With lion sightings aplenty, the week was nothing if not exciting. We saw the return of the fourth Manyelethi male lion, who has been missing for a quite a while. There were some interesting interactions between this dominant coalition and some of the Eyrefield pride’s lionesses, which could mean interesting times ahead. The Emsagwen male leopard lost his kill to some hyenas, while the Ostrich Koppies female lost hers to bad luck. The cheeky Manyelethi males also stole or muscled in on a number of different kills, which is the benefit of being at the very top of the food chain. We also enjoyed one particularly astounding sighting that involved a dominant male baboon.
If knowing how many times we saw each of the following animals during the past week makes you toes curl in delight, then this section’s for you: lion – 17; leopard – 12; elephant – 15; rhino – 18; buffalo – 15; 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.
This morning tracks of the large herd of buffalo led us to Mamba waterhole. Some of the males trailing the back end of the herd had fresh wounds around their heads and necks, which could only have come from a lion attack. Upon following the buffalo tracks in the reverse, we then came across the lion tracks and eventually found four sub-adults from the Eyrefield pride and the Marthly male on a freshly killed buffalo calf. The three females were still feeding, while the two males were off resting in the shade of a nearby tree. The young male with half a tail was nowhere to be seen. By nightfall the pride had polished off the kill, by which point the injured young male still hadn’t shown up.
In the very late evening we caught sight of a female leopard with a very young cub on our northern boundary. We’ve seen the mother on a few occasions, but her latest cub – who looked to be in the region of four months – was new to us. The youngster was quite relaxed in the presence of our vehicles, but after a while the pair crossed our boundary in a northerly direction and we lost sight of them. This particular part of MalaMala, as far as we know anyway, hasn’t been laid claim to by another female leopard, so perhaps this female is looking to move slightly south. Let’s hope so.
Sunday turned out to be a day filled with great sightings, because today we also witnessed something very rare indeed. Alarming calling impala and baboons drew us to the Sand River, opposite Giraffe Bones, where we fully expected to find a lion or leopard. We were perturbed when we found neither. Grunting and squealing came from the river, and it sounded very much like something was being killed. On closer inspection we were astounded to find a large dominant male baboon in the process of killing a young Bushbuck. The attack was savage, with the primate making full use of his long canines to pierce the buck’s flesh. Whereas a cat would strangle its prey, the baboon simply bludgeoned the hapless animal to death. And once he’d done so he immediately tucked into the carcass. Although this type of behavior has been witnessed in the wild before, it’s still an exceptionally rare occurrence, and usually coincides with the birthing season of baby impala when meat is abundant. After eating his fill, the male baboon then left what remained of the kill behind and rejoined his troop. Simultaneously brutal and amazing to witness.
Today saw the return of the Styx lioness and her four cubs. We tracked the young family down to a donga system just south of the Mlowathi Dam, where we found the five of them happily feasting on the remains of an adult zebra carcass. The female is now moving her cubs around a bit, and for the last week or so they have been north of the boundary, so it was nice to see them again. They fed off the kill for the entire day, blissfully uninterrupted by intruders.
We also found two of the Manyelethi males lying next to the finished remains of a Waterbuck at Paraffin Drift. There were many female lion tracks in the area, and we suspect they’d stolen the kill from the Marthly lionesses. Our suspicions were proved correct, when later that evening one of the Marthly females popped out of the thick reeds at Paraffin Drift. The two males were still in the area at that point, so the female made a stealthy exit while the Manyelethi brothers roared their dominance into the cold night sky.
By this morning the males had predictably sniffed out the zebra and joined the Styx lioness and her cubs for breakfast. In the afternoon the second separated Styx female had also joined the feast, and by the end of the day the carcass was no more.
We also came across two Reedbuck close to Clarendon Dam. This was the second time we’d run into these rare and extremely shy antelopes this week. Having seen the two females several times during the recent winter months, it would excellent if they decided to stay and make MalaMala their home as there are very few places in the whole of the Kruger area that they’re found.
This morning the two Manyelethi males and the non-lactating Styx lioness were all still at Mlowathi Dam, with the Styx mom and cubs a little way off. The great surprise of the day however, was the return of the fourth Manyelethi male. “Hip Scar” has been missing for more than two weeks and we were starting to fear the worst. Our angst was for naught though, as he was in great shape and looking very healthy as he lay with his siblings. The “3 toothed” male is the one that’s missing now, but hopefully he’ll find his way safely back to his brothers before long.
