Friday, 28 August 2009

27th August – The Debate Continues

The Great Debate continued today as to exactly which lion was feeding on the giraffe kill with the three Mahlathini males! Some guides believe it is one of the Timbavati males, others say not. I have compared photographs and found the lion to be the same as a male I photographed on the 12th July, feeding on a buffalo that the Machaton pride had killed, and had been feeding on with their new born cubs. This would be pretty conclusive proof that the lion is the same one, and hence one of the Timbavati males, bar the fact that there was a report of all three Timbavati male lions being seen together in the far south!

I am convinced that the two lions that I photographed are the same, and the only possible explanation that I can come up with is that the male that was feeding on the buffalo kill with the Machaton pride less than 100m away, and still moving too and from the area of the kill, was not in fact one of the Timbavati males, and that this intruding male (that none of the guides managed to pick up as a different lion) might have just been taking advantage of another lion prides kill; just as he is doing at the moment! We shall just have to wait and see what happens, but it is a nice problem to be sitting with!

Anyway, Thursday was another nice day in the Timbavati, with some more good game viewing. Up north, the four male lions were still at their giraffe kill, but all the lions were looking decidedly fat and lazy, and the fighting that Elliot watched last night had subsided. The vultures had spotted the kill and started their long and patient wait for the lions to finish up and move off, but they will probably be waiting for another three or four days before they get a chance to feed. Elliot also found the two young Sohebele male lions near Karan’s Big Dam, and he followed them for a while until they settled down to rest. They have still not eaten, and there have been no signs of any of the other pride members for the last few days; which is becoming rather worrying.

I decided to go drive in the south, primarily in the hope of seeing the new hyena cubs that were found in a new hyena den north of Hide dam. The cubs were seen for the first time three days ago, and Palence has had a brief sighting of them, but they are still very small, a few weeks old, and understandably weary of the vehicles. It won’t take long for them to relax, as the Rockfig hyenas from the clan are very habituated to the vehicles. Sadly though, I only saw two adult hyenas at the den, but both soon moved off and after waiting for a while, there was still no sign of the pups, so we left the den site. After seeing two small groups of zebras, we did find the two adult hyenas again, south of Hide dam, and watched them for a while. The one had a head covered in blood, but they didn’t lead us back to any kill, so we left them.

After some giraffe and a cup of coffee, we found a very big herd of elephant south of Entrance dam, feeding in the area adjacent to the Machaton riverbed. It was nice to watch the herd moved across a nice open area towards us, and then to be surrounded my many other herd members as they moved slowly northwards. I would guess that there were at least 40-50 elephants.

I did leave the elephants a bit prematurely, but only because I received a radio call telling me that a leopard had just walked past a nearby camp, and was heading towards Palm crossing. I made my way into the area, but found no sign of the leopard. My tracker then eventually found tracks heading north from Vielmetter trough, and we eventually found the leopard; it was Rockfig female leopard. I hadn’t seen this leopard for over three weeks, and was keen to see how her ear was healing; last time the ear was looking okay, a dark scab had formed and there didn’t appear to be any open flesh wounds. Sadly, this was not what we saw this morning. Rockfig was lying in some wild sage, and I could see that her wound had opened up again, and she was constantly rubbing and scratching at it, but it didn’t look too bad. After a few minutes she got up, and we followed, but this time we were moving parallel to her, and could see the whole right side of her body, and it was not good. Her ear was looking awful; there was no skin on top of the ear, she had scratched it all off leaving a blood red, open wound, but now the wound had spread and she has an even larger area in front of the ear which is now open and looking very sore. It was sad to see, but she is one tough cat, and hopefully she can pull through this without getting any serious infections which could potentially be fatal. The wound thankfully does not look infected, and on the whole, Rockfig is looking in very good shape – she is well fed and not looking uncomfortable, so I am not going to worry myself about this lovely lady just yet! We followed her for a while before she jumped up a large apple-leaf tree and went to sleep high up in the shady canopy it provided.

During breakfast, there were two bull elephants that wandered down to the lodge's waterhole for a drink, and they were again seen in the afternoon drinking at Trade Entrance pan. I also found another two elephant bulls west of the airstrip, and they were in the company of a large herd of giraffe and some male kudus. We also ticked off some steenbok, duiker, hippo, waterbuck and impala, and then slowly made our way towards the four lions on the giraffe kill just before sunset. Earlier in the afternoon, the nervous young male leopard that we have been seeing around Mbali dam approached the giraffe kill, but soon moved off, and was actually seen by three of our game drive vehicles; he was a bit nervous, but wasn’t running away; he just kept his distance from the land rovers, but was soon lost in a drainage line and was not followed any longer. As for the lions, well they were still fat, and still sleeping! The bigger male was lying about 80m from the three Mahlathini males which lay nearer to the carcass, but they were so fat that they didn’t even bother moving off when we drove within 15m of them – a good sign, the slow habituation process continues!

