CyberDiary – 20 February 2011

MalaMala Game Reserve - Bicycle Crossing male leopard

Bicycle Crossing male leopard by Matthew Tatham

It was definitely “Cat Week” here at MalaMala this week. We saw the return of an old leopard friend. Cheetah sightings were prolific. One of the Manyelethi males was mating with a Marthly lioness. The two Kruger National Park lionesses bagged themselves a young impala. And top it all off, three members of the Styx pride gave guests a walk-by during dinner.

If numbers make you giddy with anticipation, then this section is especially for you. We saw each of the following animals this many times during the past week: lion – 16; leopard – 8; elephant – 19; rhino – 14; buffalo – 9; wild dog – 1; 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!

The Bicycle Crossing male leopard

Sunday morning brought with it an extremely pleasant surprise, when we saw the Bicycle Crossing male for the first time since the 16th of January. We spent the entire morning tracking him north on the western bank of the Sand River, up to West Street Bridge, and then a long way south on the eastern bank. We eventually found him lazing in a large Jackalberry tree, gazing out on the already warm African morning.

It looked like he might have had a minor lesion on his left foreleg, as he spent a fair amount of time tending to the area.

When we found him later in the afternoon, he was asleep in the grass after after having continued along his southerly course. We saw him again a week later at West Street Bridge, where he went down to the river to quench his thirst before moving south along the eastern bank of the Sand River.

Manyelethi male lions and Marthly lioness

On Sunday evening we found one of the Manyelethi males with a lioness from the Marthly pride. The pair mated briefly, and then offered onlookers a powerful display by roaring in unison. The call was immediately answered, and within the hour the other two Manyelethi males – who were a few hundred meters further along River Road Mvubu, around Paraffin Drift – had joined the mating couple.

Kruger National Park lionesses

MalaMala Game Reserve -Kruger National Park Lionesses

Kruger National Park lionesses and cubs by Rob Kenmuir

We saw the two Kruger National Park lionesses no fewer than five times this week, and only on one of those occasions were they without their cubs. Tuesday evening was that one time, and the sole purpose for this was to hunt. One of the rangers and his guests were fortunate enough to find themselves with front row seats at the event.

The whole thing happened fairly quickly.

The ranger in question spotted the two lionesses on the track leading towards the Mlowathi cocktail spot, while admiring the females it soon became apparent to him that they were very interested in something to the south of the road. Not wanting to disadvantage either party, he turned the spotlight off and left it up to the soft moon to shed some light on the matter.

In a flash the lionesses crossed over the road, their sights set on a young kudu that was in the long grass not too far away. With their combined skill and experience, the  buck didn’t stand a chance and was quickly brought to the ground.

When lions feed there is no love lost, and tensions can rise quickly at the “dinner table”. With it being quite a small kudu the feeding activity was fiercer than usual, with each lioness trying to consume as much as possible. The meal was over in a relatively short space of time, and afterwards the females settled down to groom one another. Reassuring each other of the powerful bond they share.

Female cheetah with sub-adult female cub

MalaMala Game Reserve - Cheetah

Cheetah by Kurt Bertels

It turned out to be an exceptional week of cheetah sightings, as the adult female and her sub-adult offspring graced us with their presence on five out of seven days.

On Monday we spotted them on the track to the Mlowathi cocktail spot. The mother and daughter pair did not look particularly well fed, so everyone was hoping to witness some hunting activity. Unfortunately our expectations weren’t realised, as the cheetahs decided to save their energy for another day.

The next morning we set off early to see if could relocate them. The pair was still on the track to the Mlowathi cocktail Spot, and finishing off the remains of a young male impala. They must have been made the kill earlier in the morning, as there wasn’t much left of it by the time we got there.

Once they’d finished feeding the females settled in the shade of a Gwarrie tree, where they spent the the morning resting while their meal digested. Later that evening they moved further south. We then continued to see them throughout the week, most notably around Piccadilly Triangle where they hunted impala on at least three occasions, although all without success.

Cape hunting dog

We enjoyed one very brief sighting of a Cape hunting dog on Tuesday, but when we went back to follow up in the afternoon it was nowhere to be found.

Manyelethi male lions

MalaMala Game Reserve - Male lion

Manyelethi male lion by Rob Kenmuir

The four Manyelethi males were seen frequently during the week, and we suspect their strong presence is due to the young male lions hanging around the windmill last week. The Manyelethi males are most probably flexing their muscles to ensure that the newcomers don’t venture too far into their territory.

The Manyelethi males definitely got around this week, as we saw them all over the reserve. The first time we came across the brothers together was on Wednesday, when they were spotted on the eastern side of the Sand River, midway between Rattrays and Main Camp.

Tracks indicated that three of them had come from the south, while the other one had arrived from the west. Once they’d regrouped they began moving slowly north. An interesting development is that the four males were in relatively close proximity to the Kruger National Park lionesses and their cubs, who seem to be following a similar route to these dominant males.

Styx lion pride

These lions were found close to camp on three separate occasions. On Sunday everyone was enjoying dinner, when a male and two females wandered around to the south and west of the camp.

On Friday three members of the Styx pride took an interest in a small herd of wildebeest that was taking refuge on the grass between Main Camp and the Sand River. The wildebeest, however, were more than equal to the threat posed by the lions, and moved off unperturbed. The dejected looking lions then headed into the Sand River, no doubt to commiserate their missed opportunity in private.

The most recent incident involving this pride occurred on the flood plain in front of Sable Camp on Saturday. During dinner one of the Styx lionesses chased a small herd of impala northwards. The impala managed to escape, and the lioness had just accepted defeat when a small figure popped into her line of sight. Moving in an easterly direction, the visibly confused impala lamb headed directly towards the lioness. Only once it was too late did the buck realise the hot water it had landed itself in. It quickly turned on its heels and ran. The lioness was so taken aback by the incident that she just moved off without giving chase.

Clearly it’s not just cats that have nine lives!

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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