CyberDiary – 10 July 2011

MalaMala Game Reserve - Lion-Buffalo-Calf

Manyelethi male lion with buffalo calf by Chris Hall

We enjoyed one of those magical weeks we’re so often blessed with here at MalaMala, seeing everything from leopards mating, to lions hunting and even a buffalo cow giving birth. The Matshipiri female leopard made a welcome return after leaving her territory in a last ditch attempt to get her son to leave home. We spotted an opportunistic baboon making off with the mating leopards’ Bushbuck kill. The Eyrefield and Styx lionesses very nearly crossed paths as they both descended upon the same herd of buffalo, and young Styx cubs received yet another lesson in table manners.

If knowing how many times we saw each of the following animals during the past week makes you do the happy dance, then this section’s for you: lion – 19; leopard – 17; elephant – 25; rhino – 19; buffalo – 17; wild dog – 0; cheetah – 1.

Don’t forget that you can always refer to the Wildlife Sightings Maps for a more detailed look at what was seen where.


The start of the new week brought with it a very special surprise. The Matshipiri female leopard – who hasn’t been seen since the 19th of May – graced us with her presence. Her son is doing well, but still seems very reluctant to leave his mother’s side. Which, given that he’s turning three years old this month, is somewhat problematic. We think the reason we haven’t seen the Matshipiri female in so long is because she’s been trying to force her clingy youngster to into independence. There’s also been speculation that she might be pregnant, although we have nothing to base our suspicions on at this stage. We found her in the Matshipiri river, which is the heart of her territory, so if she is in fact returning to the area we’ll be blessed with many more sightings of her.

MalaMala Game Reserve - Mating leopards

Emsagwen male and Kikilezi female leopards mating by Matthew Tatham

On Wednesday morning we spotted the Emsagwen male and Kikilezi female in the Sand River close to Main Camp. Leopards are well known for their solitary dispositions, so finding the two together could only mean one thing. The courting couple disappeared into some thick reeds for a little privacy, but even though we couldn’t see them, the sounds we subsequently heard led us to believe that they were in fact mating. Later on that day we found them out in the open again, and this time we were able to confirm our suspicions. We followed the pair for most of the evening, and at one stage the Emsagwen male lost focus on his lady friend when he discovered the carcass of a young Bushbuck in a tree. He scaled the tree to retrieve the meal and wasted no time tucking in. While the mating intervals of the two leopards was pretty normal, what was interesting to note was the heightened intensity of their coupling. They would mate four or five times in succession, lie down for about fifteen minutes to catch their breath, and then go at it again. These two have successfully produced cubs before, so let’s hope their legacy continues.

Lions and leopards were not the only animals to be seen feeding this week. We also found a very nervous large male baboon across the river from Main Camp. These primates are typically nervous of the vehicles, so having the baboon bolt as soon as he saw us wasn’t strange at all. What did pique our interest however, was the fact that he appeared to be clutching to something. Upon closer inspection we saw that it was the carcass of a young Bushbuck, and might even have been the same one the Emsagwen male and Kikilezi female had been feeding on the day before. Whether they had been distracted or simply chose to discard the remains we don’t know, either way the opportunistic baboon decided to treat himself to some meat.

Wednesday morning provided some great entertainment, as well as the possibility of something very unusual developing. We spotted three of the young Eyrefield lionesses moving north, while two Styx lionesses headed south at the same time.

In-between the two groups of lions was a large herd of buffalo.

The question on all our lips was which group would get to the buffalo first, and more importantly, what would happen if the two groups met? We all waited with baited breath to see how the situation would play itself out.

In the end the Eyrefield lionesses were first to arrive at the buffalo, and immediately started creating chaos within the ranks in order to isolate the stragglers. The herd began moving west towards the river in front of the Main Camp, with the Eyrefield females in hot pursuit. At the same time the two Styx lionesses and one of the Manyelethi males were also heading westward, stopping every now and then to sniff the air. The buffalo manged to make it to the relative safety of the open areas across from camp, whereupon it appeared that the Eyrefield trio’s tactic was to wait until nightfall before trying their luck a second time. The Styx lionesses and Manyelethi male had the same idea, and found a spot of shade to settle in for the afternoon. We can only imagine what would have come of the sighting had one of the groups caught and killed a buffalo.

By nightfall we lost sight of the Styx lionesses as they followed the buffalo herd into some very thick and impenetrable bush. After a while we spotted the herd on the opposite bank of the gully, but the lions were nowhere to be seen. We spent hours to relocate the cats, but eventually we had to call it a night.

When we returned to follow up the next morning we found the buffalo not far from where they’d bedded down the previous evening. In the meantime the Styx lioness was some distance north of the gully system, and making her way south was with her four cubs. They headed straight to an area where the other two Styx lionesses were feeding on a dead buffalo calf. Unfortunately because the kill had taken place in the donga system it wasn’t easy to get a good view of the goings-on. But from what we could hear, and the little we could see, there was some very exciting feeding activity taking place, with Mom continually having to remind the cubs that they were only allowed to feed once the adults had finished.

MalaMala Game Reserve - Cheetah coalition

Cheetah coalition by Matthew Tatham

After a fairly lengthy absence, we the four male cheetah coalition finally showed face again. We found them late on Thursday afternoon in the north-eastern parts of the property around Clarendon. They weren’t on the property for too long however, and from the look of things they were venturing towards the dam in search of water. As is often the case with these males, there were only three present, with the whereabouts of the fourth brother unknown. This behaviour is par for the course with these guys, so we weren’t unduly concerned about the fact that one of them was missing.

After enjoying a good feed on the buffalo the Styx lioness led her cubs north again, back to their regular territory. The feasting wasn’t over however, because on Friday morning we found the Styx females again, and this time they were stalking a small herd of impala. Having hidden the cubs to one side so there was no chance of them disturbing the hunt, the three adults clicked into stealth mode. Before long we heard a short bleat and arrived in time to see the lioness grab the young male impala’s throat. The other two females wasted no time in moving in, and for a while there was a dead lock between the three, with neither party willing to give up their hold on the kill. After a few minutes a skirmish emerged between the two latecomers, which gave the cubs’ mother ample opportunity to ran off with the kill. After a bit of nagging from her offspring she eventually consented to them feeding with her. Much growling and snarling ensued, as Mom and youngsters all tried to fill their tummies as quickly as possible. They made short work of the kill, and before long there was nothing left. The other two females lost out completely after being continually chased away by the Styx mother. Having stuffed their tiny bellies, the cubs then followed the rest of the pride to Campbell Koppies where they spent the rest of the day in the sun.

MalaMala Game Reserve - Buffalo cow and calf

Buffalo cow and calf by Matthew Tatham

Although we were privy to a great many sightings this week, there was one that stood out from the rest, the cous de grâce if you will. The week illustrated the circle of life beautifully, with leopards mating, lions kiling, and finally, a buffalo cow giving birth. Creation, birth and death. The cow was in labour for a mere 25 minutes before giving birth to a healthy calf late on Thursday morning. She seemed largely unperturbed by the event, and immediately set about cleaning the youngster. After about a minute the calf was already trying to stand, and within a remarkable thirteen minutes it was on its feet. Twenty five minutes later the new arrival was walking after its mother trying to nurse. She seemed pretty insistent that the calf move though, most probably to aid its muscle coordination, but also to get away from the birth spot.

And that folks, brings to a close another fantastic week at MalaMala. You can view the rest of the CyberDiary photos on Facebook or Flikr. Click here to download 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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