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!

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