It was yet another cat intensive week here at MalaMala. Picking up where we left off last week, the sharing at the buffalo kill continued (albeit somewhat reluctantly), with one incident in particular showing us that even lions have the capacity to be magnanimous. We saw the newly named Airstrip male leopard mating, while the Tamboti female leopard was blown off by an unidentified young visitor. The on the ball Styx lioness happened upon a free meal, which she quickly dragged back to her fast growing youngsters. We also found the Ostrich Koppies female leopard and her cub “breaking bread” with the Emsagwen male. The four cheetah brothers featured prominently throughout the week, but unfortunately the Wild dogs remained elusive.
If you penchant for numbers then this is how many times we saw each of the following animals during the past week: lion – 20; leopard – 16; elephant – 29; rhino – 18; buffalo – 11; wild dog – 0; cheetah – 5.
Don’t forget that you can always refer to the Wildlife Sightings Maps for a more detailed look at what was seen where.
Last week the three Manyelethi males killed an adult bull buffalo, and when we ended off the CyberDiary the two Eyrefield lionesses and the two Kruger National Park lionesses and their cubs had all had a turn at the kill. But nothing could have prepared us for what we found when we returned to the area this morning. We arrived to find the two Kruger National Park lionesses and their four cubs hovering around the edge of the kill site, and the Manyelethi males nowhere to be seen. Instead – much to everyone’s surprise – we found a young male lion in very poor condition lying next to the carcass. Closer inspection revealed the lion to be one of the two sub-adult males left in the Eyrefield pride. He wasn’t able to move and lay prone next to the kill for most of the day. When we returned in the afternoon the young male’s health seemed to have improved slightly, and we watched as he walked gingerly away from the kill to rest in some nearby shade. The Kruger National Park cubs approached the kill suspiciously, and tentatively chewed some of the rotting meat while the young male lay close by. For most of the day two of the Manyelethi males and one Eyrefield lioness lay several hundred meters away. The third Manyelethi male and second Eyrefield lioness lay only sixty meters from the buffalo, although neither approached it. As the sun set we went to follow up on all the lions, and were surprised to find that while the Eyrefield lionesses had reunited, only two of the Manyelethi males were still in the area. With the third one unaccounted for, we immediately went to the kill to see if he hadn’t gone there and found the young Eyrefield male. We found the injured male back at the kill and feeding again, when suddenly an almighty roar came from behind and the third Manyelethi male charged towards the buffalo kill. The younger lion managed to get himself positioned in such a way that he could protect himself just in the nick of time. The Manyelethi male descended on him with claws lashing out at any unprotected body parts, and tried to bite down on the back of the young male’s neck. But the wily youngster was prepared for the onslaught and rolled onto his back in order to protect his spine. After what seemed like an age – but was in reality only a few seconds – the Manyelethi male ceased his attack and stood over his opponent, growling at him with malicious intent.
Then something really bizarre happened. The two unrelated and different age-grouped males started feeding on the carcass together. The Manyelethi male stood dominantly over the kill as he fed, while the young Eyrefield male cowered close to the ground. At one point their noses touched, but there was no more serious aggression shown from either side. Eventually the Manyelethi male roared and left the kill to the younger lion. The next morning the three Manyelethi males and the two Eyrefield lionesses were the only ones at the kill site.
But as incredible as that sighting was, the leopards saw to it that the lions didn’t steal the show entirely. We found the Airstrip male (formally known as the son of the Dudley female) on the airstrip mating with the oldest daughter of the Ngoboswan female! The pair mated vigorously all day, providing excellent photo opportunities for everyone present.
This morning we found the Airstrip male close to the airstrip again. Except this time he was alone, salivating, roaring, and generally in a rather bad mood. He had a huge gash down the right side of his neck and appeared to be on the hunt for something or someone. Following him through the bush, we caught a glimpse of another young male leopard nervously trying to avoid the wrath of the disgruntled territorial male. We couldn’t identify the young intruder because he kept running away from the advancing Airstrip male, but we think he might possibly have been one of the Sparta female’s cubs. In the end the two males never met up, so the Airstrip male eventually calmed down, had a drink of water, and fell asleep in the shade of the quarry.
