The week was nothing if not exciting. The Styx pride kept us entertained with their playful antics on more than one occasion. The cheetah brothers had us on tenterhooks as they hunted impala and wildebeest. We were also lucky enough to see leopards mating. On Sunday morning we found ourselves in the middle of an unimaginably exciting sighting, and raced back in the afternoon to see how things had panned out. Unfortunately the fast rising Sand River had other plans for us.
If you have an unreasonable fondness for your abacus, then this section is especially for you: lion – 12; leopard – 8; elephant – 16; rhino – 0*; buffalo – 13; Wild dog – 1; cheetah – 1.
*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 Styx pride entertains us and the cheetah brothers go hunting
The sounds of barking baboons and chattering monkeys pierced the crisp morning air. As we gulped down the last of our morning coffee, speculations ran rife as to why these primates were so unsettled. We found out sooner than expected, when within five minutes of leaving camp we spotted the Styx pride just opposite Main Camp on the eastern bank of the Sand River. They headed due north before finally settling down on the sand banks in the lower reaches of the Mlowathi River, providing us with a very picturesque sighting in the process. The cubs were in a particularly playful mood, and this stretch of the river proved a perfect playground, with sand banks over a meter high, rocks and crystal clear running water. It was the kind of sighting that one could stay at for hours, but then two cheetahs on the prowl up at Clarendon to put an end to that!
The two spotted brothers were perched on top of a termite mound when we found them. From this vantage point they caught sight of a herd of wildebeest teaming with youngsters, as well as two male impala grazing beside them. The cats soon descended the mound and headed towards the herbivores. The tall grass provided fantastic cover, while a steady north-easterly breeze ensured that the potential prey would receive no olfactory warning of the nearing predators. As with the lions earlier in the morning, this was again a sight to savour. Looking out over the vast open plains that characterise our north eastern corner, we had positioned ourselves to the north of the action, with the wildebeest and impala off to our east, the stalking cheetahs to our south and west, five sub-adult Black-backed jackals between them, and a herd of two hundred plus buffalo a few hundred metres to our south.
“I dreamed of Africa and now I’m here. This is it. This is what I dreamed of”, a guest summed up our surroundings as we took a moment away from the suspense to stare in awe at what lay in front of us. The sea of grass ensured that we would catch only momentary glimpses of the cheetahs as they moved swiftly into position. The wildebeest and two impala seemed restless, settling down in one spot before moving to another only a few minutes later. The predators lurking not far away would then reposition accordingly and wait patiently until the right moment presented itself. However, that moment never materialised and when the two impala rams decided to move further north the cheetahs retreated stealthily back towards the tree line to the west, before heading north over our boundary.
Towards the end of the morning drive on Wednesday, we came in earshot of that unmistakable sound of two leopards mating. Unfortunately they were north of our northern boundary at the time, and with the temperature on the rise we decided to head back to camp, vowing to return again late that afternoon when cooler weather might have the leopards moving around a bit more, and hopefully, moving south! And move south they did, upon our return in the afternoon we found them resting on the sand banks of the Mlowathi River, about 800m south of the boundary. The leopards in question were the daughter of the Campbell Koppies female and a coming of age male that we don’t yet have a name for. We’ve seen him on a number of occasions around the northern reaches of the Mlowathi River, and he’s never been the most relaxed of cats. Although that seems to have changed! The pair was soon on the move, granting us some great walk-by shots. The impressive male barely batted an eyelid as he sauntered past the Land Rovers. For the first hour and a half they didn’t mate once, it was only on settling down again in the thickest of thickets that they got back down to business. We could barely see them, but the noise erupting from the dense vegetation was quite something. We waited patiently and they eventually moved out into the open and mated several times in plain sight. This male seems to be claiming this part of what used to be the Emsagwen male’s territory as his own, and fingers crossed, hopefully he’ll father a few little ones!
The Styx pride bags an impala
For the first part of the week, with the river being up and us unable to cross it, the Styx pride was not seen again since we last saw them atop Pats’s Drift Koppies last Saturday. When the water eventually subsided again and we were able to cross it, the pride provided us with a fantastic finish to the week. Back at home in the core of their territory, the Mlowathi River system, on Thursday they had a great day filled with fun and games. The entire pride kept guests and rangers entertained for the entire morning as they played in the river south of the lower crossing. Later in the afternoon when we went back to follow up, only the one lioness with the limp was still in the area. There was no sign of the others. As darkness fell and the temperature started dropping, the lone female got up and began moving northwards. Shortly thereafter, we found another lioness just to her north calling and coming southwards. All of a sudden, when the two were close to each other, the clump of bushes between them erupted and five hungry and very vocal cubs appeared. The other two lionesses were close behind and soon the pride united amidst much growling, snarling and a general sense of happiness. When we finally left them to themselves they were grooming each other west of the Mlowathi River. On Friday we found them just to the north of their previous position on Western side Mlowathi. There, as lions are wont to do, they enjoyed a relaxing day in the shade.
Around sunset the cubs became restless, complaining to their mothers in no uncertain terms that their tummies were rumbling. Shortly after nightfall the entire pride got up and moved southwards towards a herd of impala that had been snorting at them for the better part of the day, and began to stalk the buck. It really is quite something to witness these lazy and sleeping lions turn at nightfall into hunting, blood thirsty beasts.
Within a few minutes they were all in position, ready to pounce at the first sound of running hooves. All of a sudden one of the lionesses had an impala pinned to the ground, and it was game over for the unlucky buck. In a mad scramble of claws, teeth and fur, the four lionesses and five cubs all fought to get their share of what was at best a bite-sized meal.
As quickly as it started, it was over again, and soon the lions each went off to their own corner of the bush to lick the wounds inflicted by siblings or mothers. On Saturday morning they were at it again, although this time they were chasing a massive old ‘dugga boy’ (old male buffalo). They lions chased the buffalo and he retreated, and then he chased the lions and they retreated. This carried on for some time, until both species finally realised it was stale-mate. The buffalo then ran as fast as he could away from the hungry lions. The pride spent the rest of the morning in the shade in the riverbed, playing in the water and jumping in the trees.
The rising Sand River results in a real anti-climax
There was a real sense of anticipation when we left camp last Sunday afternoon. That morning we’d left the Fourways pride, the Kikilezi female leopard, a large herd of buffalo, a herd of elephants and three white rhinos, all in close proximity to one another around Lion Loop and the Ngobaswaan donga. To make matters even more exciting, there were male lion tracks in the area as well! However, there was a potential spanner in the works as reports from the north had the Sand River on the rise. We headed straight to the spot where the lions were left that morning, only to discover that they had since moved off. With numerous vultures dominating the surrounding trees and a few still descending from the skies above, we speculated as to whether or not the pride had managed a late morning kill, or if perhaps it was simply a case of the vultures counting their eggs before they’d hatched.
There was no sign of the lions in the surrounding area, which led us to believe that they’d made their way into the impenetrable Ngoboswaan donga. And then quite out of the blue we stumbled across the four Manyelethi male lions. The brothers were resting out in the open, and barring for the dominant male with the black mane, they all looked hungry. But mere minutes after finding the lions the warning we’d all been dreading came through on the radio. All rangers were to cross back to the western bank immediately as the river was rising. If you’re feeling disappointed right now, just imagine how we felt having to leave such a potentially exciting sighting. Hopefully we’ll be able to report back next week with some positive feedback on what transpired.
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.