Thursday, 30 April 2009

28th & 29th April – The Lions are Back!

The lion sightings over the last two days have been really good. Unfortunately for the Sohebele sub-adults, those three nomadic young male lions pitched up at some stage during the early ours of Tuesday morning and stole the dead buffalo carcass away from them. I had a sneaking suspicion that the Sohebele male would soon show up there as well, and on Tuesday afternoon, the old lion was found less than 100m away from the dead buffalo!

Tuesday afternoon also featured two other lion sightings; one was of three of the Sohebele sub-adults sleeping off a bit of the nights meal at Lion pan, some distance from the carcass it must be said. There were no signs of the other two lions from that group. Giyani had also no sooner finished his sundowners, climbed back in the Land Rover, then drove around the corner and bumped into two of the Timbavati male lions! He followed them as they headed to Vielmetter trough to have a drink then wandered back south to their territory. It has been a long time since these lions ventured this far north!

Tuesday also produced sightings of the large buffalo herd, the odd bull elephant, a skittish male leopard near Makulu dam, as well as a well-fed Rockfig female leopard sleeping in the Machaton River just south of Vielmetter camp.
Wednesday morning saw the welcome return of a herd of elephants to the property, not far from Nkombi pan on our western boundary. Giyani had a brief sighting of Java Dam female leopard before she moved off into the bush and was not followed. The three nomadic lions were still feasting on the buffalo, and Sohebele male was in close attendance!

The afternoon drive (my first one back in a few days) was a really good one. There was good general game up north; I ticked off warthog, impala, kudu, three groups of waterbuck, a male giraffe, a large elephant bull and two bushbuck between camp and Concrete crossing. I enjoyed a nice sundowner with a crocodile and a hippo at the far end of Mbali dam before heading down to the main event of the drive; the lions and the buffalo carcass!

However, as I got into the area, one of the southern vehicles bumped into Nkateko female leopard a few hundred meters further down the road! She had just caught a scrub hare, so I decided to temporarily pass on the lions and go and see the leopard. As we arrived, she jumped up a marula tree with her fresh kill, but she was playing with it so much it fell off the branch! She jumped down, retrieved the hare and went to another marula tree. Repeat this above sequence twice, and she eventually moved to a third tree where she eventually found a nice spot, and began feeding without any clumsy antics!

Five minutes later we were watching two of the nomadic male lions rip into the well-ripened buffalo carcass (the smell about as pleasant as you could image a three-day-old dead buffalo to be!). The most interesting thing for me was that the Sohebele male was lying right there! Literally, he slept right next to the carcass, one paw on the front leg of the buffalo, while the two other lions fed less than 1m from him! Besides the odd growl, there was no real interaction between these adversaries, and they seemed to have settled on a truce agreement that allowed all four of the male lions to feed in peace!

We headed back home, and spotted a side-striped jackal milling around the area of the buffalo carcass, but besides that, the nocturnal creatures avoided us. Still, it was a great drive to see two kills a few hundred meters apart – lets hope this continues for a while!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

26th & 27th April – Good Lions, but Not Many Elephants

The last two days have been a bit quiet, but still not too bad from a Big 5 point-of-view. Sunday morning started out with us tracking some lions that we suspected to be the Sohebele Pride, but when my tracker found them, it was in fact the three young nomadic male lions. At first they ran away, but Herald managed to relocate them in his vehicle and got a fair sighting of them. In the afternoon, I attempted to find them again, and although we saw signs of where they had been trying to hunt some buffalo, after the tracks went down into the riverbed, we decided to leave it.

Sunday also produced sightings of the young Machaton male lion in the company of one of the younger females from the same pride. They were seen lying together in the morning, and in the afternoon I followed them for a while as they wandered around in the area of Elephant dam.

The large buffalo herd that have been moving around were again seen during both morning and afternoon drives, unsurprisingly moving between Makulu dam and Entrance dam (just for a change!). Elephants remained scarce, with no signs of any breeding herds up north, although around camp we once again saw a lone bull elephant. Andrew found Nkateko female leopard in the afternoon wandering around near Vielmetter camp, but she went down into the Machaton River. She eventually crossed out where Giyani relocated her sleeping on a termite mound. I was already on my way to see the Machaton lions, so I never got a chance to see her.

