CyberDiary – 05 December 2010

Zebra foal by Ryan Driemeyer

We enjoyed some incredible sightings this past week. Two of the Styx lionesses bagged themselves an impala lamb, as did the Kikilezi female leopard (making it the second one she’s caught in two weeks!) Chaos ensued when the Cape hunting dogs came to blows with a pack of hyenas. And finally, we saw a Giant Kingfisher catch an exceptionally large fish. Exciting stuff.

For all you ‘train spotters’, this is the number of times we saw each of the following animals during the past week: lion – 5; leopard – 14; elephant – 37; rhino – 23; buffalo – 9; wild dog – 1; cheetah – 2.

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 29th November

Styx lioness by Donald MacCrimmon

We found two of the Styx lionesses dozing at Mlowathi Dam during the morning drive. They spent the day sleeping in the shade of some trees in order to avoid the hot African sun, which blazed down relentlessly. At dusk the pair finally roused themselves from their slumber. Looking visibly relieved when a cool breeze blew over them, they set off to Mlowathi Dam for a drink of water. After which they sank back down again to rest some more.

As darkness approached the impala ewes began calling their lambs in. This didn’t go unnoticed by the hungry lionesses, who had their ears fully attuned in the direction of the bleating. When the last bit of light faded from the sky, the pair stood up and stretched languidly.

They then set off with intent in the direction of the impalas. Padding silently through the bush, they came to an opening where they could see the herd. For a short while they just watched from the cover of the bush line, and then once they’d picked out their victim they burst through the cover and into the open area.

This immediately caused absolute pandemonium in the herd.

The females scattered in all directions, and the lambs tried as best they could to stay close to their mothers. After a short chase one of the lionesses hauled in a lamb with marked ease. The carcass was quickly ripped in two, allowing them each the opportunity to feed separately.

It wasn’t the biggest of lambs, so it only afforded the lionesses a few moments of eating pleasure. Before long they were up and on the hunt for their next meal. At this point we left them to themselves, and drove off with guests feeling a sense of awe and sadness in equal measure.

Tuesday 30th November

After last week’s exciting sighting of the Kikilezi female leopard catching an impala lamb, it came as something of a surprise to see her make another kill this week.

Sightings like this always come down to being in the right place at the right time.

About an hour before sunset we spotted her not too far from where we’d seen her make her last kill. We were driving along and just happened to look down an adjoining road …. had it not been for that cursory glance, we would have missed her completely. At first we thought it was a nervous, unidentified female, because as soon as she noticed us she disappeared into the thick bush on the verge of the road.

We assumed that that was the last we’d see of her, and were about to move on when a herd of impalas broke cover and leapt over the road just in front of us.

Their mission: to escape the deadly clutches of the Kikilezi female leopard.

She had more than likely already set her sights on a lamb from the moment she first saw the herd, which is why she started her run from quite far away. As the last adult impala ran past, a small lamb popped out onto the road. Up until this point we hadn’t seen the leopard since she’d first run off, but the minute the lamb appeared we saw a flash of spots.

The leopard’s aim was precise. Her front paws, combined with the weight of her body, crushed the lamb down onto the road. Within seconds her jaws had engulfed its neck and the base of its skull.

The impala lamb didn’t know what hit it!

The leopard barely took a moment to catch her breath before picking up her kill and walking off with her mouth clamped over its neck – legs dragging along on the ground. An impala ewe – most probably the mother – came running back, and snorted in vain at the leopard. Common sense prevailed, however, and she quickly ran off again.

By then we’d identified the leopard as the Kikilezi female, which meant her cub couldn’t be too far away. As we followed her through the dense Bush-willow thickets towards Poliwe Koppie, she began calling for her daughter. When she found a suitable spot, she stopped, and only then did she pause to catch her breath.

She continued calling, and within five minutes the boisterous youngster came running through the underbrush. She greeted her mother briefly, and then pounced onto the carcass and shook it about as if it was still alive. She soon tired of the game and joined up with Mom for a long drink at a nearby pool.

With their thirst satiated, the pair returned to the kill. The Kikilezi female lay down to rest first, but the hungry cub tucked in immediately.

It seems as though the Cape Hunting Dogs are teasing us!

It’s the third sighting we’ve had of these elusive predators in as many weeks. It’s as if they’ve decided that once a week is more than enough. They clearly don’t see the need to spoil us with more than that.

That said, nobody is complaining. Because prior to the past three weeks, the last time we saw them was all the way back in January.

This last sighting proved to be the most exciting of them all. A loitering hyena caught our attention, and we stopped to investigate further. When a nursery of impala lambs began making off in all different directions, we realised why he was hanging about. The hyena wasn’t quick enough to catch any of them, but it turned that this was only the precursor to the excitement that lay ahead.

The hyena led us directly to the pack of Cape hunting dogs feeding on an impala. More hyenas arrived in the area, distracting the dogs from their kill. They chased one of the hyenas down, closed in on the cowering animal and began taking bites out of it. By now even more hyenas had come along (a rough count put their numbers at around eighteen), and immediately set about devouring the abandoned kill.

The dust finally started settling just as darkness fell. We left the area amazed at the sighting we’d just witnessed. Here’s hoping that we’ll see even more of the dogs – and the chaos that often follows them – in the week ahead.

Wednesday 1st December

Giant Kingfisher by Matthew Tatham

A Giant Kingfisher sat staring intently into the water. Something had clearly caught his attention. His first dive proved unsuccessful, and he went in for a second attempt. This time he emerged from the waters with a rather large fish, one that seemed almost too big for a bird of his size.

The Kingfisher didn’t agree though, and seemed quite proud of his uncomfortably large catch. He spent a fair amount of time just sitting on a rock in the middle of the river, showing off his prize and catching his breath.

The question begged asking: How on earth was a bird of his stature going to eat such a big fish?

It wasn’t long before we had our answer. The Kingfisher went to work, smashing the fish against the rock he was sitting on. It was by no means a quick process, and it took him the better part of twenty minutes to ensure that the bony structure of the fish was pliable enough to swallow in one go.

His first attempt proved futile. So back to work he went, smacking the fish on the rock. Then – as if there was ever any doubt – the Kingfisher swallowed his prey headfirst. It looked like a very uncomfortable process, but a successful one none the less.

Having finally eaten his dinner, he set about cleaning his beak on the rock. This was followed by a few short dives into the water to aid the process. With belly full and beak clean, the Kingfisher then flew off into the evening.

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

Until next time,

The MalaMala Ranger Team.

PLEASE NOTE: Animals on MalaMala 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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