CyberDiary – 6 November 2011

Styx lion pride

Styx lion pride by Matt Meyer

We enjoyed a very eventful week here at MalaMala. The onset of the summer rains brought forward a few interesting sightings. The two cheetah brothers showed face again, there were some great sightings of the Styx lion pride, and we also spotted our first baby impala just before the weekend. Never one to disappoint, the Airstrip male leopard provided us with some excellent viewing as well. So grab a cup of coffee, or if the sun is over the yardarm, a G&T perhaps, and then sit back and enjoy this virtual safari from the comfort of your own home.

If you enjoy numbers almost as much as you do visiting MalaMala, then this section is especiallyfor you: lion – 17; leopard – 13; elephant – 32; rhino – 31; buffalo – 25; wild dog – 0; 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.

Enjoy!

The lions didn’t disappoint

The last morning of October produced some fantastic sightings of these big cats, all of which occurred on northern side Campbell Koppies. At various times throughout the day we came across the Styx cubs and three of the Styx lionesses. We also spotted the young Styx lioness hanging out with the dark-maned Manyelethi male. We found cubs early in the morning, and they provided us with some great quality viewing as they climbed trees and played tag in the firebreak. After a while they moved up into the rocks in the very eastern koppie, and waited there until their mothers returned later that morning.

Happily reunited, the family then spent the rest of the day lazing around in the shade just to the north of Campbell Koppies. From there we headed west to see what we could find out that way. Lo and behold, we ran into the young Styx lioness and her date, the dark-maned Manyelethi male. The pair had been mating since the previous morning, and their coupling became even more frequent as the female progressed further into her estrous cycle. We spent most of the morning with them, but when we went to follow in the evening they were nowhere to be seen. We did find the dark-nosed Manyelethi male roaring into the night, most probably in a bid to locate his lovesick brother.

Impala lambs abound

Every year the spring rains bring forth a welcome sight, one that the rangers, guests and predators all eagerly anticipate, although not for the same reasons. The arrival of impala lambs! We discovered our first frolicking baby impala around the White Cloth on Thursday, and since then we’ve been seeing these sweet little creatures more and more frequently. It’s only a matter of time before our impala population doubles in size, which means Christmas will come a month early for our predators.

The Cheetah brothers are back

Male cheetahs

Male cheetahs by Matt Meyer

We had a bumper week of cheetah sightings, which more than made up for the brothers’ absence in the last CyberDiary update. We saw them a total of five times, three of which were on consecutive days. All the sightings took place up around the northeastern corner near Clarendon Dam. Unfortunately only two of them lasted more than a few minutes. On the other three occasions they were either moving eastwards into the Kruger National Park, or we only came across them just after sunset. The last time they were viewed was on Friday, and luckily for us, they decided to stick around for the entire day. When we discovered the pair they were hard at work soaking up some early morning rays on the dam wall. They then ambled into the shade as soon as the temperature rose, and spent the rest of the day there relaxing. Much later on in the afternoon, just as the sun was setting, they finally got active. Onlookers were then treated to some great game viewing as the cheetahs moved about, scent marking the immediate vicinity.

Leaping leopards

Airstrip male leopard

Airstrip male leopard by Matt Meyer

We were on our way back to camp on Tuesday evening when we spotted six hyenas loitering suspiciously beneath a tree. Looking up, we soon realised what had piqued their interest. The Airstrip male had treed his dinner, a sub-adult impala carcass, and they were no doubt hoping that he’d drop it. He spent the next few minutes giving himself a thorough grooming, while the frustrated scavengers tried in vain to figure out a way to get at his meal. They eventually lost interest and moved off to the north, and as soon as they did, the male saw his gap and took it. Descending the tree with the kind of agility and grace that only a leopard can pull off, the Airstrip male strolled southwards in the Mlowathi River. With the onset of the spring rains, all the dried up pools have began to fill up again. This is really convenient for a leopard with a kill, as it means he doesn’t have to head all the way down to the river for a drink. We followed up first thing the next morning, but although the carcass was still in the tree, the Airstrip male was nowhere to be found. It’s very unusual behaviour for a leopard to leave a kill unattended for so long, so we were more than a little curious as we sat waiting for the male to return. We were on the verge of calling it a day, when he pitched up around the Piccadilly area, and from there moved northwards back to his kill. After bringing the carcass back down to ground level (it’s more comfortable than eating in the tree), the Airstrip male spent most of the day feeding. Later on in the afternoon some more hyenas arrived in the area, causing him to hightail it back up a tree. After feeding for a while longer, he then made his way back down the tree and wandered southwards down the river, back to the pools he’d enjoyed the evening before.

The obligatory kill

Late on Friday morning we discovered the entire Styx pride – four lionesses and five cubs – on the remains of an adult zebra. All of them were as fat as blue ticks. It was starting to warm up, so the lions were taking advantage of the shade offered by a nearby Leadwood. We decided to leave them to sleep off their meal in peace. The next morning we headed back into the area and found nothing but the skull, spinal column and ribs of the carcass. The lions were a good 1.5km away, fast asleep beneath a magic Guarri thicket. There was a large pan full of water a mere fifty meters away from the kill site, so one has to ask why the pride chose instead to cover a fairly large distance on very full stomachs, and with a three month old cub in tow. There were no explanations forthcoming however.

Death, taxes, and mating leopards

Few things in life are guaranteed. Death and taxes are two of them, and now we’ve added a third to the list. Which is that the Airstrip male and Tamboti female will be found together on West Street Bridge at least once every couple of weeks. This was once again the case on Friday evening. We were making our way back to camp when we happened upon the male leopard sitting on the eastern ramp of the bridge. A couple of minutes later the Tamboti female approached with a growl. She then proceeded to strut her stuff around the Airstrip male, growling and snarling as she paced around the territorially expanding leopard. Shortly after they began courting, the pair headed north on the eastern bank of the Sand River. Predictably, the Airstrip male led the way, while his lady friend tailed closely behind. Keeping up with them as they moved through the dense vegetation along the riverbank wasn’t easy, as they were moving at quite a clip.  Fortunately the male lay down every so often, giving us a chance to catch up. Whenever he did so, the female would approach him in an alternately aggressive and flirtatious manner. He’d mount her on occasion, but although all the usual pre-mating utterances were there, the final eruption was not. It is actually quite common for leopard couples to refrain from mating right off the bat. As with humans, it takes time before they get along with each other. Only after a bit of pushing, wrestling, and struggling, will they eventually be ready to mate properly. What we witnessed that evening was more than likely the beginning of what will prove to be an intense 2-5 day mating affair between the 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 FlickrClick 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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