CyberDiary – 8 May 2011

MalaMala Game Reserve - Kikilezi female leopard & cub

Kikilezi female leopard and cub by Matthew Tatham

The Kikilezi and Tamboti female leopards were both successful in the hunting department this week, although the latter had hers hijacked after only a few bites. The cub of the Dudley female leopard has cut the apron strings, and bagged himself a small kill just prove that he was ready. The Styx lioness was seen out and about with her four cubs on a few occasions, and the little tykes are getting bigger and braver by the day. The Manyelethi brothers spent some time hanging out with one of the Styx lionesses at Mlowathi Dam, and just in case there was any doubt as to who was in charge, they spent an evening roaring loudly to remind everyone.

For those of you who enjoy keeping a tally of things (you know who you are), this is how many times we saw each of the following animals during the past week: lion – 11; leopard – 11; elephant – 22; rhino – 18; buffalo – 10; 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!

The Kikilezi female had a very successful start to the week. When we left her last Sunday night she was hunting impala at every opportunity. But although she came tantalizingly close on a number of occasions, all attempts came to naught. We followed up early the following morning, and found her heading south near Piccadilly Triangle, this time with her cub. The anticipation in the vehicle was palpable, as everyone hoped that she’d made a kill, hidden it, and was now returning to enjoy the spoils with her cub. We trailed the pair for close on two hours, before the youngster eventually came upon a partially eaten adult male impala. Needless to say the young leopard wasted no time at all in tucking in.

MalaMala Game Reserve - Cub of the Dudley female leopard

Cub of the Dudley female leopard by Matthew Tatham

We saw the cub of the Dudley female by himself on a few occasions this week. Now 20 months old, it looks like he’s decided that the time has come for him to live independently of his mother. He has grown significantly over the last few months, and is starting to look a lot more like a young male leopard.

He’s certainly proved that he’s more than capable of fending for himself. We found him around West Street Bridge and followed him for a short way, when something in the grass caught his attention. He quickly set off in the direction of the noise, and reappeared a few minutes later with an adult Cane rat firmly clasped in his jaws. He carried the unfortunate rodent down to the banks of the river, where he settled down to enjoy his meal. Once he’d polished off the kill and cleaned himself up, he set off in a westerly direction over West Street Bridge and into the night.

The following morning kicked off with a bang when some fresh tracks led us to the cub of the Dudley female. The young male was perched in a tree and being very vocal. He seemed intent on letting everyone know he was in the area. Further investigation revealed the Tamboti female in the upper extremities of a Knob-thorn tree. She wasn’t very happy about being cornered, but fortunately the loudmouthed male soon lost interest and moved off. The Tamboti female took the opportunity to descend the tree and move south. As with all predators, she was constantly vigilant of her surroundings. She noticed a small franklin as she moved through the long grass, and quickly transformed from strolling cat into astute hunter. Unfortunately on that occasion she wasn’t fast enough, and narrowly missed out on the small meal.

MalaMala Game Reserve - Styx lioness & cubs

Styx lioness and cubs by Matthew Tatham

We also saw the Styx lioness and her four cubs a number of times during the week. These sightings continue to provide great entertainment for both rangers and guests. In keeping with our policy of restricting the number of vehicles around young cubs, we’re still only allowing one vehicle a time at a sighting. This approach has already paid dividends, as the little guys are growing more accustomed to the vehicles by the day.

Typical of siblings, they are constantly playing, biting, stalking, and running after one another. Although the main focus right now is on fun, these games all involve skills that will stand them in good stead as they get older. Their play-fighting is constantly evolving, and already has a more serious edge to it than it did a couple of weeks ago. The competition between them at feeding time is also a lot more fierce.

As they mature they’ll start trying to dominate one another physically, as they vie for the best spot at the “dinner table”. Feeding time is a loud and boisterous affair, with small signs of aggression showing from time to time. A characteristic they will need as sub-adults and adults in order to guarantee themselves a spot at the kill. There’s no room for pacifists or sissies in a lion pride.

The four Manyelethi male lions were only seen together as a group on two occasions during the past week, with the coalition spending much of their time broken up into pairs or going solo. This may well prove to have a negative outcome for them, as four lions together obviously present a far more formidable front to prospective impostors. The more time these males spend apart from one another, the greater the chances of their coalition falling apart.

When they are all together it is a wonderful thing to behold, and on Saturday we were treated to just such a sight when we found the brothers with the oldest Styx lioness around Mlowathi Dam. The youngest Styx lioness was also present, but the males appeared to be chasing her as she fled north over the boundary. The quartet then returned south and spent the rest of the day lazing on the banks of dam.

That evening we were treated to one of the most remarkable sounds of the African bush. Four male lions, accompanied by some lionesses, roared into the night. Because they were a little spread out, the deep booming chorus was amplified and literally surrounded those of us at the sighting. The resulting din was quite something, as they broadcast to the entire animal population that they were still a force to be reckoned with.

MalaMala Game Reserve - Tamboti female leopard

Tamboti female leopard by Matthew Tatham

The sighting of the week is one that will be remembered for a very long time. We saw the Tamboti female leopard around West Street Bridge in the afternoon, and then again later on the air strip. She moved south until she spotted a large male impala, and under the cover of darkness began moving towards the unsuspecting antelope. We’d seen a hyena just moments earlier, but the crafty leopard managed to remain undetected by the scavenger, who passed by without so much as sniffing the air. After what seemed like an eternity, we eventually heard a noise coming from the direction of the impala. When we turned on the spotlights (which had been off so as not to advantage/disadvantage either party), we saw the young female chasing after the large ram. Her initial attempt missed, sending the impala into a panic. It ran north, but not quickly enough, and the adroit leopard brought it to the ground on her next try.

She immediately gripped its throat, so as to kill it as quickly and quietly as possible. With the impala dead, the Tamboti female began casting about for somewhere to stash her kill. The impala was far heavier than she was, so taking the animal up a tree would only be possible once she’d eaten some of it. She dragged the carcass for about 90 meters, stopping periodically to catch her breath and scan the area for scavengers. She finally got it to a place she felt was safe, and typical of most leopards, began to feed from the rump end first. She looked around nervously as she ate, and before long the hyena – alerted by the noise in the area – returned to investigate. The Tamboti female was no match for the scavenger, and gave up her meal rather than risk injury. The hyena quickly set about gorging itself on the impala, leaving the leopard with no choice but to sit a little way off and hope there would be something left over for her.

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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