CyberDiary – 1 May 2011

MalaMala Game Reserve - Styx lioness and cubs

The Styx lioness enjoys some lovin' from her cubs by Matthew Tatham

It was a week of feasting for the lions, and a lesson in etiquette for the Styx babies. The son of the Dudley female leopard enjoyed a romantic interlude with someone we haven’t seen in a while. The Manyelethi male lions asserted their dominance over an old foe, and the four Kruger National Park lion cubs were kept on their toes by some  cheeky Black-backed jackals.

For our “trainspotters”, this is how many times we saw each of the following animals during the past week: lion – 17; leopard – 14; elephant – 37; rhino – 29; buffalo – 17; 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.


MalaMala Game Reserve - Styx lioness and cubs

Styx lioness and cubs on a wildebeest kill by Matthew Tatham

Following up on the wildebeest kill that the two Styx lionesses made in the open area around Mlowathi dam last week, we set out eagerly the following morning to find out what developments had taken place during the night. We were pleasantly surprised to find ten lions in the area of the kill: four Manyelethi males, two Styx lionesses, and the four new cubs. They spent the day feeding, with the occasional saunter to the dam to quench their thirst.

As the sun rose – and with it the mercury – the males spent more time in the shade, leaving the lioness and her cubs to eat what remained of the carcass. Mom took the opportunity to teach the little ones some table manners, issuing a few commanding snarls and a couple of well placed smacks when necessary.

The Styx lions were not the only ones to be seen killing and feeding during the week. After a lengthy search, following tracks all over the place, we eventually found the two Kruger National Park lionesses on the banks of the Matshipiri River. At first we thought they’d left their four cubs behind so they could hunt in peace, but after a short while one of them gave a low call and the youngsters popped up. The cubs spent most of the morning playing, while the females tried to get some much needed shut eye. Suddenly one of the lionesses sat bolt upright, and stared intently  into the distance. After summing up the situation, she set off at lightning speed after a female warthog that was passing by. Mustering all the power and agility that characterises these great hunters, the Styx lioness grabbed the unfortunate pig and killed it.

The youngsters were following close behind, and after initially being refusing a place at the kill, the female eventually gave in. The four cubs wasted no time in tearing up the carcass. Typical of lion feeding activity, lots of growling, biting and bickering ensued. The meal lasted all of 20 minutes, and once they’d satisfied themselves that they’d picked the carcass clean, the lions moved back into the shade to pass the remainder of the day in relative ease.

The surprise of the week came when we found one of our ‘up and coming’ male leopards mating around the new airstrip. Although it was not that the son of the Dudley female was mating that was intriguing, but rather who he was mating with. Closer inspection revealed that the female in question was in fact the daughter of the Ngoboswan female. Born in December 1997, this leopard hasn’t been seen on MalaMala for a while, so it was good to see her again.

MalaMala Game Reserve - Kruger National Park lion cubs

Kruger National Park cubs on a buffalo kill by Matthew Tatham

This week was a good one for the Kruger National Park lionesses and their cubs, as the warthog wasn’t their only kill. We also found the six of them up at Clarendon Dam with an even larger kill. During the course of the previous evening the females had caught and killed a buffalo cow, and when we arrived at the sighting the following morning we were greeted by four filthy lion cubs. Light rain during the night made for a fairly muddy feeding surface, add to that the fact that cubs were feeding under the skin of the dead buffalo, and the result was some very grubby forequarters and faces. This didn’t bother them in the slightest however, as they just focused on enjoying their meal.

Apart from running around and playing with each other, there was one other factor that kept the young lions on their toes. Four Black-backed jackals kept creeping closer and closer to the kill. It didn’t take long for the cubs to notice the uninvited guests, but being wiser than the young lions, the jackals approached independently and from different sides. These tactics kept the youngsters entertained for quite some time, with each of them taking their turn to protect the kill while the others fed.

On Saturday night the entertainment came courtesy of the lions yet again. In the morning we’d found the Manyelethi male lions sleeping out in the open near Mlowathi Dam. When we returned that evening it quickly became apparent that nothing much had changed during the course of the afternoon. When night falls lions seem to transform from lazy cats to arrogant hunters, it’s almost as if they know the night is theirs to rule. It was with this demeanour that the four males headed south to patrol their territory. After a lengthy walk they settled back down again, and a little while later something caught their attention. They spread out and moved west with purpose. It soon became clear that one of them was stalking something, although we couldn’t make out what.

The lion ran quickly and quietly through some thick bush. We heard a yelp, and arrived on the scene to find him with his jaws locked around the neck of an adult hyena. The sound of bones breaking echoed through the evening sky, and we all sat in awe at the power displayed by the Manyelethi male. Lions are not known for eating the predators they kill, but these guys were determined to at least make sure that the hyena didn’t get up again. They began throwing it around like a rag doll, happy that they’d eliminated another of their eternal enemies. The coalition then displayed their dominance over the the area with a chorus of roaring.

Two of the older Eyrefield lionesses also added to our growing list of lion sightings for the week. We found them on an almost daily basis to the east of the water course, in the Sand River north of West Street. They caught and killed a female Waterbuck, which they fed on for about a day and a half. A few days later we saw them again, this time with a kudu kill. The positioning was perfect for them, hidden in the reeds and close to water, they spent the time in between feeding lazing on the banks of the river.

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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