Cyberdiary – 26 June 2012

Kikilezi Female Leopard, by Pieter van Wyk

Kikilezi Female Leopard, by Pieter van Wyk

Yet another ‘MalaMala Seven’ week. We sure do love winter! But it’s not just these coveted seven animals (the Big Five, plus cheetah and Cape hunting dog) that we enjoy seeing – it’s the quality of each individual sighting that really makes it all so spectacular.  We have leopard cubs; lion cubs; wild dog pups; huge herds of buffalo being followed by lions; lions chasing leopards up trees and stealing their kills; male leopards sizing each other up and roaring – also in trees. Were we to write about everything we have seen, we’d have you here all day. So we’ve decided to focus this week’s Cyberdiary on the Kikilezi female leopard and her cub, and a couple of other sightings for a treat….

Digi-fans, here are the numbers:

*Rhino sightings currently unavailable.

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

Male Cheetahs, by Gary Hill

Male Cheetahs, by Gary Hill

Happy Virtual Safari folks!

The Kikilezi female is undoubtedly one of our favourite leopards, and has been for many years. She is an impressive specimen of eleven and a half years old, and has earned her reputation as an exceptional hunter, and an even better mother. She was born in October 2001 to the Ngoboswan female and Newington male. She had a brother whose short life came to a quick and vicious end at the jaws of a crocodile. The Tamboti female and Campbell Koppies female are her half-sisters. She has produced four litters between June 2006 and April of this year. And remarkably, on each occasion she has managed to raise at least one of her cubs to independence.

Kikilezi Female Leopard and Giraffe, by Pieter van Wyk

Kikilezi Female Leopard and Giraffe, by Pieter van Wyk

Her most recent litter consisted of two cubs. Sadly, as reported in our Cyberdiary last week, it has become clear that one of the cubs has come off second best to the harsh hand of nature in the African bush. The one upside of this seemingly tragic situation is that with only one cub to care for, the Kikilezi female’s chances of raising her remaining youngster are exponentially greater.

The Mlowathi Koppies are the location of her current choice of den site, and we’ve been viewing the two of them there for over a week now. These rocky granite outcrops are a fantastic safe haven for the cub, and double up as an even better playground. We’ve had so many amazing sightings of the cub terrorising its mother on the rocks in the warm morning light. She is very tolerant of his ‘shenanigans’, and often joins in for a little wrestle before leaving him to hunt.

Kikilezi Leopard Cub, by Pieter van Wyk

Kikilezi Leopard Cub, by Pieter van Wyk

Early on in the week we followed her as she left her baby. We didn’t have to wait long for the action! While following behind her, we saw her suddenly run in on something. She was actually ‘bounding’ as opposed to the usual ‘stalk and run’. Then we heard growling. We eventually managed to catch up with the source of the commotion, only to find her having a stand-off with a hyena over an impala carcass. It turned out that the Kikilezi female had actually killed this large male impala, and had stashed its carcass in some thick bush before going to check on her cub. After standing a mere ten metres from her, the hyena charged. The terrain did not allow for her to ascend a tree and get her impala kill to safety, and within seconds she had lost it to the opportunistic scavenger. Or so we thought…..

The very experienced Kikilezi female didn’t give up, but decided to move eight metres from the hyena before lying down. What followed was an incredible three hour interaction of her trying to steal her kill back from the hyena. Clearly her foe also had a very good plan. As the morning progressed, he placed the impala kill underneath a large bush and lay down just two metres away – not eating at all, mind you. He slept!

One of the more dramatic encounters between the two had the Kikilezi female a metre away from the impala carcass with the hyena still fast asleep. This had to be her best chance of stealing it back. She stalked carefully and quietly towards the impala, and in the blink of an eye moved through the bush and tried to grab the carcass. The hyena woke from its slumber and came bounding out of the bush to attack her. She leapt up in the air, away from the bush, and faced the hyena head on. Trying to defend herself, she swatted at the ground with her paws and claws. In among the chaotic flurry, she managed to get her paw to the hyena’s nose and mouth, and repeatedly swatted at him. With another huge leap she moved off again, frustrated that she had not claimed her prize. But she did not give up. She lay down yet again , a mere eight metres from the hyena (and carcass). This tit-for-tat interaction continued for a while before the leopard ‘threw in the towel’. After all, she does have a small belly to feed and can’t afford to sustain any injuries that could impair her ability to provide for her cub. It’s easy to understand why she is so highly regarded on the maternal front.

