CyberDiary – 9 October 2011

Styx lion cubs sleeping

Styx lion cubs sleeping by Andrew Batchelor

The buffalo herd lost a few members to the lions this week. We saw the Styx pride fairly frequently, and were pleased to note that the baby of the family is learning to hold its own against the bullying tactics of its four older cousins. The Selati sub-adult males showed face again after a lengthy absence, while the Airstrip male leopard’s unidentified lady friend offered a surprise sighting all her own. Not to be outdone, the Eyrefield and Fourways prides also put on a great show for us. The Manyelethi male lions didn’t fail to deliver in terms of great sightings either, and finally, the daughter of the Kikilezi female entertained us by harassing a skittish young male. All in all, a great week.

If numbers do it for you, then this section is especially for you: lion – 18; leopard – 17; elephant – 21; rhino – 19; buffalo – 18; 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

Styx cubs suckling

Styx cubs suckling by Andrew Batchelor

Today we found the Styx pride with all their cubs in tow. The four older ones and their mother looked extremely well fed, while the rest of the pride, including the newest addition, were all on the lean side. Watching the cubs interact is really fascinating, especially now that the baby is starting to hold his own against the four older bullies. This little guy has his work cut out for him though, as his future is very much dependent on the general wellbeing of the pride. This is most evident when suckling, because although his older cousins have been weaned, they’ll gladly drink from the older mother when the opportunity presents itself. This means that the youngest cub has to fight them off in order to get at his own milk. His mother isn’t any help either, as she is usually not that well fed herself. As such she is usually too tired, or just not in the mood,  to fend off the others. This youngster certainly has the odds stacked against him, and it will be a miracle if he makes it to adulthood. Miracles have been known to happen though, so maybe he will make it.

Monday

We spotted two young male lions on the Charleston Flockfield boundary in the morning. Initially they were slightly nervous of the vehicles, but soon relaxed down. The pair turned out to be two of the four young males from the Selati pride. These males, who were originally five strong, were sired by the Golf Course males. They were pushed out of the pride at the beginning of the year, and have since just been wandering around trying to stay out of harm’s way. Unfortunately the Manyelethi males got wind of them one night, and it was then that one of their brothers was caught and killed by the dominant coalition. After that the remaining four went underground.

Tuesday

Selati sub-adult male lions

Selati sub-adult male lions by Andrew Batchelor

The four males remained in the general vicinity, and when we found them again today they were with a dead buffalo. They’d also managed to garner some female attention. Three of them were gnawing on the scant remains of the buffalo kill, while the fourth one was a little distance away courting one of the Eyrefield lionesses. The pair didn’t mate, but that’s not to say the male wasn’t interested.

A little further north we came across two more members of the Eyrefield pride, and from the outset it was clear they were on the hunt. We then discovered the remaining two lying in ambush while watching the large herd of buffalo. The large pale female burst out from her hiding place and charged the herd. She managed to grab a young calf and attempted to suffocate it, but its mother came rushing back as soon as she heard her offspring’s pitiful bellows. The angry cow very nearly flattened the lioness into the ground in the process. The calf then stood up and teetered uneasily back to the rest of the herd, while its vigilant mother stood guard. The herd gathered around their younger member, and once it had recovered sufficiently, made a show of force by chasing one of the lionesses up a tree. Satisfied that they’d made their point, they then departed the area.

Later that afternoon we picked up on the panicked calls of the buffalo herd and went to investigate. En route we found the 2006 son of the Sparta female strolling along the Matshipiri River. Apart from some fresh facial wounds, the leopard looked in great shape. He skirted past the area where the bothered buffalo were calling, and continued north in the river. On leaving the male we resumed our search for the buffalo. Audio of them distress calling led us to the Hogvaal Donga, where we found the Fourways pride around a freshly killed adult female buffalo. The pride must have made their kill while we were at the leopard sighting. Needless to say the hungry lions wasted no time at all tucking into their mammoth meal.

Wednesday

First thing this morning we went to follow up on the Fourways pride. We arrived to find the two Eyrefield lionesses at the buffalo cow, while the Fourways lions were nowhere to be seen. We later spotted them feeding on a buffalo calf on the road north of the other kill . The Eyrefield lionesses might well have chased the Fourways pride off their kill during the night, but a more likely scenario is that they’d made their buffalo calf kill at the same time as the Fourways pride had killed the cow. Sometime during the night the Fourways pride had discovered this and chased them off. The two Eyrefield lionesses then snuck around to feed off the larger carcass.

Thursday

Unidentified female leopard

Unidentified female leopard by Andrew Batchelor

Today brought with it even more confusion when we found the Fourways pride back on the adult buffalo carcass, while the two Eyrefield lionesses were missing in action. To make matters even more interesting, three of the Manyelethi males had also arrived at the kill site. They seemed more than happy to help finish off the carcass, before retiring to the shade to sleep of their full bellies.

