Sunday morning actually saw us receiving a small amount of rain, but the cloudy start to the day soon cleared and we had some pleasant sunny and warm weather. The guests got to see the three Sohebele sub-adult male lions that were found sleeping just east of Java airstrip, but they were still looking quite thin and not very active. Not far from them was a large herd of buffalo feeding towards the Machaton riverbed, and from an elevated vantage point on the hill, the buffalo covered the valley and made for quite a scene. Godfrey found the three Mahlathini male lions near Mbali bush braai, but they were down in the riverbed, so it wasn’t a great visual, but just a sign that they had finished their buffalo kill and moved off.
I returned to drive on Sunday afternoon and had a good start for my new guests. The drive started out with Palence finding my favourite leopard, the Argyle male leopard, up a marula tree east of Lovers Leap. He soon descended his perch, but we managed to follow him as he made his way towards the southern end of Motswari airstrip, lying down every now and then, but not too keen on hunting as he walked past a male impala that started alarm calling frantically, but the leopard paid no attention to him. I followed him for about half an hour before I left Godfrey and his guests trying to keep up with the leopard!
The three Sohebele sub-adult lions were still in the same spot as this morning, but didn’t receive much attention as two of the Machaton female lions were found in the company of the old Machaton male lion down south at Entrance dam. I made my way down there, but stopped off at the large herd of buffalo feeding in the last light of the day near Leopard Rock hide. While watching them, a lone hyena came to investigate, but was stared down by some large buffalo bulls and then wandered off.
The three Machaton lions eventually woke up and went to have a drink at Entrance dam while Herald was watching, and after seeing a Verraux’s Eagle Owl, some giraffe and zebra, I arrived and got to watch as the three lions were making their way south towards Double Highway. The Machaton male lion was beautiful, and quite reminiscent of his father, the Sohebele male, and one thing I did discover was that he was the same lion that we saw two weeks ago, when he was mistaken for the Sohebele male. When I saw him back then, I only knew him as the old pride male from the Timbavati pride, but it appears as he has since been displaced and is now wandering around on his own. As beautiful as he is, he was looking a bit thin, and had been in a recent fight that left him with a few wounds on his hind quarters and a seemingly broken tail that was hanging loosely from his body .
Despite this, it was still great to see him back with his old pride, and it was interesting that they accepted him so willingly, and the females showed amazing tolerance. The three lions moved to the south, and eventually settled in the Machaton riverbed.
Back at camp, there were two bull elephants and a lone bull buffalo drinking at the camp waterhole upon our return. But that was just the start of the night’s activities in camp! During dinner the elephant bulls were feeding just outside the boma, and then just before midnight, a breeding herd of buffalo came to drink at the pan just behind one of our rooms, and surrounded a few of the bungalows! I was not aware of this until the morning, and it was a morning that started at 02h30 when I awoke to the all too familiar sounds of fighting lions. At first I thought I was hearing things, but sat in my bed quietly until I heard it again, I ran outside to see where it was coming from, and soon heard the low contact calls of a lion coming from the other side of the lodge! I then listened but heard no more, so went and lay in bed again, and within a few minutes the night filled with a chorus of roaring lions – a really special experience! It sounded like three lions, which I presumed were the Mahlathini males, roaring near our airstrip were answered by another lion on the other side of camp. The roaring continued for a while, but I drifted back to sleep and awaited the mornings adventure of finding the lions.
In the light of morning, we could see where the buffalo had been in camp, as well as the tracks for a male lion walking past reception. The buffalo herd had headed to the east, and the tracks for one male lion were following heading after them. Unfortunately only the buffalo herd were later found heading back to the west, just north of our camp. There were no other tracks for lions, and it confused us with regard to what had actually happened during the night, and exactly which lions they were? I carried on with the drive and after some hippo, a good number of giraffe, baboons, kudu, impala, steenbok, duikers and some nice birds, I went to have a look at the three young Sohebele male lions that were found sleeping in the sun near Confluence crossing. They were inactive and hadn’t eaten yet again which was a worry, but not as worrying as the fact that there have been no signs for the other two pride members for the last few days. Later in the morning, Herald left the three lions attempting to stalk some waterbuck, but they had no luck. There was also a nice breeding herd of elephants and that large herd of buffalo in the area which, together with the several groups of buffalo bulls we had seen earlier, rounded off a nice morning of game viewing.
Sunday afternoon was also pretty good. Andrew went to have a look at the three Sohebele young male lions that had moved to Jaydee Pan, and there were the odd bull elephants about on the reserve. I went to check Vyboom dam where the herd of buffalo from our camp had ended up, and actually split into two groups. While watching a giraffe and bushbuck in the distance, and the buffalo’s resting on the opposite bank of the Nhlaralumi, one of my guests thought she spotted a leopard walking along the western bank to the north. I put my binoculars on the area and soon saw that Shongile female leopard was walking 50m past the buffalo herd! Unfortunately she wandered into the adjoining reserve, so we couldn’t pursue her. It was nice to see her, even if it was only for a moment. The two groups of buffalo near Vyboom dam were both sleeping, and we left them to it (and there were also another two large herds of buffalo found this afternoon – winter clearly being a good time for buffalo viewing in our area!); I then went to watch a herd of giraffe near Buffalo Pan.
There was then a call on the radio notifying us that a male lion, suspected to be one of the Mahlathini males, was found to the north east of camp, near Nyati dam. I was keen to see this, so I headed over there, and ticked off some impala and baboon on the way. The evening light as we drove towards the lion was magical, but as it faded, it was the cue to the lion to start waking up from his day’s slumber. I arrived as he started grooming, but I could see straight away that this wasn’t one of the Mahlathini males; not only was he very relaxed, but he also looked somewhat bigger. A lion then started roaring about 300m to his east, and the lion we were watching joined in to create a magical moment; there is nothing quite as special as watching and listening to a lion roar a few meters from your land rover! He roared again as his partner came closer. As the other male lion continued to come nearer, they gave us one final roar before the lion we were watching got up and walked into the bush to meet his counterpart. The two then lay in the open, one groomed while the other slept. Now while the lions didn’t do anything extra-ordinary, it is always special for me to see new lions, especially two new, relaxed and big mature males like this! We have temporarily dubbed them the Mpela-pela male lions, but will have to see if they continue to hang around in the area.
After some more elephant, we headed home, and were greeted with the news that we had just missed an unidentified leopard walking past the waterhole in front of the lodge that some of the guides and guests got to see! Later in the evening, there were three buffalo bulls drinking at the waterhole too, and before I went to bed, the two Mpela-pela males were roaring again not too far east of camp – and that rounded off a good couple of days worth of animal activity around our lodge!
Johannes and Herald also got to see Kuhanya female leopard stalking some impala in the evening near Concrete crossing, but they left her to her own devices so as not to interfere with her hunting attempt. It will now be nice if we can find her again tomorrow!