CyberDiary – 30 January 2011

MalaMala Game Reserve - Manyelethi male lions

Manyelethi male lions by Andrew Batchelor

It was definitely an interesting week with plenty of lion sightings. We finally saw the adopted male from the Marthly pride again. The Manyelethi males disturbed a slumbering hippo, although they managed to leave the area before things got messy. The Kikilezi female leopard’s cub tried her luck at hunting. Sadly, the Eyrefield pride lost one of its young males to injuries sustained by a failed buffalo hunt. And Friday turned out to be cheetah day here at MalaMala, with a grand total of six being spotted in one day.

If numbers make you giddy with excitement, this is how many times we saw each of the following animals over the past week: lion – 19; leopard – 14; elephant – 23; rhino – 12; buffalo – 11; wild dog – 0; cheetah – 4.

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 24th

We had our first interesting sighting of the week this morning, when we found six members – five young sub-adults and the adopted male from the Marthly pride – of the Eyrefield pride of lions on the western boundary at Princess Alice pans. This is the first confirmed sighting we’ve had of the young male since the Manyelethi males attacked the pride in December. So we were relieved to see that he was in perfect health, as was the rest of the group.

This portion of the pride usually has nine members, so it was with great sadness that we received reports that one of the young males had been badly wounded by a buffalo, in a failed hunting attempt. It appears that he has since succumbed to his injures, which leaves only two males in the sub-adult group.

The six members got active in the early evening, and strolled down the boundary until they spotted a herd of wildebeest. The lions quickly spread out and began stalking, and it didn’t take them long to get into position and charge. The wildebeest spilt up and ran in all directions, but once the chaos had died down again we saw that the pride hadn’t managed to catch anything.

They regrouped and tried again, but by then the wildebeest had moved west off the boundary. When the pride attacked again, the herd just ran further west. After the second failed attempt the lions regrouped and waited for sunset, before following the wildebeest. We left them with the hope that their fortunes would change during the night.

Tuesday 25th

At sunset we spotted the Kikilezi female leopard’s cub milling about Piccadilly Pans. She was alone, and had obviously grown bored of waiting for her mom to return. A herd of impala in the short grass offered an excellent hunting opportunity, and she set about stalking them. The impala spotted her from about fifty meters out, and snorted indignantly. The young leopard retreated in defeat, while the herd just stood idly by and watched.

Much later that night we found the Kikilezi female at West Street bridge. She  was looking agitated, and when the Emsagwen male popped into view we realised why. The two leopards met up briefly, before the female disappeared into the river. The Emsagwen male scent marked against the bridge pillar, and then strolled east away from the river.

The next morning we went in search of the mother and daughter pair, and it wasn’t long before we found female leopard tracks. They led us south towards West Street bridge, where drag marks provided us with our next clue in locating the leopards. Shortly after that Vervet monkeys started alarm calling in the area. We followed the drag marks into a thicket, and found the Kikilezi female resting close by in some long grass.

She must have made a kill during the night and then gone to fetch her cub, who was in the thicket feeding on an impala. Unfortunately the Kikilezi female had chosen the perfect hiding place for their meal, which meant we couldn’t get a decent visual once the pair had disappeared into it. They fed throughout the day, and by nightfall had yet to tree the kill. The following morning the leopards were gone.

Thursday 27th

This morning we found three of the Manyelethi male lions resting on the road close to Campbell Koppies. A bull elephant wandered into the area, and the three brothers took it as their cue to move along. The trio headed south, and soon came to the area where the Styx pride had been sleeping the day before. After picking up the the Styx lions’ scent, the males continued south at a brisk pace.

The trail went cold at Giraffe Bones, just north of West Street bridge.

The Manyelethi males prowled the bushes right up to the water course, but their search came up empty. Then from the opposite bank came a soft call, followed by a half-hearted roar, and then more soft calls. The males listened intently, before moving to the water’s edge to find a place to cross the river. They disappeared from sight, but we could hear their splashing from the bank. Suddenly there was a loud grunt, followed by a short, sharp growl and some commotion amongst the reeds.

We were worried that the males might have caught a lion, but as we couldn’t see anything so all we could do was watch and wait. The Manyelethi males then moved further south down the river bank, but by then their pace had quickened and they looked agitated. Bursting through the long grass, the three came back to the eastern bank looking severely bothered. They kept staring at the river, but didn’t dare venture close to it again. Instead they grouped up and fell asleep in the open, beneath a cloudy sky.

We tried to find out what had caused the noise, as well as the subsequent retreat of the males. But all we could get was a glimpse of crashing bushes, which couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than a hippo. The lions must have tried to cross the river and walked into the sleeping hippo, who was none too happy at being woken, and let them know as much.

That night we came across the Styx lion pride on our way back to camp. They were moving out of the river just opposite to where we’d seen the Manyelethi males earlier. For some reason they had called out to the brothers in the morning, whether in an attempt to make peace, or merely to taunt them, we’ll never know.

