Saturday, 26 September 2009

25th & 26th September – Amazing Leopard Sightings Continue!

Wow, the leopard viewing has been phenomenal over the last week, and Friday and Saturday were no different (25 leopard sighting in the last six days!).

Friday morning started off cool and spitting with the occasional drop of rain. The wind was blowing slightly too, and that led to a slightly quiet morning with regard to general game; I did see some kudu, waterbuck, impala, steenbok and bushbuck. As I arrived at Vyboom dam, there was a large male hippo slowly making his way back to the waterhole, and he soon disappeared while the second hippo that had been wandering around nearby went to the southern end of the dam.

Herald had found Kuhanya female leopard, but she had moved into the Nhlarulumi riverbed north of Mvubu crossing, and into an area inaccessible to our vehicles, so we had to watch her from a distance. I drove past and carried on towards Makulu dam were there were more hippos and a bit more general game. After a cup of coffee, I headed back north to go and see the three Mahlathini male lions that Elliot had found just to the west of Mvubu crossing. They carried on to the west, but soon settled down close to the site they had killed the giraffe at the end of August. They were sleeping, but two of the males were resting in a rather cute manner; cute for big male lions I guess!

In the interim, Elliot had relocated Kuhanya female leopard, and watched as she stalked and caught an Egyptian goose! She sadly took it straight back to the area where she had been earlier, and we had to sit and watch her feeding on the feathery meal from a distance, but after all our other great leopard sightings lately, it didn’t make much difference to us, and we enjoyed watching her as she took mouthful after mouthful of feathers off the goose, and we wandered how much of a meal she would actually be left with!

There had also been a small breeding herd of elephants east of Mbali dam, but I only saw two elephant bulls up in the north. When we arrived back at the camp, there was a large female giraffe on the clearing opposite the verandah.

The afternoon was a good drive, and included four different leopard sightings. It started off with Kuhanya female leopard being found resting up a marula tree east of Peru dam, and not far from where she had been in the morning. She looked satisfied with her morning’s feed and spent the entire afternoon resting in the tree.

Heading towards her, I found two buffalo bulls feeding in the sedges north of Vyboom dam wall, and there was a group of five elephant bulls feeding nearby. Two other elephant bulls were seen by Elliot and Godfrey east of Peru dam. The general game included waterbuck, bushbuck, kudu and impala, with the cloudy weather assisting our viewing of the various birds of prey that were sitting on the dead trees waiting for better weather.

After a drink – there was no sun to watch going down, so it wasn’t a ‘sundowner’! – we went to see if the Mahlathini male lions were still around. While checking the area, another guide found them on Goya Rd, at the spot where the male leopard had stored his impala kill for the last few days. I am not sure if the lions had climbed the tree to get the kill, or if the leopard had dropped it while feeding, but when we arrived, we found the three Mahlathini male lions underneath the knobthorn tree with the large male leopard sitting patiently at the very top of the tree! The lions had finished impala and were just grooming, but soon got up and moved back to the road before heading to the north. I was rather surprised when one of the males came sniffing around in the grass less than 4m from the vehicle, and didn’t show any signs of fear – such a marked change from when they arrived in the area. Even when they were walking down the road, they just didn’t seem to mind our presence with the spotlights – they are becoming a pleasure to view these days!

We headed back to camp, and I was just behind Elliot as he went down into Klipdrift crossing (after he had thought he could see eyes of a leopard stalking impala just to the west of the crossing, but had no luck confirming this), and he called me to tell me that there was another leopard walking over the rocks in the crossing. I pulled down and got to see the large female leopard walking towards the western bank and into a drainage line. We waited a while to see if she came out, but she must have gone to sleep in the thicket, so it was not possible to get an ID on her. It might have been Argyle Jnr Female, but we couldn’t be sure.

