Cyberdiary – 13 March 2012

Styx Lion cub in a tree

Styx lion cub in a tree by Matt Meyer

This past week took us far and wide as we tracked lions on the move – and not all on the ground, mind you!

We also enjoyed interactions between lion and lion, lion and leopard, lion and cheetah, lion and hyena, leopard and hyena, and not to be outdone – wild dog and hyena.

From north to south, east to west, action was a-plenty. Read on for all the details.

If you are prefer the express version, then here are the numbers at a glance:

  • Number of lion sightings: 9
  • Number of leopard sightings: 10
  • Number of cheetah sightings: 3
  • Number of wild dog sightings: 1
  • Number of elephant sightings: 39
  • Number of buffalo sightings: 21

*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.

Happy virtual safari folks!

Styx Lion Pride

The Styx pride had a very interesting week. And they certainly got around! They were seen around the Matshipiri and Clarendon Dam areas. Then all the way down at Buffalo Pans. And all the way back up at Wild Dogs Rocks open area. This amount of movement is usually only seen in prides trying to move through their territory to re-establish ‘ownership’ of certain areas that may have seen recent intruders.

On the afternoon of the 4th of March, the Styx pride and all their cubs were found with the dark maned Manyelethi male near Matshipiri Dam. Just before sunset they began to move north and eastwards towards a large herd of buffalo near Clarendon Dam. The females seemed intent on the herd of buffalo, but the male was preoccupied. A lone male cheetah relaxing on the wall of Clarendon Dam had been calling his brother – clearly with the intent of meeting up. This had sparked an interest in the male lion, drawing him away from the hunting lionesses. The cheetah was initially excited to see a shape emerging from the bush line. It did not take long to realise that this 220 kilogram beast was no brother of his, and the cheetah made a quick getaway. The Manyelethi male did take a few quick strides toward the escaping cheetah, but of course he had no speed to match and could only watch as the cheetah vanished.

Styx Pride and Manyelethi male

Styx Pride and Manyelethi male by Gary Hill

On the morning of the 5th of March rangers were just about to return to camp when they found The Airstrip Male leopard walking and scent marking along the southern reaches of the Matshipiri. He was in great condition and had a full belly. He was moving northwards towards Matshipiri waterhole looking for some shade in which to rest for the impending heat of the day.

Airstrip Male Leopard

Airstrip Male Leopard by Matt Meyer

After leaving The Airstrip Male, rangers found the Fourways lion pride just to his north. They were looking with keen interest at something nearby. As it turned out, it was an unsuspecting female warthog with her 2 piglets. As they fed, the lionesses began to stalk. One lioness flanked towards the west and the other from the north, with the 3 sub-adults waiting in the shade for their soon-to-be-delivered breakfast. After a while the warthogs seemed to have moved off, but there was also no sign of the lionesses. All of a sudden there was a sudden burst of rapid movement from the lioness to the north. And to her south was the second cat in hot persuit of the 2 piglets (which were totally unaware of the northern female’s presence). A huge advantage that lions have when they hunt is as a result of their collective power – their cunning ability to flank prey, lie in wait, and eventually ambush. One of the  warthogs did not even see the second lioness until it was too late, and in a massive cloud of dust, squeels and roars, the 2 lionesses collided with the unfortunate “piggy in the middle”. It was over in a matter of seconds, and the sub-adults joined in for their light breakfast snack.

In the early evening the Styx pride was found just to the north of Buffalo Bush Dam as they began heading south. In the hope of them meeting up, some rangers left the Styx pride to follow up on the Fourways pride. But they were not where they had been left that morning. It turned out that they were also moving south towards the former hunting grouds of the Styx pride – The Matshipiri open area. They were no doubt in search of an ‘easy’ impala meal. After hunting unsuccessfully for an hour or so they were left near the pans in Matshipiri open area.

On the morning of the 6th of March the Styx pride and two of the Manyelethi males were found chewing on the remains of an impala in Buffalo Pans. They spent most of the day lazing in the shade near Drum Crossing and were left sleeping into the night. After having backtracked their movements from the night before it seems that they might have had an interaction with the Fourways pride. This suspicion was confirmed when later on that day a single lioness and the sub-adult male of the Fourways pride were found at Mlowathi Dam. They were heading north. As the Styx pride moved south (to the east of the Matshipiri) they probably came across the scent of the Fourways pride around the Hogvaal Donga. Tracks of many lions went eastwards into the donga, but about half came back out to the west. Since then the other lioness and 2 sub-adult females have not been seen. We can only hope that they are alright. The very next day the Styx pride and Manyelethi male were found lying on top of Pat’s Drift Koppies. This is a huge distance to cover overnight. They hunted some impala around Wild Dog Rocks open area that evening, and were left heading north into the night.


