CyberDiary – Lions (13 Dec-2 Jan)

Styx female 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!

The Styx pride decided to stay home this festive season, which meant we were treated to frequent sightings of these old stalwarts throughout December.

Sunday 11th

When we found them this morning they had finished off their buffalo kill, and were in the process of heading into Wild Dog Rocks open area. The Manyelethi males – who were lying close by – saw an opportunity and moved into the area of the buffalo kill, but all they found was a cleanly picked carcass and a bunch of happy vultures. Fortunately for the young Styx male, the Manyelethi gang decided to take a breather near the kill instead of pursuing the pride.

The following week the lions went into hiding, and we were afforded only the occasional single sighting around the Mlowathi.

Sunday 19th

The lull ended today when we discovered five members of the Eyrefield pride sleeping in the long grass around Rattray’s Camp. We heard reports that the Manyelethi males had attacked the pride during the night, sending them scattering in all directions. Two of the young cubs had allegedly been killed, and the adopted male was nowhere to be found. The following morning the Manyelethi foursome was on the airstrip looking well fed, with dried blood on their manes. Later on we confirmed earlier reports when we found the bodies of both cubs. There was still no sign of the adopted male however.

Two days later we discovered another three members of the Eyrefield pride on central Flockfield. Now the only missing members were the two separated adult females, the one remaining cub, and the adopted male. On the same day we also spotted a lioness lying up on a large rock, just under the crest of Stwise Koppie. Almost immediately rumors began flying around that she was about to give birth. Speculation grew when we found her in the same place the following morning.

Friday 24th

More surprises lay in store for us. We found the two lionesses from the Kruger National Park – along with their four cubs – tucking into an adult male kudu kill close to the Matshipiri River. The one female was quite relaxed and happy to pose for pictures, but the mother of the cubs was not feeling nearly as amiable and charged the vehicles a number of times. Her cubs decided to err on the side of caution, and hid nearby in the long grass. We decided to close the sighting early so as not to exacerbate the lioness’s already tetchy mood.

Christmas day was quiet (evidently even lions have family commitments).

Sunday 26th

Eyrefield sub-adult female by Kurt Bertels

Today saw the return of five members of the Eyrefield pride. The two sub-adult males and three sub-adult females spent the day sleeping, and only got active just after dark. They spotted a large waterbuck bull and immediately flanked around. The youngsters exercised admirable patience, and only charged once they’d closed in on their prey. But the bull spotted the trap and charged off, leaving the thwarted sub-adults to regroup and commiserate over their lost opportunity.

The next morning the four females from the Styx pride were at Mlowathi Dam. As the sun set they made several unsuccessful attempts at hunting the numerous herds of impala in the open areas around the dam. In the end their vain efforts left them exhausted, so they gave up and went back to sleep.

Tuesday 28th

We were watching two cheetahs – each on its own baby impala kill – when the youngest adult female of the Styx pride came rushing out from behind the bushes. She charged straight at the cheetahs, leaving the pair with no option but to abandon their meals and flee over the ridge line. The lioness then wasted no time in devouring her booty.

That evening we found the five members of the Eyrefield pride at the airstrip. By then the youngsters had been joined by one of the adult females, and all of them were actively hunting impala. Unfortunately youth and inexperience yet again led to empty stomachs.

Thursday 30th

We were treated to three different lion sightings today. We found the six Eyrefield pride members at the airstrip again. The two Kruger National Park females and their four cubs were also out and about. But the sighting of the day was without a doubt when we found the two Marthly lionesses in the Manyelethi River, just south of Stwise Koppie. One of the females looked heavily pregnant, and the other had suckle marks.

Our suspicions were on the money. She had given birth, and judging by the tracks in the area the cubs were still in the vicinity.

The pair headed to the river, searching for dinner en route. A herd of impala provided the perfect opportunity, and the lionesses jumped at the chance. They stalked in as close as possible, but at the last minute one of them was spotted and the herd fled in panic. The two females regrouped to strategise, and then went looking for another opportunity.

Friday 31st

We set off to find the two Marthly females to see if they had been successful during the night. Heading around to Stwise Koppie, we spotted the pair on a large rocky outcrop. They weren’t in the slightest bit interested in our approaching vehicle however, as they had their eyes firmly fixed on a nearby Nyala bull. The lionesses slunk off the rocks in order to flank around the Nyala and trap it between them and the base of the rocks.

A classic case of ‘between a rock and a hard place’. Or so they hoped.

One of the females charged in, but the the wily Nyala managed to turn smartly and avoid the trap. It quickly bolted back the way it had come, leaving the lions to rue their second missed opportunity.

