Thursday, 24 September 2009

21st & 22nd September – Another Buffalo Bites the Dust…

Despite the Sohebele pride’s interest in some buffalo’s the day before, it was the three Mahlathini male lions that ended up with another bounty of food after the killed a female buffalo during the late hours of Sunday night, and they provided continuous lion sightings over the last two days.

Monday was a warm and sunny day, and started off with some guides reporting that the Mahlathini male lions had been chasing buffalo near Mvubu crossing during the night and that they had run into Mbali property. Elliot found tracks for the buffalo herd still running south near Java dam, but headed back north to track the lions, and soon found the three male lions sleeping next to their prize, a fresh buffalo kill, just east of Mvubu crossing. It was a large female buffalo, and provided us with another opportunity to get these impressive hunters more relaxed with the vehicles. As the morning was already warming up, and the lions were well fed, they just rested in the shade not too far from the carcass and glanced up at the vultures that flew overhead, but seemed uninterested in coming down to wait their turn around the buffalo carcass.

On the leopard front, I had been heading south to see what had happened to Nkateko female leopard’s impala kill from last night, but I already knew the answer. Sure enough, the hyenas had come and eaten the kill, but Nkateko was tracked and found in the south, just east of Vielmetter trough. Herald headed down south to see her, but sadly I missed out, as halfway to the south, and before Nkateko had been found, one of the other guides found two leopards at Vyboom dam, just north of the dam wall. I was really interested in the prospect of seeing two leopards together, so I turned back north and went to investigate, but sadly they had been lost, but it still baffled us. Johannes and I waited in the area where the leopards had last been seen on some big rocks surrounded by reeds, but even after coffee on the dam wall, there was no sign of them, and I gave up and went to see the lions on the buffalo kill instead. I was heading home and driving past a herd of impala west of Argyle dam when we spotted a male leopard on the road up ahead, but as it was in the open, the leopard quickly moved back to the cover of the thicket to the west of Piva plains and we didn’t pursue him through the bush. The visual was distant and brief, so I never managed to get an identity of him.

Other sightings for the morning included a semi-relaxed male rhino in the west that Elliot found, a breeding herd of elephant near Illegal crossing and two separate sightings of elephant bulls up north. General game was not too bad during a nice warm morning.

The afternoon was not a bad one in the north, so it was a pity that I opted to drive in the south! I wanted to show my guests a slight change of scenery so headed down to Vielmetter, seeing a herd of eight zebra on the way, and then a good number of giraffe around the south. After a sundowner at Entrance dam, I headed back to the north were Johannes had found the 5:4 male leopard, whose name is now the Vyboom Dam Male leopard; based on his propensity to frequent that area. It was one of the leopards that had hidden from us in the morning, but he was now sleeping in the riverbed north of the dam wall. He looked a bit nervous, so Johannes kept his distance and had a nice view, but the leopard moved off when another station arrived and drove too close. Johannes didn’t mind, as he simply drove for another ten minutes before he found another leopard! This time it was the beautiful Kuhanya female leopard north of Peru dam. She was milling about the area, and posed on termite mounds and up a tree for Herald before Godfrey left her heading back south. I arrived back north too late to see her, but I did see a white-tailed mongoose, afar rarer sighting than a Timbavati leopard!

The three Mahlathini male lions were still around their kill, but still well fed and shoed no signs of feeding during the afternoon, instead they were spread out in the Mopane’s in which they had killed the buffalo, so I didn’t spend a great deal of time with them. There were also five elephants seen drinking at Peru dam, a breeding herd of elephant to the east of the buffalo kill, and when we returned to camp, there was an elephant feeding next to the pool!

Tuesday arrived, and the sunny and calm weather was a memory of yesterday; instead we were greeted with a windy and cloudy day, but for a change, it didn’t deter the game viewing too much. If anything, it assisted the leopards, and we found two different leopards with impala kills during the day.