Luck wasn’t on her side a couple of days later when we found her and her cub with another impala kill. This time she had managed to drag the antelope to the (supposed) safety of their den site. Enter the Styx pride of lions. They caught the two leopards off-guard. This sudden intrusion sent the Kikilezi female scampering up a tree, and her cub made a hasty retreat into a crack in the surrounding rocks. The lions proceeded to devour the impala. We haven’t seen the two leopards since. Our assumption is that they survived the surprise visit, but have probably (wisely) moved to a new home.

Eyrefield Lion Cubs, by Gary Hill

Eyrefield Lion Cubs, by Gary Hill

We had yet another interaction between two male leopards, each doing its best to entrench its territory. Yet again it was the West Street male who was in the thick of it, and on this occasion he was the undisputed winner. The loser was an unidentified male leopard that was found sleeping in a large Weeping Boer Bean at Donald’s Crossing in the Matshipiri River. He was having a wonderful rest until something disturbed him and he became very agitated, evident from his deep growling and marching up-and-down the tree’s branches. There was no doubt that another predator approached from the east. We suspected it would be some lions, as the position was not far off from where the Eyrefield pride lay in the company of two Manyelethi male lions. The West Street male leopard then came into view. The unidentified leopard was quick to descend the tree, and hastely make off for safety. The victor roared frequently and scent marked with aggression.

Happy with his victory, the West Street male continued on his way, only to be chased down by one of the Manyelethi males. He ended up having to climb a tree himself! Thankfully this was to be a brief moment for him as the lion soon left. He was able to climb down to solid ground, and continue with his agenda. To see any of these animals is always enough of a treat, but when there are interactions of this nature, we call it MalaMala magic!

Cape Hunting Dogs

There is always excitement on our Land Rovers when the destination is the den site of the ‘painted wolves’. The track that leads to the den is a twisted path of about 300 metres long which winds through dense bushwillow thickets. We love the way excitement builds as we turn off the well-used road and start along the route to the den. The alpha female chose a den site in a large area of land where there is a sparse road network. Kudos to the rangers who found this site in the first place. Skill, not luck, dictated their success (together with a lot of hard work).

Cape Hunting Dogs, by Pieter van Wyk

Cape Hunting Dogs, by Pieter van Wyk

Visits to the den will almost always guarantee a view of the dogs. The best sightings are undoubtedly when the cubs venture out from their burrow (which will only occur when they are summoned by one of the adults). These predators will hunt twice daily; in the morning and late afternoon. After the hunt (their success rate is about 80%), the adults rush back to the den to regurgitate food for the youngsters and the one hungry adult left behind to guard the den. The dogs can venture in any direction when they decide to hunt. We have seen them some impressive distances away from the den as they search for prey. We have established that there are seven adults and six puppies. After the tragic death of one of the pups last week (whipped off this world by a Tawny eagle), let’s hope that that their run of bad luck is over and that all young dogs make it to adulthood. This is, however, unlikely as they are so very vulnerable at this age, and are bound to run into trouble.

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.

Impala Lily, by Pieter van Wyk

Impala Lily, by Pieter van Wyk

4 thoughts on “Cyberdiary – 26 June 2012

  1. Great diary..thanks so very much for putting all the Kikilezi female’s history in one easy read:)

  2. Really enjoying the weekly diary. Many thanks for taking the effort to put it together. Myself and Claire are looking forward to our visit in January 2013. In June 2010 the Kikilezi female was keeping her cubs in some small granite outcrops. Does she tend to use the same outcrops or does it vary each time?

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