Cyberdiary – 23 October 2012

Forked-tailed Drongo mobbing two Whaleberg's Eagles by Pieter van Wyk

Forked-tailed Drongo mobbing two Whaleberg's Eagles by Pieter van Wyk

Despite some ‘less than desirable’ weather conditions this week, MalaMala‘s world-renowned reputation for quality game viewing shone through…even though the sun didn’t!

Buffalo bulls by Pieter van Wyk

Buffalo bulls by Pieter van Wyk

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.

Styx lioness and cub by Pieter van Wyk

Styx lioness and cub by Pieter van Wyk

Styx pride by Pieter van Wyk

Styx pride by Pieter van Wyk

Lions

On the first afternoon game drive of this report period, we found all eleven members of the Styx pride coming back south onto MalaMala’s property from the north. They headed west on the Gowrie Boundary and through the Mlowathi River, before bearing south through the open plains towards Mlowathi Dam – the heart of their territory. Although it sounds like we were just watching lions walk down a road, it was much more than that. The seven youngsters were all in a spirited mood, and it is clear that it is quite a treat for the three youngest cubs to have the four sub-adults as playmates. All join in the fun and games, and playtime is a physical affair, although the older cubs show their gentler side with the youngsters. The group gave us a heart-warming display of their youthful exuberance, and in time even two of the lionesses joined in for some ‘rough and tumble’. That evening we were also treated to our closest-ever sighting of the cubs as they came within centimetres of the Land Rovers. We viewed this pride on four days this week!

The Eyrefield pride was only seen on two days this week, and we’ll put that down to the soaking rains that muddied the soil and hindered our ability to venture off-road. There is not much to report regarding this pride, other than the fact that we saw the lionesses venturing a great distance form their cubs as they went in search of a meal. They left the cubs south of the Kapen River as they travelled as far north as the Ngoboswaan Donga – a distance of just over six kilometres as the crow flies.

We also had brief sightings of the Fourways pride and the young Marthly/Eyrefield male coalition. Both were viewed in eastern Flockfield, and all seem in good health.

The other news is that we have reason to believe there is currently a shift of power occurring within the ranks of the Manyelethi male’s coalition. Watch this space…

Leopards

Tamboti female shows off her eyes by Gary Hill

Tamboti female shows off her eyes by Gary Hill

It is well known that the Tamboti female is one of the most stunningly beautiful leopards. Her rich golden coat, symmetrical spot pattern and piercing eyes make her highly attractive to photograph. Combining her beauty with a resilient and plucky character, she is quick to win the hearts of all who are lucky enough to see her. Fast approaching five years of age; she has not managed to produce any litters, despite numerous attempts. A nasty gash to her right thigh has been the most recent obstacle that she has had to overcome in a lifetime not without incident. This week this special leopard gave us yet another memorable sighting.

Tamboti female by Gary Hill

Tamboti female by Gary Hill

On the morning of the 19th we found her around the Old Airstrip with the remains of a large male bushbuck kill. Judging by how intact the carcass still was, we assumed that she had executed the kill fairly recently and it appeared that her catch would be too large to drag into one of the trees nearby. She would first need to consume some of the meat to make the job of hoisting the carcass easier. Unfortunately she had no time to waste, and it was not long before a hyena came bursting into view and was able to easily chase the leopard from her meal. Despite the Tamboti female’s obvious resentment, there was no way she would be able to regain her catch from the hyena.

Tamboti female defending her carcass at the base of the Bushveld Saffron by Gary Hill

Tamboti female defending her carcass at the base of the Bushveld Saffron by Gary Hill

The hyena laying in the water where the bushbuck was hidden by Gary Hill

The hyena lying in the water where the bushbuck was hidden by Gary Hill

After the hyena had its fill, it then dragged the carcass into a pool of water nearby. This is an interesting technique sometimes adopted by hyenas as it will mask the smell of the rotting meal and limit the chances of attracting any unwelcome company. We saw another hyena on the same day practicing the same method! It provided for interesting viewing to watch the hyena drag the bushbuck out of the water to feed, and return it to the place of hiding once finished! While this was going on, the Tamboti female had not given up, and was still in the area trying to steal a discarded scrap or perhaps waiting for a chance to reclaim the bushbuck. This scene played out for much of the day and there was one notable instance when the female came close to snatching the carcass back. The hyena was busy feeding when the leopard started to edge closer. The hyena looked up and without hesitation chased after the leopard. The Tamboti female easily out maneuvered her pursuer, and was able to double-back around the hyena to the area where the carcass lay! Realising it had been fooled, the hyena returned to the carcass and once again had to chase the leopard off.

