Monday, 26 October 2009

23rd, 24th & 25th October – New Hyena Cubs!

The last three days have been very hot, and this has left the animals feeling a bit lethargic as the long dry spell continues. What we have noticed is that the majority of the game has now concentrated along the banks of the Nhlarulumi riverbed even more over the last few days, and it has led to some special game viewing, especially on the elephant front.

Friday morning was a busy morning, but turned out to be a particular frustrating one for me! I had headed straight south in the morning hoping to be able to find Nthombi female leopard still with her steenbok kill, and I was pleased to hear that she had been relocated resting not far from the tree in which her kill had been stored the previous day, although she now had the kill on the ground. There was also the news that Rockfig female leopard had also been found a few hundred meters away from Nthombi, so there was a chance of possibly seeing her, although we are trying to be as unobtrusive as possible with her she attempts to recover from her severe infection. There were also tracks for the Sohebele pride heading steadily westward towards our western boundary, but several guides were out to find them before they did so. To top it all, there was also a report of a semi-relaxed young male leopard following a more nervous female leopard just north of where Nthombi was. So why was my morning so frustrating with all of this activity?

Well I received a radio call to tell me that the Vyboom Dam young male leopard was found on the rocks north of Vyboom dam with a bushbuck kill. It was not enough to change my mind, I was heading south. Then I was informed that Argyle Jnr female leopard had arrived at the scene and joined her son. I was tempted, but I carried on south. Eventually after a third radio call, and the guide telling me what a great sighting it was as a hyena had come in and chased the two leopards up a small Jackalberry tree on the rocks, and they had taken the kill to safety and the female was now feeding on it, and despite their normal apprehension with the vehicles, the guide was only about10-15m from them and it was a 10/10 sighting. I proposed going back north to my guests, and they agreed, so I headed back up to our northern boundary bypassing a couple of giraffe, impala, two separate (although distant) elephant bulls, and kudu along the way. The Sohebele pride of lions (all five members) had been found by Elliot, sleeping west of Jaydee airstrip, but it was fine, I was going to go and see two leopards with a kill, and I was close to Vyboom dam. And then I arrived, and found the marvelous sight of a bushbuck in a small and bushy tree. And that was it. There was no hyena. There was no young male leopard. There was not even the mother leopard. All there was, was a troop of baboons that must have moved into the area and chased off the leopards! I had given up all the sightings in the south to see a troop of baboons sitting on the rocks occasionally alarm calling, but no sign of any of the leopards that I was counting on to save my morning. I was not a happy chappy, but on another day things could have been different and I could have been treated to a magical sighting of two leopards feeding on a rocky outcrop. Oh well. The giraffe’s were nice at least, and we did see a fish eagle flying off with a fish in its talons!

The other guides had a good morning and got to see Nthombi, glimpse the young male leopard around Elephant dam, the Sohebele pride of lions, and Godfrey also found an unknown male leopard up a tree near Java Dam, but he moved off after a couple of minutes.

In the afternoon, I was going south; nothing was going to change my mind, and nothing did! I first went to check on the Rockfig clan’s hyena den, and joined Giyani in the sighting. The matriarch was lying outside, and I could just see one of the cubs behind her. After a few minutes Giyani and his guests said that they could see four cubs. Which was all well and good, expect that we only knew of two. Within no time at all, these two new additions to the Rockfig clan came stumbling out of the den and went to their mother for a drink! I would guess that the new cubs would be around 3 weeks of age, and were the smallest cubs I have ever seen. They were a ‘cute-ugly’, barely having fur and still with wrinkled faces. Luckily they do become cuter as they get older, but their small size and interactions with their mom were just great, and it made up for my quiet morning!
I left the hyena den and headed towards Elephant dam, where Nthombi female leopard was still resting near the remains of her steenbok kill. It was a very hot afternoon, so she was unsurprisingly resting in the shade, but did lift her head every now and then to keep a check on us, but for the most part, she was inactive.
I then wanted to go and help the guides follow up on the Sohebele pride, but sadly they had moved from their morning position, and the tracks were followed towards the Timbavati access road and based on the fact that one of our guests had seen some lions crossing the road as they drove in to Motswari, we concluded that they had moved into the Klaserie, so we had to give up.

