We had the first rains of the season this week. They have come earlier than expected, as the first rains typically fall in October. It has been an interesting season compared to last year. The cold weather left us early, and to replace it we have had warm spring days – and now it seems the wet season is upon us. A cold front came through from the Cape, which resulted in four days of consistent rain. The Sand River has filled its banks and many waterholes have already started to replenish. The buffalo must be among the most satisfied as their long journeys to and from the Sand River will no longer be necessary, as water is plentiful throughout the bush. Wet weather does take a toll on the predator sightings, as the falling rain erases their tracks. This is a good time for leopards to hunt though, since the sounds of their approach are muffled by the wind and rain. Once these cats make their kills, they are difficult to locate after they stash their meals as there is little evidence left behind to track them down. This being said, we were still able to enjoy some good cat action and some quality sightings made up for the lack of quantity!
Here are the sightings for the week:
- Number of lion sightings: 15
- Number of leopard sightings: 11
- Number of cheetah sightings: 1
- Number of wild dog sightings: 1
- Number of elephant sightings: 59
- Number of buffalo sightings: 19
*Rhino sightings currently unavailable.
Have a look at the Wildlife Sightings Maps for a more detailed look at what was seen where.
The Bicycle Crossing male still has what it takes
We have been enjoying the many sightings of the Bicycle Crossing male over the last two weeks, and this week was no different. This time however, it was under even better circumstances. Early on in the week, we found him around the lower reaches of the Kapen River. This is in relative close proximity to where he had his warthog stashed last week, and where he had to fend off hyenas and two male leopards from his kill! Once again the Bicycle Crossing male had company, except he was a lot more tolerant this time. An unknown female leopard was in attendance. Her intentions were clear from the outset. She was in oestrus, and had obviously tracked down the male to mate. She is a relatively mature female leopard, which we estimate to be five or six years old. We have been trying to establish her identity; although we are certain that she is not resident on the property. The two leopards treated us to the kind of show that can be expected from mating leopards. Throughout the time that the female is in cycle, the pair will mate at intervals of around ten minutes. The female instigates the mating by ‘flirting’ with the male. The copulation is brief, however there is much excitement when the male lets off a ritualised, resonating growl before he extracts. Upon extraction, his barbed penis is believed to cause pain for the female, who then takes an almighty swipe at the male as he tries his best to leap backwards and stay out of harms way. It is always a special sight to witness the various shenanigans of leopards mating. Unfortunately the pair crossed the border during the day, and we weren’t able to find them again in the days that followed. It is great to see that the Bicycle Crossing male is faring well, and is still a dominant force to attract female attention.
Kudu population taking a knock
The kudu have not been having much luck lately. Last week we shared the awesome sighting of the Selati Pride bringing down a large male kudu, and we also shared the sighting of the Kikilezi female that had also killed a young kudu before it was stolen from her – first by hyenas, then by the Airstrip male, and finally the Styx pride got hold of it. On Friday the 7th, it was the turn of yet another large kudu bull to be executed. The Airstrip male was found resting alongside the fallen beast, and was feeding intermittently off the carcass. It was a huge kudu bull, and we are not sure what the cause of his death was, as it would be an extraordinary feat for any leopard to kill an antelope of this size and speed. Perhaps the kudu died by other means, and the cunning leopard was once again on hand to cash in. If the Airstrip male did in fact execute this kill, he would have had to use all of his skill and experience, as well as some exceptional circumstances to get it right. The kudu was found below a steep portion of the bank along the Sand River that forms a small cliff. After all the rain that we have had this week, the mud along the bank had become incredibly slippery, and it is likely that the kudu lost all advantage when he was chased off the edge of the slippery bank. We can only speculate. There was now the opportunity for the male leopard to feed for the next coming days. There would be enough meat to allow a leopard to feed for an extended period, but it was not long before the Airstrip male had to share with a hyena that discovered the carcass. The animals alternated between feeding, and we only witnessed one occasion when there was serious aggression between the old enemies. This happened when the leopard decided he was hungry and left his place of rest in the shade nearby, heading toward the carcass. Meanwhile, the hyena was still feeding. The Airstrip male came apon the hyena, and after some physical persuasion the hyena was sufficiently intimidated and left the scene.
