Turf war over a big meal

Text: James Moodie | Photographs and Video: Daniel Bailey

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March 7th was by all accounts, a hot day. As the African sun crept across the blue-sky, temperatures soared into the 40’s and on this day the heat took its toll. During the course of the morning we watched an adult female giraffe being constantly harassed by two mature bulls who were relentlessly attempting to mate with her. The combination of heat and drought proved to be a lethal mixture, eventually leading to her demise. We found her carcass later that afternoon on the eastern bank of the Sand River opposite Main Camp. What transpired after this was nothing short of incredible, with at least five different leopards, a crocodile and two sets of lions all having been seen feeding off the carcass.

The following morning, rangers stood by with their guests and immediately went to investigate the carcass. They found the charismatic Island female leopard roughly 50m west of the carcass, slowly moving towards the dead giraffe. Just before the young girl got to the carcass, another large cat arrived on the scene, immediately chasing her away and claiming the large meal for himself. This was the Treehouse Male, one of the largest leopards on the property. He fed for a short while and then moved northwards onto the western bank of the Mlowathi River to rest and groom himself. The action was far from over though, as shortly afterwards several squirrels were heard alarm calling in the bush line to the east of the Treehouse Male, with his attention suddenly being drawn to that area. He stood up, ears pricked forward in that direction and began stalking. Suddenly he lunged into the bushes, flushing out a young female leopard, the Daughter of the Kikilezi female 3:3 and proceeded to chase her up into a tree where she remained for some time. After his successful chase he returned to the carcass and lay in close proximity to it, laying in the shade of a spike thorn thicket to escape the brutal heat.

The afternoon drive was fairly relaxed, with the rangers finding only the Kikilezi female sleeping very close to the carcass with Treehouse male nowhere to be seen. It should also be noted that the Airstrip male, the dominant male in that area, was found in the Mlowathi River very close to the carcass as well during the afternoon drive, presumably having been chased off by the Treehouse Male at some point during the day.

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The next day the rangers left early to investigate the now 60% remains of the carcass, and there seemed to be a turf war happening south of the carcass with two different clans of hyenas going head to head over the carcass. The commotion attracted the attention of five members of the Marthly pride, and they were the next to be seen feeding off the giraffe after the hyena showdown. What is interesting is that just as the Marthly pride were discovered there was a very large crocodile seen moving away from the area, also presumed having been chased off by the lions. Normality resumed but only for a short while as suddenly five large male lions came charging in, bursting into the scene as if from nowhere. Chaos ensued as the Gowrie males sought to stamp their authority on the carcass.

The pride was split into two groups as the tailess lioness, young female and one young male was chased northwards towards Bicycle Crossing and the remaining two young males were chased south towards the causeway, eventually resting next to the entrance of Main Camp while the other three were seen heading westwards. The Gowrie males proceeded to roar frequently and scent marked almost every bush in the immediate area, showing the world that they were now in charge of the area. While all of this was happening, there were two female leopards in the area watching as all the action was taking place, keeping a very low profile to not attract any attention. By this time there was very little left of the carcass, and by the next morning the remains were left to the vultures and storks with the Gowrie males sleeping on the road about 200m east of the carcass.

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