Cyberdiary – 03 July 2012

Cub of the Kikilezi Female Leopard, by Matt Meyer

Cub of the Kikilezi Female Leopard, by Matt Meyer

What a week this has been. Plenty of cat-action, an exciting find, and the return of some long lost inhabitants of MalaMala. To top it all off, some guests at Rattray’s on MalaMala enjoyed the most exciting breakfast of their lives! You’ll have to read on for the details.

Digi-fans, here are the numbers:

  • Number of lion sightings: 6
  • Number of leopard sightings: 25 (YES, you read right. TWENTY FIVE!)
  • Number of cheetah sightings: 1
  • Number of wild dog sightings: 8
  • Number of elephant sightings: 34
  • Number of buffalo sightings: 20

*Rhino sightings currently unavailable.

Have a look at the Wildlife Sightings Maps for a more detailed look at what was seen where. They will be uploaded on 04 July by mid-day CAT.

Happy Virtual Safari!

A dead buffalo provides a good meal

Early on in the week we discovered the carcass of a dead buffalo around the West Street Bridge. The young bull had died of natural causes, as we had seen him a few days before and he was not in good shape. The Airstrip male leopard was the first to ‘cash in’. Since he travels such vast distances on his patrols, it is not surprising that he gets lucky from time-to-time. It was not long before an Eyrefield lioness also caught wind of the carcass, and she immediately set about to intimidate the leopard off the meat. The sheer size of the buffalo meant that the leopard was unable to drag it to safety. It took just days for the buffalo to be reduced to practically nothing, an occasion seen in by two of the Eyrefield lionesses in the area.

At this point, however, there was much more excitement further downstream in the form of the Cape hunting dogs. Now, to watch wild dogs on the hunt is often a fleeting affair as these super-advanced predators make light work of great distances. They literally run their prey to exhaustion. But on this rare occasion, the final stage of the chase, the kill AND the subsequent feeding frenzy were witnessed in full view! And what made it even more incredible was the fact that it was all viewed from the comfort of the deck of Rattray’s Camp over breakfast! Nine wild dogs chased and killed what was presumed to be a bush buck in the water of the Sand River – right in direct line of vision of some really lucky spectators.

Cape Hunting Dogs on a Kill, by Matt Meyer

Cape Hunting Dogs on a Kill, by Matt Meyer

At that point it seemed as if excitement levels could stretch no further. Not so! Two lionesses suddenly exploded out of the reeds a short distance away. Clearly the two Eyrefield lionesses in the area had had enough of buffalo for the day. The frenetic dogs scattered in every direction and thankfully made a safe getaway. Knowing when to call it a day, the dogs headed back toward their den where they would, no doubt, be met by some very hungry puppies. The lionesses soon lost interest in the few scraps of bushbuck remaining, and continued on their way.

And all the while, sitting quietly a safe distance away, was The West Street male leopard.

Leopard Cubs

A very welcome sight met MalaMala rangers and guests when they found the missing (and only) cub of the Kikilezi female leopard. The last sighting of the cub was of the hapless creature being chased by the Styx pride lionesses around the old den site on Mlowathi Koppies. Naturally we were all worried about the outcome. But on this fortunate day, he was found strolling inquisitively beside his mother. The healthy cub is now confirmed to be a male, and is showing a striking resemblance to his father – the Airstrip male. The Kikilezi female seems to have chosen somewhere around Piccadilly Triangle as the new hiding place for her youngster. The exact location of the new home is yet to be discovered, but it is likely that the cub still needs to be hidden in a specific den before the Kikilezi female will start to make use of ‘mobile den sites’ (temporary sites which she will move her cub to whenever she makes a kill). Earlier on in the week we had followed the Kikilezi female on a bout of territorial marking as she ventured to the southern parts of her territory. She had an interesting interaction with the Hogvaal male leopard when she came upon him resting in the Matshipiri River. After a bout of hostility, the experienced cat was wise to retreat and leave him be.

