CyberDiary – 29 November 2010

Impala herd with lambs by Ryan Driemeyer

Summer is in full swing up here at MalaMala. The heat is unrelenting, but the rain – of which we’ve had a fair amount – does offer some relief. The ongoing ‘cat and mouse’ games between the Styx sub-adults and the Manyelethi male lions continues. We also enjoyed two spectacular leopard kills, saw some lions mating, and are pleased to say that the Cape hunting dogs are still on the property.

This is the number of times we saw each of the following animals during the past week: lion – 19; leopard – 16; elephant – 22; rhino – 24; buffalo – 10; 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 21st to Thursday 25th November

It’s been another superb week of lion sightings. Picking up from last week when we left the Styx pride sleeping off the buffalo that they’d consumed in Piccadilly Triangle, it came as no surprise to find three of the Manyelethi males with two of the Styx lionesses on Sunday morning. The two Styx sub-adults had long since disappeared, and when we finally relocated them at the airstrip they were both looking very timid.

One of the Manyelethi males showed considerable interest in the one Styx lioness, and proceeded to follow her very closely. Unfortunately for him the feeling wasn’t mutual because as soon as he came to near she would quickly swing around and whack him. In the end her stalling tactic took its toll on him, and he eventually gave up and left her alone.

While this was going on, true romance was blossoming further north in the Mlowathi River region. We found the Manyelethi male with the darkest mane with another of the Styx lionesses, and his efforts were proving to be extremely successful.

The Styx lioness’s substantial buffalo meal of earlier served to stand her in good stead, as we saw the pair mating from Sunday until Thursday!

Sunday 21st November

We found the Kikilezi female leopard just south of Stwise Koppie with a carcass. She had stashed it in some rather rocky terrain though, which made it impossible for us to reach the area and identify her catch.

She then left the carcass and moved eastwards towards the Poliwe Koppie. On reaching the rocky outcrop she began calling, and very quickly her now eleven-month-old daughter came bounding out of the rocks towards her. After a short greeting ceremony, the two walked up onto one of the many large boulders strewn around the base of the koppie.

We couldn’t have wished for a more perfect sighting.

All we could do was look on in awe as the two leopards stood side by side, with the sun on their faces and the magnificence of Poliwe behind them.

The pair then descended the rocks and made their way to a small pool of water, where they slaked their thirst. Back in the area where she’d stashed the carcass, the Kikilezi female froze for a moment and then took off like a bolt of lightning. At first it wasn’t clear what she was after, but then we spotted a small impala lamb standing up on shaky legs.

It tried to run off, but stumbled over a small bush and lost what little advantage it might have had. Within moments the Kikilezi female was upon it, and before long the little body stopped struggling.

It was a mere fifty meters from where the leopard first spotted the impala to where she caught it, a distance she covered in an all out sprint. The cub – having watched the event from the sidelines – came running in to relieve her mother of the kill.

The youngster first used the opportunity to practice her kill bite, and then proceeded to run around with the carcass proudly displayed in her mouth as though she was the one that had caught it in the first place.

The cub had just settled down to feed on ‘her’ prize, when her mother suddenly sat up from where she’d been lying and began to growl at some unseen menace. The cub – having already experienced her brother being killed by the Styx pride – quickly slunk out of the area and into a crevice between some large boulders.

When we went around the corner to follow up, we found a lioness standing on the road looking directly at the area where the leopards were. The lioness soon lay down, but kept her gaze firmly planted on the small hill.

In the meantime the Kikilezi female had moved to the top of a large rock in order to get a better look at her foe. After a long time the lioness eventually got up and walked towards the leopard. In order to give the leopard every opportunity to escape, we switched off our lights and engine so there wouldn’t be any distractions.

What happened next we have no idea, as the nature of the terrain did not allow us to follow. All we can do is keep an eye out in the days to come, to see if the leopard pair survived the incident unscathed. We’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday 23rd and Thursday 25th November

The two sub-adults of the Styx pride of lions joined up with one of the adult lionesses, and together the three of them forged their way across the Matshipiri River. Three of the Manyelethi male lions were not too far away, and it appeared as though they were following the scent of the Styx trio. At one point we found both sets of lions sleeping close to the Matshipiri River, about a kilometer away from each other.

After that the males seemed to lose their scent trail, as they moved eastwards away from the Styx pride towards the Kruger National Park.

Two days later we found the Styx pride again, this time close to the Windmill where they were finishing off the remains of a small buffalo.

We also saw the single lioness (the one that hasn’t joined up with any other lionesses) occasionally during the week. We heard her roaring from time to time too, most likely in an attempt to locate the rest of her pride.

Wednesday 24th November

The second kill of the week also involved a leopard. And even though it wasn’t a large animal that was caught, the sighting was every bit as spectacular as watching a pride of lions bring down a buffalo.

On this glum morning the overcast sky was heavy with promise of more rain, which arrived in buckets midway through the morning drive. Rather than the brief showers we so often experience out here in the bush, it turned out be a torrential downpour that lasted a solid hour.

As an aside – for those of you interested in this sort of thing – there was even more rain in the catchment system to our west, which later resulted in the first flood of the season. The water was so high, in fact, that we weren’t able to drive over the causeway for a good few hours.

Okay, weather report over.

We’d just found the Matshipiri female leopard and her son not far from Buffalo Bush Dam when it started to rain, and most guests opted to return to the camp in favour of dry clothes and a hot breakfast.

The enthusiastic few who decided to stay and watch the leopards, however, were well rewarded for their tenacity.

As we followed the mother and son, they kept us amused by stopping every few minutes to shake the water from their coats. Their bodies all but disappearing behind a curtain of water in the process.

About half an hour into the rain, a small movement in the grass caught the female leopard’s eye. After a brief stalk, she leapt high into the air and came crashing down on her prey. We weren’t able to see what it was until she’d killed it and brought it back out into the open.

Much to our surprise it turned out to be a very large cane rat! The two leopards wasted no time at all in devouring the carcass between them.

Thursday 25th November

Cape hunting dogs again! This is the second time in as many weeks that we’ve seen this pack. And just like the first time, we found them right out in the middle of the airstrip.

Unfortunately it was just after sunset when we came across them, and because they are diurnal hunters we do not follow them at night. That said, we were still able to spend a few precious moments with them before the light faded completely. It was a real treat to see them chase each other around, and watch as the big pups wrestled with one another.

But all too quickly the sighting was over, and we left them as they settled down to sleep on the tarmac.

We got up extra early the next morning to go and look for them, but they had already left the area by the time we arrived. They were most probably kilometers away by then. With summer here, they normally start running before five o’clock in order to catch a meal before the oppressing heat of the day engulfs the bush.

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.

PLEASE NOTE: Animals on Mala Mala are named after their territories. This means that a) only the predators have been given names and b) we only know the animals according to the names we have given them, as they are based on the territories within MalaMala’s boundaries.

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