CyberDiary – 13 March 2011

MalaMala Game Reserve - Lion cub

Styx lion cub by Matthew Tatham

The week got off to a slow start, with not much more than sleeping lions and leopards to entertain us on Saturday and Sunday. From there on things got significantly more interesting however. We enjoyed a rare sighting of a caracal, saw leopards mating, and watched flabbergasted as the four cheetah brothers almost took on the Matshipiri female leopard. We also spent many happy hours with the new Styx pride additions. Just another week in the ‘office’.

For the ‘numberphiles’ among you, this is how many times we saw each of the following animals during the past week: lion – 9; leopard – 16; elephant – 38; rhino – 19; buffalo – 14; wild dog – 0; 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!

Tuesday 8th

MalaMala Game Reserve - Caracal

Caracal by Matthew Tatham

This afternoon we enjoyed a rare and magnificent sighting of a caracal during daylight hours. The relaxed cat strolled nonchalantly through the reed beds around the confluence of the Matshipiri and Sand Rivers, while we looked on in awe.

Wednesday 9th

We found two of the Styx lionesses and the sub-adult male with the four young cubs this morning. They spent the entire day at Senegal bush, with the little ones entertaining guests with their playful antics the whole time. The cubs are extremely relaxed in the presence of the one vehicle that we’re currently allowing at a sighting. This is no doubt because their mom has also relaxed down nicely. If they manage to survive, these cubs will have a bright future ahead of them. Let’s hope they do.

Thursday 10th

We found the Bicycle Crossing male and Shaw’s female leopards mating this evening. Unfortunately we had to leave soon after finding them, as we were already late in getting back to camp. The next morning we set out early to find them again. We arrived in the area where we’d seen them last to find tracks heading north.

Three highly animated hyenas at the base of a Transvaal saffron alerted us to the Bicycle Crossing male feeding on an impala kill high in its branches. A little while later the Shaw’s female was forced to seek refuge in a nearby tree after being harassed by the irate scavengers.

Although there was very little left of it, the impala kill was very fresh. It looked like the leopards had made the kill and then had it stolen by the hyenas. The Bicycle Crossing male had somehow gotten it back again, and was hastily finishing whatever meat was still on the ribs just in case he lost it again. The ever patient adult hyenas slept at the base of the tree, while the pack’s younger members remained vigilantly awake lest they miss out on any falling morsels. The carcass was strung across several branches, making it difficult for the leopard to keep it balanced and feed at the same time. He finally lost the battle with gravity, and the impala’s spine and head came tumbling down to earth. An alert young hyena snatched up the entire piece and made off with it, leaving behind five very surprised pack members trying to figure out what had just happened. The hyenas then slowly dispersed, allowing both leopards to safely descend the tree and start mating again.

The mating intervals were short, with the Bicycle Crossing male sometimes not even dismounting between rounds. When the pair moved into the shade, the Dudley female leopard scaled the tree and began feeding on a remaining leg.

The arrival of the female in the area was totally unexpected, but while the other two were well aware of her presence they weren’t in the slightest bit perturbed by it.

Amazingly, another ranger on his way to view the mating pair spotted the Tamboti female leopard about 100m up the road. She was heading south towards the vicinity of the other three. Excitement grew as it looked certain that all four leopards would come together, but at the last moment the Tamboti female turned east and left the area. The mating pair then got up and moved west, leaving the Dudley female to finish off her bonus meal.

Friday 11th

This afternoon brought with it one of the most interesting sightings we’ve had so far this year. We found the four male cheetah coalition lounging in the open area at Clarendon. They were gazing towards the herds of wildebeest, but didn’t show much interest. Suddenly a rustle in the bush line to the south caught their attention, and they all got up to investigate. The outline of the Matshipiri female slowly revealed itself in the long grass, and once the cheetahs established that it was a leopard they backed away and went back to lounging in the short grass. The leopard kept a watchful eye on the four brothers, and they did the same. For a long time the staring match remained at a stalemate, but then one of the cheetahs got up and started advancing on the Matshipiri female.

The other three then joined their brother, and the four of them began slowly making their way towards the female leopard. She remained calm, keeping a stern gaze on the approaching coalition. She was crouched and ready to scramble up a tree if the need presented itself. The brothers got to within 15m of her before their nerve finally broke. Three of them turned and left, while the lead male cheetah stood his ground and hissed at the leopard. This caused the others to dig deep into their courage reserves, and then they too began hissing and advancing once more.

Suddenly a flash of yellow signified that the Matshipiri female was on the move, but instead of rushing up the nearest tree as we expected her to do, she charged at full speed towards the cheetahs. They immediately broke ranks and scattered in  different directions. The lead male was frozen to the spot however, and could only watch as the leopard drew closer. Fortunately one of his brothers moved, shifting the leopard’s attention away from him.

The Matshipiri female charged in a cloud of dust, growling, hissing, and spitting her disdain for the cheetahs. She chased after the male cheetah on her left flank, but just as he passed under a large Marula tree the leopard decided that it was time to call off the attack and bolted up into the tree instead.

The four males had been caught completely unaware by the charge, and were frantically trying to regroup and see if anyone had been hurt. They then gathered in the open area again, but this time made sure to keep some distance between themselves and the leopard, who was by then safely ensconced at the top of the Marula tree. The cheetahs prudently decided to call it a day and moved off, leaving the Matshipiri female to descend the tree and slink off in the opposite direction.

Saturday 12th

We found the two adult Eyrefield lionesses at West Street Bridge this morning. These are the same two females that had the three cubs with the Mlowathi males last year. All three cubs have since been killed by the Manyelethi males, and this is the first time this year that we’ve seen these two females. They both appeared to be in great condition, so now all they need to do is find the rest of the Eyrefield members and reunite the pride again.

In the early afternoon we spotted a Styx lioness at Buffalo Bush Dam. We followed her as headed into the Matshipiri River looking for something. After some time another two Styx lionesses emerged from the bush line along with the Manyelethi male that has the scar on his hip. Two of his brothers were lying  opposite Main Camp. The four lions at Buffalo Bush Dam then joined up and moved south and west towards Campbell Koppies. The lactating lioness was among the group, so it looked like they were all heading in the direction of the cubs. The two brothers at Main Camp got active and crossed the causeway in a westerly direction. When they reached the western bank of the Sand River they flushed out the son of the Dudley female leopard, who wasted no time in taking off towards Main Camp.

MalaMala Game Reserve - Male leopard

Son of the Dudley female leopard by Matthew Tatham

The lions headed onto the old airstrip, leaving the young male to his own devices. When he reached Main Camp, the son of the Dudley female decided to have a look around instead of circumnavigating the camp. Some guests were having a conference in the bar in Sable Camp, when the leopard walked right up to the fortunately closed glass doors and stared inside. Not finding the subject matter relevant, he descended the deck and disappeared back into the night.

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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