In the morning, I showed my guests 4.5 of the Big 5. The half coming in the form of the half eaten buffalo carcass close to which the three Mahlathini male lions were still resting, extremely fat and in no mood to do anything, despite the cool conditions.

Nhlangula male rhino had been found again to the north of Sweetwater pan, so most of us headed down south to see him. I took it easy and went to go and see the hippo pod at Peru dam, then along Mbali dam where we stumbled upon a skittish male leopard on the riverbank, close to a herd of impalas. We turned off and waited, but the impala’s started alarm calling, clearly seeing more of the leopard than we could, and so we edged closer, and actually found out why he hadn’t made an attempt to stalk the impala; he had already killed one! Under the big trees, there lay a half-eaten impala carcass, but as we pulled forward, the nervous leopard moved down into the riverbed and moved across towards Buffalo Kill rd, so we left him. There were waterbuck, kudu, giraffe and impala about, more hippos at Makulu dam, three elephants further west and a group of buffalo bulls, about twenty odd, north of where the rhino had been seen, but they had moved off by the time I arrived. The rhino was still grazing a bit when I arrived, but he soon decided that he had had enough and went to sleep in the same area.

The afternoon proved to be a better affair, although to be honest, I didn’t have a great deal of luck with the general game; the wind was keeping them away, but out big game sightings were very good indeed! It started out with Johannes going to check on two leopards that he had seen in the morning near Vyboom dam, but he only managed to relocate on one of them, the Vybood dam young male leopard, and he was sprawled out on a large rock in the riverbed north of the dam wall. Shongile female, the second leopard from the morning drive, was nowhere to be seen. I arrived shortly after Johannes located the male, but he was in a rather inaccessible area and we watched him from a distance, but he soon got up and wandered down into the surrounding vegetation and was lost, so I left to go and have a look at a male leopard that had been found near Mangwa clearing. I wasn’t sure if it was the Argyle male or not, but he sounded reasonably relaxed so I made my way over there.

While I was approaching, the male leopard killed an impala, and I arrived shortly after he had finished the job and was dragging the kill under cover, and watched as he recuperated from the kill and started to feed. He was the same male I saw in the north a few months back while following Mbali leopardess, and the same one that investigated the giraffe kill of the Mahlathini lions last month. He seemed reasonably relaxed in the sighting, but we didn’t push it and go too close so as to disturb him, instead it involved sitting about 25m away and having a slightly obscured, but still a good view of the action.

But that was not the end of our leopard sightings. I decided to go and check the skittish male leopard near Mbali dam and see if he was feeding on his kill, but there was a really big herd of elephant moving away from the dam and feeding in the immediate vicinity of the kill. As I pulled off the road to go a bit closer, the leopard shot out from the nearby grass and ran down into the thickets along the riverbank. We watched the elephants, including several very small babies as the light faded, but there were no further signs of the leopard.

As it was windy, we passed on drinks and headed over towards the Mahlathini male lions that were eventually awake and feeding on the buffalo carcass! Two of the males were ripping away at the remains while the third slept nearby. There was a bit of growling, but otherwise, with such a bounty of food, they fed rather amicably. It was also good to get a quite close to them, and further reinforce the fact that they are slowly becoming more and more habituated and relaxed with in the presence of the vehicles.

As we returned to camp, there were three buffalo bulls drinking at Trade Entrance dam, and then a bit later on, two further male buffalos came and drank at the waterhole in front of the lodge. Other sightings for the afternoon included four elephant bulls drinking at the lodge during lunch, two elephant bulls on western cut line, and then the surprising return of the five Sohebele lions to the north! Herald found the pride resting just west of the camp on Sharalumi Cottage Access, but they soon got mobile to the south and crossed into Ingwelala property. Herald says that they were looking fine, and had probably had a light meal during the last two days that they had been absent.

And so it was that we rounded off another two days of pretty good game viewing, and as always, we just hope that it can continue for a while!

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