Tamboti female inspects where her carcass was stolen and hidden by Gary Hill

Tamboti female inspects where her carcass was stolen and hidden by Gary Hill

By nightfall, the Tamboti female had given up and she was looking for another hunting opportunity. It was a dark and stormy night, and the rain started to pelt down as we followed her. These conditions provide ideal hunting conditions as the noise of the wind and thunder gives the leopard a chance to approach prey undetected. There were numerous herds of impala in the vicinity that were now under threat. The falling rain made the Land Rover a very uncomfortable place to be, but one group decided they were prepared for action and were not going to let some rain be a deterrent! The leopard was focused on a small group of unsuspecting impala, and every time lightening struck and illuminated the scene, we could see that she was edging closer to the herd. Suddenly she ran in, sending the impala fleeing in all directions, her attempt was unsuccessful. Not taking a moment to catch her breath, she was off again looking for the next opportunity. She was walking with purpose when suddenly she presented herself very low to the ground in an area of dense bush. We stopped the vehicle and anticipated her next move, which followed quickly – she had no doubt spotted something in the thicket. After a brief pause, a short squeal from a distressed animal sounded from the thicket and the leopard had in her grasp a struggling female impala! At this time of year the female impala have the burden of being weighed down with lambs that will be expected to drop in the coming weeks, making them more vulnerable to predators. The tussle was over quickly as the antelope’s neck had been broken instantly. The leopard had made full use of the stormy conditions to execute a perfect hunt. She started dragging the carcass northwards, scanning for a suitable tree into which she could hoist the impala. She passed two large Marula trees, which are often sought after by leopards as their long extending branches offer a good perch. However, in this instance her tree of choice was a Bushveld Saffron (Elaeodendron transvaalense). This was an interesting choice, as these trees are usually small and don’t exceed 15 metres in height, and have dense branches which are difficult to penetrate. The Tamboti female displayed her skill and strength as, despite her small stature, she hoisted her catch into the tree. It is possible that she has a preference for these trees as the it could reduce the chances of larger leopards, or even lions, being able to steal her carcass. Last week she chose the same species of tree to stash another of her impala kills, which still ended up being stolen by her father, the Bicycle Crossing male.

Hogvaal male escapes the flies by Gary Hill

Hogvaal male escapes the flies by Gary Hill

Hogvaal male in Marula Tree by Gary Hill

Hogvaal male in Marula Tree by Gary Hill

We enjoyed some other sightings of leopards that are not frequently viewed. The most significant of these was a confirmed sighting of the Flockfield female. She resides in an area that is not too well travelled, and we do not see as much of her as we would like to. Born in 2004 to the Jakkalsdraai female and fathered by the famous Rock Drift male (aka Tjololo), this female had one litter in 2011, the results of which are unknown. Over the past while we have had sightings of a young male leopard within her domain and we suspect it may be a surviving offspring of hers. We found her in a large tree with the intestines of an unknown animal with her. Leopards are fussy eaters, and will usually discard this portion of a carcass. It is likely that she had scavenged the remains. We also had a brief sighting of the Tslebe Rocks male, which was feeding on the remains of a carcass. He was seen on our northern boundary and could not make out what he was feeding on. A full-bellied Hogvaal male was also viewed as he rested in a tree, trying to escape the flies around the Rock Drift Donga. He has done well to establish an impressively large territory, which he is holding onto well. His condition is excellent at the moment.

Portrait of the Kikilezi female by Gary Hill

Portrait of the Kikilezi female by Gary Hill

Other highlights of the week were sightings of of the Kikilezi female and her cub as they shared a duiker kill, and the West Street male who had killed a baboon.

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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