We have had some excellent viewing over the past week at MalaMala. The flood has come and gone, and it’s back to business as usual. Once the Sand River had subsided and the lands had their saturated soil dry out, we were able to venture to previously inaccessible areas of the property and try to unravel some events that we had missed. The first few days of exploring had the rangers feeling like David Livingstone setting off on one of his missions. It would be similar to opening a newspaper for the first time in two weeks, and trying to catch up on everything that you have missed.
During one eventful morning some fresh lion tracks were found going eastwards across the Sand River. They were the tracks of two big males, and could only belong to some members of the incumbent Manyelethi coalition. These males had been trapped on the western bank by the high waters, and were all to eager to reaffirm their boundaries. This they did, and with great purpose too. It was evident from the tracks that the males had been walking at a brisk pace and it was not long before we were approaching the Kruger National Park boundary! This is an impressive distance, and by now we were sure to come across the males at any time.
Then we remembered that there had been a large herd of buffalo in the vicinity the day before. This could be interesting. Perhaps the lions were heading straight there? We abandoned the tracks and went to look where the buffalo had been. Sure as anything, we picked up the tracks again. This time we had some new pieces to add to the puzzle. There had been another pride of lions around. It looked as though they were also in pursuit of the buffalo. Judging by the composition of these tracks, it looked as if they could have been from the Fourways pride. We have not recorded an interaction between a Manyelethi male and the Fourways pride for over a year. Maybe this was going to be one, and we could finally see how the dominant males react to the sub-adult males from the pride. We followed the tracks more closely.
All was soon to be revealed. We spotted one of the Manyelethi males from distance. As predicted, he was very well fed. We moved in closer and found one more male, and another, and another. All four of the brothers had joined up during the night, and were feeding on the remains of an adult buffalo bull! Judging from the trails left by the other lions, it would appear that the males had stolen the kill. It was unclear where the pride had moved off to.
It was only during the afternoon that the Fourways pride was found. They were resting within a few hundred yards of the buffalo carcass. Although we did not see them interacting with any of the males, it would seem as if their proximity to each other was relatively drama free, and the Fourways lions were looking good.
We left the Manyelethi males to enjoy their meal, and the Fourways pride slowly moved away northwards. Thinking we were satisfied with the sequence of events that had unfolded, we were thrown another curve ball. This ‘newspaper’ was becoming an enthralling read! More tracks belonging to another pride of lions were also headed away from the scene; this time there were cubs and sub adults. We followed the tracks from Paddy’s Pools heading westward. After some more dedicated tracking we found the Styx pride at Campbell Koppies. This meant that they had also been hunting the same herd of buffalo, and there was now much more to the story. By this stage, an announcement came that another lioness was at the buffalo carcass. It was the eldest lioness from the Styx pride! What was she doing up there by herself? Her age is really showing, yet her condition has not deteriorated too much from when we last viewed her a few weeks ago.
Maybe the males had stolen the buffalo from the Styx pride and not the Fourways lions? It could have been that the males killed the buffalo themselves? How did the interaction go between the Manyelethi males and the Fourways pride? What about any conflict between the Styx and Fourways lions? We can only speculate as to what had unfolded, but it is good to see all the lions being in such good shape. Even more pleasing was seeing all four Manyelethi males together, and as far east as the Kruger National Park.