CyberDiary – 17 July 2011

MalaMala Game Reserve - Elephant

Elephant herd by Donald MacCrimmon

Game viewing was top notch as always this week, with sightings of the big cats prevalent on most days. The Wild dogs are still nowhere to be found, but the rest of the Big 7 more than made up for the missing hounds. The Tamboti female leopard bagged herself a Water monitor, which upset the newly named Sparta female no end, as the kill took place in her territory. The Manyelethi males were out and about all week, and twice we even saw all four of them together. The Eyrefield lionesses provided us with some excellent viewing as they tried unsuccessfully to hunt buffalo. And finally, three of the four cheetahs showed themselves around Clarendon Dam.

If knowing how many times we saw each of the following animals during the past week has you in a state of giddy euphoria, then this section’s for you: lion – 15; leopard – 15; elephant – 19; rhino – 14; buffalo – 12; 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.

Enjoy!

Sunday

MalaMala Game Reserve - Styx lion pride

Styx lion pride by Donald MacCrimmon

We kicked the week off by finding Mama Styx in the Mlowathi River, and a little while later her four cubs popped their heads out of the long grass as well. Their excitement was tangible as they whiffed the blood visible on their mother’s chest. We lost sight of the young family when they walked off through some very thick bush. It was only later on when we noticed vultures descending, that the lions were relocated. At first glance we saw just two of the Styx lionesses, and from what we could make out from the remains, it looked as if they had killed a waterbuck.

By the time the female arrived with her four cubs in tow, there was nothing left for them to feed on. The whole pride then walked back to the Mlowathi River, where they all enjoyed a drink of water before finding a comfy spot to laze away the day. The lionesses flopped down with their bulging bellies and fell fast asleep, while the still hungry cubs first coerced their mother into letting them nurse before agreeing to take a nap.

Monday

The Eyrefield lionesses were all together today and clearly in the mood for hunting buffalo. When we found the five females they were trailing a herd near Rattrays Camp, but although they came close a few times they never made any real attempts. By midmorning the buffalo settled down to ruminate, which was the move everyone thought would prompt the lions into action. It turned out to have the opposite effect however, as the lazy cats soon settled down into a deep, comatose like sleep. At midday the large bovines ambled down to the river for a much needed drink, and that’s when the lions took the opportunity to strike their attack. Pandemonium ensued, and with all the dust, river reeds and thick riverine vegetation, we soon lost sight of the predators in the chaos. Through it all the buffalo somehow managed to stick together in one heaving mass, offering no avenue of attack for the lions. They then retreated back into the open away from the river, leaving the Eyrefield females to regroup on a sand bank in the river. Shortly thereafter the would be hunters fell asleep, and all was quiet “on the western front” for the rest of the afternoon.

The action began again soon after sunset, and the hunt was immediately afoot. The lead lioness crept closer and closer until she was a mere thirty meters away from the buffalo, while her four teammates trailed lazily behind. The lioness remained motionless, casting about for any easy targets within the herd. From what we could see none of the buffalo fitted the criteria for an easy kill. The small calves were well protected in the middle of the herd surrounded by the cows, while the big males brought up the rear and the younger males were vigilant at the flanks.

The bright moon provided enough illumination that coupled with the aid of binoculars, meant there was no need for spotlights. As soon as the lagging pride members caught up with the lead lioness all five ran in at once. The initial attack caused the buffalo to break briefly into flight, but they quickly regained their composure and turned around to charge straight back at the lionesses. This unexpected counter attack had the Eyrefield females scampering for cover, which for two of them came in the form of a conveniently positioned Land Rover. Peering out from behind the front bumper, the pair briefly scanned the herd before stalking in on them again. Things went back and forth like this for the next half an hour. The lionesses took turns running in on the herd, but time an again were chased off by a team of formidable bulls. By the end of the night the females were still hungry, and we could only marvel at the tenacity and organization the buffalo displayed in the face of such adversity. What a spectacle to be privy to.

Tuesday

MalaMala Game Reserve - Female leopard

Tamboti female leopard by Donald MacCrimmon

We saw the Tamboti female a total of five times during the week. Most of the time the leopard was in the vicinity of the airstrip, although we also spotted her heading down into the river around Maxims Lookout and West Street Bridge. She was looking quite lean when we found her this morning, which is obviously what prompted her to catch another Water Monitor lizard in the quarry at the airstrip. After dispatching it the hungry female took her prize into some long grass to feed, much to the dismay of onlookers who no longer had a clear view of the kill.

We also found the newly named Sparta female (she was previously known as the female leopard from Sparta) not too far from where the Tamboti female was enjoying her snack. She’d either smelt the intruder or heard her roaring earlier, but either way she was none too pleased at having another female leopard in her territory. The fact that she hardly frequents this area was obviously beside the point. She roared indignantly a couple of times, but received no response from the Tamboti female. With no challenge forthcoming, she treated herself to a catnap before leaving the area in a westerly direction.

Most nights during the week we heard lions roaring from all directions around camp. We saw the Manyelethi male lions frequently during the week. Most of the time they moved about singly or in pairs, but on two occasions we spotted the four brothers together. Their movements took them from the Tamboti thickets around Rattrays Camp all the way north to Mlowathi Dam, and as far east as Wild Dog Rocks open area.

Thursday

On Thursday we saw the two Kruger National Park lionesses and the four cubs around Fourways open area. They slept throughout the day, but  when we went back to look for them in the evening they’d already left the area. We’ve renamed this small group of lions the Fourways pride, as this is the very central part of the territory we tend to see them the most.

Friday

Twice we saw three of the four male cheetahs at Clarendon Dam. The first time was in the evening just before dark, so we couldn’t view them for very long. Fortunately all three appeared to be as fat as ticks, so the likelihood of them moving during the night was slim.

Saturday

As expected, this morning we found the trio not too far from where we’d seen them last night. They spent the remainder of the day lounging in the sun, changing resting spots only when they felt compelled to scent mark the surrounding trees and bushes. Even with large numbers of wildebeest and zebra hanging around, the cats couldn’t be bothered to drum up the energy required to hunt.

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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