Cyberdiary – 05 June 2012

Cape Hunting Dog, by Matt Meyer

Cape Hunting Dog, by Matt Meyer

With an abundance of lion and leopard sightings, as well as many elephants and a few large herds of buffalo, it has been yet another seven days of magic here at MalaMala. A number of fascinating encounters, including honey badgers and sable antelope in the north eastern parts of the property, were also enjoyed. However, the sightings that stole the show were of two of our favorites – the Kikilezi female leopard and her cubs, and the pack of eight Cape hunting dogs.

While the cats ‘n dogs will be the focus of our diary today, for those of you who like to “tick the digits”, here they are:

*Rhino sightings currently unavailable.

Have a look at the Wildlife Sightings Maps for a more detailed look at what was seen where.

So climb aboard, make yourself comfortable, mind your head and don’t stand up whatever you do! We hope you will enjoy your virtual safari with us.

Cape Hunting Dogs

After 4 years of absence, we have once again been graced by a pack of Cape hunting dogs which has denned on the property. The last time we had the privilege of sharing home turf with these incredible hunters was in 2007 (when they denned on eastern Charleston). In 2008 they moved just to our east (in the Kruger National Park), and in 2009, 2010 and 2011 they set up their dens on a number of other properties to our west and north. Stories of puppies and hunting dogs filtered across the airways and, truth be told, made us more than a little envious.

Cape hunting dogs usually den during the winter months when water is a scarce commodity for their number one predator (and killer of puppies) – the lion. The site they choose is very specific, and is selected after months of sniffing out and investigating abandoned termite mounds and old burrows. Typically they will find a den in an area where there has been very little lion activity for a few months, and which is at an opportune distance from water – far enough so as to attract few (if any) lions, but close enough for them to get their own required daily intake. In saying this, it is important to realize that what we would consider a fair distance would probably not be significant for a pack of dogs, which will easily clock up 10-15 kilometers on a single hunt.

After a brief gestation of just over 70 days, they give birth to litters of up to 15 puppies inside these cherry-picked burrows. It is usually only the alpha female which will reproduce, but in the case of these eight dogs, two of the females were quite obviously pregnant a few weeks ago. The pups are born blind and will remain in the den under the careful supervision of the alpha female who will abstain from hunting for the first few months.

When the babies are just under a month old, they will venture to the entrance of the burrow and pop their cute little heads out. And this is when they begin to eat meat at a ravenous rate. The rest of the pack goes out to hunt, and on return to the den are met by the babysitter and a maul of marauding pups. They beg and wine until they get what they want – which in this case is freshly regurgitated meat.

After a couple of months the number of prey animals in the surrounding area will have dropped drastically, and the pack will need to start moving in search of new and freshly stocked hunting grounds. They will find temporary dens along their hunting path as they move along.

So, as things presently stand in the south western corner of MalaMala, we have the potential of two litters of up to fifteen pups each from two different females inside an old abandoned termite mound at the base of a False Marula tree. And we have 20 rangers (and their guests) lining up for their chance to be the first to see the 2012 litter of Cape hunting dogs. Any bets on who it will be?

Cape Hunting Dog, by Matt Meyer

Cape Hunting Dog, by Matt Meyer

The Kikilezi female leopard and her cubs

After having viewed the Kikilezi Female leopard and her cubs a number of times at one of her favorite den sites on the Mlowathi River (south of lower Mlowathi Crossing), we are happy to say that the young’uns are becoming more comfortable with our vehicles. The joy of this is that they are at ease doing what two month old leopard cubs do best; play and play some more. Long hours are spent jumping over their mother, stalking one another and being painfully cute all at once.

So popular were these sightings that every day of the week rangers left camp and headed straight for the den in the hope of finding the leopard trio. On some occasions when mother was absent, the cubs would peer over the rocks at the vehicles but would never venture further.

On the morning of the 2nd June, the Kikilezi Female and her cubs were nowhere to be found! On closer inspection, tracks indicated that they had moved north in the Mlowathi River. The alarm calls of a klipspringer alerted one of the rangers, and he investigated a clump of rocks just to the north of the crossing. He was “spot” on!

In a blur of tiny teeth, spots and claws, the two cubs came hurtling out of the rocks and attacked their sleeping mother. And for days to come, they provided hours of quality entertainment in these slightly more open and less vegetated rocky outcrops.

Kikilezi Female Leopard's Cubs Playing, by Matt Meyer

Kikilezi Female Leopard's Cubs Playing, by Matt Meyer

Kikilezi Female Leopard's Cubs Playing, by Matt Meyer

Kikilezi Female Leopard's Cubs Playing, by Matt Meyer

Kikilezi Female Leopard's Cubs, by Matt Meyer

Kikilezi Female Leopard's Cubs, by Matt Meyer

Kikilezi Female Leopard's Cubs Playing, by Matt Meyer

Kikilezi Female Leopard's Cubs Playing, by Matt Meyer

Kikilezi Female Leopard with her Cubs, by Matt Meyer

Kikilezi Female Leopard with her Cubs, by Matt Meyer

The cubs are growing by the day on a diet of pure milk, but in the next four to six weeks this veteran mother will face one of the greatest challenges with her cubs – when she leads them to their first meal of meat. This involves her making a kill and stashing it in dense vegetation, or hoisting it into a tree out of the reach of the jaws of lions, hyenas or any other predator looking to enjoy a free meal. She must then go back, retrieve her 2 cubs, take them out of the protective environment of their secure den, and escort them back to the hidden kill. While at the kill, she must be on high alert to ensure that her cubs know how to climb and hide in the event of an ambush from another predator. Gripping stuff indeed.

After three months of meat and milk, she will slowly wean them off milk and onto a diet of pure meat alone. The cubs will continue to grow at a rapid rate through the months to come.

And we look forward to being here for every moment of their development. Rest assured, we’ll keep you in the loop every step of the way.

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.


9 thoughts on “Cyberdiary – 05 June 2012

  1. Can’t wait to see the wild dog pups. The leopard cubs are amazingly cute! Thanks for the post.

  2. How exciting. Leopard cubs now, pups to come. All baby animals are so much fun. Thanks for sharing…..and looking forward to seeing the baby photos to come.

  3. Hi

    Will the alpha female kill the other pups or will the dogs raise both sets ..?

    It would me awesome if a majority of these pups could survive to adulthood with all the lion activity and different prides of lions in the area in recent times

  4. Hi Juan,

    We have a response from Matt at MalaMala:

    “With regards to dogs, it is usually only the alpha female that gives birth. She is also usually the only one to come into estrous, controlled by her as she intentionally ‘stresses out’ other females, inhibiting their ability to come “on heat”. In the case of 2 females being pregnant, the possible outcomes would depend on the size of the two litters. If the alpha female’s litter is large (they can have up to 16 or so pups) then she may very well kill the other female’s pups. But if she has a small litter, then she may not. This situation is dependent on so many factors, that to give a simple “yes she will kill” or “no she won’t” is almost impossible. With us having only just established where the den is, and with this being a new pack on MalaMala, we are not familiar with their hierarchy and behavior yet. Rest assured, more info will follow in the weeks to come..”

  5. Hi Jay,

    Not too sure what you mean. Could you expand on your question please?

    Many thanks!

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