Cyberdiary – 21 August 2012

Giraffe at sunset by Gary Hill

Giraffe at sunset by Gary Hill

We are spoiled for choice when it comes to game sightings at MalaMala, but it is often the big cats that steal the show. This week was no different and included a dramatic – and unexpected – kill. But the highlight is often when we get to see cubs, and our diary includes sightings of both lion and leopard cubs – always special! And last, but not least, we had a spectacular sighting of a young cheetah… Settle back and travel to the African bushveld in your imagination…

Here are the sightings for the week:

*Rhino sightings currently unavailable.

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

Youngest Eyrefield cub by Gary Hill

Youngest Eyrefield cub by Gary Hill

Lions

Seeing one of the continent’s top predators at a tender age is always an exciting, moving, funny and playful experience. The lionesses of MalaMala’s Eyrefield pride currently have the task of raising, protecting and providing for no fewer than three litters, totalling seven cubs that range in age from just over a month old, to just shy of six months. The oldest three cubs have been mobile for some time now, but the younger two litters are still restricted to the confines of their respective den sites – den sites that are only a few hundred metres away from each other. What a treat! Allow us to paint the picture:

At the confluence of where the seasonal Matshipiri River joins the ever-flowing Sand River, perched on high banks and sheltered by large Jakkalberry and Leadwood trees, you will be awed by the view that confronts you – vast sandbanks form the bed on which the clear, shallow river meanders steadily southwards. Reeds line the riverbanks, providing food and shelter for an array of wildlife and refreshing splashes of green in the dry winter bushveld. Herds of elephants congregate in the water, while numerous birds such as the Saddle-billed stork and Pied Kingfisher hunt their aquatic prey. This is Africa in all its glory!

Pied Kingfisher by Gary Hill

Pied Kingfisher by Gary Hill

It is in this picturesque setting that you’ll find the den sites…one being in a clump of debris in the Sand River, just south of the confluence, and the other is just to the north at the Matshipiri River.

The lioness denning in the Sand River is the same lioness that we first viewed with her three cubs south of Rattrays Camp. In the time that has elapsed since the first sighting, one of the youngsters has died – a reminder of how fragile young cubs are, and how unforgiving nature can be. The large, pale lioness that is the daughter of the oldest lioness, has her two younger cubs at the Matshipiri River, tucked away in a thicket covered in debris. The entrance to the den provides us with a gap affording us with views of this well-concealed family. However, it is the remaining two cubs from the slightly older litter that we get to see more often as their mother has decided that they are old enough now to be suckled and allowed playtime outside their den. With not much grass to speak of in the surrounding open patches, we have a clear view of the cubs doing what they do best – playing, suckling, harassing their mother and, more recently, meeting their fellow pride members.

With these two den sites in relatively close proximity to each other, we are optimistic about the future of the youngsters. With the increased amount of Eyrefield lion traffic in the area, leopards, hyenas and indeed other lions might wary of entering the area.

Daughter of Kikilezi female and Duiker kill by Gary Hill

Daughter of Kikilezi female and Duiker kill by Gary Hill

Leopards

The unrivalled highlight of the week was the sighting of the Daughter of the Kikilezi female, who is starting to bear a striking resemblance to her beautiful aunt – the Tamboti female. One of the rangers, and his unsuspecting guests, was searching around Campbell Koppies for any sign of the Styx Pride. As they neared a bend, they encountered frenzied activity in a haze of dust, and the shrieks of a struggling animal. The leopard must have been in the final stages of a stalk, and we arrived just in time to see her pounce, watching as she tried to suffocate her victim. On this occasion the prey was a female duiker, and the antelope did not stand chance against the Daughter of the Kikilezi female. The duiker wailed loudly as the leopard gained a better grip on its jugular, and the young female was no doubt concerned about the commotion and the predators it might attract. She had a remedy for this potential problem, and had already spied a Large-leaved Rock Fig tree (Ficus abutilifolia) that had ideal branches into which she could hoist her catch. The duiker was still squirming as the leopard headed straight for the large tree that stood on the ridge, some 100 metres away. As she reached her refuge, she took a brief look to determine the best approach, before scaling the tree in one swift motion, the duiker dangling from the firm grasp of her strong jaws. The leopard was patient in selecting a branch that would best balance her meal, and took some time before regaining her breath and starting to feed. We were able to watch her feeding on the duiker for the next two days.

