CyberDiary – 31 October 2010

Manyelethi male lions by Andrew Batchelor

You are in for a treat today! Between an epic battle, a whole lot of cat action and a magnificent new pachyderm beginning – our CyberDiary today is sure to keep you riveted.

This week’s story kicks off with the Styx lion pride still on their kudu kill on the eastern floodplain. The two females weren’t joined by any of the other members of the pride, and even better, the Manyelethi male lions hadn’t found them either. We did see two of the male lions on the 24th, but they were nowhere near the river. We found the Styx pride’s separated adult female on the same day, but also a long way from the river.

For those of you with a penchant for numbers, this past week we saw: lion – 16; leopard – 12; elephant – 35; rhino – 19; buffalo – 16. Yet again the wild dog and cheetah were nowhere to be found.

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!

Sunday 24th October

Late into the morning drive we came across what was, without a doubt, the sighting of the day.

When we first found the adult female leopard from Sparta we thought she was alone. It was only once we went around the back of the termite mound that she was lying on that we noticed the son of the Dudley female leopard.

What was strange however, was the lack of aggression between the two leopards.

A little while later the pair was chased off the termite mound by a scavenging hyena. They then disappeared into the acacia thickets surrounding the old airstrip. As we struggled to follow them through the dense foliage, we heard aggressive growling and what sounded like fighting.

We were immediately curious to find out what had set the altercation off.

When we finally managed to catch a glimpse of the interaction, we were surprised to see that they were in fact mating.

There’s no doubt that the son of the Dudley female is definitely an up-and-coming young male, but by mating he’s showing that he is already somewhat dominant.

The female then approached him again. She flirted with him as she positioned herself in front of him, enticing him to mount her.

This was real mating, and happened repeatedly for the duration of the sighting.

Clearly the son of the Dudley female has grown up. The mating continued throughout the day. And each time the young male dismounted, he would have to defend himself from a vicious, retaliatory attack by the eager female.

This type of aggression often occurs during the dismount, but each and every time is definitely a little over-zealous. This was certainly a baptism by fire into manhood for the young male.

Monday 25th October

Today one of the greatest hunts we’ve ever seen took place.

The afternoon turned cool as the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in. In the morning we’d found the Eyrefield pride of lions in the Sand River opposite Rattray’s Camp. And in the afternoon they were still fast asleep, oblivious to the change in weather.

Several hundred meters to their south, the herd of buffalo was slowly making its way back from the river. As the breeze picked up, the young lead lioness suddenly sat up and sniffed the air. She stood up, sniffed the air a second time, and decided it was time to hunt. With that, she headed straight across the river in the direction of the buffalo.

The rest of the pride sensed her intent and immediately followed suit. All nine members had soon crossed the Tamboti thickets, and were at the back of the herd just as  darkness set in. The pride wasted little time stalking, and instead just spread out and advanced on the buffalo. The buffalo caught scent the lions coming, and initially they stampeded in the opposite direction. But then the herd turned and the bulls formed an impenetrable phalanx as they advanced back on the lions.

With the battle lines clearly drawn, both sides stared out at one another. Some of the lions were perched on a termite mound, when from their left flank an old buffalo cow suddenly broke rank and came straight at them like a steam roller. As she reached the summit she dropped her horns and slashed at one of the lions.

The young lioness in her path was nimble (and fortunate) enough to jump clear of the horns. The buffalo then smashed into the termite mound and sent the top half of it flying. With that, the herd retreated and the lions jogged after them.

The herd fell back into another organized front, and came out for a second round of fighting. A large male buffalo singled out the adopted young male lion and charged. This young male – who is really big for his age, and looks set to be a great dominant male one day – turned on his heels and ran for his life.

He was so intent on escaping the rampaging buffalo that he didn’t even notice the large dead branch hanging in his path. Needless to say he snapped it clean in half as he ran under the tree. The buffalo retreated a third time, before again putting on a strong stand that sent the lions scurrying for safety up termite mounds.

After that the buffalo withdrew completely, and went stampeding into the Kapen River. This change in tactic didn’t go unnoticed by the pride, and they immediately charged after the herd.

Cresting the bank of the Kapen River, we caught the lions just as they brought down a young buffalo calf. The bulls quickly closed ranks around the calf, however, which caused the lions to retreat. But when the buffalo moved off, the calf remained limp in the river bed. The lions had obviously inflicted enough damage to render it immobile.

The minute the bulls eased off, the lions rushed in. But the bulls returned to chase them off again, and the pride fled over the opposite bank of the river.  The calf still couldn’t walk and the lions rushed back in to try and seize it in the ensuing confusion.

The battle for the calf raged back and forth, until the sustained pressure from the lions finally took its toll on the buffalo and they lost ground.

It took one last determined rush by the lions before they were finally able to claim their prize. In the meantime the calf had managed to get to its feet. It tried to fight off the lions, but was quickly overpowered. The pride then dragged it across the riverbed and suffocated it.

All nine members fed hungrily, and polished off the calf in less them forty minutes. It was  incredible to watch, but at the same time humbling to be a part of this epic battle between hunter and hunted.

