CyberDiary – 14 February 2012

New Look Sand River

'New Look' Sand River by Pieter van Wyk

Now that Tropical cyclone Dando has come and gone, it’s finally back to business as usual here at MalaMala.  The floods caused extensive damage, particularly to the roads and West Street Bridge, but as the water level drops and the Sand River takes on its familiar serpentine form, we can’t help but be in awe of the breathtaking new scenery that’s emerged.

Elephants in front of Camp by Pieter van Wyk

Crocodiles sun themselves on massive sand banks, some a hundred meters wide and five times that in length. In places the banks stand a couple of meters high, guarding the water’s edge and fortifying its new beauty. Pods of hippos are scattered along the river and water dwelling birds are in abundance.

With vast areas of the bush still waterlogged and only a handful of rangers operating, the week looked set be a challenging one. But the bush had other ideas for us, as we not only managed to see the MalaMala 7, but were also treated to a very rare sighting of cheetahs mating! It’s good to be back!

If numbers make you want to moonwalk like Michael Jackson, then this section is especially for you: lion – 10; leopard – 7; elephant – 14; rhino – 0*; buffalo – 15; Wild dog – 2; cheetah – 3.

*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!

The Styx pride find an abandoned impala carcass

Manyelethi male and younger Styx lioness mating

Manyelethi male and younger Styx lioness mating by Jonathon Short

Shortly after setting out on our first drive since the floods, we were greeted by our ‘old faithfuls’, the Styx pride. The lions were just north of Mlowathi Dam when we came across them, and had company in the form of the dominant Manyelethi male. Mister had his sights set on one of the younger females and pretty soon the courting pair moved a few hundred meters further west, where they lay completely absorbed in themselves. Unbeknown to the pride, just a few hundred meters to their south lay a rigid and barely touched impala carcass. There were small puncture wounds on its neck and the stomach had been opened, indicating that a leopard had killed it. We suspect that the absent predator might have noticed the lions approaching earlier in the day and abandoned its quarry, rather than risk an untoward situation.

When we returned to the area later that evening the lions had found the carcass. What ensued was a frantic feeding frenzy with a side serving of violence. The Manyelethi male had taken a particular disliking to one of the other females and struck out at her on numerous occasions. It is common for lions to be aggressive while eating, but this was a little excessive even by their standards! The extra aggression could have been hormonal though, as the males are generally more irritable when courting.

The son of the Matshipiri female finds himself stuck in a tree

We were watching a herd of buffalo go about their daily business when we noticed the son of the Matshipiri female in a tree that was slap-bang in the middle of the herd. With so many bovines milling about below him, the young male was going nowhere. Leopards have been known to perch in a tree and wait for a calf to wander close to the base. They will then leap down, snatch the unsuspecting youngster, and scamper back up again before the adults have a chance to react. Although that’s not what happened this time.

As soon as the herd moved off the son of the Matshipiri female descended the tree and followed them. Both the herd and the leopard were completely unaware of the fact that a calf had been left behind. We had noticed though, so the next day we returned to the area to see what had become of it. Sure enough, sometime during the course of the night the lucky leopard had returned to the area and found the meal he’d missed out on earlier. The calf’s now lifeless body was neatly stashed in a tree when we arrived, and a short while later the son of the Matshipiri female appeared. A substantial meal for this growing male, and an awesome sighting for us.

The Wild dogs catch themselves a couple of impala

The Wild dog is second only to the Ethiopian wolf on Africa’s list of most endangered carnivores, so any sighting of these animals is a welcome one. But since they’re also highly skilled hunters, seeing them in action is something we always hope for.

They were fairly close to camp when we found them, albeit on the eastern side of the river. At first there were only a couple of dogs milling about on the road, but then the rest of them suddenly came bolting out of the bush. It turned out to be the same pack of nine that we have been seeing over the last few months. Shortly after regrouping they were on the move again, heading northwards up the Mlowathi River. Crossing westwards over the river, they spotted a large herd of impala in an open area that runs adjacent to the river.

The hunt was on. With military precision the dogs began running down their prey using a combination of relay and flanking tactics. Galloping at speeds of up to 70km an hour, these bush brigands chased down and killed a young male impala right in front of us. A second impala was also found wanting, but by the time we arrived at the scene the unlucky herbivore had already been reduced to mere scraps. After enjoying their meal the satiated canids plopped down in the shade of a Guarrie bush for a well deserved rest.  Let’s hope their trips onto MalaMala become a more frequent occurence!

Mating cheetahs

Mating cheetahs by Jonathon Short

As we approached Clarendon Dam on Friday afternoon, we were greeted by the familiar sight of the two cheetah brothers resting on the dam wall. Shortly after we arrived the pair got up and headed eastwards towards the Kruger National Park. Curiously, they started calling as they walked. Their utterances sounded more like ‘chirping’ than anything else. As they continued eastwards we caught sight of another cheetah in the long grass.

What followed was brief and stormy. The two brothers both ran at the female, who in turn lay down in what can only be described as a suggestive manner. The males jostled for position, while their new lady friend displayed signs of aggression towards them. In these situations aggression plays an important role in ensuring that copulation is fruitful.  Within seconds the whole thing was over, and the female sprinted off in a northerly direction with the two brothers hot on her heals. When we eventually caught up with them there was no sign of the female. The males were also a considerable distance apart, and contact calling in an attempt to locate one another.

We were all really fortunate to be privy to such an incredbile and rare sighting. Nobody can even remember when last cheetahs were seen mating on MalaMala, and in fact, for most of us it was the first time we’d seen cheetahs mate at all. A very special sighting! Let’s hope they were successful.

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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