Saturday, 24 October 2009

21st & 22nd October – Where have the lions gone?

The last two days have been good for game viewing, but we have not had an easy time with the lions, especially after the Mahlathini male lions moved north off the property a few days back.

Wednesday morning started with us checking the hyena den in the north, and finding one adult and two of the cubs out the den. I slowly made my way towards the area, seeing some nice impala and a small group of giraffe feeding at the top of our airstrip. The hyenas then moved away from the den and we followed them to the east towards a small rocky outcrop that the cubs started to explore. One of the cubs then found something and started running around with it in his mouth, and at first glance it looked like an impala skin, but after a closer inspection we saw that it was a blanket that they had stolen from our Sharalumi camp 300m west of the den! I just hope that these cubs don’t cause too much havoc around the camps as they grow up – last years youngsters didn’t become nuisances, so I am sure that we don’t need to worry about these ones either! The adult eventually went to rest in the shade and the cubs soon followed.

Elliot received a radio message from one of the eastern private camps telling him that a white rhino had been seen walking past the camp, so Elliot went to follow up and found the rhino, but it was extremely skittish and ran off when approached by the vehicle, so Elliot decided to walk his guests into the sighting on foot, and managed a better view, but the rhino was not very obliging. A far more obliging rhino was located north of Sweetwater pan, it was Nhlangula male rhino, so I was slowly heading down south to see him. I came across some impala, waterbuck and two groups of elephant bulls that fed and dust bathed next to the land rover.

After a cup of coffee, I carried on south, but then heard that another two rhinos had been found closer to my position, so I decided to pass on the Nhlangula male rhino (Herald still went to see him) and go and see the female and her sub-adult calf east of Voel dam. They were just on the edge of a Mopane thicket, but seemed reasonably relaxed. We stopped about40m from them and watched at a distance, and eventually both went to sleep in the shade of a small tree, so I used that opportunity to try and approach a bit more closely, but the youngster jumped up and soon the mother rhino got up too and they moved off to the east. We followed at a distance for a while longer, but soon left them on their own.

Heading back to camp we ticked off some giraffe, impala, kudu bulls as well as some kudu cows, two hyenas at Trade Entrance pan, and a crocodile.

The afternoon drive started with us finding two hyenas sleeping at Trade Entrance pan; they really seem to be enjoying that waterhole lately and we get to see them there almost every day. The one female seems to be heavily pregnant, and it won’t be long before she has her cubs. While we were watching them, a herd of impalas approached the water cautiously, keeping a weary eye on the two potential hazards. They soon realized that the hyenas showed no intentions of hunting, and they had their drink and moved off without incident.

We carried on and saw a male waterbuck, some steenbok, impala, duikers, baboons and then came across a small breeding herd of elephants that were feeding on the banks of the Nhlarulumi riverbed just north of Concrete crossing. The herd had about twenty members, but we didn’t see any really small calves, as they fed slowly to the east. I left the elephants and continued a short distance towards Mvubu crossing where Kuhanya female leopard had been found resting on the eastern side of the Nhlarulumi. While Herald and Giyani were watching her she got up and moved a bit further east to where she had a small duiker kill hidden amongst the sedges. She started to feed on what little was left of the baby duiker, pausing every now and then just to make sure that there was no danger sneaking up on her. It started getting dark, and as her kill was still on the ground, we left her to finish off her meal without our prying spotlight.

After drinks, we saw a couple of elephant bulls west of Peru dam, and also ticked off a small-spotted genet, a spotted hyena sauntering down the road, and saw some tracks for the Mahlathini male lions, but we suspected that they were from the previous day. The other guides ticked off another two groups of elephant bulls, some buffalo bulls, and Godfrey went down south and saw the Nhlangula male rhino feeding to the south away from Double Highway.

On Thursday morning, I was keen for some lions, so I went to check a the eastern section to see if there were any signs of the Sohebele pride, but yet again came up empty handed. The lack of water in the east meant that there was not a great deal of general game about; a couple of herds of impala and a giraffe. Palence then radioed to tell me that he had found Nkateko female leopard on Western cut line north of Big Nigresens, so I made my way towards that sighting.

I arrived just as something caught her attention and she sat up on the branch she was lying on. She then jumped down from the marula tree and proceeded to stalk towards the steenbok that she had in her sights. We got a great display of her stealth as she stalked over the road towards her quarry, but after a few minutes of patience, her cover was blown by the alarm calls of some dwarf mongooses and the steenbok made off.