Kikilezi Female Leopard and Cub, by Matt Meyer

Kikilezi Female Leopard and Cub, by Matt Meyer

We have new life to celebrate! An unexpected pair of leopard cubs has been found close to the area of the Cape hunting dogs’ den site. After a few visits, the mother revealed herself. Although her identity is still somewhat of a mystery, she does have a distinguishing discoloured spot below her iris. She could be the female leopard seen mating with the Bicycle Crossing male a few months ago, but this stands to be confirmed. The prospect of the Bicycle Crossing male fathering yet another set of cubs is an exciting one though! The two tiny cubs sought refuge within a small rocky outcrop – one of a few in that area.  They are extremely small, and are clearly only a few weeks old. This is always a special treat, and one which we got to enjoy almost every day this week. We will monitor their progress with interest.

We also had a sighting of the Dudley female leopard this week. The mother of the Airstrip male and Charleston male is seldom seen, and it was great to find her in good condition. She was lactating heavily, and we have heard reports that she has at least one young cub in a den site to our west. Hopefully she can raise yet another cub to independence. Her most recent litters have all been of male cubs, and it will be interesting to see what gender the babies are this time round.

Mating leopards

The Airstrip male leopard was at it once again. This week we found him in the company of another  female. And it was unexpected company at that! The Ostrich Koppies female had travelled some distance to seek him out (an act that is quite common as females look for the most dominant suitors to mate with). We have not seen the Ostrich Koppies female for some time now, and we believe she was tending to a new litter of cubs to our north. The fact that she is mating again is a clear indication that her litter did not make it, and that she is looking to start over.

It was interesting to see the mother of this female leopard, the Campbell Koppies female, also in an area which we do not consider to be in her usual territory. The ageing female was found around the Causeway in front of MalaMala Main Camp. Could it be that she is also seeking out the Airstrip male? Her most recently independent daughter, the Mlowathi female, was also mating with the Airstrip male a few weeks ago. Perhaps the Campbell Koppies female aims to make this a family affair!

The Ostrich Koppies female is the fifth female leopard that we know of to have mated with the Airstrip male of late, and joins the Kikilezi female, the Tamboti female and the Vomba female (who resides to our west). This makes for a remarkable realisation…. Have a look at the family tree which depicts the impressive lineage of the Ngoboswan female. All of these females are direct descendants of the Ngoboswan female!

Ngoboswan Female Leopard Family Tree, by Matt Meyer

Ngoboswan Female Leopard Family Tree, by Matt Meyer

Princess Alice Pans Male and Tamboti Female, by Matt Meyer

Princess Alice Pans Male and Tamboti Female, by Matt Meyer

Another set of leopards was also seen mating this week – the Tamboti female and the recently-named Princess Alice Pans male. They certainly make a terrific combination. They were found in close proximity of the Airstrip on the last day of the month. Earlier on that morning, we had seen the three young cubs from the Eyrefield lion pride hiding some distance to the west of the leopards. It appeared from the tracks in the area that they had been left there while the adults were out hunting. As evening approached, we found the mother lioness heading towards where she had left her cubs. Her intention was no doubt to collect her cubs and lead them to a new destination. She was, however, unexpectedly delayed when she came upon the Tamboti female and Princess Alice Pans male. The lioness was first to notice the leopards, and moved towards them without being detected. Once she was within twenty metres of the mating pair, the male leopard looked up, noticed her, and bolted off without hesitation. The startled Tamboti female was left stranded, and it took her a few moments to realise what was going on. The lioness ran in closer, but the spirited leopard hastily scaled a tree to safety. The lioness soon lost interest, and continued on to collect her cubs.

Eyrefield Lioness and Cub, by Matt Meyer

Eyrefield Lioness and Cub, by Matt Meyer

We followed her, and were rewarded with a sighting of the little cubs greeting their mother exuberantly. They then tailed behind her on the way down to the river for a drink before they were led back along the same route she had taken to collect them.