I arrived back at camp, and the good news was that we had stayed dry; the threatening rain had stayed away despite a slight drizzle before lunch. I was a bit tempted to stay out longer when Godfrey called to tell me that he had found Shongile female leopard with a steenbok kill just west of Piva plains, but I was approaching the camp, and had already seen three leopards for the afternoon, so I decided to leave it for Saturday! Johannes had also tracked and found the three young Sohebele lions just south of their position from this morning. They were just resting once again. Godfrey reported hearing two lions roaring near Vielmetter camp, but nobody managed to find these lions, so their identity remains a mystery – although Godfrey thinks it could have been the other two Sohebele lions, I would put my money on it being the Timbavati males.

I got to sleep in on Saturday morning as my guests just wanted to take it easy, but it sounds like I missed out on a good game drive, with a couple of our guides ticking off the Big 5 during the course of the morning. Nhlangula male rhino was found near Nkombi pan, the three Mahlathini male lions were found resting just south of Karan’s Camp, but remained in the same spot all morning – the only concerning thing is that this is not too far from where the three young Sohebele lions were seen yesterday, but hopefully they can avoid the Mahlathini males. There was a young male leopard, possibly Shongile’s brother at the steenbuck kill west of Piva plains, and then some buffalo bulls and elephant bulls up north near Motswari.

I was on drive again in the afternoon, and it had certainly warmed up a few degrees; the mercury was touching 34 degrees Celsius just before drive. The hot weather kept some of the animals a bit inactive until late afternoon. The steenbuck kill had been finished, and the young male leopard had moved off, so that was a bit disappointing, but not for long, as Mbali female leopard was found at Concrete crossing a short while later. I was heading down south towards Nkombi pan, hoping to catch sight of the rhino before he crossed over into Klaserie, but as I approached the Timbaavti access road, I heard he had crossed, so I simply carried on bumbling around in the north-western section of the reserve before moving back towards Mbali. There wasn’t a great deal of general game but we did see some warthogs, kudus and impala.

I arrived at the Mbali sighting as she got up and mobile towards Peru dam wall, but she soon stopped as she had picked up on something. We followed her and soon saw the small duiker antelope that she was stalking, so we turned of and sat quietly to see what would happen. The duiker was down close to the waters edge in the riverine thicket, and had only two directions to run. This spurred Mbali on, and she dropped her usual patient approach in favour of a quick approach, and after less than a minute of standing still and watching her quarry, she charged in to the south, trying to cut down the angle between the duiker and the water, but such is the agility and the awareness of the prey species, the duiker saw Mbali’s intentions and did a quick 180 degree turn and ran off in the opposite direction, leaving Mbali in no position to pursue her intended meal. Instead she carried down to the waters edge and we lost sight of her. Sadly though, Mbali looked to have been in a fight as both of her rear legs were quite severly scrathed and both nursed open wounds. The wounds probably looked worse than they really were and they didnt seem to hamper her movements, so I am confident she will heal quickly. As to how she got them, well that is a bit of a mystery, but I would guess that it had something to do with the large female leopard we saw the night before right in the heart of Mbali's territory; there was possibly an aggressive territorial dispute.

There had been two bull elephants just north of Concrete crossing, but we went and watched a breeding herd of elephants feeding in the riverbed north of Mbali dam wall.

After a refreshing sundowner, I went to see what the three Mahlathini male lions were up to. They had been found in the same place as they were left this morning, and just spent the afternoon resting in the shade, not even bothering to move when the vehicles approached. This might sound normal for most lions, but it is not something that these once nervous lions have always done. They had moved from their afternoon position, but we followed the tracks down the road, across the riverbed and found them sleeping just south of the Sohebele riverbed, and not one of them even lifted their heads when we approached – I can hardly believe they are the same lions we had such a struggle viewing a couple of months back…or even a couple of weeks back for that matter.

Heading home we saw some steenbuck, impala, kudu, and a small-spotted genet. Johannes did see the Argyle male leopard north of Vyboom dam, but he sadly wandered to the north and into Ingwelala shortly after he was found. Rockfig female leopard was also found all the way down on Double Highway, but all of the Motswari guides were in the north, so we didn’t respond, although I believe that her ear is just not getting better, which is not good news.

So, another two great days of game viewing at Motswari, lets see what the last two days of my working cycle bring before I go on leave!


Chad Cocking

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