CyberDiary – Leopards (13 Dec-2 Jan)

Leopard by Kurt Bertels

We’re going to do things a little differently for the period of December. It’s going to keep you in suspense, but it will also ensure you have reading material for the remainder of the week. Skipping two plus weeks of CyberDiaries has resulted in a fair amount of catching up. You can’t imagine (or maybe you can) everything that happened while we were on vacation!

So what we’ve decided to do is break it down into the following three categories: 1) lions, 2) leopards, 3) cheetahs, Cape hunting dogs and other interesting sightings.

Enjoy!

Leopard sightings started off slow in the second half of December, with only one leopard being found between the 11thand 13th.

Tuesday 14th

Ostrich Koppies female by Andrew Batchelor

Today brought with it a welcome surprise, when we spotted the Ostrich Koppies female with her two cubs. They were drinking from a pan just south of the northern boundary, and once finished the trio headed north. Prior to this we hadn’t seen the cubs in over a month, but even so, they were still very relaxed around the vehicle. The bolder of the two – the young male – even came closer to inspect the “strange object”. They eventually crossed north over the boundary, more than likely heading to a kill that the Ostrich Koppies female had stashed somewhere.

The following three days were also somewhat paltry in terms of sightings, with only one leopard per day being seen.

The second big surprise came when we found the son of the Dudley female up at Clarendon. He normally hangs around the Sand River and new airstrip, and in recent times there have been calls to give him a territorial name. Especially as he was seen mating with the female from the west.

But finding him four or five kilometers out of his normal range (after an absence of three weeks) confirms that he is still battling with the Emsagwen and Bicycle Crossing males for land. And unfortunately – for the time being anyway – he is just not dominant enough to hold is own with these older, and more dominant leopards.

We saw him again the next morning, but this time he was back at the river. And after that we didn’t see him again until the new year.

Sunday 19th

Dudley female and cub by Andrew Batchelor

We found the Dudley female’s cub just north of Rattray’s Camp. When we returned in the afternoon he was still in the same area, but looking a lot plumper. A brief search of the nearby trees soon revealed a male bushbuck carcass. And along with it the Dudley female, who was languishing in the long grass at the base of the Acacia tree. By then the pair had almost finished the carcass, and moved off it later that evening.

The young male is fast approaching independence, but just like his older brothers, he is quite low slung, and as a result still looks very young.

Tuesday 21st

Today was shrouded in a dark cloud of tragedy.

The morning started off on a quiet note, with three Styx lionesses being the only cats found. They were resting close to the Mwana Nonachemeni Donga. The day was already quite hot, so it didn’t look like they were going to do much more than lie in the shade.

A frantic kudu bark from the lip of the donga caught everyone’s attention, including the lazing lionesses. When the kudu barked again the lions’ interest piqued enough that they felt compelled to go over and investigate. They sniffed the air cautiously, searching for any sign of prey or predator. Finding none, they continued towards the donga.

Suddenly they broke into a full charge, aiming directly at a small bush.

One of the females crashed over the bush and pounced on a tiny leopard cub. At the same time two leopards went hurtling out the other side of the thicket.

All three lions descended on the leopard cub, biting and ripping at its tiny body. Once they were satisfied that it was dead, the Styx trio then went after the female and second cub. But by then the Ostrich Koppies female had managed to take her other cub some distance away, so the lionesses soon gave up the hunt. They then returned to the dead cub and shook it some more, just to make absolutely sure that it was dead.

The Ostrich Koppies female returned to the kill site a little later. She called softly for a while, but when she didn’t get an answer she moved away again. That afternoon we went back to the site and found the Ostrich Koppies female up a tree, with the three Styx lionesses at the base. There was no sign of the second cub, and when the leopard finally managed to escape we didn’t follow.

For the next four days we found the Ostrich Koppies female in the area calling for her dead cub. The second cub wasn’t seen at all during this time. All we can do now is hope that it’s still alive.

Wednesday 22nd

We found the Kikilezi female with her cub on a baby impala kill. Both leopards looked to be in fantastic condition, and have clearly been eating well. The young cub provided great entertainment for everyone as she repositioned the kill, proudly dragging it from tree to tree.

