The week got off to a fairly quiet start, but picked up pretty quickly as soon as the brief cold snap upped and left. Lions and leopards abound in this update. We saw the Styx, Eyrefield and Fourways prides, and all are looking good. A couple of the Eyrefield females are heavily pregnant, so we’re sure to hear the pitter patter of little lion paws any day now. We enjoyed a lovely sighting of the Styx pride on a buffalo kill mid-week, where the baby cub discovered a taste for meat. Not to be outdone, the leopards were out in force as well. We had a few of interesting sightings of these cats, including a very entertaining one of the Bicycle Crossing male being woken up by a bushbuck.
If numbers, and keeping tabs on how many times we saw what, have you going weak at the knees, then this is the section for you: lion – 15; leopard – 11; elephant – 38; rhino – 34; buffalo – 27; wild dog – 1; 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.
We found two of the Styx pride lionesses hunting around Senegal Bush in the evening. They made several attempts at impala, but kept missing their target. We then spotted a third female huddled closely with one of the Manyelethi males at Campbell Koppies. The male looked like he was keen on mating, but his companion studiously ignored his advances and just carried on sleeping. No doubt the wind howling through the bush had something to do with her disinterest.
The Ostrich Koppies female leopard was also out and about on this cold and blustery day. She too was hunting, and like the lions, her endeavours appeared unsuccessful. We did lose sight of her when she chased a duiker into the Thlebe Rocks donga though, so perhaps she got lucky in the end.
We had a brief sighting of one Wild dog close to Rattrays Camp, but unfortunately it was already dark by the time we found it. When we followed up again in the morning, tracks indicated that a small pack had come onto the property and then promptly left again before we had a chance to locate them.
We came across the Fourways pride soaking up the morning sun on the banks of the Matshipiri River. They all looked well fed, and spent most of the day resting up in the shade. Only once the sun sank behind the Drakensberg Mountains did the cubs started playing. The two girls ganged up on their brother, chasing him through the open burnt grass, while mom and aunt slowly stretched and yawned.
Four of the five Eyrefield lionesses were lying in the riverbed opposite Rattrays Camp when we found them. Their ample girths indicating that hunting had been good of late. The oldest female looked on the verge of giving birth, and one of the younger female also appeared heavily pregnant. As the evening drew in, a soft call alerted us to the presence of the fifth lioness. We didn’t manage to get a look at her, but the entire pride immediately crossed the river to join their missing mate in some very thick reeds.
We also saw the Ostrich Koppies female away from her cub today. While the youngster seems to be sticking to her mother’s current territory, which is to the east of the Mlowathi River, the Ostrich Koppies female was at her namesake, the Ostrich Koppies rocks, when we found her. This is the first time in years that we have seen her around here. After her first litter was born (on these very rocks), she shifted her territory further north. We think with her cub growing up, she may be trying to shift her territory a little to open up some opportunities for her daughter. The Matshipiri female hasn’t been around in ages, so it could also be that the Ostrich Koppies female is just trying to extend her territory.
We found the entire Styx pride (minus the injured female) feasting on a large buffalo cow at Matshipiri waterhole with three of theManyelethi males. The five cubs attacked the carcass hungrily, stuffing their bellies to bursting before passing out in the cool sand. The youngest cub was tentative at the outset, but he was soon fighting tooth and nail to get at the best bits. With so many lions present, the buffalo only lasted for the day. By nightfall the fat cats had all passed out, and there was nothing but ribs sticking up from the spine of the kill.
A young male leopard* was spotted on a pile of rocks close to Ostrich Koppies in the morning. He was very relaxed, but still quite young. We heard another leopard vocalizing nearby and went to investigate. It turned out to be the Kikilezi female, and she was foaming at the mouth and very agitated. We were surprised to find her so far outside her normal territory, even more so when the daughter of the Campbell Koppies female stepped out from behind a thicket. But if the Kikilezi female was only somewhat out of her territory, then it has to be said that thedaughter of the Campbell Koppies female was way out of hers, as this seldom seen young female’s territory on MalaMala is restricted to the very northwestern parts of Eyrefield. The females squared up to each other, with the younger of the two outmatched, but clearly unafraid.
