This past week started with a bang, had a bang in the middle, and then ended with a bang too. Mating leopards, mating lions, two leopard kills, a lion kill, and two African wild dog kills. So much excitement! The onset of the rainy season always brings with it an abundance of new life. First to arrive were the impala lambs, and then this week we saw our first baby Wildebeest.
If numbers make you do the silly dance, then this section is especially for you: lion – 17; leopard – 18; elephant – 23; rhino – 28; buffalo – 19; wild dog – 2; cheetah – 5.
Don’t forget that you can always refer to the Wildlife Sightings Maps for a more detailed look at what was seen where.
The Wild dogs are back in town
Over the last few months these elusive creatures have teased us repeatedly. Finding their tracks on the western bank, having brief sightings of them in the evening just after dark, and hearing reports of them crossing our boundary mere minutes before we made it to the area. This week our efforts paid off though, and we were rewarded with not one, but two, incredible sightings of them. Even better, we got to see them make a few kills in the process.
The Wild dogs arrived back on Sunday afternoon, left again, and then returned on Thursday morning. True to form, they were trotting northwards at a clip on River Road near Flockfield lookout when we found them. They chased a few different antelope as they ran, and then just as they were approaching the West Street area one of the adults took off at a staggering pace towards the Matshipiri. We followed at a distance and watched as one of the adult males killed an impala lamb. By the time we’d covered the last hundred or so yards to get to them there was almost nothing left. The pups played with the scraps for a while, and then the pack moved off towards the river.
These animals are very active predators and often cover great distances while running. They get really hot as a result, which is why they’re always so keen on a thirst quenching drink and cooling swim after a hunt. After swimming at West Street the pack moved westwards again, and made yet another kill. This time an adult impala. The sun was setting by then, so we left them feeding on their prize. The following morning we found nothing but tracks heading west off the property. We didn’t see them again for a few days after that.
On Thursday morning we discovered tracks in central Charleston. Before we even had time to figure out which direction they were going in, nine dogs came bounding out of the bushes. They ran around for a while, with the pups in their usual playful moods. When we left them around mid-morning they’d settled down in the shade to rest out the hottest part of the day. It grew progressively cloudy and cooler after that, and even drizzled lightly for a while. So by the time we reached their last known whereabouts later that afternoon, all we found of the dogs were their tracks.
The cheetah brothers nearly get stampeded
This was also a fantastic week for the two cheetah brothers we often see in the north-eastern parts of the property. We saw them a total of four times – Sunday, Monday, Friday and Saturday, and all the sightings took place up near the Clarendon Dam area. On two occasions they were resting in some shade near the boundary, but the other two sightings were action-packed. On Monday morning we left the pair sleeping on the boundary, but we returned later that afternoon to an entirely different scenario. They had killed an impala during the course of the morning and were in the process of finishing it off when we arrived.
When we found them again on Saturday they’d set their sights on a wildebeest, a far more formidable target for the likes of these slightly built fellows. Earlier on in the week we saw our first baby wildebeest near Clarendon Dam, and a few days later a second one was born. That afternoon the males were moving eastwards towards the Kruger National Park when they noticed the young wildebeest to their west. Moving with both speed and agility, they approached the herd from the south and stalked to within a hundred or so metres before running in. Splitting the herd up was an excellent tactic. Missing their quarry by mere inches, and then getting stuck in the middle of the angry wildebeest was not.
The cheetahs quickly found themselves amidst a throng of hooves and horns, but luckily they managed to escape. When they glanced back all they could see was a wall of wildebeest protecting the youngster as it moved northwards away from the herd with its mother. When we left the males as darkness fell, they were still catching their breath near the dam itself.
Late on Tuesday morning, a few guests arriving by car witnessed the Manyelethi male ‘Hip scar’ and the eldest Eyrefield lioness killing an impala near Princess Alice Pans. The two lions got into a skirmish when it came to divviying up the spoils, but the male predictably ended up with the lion’s share, while the female was left licking her wounds.
When we followed up a bit later the Eyrefield female seemed to have lost interest in the kill, and was instead focusing all her attention on her male companion. Once the Manyelethi male had finished his meal and begun grooming himself, she moved in and started flirting. It was a little stop-start to begin with, but the Eyrefield lioness eventually caught his attention. And so their mating ritual began.
Shortly after dark two more of the Manyelethi males – ‘dark nose’ and ‘3-tooth’– arrived. They were only there for a short while though, because as soon they realised what was going on they headed south to find their other sibling. On Thursday we found the still mating couple just south of their previous location. We’ll be waiting with baited breath to see what the next few months hold in store for this lioness.