This was an exceptional sighting, and it is great to see that the Daughter of the Kikilezi female is doing so well. Considering the impala that she killed a few weeks ago, she is demonstrating her coming of age. Both of these kills were executed in broad daylight, and she has shown that she is a highly skilled hunter, since prey is better equipped to detect any threat during daylight. She has yet to establish her own territory, but we expect that she will do this in the months ahead, and we look forward to the time when she will make her name amongst proud leopard lineage of MalaMala.

Cub of Kikilezi female by Gary Hill

Cub of Kikilezi female by Gary Hill

We also enjoyed a fabulous sighting of the Kikilezi female. She will certainly not be proud of her most recently independent daughters’ exploits, since they have taken place well within her core territory, and she will not welcome competition from any other female leopards in her domain. The leopard currently taking care of her fourth litter was cleverly tracked and found around Plank’s Pan, where she was resting. We have suspected that this area is the new hiding place for her surviving cub, although drainage lines and dense bush in the vicinity make it difficult to navigate. The experienced leopard began to stir and headed westwards, towards the above-mentioned tricky terrain. She was contact calling gently, which is a sure sign that she intended to lure her cub out from its place of safety. When she broke into a jog it was impossible to keep up with her, and she was soon lost to us. The Land Rovers gently pushed through the bush, one at a time, to try and relocate the female and steal a glimpse of her cub, which we haven’t seen for a while. After some serious dedication, we eventually located her. This time she was fast asleep in a gully. It must have been a wonderful feeling for the team that found her again, since this time she had company, and her young cub was happily playing around her and nursing. Once again, the male cub treated us to a fantastic sighting, and by all accounts this cub is faring really well.

We are afraid that the Tamboti female, who shares the same blood of the Ngoboswan female, is not having the same luck as her niece or sister. She has been in the wars again, and this time the injury is more severe than we have seen before. Encounters with lions and hyenas have been a trademark of this plucky leopard’s life so far. We are not sure what has caused her injury this time, but she has a deep laceration to her back right leg, and it is causing her some discomfort. The pain must be significant but, true to character, she is barely sporting a limp. An injury of this nature can have major implications for this leopard, and she is incredibly thin and in desperate need of a kill. If the injury hinders her ability to hunt, it is a downward spiral of many failed hunts and she will begin to become weaker. Each time she was seen this week she was trying her very best to find something to eat. We have watched her vain attampts at hunting as bushbuck, impala and ground birds have all made narrow escapes. We are certain that she will be able to keep herself going – animals have incredible healing power and we hope that she will regain her strength again, as she has done in the past.

Jakkalsdraai female by Gary Hill

Jakkalsdraai female by Gary Hill

Other leopard sightings that excited us this week included the Jakkalsdraai female, who we found resting peacefully in a huge Jakkalberry Tree on the banks of the Sand River, around Sibuye Drive. It was a beautiful scene. Later that night we found her nine-month old daughter, who has grown considerably since we last saw her, in the same region. We also caught a brief sighting of the female leopard with the discoloured iris. She was spotted in the Sand River, from high above on the river banks. We were excited to see that a young cub trailing behind, and it appears that her litter has now also been reduced to one. It was a sighting that did not last very long, as the leopards were lost in the reeds and it was becoming dark – not a time we usually get to see cubs. These leopards reside on a portion of the property that is not as well travelled as some of the other areas, and it is a pity that we cannot see more of them! The Ostrich Koppies female was again seen this week. Perhaps she is finally returning to the old hunting grounds which she once frequented a while ago. During the past year, this leopard has had a failed litter that she was keeping to the north of our boundary, and this is why we have not seen her as regularly as before.

Cheetah – better late than never!

The last day of this report period provided us with an action-packed sighting of a young female cheetah. Although we are still to verify her identity, we believe that she is the same animal that we viewed quite frequently about a year-and-a-half ago with her mother around the Mlowathi. This elegant and relaxed young female was found catching a cat-nap on the fire break of Matshipiri Dam Road, just north of Wild Dog Rocks Open Area. During the course of the day she moved north-westwards towards the open areas of Rhino Walk. Along the way she successfully flushed out a number of duiker and steenbok, but her attempts to catch them were not successful. As the sun was setting she had her sights on a herd of impala that were blissfully unaware of her presence. She showed great patience as she lay low and waited as the herd slowly grazed towards her. A lone wildebeest that was among the impala very nearly spoilt the hunt by revealing the cheetah’s hiding place, as he started to move in her direction. The cheetah saw this as the prefect moment to make her move, and ran in, sending the impala in all directions. After a brief chase the hunt was over, and unfortunately the cheetah had no luck. We hope to see more of this beautiful female in the future.

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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