I was not on drive on Wednesday morning, but the Motswari guide’s reported seeing a couple of bull elephants and breeding herds around the main waterholes, some buffalo bulls, and Herald found a large male lion that he believed to be the Machaton male near Scholtz camp in our eastern sector.
Despite checking the area, Elliot did not manage to relocate this lion on Wednesday afternoon, but he did find a large breeding herd of buffalo moving towards the camp’s waterhole. It didn’t matter much, as the Machaton pride of lions was found up in the north of their territory, and in our southern section. The three female lions and two four-month old cubs were found following behind a second breeding herd of buffalo which brought them to Hide dam. The guides left the lions still following behind the buffalo as darkness closed in. Down in the same area, not far west of Hide dam, Rockfig female leopard was also found resting up a large marula tree before she descended and wandered to the south of Double Highway.
I stayed up in the north, and besides some buffalo bulls, four separate breeding herds of elephant and some good general game (giraffe, kudu, waterbuck, impala), I also had a nice sighting of Mbali female leopard. I spent about an hour with her, firstly as she rested on an old eroded termite mound, and then as she wandered around on the western side of Peru dam. Mbali eventually walked through one of the unfenced private camps, so we left her to her own business.
Thursday was a good day for lions. I headed straight down south to see if the Machaton pride had been successful in killing any buffalos. I found the breeding herd of buffalos resting on western cut line a bit further north than where they had been last night, and also saw fresh tracks for the Machaton pride heading in the general direction of the buffalo. I was going to check to see if the tracks came out of the block, but got held up with some zebra and giraffe. I then went to investigate some alarm calling vervet monkeys, but found nothing.
I headed back to the buffalo and we got lucky and found the three Machaton lionesses and two cubs just on the northern side of the buffalo herd. The lions were actively moving after the buffalo herd, but sadly didn’t make any attempt at attacking them, despite coming within 40m of the herd. It was very surprising to see the lionesses engaging in the hunt despite the presence of the two cubs; hunting buffalo can be a dangerous affair, and the tables could easily be turned where the hunters become the hunted – the small cubs would stand no chance if the herd of buffalos turned on the lions. Thankfully no such scenario played out, and the lion settled down to sleep for the rest of the day. The buffalo herd moved south and ended up coming to rest just north of Hide dam. I waited for the herd to arrive to drink, but only two groups of two buffalo bulls arrived, as did two spotted hyenas.
After having four elephants drinking from the pool in the afternoon, we headed on drive. The Machaton pride of lions were still in the same spot, and most of the Motswari, as well as the Java guests got to see them. They only got active late in the evening and moved back in a southerly direction. The breeding herd of buffalo had also been to drink at Hide dam and some of our guides got to see them as they too moved south. Another interesting sighting was that of a fish eagle feeding on a large fish at Hide dam! Andrew also got to see Nkateko female leopard when she was found not 200m from the Machaton pride, on our Java property. She lay on a termite mound for a while, but soon moved off into some really thick vegetation and wasn’t pursued any further.
I chose to go and look at some other lions that had been reported near Scholtz camp, and found them to be the Sohebele lioness and one of the young Sohebele male lions. They were moving north away from the waterhole, but soon went to rest on a small termite mound.
While sitting watching these lions, I got a radio call telling me that the three Mahlathini male lions had been found…mating! These young male lions had found a lioness somewhere, and were found to be mating with her! I didn’t pass up this opportunity, and despite being on the opposite side of the reserve, I left the Sohebele lions sleeping and headed towards Voël dam in the north western corner of the reserve. On the way we passed kudu, impala, giraffe, waterbuck, a hippo at Mvubu crossing, and two breeding herds of elephant at Java dam.
I arrived after dark to see the Mahlathini males and this unknown lioness as they lay in the grass waiting for their honeymoon romance to be ignited again! Lions often mate for two to three days at a time, copulating every fifteen minutes or so – a real marathon session! This is in all probability the first time that these male lions have mated, and it was only the bigger, more relaxed male that was partaking in the evening’s activities; the other two males were biding their time on the side. Herald and his guests got to see them mating four times, all of them seemingly more vigorous and impressive than the rather lame effort that I got to see! The mating ritual is normally accompanied by much growling and snarling, but on the occasion I watched, it was rather mild! It is normally the lioness that initiates the activity, and I couldn’t help but laugh as we watched the one Mahlathini male get up, walk over to the female that remained unmoved and sleeping, and then attempted to mount her while she slept! She looked at him, he stopped and went to lie down next to her again, looking rather embarrassed! With some luck, the mating will carry on for the next couple of days, and perhaps we will be able to get a better idea of which female they might be mating with; possibly one of the Voël dam females from the Klaserie?
Johannes found Mbali female leopard west of Klipdrift crossing on his way back to camp, and sat with his lights out as she stalked after some impala. After about 25 minutes she charged at the prey and sent them running in all directions, but sadly she missed all of them. Herald then found Shongile female leopard sleeping in a small hole dug by elephants, right next to the Motswari airstrip, and she was still there when I arrived back to the lodge. The little leopard soon got out of the hole and stalked off after some plovers that flew away, she then turned her attention to a herd of impalas, but was clearly being overly optimistic, so we left her to it! I also got lucky and saw a large porcupine, South Africa’s largest rodent, also foraging on the airstrip.