Thursday, 29 October 2009

26th & 27th October – Sohebele Pride Returns…for a while

The new week started off well, especially after we found tracks for the Sohebele pride returning to our area early on Monday morning. The drive started off a bit quietly, with no activity at our northern hyena den, although we did see some impala, warthog, and a nice male kudu before we found the tracks for the lions near Vyboom dam. The tracks were however from the previous afternoon, and were extremely wind-blown, but they headed south and we carried on checking.

Herald found more tracks west of Peru dam, so I slowly headed into the area, seeing some nice waterbuck and two giraffes near Concrete crossing. Not 300m down the road I stopped off to watch Kuhanya female leopard as she was resting up a large knobthorn tree after having finished her duiker kill during the night, and parted from her temporary association with Mbali. She was in no mood to be active, so we left her to catch up on her sleep, and carried on with the drive.

The Motswari trackers were left to follow up on the tracks for the lions, and I went to go and view some hippos in Peru dam, and after some coffee carried on along the banks of the Nhlarulumi riverbed where there were yet more giraffe, impala and kudu found browsing on the greenery. A small breeding herd of buffalo was also grazing just off the southern bank of the riverbed as they moved slowly in the direction of Mbali dam.
In the mean time, the trackers had located on the five members of the Sohebele pride of lions, lying quite deep into the bush, north of Mahlolwa clearing. Although it was a cool morning, it was quite late by the time we located them, and they were already in a restful state. The young lioness that had been sleeping 30m away came to join the other four lions under a large Mopane tree, but that was about the only action they showed while I was watching them.
I headed back to camp, ticking off more kudu and some more giraffe. Herald had also seen a nice breeding herd of elephant near Sohebele dam, Elliot saw a herd of elephants west of Peru dam, and Giyani found Nkateko female leopard at Hide dam. He commented that she was looking well fed, while another southern station that found Rockfig female leopard also said she was looking in a fair condition, and her wound was looking better. We just hope that the loss of her ear won’t affect her hunting and survival ability too severely.

The gloomy weather persisted through most of Monday, and the wind did pick up a bit during the afternoon, but it was still a good one. My guests arrived late, so I departed for my afternoon drive late too. I was informed of a few sightings that had already been picked up, including Argyle Jnr female leopard at Flooded Crossing not far from camp. I immediately headed in that direction to join Elliot at the sighting. She was in the Sohebele riverbed, but as is her nature, she is not the most relaxed leopard with off-road driving. She doesn’t run away, but she has a far large ‘comfort-zone’ than our other leopards, and if we tried to edge too close, she simply got up and moved 5m forward before lying down again; usually partially obscured by a bush. This didn’t allow for great photo opportunities, but for me, it was still special to see this leopard, as we don’t often get to spend time with her.
She eventually moved onto the eastern bank, and I decided to see if I could follow her for a while. She came across a young male kudu and froze behind a bush, the kudu stood staring at her for a minute or two trying to work out if there was an imminent danger, but when she simply walked off in the opposite direction, the kudu realised that there was no threat, but still sounded an alarm call. Argyle Jnr then carried on, scent marking as she went, and we moved ahead along the road to cut her off, but she had disappeared; or she had until my tracker spotted her crouched in the open not 10m from the road! Her camouflage was amazing, but we turned off the engine and sat quietly watching her as she watched us. After a couple of minutes she lost her nerve and jumped up, moved over to a large knobthorn tree, scent marked on it and then carried on to the east, and we left her to do her own thing.
I slowly made my way towards the Sohebele pride of lions that had been relocated in the same spot, and went via Concrete crossing where there was a herd of impalas and about ten waterbuck feeding in the riverbed, as well as a bull elephant in the water below Peru dam wall. One of the waterbucks was staring intently towards the rocks further north, and then the others joined in. I looked with my binoculars and saw nothing. When the one waterbuck gave an alarm snort, I edged forward and soon spotted a leopard lying in the sand in front of the rocks. From the distance I could see it was a young leopard, and assumed it to be Kuhanya female leopard. I went around to Klipdrift crossing to try and get a better view, but the leopard got up and moved to the eastern bank, so we drove around and had no sooner spotted the leopard when it got up and ran off. I wasn’t sure if the leopard was running from us, or after an animal, but we didn’t manage to relocate and I left the area, really wanting to get to the lions before it was too late.
Elliot arrived in the vicinity a couple of minutes later to see if he could have some luck, and came across a leopard, except that this time it was the Argyle male leopard, and not the young leopard he had been looking for! The presence of this male leopard might well have accounted for Kuhanya’s behaviour, and I am still pretty sure that it was her, especially as while Johannes and Elliot were following the Argyle male as he headed towards Peru dam, they spotted another leopard resting on the dam wall – she was later identified as Kuhanya, but she was left stalking some impala as it was already dark.