Palence was having his sundowner at Klipdrift crossing, but had to cut it a bit short when he spotted Mbali female leopard wandering along the riverbed in his direction! He and his guests all jumped back into the Land Rover and followed the leopard for a while, but left her when she went into a thick drainage line west of Francolin pan.

One elephant visited the camp waterhole just before dinner, and then suddenly the wind picked up, and by the time we went to bed, the thunder and lighting was around, and even a few drops of rain fell, but nothing of substance. I awoke in the early hours of the morning with a large elephant feeding right outside my bedroom window, and by that stage, the rain and the wind had ceased. It would be good for the bush if the rains came early this year, so we will hold thumbs!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

24th, 25th & 26th August – Kuhanya and Mahlathini Males with Kills!

The busy period at Motswari continues, and thankfully the game-viewing has also picked up over the last few days!

The week started off a bit quietly, and our Monday morning drive didn’t produce too many Big 5 sightings, but the general game was quite good. We did see a nice herd of elephants feeding along the banks of the Nhlarulumi, as well as some old buffalo bulls. Zebra, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck and a hippo walking about outside of the water all contributed to a pleasant morning drive.

Monday afternoon was a better drive; although we frustratingly didn’t manage to locate two of the Sohebele lions that had been seen during the middle of the day – we started tracking just before sunset, and it soon got too dark to pursue the tracks any further. The reason for starting to track them so late was that Kuhanya female leopard had been found with a fresh impala kill! It was the first big kill we have seen her with since she left her mother last month, and proof that she is now a fully fledged and proficient huntress of the northern Timbavati! It was a sizeable catch for a small leopard, and in a rather open area too, during the day, so she did us proud! She had dragged it onto a termite mound at the base of a small leadwood, and started feeding, but we all knew that it would inevitably be stolen by hyenas during the windy night. We didn’t get to see Kuhanya feed, instead she lat in the grass a few meters from the kill and posed for some shots; she was, for a change, a bit aggressive, and no doubt being defensive of her kill, so we gave her the space she wanted and she seemed happy enough.

Tuesday morning arrived, and started out with two hyenas being found eating on large kudu bull just near the Peru dam wall. It is not clear how the kudu had died, or if the hyenas had killed it, but when Palence went to see them, they had eaten their share and were resting nearby.

We were getting desperate for lions, and there were reports of lions roaring around the central parts of the reserve, so I headed into the area to check it out. Giyani said the lions had been at Java camp, and were calling to the south. Herald was checking to see if the Sohebele lions had moved from the area they were yesterday and soon had a stroke of luck when two young Sohebele male lions crossed the road in front of him, just south of Kudu pan! As we were doing a shortened drive, I abandoned my search for the other lions and moved to the eastern section to see them. The overcast morning wasn’t overly productive for me, although I did find a small breeding herd of elephants. I arrived, but the lions had given up their morning exercise and were now fast asleep, but most the guests had seen them up and about. Sadly however, the two young males were looking very, very thin, and are in desperate need of a kill – I just hope they can get some food soon. The other guides had slightly more productive mornings than I did. Herald found three hyenas resting near a termite mound, but they soon moved off, and on closer inspection, it looked as though the mound might actually be a den site; we will check it out again to see if it is the case, but that particular clan of hyenas is rather weary of the vehicles. Godfrey saw the hyenas near the kudu, some zebra, giraffe, and other nice general game, and he also found Shongile female leopard with a steenbok kill just north of Vyboom dam! Back at camp, there were four buffalos drinking at the waterhole. Other good news was that Kuhanya female leopard had managed to salvage at least some of her kill from the hyenas, and was still in the same place with a few small pieces of meat!

Tuesday afternoon was thus set up nicely, and proved to be a good one. Sadly though, the steenbok kill was finished, as it appears that Shongile’s brothers were also there, and they made short work of the small antelope, and were not found. It didn’t matter a great deal as Kuhanya female leopard was still sleeping near her kill. The vultures had finished off the entire kudu carcass, and only some bones and a seriously injured white-backed vulture were seen in the area. I am not sure what had attacked the vulture, but it was not in a good way. Palence headed south after seeing the leopard, and he managed to see the Nhlangula male rhino who had been picked up south of Nkombi pan. There was also a large breeding herd of buffalo moving south away from Sweetwater that Palence saw. The two Sohebele lions had moved to Karans big dam, but no Motswari guides went to see them.

I stayed up north with my new guests, and they had come to Motswari in the hope of photographing some leopards; something they hadn’t had any luck with whilst visiting Namibia and the Kruger National Park. They weren’t to be disappointed.