Tuesday 26th October

Young elephant by Andrew Batchelor

On this rather chilly morning we found a large herd of elephants, and it turned out to be the most popular sighting of the day.

A small group of females had detached themselves from the herd, and were huddled around one big cow. As we peered through the forest of legs, we were able to make out a tiny elephant.

The newly born infant was standing for the very first time when we found it. The mother ridded herself of the remaining afterbirth, and then remained in the same spot for almost half an hour as she waited for her calf to open its eyes and take in the world for the very first time.

Once it was steady on its legs the pair moved off. They were closely flanked by three young females which were trumpeting loudly to announce the new arrival to the rest of the herd. The new mother then made straight for the herd to introduce them to its newest member.

These touching family dynamics are testament to the familial nature of the elephant herd.

Wednesday 27th October

Today we encountered a twisted tale of dominance, territorial control, and sheer power when we found male leopard tracks at the Emsagwen waterhole. We worked our way around the waterhole to find the big male that had left the tracks. He was nowhere to be seen. A little while later we discovered the full-bellied Emsagwen male leopard on the water’s edge, where he was resting in the early evening shadows. He went down to drink, and then roared loudly to inform everyone of his dominance.

With his ‘chores’ done, he moved east out of the Matshipiri River and along a game trail. Before long he arrived at the large adult female kudu he’d killed earlier. He promptly plopped down next to it and settled in for the night.

Thursday 28th October

When we followed up this morning there was a surprise waiting for us. During the night three hyenas had stolen the Emsagwen male leopard’s kill. But instead of moving off, he was still lying close by. As was the Matshipiri female leopard, although she wasn’t there for the food. It was obvious from her flirtatious behaviour that she was looking to mate. And she was clearly in an extremely persistent mood. The Emsagwen male mated several times, but with visible effort after much hissing, snarling and complaining.

At the same time we found the four Manyelethi male lions with two of the Styx lionesses. Three of the males were fast asleep, but the fourth was mating with the older Styx female. And continued to do so throughout the day.

To be privy to mating cats is in itself a unique and rare opportunity, but to see both leopards and lions mating on the same drive is nothing short of amazing.

The Emsagwen male also continued mating with the Matshipiri female for the rest of the day.

Friday 29th October

Tamboti female leopard by Andrew Batchelor

This morning the smell of carrion alerted us to the possibility of a kill in the area. Driving in the Matshipiri River, it wasn’t long before we found the Tamboti female leopard pacing the river bank. When we looked up into a nearby Jackalberry tree, we were confronted by none other than the Emsagwen male leopard. He was crunching his way through the scant remains of an adult male impala that the Tamboti female must have killed several days earlier.

The young female couldn’t bring herself to leave the scene, and instead paced restlessly up and down past the tree while the big male gnawed on the dried skin of the kill.

The Tamboti female then proceeded to scent mark and rub herself all over the ground around the base of the tree. It was clear from her actions that she was torn between leaving the area and exploring a new sensation she had yet to identify.

Later that afternoon we discovered the pair in the Sand River near West Street Bridge. By then the female had found a way to express her new-found urges. She alternated between rubbing her way up and down the flanks of the snarling male, and then lying down in front of him. When he didn’t react she backed into him, but still received nothing but aggression for her efforts.

Undeterred, she jus repeated the process. This went on for hours, but the male remained steadfast in his refusal to mate with her, each time rebuffing her advances with viscous snarls and teeth bared.

The Emsagwen male must have known instinctively that the Tamboti female wasn’t yet ready to mate. It might be that she’s coming into heat for the very first time, and doesn’t quite know what to do. The male obviously picked up on that, and refused to mate with her as he knew it wouldn’t result in pregnancy.

The final chapter in a very interesting three days was when we found the Emsagwen male in the Matshipiri River (upstream from Emsagwen waterhole) mating with the Matshipiri female.

Knowing that she was wasting his time, he must have finally gotten rid of the Tamboti female sometime during the night. And then sensing an opportunity, the Matshipiri female had come “a callin'”.

The pair mated throughout the day and well into the evening. This just goes to show what a dominant force the Emsagwen male has become in MalaMala’s leopard society, as he is clearly in demand with the ladies.

Sadly, we end this week’s cyber diary on a slightly sombre note.

We found four members of the Marthly lion pride – two of the adult females, one sub-adult male and one sub-adult female – in the Sand River at Elephant Rock lookout. The two adults were well fed and in fantastic condition, but the two sub-adults didn’t look good at all. They were both skeletally thin, and from the look of things had recently suffered an attack of sorts.

The male didn’t look too bad, but the female’s tail had been bitten off.

There was only a stump of about 6 inches long left, stripped bare of the skin and still raw. This pride has come under massive pressure from the Manyelethi male lions of late. And to see these youngsters killed off would be a great tragedy, as well as a huge blow to their pride.

Let’s hope this young female survives both her wounds and the Manyelethi males deadly intentions.

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

Until next time,

The MalaMala Ranger Team.

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