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.

15 thoughts on “CyberDiary – 24 July 2011

  1. It amazes me that these lions, move through your camps in such close proximity to humans. Is it that much of a blessing that lions and people have learned to co-exist together, to within touching distance of each other? There are many videos of the Mapogos getting so close to vehicles loaded with guests, especially one video where Makulu walks right up to the back of the vehicle and harmlessly gazes at its occupants. He was limping at the time, taken in 2009. I would like some explanation from you experts as to how they read your body language, and what you gauge from theirs, because this is not all that common in other parts of Africa, especially in open top vehicles.

  2. Andrew,

    Love the quality and the character of the photos. I’ll be on my first Mala Mala adventure on August 21st and my wife currently has a “Canon 7D and 70-200mm F2.8 II“ in your opinion is there any other lenses/camera that we should bring to capture the best memories from out Mala Mala trip.

    Jim Sandoval

  3. Great thanks! I know if it is not in the diary the rangers didn’t see it but any update on the fourways pride in the next few days would be great? Apparently, there has been a fight and one of the cubs is unaccounted for. Five new males have been seen in North Eastern Sabi Sands in the last day or two. Love the photos too!

  4. Hi Jim. We look forward to welcoming you and your wife to MalaMala, I have no doubt that you’ll have the adventure of a lifetime! I’ll forward your questions to Andrew and revert asap. 😉

  5. Hi Linda. Andrew says they saw the Fourways pride recently and there was only three cubs. One of the females was missing.

  6. Hi Jim. Andrew says the setup you have is excellent. You might think about bringing a small lens or wide angle if you have one, to capture scenery or sunset/sunrise shots. 😉

  7. Hey there Viper. Apologies for the late response, but Andrew (Head Ranger) has been particularly busy of late. Here’s his response: It’s not that lions and humans have learnt to co-exist, but rather that the lions have become habituated to the presence of “people in vehicles” – they do not distinguish individuals in a vehicle, but rather see it as one entity. This entity has proven itself in their worlds to be a non-threatening one (in many instances since the time of birth), and as such – they have become accustomed to it. We will never encroach on their comfort zone. In situations where the animals get close to the vehicles, it’s by the animals choice. We will stop our vehicles a safe distance away so as to not intrude or disturb the animal. If they felt in any way threatened by our presence, they would not approach but would move in the opposite direction. With regards to body language, it’s not so much reading them (unless they are acting aggressively), but giving them enough space to make up their own minds about where they want to move. When they are very close, we are always on the alert for telltale signs like strong aggressive movements of the tail and snarling.

    Etiquette on drives is that occupants must never make sudden moves, talk too loud, shout, or stand up – soft voices, and quiet refined movements are advocated at all times.

    When we see the cats (and any animals) from the camp, they are naturally very nervous and will instinctively move off should people appear from a distance. They would almost certainly never let us near enough to be in touching distance.

    At MalaMala, there is a very healthy respect between man and cat!

  8. Dear Andrew,
    Our party of 8 will be visiting Mala Mala from the 21st – 25th August – we are counting down the hours to our long awaited (and long planned!) trip to Sabi Sands! I need a quick piece of advice regarding photography at Mala Mala. This will be the first time I will be travelling in an open-top jeep in Africa – as opposed to the jeeps in the Serengeti where the roof can be pushed up.

    In preparation for my latest trip to Africa I have upgraded from a 100-400mm Canon to a 400mm 2.8 Canon Lens. I took my new baby for some practice to a National Park here in Sri Lanka famous for leopards. Needless to say, handling, resting & positioning this large lens is not easy! A bean bag felt like a necessity. However, looking at pictures of the Mala Mala jeeps, I’m confused where a photographer rests a large lens. Your advise in this regard will be very much appreciated! What equipment should I bring to give my 400 2.8 adequate stability (Monopod / Tripod)? I have a Wimberley Tripod head as well. I am not a professional photographer but it indeed is a hobby I love very much. I would like to be fully prepared to get the best shots when I am at Mala Mala.

    Thanks and Best Regards!

  9. Hi there Haresh. I’ll ask Andrew his advice and get back to you asap! You picked a nice time of year…things should (hopefully) have started warming up by the time you get here! 😉

  10. Hi again Haresh. From Andrew: The open Land Rovers all have roll bars over the back of each seat, so you can rest your camera or bean bag on the roll bar in front of you. If you have a clamp on the wimbley head then you can grip that onto the roll bar or use the tripod which can be strapped down in the vehicle. A lot of people just use a bean bag across the roll bars which allows for easy movement, but I recently had a guest who had a small clamp that he just slid along the roll bar when he needed to change sides. A monopod is also a good idea, but sometimes a bit cumbersome, especially with such a large lens in a smallish space.

  11. Thanks for your prompt reply Andrew. Your advice is much appreciated because I have had no experience shooting from an open-top jeep. See you in a few weeks!

    All the best,
    Haresh

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