CyberDiary – 24 July 2011

MalaMala Game Reserve - Sunrise

Sunrise by Andrew Batchelor

Well things were nothing if not exciting this past week. We had leopard and lion sightings galore, and if all the mating that took place bears fruit we’ll also be knee-deep in lions cubs by the end of the year. The Airstrip male leopard found himself exhausted by the pushy advances of the Tamboti and Sparta females. The Manyelethi male lions made their presence known all over the place, including in Main Camp, where they helped rangers flush out a trio of leopards that were nosing about in search of a bushbuck kill. The Tamboti female had guests dumbstruck as she effortlessly dragged the duiker she’d caught up a Sausage tree. And those are just some of the highlights…

For the ardent trainspotters among you, this is how many times we saw each of the following animals during the past week: lion – 15; leopard – 19; elephant – 20; rhino – 16; buffalo – 14; 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!

Sunday

The week started with a bang when we found not one, not two, but three leopards. Better yet they were all together and mating. That is to say that the Airstrip male was mating with the Tamboti and Sparta females one after the other. Head Ranger Andrew Batchelor says that this is only the third time he’s ever witnessed this type of behavior among leopards. Apparently it was absolutely fascinating to watch. The male would mate with one of the females, and then the other would approach him to mate while the first one rested. This went on the entire day, with the females showing very little aggression towards each other, and taking it in polite turns to mate with the increasingly annoyed male. The poor guy got no rest at all the entire day, because every time he lay down to take a breather, either the Tamboti or Sparta female would approach him to mate. This went on until Tuesday evening, when the exhausted Airstrip male had finally had enough and refused to mate any more. He just bared his teeth and snarled viciously when approached, and eventually his pushy lady companions got the message and left him alone.

Monday

MalaMala Game Reserve - Manyelethi male and Styx lioness

Manyelethi male and Styx lioness by Andrew Batchelor

Today saw two separate pairs of lions mating. The Manyelethi male with the scar on his hip was mating with a Styx lioness, while his dark maned brother was mating with one of the young females from the Eyrefield pride. This is fantastic news, as the dark maned Manyelethi male is notoriously aggressive towards the females. If he has come to accept the young Eyrefield females, then it means they are safe and the pride now has a great future ahead of them. That is to say, so long as that the Manyelethi coalition manages to keep control of the territory and provide a safe and stable environment in which to raise their cubs.

Tuesday

The Styx lioness and the Manyelethi male were still at it when we found them again today. The Tamboti and Sparta females were also still having their way with the Airstrip male, although just after dusk we found the Tamboti female wandering south from the causeway by herself. Her marathon mating session had left her more than a little lean, and she was clearly on the prowl for something to eat. Darting in and out of the thickets, we struggled to keep up with the agile leopard. Suddenly she dived through a small quarry bush, and when she didn’t immediately emerge again we moved around to the other side to see what was going on. When we found her again she had her jaws tightly clasped around the throat of a male duiker. She must have flushed the hapless creature from its hiding place in the bush and caught it before it had a chance to escape. Without a moment’s hesitation the Tamboti female dragged the still very much alive duiker up a Sausage tree. Kicking and squealing, the buck found itself suspended ten feet in the air in the powerful jaws of a hungry predator. When the fight finally went out of it, the leopard placed the buck neatly in the fork of the tree. All the guests could do was look on in stunned silence at the sheer power and athleticism of the Tamboti female.

Wednesday

We spotted three of the Eyrefield lionesses with one of the Manyelethi males at the causeway, but they soon went into the river and disappeared in the reeds. Later in the morning two of the three females reappeared in front of Main Camp and crossed the river east, before finding a shady spot to rest for the day. Later that afternoon the lionesses got active again and headed for Piccadilly Triangle. The large herd of buffalo was crossing through the area at the time, and as soon as the females got a whiff of their scent they made straight for them. Jogging at a clip towards the herd, the lionesses wasted no time in stalking and instead launched a full attack from an optimistic distance of some 50 yards. The buffalo scattered under the assault, but quickly regained their composure and repelled the lighting attack. The pair then retreated to the embankment above the herd and watched as any hope of a meal moved off along with the feisty bovines. The third lioness then emerged from the river and the trio regrouped before settling down for a rest opposite Main Camp. Suddenly a fourth lioness appeared and joined up with the other three. When we left the four they were enjoying an early evening siesta.

