Sunday, 16 August 2009

14th August – Lions Aplenty!

Wow, August is definitely proving to be the month of lions, and the first two weeks of the month have produced 43 sightings of lions in 28 drives! On Friday morning, across both the northern and southern sections, there were five different lion sightings.

I was rather keen to go and follow up on the mating Mahlathini males around Voël dam, but checked around up north for a bit without much luck besides the usual general game; waterbuck, impala, and like the last few days, a good number of giraffe about. As I was approaching Voël dam, another guide from a neighbouring lodge called to tell me that he had just found the Argyle male white rhino walking west away from Voël dam towards the Klaserie, and that if I hurried, I might be able to see him, and so I did! I arrived as the large male rhino was plodding along, occasionally grazing, but seemingly intent on moving back to the Klaserie. It is the first time we have seen this rhino for almost two months! Despite his prolonged absence, he was probably more relaxed now than he was the last time we saw him which is extremely encouraging. As he drew closer to the Timbavati access road and our boundary, I made space for some of the other guides and guests, and thankfully good cooperation between the guides ensured that all of the Motswari and Java guests got to see the rhino, if only for a five or ten minutes, before he crossed off the property.

We picked up tracks for the mating lions moving off the property too, but Elliot then found the tracks returning, and after following up for a short while, found two of the Mahlathini males, and not long after, he followed these two male lions to the other mating pair of lions! The lions spent most of the morning in the area mating ever 15-20 minutes or so.

I had ‘sadly’ moved to the south, so didn’t get a chance to see the mating lions again, but instead I got to see three other groups of lions! Firstly, I stumbled upon some lions at Entrance dam, and at first glimpse it looked like the young Sohebele lions, bar the fact that they looked well fed and a little shy of the vehicle! As I moved closer, I soon identified them as a small pride of three lions; these lions are unnamed, but are known to us. The pride consists of one relaxed adult female, and two sub-adults that appear to be of different ages. The young male lion must be approximately 2.5 years old, and the female I would guess is just less than two years old. The youngsters are however not very relaxed, and move off when approached, but if you turn off and sit quietly, they will come in to the open. We saw this group of lions a number of times in March this year, but they moved back to the west and have not been seen since. They were looking well fed and in good condition. The mother lay calling the youngsters that came closer, and she went and greeted them with a rub of the cheek, but they moved into a guarri thicket to get some shade. I was in need of photographs for my guests, and this pride wasn’t going to provide it, so I left them and headed further south.

Afterwards we had a really nice sighting of giraffe on Cheetah plains, including one giraffe eating an old bone, a process known as osteophagia, and quite common in giraffes. Until yesterday though, I had not actually seen it take place amongst the giraffe populations of the Timbavati (although the other guides have seen it), and I assumed it was due to the high lime concentrations in our water. Still it was an interesting behaviour to watch.

We left the giraffe and went to go and see the one Machaton lioness and her two cubs that were unfortunately fast asleep on the banks of the Machaton river, not far from Machaton dam. They were fat bellied; clearly having eaten last night, but also didn’t provide many photographic opportunities. We left them and headed even further south towards the three Timbavati male lions that had been found on our extreme southern boundary. Surprisingly, they too were sleeping! Luckily they did occasionally sit up and look at us, but they too looked well fed and in good condition, and were not intent on going anywhere. After some time with them, I headed back to camp.

In the afternoon, I went to try and follow up on the mating lions, but had no luck finding any tracks, and the guides told me that they were not in the area that they had been left, so it seemed like a hopeless cause, until two of the male lions were found late in the evening…in the same spot as this morning! Luckily Elliot found Mbali female leopard not too far away, so I headed in his direction. She was rather active and had clearly spotted some potential prey, so was continuously on the move. She kept crossing a steep drainage line which made sticking with her a bit tricky, but we managed! She posed for a brief moment on a termite mound, but then moved off in the direction of a herd of impalas and started stalking them as it got dark. She ran off and we lost her, but Palence managed to relocate a bit later on. Andrew also had a brief sighting of Kuhanya female leopard at Mvubu crossing, but she moved into the reeds and she wasn’t seen again.

Other sightings included a couple of bull elephants, two buffalo bulls, hippos, including three outside of the water, waterbuck, kudu, a civet and spotted hyena.

It was a good day for sightings, but I really need to find some good photogenic animals over the next couple of days!

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