Gowrie male by Andrew Batchelor

For the next week, we had between two and four sightings of leopards everyday. Among those seen were the Flockfield female, Tamboti female, Gowrie male, Emsagwen male, Bicycle Crossing male, and female leopard from Sparta.

The viewing was exceptional, with many of them active and hunting. Unfortunately none of these attempts were successful.

Friday 31st

The last day of 2010 gifted us with one last spectacular sighting.

Guests were on the deck at Rattray’s Camp having tea, when they spotted a leopard moving through the reeds. Those of us already out in the bush followed up immediately.

After driving through the reeds for some time, we eventually found the Dudley female’s cub sleeping close to Flockfield Boma Crossing. Just as he stood up to move, we heard another leopard roaring close by.

This got his attention, and ours.

We went in search of the second leopard expecting to find the Dudley female, and instead discovered the Bicycle Crossing male drinking from a small pan not a hundred meters from his offspring. Once he’d finished drinking he moved north along the road. In the meantime the Dudley female’s youngster wandered through the long grass in search of the leopard he’d heard. When he spotted the Bicycle Crossing male on the road he walked towards him.

The Bicycle Crossing male turned and spotted the cub heading in his direction. He started moving slowly towards his cub, but then lay down some distance off. The young cub approached the big male slowly, sniffing around the area as he carefully inched his way closer.

Finally the youngster walked right up to the Bicycle Crossing male, and leant down to give him a head rub. The older leopard snarled, but accepted the greeting graciously enough. The interaction was peaceful, with the Bicycle Crossing male allowing his son to approach him several times. And with each approach the cub rubbed his head around his father’s belly.

After a while the Bicycle Crossing male got up and moved north along the road again. The young cub trailed behind for a short while, but soon lost interest and headed off along another trail.

A little while later we spotted the Dudley female nearby, and she was calling frantically for her cub. She had come from the west and was heading towards the river, calling and roaring as she went. The cub must have heard the call, because he popped out of the bushes right in front of his mother and gave her a welcome flick of the tail and long rub with his head. After the greeting was over the female led the cub north and then east into a Tamboti thicket, where she’d stashed the remains of a baby impala in the top branches.

The cub immediately attacked the kill, ripping large chunks of fur from the skin, before settling in to feed from the rump. A hyena soon showed up at the kill, but by then both leopards were secure in the Tamboti tree. The female then had her turn at feeding, while the cub descended the tree and went for a drink at a nearby puddle. Another two hyenas showed up, and their arrival sent the cub scrambling up the tree again. Meanwhile some rangers had followed the Bicycle Crossing male all the way to West Street bridge, where he stretched out to rest for a bit. A short while later – with the light fast fading – he got active again and moved west, away from the bridge and straight towards the area where the Dudley female and cub were.

The large male launched himself into the Tamboti tree and snatched the baby impala out from under his son’s nose. All the Dudley female could do was watch from the ground as the Bicycle Crossing male stole her cub’s dinner.

From being very loving just two hours earlier, the dominant male snarled and hissed his contempt at the cub, while at the same time trying his level best to stuff the entire impala down his throat in one go.

The hyenas came hurtling back to the base of the tree when they heard the commotion, and their sudden arrival sent the Dudley female scurrying up another tree. They then spent the next while trying to jump and climb up the tree in a bid to get at the elusive meal, but much to their disappointment the Bicycle Crossing male managed to keep his grip on it. And it wasn’t  long before he’d polished it off entirely.

Saturday 1st

On the first drive of 2011 we had already seen five leopards, when the Dudley female and cub, the Kikilezi female and cub, and the son of the Matshipiri female were also all spotted.

The Dudley female and cub moved west over the boundary, and once the son of the Matshipiri female had finished trying to kill a tortoise he too moved off into a thick drainage line.

The Kikilezi female and cub looked very nervous for most of the morning, as they were in very close proximity to the lions at the causeway. We suspect they had a kill stolen during the night, which no doubt added to their apprehension. In the afternoon they were still around, and looking a lot more relaxed as well. They moved south towards the Ngoboswan Donga, where we lost them chasing some baby impala into the donga. We’re not sure if they managed to catch anything, but with the Kikilezi female being the expert hunter that she is, chances are good that they did.

Still to follow: Cheetah.Cape hunting dog. And other interesting sightings.

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

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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