time the herd was a hundred meters away, the Tamboti female was fast asleep.

Sunday 21st November

On the last drive for this report, we saw the final member of the “MalaMala Seven”.

But because it was nighttime – and cheetahs are diurnal – we were only afforded a brief glimpse of this beautiful cat. We did manage to identify the group as the coalition of four males that frequent the north eastern part of the property.

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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