CyberDiary – 22 May 2011

MalaMala Game Reserve - Eyrefield lioness

Eyrefield lioness by Andrew Batchelor

The lions were out in force this week, with all manner of shenanigans taking place on the reserve. The Manyelthi males kicked off the week with a display of dominance. A fortunate warthog narrowly escaped landing on the Kruger National Park pride’s dinner table, although the sub-adult female impala they caught a little while later wasn’t so lucky. The Kikilezi female leopard narrowly escaped meeting up with a Styx lioness, who’d found herself momentarily stuck in a Jackalberry tree. The Manyelethi males caught a buffalo bull, which they ended up sharing with more takers than they’d probably anticipated. Lots of fighting ensued, ending the week on a rather exciting note.

If you’re a ‘trainspotter’ (latent or otherwise), then this is how many times we saw each of the following animals during the past week: lion – 17; leopard – 16; elephant – 33; rhino – 20; buffalo – 15; 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!

Monday

On Sunday evening we found two of the Manyelethi males, one at the airstrip and the second around the Mlowathi. We kicked off this morning’s drive with roars of several male lions, and soon found three of the noisy culprits. Two of them were some distance apart in the Mlowathi, while the third one was hanging around the airstrip. As the morning progressed the three males made their way towards each other, roaring constantly in their bid to find one another. The two males in the Mlowathi met up first, and then went in search of the third one, who had since moved to Campbell Koppies. They eventually all met up, and after a short greeting found some shade and fell fast asleep. That afternoon they moved west, crossing the Sand River and then making their way up to the airstrip. They came to rest on the tarmac and roared out their dominance to the world, enthralling onlookers in the process.

Wednesday

Today we found the two Kruger National Park lionesses and their four cubs. We followed them into the evening, but in the end nothing came of it.

Thursday

MalaMala Game Reserve - Kruger National Park Lion pride

Kruger National Park Lion pride by Andrew Batchelor

We found the Kruger National Park lionesses and their four cubs again today, and this time there was fireworks. As the sun set the six lions got active and moved into Matshipiri open area looking to hunt. They spotted a single wildebeest and a herd of impala, but just as the lioness approached the wildebeest an alert impala ram sounded the alarm and ended the hunt before it had even begun. The four cubs rejoined the females and they all moved into the thicker bush, looking for another opportunity. Sniffing around a thicket, one of the lionesses became very animated and started digging vigorously. The rest of the pride came to investigate and suddenly there was a buzz in the air. Unable to see what was going on, we had to wait for the lions to get at whatever it was they were trying to dig out. A little while later the first female gave up, and with a short grunt called the rest of the pride away from the hole. Upon closer investigation we found a very nervous looking warthog peering out from a shallow burrow. He was just far enough in the hole that the lioness wasn’t able to get at him. And because he was facing out, his menacing tusks also helped ensure that he didn’t become dinner.

The pride then turned north into the strong breeze and headed back towards the open area. They came across a herd of impala just inside the bushline, and the two females flanked around the unsuspecting buck. They disappeared from the view as soon as they rushed in, but the unmistakable death bellow alerted us to the fact that their efforts had proved successful. We arrived at the scene just in time to witness the sub-adult impala take its last breath. It didn’t take the rest of the pride long to arrive at the kill, and they quickly piled into the small meal. Pretty soon the bulk of the carcass was gone, and so the squabbling for the scraps started. The young male cub fought with his aunt, while the cubs’ mother stole a leg from her daughter who’d been distracted by one of her siblings. Once the pride had finally polished off the bones, all was forgiven and they set about grooming each other.

