CyberDiary – 6 March 2011

MalaMala Game Reserve - Styx lioness & cubs

A proud Styx lioness with her new cubs by Rob Kenmuir

It was a week of reveals and confirmations here at MalaMala. The much anticipated Styx cubs were finally seen for the first time. And our suspicions regarding who fathered the Kruger National Park lionesses’ cubs were also verified. The wild dogs put in a brief appearance, but an unfortunate incident resulted in us losing sight of the pair almost as soon as we’d located them. The Ostrich Koppies female leopard showed face after a fairly lengthy absence, but even better was seeing her cub with her. All in all, the usual suspects ensured a week of awesome sightings for guests and rangers alike.

If numbers are to you what caffeine is to the majority of us, then this is how many times we saw each of the following animals during the past week: lion – 13; leopard – 21; elephant – 30; rhino – 20; buffalo – 14; wild dog – 1; 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!

Monday 28th

This morning provided us with what has to be the best sighting of the month. Seeing young animals for the first time never gets old, and it’s even more exciting when the babies in question are lion cubs.

While following some lion tracks, one of the rangers reported seeing what appeared to be tracks of a number of young lions. And not five minutes later he made a statement that elicited smiles from everyone, “Stations there is one lioness with four very young cubs!”

It had finally arrived, the moment we’d all been waiting for!

The Styx lioness, who we’d been expecting to produce a litter for quite some time now, has finally done it. She is now the proud mother to four exceptionally sweet and healthy looking cubs.

Four days later we were afforded a second sighting of the new additions. Except this time we had the added bonus of being able to watch as they met the rest of the pride. Two other lionesses and the young male were present, and the introduction proved to be a huge success. With the formalities out the way, the proud new mom took her litter off into some nearby rocks that offered ample cover for the youngsters, leaving her to enjoy the serenity of the African afternoon.

This evening provided an equally great sighting, which included three male lions, two lionesses, four lion cubs and a young male leopard.

For a long time now we’ve assumed – correctly as it turns out – that the four Manyelethi brothers had fathered the two Kruger National Park lionesses’ cubs. The arrival of these females and their offspring in the area coincided fairly closely with the onset of by the Manyelethi males’ reign of dominance, which is why we first suspected them of being the ‘culprits’.

This sighting finally convinced the few remaining sceptics.

MalaMala Game Reserve - Lion cubs

Kruger National Park lionesses' four cubs by Rob Kenmuir

When we found three of the Manyelethi males around Buffalo Bush Dam in the morning, the cubs of the two Kruger National Park lionesses were hanging around in the same area sans the protection of the Kruger National Park lionesses. Later that afternoon we found them again, although this time they were drinking from Buffalo Bush Dam with their mothers. The  Manyelethi males were in close attendance a little way off.

The cubs were playing without a care in the world for the big males. Once they’d finished drinking, the females gathered up their brood and headed south along Western Side Matshipiri. This path took the lionesses and their offspring straight past the powerful males, who paid scant attention to the passersby.

Once the sun had set and the temperature began to fall, the Manyelethi trio – having gone through their post-nap ritual of grooming and yawning – got up and followed the females and cubs.

Things then got even more interesting. As the last of the lions had passed Buffalo Bush Dam, a leopard appeared on the dam wall. The ghost-like figure of this powerful male ascended a Leadwood tree, and from the safety of his vantage point he watched the procession go by. The relaxed attitude of the Manyelethi males around the lionesses and their cubs has certainly put to bed any question as to who fathered the youngsters.

Thursday 3rd

This evening we spotted two wild dogs running through an open area in central MalaMala. The sighting was cut short however, due to a an unfortunate “spider falling on lap” incident. While we focused on ridding the unhappy lap owner of the uninvited arachnid, the dogs disappeared into the thickets. Hopefully they’ll be back.

Friday 4th

A leopard flashing across the road led us to an interesting sighting this morning. In the past week we’ve seen an old female leopard with her sub-adult son around the old airstrip and causeway area a few times. The leopard crossing the road turned out to be the still nervous son. Fortunately he led us to his easygoing mother, who was lying full-bellied in Rhino Pens. The youngster immediately disappeared into some thick bush, but the female chose to remain out in the open.

Some scouting around soon revealed the half-eaten remains of an impala. The leopard pair had been seen the night before, so we knew it was a fresh kill, but with one adult and one almost adult leopard eating on it there wasn’t much left. The two of them fed off the kill throughout the day, but the young male remained skittish and ducked into thicker bush whenever a vehicle approached.

As the night grew darker, the youngster gained confidence. He eventually came out into the open for the first time, while his mother continued to lounge around and feed at random. By the next morning the impala was finished, but the leopards were still nearby in the Mlowathi River. The young leopard was still unsure of us however, and moved off as soon as we arrived. And this time his mother followed suit.

Saturday 5th

MalaMala Game Reserve - Ostrich Koppies female's cub

Ostrich Koppies female leopard's cub by Rob Kenmuir

We saw the Ostrich Koppies female leopard this morning in the northern parts of the reserve. This beautiful leopard hasn’t been around since the 17th of February, so it was really great to see that she was doing okay. But even better than that, was seeing  that her cub alive and well too.

The little guy is as playful and inquisitive as ever, and made it clear to us during the sighting that it was not in the slightest bit concerned by our vehicles. While playing with its mother, the youngster began approaching the vehicles in order to investigate these strange looking ‘creatures’ that had arrived in its ‘hood.

With its mother so relaxed around the vehicles, its no surprise that her easygoing nature has rubbed off on her offspring. All that now remains now is for us to carefully manage the viewing of the cub. By allowing only one vehicle at any sighting involving the young leopard, we’ll ensure that it will grow accustomed to the Land Rovers in its own time.

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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