Monday, 6 July 2009

04th & 05th July – Lions Giving us a BIG Headache!

The last two days have been a bit of a struggle for game, perhaps a result of the cloudy and windy conditions. Saturday morning started with a great sunrise, but the clouds moved in, and so did a bit of wind. There was no sign of the Sohebele pride, and in fact, the only lion tracks were for two unknown males whose tracks were seen in the vicinity of a large herd of buffalo. This herd of buffalo was the highlight of the morning, as they slowly fed towards Makulu dam where they eventually ended up in the late morning for a drink. En route, we got to watch a couple of bulls having a sparring contest as they battled for dominance with clashes of horns, although none of the fighting looked all that serious.

At Makulu dam, there were six bull elephants that spent about 45 minutes splashing about in the water along side two hippos. One of these elephants had earlier run through the buffalo herd trumpeting as he went along, and succeeding in chasing these bovids out of his way.

The rest of the morning was all too quiet, with only a herd of elephants being seen slowly heading towards Mbali dam, and even the general game was somewhat scarce.

The afternoon was also a bit quiet, although the leopards were out and about up north on Argyle. I went to check Vyboom dam and Buffalo pan, and as I got closer a different large herd of buffalo was picked up at Buffalo pan. While watching them, Argyle Jnr’s young male cub, the same one we saw the day before, was watching the buffalo. He soon moved off into the same drainage line he went to yesterday afternoon, but came and was followed for most of the afternoon, just milling around the area, and all of our guests got to see him. Herald was leaving the sighting when he saw another young leopard at Buffalo, but it ran into a spike-thorn thicket, and then the mother of the youngster came out of the thicket looking for the cub. Herald guestimated the cub to be about a year old, in which case it would make both the cub and the mother leopard new additions to our leopard family, as we know of no such pair in the area (although it might be possible that it was Shongile and Argyle Jnr female leopards, but Shongile is relaxed and wouldn’t have run away, and is bigger than Herald described). If that wasn’t enough, when Herald was trying to relocate the mother leopard that he says was quite relaxed, they spotted a third leopard in a tree on the opposite side of the drainage line, but it ran on approach. Heading home, the rain started coming down, although it was just enough to make us a bit uncomfortable, but not ruin the evening.

Sunday morning was dreadfully quiet, partly due to the fact that we spent most of the morning tracking the Sohebele pride that had apparently been seen late last night near Peru dam. We followed the tracks, even those after the rain for kilometer upon kilometer, crossing one road after another, then seemingly not coming out of blocks of land, only for tracks to be found crossing roads a bit later. Almost 10.5km and 6 hours later, the trackers were still following the tracks and had to call it a day. The lions entered a part of the reserve that they have never before been into, and although tracks showed signs of them hunting, they clearly had little luck. The remote eastern section that they entered into does not contain a great amount of game owing to a lack of water in the dry season, and it is a bit puzzling as to why the Sohebele pride wandered into the area. Over the last two and a half days, the pride has walked almost 35km, and covered all parts of the reserve, although the most confusing issue is how on earth they ended up near Peru dam without anyone seeing a single track in an area that was well scouted that day. Regardless, our fruitless lion tracking session didn’t produce a great deal else, a couple of bull elephants, some zebra, giraffe and a few impala, but it was frustratingly quiet out there. Nhlangula male rhino was found near Elephant dam, and a couple of our guides went to see him as he slept off the cool morning.

The afternoon was a bit better, Herald returned to try and track the lions, but only found three white rhino’s that appeared to have chased the lions away. As there were a number of leopards up north, Herald decided to turn his attention to them. One buffalo herd was found at Mvubu crossing, and stampeded off to the east, a bit confusing, and there was no sign of lions. Palence then found a second herd of buffalo a few hundred meters further south approaching Mbali dam. Godfrey was making his way through Mvubu crossing when he spotted two leopards, Mbali female leopard, and Machaton male leopard. This male was lying on top of some rocks, and Mbali ran off into the riverbed, but popped out on the western side. The male leopard wandered up to Mvubu cottage and went and lay on the verandah, so we couldn’t view him anymore (although Herald later saw him in the area again). I was responding to Mbali female leopard, and as I went through Mvubu crossing, we spotted Kuhanya female leopard walking across Mbali dam wall towards Mvubu Cottage, no doubt chased by the buffalo herd that was now drinking at the dam. She jumped off the dam wall on the eastern side, so I carried on to Mbali female leopard who was static a few hundred meters away. While watching her, and listening to the baboons alarm calling for the male leopard, Kuhanya approached her mom, but stopped about 40m away, and both leopards just watched each other. Eventually Kuhanya made her way closer to Mbali, and was only greeted with a snarl! Mbali then got up and started scent marking her territory, and walked off, Kuhanya trying to follow behind, but Mbali was having none of it. The aggressive greetings and scent marking may well be the beginning of the end of the relationship between these two wonderful cats. As we left them, they wandered within 30m of the buffalo herd before moving down into the riverbed.

Giyani had another male leopard that was near a half-eaten baby buffalo carcass near Tamboti wallow. It appears as though the hyenas had eaten some of the buffalo, but the leopard wasn’t going to pass on a free meal. The male was somewhat nervous, but also quite aggressive, and charged at Giyani’s vehicle before running into some thick bush, and he was left alone.

Other sightings for the afternoon included a few bull elephants, impala, kudu, waterbuck, hippo, hyena and giraffe.

So the quiet weekend ended well, but we are really struggling to fins lions, let us hope that the Sohebele pride returns soon!

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