Tuesday, 22 September 2009

20th September – Wind Stops, Animals Come out to Play!

I have always felt that the windy conditions affected the game viewing, and it proved to be the case on Sunday, as after a couple of blustery days, the wind stopped and all of the animals seemed to come out of hiding! Sunday was a particularly productive day for Big 5 game viewing.

I needed to see some lions, so went to the northern area in which the Sohebele pride had been seen the night before, but their tracks were found south of Makulu dam, so I knew I was not going to have any luck up north. I slowly made my way to the south, stopping to watch some ‘fish acrobatics’ at Vyboom dam where the tilapia were all jumping out of the water and putting on a show for us. Shortly after that there were two buffalo bulls and a bull elephant, and then a while later we had another bull elephant feeding on the side of the road. While heading south, the southern stations had also found Nhlangula male rhino, so I decided to go and see him just south of Nkombi pan. He was milling about grazing in the area on a nice cool and calm morning.

We left him and made our way towards the Sohebele pride of lions that had been found sleeping just north of Tamboti pan on the eastern bank of the Nhlarulumi riverbed, but as they had eaten something during the night – you could tell by their dirty appearance and slightly fattened bellies – they were inactive and resting. They were looking in a fair condition, but probably only had an impala kill to the west of their position, based on the circling vultures in the area.

While I was watching the lions, the impala’s started alarm calling, and I wasn’t sure if it was for the lions or for something else they might have seen. Herald was standing by for the sighting just south of us and got lucky when Nthombi female leopard came wandering past down the riverbed! She proceeded to stalk some impala, and later went to rest up a large tree on the riverbank. In fact, while watching the lions, three different leopards were found by the Timbavati guides! Elliot went to go and see Rockfig female leopard near Hide dam, but she showed no signs of improvement with regard to her injured ear and was still continuously scratching it. The third leopard found was Kuhanya female leopard up in north, but none of our guides went to see her.

I sadly had to be back at camp early so missed out on the leopards, as well as a breeding herd of buffalo south of Mbali dam which Herald found on his way back to camp, and shortly after that, he found a relatively relaxed male white rhino west of Java airstrip that Elliot and Giyani also got to see. There was also a sighting of a breeding herd of elephant down south, and that allowed most of the Motswari guides to see the Big 5 during the morning drive.

The afternoon remained cool, and the animals were still out and about. While Nhlangula male rhino was still in the south, none of our guides went to see him, most instead opting to go and have a look at Nkateko female leopard after she had been found north of Vielmetter camp with a large impala kill. She was resting up a tree, but the large impala lay on the ground as it was far too big for her to hoist up the tree. Sadly, with the Rockfig clan of hyenas denning nearby, the chances of her keeping the kill until the morning are almost zero. But then again, I had told my guests just last night that she wouldn’t be able to catch one of the impalas that she had been stalking! She proved me wrong! Again…

I had decided to check up north for some leopard before rushing down south, so went to see the area where Kuhanya female leopard had been seen in the morning. I got lucky, and one of my guests spotted her just as we drove past and she put her head up a few meters from the road! It was good spotting, and we then got to follow her as she milled around the area, startling some francolins but reacting to slow to catch one. Johannes and Elliot also came to see her, but I headed to the nearby Mbali dam to watch as a large herd of buffalo came wandering past and down into Mvubu crossing to graze on the sedges growing in the riverbed. After that, there were a couple of elephant bulls near where we had stopped for a drink, and we then proceeded towards Makulu dam to see what the lions were up to.

We arrived to find that the Sohebele pride of lions had started to show interest in a large group of male buffalo that were drinking at Jaydee pan, and while the one young male seemed to be actively stalking them, there was no real commitment from the other four pride members. They regrouped and walked to the edge of the clearing near the pan and lay down to watch the buffalo, and again the one young male stalked closer, but once the buffalo moved off, he lay down. It wasn’t over, the vehicle leaving the sighting disturbed a scrub hare in the spotlight, and the hare’s movement drew the attention of the young male lion that started closing in on him. At this point the ranger turned off the lights and the hare ran off, but sadly for him, he ran straight into the other four lions and that was that.

We heard the running and the scream of the hare as one of the lions grabbed it, then we turned on the lights and watched as the young lions disappeared chasing after the adult lioness who had caught, but not yet killed the hare. The screaming continued and it allowed us to relocate them before the hare was eventually killed, but there was no way that the mother was going to share her snack with her sons. The four young lions cowered a few meters from the lioness that had began feeding (amidst all her growling) and their behaviour and low begging moans were quite humorous! They eventually edged their way a bit too close to the lioness, and she then jumped off and ran away with the meal, while the four youngsters were left licking the ground, and we decided to let them do so in peace and headed back to camp.

There were four sightings of breeding herds of elephant this afternoon, including a herd of about thirty-odd that wandered past the lodge just before lunch, and some of the herd members stopped to have a drink at the camp waterhole. Later a group of buffalo bulls arrived at the waterhole and ended up having a bit of a fight outside the staff houses! There were also two other buffalo bulls found in the north.
So, with four different leopards, a pride of lions making a kill (albeit a hare and not a buffalo they were intending to catch), two rhinos, and plenty of buffalo and elephant to be seen, we had a very good day of game viewing at Motswari!

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