The week past was a ‘Ridiculously Brilliant’ one! With cats galore, we were witness to plenty of action.
The week closed off beautifully with the Eyrefield lioness in a storm.
For the number crunchers:
- Number of lion sightings: 16
- Number of leopard sightings: 12
- Number of cheetah sightings: 1
- Number of wild dog sightings: 0
- Number of elephant sightings: 45
- Number of buffalo sightings: 27
*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!
The 26th of March 2012 was definitely the day of the cat at MalaMala.
It kicked off with the Styx lion pride returning from a long tour north. They were found near Mlowathi Dam. They didn’t do much for the rest of the morning, and rangers left them sleeping in the bush line to the west of the dam. They were clearly preparing themselves for the energy they would need later.
At around the same time, the two cheetah brothers were found around their usual watering hole of Clarendon Dam. They spent most of their time languishing in the shade, and kept guests and rangers entertained as they yawned and stretched theatrically. After some time they got up and moved through the open grassland they so love, all the while scent marking and calling to each other when one fell far behind. They were left heading northwards across our boundary at mid morning.
Heading back for breakfast, a ranger noticed spots at the top of the large Leadwood tree at Piccadilly Pans. Low and behold, not one but two leopards were perched in its branches! The higher of the two cats was significantly smaller. Almost immediately, the lower lying cat descended the tree. We recognized him as The Airstrip Male, but were unable to establish the identity of the second leopard as it was not clearly visible.
After a while the anticipation of a good meal and the desire to elude the oncoming heat of the day took preference over the cat sighting, and the leopards were left sleeping.
Early in the afternoon, rangers returned to their last position at the Leadwood tree where they found the smaller leopard still in its branches. But there was no sign of The Airstrip Male. The lazy hum of the hot afternoon bushveld was loudly interrupted by post coital growls off to the west. And there they were – the current honeymoon couple of MalaMala. This was day 6 of the marathon mating ritual between The Tamboti Female and The Airstrip Male. Further investigation revealed that they also had a kill. Every time The Tamboti Female flirted with The Airstrip Male, he took the meal for himself and began to feed.
At this stage the identity of the leopard in the Leadwood tree had been established as The Daughter of the Kikilezi Female. She had finaly ‘come down to earth’, and began moving west. The leopard pair finished their kill, mated and went their separate ways – in pretty much the same time it took you to read this sentence. The male went north and east towards Piccadilly, and the female south. Rangers waited with baited breath as the three leopards headed towards one other, anticipating a titanic clash of spots and claws. But this was not to be, and the three leopards moved off peacefully.
As the sun set, the lions roused from their slumber. The Styx pride stirred just to the west of Mlowathi Dam, and the two Manyelethi Males and two Eyrefield lionesses moved into place just behind a herd of buffalo to the east of Buffalo Bush Dam. The cats near the Matshipiri chased the buffalo around a few times, and in turn got chased back by the big “security guard” bulls. The predators’ interest waned quickly, and they were left calmly watching as the herd of buffalo moved off towards the dark horizon.
The Styx pride was however on a mission as the cubs were hungry. It was clear that the lionesses were getting agitated by the grumbling and unsettled cubs. Moving off westwards into the bush line, they were lost going through a very muddy section. Rangers looped around and waited in the darkness with a herd of impala in the direct line of the lions’ anticipated path. The heavy silence was broken with the snort and alarm call of a single impala. The herd reshuffled, and it quieted down again. 10 minutes passed to the sound of the wind in the trees and the odd call of a baby impala to its mother. 20 minutes passed with the call of a Pearl Spotted Owl and a Fiery Necked Nightjar in the distance. After almost half an hour of darkness and a steady breeze, the lionesses finaly made their move on the herd of impala. With a swift change in the direction of wind, the impala sensed the imminent danger. An explosion of hooves, snorts, crushing trees and the death bleat of an adult female impala led rangers to the pinnacle of action. One of the young lions, just over a year of age, had single-handedly caught the impala and held onto it until the rest of the pride arrived. It was probably not his intention to catch the antelope, but in the flurry of hooves one must have literally run right into him. And voila – Christmas in March! The blur of brawling, snarling, growling – the flash of teeth, claws and fur followed as the eight lions devoured the carcass in less than 8 minutes flat. As is customary with lions after furious feeding, they were left in the dark being motherly and loving to one another, cleaning the wounds they had inflicted on one other as they had fed.
Quite often here at MalaMala we experience a game drive that, quite honestly, can only be described as ‘Ridiculously Brilliant’. Friday afternoon (30 March) was to be just that.
The Tamboti Female Leopard got the ball rolling within 5 minutes of us having left the camp. She was on the western bank of the Sand River just south of the causeway, a spot where she’d been for the last 24 hours with a young impala kill that she had kept concealed in a thicket. The evening before she had made the kill around the old airstrip after having been followed from Maxim’s Lookout just before dark. Territorially marking as she went, it was clear that she was hungry and on a mission. She came across the foul smelling scraps of someone else’s 3 day old kill, and moved swiftly past. As the sun set to the roars of The Manyelethi Male on the airstrip in the distance, she went into hunt mode and ran in on a few impala. But to no avail. It seemed as if she had given up when she spotted a group of four impala sleeping about 30 meters away. Despite the great distance, she ran in and gave chase. The impala must have been in a very deep sleep because before they knew what was happening, one of the unfortunate creatures had a leopard’s jaw securely attached to its throat, and was being dragged towards a tree. Characteristic of leopards, she began to feed on the rump of the kill (being the most accessible large piece of meat). She was left at the base of a large Jakkalberry tree feeding on her prize.
As we returned to the sighting on the 30th March, we were delighted to discover that the leopard had decided to stash her meal in a young Apple Leaf tree. Rhino Pens (the open area opposite Main Camp) was clearly visible from The Tamboti Female’s position. So were a herd of agitated impalas. With good reason, as it turned out. Enter one of the younger Styx lionesses. As if viewing a leopard up close with a lioness in the distance was not good enough, a third participant joined the fray. The Airstrip Male leopard was spotted lying on a rock in the Sand River a mere 40 meters from the lioness, now lying down on the eastern bank. The two cats had noticed one another – the large male leopard definitely the more alert of the two. The Styx lioness glanced at him occasionally, but showed no real interest in any form of action against her natural competitor. Had the lioness been with the other members of the pride it would no doubt have been a different story, and a chase would have ensued.
So we have two leopards and a lioness within a few hundred meters of each other and of the Main Camp. They were not alone. Within their immediate radius were 2 herds of elephant in the river, a pod of hippos in the water, a troop of baboons, AND an old male buffalo further south. Add to this a spectacular sunset with a dark storm brewing to the south and west, and you have a ‘Ridiculously Brilliant’ drive!
The lioness paid no further attention to The Airstrip Male as she got up and headed south. It was evident she was more concerned with locating the rest of her pride as she called incessantly. But her resounding grunts went unanswered.
As the sun set and the darkness of night advanced, the thunderous clouds overhead burst and the heavens opened. Heavy rain, lighting, thunder and strong winds prevailed for the rest of the evening. Just as the sunset had provided a fitting backdrop to the earlier scene, this storm was to be an utterly awesome, adrenalin charged backdrop to the sight of an Eyrefield lioness hunting impala on the new airstrip. For those who braved the elements, this view will not soon be forgotten. Although the large lioness didn’t make her kill, watching her hunt in those conditions was magnificent, and we returned to the warmth and comfort of the camp sated and satisfied.
Until next time,
The MalaMala Ranger Team.
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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.