The New Year has certainly kicked off with a bang. We found the Styx lion pride on a giraffe kill, the Airstrip male leopard on a klipspringer kill, and we also enjoyed some fantastic viewing of the Fourways lion pride hunting buffalo. The Manyelethi brothers walked far and wide in a bid to protect their territory from the Selati males, and on some days we saw as many as three different buffalo herds at different locations around the property.
If numbers make you do the happy dance, then this section is especially for you: lion – 16; leopard – 13; elephant – 27; rhino – 0*; buffalo – 19; Wild dog – 0; cheetah – 3.
*Rhino sightings currently unavailable.
The Wildlife Sightings Maps haven’t been updated as MalaMala’s fax lines are currently down.
The Styx pride feast for days on a giraffe carcass
The most significant sighting of the week took place on Thursday evening just east of the Mlowathi. After following up on some giraffe staring intently into a drainage line, we discovered the entire Styx pride – four adults and five youngsters – around an adult giraffe bull carcass. It was obvious that they had been there for most of the day, as they were all fat as ticks. Even the cubs were more interested in lazing about and sleeping than eating.
We’re not sure if the lions killed the giraffe themselves, or if it died from natural causes and they just happened upon it by chance, but either way it provided us with some magnificent game viewing. Over the course of the next four days we watched them feeding, playing, and sometimes even sleeping inside the carcass (as cubs are wont to do when they are just too fat to move).
The cubs are growing fast, and the continuous source of protein during this time went a long way to fattening them up again, as they were looking a little skinny the week before. As the carcass slowly disappeared, feeding became more and more intense. Unfortunately this resulted in quite a few beatings for youngest cub, as his older cousins weren’t all that keen on sharing with him.
When we followed up on Saturday we were very surprised to find the body of a White-backed vulture next to the giraffe carcass. The lions had clearly killed it, which we can only imagine was quite a feat for a fat and hot cat. It just goes to show that the killer instinct in these furry and cuddly looking animals is always lurking just beneath the surface. Even when their bellies are so full that they can barely move, they will still annihilate anything that tries to take their food away, even if they are not going to eat it!
On Sunday morning the entire pride, except for one of the older cubs, got up and headed south towards Senegal bush. When the lions realized that they had forgotten one of their troop behind they all stopped and called, even the baby, and after about a minute a ball of mud, still fat with giraffe meat, came ambling down in an attempted run to meet up with the rest of the pride. After quenching their thirst at a puddle they then fell fast asleep in the shade of a nearby tree.
The Manyelethi males protect their territory
On Thursday morning we headed off in the direction of the new airstrip in search of the lions we’d heard roaring the night before. It could only have been the Manyelethi males, our resident dominant coalition, letting all the youngsters out there know who is in charge. We came upon the tracks of one of the males from the night before. They were heading south and then east towards West Street bridge, and from there crossed through the Sand River, under the bridge, before continuing east again. At this point the tracks indicated that the male had picked up speed, but what we didn’t realize was just how fast he was actually moving.
We’d seen the four young Selati males all the way down by the windmill the previous afternoon, and watched as they went south and east on the scent trail of a herd of buffalo. As we continued to follow the lone Manyelethi male’s tracks, it dawned on us that he was heading to the same area where we’d seen the Selati males. At this point we were almost 10km from the airstrip. We followed the tracks past the windmill in a southwest direction, and about 6km further along we came across tracks of four males.
We wondered if they perhaps belonged to the Selati youngsters. Was it possible that the Manyelethi male was on their tail the whole time? We worked the area extensively, and from a distance eventualy made out the head of a male lion, then another, until finally all four Manyelethi males raised their heads in unison to see what was going on.
Piecing things together afterwards, we figured out that the Manyelethi males had walked more than 16 km in order to protect their territory. At the point where we found them they’d clearly decided to call it a day and rest up a while. They came, they might have seen, and there’s no doubt they would have conquered, but whether or not there was in fact an interaction between the two coalitions we’ll never know. Later that evening the Manyelethi males all got up and made their way north back towards the core of their territory.
The Airstrip male bags a klipspringer
On Thursday morning we were fortunate enough to see one of life’s great treats. We found the magnificent Airstrip male perched in a tree with a kill he’d stashed the night before. This wasn’t just any old kill mind you, it was something that rangers can go their entire career and never see in the possession of a leopard – a klipspringer carcass. The effort and skill required to keep up with these nimblefooted antelope as they dart around the koppies, makes it very unusual for a leopard to catch one of them. But this ‘’rock jumper’’ was obviously not fast or elusive enough for the likes of its powerful predator.
We eventually headed back to camp for breakfast, leaving the astute hunter to enjoy his prize in peace. When we went back to follow up in the afternoon the Airstrip male was nowhere to be seen. It was only once the day cooled into evening that he popped his head out to begin his nocturnal activities. He set off with his still full belly, when all of a sudden he switched into hunting mode and shot off towards a herd of unsuspecting impala. Unfortunately his attempts proved unsuccessful, and when we left him he was still starring intently at his missed opportunity.
The Fourways pride has the tables turned on them
On Saturday we found the Fourways pride in the vicinity of Paddy’s Pools. This group has been very elusive over the last few weeks, and it seems like the two adults are struggling to hunt and take care of the three sub-adults at the same time. We’ve seen them twice during the past two weeks, and on both occasions their overall condition wasn’t great.
As the sun sunk behind the horizon, the cubs’ mother began the slow business of rousing herself – stretching, yawning, and grooming. This prompted the others into action, and before long the whole pride was up and walking north in the direction of a buffalo herd we’d seen drinking out of some miter drains and mud wallows earlier.
As is often the case with these big cats, the lions didn’t pick the easiest or the most direct path to get where they were going, which made keeping up with them interesting. Every now and then they would all stop for a moment, noses in the air and ears pointing forwards, and then just as casually continue on their way.
After about an hour of tracking, some clouds blew over and the wind changed direction in the lions’ favour. We watched in anticipation as they crept closer and closer to the buffalo herd’s last known position. The lions appeared to notice something in the pitch dark, although for the life of us we couldn’t see what. We scanned the terrain with our spotlights, expecting to see some form of prey species, but instead we landed on the reflection of another predator’s eyes about a hundred meters away.
They belonged to a young male leopard that was observing the lions from his vantage point on a termite mound. There was no sign of acknowledgement between the two eternal enemies, not even so much as a growl or a twitch was shared. The lions were far too hungry to waste their energy, and instead focused their efforts on the herd of more than 200 buffalo.
There was no strategising or regrouping on this night. The three sub-adults gathered instintively, leaving the two lionesses to split up and work their way closer to their prey. It all happened so fast that one minute we were waiting quietly in the dark, and then next the buffalo were running. We switched our lights on in time to see one of the lionesses jump on top of a large bull, but with nobody close by to lend a helping hand, the much stronger bovine quickly threw her off again. The tables turned as the herd charged at their attackers. Suddenly it was just cats everywhere, not running in any particular direction, but rather just trying to avoid the sharp horns of 200 plus buffalo herd behind them.
No ID lion pride
We had another interesting lion sighting early on Sunday evening, when a final look around Clarendon Dam in the hope of finding some cheetah yielded something even better. We came across two unidentified adult lionesses with their two young cubs, estimated to be around six months old.
The lions were very relaxed, which means they are probably from somewhere in the Sabi Sand area. The cubs were quite happy to let us watch as they played and chased each other around the vehicle. We left them just before dark and didn’t see them again during the report period. We have yet to identify the lions, so at this point we can’t say where they’re from. We can only hope to see then again in the future.
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.