CyberDiary – 12 December 2010

Styx lioness stuck in tree by Andrew Batchelor

The rain stopped and started continuously this past week, which played havoc with the game viewing. None the less, we still enjoyed a number of unique sightings. A lioness got herself well and truly stuck in a tree, a leopard had his impala kill stolen, and we heard the majestic roars of four male lions belted out across the property. Towards the end of the week the weather finally cleared up, and the animals came back in their droves. This means it’s going to be another action packed week here at MalaMala.

For those of you who like to tally up the sightings, this is the number of times we saw each of the following animals over the past week: lion – 10; leopard – 14; elephant – 23; rhino – 20; buffalo – 13; wild dog – 1; cheetah – 0.

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

Enjoy!

The week kicked off with a bang when we found the Matshipiri female leopard and her adult son meandering along Emsagwen. Mother looked a little on the lean side, while son appeared fat and content. The pair ambled through the bushes, crossing back and forth over the firebreak.

After a while the younger leopard stopped to rest in the shade of a termite mound. His mother called for while, but eventually gave up and moved southwards on her own. She arrived at a smaller termite mound in the middle of the bush, on top of which lay the still fully intact remains of an adult female steenbok. She fed for a bit, but soon lost interest and fell asleep next to the carcass.

When we returned to the area in the afternoon, we found the Matshipiri female back where she’d left her son that morning. The steenbok kill was still at the other termite mound, but the young male was nowhere to be seen.

Then we heard that a ranger tracking down some lions had found a male lion, a male leopard, and a male impala carcass. All in the same tree!

Radio activity went into overdrive as we all tried to find out where this amazing sighting was. Eventually things calmed down again, and we decided which of us would be next to view the scene (MalaMala practices a very strict policy in regards to the number of vehicles permitted per sighting). The male lion turned out to be the youngster from the Styx pride. He had chased the son of the Matshipiri female up a large Marula tree, and appropriated the remains of the leopard’s kill.

The two youngsters eyed each other suspiciously.

The lion then set about devouring what was left of the impala, while the leopard shifted uneasily in the tree. The lion moved off as soon as he was finished eating, but only once he was far enough away did the leopard dare make his exit. He crept down to the lower branches, cast a furtive glance in the direction of the retreating lion and plopped down to the ground. After taking a quick sniff around, he moved casually off in the opposite direction.

Just then one of the adult females from the Styx pride of lions emerged from the Bush Willows. She immediately went to the Marula tree and searched around the base, while occasionally throwing piercing stares at the top branches of the tree. Finding nothing, she jogged off in the same direction as the young leopard. She followed the scent trail until she came to a termite mound. Upon cresting it, she found – much to her surprise – the son of the Matshipiri female lounging on the other side.

The cats noticed each other at the same time, and the lioness immediately went on the attack. Fortunately for the leopard she hadn’t quite reached the top of the mound, so in the time it took for her to jump the last few feet, the leopard managed to leap backwards and avoid her sharp claws.

The leopard let out a frightful growl and darted up a nearby Apple Leaf tree, with the determined lioness hot on his heels. The Matshipiri female’s son literally sprinted up the slightly angled tree, clinging to its uppermost branches, and no doubt praying fervently that the lioness wouldn’t follow. As it happened the lioness couldn’t climb the small tree, so she turned on her heel and went back to the original Marula tree.

With the fresh scent of blood on the tree, it didn’t take her long to come to a decision. Up she went, and almost immediately found herself in hot water.

Styx lioness stuck in tree by Andrew Batchelor

In the meantime the Matshipiri female leopard was still lying unperturbed on her termite mound. That is until the other three members of the Styx pride came strolling down the road. She was lucky enough to have spotted them from a distance, and quickly bolted up a nearby Marula tree.

The three `eagle-eyed’ Styx females noticed the sudden movement, and jogged in the direction of the tree harbouring the female leopard. They sniffed around the base, while casting suspicious glances into the canopy above. Finding nothing of interest, they moved off almost immediately, allowing the Matshipiri female the opportunity to leave the area unharmed.