Andrew also managed to see the old Sohebele male lion who was found sleeping in the Nhlarulumi riverbed in the late afternoon.

Monday morning was also a bit quiet on the general game front, and although the large buffalo herd was reported down south at Elephant dam, none of the Motswari vehicles responded. We did all manage to go and see the five Sohebele sub-adults resting in a Mopane thicket near Makulu dam. They were looking alright, not well-fed, but at the same time, not particularly hungry. Even if they were, thing changed with a stroke of luck! While some of the guides were following them in the late evening, they chanced upon a dead male buffalo! A free meal is always welcome in the bush, and especially for these youngsters.

The leopards were represented today by Nkateko female who was found late in the morning. I spent over an hour with her; starting off with her resting on a shady rock, then spotting a squirrel up a bushy purple-pod cluster-leaf that she jumped into in pursuit of the critter, but it was too thick even for her to move around in! She ignored three giraffe, then went and climbed up a nice marula, napped for half an hour before continuing to wander around. We eventually left her when she climbed up another marula tree and went to sleep. I spent much of the morning tracking Mangadjane male leopard, but had no luck. In the afternoon, I believe that Palence did see Mangadjane in the vicinity of Makulu dam, but the highlight was for Herlad who was following him as he headed towards some impalas on the airstrip outside of Java camp. While watching the impalas, Mangadjanes attention was drawn to Rockfig female who came out onto the airstrip and was promptly chased up a marula tree! The sighting was not over, as Nkateko also came and joined the party, as did two hyenas!!! So there Herald was watching three leopards up one tree, Mangadjane growling at the other two who took refuge in the flimsy top branches, and two hyenas walking around the bottom of the tree as they thought their might be a kill - not a bad way to end off the day! Andrew then also got to see the always impressive but infrequently seen Argyle male leopard right at the camp as he was returning home from his drive last night.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

25th April – Mtenga-tenga Rhino

Today started with three buffalo in front of the lodge, and continued with some exciting news; that a pack of eight wild dogs were seen just 2km north of the camp, but they had moved off into the adjoining property. We drove around a small piece of land called “Motswari Wedge” in the hope that they would crossing back, but it didn’t happen. About an hour later, an off-duty guide called to tell me that he had picked up the pack of wild dogs in the very north western corner of the reserve at Voël Dam! Unfortunately they only milled around the area for a few minutes before continuing in a westerly direction and out of the Timbavati. It is not the same pack of 18 that usually frequent the area, and we will have to wait and see if this pack hangs around, or if they were merely passing through.

The south was where all the action was this morning, and we were invited to go and see the three Timbavati male lions who were in the company of two of the Machaton females. They were rather lazy, although only one male looked well fed? They spent the morning resting in the shade and didn’t show any signs of wanting to get active.

The large buffalo herd that has been cycling between the southern and central waterholes was again found at Entrance Dam. I was taken aback by how many babies were present in the herd! At some stages, at least every second female that walked past had a baby with her, and most of the babies were tiny, only days to weeks old! It must only be a matter of time before the lions start pestering them!

A few hundred meters south of Entrance Dam, we had a rare visitor; Mtenga-tenga male rhino! Entrance Dam and the rest of the Vielmetter property used to be the heart of his territory until he moved much further south at the beginning of 2008. It was great to see him in the northern reaches of his territory, as he grazed around the vehicles, totally unphased by all the attention!

The drive finished with an elephant having a drink at our trade entrance dam.

I didn’t drive at Motswari in the afternoon, instead I had the afternoon off and went for a drive on the neighbouring shareblock property called Ingwelala. I saw one of Argyle Junior’s one-year old leopard cubs there, and it was literally right on the Motswari boundary near our Sharalumi Cottage! Unfortunately he moved off deeper into Ingwelala and not Motswari. I also found Giyani and Andrew a bit later in the afternoon at Voël dam where they were watching the Argyle male rhino having a drink. As with the Motswari guides, I had no luck finding the Sohebele pride who had been seen in that area in the morning. There was also no sign of the wild dogs during the afternoon.