Tamboti female leopard

During early morning coffee on the deck of Rattray’s Camp, we could hear guinea fowls alarm calling and making a huge racquet in the river bed below. We were not surprised when we found the Tamboti female leopard shortly afterwards, parading near the entrance of the camp.

Tamboti female

Tamboti female by Gary Hill

She was looking as beautiful as ever in the morning light, and had a full belly too. We followed her as she headed towards West Street Bridge. She then started to take us on a detour. We snaked through the tall trees lining the banks of the Sand River. Low and behold, she revealed a kill that she had hoisted in – none other than – a Tamboti tree. She had ‘bagged’ a full sized male impala and stashed it in the safety of the upper branches of the tree. She spent the day happily feeding and resting in the tree, watching as the odd hyena visited to collect the fallen scraps.

We returned in the late evening to see what had developed. The scene had changed drastically in a way that we could never have predicted. The expectant sighting of leopard spots was replaced by a lioness which had amazingly managed to scale the tree and was feeding on the impala carcass! One of the Eyrefield lionesses had obviously caught wind of the decaying kill, and had made her way to investigate. In an unbelievable feat she had managed to climb the tree which would have, in normal circumstances, served as the perfect hiding place for the leopard. At this stage the intruder had finished the stolen meal, and we waited to see what her next move would be. The tree was by no means bulky, and it must have been an incredible spectre to watch the lioness climb its delicate branches. To watch her descend was going to be equally incredible! Although lions can be good tree climbers, their large size can make it difficult for them as they do not share the agility of their cat cousins. The lioness surveyed the situation, and one could see her anxiety. After ten minutes of contemplation, she came bounding down in an unglamorous fashion and landed in a heap on the ground. She composed herself well and continued to feed on some of the meat that had fallen from the tree.

Eyrefield lioness descends by Gary Hill

Eyrefield lioness descends The Tamboti Tree by Gary Hill

Meanwhile, the Tamboti female had returned from her meanderings to enjoy the rest of her meal. Realising that something was amiss, she peered cautiously at the intruder. The lioness noticed she had company, and without hesitation bounded after the leopard. The Tamboti female was too quick and scampered up a tree nearby. This time it would be too high for the lion to attempt climbing, and she moved back toward the carcass to finish the leftovers. Unbeknown to us, two hyenas had also been watching this all unfold from a strategic view point. When the lioness chased after the leopard, the opportunistic hyenas saw their chance. They moved in swiftly, grabbed the scraps, and disappeared. The lioness had been given a dose of her own medicine. And we had been treated to an unforgettable exhibition! That’s really part of the magic of MalaMala … you never know what might happen next.


Cape Hunting Dogs

Not to be outdone by the cats, some Cape Hunting Dogs paid us another visit. It was the same pair – the single male and female – which we saw last week. Often the case with these animals is that they move at incredible speeds through thick bush. This does not always make for the best photographic opportunities. This time, however, we had a great view of them in the open. There was more than enough time for all vehicles to enjoy them throughout the morning.

As we watched the pair we could see a hyena approaching from the distance. When the hyena spotted the dogs, it made off very speedily and the male dog even gave a brief chase. Hyenas need to avoid Cape Hunting Dogs at all cost. The dogs are their arch enemies, and they run the risk of being chased down and mauled. As intelligent as hyenas are, this one realised that only two dogs posed a far milder threat that a ‘normal’ pack would present. The hyena made sure to follow the dogs (albeit at a respectful distance), no doubt keen for them to do the hard work and to score a free meal in the process. At one point the hyena strayed too close. The male dog was quick to let off a vicious snarl, and chased the trespasser off expeditiously.

Cape Hunting Dogs and Hyena

Cape Hunting Dogs vs Hyena by Gary Hill

When the dogs made toward the airstrip (usually plentiful with impala), the hyena could not keep up and was left in the dust. Luckily the Federal Air flight was only scheduled for later on in the morning as there was about to be a showdown on the tarmac – or at least very nearby. The dogs stood at the end of the runway and looked down toward the teaming herds of impala. As is customary with their hunting style, with little warning the dogs made off at a steady speed towards the unsuspecting antelope. Chaos was to ensue for a good twenty minutes while the impala were chased in every direction. It was great to watch the canines in full flight, and it being such an open area we could really appreciated their speed and stamina. Luckily for the impala, the dogs were unsuccessful. Following last week’s similar failure, let’s hope the pair will have better luck next time.

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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