Friday, 17 July 2009

16th July – Super Sightings of Leopard

Thursday proved to be another good day in the Timbavati, and we had some great sightings of our wonderful leopards yet again. I seem to be on a bit of a roll when it comes to finding leopards without even trying and today this proved to be the case once again. While Godfrey and Johannes were in the eastern sector tracking the five Sohebele lions, I was checking up north for any sign of any of the leopards, and not for the first time, I wasn’t disappointed. While approaching Klipdrift crossing at the southern end of Vyboom dam, we spotted movement on the far bank, and while my first thought was leopard, I passed it off as a duiker, but when we stopped to have a look through binoculars, we saw that this ‘duiker’ had spots, and it was in fact a leopard! We drove down into the crossing and quickly identified the leopard as Kuhanya female leopard, but we got more than we bargained for when we also spotted Mbali female leopard resting on a rock in the golden morning light about 70m away!

Kuhanya then ran over to mom, and we got to watch the two of them interact very playfully for the next 30 minutes or so, and it was the first time in along time I have seen this interaction between these two lively leopards. The leopards soon moved off the rocks and out of the Nhlarulumi riverbed and headed west towards Francolin pan.

We followed the two leopards for some time, and both mother and daughter launched surprise playful attacks on one another, and the animosity we saw between them last week was all but forgotten. It was interesting to observe that while the two leopards were very playful, both also took time out to scent mark the area, and Kuhanya would jump up against the various magic guarri bushes and rub her scent on the ever-green leaves. The interaction between the two was quite special, and in one attack, Kuhanya jumped vertically over 1.5m to avoid an ambush from mom, demonstrating her extraordinary agility. I left Herald and Giyani with the leopards, and they were followed for much of the morning before being left in the area of Francolin pan.

In the mean time, Godfrey, Marka and Johannes had managed to track the Sohebele lions on Scholtz property, and after an unsuccessful attempt at impala, they rested for a while, but soon carried on walking east into Borneo, and moved towards the Kruger Park boundary before we left them. Sadly, they are still looking extremely thin, and the lack of potential prey in that area won’t do them any favours. The adult female is looking particularly lean, and I sincerely hope that they get a good meal soon.

Other sightings of the morning included a nice herd of zebra, giraffe, three elephant bulls, waterbuck, steenbok, hippo and a good number impala.

During the afternoon, besides kudu and impala at the lodge, we found two large bull elephants feeding close to Argyle dam wall. From there I was driving in the area close to where Mbali and Kuhanya were seen in the morning, and we soon spotted Mbali resting peacefully up in a marula tree just off the road. After a few minutes of relaxation, she jumped down and wandered off to the south, scent marking as she went.

We had followed her when my tracker then spotted another leopard up a marula tree about 100m away. My first thought was that it was Kuhanya, but as we followed Mbali and got closer, we saw that it was a young but large male leopard. He sat up and watched Mbali, but she didn’t seem to notice him, and if she did, she didn’t care, as she carried on wandering down a game path to the south. I chose to go and have a closer look at the male leopard, but after a few minutes he jumped down the marula tree and moved quite quickly to the south east, away from Mbali. Johannes decided to go and relocate Mbali while I tried to follow the male leopard…I made the wrong choice because as Johannes found Mbali, she killed a steenbok antelope right in front of him! Despite all my luck with leopards over the last few days, I would have traded them to have seen that kill! I did go and have a brief look at Mbali feeding on her fresh kill, but left her with her dinner.

Other sightings were a bit quiet, mostly impala, a few waterbuck, baboons and hippos at Mbali dam, and then a hyena in the boma after the guests and waiters had left to go to bed! Nobody attempted to relocate the Sohebele pride in the afternoon, and we shall just have to wait and see where and when they turn up next.

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