CyberDiary – 20 March 2011

MalaMala Game Reserve - African Sunset
African sunset by Andrew Batchelor

We had a downpour of rain and cats last week. We saw the new Styx cubs twice, and one of those sightings was in the presence of two of the Manyelethi males. The Eyrefield pride caught a young buffalo, but only after a significant amount of back forth with the calf’s mother. A herd of rowdy elephants had the Gowrie male and Ostrich Koppies female leopards running in circles. And finally, the Toulon male lions showed face after a long absence.

If you’re inclined to keep a tally of how many of what we saw when, then this is how many times we saw each of the following animals during the past week: lion – 11; leopard – 11; elephant – 35; rhino – 19; buffalo – 9; wild dog – 0; cheetah – 2.

Don’t forget that you can always refer to the Wildlife Sightings Maps for a more detailed look at what was seen where.

Enjoy!

Sunday 13th

We were treated to some heavy rain today, which went a long way to offsetting winter’s imminent arrival. During the day the cloud build-up and moisture in the air warned of things to come, and by four o’clock the heavens opened up. The rain continued unabated throughout the night, with the final measurement totaling an impressive 43mm. Many pans were filled in the process, and it was just a matter of time before the river rose considerably as well.

What a day it proved to be as far as lion viewing goes. We saw no fewer than 16 lions on the property, including the four new Styx pride cubs. The youngsters were found in the company of their watchful mother, as well as two other lionesses from the pride. What was really exciting however, was that two of the Manyelethi males were also present at the sighting. The two brothers sat with puffy chests, proudly protecting their offspring. This is a development we will keep a close eye on, as it will be much easier for these young cubs make a successful entry into adulthood if the Manyelethi males are able to hold onto their dominance for an extended period of time.

But as exciting as it was to see the young cubs hanging out with their proud fathers, that wasn’t the only interesting sighting we had with lions today.

We also found five members of the Eyrefield pride opposite Rattrays Camp. In the evening they headed off in pursuit of a herd of buffalo, and what followed subsequently became known as “the incident” among guests. Even before the sun had set the lions ran in on the buffalo, causing chaos in an otherwise resilient herd. But as the sun dipped below the horizon, it was blatantly clear that the night would belong to the lions. The pride tracked the buffalo for quite some time, pausing briefly to chase a white-tailed mongoose (which only just managed to escape the sharp claws of its attackers).

They found the herd in the Kapen River, and wasted no time in running in through the Teak thickets and accosting a young calf. It was a far from easy kill however, as the angry mother quickly came racing back to defend her youngster. The lions ran this way and that as they tried desperately to evade the raging cow. An enterprising young male lion took advantage of the chaos, and grabbed the young calf and ran off with it. Not one to have the wool pulled over her eyes, the mother soon noticed and chased after him, forcing him to drop his prize.

So the fight continued, with the lions trying to pirate away the calf, and the angry female  stubbornly protecting it. Finally the tide turned in favor of the lions, and the young male managed to regain possession of the calf and make off with it. The pride immediately set about feeding, while the dejected buffalo mother made her way back to the herd. There was plenty of snarling and hissing, which is generally the case when so many lions find themselves sharing space around a “small dinner table”. Once they’d polished off the entire calf, the pride began grooming one another. This ritual of mutual grooming is their way of maintaining the trust that is so crucial to the survival of a lion pride.

Monday 14th

We were viewing two of the Manyelethi male lions that had killed a male kudu in the Sand River south of Rattrays Camp, when the river began to swell. Within the period of an hour it had gone from very low to full flood, and was flowing rapidly from bank to bank. This rising – which was a direct result of the heavy rains we experienced yesterday afternoon and last night – meant that we had to resort to our high level river crossing at West Street bridge, as the causeway was about four foot under water. The male lions also took heed of the rising river, and moved away from what was left of the kudu. The next morning we found them fat and fast asleep, a short distance to the north of the kill site

Wednesday 16th

Today Mlowathi Dam was the place to be for anyone with a keen interest in leopards. On morning drive we found a well-fed Gowrie male leopard heading towards the dam for a drink. After quenching his thirst he fell fast asleep under a small Leadwood tree. In the afternoon we were watching a herd of elephants in the same area, when we were pleasantly surprised to find the Ostrich Koppies female leopard lying in the grass with her young cub. And not too far away there was an impala kill hanging in a Marula tree. The elephants then began chasing the leopards around, sending the cub sailing up the nearest Marula tree.

Without warning the Gowrie male suddenly came bounding out of the grass. What made this sighting so interesting was that he was in such close proximity to the Ostrich Koppies female and her cub. This makes us think that he is the father of the cub.

While we were trying to process what was going on, the elephants continued their game of “cat and mouse” with the leopards. The Gowrie male and Ostrich Koppies female made a beeline for the dam, where the open space would offer them a degree of safety.

The male then made off with the remains of the impala, leaving the Ostrich Koppies female to ward off the marauding elephants. In the meantime he found himself another Marula tree in which to stash the stolen kill, and after feeding for a short while promptly fell fast asleep.

Thursday 17th

MalaMala Game Reserve - Styx cubs

Styx lion pride's new cubs by Andrew Batchelor

The two Styx females and four youngsters spent most of the morning out in the open, affording us an incredible opportunity to witness such young cubs in their natural environment. We also saw the two Kruger National Park lionesses with their four cubs during the day.

Saturday 19th

Today we saw our last fascinating sighting for the week. We went to track down a large herd of buffalo that have been living around the Sand River for the past week or so, only to find the herd crossing into the Kruger National Park.

The reason for their sudden migration became apparent when we spotted three adult male lions nearby. Much to our surprise – and relief – the lions in question turned out to be the Toulon males.

They were all appeared to be very healthy and in excellent condition. Their manes have darkened considerably, and they are looking every bit the dominant force that a male lion coalition should. Interesting news from the south is that they have been deposed of their territory on Toulon, as well as their hold on the Charleston pride.

Two large males have moved in from the Kruger National Park and taken over. They have also reportedly taken control of the Selati pride, and produced some cubs with the adult females in the pride. The five young males from the Selati pride have all broken away together. The confirmation of the Toulon males’ status is a relief to us, but it does beg the question. If they have been kicked out where will they go? And which pride will they try to take over?

MalaMala Game Reserve - Cheetah coalition

Four male cheetah coalition by Andrew Batchelor

We also saw the four male cheetah coalition and the following leopards during the week, and we’re happy to report that all are looking fat, healthy and happy: Tamboti female, Emsagwen male, Campbell Koppies female, Tamboti female, Son of the Dudley female, Matshipiri female and son, Kikilezi female and cub.

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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