Cyberdiary – 20 March 2012

Styx Lion Pride by Gary Hill

Styx Lions by Gary Hill


The cat dynamics are fascinating at the moment.

This week past saw The Airstrip male leopard on the move, entrenching his territory. The daughter of the Kikilezi Female is coming into her own, and is clearly continuing the legacy of her indomitable mother – the late Ngoboswan Female. We also take a look at the shift in leopard dynamics  after the demise of the West Street Bridge.

The Selati lion pride make an appearance, while the Styx pride continue to cover a lot of ground. They spent the week with one of the Manyeleti males. And could it be that one of the Eyrefield lionesses has had cubs?

Finaly, we hear about the violent end of an era for the Mlowathi Males and The Mapogo which took places to our west.

For the statistically oriented, here are the numerical sightings:

  • Number of lion sightings: 14
  • Number of leopard sightings: 6
  • Number of cheetah sightings: 2
  • Number of wild dog sightings: 0
  • Number of elephant sightings: 45
  • Number of buffalo sightings: 19

*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!

Journey of Giraffe from Maxim's lookout by Gary Hill

A Journey of Giraffes at Maxim's Lookout by Gary Hill


The Airstrip male leopard looms large

We had another great week of viewing this magnificent specimen. He was first seen early during the week in close proximity to the causeway below the Main Camp. He spent the better part of the day on a resolute patrol on the western bank of the Sand River, allowing us to follow him for long periods. Taking us on one of his usual territorial circuits, we did a roundtrip at his namesake and where he first established his kingdom (the airstrip), then down towards where the fallen West Street Bridge stands, and finaly off in the direction of Rattray’s Camp.

It is fascinating to observe how the leopards have adjusted their routes now that the West Street Bridge is un-navigable. Although they are very good swimmers, these cats (like any others) will do their level best to stay dry. The river is also fairly deep at this time of year, which makes them even more cautious. The Airstrip Male used to frequent the bridge regularly, as did his father (The Bicycle Crossing Male). Until the floods, that is…. Now, after he makes his loop on the western bank, he heads north along the river until he crosses again at traversable point at Matumi Rocks.

The Tamboti Female leopard, previously one of the most oft-viewed leopards on MalaMala, has been relatively scarce of late. She seems to have shifted her territory somewhat, no doubt due to the demise of the bridge, which we used to watch her cross almost daily. She no longer spends any time at all on the eastern part of the river. It’s lucky for her that she has such an ample domain that she can still comfortably get by after sacrificing such a large portion of it.

Getting back to our sighting of The Airstrip Male, it was clear through his determined patrols that he was still bent on sending a message to all the ‘young guns’ out there. We saw him in action again when we found him a few days later around the Matshipiri open area in much the same mindset. Scent marking and roaring as he went, he took us all the way to Drum Crossing, and to the confluence of the Matshipiri and Sand Rivers – close to his southern boundary on the eastern bank. Spending such long hours following the same leopard is bound to yield some action. Although he was not interested in hunting, he still managed to wreak havoc among the impala and kudu herds that he passed. Another remarkable encounter was with a huge herd of elephants he came upon. Unperturbed, he weaved between the huge pachyderms and went by unnoticed. He also came across a bloat of hippos (such an apt collective noun, don’t you think?) and decided to take some time off. He lay on the river bank to watch the hippos’ aqua antics.

Airstrip Male Leopard by Gary Hill

The Airstrip Male leopard by Gary Hill

Kikilezi Female leopard and her daughter

We saw the Kikilezi female leopard again this week, albeit just a fleeting glimpse. What made this particular sighting an interesting one was that she was seen in close proximity to her daughter. We did not witness any interaction between the two, but it is very likely that they did have a confrontation of some sort before mother continued on her way.

We found the daughter of the Kikilezi Female on the morning of the 12th March. She is growing into a beautiful leopard, and is budding in confidence. Leopards become independent of their mothers between 18 and 22 months, but will remain in their natal home range for some time until they can establish themselves elsewhere. At the time when the cubs reach this age, their mothers can become increasingly aggressive toward them in a bid to kick-start their autonomy. Born in December 2009, this young female had two siblings that survived the vulnerable first stage of their lives. Their mother began to exhibit this aforementioned aggression towards her cub around March 2011. Her intention was confirmed a few months later when she was seen mating with the now deceased Emsagwen Male.

The young daughter is still firmly ensconced in her mother’s territory. We hope that she sets up her own permanent home somewhere nearby. She is probably a little too young to mate at this stage. But who could forget the fantastic sighting we had of her in October last year when she tailed after the Airstrip Male and Tamboti Female for a few days while they were mating. No doubt arousing her maternal instinct, she was very interested in the proceedings and had to put up with some aggression from the Tamboti female who was not too chuffed about the unwanted company.

