Thursday morning was a very windy morning, and that didn’t do us many favours, as the animals tend to stick to thicker bush when the wind is blowing. There were tracks for the Sohebele lions in the north, and some of the guides went to track them, but they weren’t having much luck. I made a long trip down to the south-western corner of the reserve to see if I could get lucky with the Mahlathini male lions, but sadly the first tracks I found were just north of Nkombi pan, and we tracked them straight past the pan and into Klaserie. There were a couple herds of elephant down in the south between Elephant dam and the Nhlarulumi riverbed, and Palence and Herald got to see them.
Late in the morning, two of the Sohebele lions were picked up east of Mbali dam, and Elliot followed them for some distance as they headed towards Java dam. I joined Elliot, and soon went around and waited for the lions to arrive at the waterhole, sure that they would drink considering the purpose with which they walked to the area. We waited at the dam, and soon the lioness and the young male appeared on the dam wall, looked at the water, seemed surprised to find no animals there then went and lay in the shade and fell asleep! The adult lioness and her three-year old son were looking quite thin and in need of some food, but they just weren’t managing to find anything. We also saw a few buffalo bulls, giraffe, and the usual general game, although it was a bit scarcer this morning with the wind.
Back at camp, four large bull elephants arrived to drink at our little waterhole during breakfast, which was a real bonus for the guests, especially when the two of them decided to come and drink from the pool!
In the afternoon, after a great deal of tracking, Elliot managed to relocate one of the Sohebele lions, except that it was not the same lion from this morning, it was one of the other young lions! He moved onto Java airstrip, and carried on following the scent of something, and after some time, he managed to come across his other two pride members from this morning! It was good news to hear that three of the Sohebele lions had now reunited, but there are still two missing – the young female that has been on her own for almost a week, and then the third young male. I arrived as the three lions started moving off on the hunt, all three desperately in need of some food. Despite this, it is still great that they are starting to regroup, and it never ceases to amaze me how they manage to find one another in the vast African bush! They are gifted with some seriously impressive senses, far better than we could even hope to imagine. My worry is now not only for the young female, but also for the third male that had been keeping company with his brother, but appears to have become separated over the last few days. I just hope that the lost pride members can find one another again soon.
Other than that, I saw a male leopard at Mbali dam, but he was quite nervous and immediately moved off into the riverine vegetation and was lost. The hippos were in Mbali dam, we saw some nice kudu and bushbuck, and just enjoyed an easy afternoon in the north.
Friday morning started off early with the monkeys alarm calling in the early hours of the morning, no doubt for a leopard that must have been in the camp. In the reception area, there were tracks for a female leopard, so I went to check around the back of the camp, and found more tracks, this time for a male leopard, the Argyle male. We started tracking, but sadly after a kilometer or so his tracks headed towards our boundary, so we left it. There were three bull elephants feeding on the banks of the Sohebele riverbed, some buffalo bulls in the area too, good impala, mongooses, kudu and bird life. We also saw a nice young hyena lying next to the road; they are far cuter when they are still young and fluffy!
I headed past Voël dam, but bar some impala en route, it was a bit quiet. I then slowly made my way towards Nkombi pan, an area into which a large breeding herd of buffalo was slowly moving. After some distant giraffe and zebra, I arrived just in time to watch the mass of bovids arriving at the two small waterholes to have a drink. The buffalo moved in en mass, and I guestimate that there were almost 300 herd members that came to drink, in all shapes and sizes.
From there I went to check Makulu dam, there was good bird life, some hippo and large crocodiles, as well as many impala. Late in the morning, Johannes also tracked and found the three Sohebele lions from last night; they were now resting just of Karan’s airstrip, but as it was already late, they were quite inactive, and hadn’t eaten during the night. Johannes seemed to think that the other pride members were close by, as he had seen tracks for them in the area, but for whatever reason, the separated lions never found each other, and the young Sohebele lioness was then found in the afternoon, on her own, at Makulu dam, many kilometers from where the rest of the pride was. There were still no confirmed signs of the other young male.
In the afternoon, four bull elephants were feeding opposite the verandah during lunch, but didn’t come down to drink, opting instead to move off and have a mud wallow elsewhere. We found them on drive rubbing up against some trees to get all the mud off themselves! The vervet monkeys were alarm calling for a leopard not 300m from camp, and I headed over and found tracks for a young female leopard, but had no further luck finding her, partly because Elliot had found Argyle male leopard in the Sohebele riverbed just west of our camp while he was watching three buffalo bulls! Sadly the male leopard moved to the north and crossed our boundary, and despite checking the area, he didn’t appear to move back onto our land. As I was getting despondent about that, one of the staff at the lodge radioed to tell me that a young leopard had just caught a banded mongoose in the staff village and ran of towards the airstrip. I sent my tracker to try and relocate, but he had difficulty in the rocky terrain. After much persistence he managed to locate the leopard, but she ran off, and he couldn’t find her again as it got too dark. I am pretty sure that it was Shongile; and while she is relaxed in a vehicle, she still shows the animal’s instinctive fear of upright man on foot.
I had, in the meantime, moved on to go and have a look at the three Sohebele lions that were found in the same place as this morning. I arrived just at sunset, and they soon woke up and started grooming before moving onto the warm tarmac surface of the adjacent runway. After relaxing for a while longer, their hunger got the better of them and they got mobile to the north, looking extremely desperate for food. Time is starting to running out for these lions, and they really need a good stroke of luck to get a big meal soon, as this constant movement around their territory without replenishing the energy wasted is really starting to take its toll. I can still console myself with the fact that, despite their skinny appearance, I have seen them looking a lot worse, and they have always managed to pull through. I just hope that they can do it again, and soon!
Elsewhere, Johannes and Herald saw the same skittish male leopard at Mbali dam, he walked across an open area and then down into the reeds below the dam wall and wasn’t seen again. Giyani also tracked and found Nthombi female leopard, with the added bonus that he found her dragging a freshly killed duiker up a tree, not far from Elephant dam. While all the other Motswari vehicles stayed in the north, we should be guaranteed a sighting of this beautiful cat in the morning!