Tracks led us down onto central Flockfield, where we found the two sub-adult Eyrefield males and the Marthly male basking in the sunlight of the cold winter morning. All the males appeared to be recovering from their respective injures. “Half Tail” barely moved, but his breathing was regular which is always a good sign. It also looked like he’d eaten recently, so with peace and quiet and some respite from the Manyelethi males, he should make a full recovery. There were no tracks or sign of the three sub-adult females, and by nightfall the three males were all still alone.
In the early afternoon we found the Ostrich Koppies female hunting impala. She stalked through some long grass until she was a measly three meters off, with nothing but a six foot tall termite mound standing between her and her prey. Having initially used the cover of the mound to her advantage, it now became her undoing as she couldn’t get around it without blowing her cover. The hungry female was shaking in anticipation at the thought of having impala for dinner, but before she was able pounce the buck moved off into an open area and out of her grasp. Defeated, the leopard slunk off and started scent marking as the evening drew to a close.
Roaring lions led us to the airstrip where we spotted two of the Manyelethi males looking agitated and aggressive as they marched down the airstrip. They turned west into some long grass, and still with their noses to the ground, continued to follow an invisible scent trail. The pair then came across an almost finished wildebeest carcass and immediately tucked into the unexpected meal. They fed for a good twenty minutes before one of the males, having eaten his fill, picked up another scent trail and followed it south away from the kill site. After losing him in the thick bush we returned to his brother, who was still munching away. Suddenly an almighty roar and clash of teeth emanated from the south. The male must have come across the lions responsible for the kill and attacked them. We rushed to find the scene of the battle, but the predators were on the run and both parties crossed our boundary to the west before we could ascertain who exactly was under attack. “Hip Scar” ran south to join his brother, but he too couldn’t locate the fight. He searched the area for quite some time, but eventually gave up and returned to finish off the wildebeest kill.
In the evening the sound of a roaring leopard led us to Piccadilly Triangle, where we discovered the Emsagwen male. He moved south off the road and we struggled to follow him through the Guarry thickets, but after a while he popped out on the other side and we continued to trail him. The big leopard spotted a bitty herd of Nyala and bounded around to flank them. Almost immediately he launched his attack and caught one of the young adult females. After silently killing the Nyala, he dragged his prize towards a thick weeping Boer-bean tree. Unfortunately he wasn’t quiet enough as a hyena showed up almost immediately to lay claim to the leopard’s kill. The Emsagwen male tried valiantly to defend his hard-earned catch, but when a second, third and fourth hyena showed up, he made the tough but wise choice to abandon his kill. The thieves wasted no time in devouring the Nyala, and with devastating speed it was reduced to nothing more than a head, spine, and some skin. As the hyenas slowed their feeding frenzy, the still hungry male leopard spotted an opportunity and charged the satiated group. In the ensuing fright and confusion the brave male managed to retrieve what little was left of the kill and lodge it high up in a Knob-thorn tree. The hyenas scrambled to regain their stolen spoils, but the agile leopard whipped it effortlessly up the tree before they could. He then settled down to feed on the scant remains, while the scavengers lay down under the tree on the off chance that any scraps might come their way. They’re nothing if not optimistic.
The last day of the week brought with it a very special sighting. In the morning we found three of the Manyelethi males in the presence of one female lion. She was lying in the long grass so it was hard to make a positive ID, but she looked to be one of the Eyrefield lionesses. In the afternoon we found the two males again, only this time they had three sub-adult females from the Eyrefield pride and a baby buffalo kill with them. It looked as if the three females had killed the young buffalo and then the males had arrived to usurp it. There was little aggression between the two parties however, and one of the lionesses was actually trying to have her way with the males. This was the first time that we’d seen these lionesses behaving in this manner towards the males, and may even herald the beginning of them being accepted by the dominant Manyelethi coalition. If this is the case it could lead to mating and the possible pitter patter of little paws.
The two adult females can then finally stop shielding the sub-adults, which means all the females in the Eyrefield pride will be able to reunite. Unfortunately the down side of this outcome is that it will spell the end of the line for the pride’s three young males. The trio will consequently be pushed out and have to fend for themselves on their long and treacherous journey to adulthood. With the males finally out of the picture the females’ safety will improve dramatically though, so it’s definitely going to be very interesting to see how things unfold during the rest of winter. Hopefully it will all go smoothly and the Eyrefield pride will be able to return to the mighty pride it once was.
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.