Herald did see Nkateko female leopard not far from Java camp in the afternoon as she headed towards a small rocky outcrop in the area.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

24th April – Nkateko Living Dangerously!

After yesterdays feast of lions, the guide’s attention turned to looking for some other creatures. I headed down south for the morning, and was rewarded with a good sighting of that large herd of buffalo that have been hanging around the area over the last week. They had slept near Vielmetter camp, and slowly got mobile towards entrance dam. Rockfig had been seen in the area by one of the southern vehicles, but was lost going down into No Name River. I circled the area but had no luck, and as I was about to go past the buffalo herd once again, Herald called to tell me that Nkateko was sitting on a termite mound watching the buffalo. I joined him and watched as she seemed to stalk the buffalo herd, and quite nonchalantly walked into the middle of the herd!
Quite expectedly, the large buffalos took exception to this and ran around chasing her; Nkateko naturally fled, but she ran deeper into the herd and we didn’t manage to find her again, and were a bit concerned that she might end up in some serious trouble. Fortunately she was seen in the afternoon by Andrew and was in good working order, unscathed by her close encounter!

After coffee, I responded to a sighting of Nthombi female leopard on our southern boundary. This always-active leopardess was on one of her usual walk-about’s and moving quite quickly. We followed her for a while, but it was not the easiest terrain to navigate, and considering the good leopard sightings we had had already, we left her.

The general game wasn’t too bad this morning either; impala, steenbok, a male giraffe, a small herd of zebra, kudu, banded mongooses, side-striped jackal, a lone dagga boy drinking at Voël Dam, as well as two bull elephants that arrived to join him for a drink…but surprisingly, no lions!!!

Friday, 24 April 2009

23rd April – Lion Crisis?, What Lion Crisis???

With all the lion sightings today, the trouble we had finding them last week seemed to disappear! There were four different lion sightings this morning which ensured a great mornings viewing.
At the start of the drive, the southern stations had picked up the young male lion from the Machaton pride south of Makulu dam, not far from where a skittish leopard had an impala kill up an apple leaf tree. I decided to head that side, but soon found tracks for the three nomadic male lions on our airstrip road. I decided to give it a go and follow up, especially when we heard one of them roaring not too far off. Tracks were hard to find, but luckily I heard the alarm call of an impala, and went off-road and found the three lions together. They soon got up and headed west, where they spotted a group of three buffalo. The young lions proceeded to stalk them before charging in, but it turned out to be a weak attempt and the buffalos bolted and got away unscathed.

In the mean time, the old Sohebele male had been picked up near Tamboti Wallow, right near a small herd of buffalo. His roaring no doubt caused them much anguish and they soon moved off. While heading down to see the lion, the five Sohebele sub-adults were also found, not far from the male (who from all accounts had been chasing them around last night!). I went and had a look at the five lions who were now sleeping on a termite mound just off the road, but rather inactive it must be said. While watching them, Johannes tracked and found Nkateko young female leopard not far from us, but I decided to go have a look at the male lion first. He was sleeping in a Mopane thicket, and had ceased his roaring for the morning, and as with the last sighting of him, he just slept; age clearly getting the better of him!!! It was the first time in four months that he had been back to the heart of his old territory, and we will have to wait and see what his motives are and how long he stays!

From the sleeping lions, we came across that herd of buffalo a few hundred meters away as they slowly grazed to the south. Nkateko was looking a bit nervous (possibly something to do with the tracks for two different male leopards around that area) and went into some thick bush and wasn’t followed. Not to worry, as Kuhanya was found up a marula tree back in the north.

The guests decided to skip on coffee and head over to see the leopard who was watching the three young nomadic lions that were no more than 100m away. While we sat enjoying the sight of a leopard in a tree, we heard the sounds of something crashing through the trees, and looked up to see the lions hot in pursuit of a buffalo! In a predicament, stay with the leopard or follow the lions, we chose to rush over and see what happened with the buffalo, but the lions were unsuccessful, so we returned to the leopard before heading home where we were greeted by a lone bull elephant drinking at the pond behind camp.

The afternoon was not as eventful, but still a good one. Palence and Andrew went to see the Machaton young male lion who was also trying his hand at harassing a herd of buffalo, but was duly chased away! They also saw another quite large herd of buffalo that were slowly making their way towards Makulu dam for a drink.

