Cyberdiary – 24 April 2012

Cheetah, by Robin Hester

Cheetah, by Robin Hester

This past week was literally jam-packed with leopards. Sixteen sightings of eight different leopards! All sightings were special in their own way, but one in particular was astounding, and will therefore be the focus of this week’s Cyberdiary.

Here’s a short overview of the week in general:

The exact position of the Kikilezi female leopard’s den site remains a mystery. Although we saw her on two separate occasions, we were unable to keep up with her as she moved through some difficult terrain. We do have our suspicions as to the vicinity of her den, and will keep on looking.

Kikilezi Female Leopard, by Robin Hester

Kikilezi Female Leopard, by Robin Hester

As far as lion sightings go, the week was dominated by the Manyelethi males which we saw almost every day. The most memorable sighting was of three of the four brothers catching an adult male impala, and then fighting over the carcass. They reduced the antelope to scraps in what seemed like only seconds. Three Eyrefield lionesses were seen with the four brothers at the start of the week, but unfortunately the lioness with the three new cubs is doing a rather good job of keeping them concealed. The Styx pride was seen towards the end of the week in their usual haunt around the Mlowathi River. A young unidentified male was also briefly viewed this week in the south-eastern corner of Charleston.

Unidentified Male Lion, by Robin Hester

Unidentified Male Lion, by Robin Hester

Styx Lion Cubs, by Pieter van Wyk

Styx Lion Cubs, by Pieter van Wyk

Other highlights include sightings of the two cheetah brothers. They appeared very well fed as they contently took up refuge on a termite mound up at Clarendon. We also enjoyed sightings of numerous herds of buffalo scattered around the property – a true sign that winter is almost upon us.

It is now time to turn our attention to a very rare sighting that was beyond exciting!

The Jakkalsdraai female leopard puts on the performance of a lifetime!

On the afternoon of the 19th we ventured south toward Charleston in the hope of viewing some hyenas at their den site. We got much more than we bargained for! Not only did we manage to find the hyenas, we also experienced an extraordinary sighting that will have those of us lucky enough to witness it retelling the story for years to come.

En route to the lair we came across a large herd of over 300 buffalo drinking at The Styx Crossing. There were many young calves in the herd, and at one stage we watched seven youngsters playing together before heading off to find their mothers.

Buffalo Herd, by Robin Hester

Buffalo Herd, by Robin Hester

It is quite a distance to travel to the hyena hideaway, and there is always the risk of going all that way only to find that they are concealed in their cave. This time luck was on our side, and there were no less than two adults and three cubs out in the open. Idle they were not, as they were all feeding on the remains of an old buffalo carcass. At times there was animated chatter among the younger hyenas which were no doubt happy with their feast. One of the cubs is only a few months old, and had us all highly entertained with its curiosity and playful antics.

Vulture Descending, by Gary Hill

Vulture Descending, by Gary Hill

Sated with our fill of hyena-action, it was now time to start the long drive back to camp. We had hardly left the den site when we saw the familiar glow of eyes in the road ahead. They belonged to a leopard. As we got nearer, the cat was quick to dart into some thick bush and it took some intensive searching to find it again. After initially thinking that it may be a nervous and unfamiliar leopard, we were relieved to see it was the Jakkalsdraai Female. She was in full hunt mode, and was moving with plenty of purpose. This leopard is a well known favourite at MalaMala – an expert hunter and experienced mother. She is about twelve years old now, and is still caring for the surviving cub from her most recent litter of two.

After following her for a short while, she came to a halt and hid low in some tall grass. There was a herd of impala rams about sixty yards off to her north. All that separated predator and prey was an open stretch of grass, and a small grouping of Magic Guarri (Euclea divinorum) bushes. It is now the prelude to the rutting season, and many male impalas are preoccupied with fighting for territory, females or merely honing their battle skills. This preoccupation presents an opportunity for predators in the form of much easier targets.

The Jakkalsdraai female had her sights clearly set on two sparring impala rams. It was all now a waiting game – leopards can spend hours gazing at potential prey, waiting for the opportune moment. In an unexpected move without warning, the leopard started to sprint toward the fighting rams. We practically flew around the bushes to see what had transpired. What we found was something that none could have predicted, let alone ever have witnessed in the wild!

The leopard had pounced onto the cavorting males and now had BOTH in a firm grip. With the aim of suffocation, she had one of them by the snout while gripping it with her front right paw. With her front left paw and both feet, she had the second male in an unyielding hold. This unique ‘double-grab’ was only possible since both rams were locked in combat, with their heads bowed and horns locked. At one stage the leopard was held completely suspended off the ground by the combined force of both the impalas’ necks. After about two minutes of struggle, all three animals came crashing down and one lucky antelope got to make its escape. The ram which was in the process of being suffocated did not fare as well. The leopard took more time than usual to catch her breath before she began to eat. She was no doubt exhausted after this tumultuous battle!

Jakkalsdraai Female Leopard by Debbie Mills (a guest)

Jakkalsdraai Female Leopard by Debbie Mills (a guest)

Jakkalsdraai Female Leopard with impala kill, by GDH

Jakkalsdraai Female Leopard with impala kill, by Gary Hill

After a good feed she began heading westwards, and came upon another herd of impala. She quickly switched to a silent stalk, with the impala just a few feet away. We could not believe that this was potentially going to happen all over again. Leopards are very opportunistic and will seldom pass up on the chance of a meal should it present itself. This time, however, the Jakkalsdraai female was happy to let the impala move on. We left her continuing on her route, perhaps going to fetch her cub so that it too could enjoy the booty of its mother’s incredible effort.

What an honor it was for us to witness this amazing spectacle! Just when you think you have seen it all, you are proven wrong. What could possibly be next?

Don’t forget that you can always refer to the Wildlife Sightings Maps for a more detailed look at what was seen where.

Until next time,

The MalaMala Ranger Team.

Click here to download the CyberDiary in PDF format.

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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