The pride – consisting of the two oldest lionesses and the two sub-adults – emerged onto the airstrip and spotted the herds of impala milling about. As they closed in on their prey, they split up in an attempt to flank around the herds. Unfortunately the strong breeze kept blowing their scent towards the buck long before they could get into position.

Finally two of the lions managed to outflank one of the herds. They quickly took advantage of the situation, and stalked towards them. Youth and inexperience saw the sub-adult female run in far too early, which resulted in the impala scattering left, right and centre.

The remaining two lions then moved west to stalk another herd of impala. While the pride members were repositioning themselves, a female impala decided that she was in the wrong place and ran right through the gathering lions in a bid to reach the west end of the airstrip.

MalaMala Game Reserve - Styx pride on impala kill

Styx pride of lions by Andrew Batchelor

The young female was the first to spot the approaching impala ewe, and wasted no time at all in pouncing.

She caught the unsuspecting buck right in the middle of the tarmac, and quickly brought it down. Within seconds she’d dispatched it with a practiced bite to the throat. The rest of the pride was quick to respond, and before long all four members were feasting on the impala.

Fifteen minutes later there was nothing to show for the kill, bar the bloodstain on the runway.

Wednesday 26th

This morning a squad member called in some lions close to the airstrip, and when we responded we got quite a shock. We found four members of the Styx pride, and lying close was by, the Manyelethi male with the missing fur on his nose.

He was staring at the young sub-adult male with murderous intent.

The pride and the male moved north, and came to rest on our firebreak around camp. The two sub-adults were directly on the firebreak, while the Manyelethi male was lying about ten meters away. His gaze still firmly fixed on the young Styx male. The two sub-adults seemed fairly relaxed, although they kept flicking cautious glances at the dominant male.

The Manyelethi male sank into the long grass, and continued staring at the sub-adults. In the meantime the two adult females had positioned themselves squarely between the sub-adults and the large male, ready to intervene if necessary.

The day was already baking, so we all returned to camp for breakfast. Leaving the two lion parties to their tense stand-off.

In the afternoon we went back to see what had happened. We arrived back at the firebreak to find all the lions gone. We drove around the area for a while, but our efforts turned up nothing. We searched high and low though the bush, but couldn’t find any clues as to what had happened and where everyone had gone.

It was just after dark when we finally spotted the oldest Styx female heading towards the causeway with the sub-adult female. They seemed relaxed and without injury, but there was no sign of the other two Styx lions or the bullying Manyelethi male. The female pair crossed the river and headed into Piccadilly, where they came across the ever present impala herds. With a skillful touch the sub-adult female flanked around and ran in on the impala. Two lucky guests then got to witness two kills in two nights, as the old lioness caught a baby impala. The impala was split across the middle, with both lions getting a decent meal.

Friday 28th

Today was cheetah day.

We spotted six different cheetahs on the property throughout the day. First we found the mother and daughter pair – lean and on the hunt – at Wild Dog Rocks open area. They  moved north towards Matshipiri Dam, and then came to rest in some shade after finding no hunting opportunities. When we left the two of them they were crossing the Matshipiri River, still in search of a meal.

That afternoon we went to follow up on the mother and daughter, but instead found the four cheetah brothers at Clarendon Dam. They were all sleeping in the shade of a Quarry bush, and looking very relaxed. As the sun started to set, the foursome got active and slowly moved east in the golden light. This provided some amazing photo opportunities for everyone.

Saturday 29th

MalaMala Game Reserve - Mother and daughter cheetah pair
Mother and daughter cheetah pair by Andrew Batchelor

The next morning we went in search of the four cheetahs, and it was with some luck that we spotted one of them on a termite mound on the Kruger National Park break at Clarendon Corner.

We did a quick scan of the area, but couldn’t find any trace of the other three. The single male then climbed down the termite mound and started calling frantically, as he jogged along in search of the others. A response came from the dam, and we soon found another cheetah there.

The two then split up again in order to find the remaining two brothers. Becoming increasingly desperate, the cheetahs searched the entire open area for the missing pair. After receiving no response the two males then reunited, and began searching the open area again. A sinking feeling came over everybody at the sighting, as the thought that the two missing brothers had been killed started to seem like a very real possibility.  There were no tracks of bigger predators in the area, however, but neither was there any sign of the two missing cheetahs.

A ranger on his way back to camp eventually came across the two missing brothers a couple of kilometers from the other two. They were very relaxed, and slowly making their way north to where their brothers were looking for them. The heat of the day got the better of them though, and they decided to stop for a rest in the shade of an Apple-Leaf tree for a few hours.

The story finally ended on a happy note, with the four of them reuniting later that afternoon. The most likely explanation for their sudden disappearance is hormones. The day before the two female cheetahs had been close by, and during the early hours of Saturday morning must have come across the four males. Two of the brothers most likely gave chase, with the intent of mating. And for some reason, the other two got left behind. The two amorous males were probably unsuccessful at locating the females again, and had taken the scenic route back to their brothers, oblivious to the consternation their disappearance had caused.

All’s well that ends well.

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 the 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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