Wednesday, 21 October 2009

19th & 20th October – Feasting Leopards!

Our good run of leopard viewing continued over the last two days, especially as two of them had kills that anchored them to the same area!

The week started off on a good note, as first thing on Monday morning saw us locating on the Argyle male leopard and his stolen impala kill in the Sohebele riverbed north of Sohebele dam. I arrived to join Palence, and got in position just in time to see Argyle dragging his kill down from the tree and then pulling it to a safe spot amongst a small rocky outcrop on the western bank. Luckily he chose a spot that still allowed us to view him as he continued to feed. I am not sure whether he moved the kill so as to get away from us, or perhaps he just felt like feeding on the ground, rather than in the flimsy branches of the weeping boer-bean in which the kill had been stored. Mangadjane male leopard occasionally used to do the same thing, and I have seen Mbali and Rockfig Jnr exhibit the same behaviour. Whatever the case was, we still had a magical sighting and allowed us to get some nice photos showing this beautiful male leopard in a slightly different environment with the rocky backdrop, and also to get a nice unique low angle of view.

I left the leopard and went to follow up on the three Mahlathini male lions that had been reported to be in the same area as we had left them last night, just east of Mvubu crossing. They were not there when we arrived, so my tracker followed up on foot and found them several hundred meters to the east. We followed them in the vehicle as they strode steadily eastwards, bumping into a herd of impala that burst into a chorus of alarm calls; but they soon realized that these male lions were showing no interest in them and they ran off. The lions went static one by one, but soon the two males as the back came to join their brother in the front and they walked a bit further before finding a shady bush to rest under and went to sleep for the remained of the day.

While I was watching the lions, Godfrey had found the Nhlangula male rhino up in the northern half of his territory, north of Mahlolwa clearing. I slowly made my way there, but chose to go and have a look at a large breeding herd of buffalo that Godfrey had also found north of Lily pan. The herd was reasonably static feeding on the grass amongst the dense Mopane of the western sector.

From the buffalo I traveled a bit further north to find the male rhino grazing about next to the road. He was simply milling about the one area munching on the bone-dry grass. I am sure that he can’t wait for the rains to return to provide improved sustenance for his large body mass!

I only missed out on the elephants this morning, but Elliot did see two large bull elephants on our northern boundary. There were nice impala, kudu, waterbuck and some giraffe out this morning. The other news of the morning was that there were tracks for the Sohebele pride returning to the area, and they were tracked from Nkombi pan right on our western boundary all the way past Java dam towards Western cut line before their tracks were left. So we know they are back, but we are not sure about their condition and will have to wait and see how they are doing.

In the afternoon I went to check the eastern section to see if the Sohebele lions had arrived there, but found no sign of them. My other mission was to find some zebras and I got lucky and found a small dazzle of seven zebras south of Kudu pan.

I proceeded down south towards the Rockfig hyena den, and we found just one young hyena resting at the entrance to the termite mound. After a few minutes one adult came wandering past on the northern side, and the hyena cub moved further into the den, so we left.

I also went to go and have a look at Rockfig Jnr female leopard just off Double Highway, south of Entrance dam. She had added to her larder of food by catching and killing a pregnant impala this morning, this despite having a half-eaten duiker stored in a nearby marula tree – pure opportunism! It was a cloudy and gloomy day, and as she had both of her kills stored on the ground, we only got to spend a short while with her before it got too dark and we had to leave her. She had eaten the impala ewe’s fetus in the morning, and was busy feeding on the rest of the impala that she had stored next to the duiker under a terminalia bush – it wasn’t the easiest spot to get a good visual, but we managed and enjoyed the sighting of her.

After a sundowner I proceeded to check around for the Sohebele lions with the aid of a spotlight but came up empty handed. The three Mahlathini male lions had been found in the same spot as we left them in the morning, and didn’t draw much attention from the guides in the afternoon. I went past Sohebele dam and saw that the Argyle male leopard had moved down from the rocks and was resting in the riverbed. He had all but finished his kill and all that he had next to him was the inedible fur and a bit of the impala’s leg that he finished in a few bites!

Godfrey also saw a few elephant bulls at Vyboom dam, but it was overall a bit quiet in the afternoon – no doubt due to the cool and windy conditions. One nice sighting we did have was of a large porcupine that was wandering around near Trade Entrance dam. I thought it was going to have a drink, but arrived at the water’s edge only to turn around and move off back to the west. He was quite relaxed and we had a very nice sighting of him – normally they don’t hang around for too long, so it was really nice to see!

Herald and I only did a short drive on Tuesday morning as our group of guests was checking out early – but it was a productive 2 hours! Herald was desperate for some zebras and tried all of the places he thought he might find them, before eventually getting lucky down south near the hyena den where he found a small group of our black and white friends. I stayed up north and ticked off impala, waterbuck, kudu, a small breeding herd of elephants feeding in the Nhlarulumi riverbed north of Vyboom dam. There were some nice water birds at Vyboom dam and then another two elephant bulls a bit further along the road.

Mbali female leopard had also been found east of Peru dam, so I made my way to go and see her, but she wasn’t looking in the best shape. She was nursing fresh wounds on her chest and left shoulder, and I suspect that she had another run in with a leopard intruding in to her territory. Being an aging and small leopard, and looking at her wounds and skinniness, I would guess that she came off second best. The wounds are not life-threatening, but it is concerning that she has not looked well fed for the last two weeks – not that we have been seeing her much, perhaps a result of this pressure on her from another leopard?

While we were following her she came across the week-old remains of a dead rock monitor lizard that she proceeded to eat – showing her versatility as a predator and survivalist – she, like all leopards, is not afraid to scavenge to get a bit of protein. The smell of the small monitor was not enough to put her off eating it (the same could not be said for my guests!), nor was the tough and dry skin, but she persisted and finished the snack in a short time. I slowly headed back to camp and saw some nice kudu bulls as well as a female giraffe eating a small bone to satisfy her calcium requirements – not an uncommon activity, but one that I have not seen before in the area until this past winter?

Elliot also ticked off a couple of buffalo bulls as well as the three Mahlathini male lions, right up in the north-western corner of our traversing. It is pretty certain that they will cross off the property to the north during the night, but hopefully they won’t be gone for too long.

I did not go on an official afternoon drive as I had no guests, but I believe that Mbali female leopard was found north of Mvubu crossing, and surprisingly the Argyle male leopard was again located near where he had been feeding on his kill over the last couple of days. He was not 100m north of the kill site, but he was just found resting on the riverbank amongst some thick sedge. He got up after a while and went to sleep behind a bush, so the visual was not great. There was also a large breeding herd of elephants in the north, as well as two groups of buffalo bulls near camp. I went and spent part of the late afternoon at our northern hyena den, and enjoyed the presence of two of the bigger cubs. Their inquisitive nature brought them out of the den, and after about ten minutes both youngsters walked right up to my land rover and stared at me very inquisitively! There were no signs of any of the adults or the small cub.

And that is that…let us see what the next couple of days bring – hopefully some Sohebele lions!

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