Today brought with it another incredible sighting when we found the Ostrich Koppies female and her cub. They were milling around on Thlebe rocks road and looking hesitantly in a southerly direction. Heading off the road we soon spotted the Emsagwen male feeding on a sub-adult kudu kill high up in a Tamboti tree. We weren’t able to figure out which leopard had killed the buck, but it was blatantly clear that the large male had laid claim to it. When the kill fell out of the tree the Emsagwen male immediately shot down to reclaim his prize, which he then dragged along the edge of a ravine towards the Thlebe Rocks donga and stashed in a large Marula tree. He descended the tree and almost immediately the young female cub climbed up and started feeding. Showing no fear at all for the Emsagwen male, the plucky youngster attacked the kill with vigour and fed noisily while her mother and father eyed each other warily at the base of the tree. When the cub then also dropped the kill out of the tree the Emsagwen male promptly swooped on it and hauled it off into some very thick bush. The rest of the day was rather uneventful, with all three leopards taking turns feeding off the kudu. All in all a very mild and civil affair, especially when compared to the lions’ distinct lack of table manners at the buffalo kill.
Today we had five different lion sightings, and while each of them produced something magical, ultimately it was the buffalo chase that proved most exciting to watch. We tracked the large herd of buffalo down to Charleston North, where we found them drinking at the river. Shortly thereafter we discovered some lion tracks and immediately set about looking for the big cats. It didn’t take us long to find three lions stalking the herd from the south. We were pleased to discover that the lions in question were some of the missing Eyrefield pride: one sub-adult female, one sub-adult male (not the same as the one at the buffalo kill), and the adopted Marthly male. This means that in the last few weeks we have seen two adults from the pride, three sub-adult females, two sub-adult males, and the adopted Marthly male. Brilliant stuff!
The trio charged in on the herd and singled out one of the young calves for their mid-morning snack, but the buffalo had other plans. They formed a tight bunch and marched with intent towards the now retreating lions. The predators quickly scattered in the face of the determined bovines, who also went charging off as soon as they’d made certain the coast was clear.
We found the Tamboti female at West Street in the early afternoon, and the leopard was looking decidedly unhappy. A young male popped his head out from behind a rock, revealing the reason for her discontent. In the last few weeks we have had an influx of unidentified young male leopards. This one was very relaxed and seemed more curious than anything, much to the Tamboti female’s exasperation. After sniffing around her a bit more, the young male eventually left the affronted female to recover from the indignity of being turned down.
In the early afternoon we found the four male cheetah coalition on a sub-adult kudu kill. We saw the four brothers five times this week, but this was by far the most interesting sighting of the lot. The first time we found them they were up around Matshipiri Dam area, but on this occasion vultures led us to finding them all the way down at Zebra Skull North, which is the furthest south we have ever seen them. This part of MalaMala is very open, making it perfect cheetah country, so it could possibly become a more permanent home for the coalition. The kill was all but finished when we arrived, and sunset saw the cheetahs leaving the area with enormous stomachs. The next morning we located one of the males calling insistently for his brothers around the windmill. This continued throughout the morning, although he never received a response. We’ll just have to wait and see, but hopefully nothing untoward happened during the night.
Today we found the Styx lioness with her four cubs at Mlowathi Dam. We saw them on most days during the week, but this time the youngsters were feasting on a free meal. A male impala had somehow killed itself in Mlowathi Dam, whether this was due to it being chased in or because it had fallen in we aren’t sure. Some of the rangers had to pull the carcass from the dam in order to stop possible contamination of the water, and as luck would have it the Styx lioness just happened to find the drowned impala and drag it off to her cubs. All five lions fed off the free meal for the entire day.
The last incredible sighting of the week took place when we found the Ostrich Koppies female leopard strolling along the road looking for something to hunt. She headed north off the road and it wasn’t long before she spotted a herd of impala. She immediately began stalking the herd and by the time the sun had set she’d gotten almost within striking range. Lying in ambush, the leopard waited patiently for the herd to move closer so she could pounce, but they never did. Just as it looked as if she’d lost her opportunity, a hyena showed up and started sniffing around the impala. The already nervous buck bolted as soon as the hyena came closer. The Ostrich Koppies female reacted quickly and circled out around the herd again, coming to a stop right in their path. The hyena approached the impala a second time, and again they bolted. This time straight towards the well concealed leopard.
She pounced, the impala alarm-called, and chaos ensued.
Driving through the thick bush we tried to relocate the Ostrich Koppies female. Just when we thought we’d lost her for good, she popped out on Old Borehole Road with a sub-adult male impala clasped firmly in her jaws. She held onto the buck until it went limp and then dragged it back into the thicker bush. Fortunately for her the hyena didn’t hear the kill being made, and so wandered off in the other direction, oblivious to the meal it had just lost out on. The leopard then spotted a large leafy Jackal-berry tree and headed straight for it. She wasted no time in dragging her prize up the tree and out of harm’s way. There she rested, exhausted from the energy spent dragging the kill, but fortunate to still have it.
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.