This winter we are bound for some epic duals. As the land dries up, the struggle for territory intensifies and predators must battle for the right to prevail in one of nature’s harshest seasons while looking to stamp their claim on this bountiful piece of land in the heart of MalaMala: Flockfield.
Situated on the central parts of the property, Flockfield is a farm of two lights. In the west, the river promotes growth and life flourishes. The lower reaches of the Kapen River and the Tamboti Thickets are prime areas for leopards and their prey. Tall mahogany trees provide an ideal loft for an unlucky bushbuck, and the thick undergrowth presents the perfect cover to hunt. In the east water and shade give way to grass and sky as green turns to yellow. Open plains offer cheetah sufficient ground to gather speed, and lions will look to take advantage of the vast territorial space. It is prime property and predators and prey must find a way to make it their own.
So we begin with the leopards, and the boss of Flockfield: the Bicycle Crossing Male. “The Bike” – as he is affectionately known in these parts – is a MalaMala legend. He has been the dominant male in Flockfield for almost a decade now, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He walks with obvious confidence and fears little. Recently we watched him side-stepping his way through a herd of buffalo as he tried to catch a bellowing buffalo calf. He taunted with the large bulls that were blocking his way through, and eventually he was chased off. We also found him alongside the Treehouse Male and an unidentified Female leopard at Dudley crossing last month. The female tried, in vain, to mate with the Treehouse Male and the Bicycle crossing Male chased her off several times. Eventually she realised that mating with the older male was the wiser option. He is the one that all want to be like, an immaculate example of the ultimate predator. But he is old now. At fourteen years in September, he will begin to feel the lack of exuberance and power that he once possessed in his prime. So who will benefit from the passing of this great?
Currently there are four young leopards in this area that pose a threat. We have talked a lot about the Treehouse Male and his confrontations with the Bicycle Crossing Male over the last year. But there are still more viable contenders.
At five and a half years old now, the Newington Male will be looking to establish a territory with available females to mate with. He is a big leopard and is beginning to take the shape of his father, the Princess Alice Pans Male. Over the past year he has been crossing east through the Sand River into Flockfield more regularly. It could be because of the pressure being put on him by his father, but he is a very valid threat to the Bicycle Crossing Male if he decides to challenge him.
Recently the West Street Male has been elusive. He has moved from his original home around West Street Bridge to establish himself in the more eastern parts of the reserve. He could also return closer to the Sand River in winter, and we wait to see if he challenges any of the younger leopards in Flockfield.
The River Rocks Male seems to have made western Charleston his home. He is also very familiar with the advantages of being dominant in Flockfield after been raised by his mother, the Dudley Female, in these parts. He could look to challenge if he decided to push north.
It’s not only the male leopards who have their eyes on Flockfield. There is also a race between the females in Flockfield.
A particular young female leopard was first seen opposite Rattray’s Camp last year. She appears to be between 6 – 8 years old with a paler complexion than most leopards. Over the past year she has been found mating with the West Street Male around Buffalo Pans and Paddy’s Pools, and was then seen mating with the Bicycle Crossing Male more recently. With the apparent disappearance of the Flockfield Female, she is the most likely contender to take over Flockfield. She was seen recently following the Daughter of the Dudley Female around Flockfield Lookout, keeping an eye on her possible future threats. She moved off scent-marking and roaring, a sure sign of her intention to stay.
The Daughter of the Dudley Female has been a common sight over the past couple of months. At just over two years old she lacks experience and has a noticeably nervous demeanor. She is a beautiful young female and will most probably be spending the winter within her mother’s territory hoping to avoid any potential threats. It will be an interesting winter for her and we wait to see whether she embraces her new lifestyle as an independent cat.
Lion confrontations should also intensify this winter.
Historically the Eyrefield Pride spends a lot of time in Flockfield during the winter. They cross the shallow river regularly to look for prey along the watercourse. They enjoyed a highly productive season last year with numerous buffalo, giraffe and kudu kills throughout western Flockfield and along the banks of the Kapen River. They did have an encounter with the Fourways Pride during a buffalo hunt last winter and this type of interaction could be common in the future. The three strong males from the Fourways Pride are a considerable threat to the Eyrefield sub-adults, and the lionesses must be weary of this danger.
Another pride has been seen frequenting these parts. They have nine members and generally enter in the east and make there way south through the central parts of the property. The pride consists of three lionesses, five sub-adult males and one sub-adult female. The sub-adults appear older than the Eyrefield Pride sub-adults although the males lack the emerging manes. The lionesses are also relatively small and stocky and will struggle to match the bulk of the Eyrefield lionesses.
The Manyelethi Males have also been scarce. They have been enjoying a battle with another coalition in the west and are looking to possibly take over the two remaining prides in the western sector. We will see if the lack of the males’ presence in this area encourages new young males to make it their home.
We look forward to a productive winter season and the hope that we are witness to the territorial bouts that are surely imminent. Will experience and bulk prevail? Or will the exuberance and eagerness of youth prove too much for the established predators?