Thursday

MalaMala Game Reserve - Female leopard

Tamboti female leopard by Andrew Batchelor

It was the leopards’ turn again today. In the early morning we found the Kikilezi female leopard at West Street, looking very agitated and roaring constantly. Her roars were getting a response from the opposite bank and we soon located the Tamboti female. The exchange between the two females went on for most of the early morning, but they eventually grew bored and went their separate ways. The Tamboti female then bumped into the Airstrip male, who was stalking her from the riverbed. She spotted him in time though and took off running. He chased her briefly, but after receiving a series of snarls and hisses for his efforts, he backed off and headed back into the river to sleep. On the afternoon drive we came across the young male leopard we’ve been seeing of late. He was at West Street when we found him, and looking ever so relaxed as he sprawled out across the western ramp to the bridge, blocking everyone from crossing in the process.

At dusk we found the Emsagwen male leopard moving south on the eastern bank of the Sand River opposite Main Camp. He in turn was being discretely followed by the Kikilezi female’s daughter. The young female followed her father for a short while before turning east and heading into Piccadilly. The Emsagwen male continued south along the river bank to West Street, where he picked up the scent of the Kikilezi female and started tracking where she’d been that morning. A nosey hyena came to investigate the goings on and was soon sent packing by the no nonsense Emsagwen male. The following morning we spotted the dominant male close to the northern boundary where he was still patrolling his territory . He moved north and west, and when we left him he was crossing the break at the Mlowathi River. He’d walked halfway up the Matshipiri River and clear across northern Eyrefield during the night, ending up where we eventually found him again. An impressive distance of almost 15 kilometers in 10 hours.

Friday

MalaMala Game Reserve - Manyelethi male and Eyrefield lioness

Manyelethi male and Eyrefield lioness by Andrew Batchelor

Today the lions came out to play again. We found one of the Manyelethi males with the two older Eyrefield lionesses in the Sand River at Wildebeest Crossing. A second Manyelethi male was with two of the younger Eyrefield lionesses on the old airstrip, and we came across a third Manyelethi brother with the last Eyrefield lioness on the new airstrip. With the female heavily in heat and the male more than obliging, the pair provided onlookers with some amazing sights and sounds. The three lions on the old airstrip then moved over to the new airstrip and met up with the mating couple. Both males then proceeded to mate with all three lionesses, while the male with the two adult females had to be content with just lying in the reeds all day. Let’s hope all this lovin’ bears fruit, because if it does we should see a significant number of lion cubs by the end of the year.

Saturday

The morning started with us finding drag marks leading past the outer reaches of the Main Camp. These drag marks led us to the almost finished remains of a male bushbuck. Sometime during the night a leopard must have moved its kill from the river in front of the camp to a spot which offered a more suitable hiding place for his booty. We dragged the carcass back into the river away from the camp, and when we went back to check up on it 20 minutes later it had already been reclaimed and taken away. Later that night we discovered two of the Manyelethi males at the opposite end of the camp to where the bushbuck carcass had been found. After making their way through the camp in the early hours of the morning, one of them subsequently disappeared, only to be replaced by an Eyrefield lioness. The two lions went to investigate the drag marks and in the process “flushed out” the three leopards also in search of the missing bushbuck kill. To top it all off the lions then started mating!

That same evening we saw the remaining two Manyelethi males calmly watching the three young Eyrefield lionesses tackling the herd of buffalo in Matshipiri open area. The females ran in several times, but each time their efforts were thwarted by the unrelenting buffalo, until they finally gave up and rested. The brothers moved in and tried to mate with some of the females, but their advances were met with as much aggression as the herd had mustered earlier. All the while an African Wild cat sat quietly in the short grass watching its bigger cousins, and perhaps hoping for an appetizer should the earlier hunt have proved successful.

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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