I managed to find those a nice herd of zebras on kudu pan clearing, and then headed towards the three male lions that were sleeping not far from the same three buffalo. Johannes found them and at first thought the one lion might have been injured as he was not moving or reacting to the vehicle at all – rather strange for a lion that is nervous of the vehicles. He eventually got up, and after the three buffalo ran away, the lions retired to the thickets along the riverbank, so I opted not to respond.

Instead I headed over to a leopard that Herald had found, the Java Dam female. She is one of our least relaxed resident leopards, and although we see her a couple of times a month, it felt strange actually responding to a sighting of her! She normally runs at the sight of a vehicle, especially if you pursue her off road. It was thus a shock to hear Herald saying she was quite relaxed and that I should pop through. As I approached the sighting, she was lost as she crossed a drainage line. I tried in vain to relocate, especially in lieu of the golden light that was bathing the bush in wonderful colours! I had just given up and was driving back towards the road, trying to find a way through a Mopane thicket when my tracker spotted her hiding in the grass no more than 10m away! How he saw her is beyond me, as she was perfectly camouflaged, and even with binoculars I couldn’t see her at first! We pulled closer, to within 5m, and she didn’t run away…in fact, she didn’t even move! She obviously thought that we couldn’t see her, but whe she realized we had, she jumped up, growled and then trotted off a few meters before slowing to a walk. We followed behind as she joined on of the roads where she carried on walking, only occasionally giving us a glance over her shoulder. It was a positive sign to see her for so long during the day, but I think that she is set in her ways and won’t change her spots and relax a great deal more! At least this gives a glimpse of what leopards usually act like, and also makes us appreciate how lucky we are to have the relaxed leopards we do here at Motswari.

No one managed to find the Sohebele male, and the Sohebele sub-adults eluded everyone except Johannes who found them on his way home as they headed to Lion Pan.

The cloudy weather had left us, and while sitting enjoying the stars, fireflies and a few of the night sounds near Mbali dam, we got serenaded by the roaring of three lions a few hundred meters away – it was a fitting end to another great day at Motswari!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

22nd April – Mangadjane Returns!

I was the only Motswari vehicle out on drive this morning, and desperately needed leopard and rhino for some guests who had not managed to see these creatures while staying at another lodge.

I wasn’t too worried about finding leopard, but didn’t realistically expect rhino considering we hadn’t been having much luck lately. The overcast and windy weather had left us, and clear blue skies greeted us, although it was still a bit chilly. We managed to find three buffaloes near Madash dam, but didn’t have any luck with tracks for Mbali around the area. It didn’t bother me much, as the stations down south had found both Nhlangula male rhino, and Mangadjane male leopard!

Upon hearing this, I headed down south. We didn’t see a great deal of general game this morning, the odd waterbuck and usual impala herds, but it was a bit quiet. I left my tracker to follow the spoor of the rhino while I went to go and see Mangadjane. He was sleeping in the Machaton river, but at least showed some more signs of life than the lions last night! He was awake and kept moving south along the river bed, scent marking occasionally before lying down again. We left him as he wandered still further south along the Machaton. We then went to go and see the rhino that my tracker had relocated. The rhino was however in some thick bush, and the wind that blew every now and then wasn’t doing him any favours and he seemed a bit on edge. He eventually moved a bit more into the open when he stood for a couple of minutes before we had to leave him and head back to camp.

On the bush walk we saw a group of five giraffe as well as kudu, impala and warthogs.

The afternoon drive was a quiet one. Although we saw some decent general game including some nice kudu along with a couple of impressive bulls, waterbuck, steenbok, hippos and a crocodile at Mbali dam and loads of impalas, there was not a great deal on the Big 5 front. The Sohebele pride had been located this morning no more than 500m from where they were sleeping off their fat bellies yesterday, but in the afternoon, they appeared to have gone into a thicket of reeds and sedge in the middle of the Nhlarulumi riverbed where it was inaccessible to the Land Rovers. Attempts at driving around the area after dark to see if they had moved were unsuccessful, so we shall have to follow up tomorrow morning.

