Wednesday, 3 June 2009

03rd June – Hello There!

It seems like ages since I last did this, and well, it has been! I have just returned to Motswari after three weeks away from the Timbavati; I spent my annual leave back home in Johannesburg, and was quite keen to return to the bush after a long break.

After a quick chat with some of the guides, it seems as though the game viewing has been pretty good, with a couple of highlights I would like to share with you all. The first sighting that I wish I had been around to see was that of the Argyle Jnr female leopard and her three cubs that spend have spent the last few days around the camp. It all started when Zandile (an Adult Educator who is here teaching the staff) was walking past the breakfast verandah one evening and saw something on the wall which at first glance she thought was one of the hyenas that frequent the camp, but it didn’t take her long to realise that this was no hyena, it was a leopard sitting on our breakfast verandah! She went and called Alphius in the boma and he came and confirmed this, then the guests put their dinner on hold and went and watched not one, but four leopards in front of the verandah! One was having a drink, one was below the pool, and then another was just below the breakfast verandah – what a treat to have these leopards in our camp! From all accounts they spent about half an hour in the riverbed below the main buildings of camp. There presence was not fleeting, and over the next three days, they were seen a coupe more times, some times coming to drink at sunset, other times walking around near the workshop, and as recently as yesterday morning, Giyani saw fresh tracks of this leap of leopards walking around our staff houses! It would be really great if this keeps up around the camp!

Besides these four leopards, Kuhanya and Mbali seem to be doing well, as do Rockfig and Nkateko, with reports of male leopard activity increasing too with the vacant territory of Mangadjane up for grabs. Godfrey saw the Argyle male leopard as far south as the northern side of Mbali property in our central area, an area that used to be patrolled by Mangadjane. Palence also found Java Dam female leopard no more than a few hundred meters south of where Godfrey was with Argyle male, and he was no doubt looking for her, perhaps she is coming into estrus. The best part of this drive was that these leopards were a mere bonus to what had been an amazing lion sighting. Godfrey had been following the five, yes, all FIVE Sohebele sub-adult lions! My fears that the missing young male was dead were once again unfounded, and from Godfrey’s account of the story, he is looking in good condition, and the five lions are doing well, and seemingly managing to hunt quite successfully – as Godfrey was to witness. Godfrey watched the five young lions approach a herd of impala in the descending darkness, and they split up and encircled the herd. Godfrey turned the lights off and just sat and waited in silence. Maybe 15-20 minutes passed without action, or indeed being able to see more than the odd pale shape moving through the darkness – then suddenly the sound of trampling hooves broke the silence as the impalas ran in all directions trying to get away from the one lion that had charged in, but little did they know that there were four other lions scattered around. An impala ran straight for the lion closest to Godfrey but managed to, at the last instant, jump and miss the lunging lion. As the sound of the hooves moved off, Godfrey thought it was over, but then he heard the unmistakable sound of death; one of the impalas had been caught. Godfrey followed the death call of the impala that sent all the other lions racing in that direction until they found one male busy killing the unfortunate antelope. The lions started feeding peacefully, but as they devoured their kill, and the meat became less and less, the fighting started, and things got interesting. The little female is too small to actively compete with her bigger cousins, so she just stood back as they fought and waited for the scraps to come flying off, grabbed them and ate in peace! When two elephant bulls came up to the kill and started trumpeting, Godfrey decided to leave, and it was minutes later that he found Argyle male leopard, and upon approaching the sighting, Palence found Java Dam female leopard!

Two days later the youngsters were found all the way down south at Entrance dam, and they had clearly been feeding well again. I also heard that the youngsters got split up shortly afterwards into three smaller groups, 3 + 1 + 1, after the Mahlathini males returned to the area. It also sounds as though the sub-adults managed to reunite with their two mothers who appear to have had their cubs already. I heard an unconfirmed report that one of the females has had two cubs on the neighbouring Klaserie reserve, but there have been no confirmed reports of this from our side – we will have to keep on checking around Voël dam to see if they pitch up there at any stage.

As far as the Mahlathini males are concerned, they still seem quite comfortable in the area, and were found on a buffalo kill near Karan’s Camp a few weeks back, and then over the last few days they have been feeding on a large giraffe that they managed to bring down near Illegal Crossing, in their favourite area on the banks of the Nhlarulumi riverbed.

Then the last bit of noteworthy news that I heard was that of two wild dogs that were seen on a number of occasions near our airstrip and around the camp. It is great to see these highly endangered animals again, especially in light of the fact that the big pack of 16 dogs that frequented the area over the summer have not been seen for some time. The two dogs are possibly two females that have broken away from their natal pack and are wandering around looking to meet up with a group of males to form a new pack. As only the one alpha female gets to mate in each pack, any other females that want to mate have to move away from their natal range and look to establish a new pack – the idea of females moving off instead of males is not very common in the animal world.

As for current sightings, Giyani found a large female leopard this morning not far from the camp, semi-relaxed and he could view her from maybe 15-20m away – I wonder if it is possibly not Argyle Jnr female? Mbali female leopard also killed an impala this morning, and when Giyani arrived, she had not even opened up the stomach. It sounds as though Kuhanya was also there, so I am sure that the two of them will be feeding on that for a couple of days. She killed it very close to Concrete Crossing on the banks of the Nhlarulumi, and with some luck she will take it up one of the big trees growing there rather than dragging it under thick cover. Johannes had also found a spot where the Sohebele females had killed and eaten an impala near Voël dam, but I am not sure if he had any luck tracking them.

And that is about it from me for the time being, I will keep you all updated with new sightings, and hopefully some more photos too – I just got myself a nice new 500mm lens which I am dying to try out, so hopefully the animals play along so I can do so soon!

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