Let’s talk numbers first … Over the course of the week past we recorded 10 lion sightings (including two unidentified young males on a buffalo kill), 12 leopard sightings comprising 8 different leopards AND a sighting of nine wild dogs with an impala kill at Mlowathi Dam.
On Easter Sunday the Eyrefield lioness was seen moving her three tiny cubs away from their den site in the Sand River just north of Rattray’s Camp to an unknown location. We unfortunately lost her heading through thick bush. We have a rough idea of where they might be, and we’ll continue to cautiously and respectfully traverse the area to see if we are able to find their new home. They stayed around long enough though for Scott Kinum, a guest of ours at Rattray’s on MalaMala, to capture an amazing sequence of pictures. Thank you Mr. Kinum for so generously sharing them! Aren’t they spectacular?
A number of rangers called in a peculiar sighting on this particular morning. Reports were all very similar, of a creature with long ears, a fluffy tail, and a very shy demeanor. It remains, as yet, unidentified. One thing we do know is that it produces eggs. It has not been seen again.
The Styx pride was seen on a couple of occasions both around the Piccadilly area, as well as the northern reaches of the Mlowathi River.
The leopard we saw most often this week was the Airstrip Male. We viewed him on four separate days. He spent the last two days around Plank’s Pan with an impala that he’d killed.
In recent weeks we have seen a slow and steady increase in the number of elephant sightings, concentrated along the perennial Sand River. As pans and waterholes further inland begin to dry, they become muddy and shallow. Elephants – more than most mammals – prefer cleaner drinking water, hence the attraction of the Sand River. Not only have we seen more elephants, but bigger herds too. Just yesterday a herd of roughly 130 animals was recorded. What a treat!
One particular nocturnal sighting warrants its own mention.
Driving back to camp on a very bright moonlit evening, we came upon a herd of elephants. A large female grazed peacefully a few meters off the road, and a number of sub-adults with one young calf stood their ground in the middle of the road. It was a good time to turn off our engine, and to simply watch the movements of these beautiful animals, bathed in the light of the moon. Sub-adult elephants are quite entertaining to watch. Just like a teenager, full of bravado, they like to prove their might (only when they are backed up by the rest of the herd, mind you!). And it was no different on this eve. Shaking their heads, flapping their ears and trumpeting loudly, a few of the youngsters mock charged us. We remained at a respectful distance from them, and when they realized that we were no threat, they turned their attention to one another instead.
We were utterly riveted, watching the juveniles chasing each other as if in a game of tag. One particular standoff had us in stitches. One of the younger elephants thundered down the road towards his bigger friend, and as he approached his target (which seemed as amused at his antics as we were), he snapped off a branch with his trunk, stopped, threw it in the air and volleyed it with his right foot before turning on his heels and quickly retreating. It took us a few moments to compose ourselves, but we were almost immediately faced with another hilarious sight. A pile of elephants … literally. Imagine a good old fashioned junior school ‘pile up’ that starts with a bit of play fighting and wrestling, but ends in a clumsy heap of bodies with some unfortunate soul at the bottom. Now picture six sub-adult elephants weighing in at a few hundred kilograms each in the same position! During this commotion, the youngest elephant (a calf of no more than five months old) would run right into the hullabaloo. When things got a bit too rough, he would dart back to the safety of his mother.
At times like this one can’t help but draw parallels to the behavior of human children.
What made this sighting really special though was that it was all enjoyed in pure moonlight. No vehicles, no sound, no torches or spotlights. Being a silent and unobtrusive observer is a very nice place to be.
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.