I was a bit despondent about the drive, but the last few hundred meters around camp before closing down for the night picked up the drive somewhat! It started with nine zebras and hordes of impalas on the airstrip, then a lone bull elephant munching on some Mopane trees near the soccer field, and that was followed by a group of four hyenas near our trade entrance pan. They were from our local clan, and included the heavily pregnant female, two youngish cubs, and a fourth adult member. The two adults ran off to join some more hyenas that were literally laughing on the other side of the staff village, but the cubs stayed around the waterhole and had a drink; and it was also my favourite sighting of the afternoon, and probably the day!

Now I just hope that we can see the Sohebele lions up and about tomorrow, and a sighting of Rockfig and/or Nkateko would not go amiss either!

21st April – Sohebele’s Return!

It finally happened; the Sohebele pride returned to an area where we could actually drive to view them!

Four of the members of the pride were found on Mbali River Rd, not far from Mbali dam. Even better than just seeing them was seeing how fat they were! The pregnant females looked like beached whales lying in the open with their legs in the air. The pride had finished off a waterbuck during the night, but with their pregnant bellies, combined with the recent meal, they looked ready to pop! The two adult females were in the company of one of the young males, and the older daughter both of who were also looking well fed (although probably only a temporary respite from their ‘skinny’ look). We were not sure where the other three lions were, although Johannes noted that he had seen fresh tracks for them on top of his vehicle tracks this morning, so they are probably not too far away and will in all likelihood meet up some time during the night.

Godfrey got to see two of the Timbavati male lions quite far down south this morning at Impala dam, but they sounded quite inactive. He also managed to see a large herd of buffalo in the company of a large breeding herd of elephant which his guests seemed to enjoy. The eight zebras were seen on our airstrip again, and a number of giraffes were seen down south too.

The good lion sightings this morning continued with Herald seeing the three young nomadic male lions that we have been seeing over the last few weeks. Johannes also found Mbali female leopard this morning just on the western side of the Nhlarulumi River, not far from Mbali dam wall.

The busy morning was not quite replicated in the afternoon. The cold and windy conditions throughout the day no doubt kept a most of the animals in the thicker bush sheltering from the chilly weather. I had no luck relocating those three male lions, turning my attention to the Sohebele pride instead. It was no surprise to find them in exactly the same place, and even after our ‘sundowners’ (with no sun) they were all still unmoved but we were lucky to seem them all walk about 10m before flopping to the ground once more!!!

That was the only Big 5 sighting up north; the general game however wasn’t too bad. We saw a good number of steenbok, impala, quite a few waterbuck, baboons, hippo (including two out of the water grazing after dark), and then some zebra near camp.

I got my wish, the Sohebele pride returned, now they just need to stay around for a while, and if they can have their cubs on the reserve, that would be just splendid! After our dose of lions today, I think we are all quite keen for some leopards tomorrow, especially Mangadjane male who has been rather scarce of late…

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

20th April – Sohebele Male!

It was a rather warm day today, but a productive one for us. I was once again not out on the morning drive, but Godfrey and Andrew were. The highlight of the morning for them must have been seeing the Sohebele male still alive and well in our eastern sector. One of the other guides had found him early in the morning, and needless to say it caused some great excitement to go and see the old king of the Timbavati. He is looking a bit thin and still limping with his back legs, but overall, he is looking pretty good, especially for a lion that a month ago we thought was dead!

Herald found an impala kill for Rockfig and Nkateko just outside out Java camp, seemingly she killed it close to the camp, but the hyenas ate quite a bit of the kill before Rockfig somehow got it back. There was consequently not a great deal of meat left, but Andrew did get to see the leopards feeding in the morning. One guide followed up on the duiker kill from yesterday but there was no sign of the kill or the leopard, and nobody went to investigate the other impala kill near Voël dam. Up north, Johannes also found Mbali and Kuhanya leopards near Madash dam; seemingly their new favourite hang-out!

