Over the past few days, we have viewed both the two cheetah brothers and the Kikilezi female leopard and her cub on impala kills. The predators executed their kills on the same morning, and both sightings provided exceptional viewing.
It took a keen observer to spot the cheetahs that were very close to the Kruger National Park boundary, quite a distance south of their usual hunting grounds at Clarendon Dam. The brothers had recently killed a female impala, and had dragged it under the cover offered by a gully. When the Land Rover passed by, luck would have it that one of the siblings gave away their position by lifting his head, otherwise they would have been almost impossible to find. Cheetahs are very nervous feeders, and they had fed on the impala as fast as they could, which is typical of the species. The reason that they eat so quickly is that they have little chance of defending their kill should any unwelcome predators or scavengers approach. Even vultures are able to intimidate cheetahs and chase them from a carcass.
Relying heavily on their speed to hunt, the risk of injury for a cheetahs is high, and any wound reduces their ability to hunt significantly. Even with the gully providing a degree of cover for the impala carcass, it was not enough to hide it from some observant White-backed vultures that were starting to gather overhead. With their excellent eyesight, these raptors have been recorded to sight a 6 cm object from a height of one kilometre!
Within minutes, the number of vultures present had started to grow and many of them had begun to descend. They cheetah brothers were well aware of the mounting threat, and became even more wary. One of the brothers decided that he had enough, and left the carcass. By this stage many of the vultures were lining the banks of the gully. One brave vulture spearheaded the approach, and had plenty of support close behind. The remaining cheetah soon gave way, and the vultures swarmed the carcass. The cheetahs had been overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of vultures present, but had at least managed to consume more than half of the impala. We left the brothers with their bulging bellies as they made their way into the Kruger Park, where most of their territory lies. It was a great sighting which afforded some guests the chance to complete the prize of viewing the MalaMala Seven after the Cape Hunting dogs were sighted a few days prior.
Meanwhile, the Kikilezi female and her cub had been found near Picadilly Triangle. We followed the pair for a short while before the mother, who appeared to be on the hunt, left the cub alone. The Kikilezi female was lost as she moved through some dense bush, but we were still able to enjoy the show provided by the young cub that spends much time honing his already developed tree climbing skills. We returned in the afternoon to try and find either of the leopards, and it was only after some dedicated tracking that we had any success.
The cub of the Kikilezi female was the first to be found, perched on a granitic outcrop at the Mlowathi Koppies. The mother was then spotted resting nearby. The intentions of the Kikilezi female during the morning were confirmed when an impala carcass was revealed where the leopards were resting. The Kikilezi female must have killed the impala late during the morning, as the carcass was still relatively fresh and had hardly been fed on. As evening approached, the experienced mother came to reclaim her kill from the cub that had been playing with the carcass, rather than feeding on it. The female dragged the carcass for a few metres before she began to inspect some trees in the area. A Marula Tree seemed to be the best option available, and she came to rest with the kill at the base of the tree. It is a wise tactic to hoist a carcass before nightfall, as the chances of the mainly nocturnal hyenas sourcing the rotting meat will increase. Suddenly, without a hint of warning, a hyena came bursting through the bush.
The Kikilezi female gave us a fine display of the skill and power of leopards, hoisting the impala into the tree in one fluid motion, ensuring that it would be out of reach of the scavenger. The carcass remained in the tree for the following two days as the leopards fed intermittently, while two hyenas patiently waiting below for any scraps to fall. It was interesting to observe the cub’s behavior toward the hyenas. The young male was quite happy to move about the visitors, keeping a safe distance. Even though the hyenas never actively chased the cub, the youngster showed off his many escape routes as he climbed small overhanging trees and large boulders and casually gazing down at the hyenas.
The MalaMala Ranger Team.
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.