I headed straight over to Kuhanya with her kill, and she was lying in the open, but soon got up and found a morsel of meat, lay down and started feeding on it for us! She is such a beautiful cat, and her relaxed disposition immediately endeared her to the guests. What made the sighting interesting was that Kuhanya’s mother, Mbali female leopard, had been found not 300m from where Kuhanya was feeding and was heading straight towards her. I could see the vehicle approaching, but at about 100m away, Mbali stopped, stared in the direction of Kuhanya (who was none the wiser), but soon sauntered off in the opposite direction.

After watching Kuhanya for some time, we moved on to go and see Mbali who was resting on a small grassy mound. She soon got up as the sun was setting and wandered off to the north, we followed her for a while, but soon left her to her own thing.

There was also a breeding herd of elephants not 300m west of the leopard, so we went and watched the herd as the twilight set in, but the herd was clearly on a mission and moved with pace to the north and towards our boundary, but they eventually settled to feed on the mopanes, just on the Timbavati’s western boundary.

Back at camp, we had yet another leopard come to visit us; this time the leopard was seen wandering around behind the boma and kitchen!

Wednesday was another good day. The big news of the morning was finding four males lions with a freshly killed giraffe near Mangwa clearing! I had been on a coffee stop while my tracker was on foot tracking Shongile female leopard, and when I finished I heard this news on the radio. At first I thought the guy was pulling my leg, but then realized it was true. I was puzzled as to which lions they could be, but went to have a look myself. The large giraffe lay in a nice area, stomach content spread everywhere, and still plenty of meat on it. The first lion I saw was relaxed, and looked at first glance like one of the Timbavati males; but so far north, surely not? I then went to see one of the younger males, thinking that it might be the three Timbavati males and the young Machaton male, but the young male was not totally relaxed as we approached, and soon got up and moved to join the other two same-aged males; these were the Mahlathini males, but they had a bigger male in attendance, and from earlier reports, their interactions were not hostile. I left the four lions sleeping in the bush around the kill, and after seeing a herd of elephants near Mbali dam I headed back to camp. I went and compared my photos with the other lions, and confirmed that it was indeed one of the Timbavati males that had wandered way north from his normal territory and found the three Mahlathini males with their giraffe kill; and he decided it was good idea not to pass up on a free meal! Down in the south Palence found a large breeding herd of elephants near Entrance dam.

In the afternoon, all four lions were still there on the giraffe kill, and Elliot was lucky enough to see the three Mahlathini male lions approach the lone Timbavati male lion and got to seem them have a bit of a fight, but the much bigger Timbavati male dealt with the three Mahlathini males with no problems! I went to the sighting after dark hoping to see some action myself, but all I got was fat, sleepy lions! The Mahlathini males seemed a bit edgy, possibly after their brief altercation.

Other than the lions, we also had a couple of sightings of male buffalos reported, I saw two large breeding herds of elephants, both feeding in the sedges growing along the course of the Nhlarulumi riverbed, and Mbali female leopard was also found at Mvubu crossing. She perched herself up on a rock for a while, but then moved off back towards the banks of Peru dam; I arrived as she was resting in a small clearing, but after a while she got up and moved off down towards the riverbank, so I left her to it. Johannes also saw a herd of buffalo near Nkombi pan, but they were crossing into Klaserie when he left them.

And that was the story of our last few days! The lions are back and will be for the next few days as they feed on their giraffe, and it seems as though the elephants have returned to the area, so things are looking up for the next few days, lets hope they will be good ones!

Monday, 24 August 2009

July Sightings Update

Hi all!

Just to let you know that the July Sightings Report is available on the Motswari home page, you can access the report at, and enjoy a summary of the sightings that we had during the last calendar month.

Enjoy, and please feel free to look around the website if you have not already done so!

All the best

Chad Cocking
Motswari Field Guide

Sunday, 23 August 2009

22nd & 23rd August – Nthombi and Java Dam Female Leopards Sighted

I am sitting typing this blog update marveling at technology. I am sitting in the bush watching out camp waterhole with three buffalo in front of me, an bull elephant has just moved off and is braking down some big trees, and a side-striped jackal is incessantly yelping behind camp, no doubt at the young Shongile female leopard that was walking around camp less than an hour ago; yet still I can share all of this with you folks scattered all over the world!

The last two days have been a bit quiet yet again – perhaps the animals had the weekend off??? - but we are still seeing some good things. Saturday morning was not overly productive, (an elephant has just arrived to drink at the waterhole, and a spotted hyena is whooping in the background…just another day at the office!), the cool weather at the start of the drive (sorry, the monkeys have just started alarm calling in the middle of camp, I am sure Shongile is still walking around here somewhere!) meant that most of the animals were slow to wake up, but once the clouds moved off, and the sun shone through, the animals started showing themselves. The usual kudu, giraffe, impala, bushbuck and even some zebra were about, which was nice, but there was little sign of our lions, bar some tracks for the lone, small Sohebele lioness, but she was not found.