We went back to the rocks later that afternoon to see if we could find the lionesses. And much to everyone’s surprise – and absolute delight – two tiny heads popped over the lip of the rocks. They watched us in fascination, while we stared back in silent awe.

What unfolded was the kind of sighting that is often hoped for, but rarely seen.

Two tiny cubs – about three weeks old – playing around the adults without a care in the world. They jostled and chased each other over the rocks, until they finally wore themselves out. After which they promptly fell fast asleep at their mother’s feet.

What a superb note on which to the end the year!

Manyelethi male by Andrew Batchelor

The last lion sighting for 2010 occurred just after dark. We left the new lion cubs to themselves and went to see what else we could find before returning to camp to ring in the new year.

The light was just beginning to fade as we passed by the hostile hippos at Mlowathi Dam. We spotted a flash of gold turning in the grass, and suddenly a mane came into view. Followed by another. And then another.

As we rounded the last bush we found the four Manyelethi males lying with two of the Styx females. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the sub-adult female from the Styx pride popped up behind the vehicle as well.

She was about to run over and greet her fellow pride members when she spotted the males and quickly sank down – nervous and unsure – into the long grass. When the six adults got active, the two females led the way towards a massive herd of impala. The sub-adult joined up with the two females, and the trio then spread out to hunt the impala with intent.

The Manyelethi males caught sight of the young female and went to have a closer look. She in turn saw them coming and jogged off, looping around to the very far end of the open area. From this vantage point the youngster kept a cautious eye on the males as they tried to find her.

Meanwhile one of the Styx adults had moved into an ambush position, and was waiting for an opportunity to pounce. The Manyelethi males caught sight of the young female again, and wandered over to inspect her more closely. She jogged off again, this time in the direction of the impala. At the sight of the young lioness approaching, the herd quickly split up. Some unsuspecting members ran straight to where the other female was lying in wait.

The males then approached the sub-adult female for a third time. As she moved away, she unwittingly coerced the impala even closer to the adult female lying in the long grass. Without warning the female erupted from the grass and charged the herd. One impala was so intent on escaping that it very nearly collided with a Leadwood tree. It only just managed to avoid the tree, and stopped for a moment to get its bearings. One of the Manyelethi males noticed the stationary impala and charged after it. The adult lioness also spotted the buck and came in from the opposite direction. The impala saw the female lion first and took off in the direction of the Manyelethi male. It then saw the male, jinxed left, and sailed through the gap left by the lumbering male.

The Blue Bulls would have been proud!

With the impala gone, the lions were all standing to attention. The Manyelthi four were undecided as to whether they should chase after the sub-adult female, or hang around just in case their was still a chance of a meal. Likewise, the two females stood at the ready. Poised to take off and protect the sub-adult female should the need arise, or once again try their luck at the milling herds of impala.

And so ended 2010 for the lions of MalaMala.

Saturday 1st

The new year kicked off with a bang when we spotted one of the Manyelethi males on the causeway from camp. As we drove around we picked up audio of other lions in the reed beds. Further investigation revealed another of the Manyelethi males with one of the Styx lionesses.

And low and behold, the two of them were “getting to know each other”!

The single male watched from the causeway as the mating pair crossed the river and headed towards the old airstrip. The mating frequency was short, and everyone was treated to a spectacle in the drizzly weather.

While watching the single male, we were surprised by another male that came marching past from behind. This unexpected visitor caused some momentary seat levitation, and left everyone wide-eyed and bushy-tailed!

He joined the single male and the pair slept away the day together. That evening the two males split, while the third mating male gave us an audio display that had even the most nonchalant of guests sitting on the edge of their seats.

The three males were spread around the camp, and continued to call from their various positions throughout the night. Not to be outdone, Mother Nature added her own magnificent display of lightning bolts and thunder claps.

Sunday 2nd

We went in search of the mating pair and found them back in the river, and still mating. As the evening wore on the “love birds” moved west out of the river and onto the old airstrip, where they ran into a herd of impala. Inch by careful inch, the female stalked through the grass to get closer to the impala. But the herd was on full alert, so she just wasn’t able to close the gap.

We then spotted two porcupines being investigated by a hyena. Some of us decided to leave the lion sighting to see what was transpiring with the porcupines, and just as we did the lioness decided to charge in. This sent the impala scattering in all directions, although in the ensuing chaos she did manage to catch a baby impala.

Afraid that the male was going to steal her kill, she wasted no time at all in running off with her hard-earned catch. She needn’t have worried though, because he had run off in the opposite direction as soon as the action started.

We went in search of the male and found him hunched over a knocked over Acacia tree with a baby impala of his own firmly clasped in his jaws. The lions ate separately , and then continued to mate.

Wow, talk about an action packed start to the new year!

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

You can view the rest of the week’s photos on Facebook or Flikr . Click 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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