Waking up before 6am can sometimes seem like a bit of a tall order but the following account of a morning game drive at MalaMala from ranger James Moodie is exactly why it’s all worth it. We hope you enjoy James’s exciting report – read all the way through, there are some fantastic images showing just how amazing these sightings were.
Morning game drive report
9 September 2014
The morning game drive began with a relatively warm and heavy mist in the air. The rangers all branched out into a spider web of different routes, exploring every small area of the reserve trying not to miss a thing. It started slowly with the odd scattered giraffe sighting to several bull elephants grazing peacefully along the the bush line around the camp and the river. Then there was a call on the radio, a leopard was spotted with very little remains of an impala carcass. The large male leopard was identified as the Bicycle crossing male – a powerful and dominant male in the southern parts of MalaMala. As the rangers and the very excited guests watched the leopard sleeping off his meal, there appeared another leopard. Identified as the Dudley female, who most likely had had her meal stolen by the larger Bicycle crossing male. Then out of nowhere there appeared yet another male, equally as large and powerful, the Princess Alice Pans male, who has a territory only on the very western parts of the reserve and rarely ventures across the Sand River onto the eastern bank. There was some great interaction between the two males as they growled and hissed at one another, both fighting for what small amount remained of the impala. Eventually the Princess Alice Pans male won the vocal contest and ascended the tree with the kill and began feeding, with the other two leopards keeping a watchful eye. Eventually the trio parted ways, and the Bicycle crossing male fell asleep, satisfied that he had had his fair share of the kill.
Further south in the reserve, ranger Grant Roodt came across a most amazing sighting of a pack of 5 Cape Hunting Dogs accompanied by seven young pups. As he arrived at the sighting, the dogs had singled out and surrounded two warthogs, staring with hungry eyes as the pups watched hoping for a meal. As the dogs started to close in, two spotted hyena approached the pack and the dogs were distracted, the pups suddenly vulnerable to the two large and powerful predators. The hyenas also have a den site close to where the interaction was taking place. The warthogs took this as a sign to escape and ran frantically from the area, the hyena also taking the cue to escape the jaws from arguably the planet’s most successful terrestrial predator. After all the action, the pack regrouped and slept in the shade of the now boiling day to conserve as much energy as they could for the afternoon hunt.
Venturing even further south, two more male leopard were found, also growling at each other, the beautiful and photogenic West Street male as well as the young River Rocks male. Both leopards separated shortly after and went in their own direction.
The Charleston Pride female lion was found shortly after, in the company of two fast growing Fourways male lions. These lions have been viewed for the past few days mating, so it was a pleasant surprise to see them all together – exhausted from the past few days of mating they slept.
In the northern parts of the reserve the game viewing was equally as impressive. After a long period of intense tracking from ranger Nic Moxham, the famous Styx Pride was found, fast asleep enjoying the morning sun as it warmed them up for the day. They eventually started moving east into the reserve and came across a herd of impala standing in the shade of some trees to avoid the intense heat. The pride began their hunt and the lionesses started flanking all around the herd, all of which were unaware of the impending doom surrounding them. The three cubs in the pride were sitting at a distance, watching and learning from their very experienced aunts and mother. The pride ran in and the call was made, the pride had killed one. The frenzy was very short lived as the entire pride devoured the antelope in a matter of minutes.
The Eyrefield Pride was also located in the Sand River in front of the Rattray’s on MalaMala camp, all fast asleep with full bellies after having killed and eaten a large male buffalo several days earlier.
One of the highlights of the morning was the sighting of two young leopard cubs by ranger Brett Ross. Belonging to the beautiful Ostrich Koppies female leopard, the cubs have been estimated to be around 10 to 11 weeks old, and have become very relaxed when in the presence of our vehicles. The cubs were seen and viewed for a short period as the mother was not present and we do not want them to adopt a fear of vehicles so that one day they may be as trusting and calm around the vehicles as their mother. Another ranger followed up on the den site just an hour later to see if mom had returned to the cubs. When they arrived there were several gasps of fear – a hyena was watching the cubs at a distance, the youngsters not yet aware of its presence. The hyena ran in and at that second the cubs both pricked their furry heads up and saw the fast approaching danger. Without even a second to spare, both cubs shot down the rock face and down into an overhang, just large enough for them to crawl under, and stayed there while the hyena sniffed about and shortly thereafter left the den. A very close call indeed!
As the day got warmer and more humid, several very large herds of elephant started making their way to the Sand River, drinking and spraying while the many calves practiced their charging and fighting abilities against each other on the sand banks.
So in one morning, almost the entire reserve was covered, and in all corners, nothing was missed. We can be assured that the moment you leave the camp in the morning, anything can happen.
After all… It’s all about the wildlife!
See some of the highlights from the morning drive below.