We are hoping that the Kikilezi female is due for another litter. We have seen her inspecting some of her previous den sights, although she is not showing much indication of lactating. Her next litter will be her fourth set of cubs over an 11-year period. Perhaps she will be the first to mother cubs from the Airstrip Male. The legacy of the great Ngoboswan female (died in 2010) lives on through the successes of the Kikilezi female.


Daughter of the Kikilezi female leopard by Shaun Raine

Daughter of the Kikilezi Female leopard by Shaun Raine

Lions

We were lucky to have a good look at the Selati lion pride which we have not seen for some time. Their core territory is not on MalaMala. This means that they do not visit too often. There were no less than fifteen lions comprising the sighting! Thankfully they seem to be in good condition and are clearly doing very well. They were seen on the morning of the 14th on the western bank of the Sand River on Charleston.

The Styx lion pride enjoyed another good week. They continued in the same breath as last week and covered plenty of ground. They were seen on familiar turf in the Mlowathi River. They were intently following the trail of a large herd of buffalo which took them up toward the Wild Dog Rocks open area, and then on to Matshipiri Dam.  The Manyelethi Male with the dark mane shared company with the pride for the entire week, and enjoyed a visit from his brothers on 13th March. The other males had been occupied mating with a lioness from the Eyrefield pride.

Styx Lion Pride by Gary Hill

Styx Lion Pride by Gary Hill


Another lioness from the Eyrefield pride is lactating heavily, and it appears as if she has been nursing. She clearly has brand new cubs that we are yet to catch a glimpse of. Our neighbors have verified this, but they too are waiting in anticipation for the grand reveal. This is really good news for the pride after the tragic loss of three of their cubs during the floods in February.

There was great interest in the youngest of the Styx lionesses which is yet to have her first litter, but has been mating frequently. She was quick to put paid to any attention coming her way, and by the end of the week the male with the dark mane was making a move toward one of the other lionesses. This male is the most dominant of his coalition and would be more readily accepted by females than the others. This was confirmed when the male with the missing canine, the least dominant, was on the receiving end of some hostility after he made his amorous intentions known to the same young Styx lioness.

All was not lost, however, for the jilted cat. He made a valuable contribution when he killed a wildebeest on the airstrip. This was enjoyed by his brothers for days – barring the male with the dark mane who stayed on with the Styx pride. For the time being their kingdom is under no immediate threat, and their prides can continue on in harmony thanks to the protection that this powerful coalition provides.

Elephants at the Water by Gary Hill

Elephants at the water by Gary Hill


The same cannot be said of some of the lion prides in the western sector of the Sabi Sand Reserve which have had major shifts in their dynamics of late. The four young males from the Selati pride have been making some waves in that region. These impressive young males were seen on Charleston for most of 2011, providing us with some great viewing. That they would one day become a force to be reckoned with went without doubt.

The Manyelethi males made sure that they did not venture too far north, and often paid the areas where they were hiding a visit to remind inhabitants of their place. After all, the Manyelethi males did diminish the Selati pride to four after they killed one of their males in a brawl some time ago.  This forced the young guys to venture to new parts. Charleston was a good area for them to reside in temporarily, but its close proximity to their birth pride does not make it a viable long-term option for them.

During the week they had a vicious encounter with a coalition to our west. These males are known as the Mapogo and have been notorious in that region for some time. Interestingly they hailed from the Eyrefield lion pride. When the Manyelethi males first came to MalaMala to establish their empire, they needed to first overthrow a controlling duo – the incumbent Mlowathi males. This too was an encounter of note, and the Manyelethi males endured the death of their fifth brother before returning to avenge him by killing one of the Mlowathi males. This Mlowathi male, known as Kinky Tail, had a rather gruesome demise when the Manyelethi males ate him in a bid to entrench their authority. The eating of a defeated enemy is not common practice. The remaining Mlowathi male, distinguished by his ‘Mohawk  mane’, ran for the hills and joined up with his dominant brothers in the west – the same males known as the Mapogo.

The males from the Selati lion pride took the life of the remaining Mlowathi male this week – this time it was the ‘Mohawk mane’ that met his end. This was no doubt a spectacle to behold, and we are led believe that the youngsters showed no mercy. This marks the end of an era for the Mlowathi males and their brothers, the Mapogo. The remaining Mapogo duo has fled their old territory, and in-so-doing has left their prides to the fate of the newcomers. This spells trouble for the young cubs in those prides which will no doubt be killed by the males from the Selati pride in the future.

The circle of life goes on…

Until next time,

The MalaMala Ranger Team.

Click here to download the CyberDiary in PDF format – it will be available before lunch time (CAT) 22 March 2012.

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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