In the meantime our aspirant climber – the Styx female – was now well and truly stuck in the tree. She couldn’t climb high enough to locate the young leopard, and nor could she retrace her steps back down to terra firma. With all the effort it took to climb the tree, she was now out of breath, as well as options. At this point the young male lion returned, and watched her predicament from the comfort of a nearby termite mound.

The lioness finally caught her breath and made yet another attempt to descend the tree. She tried in vain to find some grip, but the wet branches offered nothing. The now desperate female tried to lean out and reach one of the tree’s larger limbs, but it was too far away. Eventually she settled on just going straight down. Her first hurdle was turning around without falling, a feat she managed admirably. She was making good progress until she lost what little footing she had.

Down she slid into one of the tree’s lower limbs, breaking the fall with her head. At the last minute she managed to spin around and catch hold of the branch. From there it was just a few short feet before she was back on the ground again. We all gasped in horror at the impact with which her head connected with the branch, as it looked like she might have broken her neck. We waited with baited breath to see if she was okay, and let out a collective sigh of relief when she stood up and walked off.

Thursday 9th December

Tamboti female leopard with rhino by Andrew Batchelor

We found the Bicycle Crossing male leopard lying on West Street Bridge early in the morning. He was sleeping off a full belly and was not at all interested in moving. When the day started heating up the large male roused himself just long enough to move into the shade of a Jackalberry tree. There he continued his slumber, completely oblivious to the passing hours and vehicles coming and going in the area.

We went back later to check up on him, but he was still fast asleep. While there, a rasping cough alerted us to the presence of another leopard. The Bicycle Crossing male woke up and traipsed off in search of the intruder that had interrupted his nap.

Not five minutes later we found the Tamboti female leopard fast asleep in the exact same place that the Bicycle Crossing male had just vacated. We wondered if it had been her calling earlier, in a ploy to lure him away and steal his comfy sleeping spot?

The young female got active later that afternoon. After first being chased off by a crash of rhino, she set out to hunt a herd of impala. The herd had gathered close to the bridge and out in the open, but this didn’t deter the hungry leopard. Using one of our vehicles for cover, she moved in behind a Guarry bush.

At thirty meters out she made her move. Half the herd – including the lambs – made a run for it, while the other half circled around to watch the leopard as she ran in from what seemed like light years away. Unconcerned, the impala females easily warded off the leopard with their snorting accusations.

The leopard did a quick search through the shrubs just in case any of the lambs were hiding in them, before finally heeding the impalas’ impatient alarm calls to leave.

Friday 10th December

We tracked down the four Manyelethi male lions after we heard roaring in the vicinity of the Emsagwen fire break. They all looked fat and healthy.

Just across the Mathlabitini Donga to their north, we found the Styx pride of lions with a freshly killed female buffalo. One of the adult females was missing, but the rest of the pride members were all lazing around the carcass with full bellies.

We expected fireworks for sure. There was no way the Manyelethi males would not get wind of the Styx pride and their buffalo kill. But as it turned out, we were wrong.

Saturday 11th December

We found the males with fat stomachs, and lying even closer to the Styx pride’s buffalo carcass. Even so, they were still totally unaware of it. It was only on the evening of the second day that the males happened upon the `picked clean’ skeleton of the buffalo carcass. But by then the Styx pride had long since abandoned it to the vultures.

The last mention of the week again goes to the African hunting dogs.

We saw them only briefly in the fading light, just as they were setting out to hunt on the airstrip. Because they are diurnal animals, we restrict viewing of these magnificent creatures to daylight hours only. We never use spotlights on them. The pack is still seven strong, and all members looked to be in fighting fit condition. We went back early the next morning, but they were nowhere to be found.

And that folks brings to a close another fantastic week at MalaMala.

You can view the rest of the 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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