We also found one of the young Selati males with three of the Eyrefield lionesses on another buffalo carcass, this time on central MalaMala. The four fed amiably enough off the carcass, with little interaction between them. Nearby eight hyenas waited anxiously for their chance to feed. We later found the other three Selati males further south on central Charleston, where they were sleeping off the first buffalo they’d consumed.

In the last few weeks the Airstrip male has been seen with an unidentified female. This young leopard came from our western neighbor to mate with our very own Casanova, and presumably went back the way she came after completing the task at hand. At least that’s what we thought. When we ran into her again sometime later, she was around the Sand River at Elephant Rock with a freshly killed impala female. A little way north we spotted another impala carcass in the bush line, although this one was totally overrun by vultures and hyenas. We suspect that she might have made that kill first, and then lost it to the ever present scavengers. Whether that was the case or not, she took no chances with her current kill. After dragging it up a tree, she fed at her leisure for the next two days. Eventually there was only a shoulder blade left in the tree, at which point the wily female moved off into the river for a drink before disappearing entirely. This part of the property doesn’t have a territorial female, so we’re hoping she’ll decide to claim it for herself.

Friday

Yesterday we found the Styx pride with yet another large buffalo bull carcass, but by this morning they’d left the finished kill and moved into the Mlowathi River for a drink and rest. ‘Three Tooth’, one of the Manyelethi males, approached from the west. Still full from sharing the Fourways pride’s buffalo kill, he waddled up, greeted the pride, and then collapsed in a heap. At West Street Bridge we discovered his dark maned brother with one of the Eyrefield lionesses. He too was still bloated from the buffalo, and rested quietly with the others. When nightfall arrived the pair made their way to the airstrip. Roaring alerted us to the presence of ‘Black Nose’, the third Manyelethi male, and the only one not to have shared in the buffalo kill. The poor fellow was a little on the skinny side. He called out for his brothers, but with them all deep in their respective food comas, no responses were forthcoming. He finally found a shady spot to rest, which unbeknown to him was less than 50 meters away from where his one brother lay with the Styx pride.

Later that night he joined up with ‘Three Tooth’, although the Styx pride had since moved off. We tracked down ‘Hip Scar’, the last and most well fed of the Manyelethi coalition, to a shady Acacia close to the Matshipiri River. He only just managed to rouse himself after nightfall, and immediately began roaring in a bid to locate his brothers. When his calls went unanswered he started moving northwards. Crossing through the Ngoboswan Donga, he picked up on the strong smell of carrion and followed it. Half hidden in a Spike-thorn thicket lay the fully intact remains of a kudu bull. Full as he was, the male dragged the kill into the open and tucked in.

Saturday

Unidentified male leopard

Unidentified male leopard by Andrew Batchelor

Roaring around the Ngoboswan Donga led us to the Kikilezi female leopard. The reason for her agitation soon became evident when her daughter popped up behind her. After a brief stand-off the Kikilezi female moved off, with her daughter in cautious pursuit. We then heard two more leopards roaring further west, but we couldn’t access the donga from that point to investigate further. In the afternoon our efforts were rewarded when we spotted a nervous young male in the same area. We can only assume that he was the same leopard that had been roaring during the morning. He jogged off whenever our vehicles were on the move, but calmed down considerably as soon as we switched them off. This allowed us to get a few brief glimpses of him at least. Suddenly the daughter of the Kikilezi female appeared behind the skittish young male. She strolled right up to him with no fear whatsoever. Merely curious, or perhaps just youthful inexperience, we weren’t quite sure which it was. And neither was the young male, who didn’t know quite what to make of this rather forward missy. He decided that moving away would be his best line of defence, but this just prompted the female to follow. The two continued in this cat and mouse fashion for some time before we finally lost them in the thickets.

The last sighting of the week was of all four Selati sub-adult males together. When we found them they were lounging on New Rocks watching the herd of buffalo pass by. These guys are only just four years old, although you wouldn’t say so from their enormous size. They’re also in excellent condition, with barely a scar between them. They didn’t seem all that interested in the buffalo, but when a lion roared to their south they all sprang to attention and stared intently in that direction. Almost immediately the two smaller males went running in the opposite direction, with the other two close on their heels. They climbed termite mound after termite mound in a bid to get a visual of whoever was responsible for the roaring. Unfortunately it was coming from the thickly vegetated Rock Drift Donga, so they weren’t able to see anything. The males eventually settled down again, and came to rest in the shade of another termite mound. Two of the brothers climbed the mound to keep watch, giving their brothers an opportunity to sleep. We weren’t able to find out who was roaring either, but figured it was wise of these young males not to take any chances.

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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