Wednesday, 30 September 2009

29th September – Grand Finale!

Tuesday morning was my last morning drive for my latest work cycle. In the shortened three week period, I did 36 drives and had an incredible 34 sightings of 11 different leopards, as well as 37 sightings of lions. I could not have had a better leopard sighting on my final drive than the one than Mbali spoilt us with.

The sun was trying to break through the clouds today, but it wasn’t having much luck, and the weather was a bit cold and windy still. We started off the drive with a female giraffe and her calf just outside camp, and then saw a good number of impala around, as well as bushbuck, duiker and steenbok. I bumped into Johannes, Motswari’s ‘Leopard Man’ and I placed a friendly bet with him as to who would find leopard first; him or me!

We carried on and I saw a few more giraffe, then Johannes found two buffalo bulls just west of Piva plains, so I headed over to have a look. While I was sitting watching them Johannes called me on the radio, and I could just hear in his voice that he had found a leopard not 15 minutes after our ‘challenge’ had begun! He told me that he had found Mbali female leopard just a bit further west along the same road the buffalo were on.

I left the two dagga boys and went to join Johannes with Mbali. She was looking fine, although she did seem to walking a bit gingerly with the wounds on her back legs. Mbali walked around scent marking quite vigorously, I suspect that she might be coming back into estrus again. She also smelt where another leopard had been scent marking, and vehemently scent marked over the same spot; I suspect it was Kuhanya’s scent she could smell, as she had been in the same area two days prior.

Mbali spotted a duiker than ran off and she continued to look out for the duiker and went and stood on a large termite mound to get a better view. She stood still scanning the area for almost 10 minutes, and judging by the lack of twitching in her tail, she didn’t pick up anything. A hyena strolled past about 70m away and Mbali just looked at her as she wandered off. With that Johannes pulled out of the sighting and I repositioned as Palence came to join us. Just as Palence stopped, Mbali started to walk casually down from the mound to the east, clearly not having seen anything she wanted, but such is her awareness as a huntress that the next second she bounded into an adjacent bush in a flash and then we heard the unmistakable scream of death.

I assumed it was a little scrub hare as we hadn’t seen anything else hidding there, but as Mbali reversed out of the bush and turned to face us, we could see that she had a caught a baby steenbok that was kicking and screaming in her jaws! The poor little thing must have seen the leopard and done what steenboks do best; just sit dead still until the predator walks past. Unfortunately for this little steenbok, Mbali was too aware and glimpsed the minute antelope and was onto it before it even had time to react.

Mbali slowly subdued the animal and the screaming stopped, but it was too late, the hyena had heard the sounds and came trotting in to investigate. Mbali was no more than 5m from the termite mound, and the hyena approached from the opposite side, so its view of the leopard was blocked. It drew closer, sniffing the air and listening for any rustle in the grass, but none came. Mbali sat motionless with the steenbok still firmly in her jaws, and still alive. The hyena came between my land rover and the termite mound and as it popped into view Mbali quietly made off in the opposite direction using the termite mound as cover. The hyena was a bit slow to react to leopards move, and Mbali safely arrived at the base of a nearby marula tree, turned back to look at the hyena that was now trotting towards her, and she effortlessly hoisted herself and the light-weight meal to the first safe fork of the tree. The hyena stood below and glared up at Mbali knowing that she and the meal were now out of reach.

But it wasn’t over for the hyena, the poor little steenbok was still alive and kicking and every now and then Mbali looked as though she might just drop it. But she didn’t, she is an extremely experienced huntress and knows how to handle her kills. Once the steenbok was dead, she climber to a higher branch and placed its lifeless body in a small fort of the tree for safe keeping and then she went to sleep!

From the fact that she didn’t start to feed immediately shows that this was a purely opportunistic kill; she was in the right place at the right time. And thankfully so was I! I did feel a bit sorry for Johannes and his guests, but it was abut time I got to see a leopard kill in front of my vehicle (two months back, on the same road, the roles were reversed; I left a sighting of Mbali and two minutes later she killed a steenbok in front of Johannes, so now we are even!!! Although I still owe him a case of beers!) – it took two and a half years to see, but it was worth the wait. I just don’t know if my guests know how extremely lucky they were to see such a wonderful sighting.

After that excitement we went and chilled with some hippos for a while then slowly ambled back to camp, seeing waterbuck, impala and even a few zebra.

As for the rest of the morning, well, the Mahlathini male lions failed to catch that giraffe last night, and their tracks headed south over Double highway into the Timbavati males domain, but thankfully it was the opposite direction to where the three Sohebele lions had moved; they headed back north. There were also tracks for the other two Sohebele lions, but they weren’t located. Down in the south, the Machaton pride had finished off their buffalo kill and headed north onto Vielmetter property but came to rest a few hundred meters south of Sweetwater pan. It is nice to see this pride utilizing that area a bit more regularly these days, especially as the Sohebele pride doesn’t frequent that part of their territory much lately.

And that was the grand finale to a pretty special and exciting three weeks at Motswari. I am off on leave for the next week, and I shall update the blog upon my return with all the happenings that I missed.

So until then, keep well!


Chad Cocking

Motswari Guide

1 comment:

  1. As usual, totally amazing! I feel sorry for the little steenbok but understand that is the way of life! Such a great post!