CyberDiary – 7 August 2011

MalaMala Game Reserve - Manyelethi male lion

Manyelethi male lion by Shaun Raine

This past week was packed with leopard and lion activity. The son of the Matshipiri female leopard is proving to be an astute hunter in his own right, surprising the Ostrich Koppies female leopard (and onlookers) with his boldness. The large male leopard from Sparta spent some time with the young male we’ve been seeing lately. The Airstrip male leopard and Sparta female leopard spent some time mating – this was followed by a really entertaining sighting involving the aforementioned male and a group of cheeky hyenas. The lions were out in full force as well, with the Manyelethi male lions and Styx lionesses catching a number of buffalos between them. The Emsagwen male and Kikilezi female leopards were also mating. The cheetah coalition showed face after an absence of a few weeks. And finally, a delightful surprise in the form of a female leopard we haven’t seen around these parts in quite some time.

If you’re a keen train (or leopard) spotter, this is how many times we saw each of the following animals during the past week: lion – 18; leopard – 23; elephant – 29; rhino – 16; buffalo – 16; 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.

Enjoy!

Tuesday

We kick this week’s CyberDiary off with a fantastic interaction between the Ostrich Koppies female and the son of the Matshipiri female. When we found the male he was on Tlebe Rocks Road with the Ostrich Koppies female hot on his heals. He was his usual nervous self around the vehicles and disappeared soon after being discovered. Meanwhile, the Ostrich Koppies female climbed up a nearby Marula tree that held the neatly stashed remains of an adult male impala and began feeding. Judging from how empty her stomach looked however, it clearly didn’t belong to her.

The son of the Matshipiri female found himself in a dilemma. He either had to overcome his shyness, or lose out on his hard earned kill. In the end his growling stomach won out and he leapt into the tree, chasing the rather surprised Ostrich Koppies female into the upper branches. The brave young male then settled down to finish the remains of his meal.

Later that evening “spots” seen high up in a Mahogany tree revealed the large male leopard from Sparta, and as it happened the young male leopard that we’ve been seeing quite frequently around West Street bridge was with him. The large male leopard was feeding on a bushbuck, but aside from the occasional growl – lest the youngster forget who was in charge – there was very little aggression between the two. It could be that the large male leopard from Sparta is the father of this unknown youngster. We’re not sure what other reason he could have for being so tolerant of the intruder. During the following day we continued to see the leopards in close proximity to one another, with the younger one even calling softly to the older male from time to time.

MalaMala Game Reserve - Airstrip male leopard

Airstrip male leopard by Shaun Raine

Early on in the morning drive we came across the tracks of two leopards close to the new airstrip. We only found the Airstrip male and Sparta female late in the afternoon, and the pair was mating frequently. The real action only got started after dark however. They were walking westwards and it looked as though we were going to lose them as they headed towards the reserve boundary.

But then the Airstrip male spotted a herd of impala on the northern end of the airstrip.

The impala were standing in some long grass, which afforded their predator ample opportunity to get close. When he was about ten meters off, something spooked the antelope and they took off in the very direction of the leopards. All the Airstrip male really had to do was leap out from his hiding place and grab the passing adult female impala. With his astute strangle hold, the buck was dead within seconds. He immediately settled down to eat, and much to his annoyance the Sparta female wasted no time tucking in as well. Unfortunately for the cats, not even ten minutes later a small group of hyenas ran in and stole the kill.

This resulted in a feeding frenzy (hyenas aren’t known for their table manners).

The Airstrip male scampered off at the initial charge, but quickly regained his composure and confidence. The tables then turned as he thundered in on the hyenas and smartly stole back his kill. Before they’d even realised that they’d been duped, the wily leopard had safely secured the impala in the fork of a large Knob-thorn tree, well out of reach of the hooligan thieves.

Wednesday

MalaMala Game Reserve - Mating leopards

Emsagwen male and Kikilezi female leopards by Roan Ravenhill

This morning turned out to be an epic day for both lions and leopards. We’d seen a herd of buffalo on Marthly the day before, with two of the Marthly lionesses in close attendance. Nothing of interest happened between predator and prey until the following morning however, when we discovered lion tracks on top of buffalo tracks in Picadilly Triangle. After working the area for a while we located the sub-adult Styx lioness feeding on a sub-adult buffalo close to Fred’s tree. Around the same time we found the Styx lioness with her four cubs at the causeway, and on following the five of them into the southern end of Rhino Pens we discovered two baby buffalo carcasses and the remaining two Styx lionesses. As if this wasn’t already enough lion action, we went to follow up on the Manyelethi males who were on Marthly the day before. We found them enjoying a drink from the Sand River. Their thirst quenched, the dominant males made their way back to an adult female buffalo carcass. Deducting from the tracks of the buffalo it seemed likely that it was the same herd we’d seen previously. The Manyelethi males had more than likely made their kill first, and then while the herd was still on the run, the Styx lionesses had probably taken down another three of the bovines. With the buffalo having already run some distance in an attempt to shake off the Manyelethi males, the calves must have tired and dropped behind, presenting themselves as easy pickings in the process.

We found the Emsagwen male and the Kikilezi female leopards not far from where the sub-adult Styx lioness was with her buffalo kill. The pair was mating frequently while at the same time moving eastwards. We didn’t see them again in the afternoon, although we did find them mating every day after that for the remainder of the week.

MalaMala Game Reserve - Cheetah

Cheetah by Roan Ravenhill

After not being seen for several weeks, it was a delight to see the cheetah coalition again. Unfortunately it was just the three of them. There was no sign of the fourth brother. On the upside the trio looked very well fed, and spent the day sleeping in the shade. The following day we discovered their tracks moving deeper into the property, but then heading back out again towards the Kruger National Park.

Saturday

We ended off the exciting week on a high note when we came across a female leopard that we haven’t seen in a very long time. We spotted the daughter of the Campbell Koppies female (the last of her cubs to become independent) in the north western region of MalaMala in the afternoon. What is even more exciting is that she now has a cub of her own. We estimate the youngster to be in the region of six months old. Hopefully as the dry season continues and Mlowathi Dam retains most of its water, we’ll see a lot more of these two leopards.

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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