A gutsy move
Every few months we’re surprised by the varying behaviours of the animals, and just such an instance occurred on Tuesday afternoon. Although male leopards are quite capable of taking down larger prey such as warthogs and small buffalo, they generally don’t bother. Reason being that these animals are too big for them to tree, so the risk of losing the kill to a hyena is far greater than normal.
The 2006 son of the Sparta female decided otherwise however. When we found him on Tuesday afternoon – at Hyena Waterhole no less – he had an adult female kudu kill. His prey weighed in at almost double what he did, so there was absolutely no way he’d be dragging it up a tree. Over the next few days everyone watched in awe as he continued to feed off his impressively large kill. Much to our amazement he managed to work his way through at least half of it before a hyena stole it from him on Wednesday night. We’re seeing this young male more and more often in this area, so hopefully he’ll decided to stick around and stake his claim on MalaMala.
Casanova is at it again
The past week was an eventful one for both the Airstrip male and Kikilezi female leopards. On both occasions that we came across the pair, they were mating. The first time was in Marthly, and the second in the Mlowathi. Needless to say, both sightings were very eventful. On Sunday evening we were following up on the remains of an impala carcass that had been eaten by vultures that morning, when we found the pair kicking off their week long mating ritual. From the look of things their courting days are long gone, as these two lovebirds mated frequently with no regard for their spectators. Coupling was intense and noisy, which is par for the course with these incredible cats.
Little did we know the interesting turn of events that awaited us however.
As the animals were moving from one nuptial spot to the next, the Airstrip male could not help but notice an unsuspecting young impala resting in the bush line. Completely unaware (or not interested), the Kikilezi female continued to pester the object of her desire. Cutting him off in whatever direction he walked, presenting her rump to him, and rubbing her tail against the side of his face, all in an attempt to get what she wanted.
In the midst of all of this he somehow managed to convey the message, “A man has to eat too!”
He froze, lowered his body into the ambush position, and nimbly stalked towards his unsuspecting prey. In a flash it was all over. The buck’s distress call rang out ever so briefly, before the male made off with his hors d’oeuvre.
Gripping his loot firmly in his powerful jaws, he cast about for an appropriate tree in which to enjoy his snack. He eventually decided on a large Sausage tree, and rapidly hoisted his kill to safety and tucked in. He clearly had no intention of sharing the spoils with his lady friend, even though she’d followed at a tentative distance in the hope that he might change his mind and invite her to join him.
The Airstrip male fed for a short while before returning to the base of the tree where the Kikilezi female was waiting for him. The couple then ventured off to continue their business. We found them near West Street on Thursday, but by then they’d reached the tail of their mating stint.
MalaMala welcomes two new additions
The game viewing we experienced this past week was nothing short of spectacular, and will surely be remembered as one of the highlights of 2011. One sighting in particular certainly contributed to this. As MalaMala moves into a time of plenty with the onset of the rains, we’re seeing an abundance of new life everywhere. The day began with a slight drizzle, which meant the guests needed a little encouragement to join us on drive.
We had an eventful morning despite the wet weather, but soon everyone’s rumbling tummies reminded us that it was time to return for breakfast. We were on the verge of heading back to camp when we discovered two leopard cubs! Although there was a marked difference in size between the two, they were definitely brother and sister. Seen at the Charleston River Rocks, in the vicinity of the Sand River, the little guys looked to be in the region of five months old. The slightly bigger male was also the bolder of the two, and opted to remain in full view atop his ‘rocky kingdom’ when we arrived. Following her brother’s example, the more petite female then relaxed and came back out of her hiding place. It took a few minutes, but before long the siblings were once again gambolling around their rocky environment, offering some very special and seldom seen viewing for everyone present. We were treated to something truly magical, as these young predators moved in and around their rock-strewn playground, stalking and pouncing on each other, as well as on other unsuspecting prey such as grasshoppers and the like. Of course, we were all wondering where their mom was.
When we returned that afternoon for some more fun courtesy of the little fur balls, we were lucky enough to see the the Jakkalsdraai female return to her youngsters. As she called out for them on her approach, both cubs pricked up their ears and made a hasty dash in her direction. There was much vocalisation and rubbing together of heads as the happily reunited trio reaffirmed their family bonds.
To be privy to such a wonderful interaction certainly warmed the hearts of everyone fortunate enough to witness it. As they melted away into the thick bush, the youngsters continued to pester their mother for an answer to the age-old question, “Where have you been all day mum?”
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.