CyberDiary – 4 December 2011

Cheetah

Cheetah by Donald MacCrimmon

We enjoyed yet another fantastic week here at MalaMala, with both the lions and leopards enjoying successful hunts. It was also full of rare and wonderful sightings, with the birth of a wildebeest calf, a small but busy pangolin, a Black rhino, and a pair of Sable bulls all adding to the mix.

If numbers make you giddy with anticipation, then this section is especially for you: lion – 18; leopard – 16; elephant – 29; rhino – 26; buffalo – 15; Wild dog – 0; cheetah – 3.

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

Enjoy!

A female leopard shows off her hunting skills

On Sunday afternoon we came across the Flockfield female and her small cub. She was incredibly relaxed, which is quite out of character for this normally nervous female. The pair was resting out in an open area when we arrived, but soon got up and wandered off into the afternoon sunlight. Both of them looked very lean. Mom was alert and attentive, keeping a constant lookout for potential threats and possible prey species. After an hour or so, just as dusk was setting in; she spotted an adult female steenbok. The cub sensed the urgency in its mother’s body language, and knew instinctively to get low and wait. Fortunately for the female leopard the small antelope was in thick vegetation, which afforded her some welcome cover as she made her stealthy approach.

Suddenly the leopard blurred into a flurry of spots as she dashed in on the unsuspecting steenbok. Diving into a thicket of vegetation, the female emerged from the ensuing cloud of dust with her prize firmly clasped in her jaws. After a final few kicks and spasms, all life drained out of the steenbok. As soon as it saw its mother with the kill the young cub came bounding forward. The female dragged it a few meters further along and then gave the little one a chance to play with the dead buck. It soon came to the conclusion that its new toy was in fact a meal though, and once it did the two leopards immediately tucked in.

A rather photogenic pangolin

Pangolin

Pangolin by Donald MacCrimmon

We enjoyed a wonderful, but quite rare, sighting of a pangolin on Sunday afternoon. The scaly anteater was fairly small, measuring only about 60cm in length, but very lively. It spent its time walking busily about, and even tried to trot away from the curious onlookers on occasion. Finding the pangolin on short green grass in such perfect afternoon light, was a photographic dream for everyone watching.

The Selati male lions bag a buffalo

Selati male lion on buffalo kill

Selati male lion on buffalo kill by Donald MacCrimmon

Early on Sunday evening we came across the four young Selati males in the northern parts of Charleston. We’d already had a fantastic afternoon’s viewing, which included seeing a large herd of buffalo, white rhinos, elephants, and of course, the aforementioned sightings of the Flockfield female and her cub, and the busy pangolin.

But things were about to get even better.

The four sizeable young males slowly started showing signs of life after their long afternoon siesta. They eventually roused themselves into an upright position and proceeded northwards on the road. Suddenly, and without any warning whatsoever, they went into hunting mode. We’d barely realised what was going on, when they were already running in on a young male buffalo that had chosen the wrong road to walk along. Within seconds they were on the bellowing bovine, and a couple minutes later it was all over. One of the males was still in the process of finishing off the dying animal, when the others began feeding. The lions feasted on their catch for two whole days.

A very brief sighting of a Black rhino

On Wednesday afternoon we enjoyed another rare sighting, this time of a Black rhino. The sighting was very brief as it immediately went crashing off into the thickets when we approached. The whole thing happened so quickly that we almost doubted what we’d just seen, but then we came across tracks at Mamba Waterhole confirming that it was in fact one of these extremely rare pachyderms that we’d seen.

Birth of a wildebeest

Thursday morning brought with it something that we don’t often get to write about. The majority of our weekly updates are centered on hunting and killing, but on this particular morning guests were privy to something much more special when we happened upon a wildebeest cow in the process of giving birth. The event took about fifteen minutes in total, with the calf’s back legs proving to be the most difficult part for the cow to get out. Within a few minutes of being born, the baby wildebeest was already on its legs and walking shakily about. Exhausted from the effort, the mother then rose to her feet and began cleaning her newborn.

Not far from where this took place, two male cheetahs were sleeping. The herd, with their newest member in tow, began walking in the direction of the predators. Everyone watched with baited breath, hoping and praying that the new life wouldn’t be snuffed out before it had even begun. The herd moved within fifty meters of the two cats, but even though the cheetahs saw the wildebeest approaching, they paid them no attention whatsoever.

Two Sable antelopes put in an appearance

In keeping with the week being one of rare sightings, on Friday and Saturday we spotted two Sable antelopes. The first sighting was very brief, as they were very close to the vehicle when we spotted them. Shy at the best of times, the two males beat a hasty retreat in the direction of the Kruger National Park as soon as they saw us. On Saturday we saw the bulls again. They were in the same vicinity, except this time they were in the far distance when we noticed them. This gave everyone ample opportunity to view them through binoculars.

Another leopard kill

Jakkalsdraai female leopard with duiker

Jakkalsdraai female leopard with duiker by Piet Van Wyk

It seems the more we venture down to the southern parts of our reserve, the more we’re rewarded for our efforts. At least that’s been the trend around here for the past month or so. And on Friday morning this was once again the case.

We set out with the intention of following up on the den site of the Jakkalsdraai female, which is situated in the southern parts of Charleston, in an area known as Charleston River Rocks. After searching the vicinity for a while without luck, we then decided to see if anything was happening at the hyena den site further east.

“Leopard with a kill!” someone suddenly said.

All eyes were on the bush, scouting about for the predator…and there she was, staring at us with a young duiker lodged firmly in her jaws! She paused for a moment, and then walked straight towards our vehicle. When she got closer we saw from its occasional thrashing that the buck was in fact still alive, and struggling in vain to escape its fate.

The Jakkalsdraai female was heading back to her den site – which was about a kilometre away – to feed her cubs. If she managed to keep the buck alive that long, her youngsters would learn a valuable lesson in the art of killing. We followed her as she made her way through the lush green regrowth. At one stage she even dropped her catch and darted off through the bush. She’d caught sight of another duiker, although this one was lucky enough to evade its pursuer.

She backtracked to where she’d dropped her prey, which had since taken its last breath, and continued on her way with its now lifeless body dangling from her mouth. As soon she got close enough she started contact calling to let her cubs know that she was on her way. She was heading into some thick bush when the little guys eventually heard her and came bounding out to greet their mother.

Unfortunately most of the reunion took place out of sight, although we did manage to see one of the cubs swipe the duiker from its mother’s mouth. It proceeded to play vigorously with its new toy, and even pulled it up a small tree at one stage.  We estimate the youngsters to be between 3-4 months old, let’s hope the Jakkalsdraai female (now 12 years and 1 month old) manages to successfully raise them to independence.

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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