Friday

The morning started off very cloudy and cool, but in spite of the not so pleasant weather we still managed to find four female leopards hunting on their own. The Tamboti female had bagged herself a guinea fowl, while the Kikilezi female narrowly escaped meeting up with the mother Styx lioness. The drama began when we found the Kikilezi female strolling down a road close to the Mlowathi River. After scent marking the area she climbed up a big Jackalberry tree in order to scan the horizon. She spotted a herd of impala and descended the tree to stalk them. The female leopard snuck through the long grass until she was about 15 meters off from the buck. In the meantime the Styx lioness came wandering down the same road. She picked up the fresh scent of the leopard and unknowingly headed straight towards the impala and the Kikilezi female. The Styx lioness turned back to have another sniff at the scent, which she traced back to the large Jackalberry tree. Without any hesitation whatsoever she vaulted to its uppermost branches. Perhaps she was looking for an easy meal, or maybe her cubs were close by, but either way she clearly wanted the unwelcome leopard out of the area. The over eager climber now found herself in the unfortunate position of being stuck in the tree, while the Kikilezi female was busy hunting impala nearby. The Styx lioness finally plucked up the courage to attempt a descent, and lurched herself quite unceremoniously back onto terra firma. She then spotted the same herd of impala and began stalking them, which meant that both cats were now heading towards the herd from the same direction. At one point they were no more then 10 feet apart, with neither being aware of the other’s presence. The alert buck spotted the lioness and began alarm calling with intent. This prompted the Styx female to stand up and walk away, at which point the Kikilezi female spotted the lioness and dashed up a Leadwood tree the minute her back was turned. In the meantime the impala just stood looking at the predators, wondering what on earth had just happened. We were relieved that the Kikilezi female hadn’t been injured, but sad that the Styx lioness hadn’t been able to feed her cubs.

MalaMala Game Reserve - Eyrefield lioness

Eyrefield lioness by Andrew Batchelor

This morning we also came across two of the sub-adult Eyrefield lionesses. When we found them again in the afternoon they were hunting around the airstrip. As they departed the runway three of the Manyelethi males – looking lean and very active – showed up at the southern end. Down in the river audio of the buffalo herd caught their attention, and they headed off in that direction. Crossing the river, the three brothers caught up with the herd and stalked the males lagging at the back. All hell broke loose as the lions suddenly ran in on a large bull. They managed to jump on his back before the herd had time to react and quickly brought him to the ground, attacking his fore legs and crippling him severely in the process. The buffalo herd then charged back, chasing the lions off their injured mate. The lions didn’t back off for long however, and quickly came back to claim their prize. The herd took back the downed male a second time, causing the lions to retaliate with yet another charge. This time they managed to attack the buffalo bull, who wasn’t able to walk anymore. One of the male lions attached himself to the muzzle, while a second took the bull from the rear. Funnily enough the third Manyelethi male just sat down and watched while his brothers fought the raging buffalo. The herd mustered one last charge and chased the lions well out of the area, but they weren’t that easily deterred and soon snuck back to dispatch their victim.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay at the sighting for very long as we had to return to camp or risk losing out on our own dinner, but we were quick to return to the kill the following morning.

Saturday

Today brought with it some spectacular lion interaction. We found two of the males still at the buffalo kill, while the dark maned brother was nowhere to be seen. The two Kruger National Park lionesses and their four cubs had joined the males at the kill during the night, and were all looking very well fed. It was interesting to see how timid the cubs were around the males. Even though they understand that the Manyelethi males are their fathers, minimal interaction with them has caused the youngsters to be very wary of these intimidating males. They certainly don’t play with them the way the Styx cubs do.

We spotted the two oldest Eyrefield lionesses on the airstrip. The well fed females strolled slowly along the tarmac until they spotted a male lion approaching them from the south. After a long standoff the lead lioness decided to approach the male. She did so cautiously, but once she was within striking range the male pounced. He chased her clear across the airstrip and into the surrounding Acacia thickets. All we could hear was the grunts and growls of the female trailing off into the distance. The second lioness was left on the tarmac wondering what to do, and finally decided to head down to the river where she spent most of the day.

The second half of the story kicks off at sunset. Throughout the day the six Kruger National Park lions and the two Manyelethi males fed off the buffalo kill. As the sun sank behind the mountains the Eyrefield lioness moved out of the river in the direction of the kill. She spotted the carcass and approached it confidently, until she suddenly found herself face to face with one of the Kruger National Park lionesses. Both females stood their ground, staring at each other until one of the Manyelethi males gave a short growl. The Eyrefield lioness turned and ran with the Kruger National Park female, and a short distance behind the two males, in hot pursuit. The two lionesses subsequently got into a brawl, with each trying their utmost to slash and bite the other. The Manyelethi male with the black nose got in the middle of the two females, and quite unexpectedly stuck up for the Eyrefield lioness. He dished out a severe beating to the Kruger National Park lioness, who limped back to her cubs and buffalo kill. The male then chased the Eyrefield lioness into the river, where we lost them.

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 in the CyberDiary in PDF format.

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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