I did take a few guests out in the afternoon. We had a herd of eight zebras on our airstrip which was nice to see. I tried to see if I could spot Mbali, but had no luck. Fortunately another guide did manage to find her further east of where she had been this morning, so I headed over there and had an enjoyable sighting of her. She was clearly after something, and moving with a purpose. She eventually jumped up a large marula tree to scout the area, and from her vantage point spotted her target, so jumped down and began the stalk. Her patience and use of cover was impressive to watch; although we couldn’t see what she was after! Eventually the rutting calls of some male impala made us realise what she had seen. It was getting dark and Mbali was just waiting patiently in the grass a good 30m away, so we left her with Godfrey, but nothing came of the hunt.

From the leopard, we headed down towards the Sohebele male who was not far from his earlier position. We did come across a largish herd of buffalo on the way to the lion. As for the lion, well, as in the good old days when he still roamed our central traversing area, Sohebele male just slept! He sat up once for us to show off his glorious mane, he groomed a bit, but soon flopped over in typical lion fashion and didn’t budge again! It might have had something to do with the wind picking up, and perhaps that is why he didn’t roar for us either! Still, a real treat to be able to see him again.

Andrew also saw two elephants, and a bit further south, Herald managed to find Nkateko female leopard a couple of hundred meters away from the kill.

So a good day all in all, and let us just hope that it continues!

Monday, 20 April 2009

18th & 19th April – A bit quiet for a change…

The last two days have been a bit quiet for a change, we have gotten used to lions and leopards on most drives for the past few months and taken it for granted. We are still struggling like mad for our lions, but luckily we always have some leopards to fall back on!

I wasn’t driving on Saturday, but the guys did manage to see Rockfig and Nkateko in the morning, for a short while until Rockfig wandered off leaving just Nkateko on her own. There was also one of the Machaton female lions on Double Highway, but I don’t think that any of our guides responded having seen those three male lions the day before. Up north there were quite a few elephants, Godfrey and I each found a herd, and I also saw a good number of bull elephants about. In the afternoon, Nkateko was found again, as were a couple of dagga boys and elephant. The young Machaton male lion was also found with one of the females at Elephant dam in the afternoon, meanwhile Johannes had the best sighting of the afternoon when he tracked the Sohebele male lion, yes, THE Sohebele male! Still alive, still well, and seemingly following a buffalo herd! He was right in the far north eastern corner of our traversing, but unfortunately followed the buffalo off the property – but well done Johannes for finding him again! Some staff members that were returning to camp from a soccer match also saw the Sohebele pride on the Timbavati access road in the evening, a bit north of our boundary.
Sunday morning was again rather quiet. Tracks for the Sohebele pride were eventually found coming back onto our property, but as they did last time, they walked straight towards the same private camps where we couldn’t follow them! A couple of elephants were spotted, and Palence found a large male impala hanging in a Mopane tree near Voel dam, but no leopard was seen. It could either be the Argyle male, but more than likely the other very skittish male we occasionally see around that area. We had four large bull elephants join us at camp, and fed and drank at the waterhole while the guests enjoyed their breakfasts.

I drove in the afternoon, and besides some fair general game, also had a good number of dagga boys around Mbali dam, as well as a large bull elephant not far from there. There were no signs of the Sohebele pride again, but the Machaton pride with the Timbavati males were found far south, but we didn’t respond.

There was another leopard kill found, this time a duiker, but again no leopard was seen. We thought it might have been Nthombi, but we are not sure now; the guides will follow up again tomorrow.

Nkateko was also located around her favourite haunt not far from Hide dam. Godfrey got to watch her stalking some francolins and impala, which she missed, and then when I started following her after sunset, she stumbled upon a steenbok which she proceeded to stalk, and quite patiently it must be said! She got within a few meters, but as the dusk turned to dark we sat dead quietly waiting….and waiting…and waiting…until eventually she ran in….and the steenbok ran away! It was a good effort though! And in a way it was good that she missed, as she no sooner missed the steenbok when the matriarch hyena of the Rockfig clan came running in and would invariably had stolen the kill had Nkateko succeeded. We left the young leopard to her own devices and then went to see another four members of the Rockfig hyena clan that were relaxing near Hide dam, the rather cute youngsters were quite curious and came closer to investigate us before the clan moved off on another nights foray.

Now we wait and see where our Sohebele pride decide to go tomorrow!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

17th April – Lions!

