CyberDiary – 16 October 2011

Styx lion pride

Styx lion pride by Ryan Driemeyer

This week we learnt that three is not always a crowd, particularly when it comes to leopards mating. The sub-adult Selati male lions took on a herd of buffalo and came off second best. And the week drew to a dramatic close, when a classic Lowveld thunderstorm provided an exhilarating backdrop for some frenzied, albeit unsuccessful, hunting.

Do you enjoy keeping tally? Is a day without numbers like Thanksgiving without a turkey? Then this section is especially for you: lion – 21; leopard – 23; elephant – 32; rhino – 20; buffalo – 19; 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

Trio of leopards

Airstrip male, Tamboti female and daughter of Kikilezi female by Ryan Driemeyer

Within the first twenty minutes of the morning drive we found the Airstrip male mating with the Tamboti female close to camp. Although these two have been seen together on numerous occasions this year, the female has yet to fall pregnant. Copulations were very frequent, sometimes as often as every two minutes, affording onlookers an hour or so of good viewing. The pair then moved off into some thick reeds for a little privacy. We didn’t see them again until later in the day, when some excellent tracking led us to find the busy couple close to West Street bridge. The Airstrip male was crossing the bridge in a westerly direction when we came upon him, while another ranger approaching from the east spotted a second leopard to the south of the bridge on the opposite bank. It was none other than the Tamboti female, hot on the trail of her beloved. Once the pair reunited, it was as though this morning’s sighting had never ended. She immediately began teasing him, and so their mating continued. They headed south along the river and then did a u-turn back north again. When we finally left them to themselves they were just north of the bridge.

Monday

We set out early this morning to follow up on the lovebirds, and discovered them still going at it just south of Main Camp. The Airstrip male then noticed something to the east and headed off in that direction. That something turned out to be the daughter of the Kikilezi female. Consumed by jealousy, the Tamboti female chased the intruder up a Leadwood tree. After a long stand-off, the couple settled down again at the base of the tree, although their mating frequency slowed to ten minute intervals. Clearly the Tamboti female was still a little miffed by what had just transpired. The pair then moved off in an easterly direction, with the curious daughter of the Kikilezi female following a short distance behind. The Tamboti female was none too happy about this, and made it blatantly clear that the young upstart was not to go anywhere near her man. But all this served to do was entice the younger leopard, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying this new game of trying to get as close as possible to the Airstrip male. At one point she was a mere two meters off from her target, before the agitated Tamboti female finally manged to cut her off. This went on all morning, with the mating pair taking time to copulate in-between. Later that evening we came across the trio near the causeway. Nothing had changed however, as the cheeky youngster was still happily intruding upon the couple’s privacy.

Tuesday

This morning we found the three at Bicycle Crossing. Amazingly the daughter of the Kikilezi female was still up to no good, by which point the poor Tamboti female was beyond infuriated by the situation. They moved slowly west through the reeds, and in spite of the irritating distraction in the form of the younger leopard, continued to mate every few minutes. The afternoon was no different from the morning, except that viewing proved problematic in the thick reeds.

Wednesday

Today brought with it the end of the mating period. The Airstrip male was found just south of Main Camp, and then lost again a short while later. We saw the Tamboti female in the same area, although she was heading in the opposite direction. The impudent daughter of the Kikilezi female had presumably gone off in search of someone else to harass, or perhaps she’d just gone looking for a bite after two full days of not eating. After all the excitement and activity over the past few days, we can only hope that the Tamboti female will at last fall pregnant.

We’d found the four young Selati males the night before, so we set off towards Charleston first thing to see if we could relocate them. After an hour of tracking them the trail went dry. Their tracks were on top of the buffalo herd’s though, so as a last resort we decided to see if we could find the buffalo instead. The herd was approaching the Sand River looking very relaxed when we finally came across them. After watching them move down to the river where they enjoyed a good drink, it was time to head back to camp.

Just as we were leaving we came across three of the Selati males sitting about 80 meters off from the herd, staring intently at what they hoped would be their next meal. We decided that camp could wait, and moved into position to watch the action unfold. A little while later the buffalo began moving out of the river towards the waiting lions. The first members quickly noticed the predators, and immediately went stampeding back into the water. With their cover blown, it seemed certain that the lions had lost the upper hand. But things aren’t always as they seem, because not ten minutes later a second wave of bovines emerged from the river in the direction of the lions. And this lot didn’t have a clue as to what was waiting for them in the long grass.