There was a large breeding herd of 300-odd buffalo near Makulu dam, but they were starting to settle down for the morning, and they were joined by a small breeding herd of elephants too.

The highlight of the morning was no doubt seeing the beautiful Nthombi female leopard who has been notably absent from our sightings for the last month or so. She managed to keep her duiker kill safe during the night, and didn’t appear to have fed a great deal, as there was still a lot of meat on the small antelope carcass, safely hung up a lone jackalberry tree east of Elephant dam. Despite not having eat a large amount, Nthombi was still full bellied and not in any mood to do too much, and she spent most of the morning resting at the base of the tree, posing for photographs for all our guests!

Another interesting sighting was watching a gathering of vultures finishing off the remains of an impala carcass at Elephant dam. There were no clear signs of what had killed the impala, but whatever it was had left it half eaten, and it didn’t take long for nature’s undertakers to move in and finish it off. A large lappet-faced vulture sat waiting patiently for the squabbling white-backed vultures to move off, but then grew impatient and flew down to assert his dominance and went to feed on the little that remained; his large beak easily ripping apart the skin an sinew that remained.

In the afternoon, Nthombi female leopard was still around, but she had eaten some more of the duiker, and decided to move the carcass to another tree; this time she hung it in a marula tree not 80m from the original perch. I went to see her late in the evening, but again she was sleeping. She did however spring up and move over to the marula tree as a hyena passed by, but once the menacing scavenger moved on, she went back to sleep and didn’t go and feed as I had hoped.

Besides that, the afternoon produced another sighting of that large herd of buffalos that had now moved down into the Nhlarulumi riverbed just south of Makulu dam, and they enjoyed the green vegetation to be found on its banks. Palence and Herald also saw a small breeding herd of elephant west of Sweetwater, and there were two different groups of buffalo bulls found, but sadly, no lions were recorded. Heading back to camp, Palence came across two rhinos after dark, but as is reserve policy, he didn’t view them after dark, and in any case, they seemed very nervous and moved off quite quickly. Some nice general game included waterbuck, kudu, and a nice herd of seldom seen nyala antelope.

Sunday morning was also a bit chilly, and produced a sighting of Nthombi female leopard, in the same spot, still with a bit of meat left on her duiker kill. She was still quite inactive, and slept most of the morning near the bush under which she had moved her kill. The three buffalo bulls that have been hanging around Motswari over the last few days were seen again near our airstrip, as was a large bull elephant. There were five elephant bulls seen right on our western boundary too, feeding in the Mopane thickets there, but other than that, the morning was a bit quiet. Giraffe, kudu, waterbuck, impala, a lone buffalo bull, a large male elephant, bushbuck, and the other small creatures, but no lions (only tracks going from our airstrip to the east, but no luck in tracking him), and no rhino; the closest we got was finding a large hippo heading back towards the waterhole late in the morning.

We had a new group of guests arrive for the afternoon drive, and it was a good start for them. There were two large bull elephants found feeding just off our airstrip, as well as three buffalo bulls. Nthombi was seen still down south, but Giyani found Java Dam female leopard moving east away from Java dam, and the Motswari guides responded to see her instead. Now that is a bit of an unusual thing to do, as she is not a very relaxed leopard, but we kept our distance, and managed to get a fair sighting of a very beautiful female leopard. Last year she used to run at the sight of a vehicle in daylight hours, but she is slowly getting better; although still a long way to go until she is as relaxed as our other leopards. Still, it was special to see this leopard, and it was my first sighting of her in over 3 months!

Palence headed down south to see the Nhlangula male rhino as he fed south of Double highway on our southern boundary, but with some luck he will still be around tomorrow morning. Palence and Johannes also saw a small breeding herd of elephants near Mbali dam, and Johannes also had a brief sighting of the young male leopard we have been seeing around Mbali dam lately. This time he was walking along the riverbed below Giraffe Kill lookout. Johannes also went to go and have a look at a large breeding herd of buffalo near Jaydee pan in the late evening. General game was good; giraffe, kudu, impala, zebra and the like were out on a pleasant afternoon drive.

Back in camp, there were three buffalo and two elephants drinking at our waterhole during the course of the evening, and our night watchman saw a leopard walk past reception when he was waiting for us to arrive back from drive. He said it was a large leopard, and possibly not the same leopard that Johannes saw behind my house, and next to our workshop (Shongile female leopard), just as we were getting ready for dinner. The jackals and monkeys have been alarm calling all night, so the leopards are still around! Hopefully they show themselves to the guest’s tomorrow morning too!

In addition, we just need our lions to start showing themselves like they were doing during the first half of the month!