Wednesday morning was a good one for Herald, he saw a herd of buffalo, a good number of elephant, and the young Machaton male lion (although by all accounts he was rather inactive and just slept!). The highlight of the morning though was getting to see Nthombi female leopard down on Vielmeter. She was her usual active self and while Herald was watching, she stalked and managed to catch a francolin (a small ground-dwelling bird) before settling down to eat it. Her hunger was clearly not satisfied as she had no sooner finished that snack and she was off stalking a warthog!
I arrived at the sighting of the young Machaton male just as the light was starting to fade. A small herd of buffalo had wandered closer and were resting no more than 70m from the lion, who was now watching the intently. As the light faded and the herd of buffalo started moving, the young lion decided to follow them, and started stalking closer, pausing whenever a buffalo would look in his direction. Just before it got too dark to watch, the Machaton male ran in towards the buffalo that didn’t react as he expected! Instead of fleeing, they stood their ground, and then started chasing him! The lion ran off with a few buffalo in hot pursuit, but once the danger had been chased off, they returned to the herd, and we left them in peace.
After drinks, we headed back to camp and saw two hippos out of the water and grazing. We had no luck picking up any sign of Mbali or Kuhanya around their favourite haunts, but did come across a herd of elephants on the road. While watching them I heard movement 2m to my right, and looked down to see a young elephant calf waking from its sleep! It obviously wasn’t expecting to see a vehicle, and as its mother had wandered a few meters away, it got a fright, and let off a scream which brought the herd rushing to its aid! I pulled back a bit as the mother arrived to comfort the baby and the herd returned to feeding. As they were still on the road I had to do a U-turn and find another way home, and it was a good choice! We saw another few elephant bulls, and then heard that the staff had seen a leopard killing a mongoose right in the staff village! I was about to tell my tracker about it when we went around the corner and found another leopard in the road! It was Argyle Jnr’s young female cub, who I have named Shongile, meaning ‘beautiful’. I am not sure if it was her or one of her siblings that was in the staff village, but we managed to follow her for a few minutes before she moved into some thick bush on the banks of the Sohebele riverbed. She seemed quite relaxed, and crossed the road in front of us, and even when we tried to go off-road after her, she didn’t run away! The elephants again paid us a visit during the night as they entered the camp area to feed.
A bit of rain fell in the early morning of Thursday morning, but not enough to stop the game drives. The morning started out pretty quiet, not a great deal was going on in the eastern section that I was checking, but then I got a call from a staff member at one of the private camps close to where I was, saying that there were lions following a herd of buffalo close to the camp. I headed straight over there and found the buffalo, but not the lions that had been surrounding them. We did find some tracks of the lions, but had no luck in finding them. As to which pride it was remains a mystery. There are reports of a large pride that do frequent the area off our property to the south of this camp, but we will have to wait a bit longer to see them, and confirm whether the reports of there being white lions among them are true!
I left the area very frustrated, but was excited to hear that a pack of wild dogs had been picked up back in the north. The wild dogs were hunting and on the move and soon lost. I thus decided to go and see the Sohebele pride instead as it was a guaranteed sighting. I arrived to find all seven of the pride looking in good condition, but the females were some distance away from where the new cubs are hidden. They seemed to be in a hunting mood, although their bellies were still looking good (of course that is a relative term for these lions!) after their zebra kill a few days back, possibly supplemented by an impala or two. While watching them the rain started coming down a bit heavier and the lions all lay down and fell asleep.
In the mean time Herald had found the wild dogs that had killed a young male impala and were busy finishing it off. They soon settled down for the day and I made my way over to see them, coming across a small group of elephant on route. While I only counted 12 wild dogs, Herald says he had seen 15. It was the same pack that denned in the area last year, and the alpha female is again showing signs of advanced pregnancy. Although they left the area in February with 17 members, I think the pack did a pretty good job of raising the pups from last year’s litters. I left them resting and headed back to camp.
The afternoon drive was a pretty good one. Besides giraffe, kudu, waterbuck, impala and a bull elephant, we also managed to see a nice breeding herd of elephants feeding in the Mopane trees near the Nhlarulumi riverbed. After leaving them, and slowly making my way to the wild dogs, which I was hoping would get active soon, I bumped into Mbali female leopard at Mvubu crossing. She headed towards Mbali dam, but soon turned around walked right past us as she moved into the river crossing, had a quick drink and then settled down. I left her after hearing the wild dogs were getting active, but I was too late, they had already caught and killed a grey duiker while Johannes was following them. By the time I arrived, it was all but gone and the younger dogs were playing with what remained of the duiker; the legs and skin. The adults had already set off again looking to make another kill. We followed behind and just as the light was fading they came across a herd of impala that they pursued in a half-hearted manner. It was too dark to view them so I left to go and join Herald a few hundred meters away where he had found Kuhanya female leopard! While watching her she started stalking something, and we soon saw that it was the wild dogs! She stopped stalking and sat watching them, but when one dog came running past she hid in the grass until it was gone! She did the same with the next wild dog, but the third dog spotted her and started growling which got the attention of the rest of the pack who gathered to our left, but Kuhanya was wise enough to realise the potential danger and moved off, and the wild dogs did the same.
Heading home we managed to see some elephant, as well as an African wild cat. The clouds eventually lifted, and the guests got to see the spectacularly starry African skies whilst enjoying our dinner! Maybe tomorrow we get to see the sun?