Nkateko then carried on walking about and ascended a small Mopane to have a scout about for another potential meal, and she posed in the most casual manner for us before climbing down, ambling within a couple of meters of the Land Rover and then off into the bush. I left her with another guide, but she soon climbed another tree and went to sleep for the rest of the morning.

After the great leopard sighting, we made our way towards Makulu dam where a large breeding herd of about 45-50 elephants had been seen. At the dam, we found only one lone bull elephant having a drink, but located on the rest of the herd soon afterwards; they were about 500m downstream at Leopard Rock Hide feeding in the abundant sedge in the Nhlarulumi riverbed. The herd was very relaxed, eve with a large number of young, and we got treat to some special moments as they moved past us as they fed slowly to the north.

After a cup of coffee at Makulu dam with three distant hippos, and a terribly panicky and frightened lost buffalo calf that was running around aimlessly, we headed back north along the Nhlarulumi riverbed and bypassed the breeding herd of elephants and the lone buffalo again. There were a couple of giraffe and some steenbok, but not much other general game species.

Herald found a breeding herd of buffalo at Mvubu crossing after they had been to drink at Mbali dam, and a bit further along the road he found another breeding herd of elephant. Godfrey also had a nice sighting of the Vyboom Dam young male leopard as he lay on he rocks north of Vyboom dam watching a bushbuck on the other side. I was tempted to respond earlier in the drive, but I was just too far away. Elliot had decided to go and check a remote part of our traversing; a distant piece of land that we have access too tucked right in the north eastern corner of the Timbavati. Here he found two crashes of rhinos; one of three relaxed rhinos, and another of two nervous individuals. He also saw some zebra, some nice large elephant bulls and lots of signs of lion activity, but no lions. Speaking to the staff at the private camp, Elliot told me that he thinks that the tracks for the male lion he saw might very well be that those of the old Sohebele male! Could it be? Could he still really be alive? The description of the lion from the camp staff convinced Elliot, although they did say that he was in the company of younger male. My suspicion is that there is more chance of it being the Mpela-pela males that we saw two months ago near our camp. The camp staff also reported seeing a lioness with two white lion cubs a few days back, and knowing the whereabouts of the Timbavati pride over that period, it would mean that this is another litter of white lions in the Timbavati! But seeing is believing, so I will again hold out until I get to see them for myself!

Based on this information and our desperation for lions, Elliot and Herald returned to the area in the afternoon to attempt to track down this male lion, but the tracks were going in all directions and the rocky ground didn’t lend itself to a successful afternoon for them.

I was a bit luckier, and made my way towards Mbali dam where there was a hive of activity. The impalas, kudus, warthogs, giraffe and a herd of buffalo were all making them selves seen around the area. The breeding herd of buffalo were feeding along the riverbed to the west, away from the dam, as they have been doing every couple of day for the last few weeks.

I pushed on south to go and see the Nhlangula male white rhino after he had been found south of Nkombi pan. He was feeding in a small clearing just as the day was drawing to a close. While we were watching this large rhino feeding, a lone spotted hyena came walking past, and neither rhino nor hyena paid any attention to one another, and both m oved off in opposite directions.

I decided to go and see if I could get lucky and see Nthombi female leopard behind elephant dam. She had been found earlier in the afternoon east of Elephant dam with a steenbok kill, but had moved towards Elephant dam. I was frustratingly unable to relocate her at either the site of her kill, or indeed the position where she had been left earlier in the evening, so I left the area feeling a bit dejected, but that soon changed when Palence radioed in that he had found the Sohebele pride of lions!!! All five members of the pride were located near Karan’s tower moving towards our Java property. It was already night, and there steady pace through the bush didn’t make for the easiest sighting, but we at least got to see them! The four sub adults were looking in a fairly good condition, and must have been on a kill in the area for a few days, although I suspect that they might have finished their meal a day prior and spent the last 24 hours doing nothing, as their bellies were not overly extended. The adult lioness was not in as good a condition, and I imagine that she had only recently joined up with the rest of the pride, but was looking as though she needed a meal quite soon, but at least they are back; although we shall have to see for how long!

There were also sightings of zebra, waterbuck, four sightings of lone elephant bulls, including one at reception when we arrived back at camp! We also had four buffalo bulls in camp when we returned – we almost needn’t have gone out for a drive!

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