It has been a bit of a struggle for lions the last two days since I got back from leave, and I really needed some today! The plan was to go and check our northern boundary road to see if the Sohebele pride had come back south, but luckily our guides didn’t need to go that far, as I found tracks for a male lion on our airstrip road just west of camp. We followed up, but the tracks went off the property, so we went ahead to see if they would pop out into our property again. Just as the guides were starting to loose hope, a strange alarm call from a bird alerted us to something, so we stopped, and there not far off the road was a leopard up a marula tree! We headed off road to get a better look. The leopard, Argyle Jnr female, was facing the opposite direction, and seemed unconcerned about our approach, until she suddenly descended and bolted off! At almost the same instance we saw spotted a young male lion, and being desperate for lions (and blasé about leopards!) we followed the lion, who too ran off – it seems the animals didn’t want to be around us this morning! We eventually managed to catch up to the young male lion, and found him in the company of two others – and that explained what the leopard was so concerned about and why it ran off! The lions were the same three young nomads that had killed the buffalo down south almost two weeks back. They were still nervous of the vehicles, but after a while settled down and all of our guides got a chance to see them; welcome relief for everyone it must be said! We also heard from one of the neighbouring land owners that they had heard these lions trying to attack a buffalo yesterday evening, not 500m from the lodge, but when he shone the spotlight to investigate, they unfortunately ran off.

I was also rather in need of some elephant, and luckily Palence also managed to find those for us! A lone bull was seen feeding at Francolin pan, and then a nice herd of probably 20-25 elephants was picked up a bit further to the west. Amongst them was a very small baby, maybe a couple of weeks old. The mother didn’t let it stray too far from her. A slightly older baby provided great entertainment as he continuously mock charged the vehicle, and then couldn’t resist climbing all over one of the other herd members that had decided to take a nap right on the road! While watching this on one side, there were two ‘teenage’ bulls having a fight on the other side! It was a really good sighting of these gentle giants.

The afternoon was not too bad. Andrew and Godfrey followed up on the three lions and found them not far from where they were left this morning, but they moved into some thick bush a bit later in the afternoon. Up north, Andrew also found that herd of elephants again, not far from the Nhlarulumi River. I decided to go and check the southern part of our traversing area, but it wasn’t too productive down south. The usual impala, a warthog, and then two sightings of lone buffalo bulls at Entrance dam and Sweetwater pan followed. Herald also had that large herd of buffalo drinking at Makulu dam once again. I got excited when a report came over the radio that Nthombi female leopard had been seen by a staff member at one of the camps, but the guides were unable to relocate her.

I went and checked for the Sohebele pride along the Timbavati access road, but had no luck (although I did hear that they were seen sleeping on the road the night before!). At the Motswari turn-off, we did a small herd of elephants, and we also had audio for a herd of buffalo in the distance.

It was thus not a bad day, and I got my wish for some lions! I just hope that the Sohebele’s return soon, I am starting to miss them!

Friday, 17 April 2009

16th April – More Lovely Leopards!

Howdy! I am back from my leave, and as always, it’s great to be back in the bush. No major news during the past week. Game viewing sounds as though it has been relatively good. Mbali and Kuhanya were seen several times, as were the five Sohebele sub-adult lions, the skinny young male still pushing on. The highlight of the week that was must have been the guides that were lucky enough to watch the final stages of an elephant giving birth! An extremely rare occurrence and I was most envious of the guys when I heard about that.

I arrived back yesterday and headed out for a drive with some new guests in the afternoon. Things sounded quite good; Andrew had seen the Big 5 on Tuesday afternoon, and Wednesday morning produced sightings of elephant, the Sohebele sub-adults and, for the third successive drive, Mbali and Kuhanya with an impala kill.
My drive started off well; we have a new baby giraffe around camp; he is no more than a couple of weeks old, and he was with his mother not 200m from camp. On the airstrip we spotted one lone wildebeest, a bit of a rarity up north! Four male waterbuck alerted us to the presence of a predator; we followed their stares to two leopards, Mbali and Kuhanya, who were resting on the road at Madash dam. Being quite full, there was not a great deal of activity, although we did see some nice interaction between the two, and some francolins that got too close to the resting leopards were promptly chased!
Unfortunately we had no luck relocating the five lions that moved towards some private camps. Johannes also found Mangadjane male leopard on our Java property, but was left when he entered a neighbouring farm.