Excitement rose as the unaware herd drew closer. The cats sat dead still until they were quite literally surrounded. Suddenly one of the buffalo looked up, and found itself staring straight into the eyes of a lion! The herd all stampeded away, except for one unfortunate cow who panicked and ran right into the three Selati males. They had her surrounded, and in a flash one of the lions was on top of her. It looked like it was all over for the hapless buffalo, but all it took was one frantic kick and the cow had knocked the lion off her back. She then took her gap and ran back to the safety of her herd. The tables were turned, and now it was the prey who were chasing the predators. The lions knew better than to take on a herd of determined bovines, and immediately turned on their heels and fled. After being chased for a while, they eventually took cover in a thicket on the bank of the river. Satisfied that they’d made their point, the buffalo then left the area.

Saturday

Daughter of the Campbell Koppies female leopard

Daughter of the Campbell Koppies female leopard Ryan Driemeyer

Scouting around in the Mlowathi area this morning, we came across a herd of wildebeest galloping toward the Mlowathi River. It was strange behavior for these animals, but the unmistakable grunt was all we needed to let us know that something was a foot. By the time we eventually caught up with the wildebeest they had relaxed down again, and were grazing peacefully back towards the bush line. Just then a squirrel sounded the alarm, while at the same time glaring intently upstream. Yet another clue pointing to the fact that there might be a predator in the vicinity. A flick of the tail was the last piece of the puzzle, and just then a beautiful female leopard strode out of the riverbed and headed east. With her sleek body, pink nose, and the line of spots on her forehead forming a perfect ‘L’ shape, it could only be the 2008 daughter of the Campbell Koppies female. She moved through the brush with intent, ears cocked forward, as she honed in on her potential prey. A male steenbok spotted her and bolted off, only to come to a stop a mere twenty meters away. By then this astute huntress had maneuvered herself into a position well out of sight, leaving the befuddled steenbok rooted to the spot. After stalking closer, the steenbok again noticed her, and dashed off into a huge depression in the ground. A fatal error as it turned out. The leopard looped around to the far side of the depression, leaving the tiny antelope staring in the wrong direction. She moved in, and although her cover was blown again, this time it was too late. A 15 meter dash ended in a cloud of dust, and only when the air cleared did we see the victorious leopard holding her prize. She stashed the carcass under a small Jakkalberry tree, and then took a moment to catch her breath. We followed up again later,  but unfortunately there was no sign of either the leopard or her kill.

Kikilezi female leopard

Kikilezi female leopard by Ryan Driemeyer

Later on that same day an event occurred that was so dramatic, its probably been permanently etched into the memories of everyone who witnessed it. The scene kicked off in the early evening when we found the Kikilezi female. After resting for some time, she made her way towards Piccadilly Triangle where a big herd of impala is sure to be found almost every night. As she was approaching the area, a huge thunderstorm rolled in from the south. The wind was howling, and the lightning and thunder cracked on unabated. The leopard spotted a herd of impala in the middle of the open area. Thinking that the storm was on her side, she began stalking the buck. With the wind and thunder creating such a racket, her approach was made easy, as the impala’s senses were lulled by the noise of the storm. She stalked for about half an hour, which would normally have posed a problem for us. But with the constant lighting illuminating her every move, tracking her was easy. The Kikilezi female eventually she made a bold dash over open ground, but unfortunately her efforts went unrewarded. We were watching the leopard stare after the receding prey, when a flash of movement from the right sent the impala bounding off again. It was a lioness giving chase on the same herd that the Kikilezi female had been stalking minutes earlier. All of a sudden there were four lionesses criss-crossing the open area. It turned out to be the Styx pride, and each of the females was making her own attempt at catching an impala. One lioness came within inches of bringing one down, but the lucky buck evaded her outstretched paw by a hair’s breadth.

While this was going on the storm reached its climax. The wind howled ferociously, tearing down a large tree close to where we were parked. The Styx females made repeated attempts at the impala, but by now the buck were well aware and managed to stay out of harm’s way. The sighting ended with the lionesses walking off in single file, no doubt in search of prey that was a little less alert.

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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