We found the two cheetah brothers in familiar circumstances around their much-favoured plains of Clarendon Dam. They were looking fairly lean, and throughout the morning they were clearly on the hunt. After covering some distance and not coming across any hunting opportunity of significance, they came to rest around Rhino Walk. They wisely used this time to relax since they would need their energy for the afternoons’ escapades. Just after lunchtime they got moving again. Heading toward more open ground where they could take full advantage of their speed, they were obviously hoping to find suitable prey species to target. It was not long before they noticed some kudu moving through the clearing. We have mentioned the size of these antelope, and the power they wield. They are too large for cheetah to take down, and they would need to single out a young kudu in the group to stand any chance of success. The cheetah lay cleverly on the edge of the clearing, while the kudu sauntered past. One by one we could see the kudu walking by. Then it came. All of a sudden the cheetah were far more alert and were showing incredible intent. A young kudu had been spotted. The cheetah bid their time and showed incredible patience. They were going to wait until the kudu came alongside them. Their idea seemed to be working well. Go! The cheetah went steaming in. What a sight to see the world’s fastest mammal in full flight! The plan had been implemented perfectly, and they chased the kudu from a short distance and across the open plain. One of the brothers was making good ground and was quick to close in. He leaped onto the kudu’s rear, and the antelope came tumbling down. Upon impact with the ground, the cheetah went tumbling past and lost contact with the kudu. Luckily they could enjoy the advantage of hunting as a team and the other brother was on hand to pin the kudu down before it could even think of getting up again. This had all happened so fast, and it did not take long before it took another turn. Throughout the morning, a lone hyena had been trailing the cheetah. This is a tactic often witnessed, as the hyena anticipate a potential kill, which translates into a potential theft to be made. This time was no different. The hyena came storming in, and stole the kill from the cheetah! Cheetahs are vulnerable to injury, since being wounded in the slightest way will hinder their ability to hunt. The risk of injury does not outweigh the reward of stealing back their kill from a hyena, as hyenas are far more powerful than they are. As a rule, hyenas are the dominant of the two. Of course there are always exceptions. Once again the brothers had to be patient. They waited for the right moment before running toward the carcass and scared off the impostor. The cheetah had more than enough chance to eat their fill before the scavenger was eventually able to steal the last remaining scraps.
Cape Hunting Dogs
We had a welcome return visit from the familiar pack of nine Cape Hunting Dogs this week. It is the same pack that we were lucky enough to have set up their den site where we could enjoy sightings of them consistently throughout the winter. Since then they have been establishing temporary den sites to the west until such time as the six pups are developed enough to follow the pack. All six pups were in attendance, and they followed the pack as they covered plenty of ground in a short space of time, which is typical of these rare canids. We found them in central Charleston, and it was not long before they started to move south. They caused some havoc as they went, sending giraffe and kudu scattering in all directions. At one stage, the pack stumbled across a herd of zebra. A full sized zebra is too usually too large a target for the dogs, but some young foals in the herd had caught their attention. In an impressive strategic maneuver, the zebra did not panic and remained standing their ground as some of the dogs whizzed around them. The adults safeguarded the foals, and there was no chance of their defense being breached. The dogs soon lost interest and continued on their way. With the direction they were heading noted, we could see that they were moving straight toward the hyena den site that has been established near the F-Bend Open Area for many years. This is the same hyena den and clan that Kim Wholuter captured in the National Geographic documentary, ‘Hyena Queen’. The dogs became more alert once they came upon the hyena den. There was a young hyena cub that was resting on the open rock, and was now in serious danger of being attacked. Hyenas sit comfortably behind lions in the hierarchy of the animal kingdom, although Wild Dogs seem to have a very good defense against them, which sees them intimidate these opponents with ease. The young hyena raised the alarm, and many adult hyenas came bounding from the bushed and rushed to defend the den against the intruders. The noises being made were amazing to hear, let alone witness the drama that was unfolding. With the ‘laughing’ hyenas and the bird-like chirps from the dogs, it was a cacophony of noise resounding through the bush – the falling rain doing little to muffle the sound. The number of hyenas present was enough to deter the dogs on this occasion. The Cape Hunting Dogs continued on their way, and we followed them until they came to rest. Some of the females were seen digging among termite mounds in the area, and we were excited at the prospect that they may be looking to set up another one of their temporary den sites. Our hope was short-lived however, and we have not seen any sign the dogs since.
Until next time,
The MalaMala Ranger Team.
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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.