An update from the Cape Hunting dog den

We were able to view the dogs every day this week. The pups are growing fast, and it is noticeable how their black coats are becoming more blotchy as they ‘earn their spots’. They are growing in confidence and curiosity as they explore their surrounds and pester the adults.

Cape Hunting Dog Pups, by Matt Meyer

Cape Hunting Dog Pups, by Matt Meyer

Cape Hunting Dog Pups, by Matt Meyer

Cape Hunting Dog Pups, by Matt Meyer

Cheetah brothers

The two cheetah brothers were seen at Clarendon Dam on the 29th June. Both of them were looking particularly hungry, and they set off on the hunt.  These cats depend on their speed when hunting, and it is for obvious reasons that they tend to hunt on prey in open grasslands, which best suits their hunting style. This is why we almost exclusively see this coalition at the wide open plains around Clarendon Dam. Finding no potential prey at Clarendon, they set off for other open areas hoping for more luck. Taking a direct route through the bush, they visited one open plain after the other. The best opportunity that came along was in the form of a sounder of Warthogs (another very apt collective noun) which included some young piglets. One of the Cheetah brothers showed particular interest and bounded after the pigs. After a quick chase, one of the older warthogs turned to face the cheetah and was able to force the cat to change direction! This comes as no surprise. Warthogs are formidable opponents and can inflict serious injury with their tusks. Considering that the threat of injury can render the cat unable to hunt, the cheetah cleverly decided that the battle was over and was happy to look for an easier target.

The cheetah duo chose the open area near the Wild Dog Rocks as their resting place in the heat of the day. This provided for some excellent photographic opportunities as they moved between termite mounds trying to earn the best vantage point. Cheetahs will hunt during the day, and on occasion at night when the moon is full. As it turned out, the moon was bright and bold on that evening, and we left them moving toward Buffalo Bush Dam.


The Charleston Lion Pride returns home

It has been a very long time since we last saw these lions on our side of the river. We have had only a handful of sightings for quite some time, and most of these have been within the last few weeks. On this occasion they were deep into the core of their old territory on central Charleston. The pride has recently suffered great loss at the ‘hands’ of the Selati pride, which killed all but four of them. A lioness and her three adopted cubs now constitutes the full complement of what remains of the Charleston pride. Here is the story of how we found them this week.

We were on our way down south, making a bee-line for the hyena den site, when we happened upon one of the hyena clan members lying down in the road quite some distance from the den. We stopped, and a large bird perched up in a dead tree caught our attention – so out came the binoculars. At the very moment we identified the bird (a White Backed vulture), the silence that had presided over the bush was shattered by a series of snarls and growls. We engaged low range on the  Land Rover, and slowly moved into the bush to investigate further.

We found a lioness and three cubs feeding on the carcass of a very young giraffe calf. We quickly identified them as the remaining members of the Charleston pride. These cats were not alone. A few hyenas were in the area too, and their heightened sense of excitement was obvious as they circled the lions with their tails raised, whooping loudly and frequently. The lions were gauging themselves in a way that suggested that this meal was long overdue. They were not about to give an inch to the hyenas, and managed to keep them at bay for a while with a series of snarls – those from the cubs as ferocious as the adult’s. Reinforcements soon came for the hyenas, and they giggled hysterically as their comrades arrived. Seven hyenas now felt brave enough to make a move, but their courage was short lived. The brave lioness charged at them, and continued to chase them as they made a hasty retreat. It was clear that she was not going to be bullied out of this meal. The hyenas obviously realised this, and as there was not much meat left they probably chose the safer alternative of waiting patiently for the scraps.

We hope that we will enjoy more consistent viewings of this pride of lions in the future, and that they may one day return to the numbers that they once enjoyed. This may prove difficult as they will need to compete with the high population of hyenas in this area. Time will tell its interesting story.

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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