In the last few weeks we’ve seen the daughter of the Campbell Koppies female out of her normal territory on a few occasions, so perhaps she is trying to shift territories. This could also explain the movements of the Ostrich Koppies female, as the standoff took place in her territory. The two females hissed, growled and roared at each other for what seemed like an eternity, before eventually going their separate ways without ever coming to blows. The daughter of the Campbell Koppies female went back to collect her cub*, and then moved northeast, while the Kikilezi female headed south.
* The young male leopard we spotted on the rocks was in fact the daughter of the Campbell Koppies female’s cub.
The sighting of the week was without a doubt when we found one of the sub-adult Eyrefield males feeding on a buffalo kill. This is the male with the full tail, and he’s also in much healthier condition. Unfortunately almost as soon as we’d spotted him, the five Eyrefield lionessescame bursting from the bushes to his west, closely followed by two of the Manyelethi males. The Eyrefield sub-adult took one look at what was bearing down on him, and made off like the clappers. The females reached the kill first and quickly started feeding, but as soon as the two males arrived they chased the lionesses off and claimed the prize for themselves. The five females regrouped, and led by the oldest lioness, charged back at the greedy bullies. Two of the lionesses cornered one of the Manyelethi males, and dished out a serious beating. Seeing this, his brother prudently backed away from the kill. Only once the scores had been settled did all seven lions then settle down to enjoy their hijacked feast. At least two of the females appear to be lactating, so whenever the males paid them any attention, they were angrily swatted away. By nightfall the buffalo was finished and the lions all fast asleep.
When we went back to follow up this morning, we discovered the Eyrefield pride long gone. We did manage to find one of the Manyelethi males however. Still very full from his big dinner, he slept for most of the day and only got active during the golden hour just before sunset. A languid amble along the road afforded us a multitude of angles from which to capture his magnificence. And then, much to the delight of his already delighted audience, he roared loudly.
Today brought with it a rare visitor to these parts. We spotted an ostrich pair with eight newborn chicks. The family spent most of the day at Clarendon, and the proud parents obligingly allowed us close enough to get a good look at their youngsters.
In the early afternoon we came across the Bicycle Crossing male at Charleston north. He was lounging in the afternoon sun; fast asleep on his back, when a bushbuck rudely woke from his siesta by sprinting straight at him. The alert antelope spotted the leopard just in time though, and rapidly veered southwards. As soon as the sleepy male leopard came to, he set about stalking the bushbuck. Crisscrossing through the reed bed, predator carefully followed prey. They both emerged on the western bank, with the antelope blissfully unaware that he was still being followed. When the bushbuck walked into a thicket and lay down, the Bicycle Crossing male succeeded in getting to within five meters of it. Eventually all that stood between him and his dinner was an open patch of land.
Frozen to the spot for a good 15 minutes, the leopard finally took a giant leap, covering half the ground in the process. But in the instant that he landed, the lucky buck took off again. The Bicycle Crossing male took a split second to regroup, and that’s when the bushbuck (who seemed to have nine lives) made his escape. He didn’t get far however, as the bank down to the riverbed was not only steep, but also covered in Buffalo-thorn. The now not so fortunate antelope ground to a halt just short of the thorny foliage, which happened to be a mere ten meters from where he’d left his pursuer behind. The shrewd leopard slunk around one of the Buffalo-thorns, and made yet another attempt at catching his prey. But yet again an open patch foiled him, and this time the bushbuck spotted him even before he charged in. A few short barks left hanging in the air was all that remained as the antelope sprinted off to enjoy another day. Having recognized that he’d been outsmarted, the Bicycle Crossing male was already resting by then.
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.