CyberDiary – 11 December 2011

Leopards mating

The Airstrip male and Kikilezi female mating by John Richardson

What a week it’s been! This pristine wilderness we call MalaMala definitely lived up to its reputation of being one of the best privately owned game viewing properties in the world. We saw everything from the MalaMala 7: lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino, elephant, cheetah and Wild dog to Sable antelope and much more. Not to mention a couple kills as well! As the sun sets on another action-packed week on our property, we can’t wait to see what the next seven days holds in store for us.

Please note that this is the last CyberDiary update for 2011. Our first installment in the New Year will be on Tuesday the 10th of January. It’s been a real treat keeping you all entertained, but it’s time for us to put down our quills and take a break. We do still have one final Video Thursday post to look forward to however, and rumor has it that it’s a bumper edition!

If you’re a train spotter (aspirant or otherwise), then this section is especially for you: lion – 12; leopard – 17; elephant – 23; rhino – 0*; buffalo – 17; Wild dog – 2; cheetah – 2.

*Rhino sightings currently unavailable.

Don’t forget that you can always refer to the Wildlife Sightings Maps for a more detailed look at what was seen where.

Enjoy!

Casanova is at it again

Late on Sunday afternoon, as the sun was setting and night loomed on the western horizon, we heard the unmistakable sound of leopards mating. Within a few minutes we’d managed to track down the Airstrip male, and his current lady friend, the Kikilezi female. We followed them as they crossed west over the new airstrip and headed straight towards a Side-striped jackal den site. As you can imagine, the jackal parents went into a frenzy, running around and calling in an attempt to draw the cats’ attention away from their little ones.

The subsequent commotion even attracted an inquisitive White rhino bull into the area.

But the mating pair showed little more than cursory interest in the jackals, as they clearly had more pressing matters to attend to. The later it got, the more frequently the two mated. At one stage this was as often as every two to three minutes. When they reached our western boundary they changed direction and headed north. Suddenly, out of the shadows, three young Eyrefield lionesses ran in on the leopards! The lovestruck couple scattered immediately, escaping certain death in the process.

The Selati male lions go on the hunt

Selati male lion

Selati male lion by Pieter van Wyk

Hard work, persistence and some good tracking on Monday morning were what led us to an adrenaline filled sighting on Thursday. After finding the tracks of the four young Selati males in the southern parts of our reserve we followed them south, first towards the Sand River, and then through some thick bush. We eventually discovered the males resting together on a granite rock on the river’s northern bank. It wasn’t long before we noticed a large herd of buffalo approaching the river a little to the east of the lions.

Having these two species in close proximity to one another always gets us excited.

The Selati quartet all had their heads up, and were looking east with interest. A little while later they were up and mobile, their sights set firmly on the herd. The buffalo had come down to the river to drink, but by the time the lions got close the majority of the herd had already quenched their thirst and were slowly moving north again. Completely unaware of the danger that lurked in the long reeds all of 30 metres away, a few stragglers remained at the water’s edge. It was eerie to only get brief glimpses of the four lions as they stalked through the dense reed bed.

“Here we go, they’re running in!”  we told guests as the lions commenced the hunt.

Within seconds they had jumped on a buffalo cow, and with awe inspiring swiftness and efficiency, brought the animal down. The oldest of the group was tasked with applying the kiss of death, while the other three pinned the helpless buffalo down.

All of this happened about 10 metres from our vehicle.

The rest of the herd didn’t make any real effort to rescue the cow. One bull made a half-hearted attempt, but after coming within inches of the action he quickly backed off again. The lions then spent the next two days feeding on their prize. They’re fast getting a reputation in these parts for being of the most efficient buffalo killers we’ve seen.

The Wild dogs sneak up on us

Wild dogs

Chris Hall with the Wild dogs by Pieter van Wyk

We were watching seven rhinos mud bathing and grazing, when the tranquil sighting was interrupted by a little boy who calmly turned to his ranger and said, “Look at the dogs.”

For us the word ‘dogs’ is synonymous with ‘action’, and yet again we weren’t disappointed. A high speed chase ensued, resulting in a sub-adult female impala being bought down a mere 5 metres from the vehicle! The animals fed on their quarry momentarily, before suddenly darting off after a herd of zebra. They missed their chance though, and were soon back at the impala carcass fighting for the scraps.

Babies abound

We’ve recently been privy to an amazing variety of young predator sightings on the property, including lion cubs, hyena cubs and jackal pups. These are some of the highlights from this week.

Playtime for the Eyrefield cubs

Eyrefield cubs

The Eyrefield cubs play tag by Pieter van Wyk

The two Eyrefield lionesses and two cubs spent most of the week inbetween the new airstrip and the Sand River south of Main Camp. We enjoyed a few great sightings of them on the airstrip, where they had multiple interactions with some rhinos. On one occasion we saw them hunting impala, although nothing came of it. The days they spent along the river had plenty of action as well, with a herd of elephants giving the cubs’ mother and the old lioness cause for concern. Particularly when two large bulls with a difference of opinion came crashing through the reeds very close to where the cubs were playing.

On Thursday afternoon we had one of those heart melting sightings. It was non-stop playtime for about half an hour, as the youngsters romped on the rivebank while the adults rested. At one stage the cubs ran off down to the river (about 80 metres away), which was clearly too far for their mother’s liking because she quickly summoned them back with a series of soft, but richly-resonant grunts, which are commonly used by big cats as close-range contact calls. MalaMala’s two newest additions promptly came bounding back to their mother, and after greeting her affectionately they settled down to suckle.

Black-backed jackal pups

A termite mound that lies tucked away beneath a fallen tree in our northeastern corner, is home to five Black-backed jackal pups. On a few occasions this week we were lucky enough to catch sight of the little guys playing and exploring the world around them. Another den site, situated just west of the southern parts of the new airstrip, is home to three more pups. This week they successfully managed to avoid two mating leopards thanks to the clever diversion tactics of their parents.

Baby hyenas

Hyena cubs

Hyena cubs by John Richardson

The famous hyena den site that’s been featured on a few nature documentaries is currently occupied by two young cubs. Those who made the long trip down to the southern most parts of the reserve this week were richly rewarded with some fantastic sightings of the pair interacting with each other, as well as with other members of the clan. These youngsters are extremely relaxed and very curious, and at times have even come within a metre of the vehicles.

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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