CyberDiary – 21 February 2012

Roan Ravenhill (ranger) and Wild dogs

Roan Ravenhill (ranger) and Wild dogs by Matt Meyer

It was a sunkissed week here at MalaMala, with the mercury levels rising all the way to the high thirties. Summer has the unique ability to make one suffer, yet still enjoy the heat! We’re keeping our complaints in check though, because all too soon it will be winter and we’ll be wishing for these long hot days. We saw the Wild Dogs on all but two days this week, and the cheetah brothers were seen twice in their usual haunt around the Clarendon area. The Matshipiri female leopard was kind enough afford us our first sighting this year (and third overall) of her two new cubs. Those present at the sighting were spoilt to say the least. The leopard mom killed a duiker, which she then brought back to her youngsters. There was also added excitement when some hyenas arrived on the scene in the hope of scoring a free meal.

If the mere thought of numbers is enough to make you giddy with anticipation (you know who are!), then this section is especially for you: lion – 14; leopard – 13; elephant – 28; rhino – 0*; buffalo – 22; Wild dog – 5; 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.


The Matshipiri female shows off her hunting prowess and her two new cubs

Matshipiri female leopard and cubs

The Matshipiri female leopard and cubs by Matt Meyer

During the last few months we searched the Hogvaal donga and surrounds continually in the hope of spotting the Matshipiri female with her two new cubs. We only saw the little guys on three occasions at the end of last year, and feared the worst as we hadn’t seen them since the floods. Our concerns were finally laid to rest when we discovered the Matshipiri female early last Monday morning with her cubs in tow! It was incredible to see just how relaxed the youngsters were, especially as they haven’t had that much exposure to our vehicles yet. We followed the trio for most of the morning, watching as they went about their leopard business. Merely enjoying the cubs’ inherent playfulness would have been enough for us, but this experienced mother had other ideas. Unbeknownst to us, we were in for a real treat!

The Matshipiri female suddenly went bounding into the bush and returned with breakfast in the form of an adult male duiker. She set her prize down in the Hogvaal donga (just upstream from her initial den site) and tucked in, while her cubs lay wrestling on the sand nearby. When we returned in the afternoon nothing much had changed. The cubs still had plenty of energy to give us all a good show. The leopards were all together, close to where the kill had been stashed, when the Matshipiri female suddenly became very alert, focusing on some bushes on the donga’s bank with intent. Scanning around to see what had caught her attention, we were shocked to see two hyenas come bursting out of the bushes. They had obviously caught wind of the carcass and set their sights set on an easy meal.

This was a precarious situation to say the least, as the cubs were in extreme danger of being caught by the intruders. The hyenas would have absolutely no qualms about killing the baby leopards if the opportunity arose. But they hadn’t banked on the swift action of this astute and experienced female. She sprang into action, and in one swift motion gripped the duiker and hoisted it to safety in an overhanging tree. Realising the impending danger, one of the cubs immediately hightailed it up the tree after its mother. Its sibling was not that quick off the mark though, and stood rooted to the spot in an inadvertant stand-off with the hyena.

We thought for sure that the cub had left it too late, but after a few seconds (although it felt like hours) it came to its senses. The plucky little leopard let off a very convincing growl, before scurrying to the uppermost branches of a nearby rickety tree. With the immediate danger averted, the situation slowly settled back down. We left the leopards resting on their respective perches, tossing the occasional hiss and snarl at the scavengers below. They in turn just waited patiently on the off chance that some scraps might fall their way. Let’s hope these young leopards heed the lessons this incident has brought them.

A new pack of Wild dogs is found

Wild dogs

Wild dogs by Matt Meyer

The Wild dog sightings mentioned in the previous CyberDiary were definitely exciting, but this week’s were nothing short of heart stopping. Our previous sightings have all been of the pack of nine dogs, but on Sunday morning we discovered a new 13 strong pack around the northern parts of the Mlowathi. At first we came across just a single dog, which then gave us the normal run around and was lost again soon after being found. After much tracking we eventually found the rest of the pack north and east of Mlowathi Dam. Much to our surprise and delight there were only three adults, the other 10 were puppies in the region of 5-6 months old. The youngsters were making a huge amount of noise, begging the adults to regurgitate meat for them. At this age the dogs are all legs and white tipped tails, and make the most amusing cacophony of squeaks, squeals and chirps. After much ado and feeding the pack then got up and moved off eastwards into a very muddy area where we couldn’t follow. When we left them, the dogs were playing in the mud and water.

Following up the next morning, we ran into the three adults moving southwards at a clip on eastern side Mlowathi just south of the dam. In no time they were at Senegal Bush and running in on a herd of impala. As the impala frantically scattered, a female duiker and her youngster found themselves stuck in the middle of the confusion. The female managed to escape, but her offspring was not so lucky. In seconds the carcass was in pieces, with each of the dogs retreating to their own spot to eat. After a few minutes of fighting over the scraps, they were back up and heading northwards along the road, stopping at puddles along the way to drink and swim in order to cool down. As they got closer to where they had left their pups they increased their speed, until a wall of 10 hungry and very vocal puppies stopped them dead in their tracks.

We found them again on Thursday, this time on Matshipiri Dam Road, near Wild Dog Rocks Open Area. The adults walked with intent, with the little ones tagging along for a tour of their parents’ hunting grounds. They began sprinting just north of Campbell Koppies, and for a moment it looked like they might be running in on prey, but in fact they were just chasing off the the vultures that had settled around the two freshly caught impala carcasses that they were bringing their young to feed on.

When we left them the pups were playing with the scraps and bones. In total we saw the dogs a record five days this past week, with seven sightings in total, three of which were on kills!

The Cheetah brothers

Our two cheetah brothers allowed a few guests to become part of that elite group that have been lucky enough to see the MalaMala 7. We saw them twice, once on Wednesday and then again on Saturday, both times up at Clarendon Dam. On Wednesday morning the cheetahs were hanging out on the Clarendon Dam wall, one of their favorite places to pass the time. They provided onlookers with a fantastic sighting, sitting up and yawning, and then wandering around scent marking. After a while they moved northwards across the boundary to further mark and patrol their territory.

On Saturday morning we found them on the southbound leg of their territorial patrol, near the Kruger National Park boundary. The pair was looking lean and ready for a meal, although we didn’t witness them catch anything. Lets hope that they can keep a grip on this territory as the next few months progress. There’s also the exciting possibility that the female cheetah from last week might have a litter in the area if she fell pregnant.

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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