I headed past some impala, waterbuck and kudu on my way to the Sohebele pride, but was told that they headed into a Mopane thicket, and could not be pursued with a vehicle. I went and checked the road south of the thicket and got lucky by finding the five lions walking along the road, but they were not so obliging for too long, and they soon left the road and continued into another Mopane thicket, so we too had to leave them, and slowly headed home. I tried to make a swing past Peru dam to see the Argyle male leopard, but just before I arrived he went down towards the waters edge and was lost.

Other sightings for the afternoon included a breeding herd of buffalo, Nkateko female leopard still around Hide dam, and then after all the guests had gone to bed, and I was sitting doing the blog, two honey badgers came wandering past the Motswari waterhole and I saw them a bit later near the staff houses!
Tuesday morning was a calm, but cloudy day; pleasant game viewing weather indeed. I went to check the eastern section for a change, but found it to be rather quiet, with only a steenbok showing itself during the first part of the drive. We then came across a herd of zebras on Kudu Pan Clearing, and after some time with them, I went towards the area where Godfrey had found tracks for the Sohebele pride of lions; in the total opposite direction to where they had been heading last night. I then found there tracks in the eastern section, and set about following up. Not ten minutes later we had found them resting on a flat and grassy termite mound; they had walked a huge distance during the course of the night and found no reward. They were very inactive while I watched them, so after a while I carried on south. Herald later had a great sighting of them when a warthog came wandering in the direction of the pride, which all set about stalking it. It was a near miss, and the young lioness came very close to grabbing the warthog, but sadly for the lions they missed out on yet another meal.
I was heading south when I heard that Nkateko leopardess had been foud north of Hide dam, so after a quick cup of coffee, I headed over to see her. She was sleeping on the ground, but was awake enough to spot the approach of one of the resident hyenas, whose den site was not 400m away. Nkateko lay motionless as the hyena wandered around, clearly being able to smell the leopard, but not actually spotting her.
As the hyena wandered off a bit, Nkateko took that opportunity to seek out a safer refuge, so she quietly moved to the base of a large knobthorn tree, where eventually the hyena spotted her and moved in the leopard’s direction. Nkateko used this as her cue to effortless shoot up the tree from where she looked down as the hyena. The hyena then lost interest and realised that there was no meal to be stolen from the Nkateko and moved off. Nkateko found a comfortable branch and went to sleep, so we left her and made our way back to camp. I did check on the hyena den but couldn’t find the cubs that Herald had seen earlier.
Godfrey and his guest had a good drive which included the Big 5. Besides the Sohebele pride, Nkateko, and some elephants, he also saw Rockfig female leopard cross the road towards the Machaton riverbed, but didn’t pursue her. They also saw a large breeding herd of buffalo near Jaydee airstrip, but best of all was their rhino sighting; that of Nhlangula male rhino still trying to chase the other two male rhinos out of his territory, and charging in to them, only to have them fight back and send him running! There were two breeding herds of elephant found this morning, one at Makulu dam, and one north of Motswari.

During the early afternoon, a breeding herd of 25 elephants came down to drink at the Motswari waterhole, as did two giraffes.

I was targeting the large herbivores during my afternoon drive, and wasn’t disappointed. The drive started off with some warthogs on the airstrip, a lone elephant bull further west, some giraffe, kudu, bushbuck, impala and some steenbok as we headed towards Vyboom dam.
I carried on south after hearing that the two male rhinos had been found east of Nkombi pan, but the trip south was quiet, with only impala showing themselves; the buffalo herd from this morning had crossed into Klaserie. I arrived at the rhino sighting, but the two rhinos were standing behind a bush, and moved off when Giyani pulled out of the sighting. Luckily they ran back east towards a slightly open area, and we managed to find them standing still, and alert, but we could see them nicely. The older male then started grazing while the younger one still stood with his ears cocked, trying to work out if we posed a threat.
A bit further south we saw a group of a dozen buffalo bulls feeding next to the road, and then we stopped for a nice sundowner before heading back towards camp. On the return trip we saw a genet, some zebra, waterbuck, and two breeding herds of elephant, but we didn’t bother any of them with the light for too long. We also had two elephant bulls drinking at our camp waterhole when we arrived back at camp!

Elliot and Herald had a frustrating afternoon when they tried to follow up on the Sohebele lions, but they had moved; and move they did! The tracks were followed straight south and left a few hundred meters from our southern boundary! The pride had walked 5-6km during the middle of the day, straight off the property – very puzzling, and frustrating! I just hope that they don’t disappear for too long this time.