The guests enjoyed a nice surprise by having dinner in the bush at our ‘bush braai’ (barbeque) before heading back to camp, seeing two hyena, elephant, impala and a wildebeest on the airstrip.

This morning was not too bad, and produced some different sightings. We had a heavily pregnant hyena sleeping on the road not far from camp (Andrew saw her sleeping in Xinatsi dam in the afternoon). We also saw a Gabar goshawk with a small kill, a very large snouted cobra that had just killed a giant plated lizard, but retired to a termite mound when we drove past – it was easily over 2m long. Godfrey also saw a nice python this morning. General game included a few herds of waterbuck with a good number of babies, some zebra, giraffe and of course, impala!

Herald located a large herd of buffalo near Entrance dam down south. I got to see the herd, with a new born calf from last night, as they headed to the north; a bit later in the morning, Godfrey watched them have a drink at Makulu dam.

Herald also found us a leopard, Nkateko female. She was not far from Entrance dam and wandered around before stopping to rest up a large knobthorn tree where I found her later on in the morning. She woke up and gave us a few yawns before demonstrating her agility by descending the tree and then moving north back towards Vielmeter.

In the afternoon, I had a relatively quiet drive, once again coming up empty handed on the lion front, and we couldn’t find any tracks, so presumably the young lions are still on Peru somewhere. Palence and Andrew saw a bull elephant up north, Godfrey got a few dagga boys, I once again saw that large herd of 300-odd buffalo, and Johannes found a herd of elephants on his way home this evening, but it was already dark. I also got lucky and saw two hippos come out of the water after dark at Mbali dam, as is the habit of these nocturnal grazers.

The most notable sighting of the afternoon was Andrew finding Mbali female leopard (he had also seen her this morning while out on bush work) in the same area she was yesterday, but he left her when she moved through some thick bush.

So all in all, it has not been a bad return to the bush, so now all I want is to see my lions again!!!

Have a great day!


Chad Cocking

Thursday, 9 April 2009

06th April - Argyle Jnr’s Cubs All Still Alive

This technically isn’t a Motswari sightings update, but still something I would like to share with you.

We have a female leopard that occasionally comes past camp and into the northern reaches of our traversing, a female leopard we call Argyle Jnr. In June last year, Johannes found her lying next to the road very relaxed, we didn’t realise she was such a cool character. But it wasn’t that that blew us away…it was the fact that she had three small 3-month old cubs with her! They played happily in a tree to our one side while mom slept on the other. We got to see the cubs occasionally near a large rocky outcrop next to camp, and saw their tracks a bit more regularly, but the family spends most of their time on the adjoining game farm called Ingwelala.

Ingwelala is a shareblock reserve, and I am lucky that my family own a bungalow on the land, so I can go and spend my spare time there. Over the last few months, there seemed to only be reliable reports of one or two leopard cubs with the mother – I thus didn’t hold much hope that all three cubs were still alive. I had also only ever seen one or two cubs with the mother on my recent trips there.

It was thus with great joy that on Monday afternoon, when I went across to visit my parents at Ingwelala, we found, not one, not two, but three leopard cubs with there mom! Four leopards! It was great to see that she has done an amazing job raising the two males and one female cub. She seemed to be leading them back to a kill, but as you can’t drive off road there like you can at Motswari, we couldn’t follow.

This bodes well for the future of leopards around the camp, as when the now one-year old cubs become independent, they will hopefully move onto our property. And with a bit of luck, we can get them more habituated to the vehicles so as to get the same quality of viewing from them as we have with all our other leopards!

Incidentally, I also took my family for a drive at Motswari on Tuesday morning, and we managed to rack up the Big 5 in one drive. Besides a couple of lone elephant bulls and buffalo bulls, we had one young male lion finishing off that buffalo kill. There were about eight hyenas hanging around, and the young lion was running after them and chasing them whenever they got too close! We also got to see the large Argyle Male white rhino near Voel dam, and then Palence once again found Mbali with another fresh, large impala kill, only a few kilometres from camp.

Will give you all an update next week.

Have a great Easter!