After a nice sundowner with some water birds, hippos and crocodiles at Makulu dam, I went and double checked the Timbavati access road, but found no lions. I then went back to Vyboom dam to see if the leopards had returned to their kill, but sadly found nothing; not even the kill which they had either moved or finished during the course of the day. Heading back to camp, we did come across a lone hyena wandering down the road on its nightly patrol.

Other sightings for the day included the camp’s resident genet near our breakfast verandah during the middle of the day which was quite unusual. The general game was a bit quiet, but we saw some kudus and waterbuck, and Godfrey also had a brief sighting of two male rhinos south of Jaydee airstrip just as it was getting dark.

Saturday started off as another scorcher, and even before 6am, the suns warm glow could be felt burning one’s skin. While the cats avoided us during the morning drive for the first time in a while, we didn’t mind as the elephants were out in force and treated us to some special sightings.

I was taking it quite easy in the north; and started off the drive with nine buffalo bulls feeding 300m east of the camp. I then proceeded to the hyena den, but the cubs were no where to be seen, so I carried on checking the north. There were four large elephant bulls west of Concrete crossing that wandered past us as they fed on what little food remained for them. We then saw some kudu, a troop of baboons, as well as two zebra’s a bit further down the road.
Then I decided to make my way towards Makulu dam where a large breeding herd of elephants was heading. I arrived just after the first half of the herd had arrived to drink and splash about, but still many more came to drink and swim. All in all, there must have been close to 80 elephants in the herd; pretty big by our standards. Such a large group of elephants had numerous young calves, but also had a number of young adolescent bulls following them. We watched as the herd crossed the shallow end of the dam to our side of the river and the proceeded to surround us on all sides as they fed to the north, pausing every now and then to have a dust bath, most of which ended up being blown with the wind into our vehicle!

A part of the herd was crossing the water closer to the dam wall, and the deeper water allowed the bulls to become a bit more playful as they swam around and playfully sparred with one another. There were elephants everywhere, and the feeling of trying to drive through the herd of elephants as I tried to make my way out of the area was akin to being back in a Johannesburg traffic jam, although a bit more fun I would guess!

There were also several giraffe around Makulu dam, and more as we carried on northwards along the eastern side of the Nhlarulumi riverbed. We also came across a second breeding herd of elephants near Tamboti wallow, and it was interesting to see the youngsters lying flat on their sides as the heat of the day pushed on. Further down the road we got to see a breeding herd of buffalo, just west of Mbali dam, and they were once again feeding in the green sedges along the riverbed. At Mbali dam we saw a third herd of about 20-25 elephants, as well as impala, kudu, warthog and more giraffe. Just past Mvubu crossing, there was yet another distant herd of elephants making their way down towards Peru dam! By that stage, we were getting quite blasé about the elephants, so barely even stopped to watch them.

Earlier in the day, Giyani had tracked and found Nhlangula male rhino just south of Entrance dam, but he slowly fed south towards Double Highway, and crossed it still heading south east. There was also a group of buffalo bulls found up north.

Saturday afternoon saw me getting a group of new guests, so I had to start all over again, and having been such a hot day, I decided to stay up north and stick close to the riverbeds. It worked, and while we only saw some kudu bulls and steenbok for the first twenty minutes, after we arrived at the Nhlarulumi riverbed north of Vyboom dam, we started to see the animals! There was a nice bachelor group of four kudu bulls, a group of six giraffe, a herd of impala intermingling with a herd of kudu, and lots of bird life.

Further down the road, closer to Concrete crossing, we came across a breeding herd of twenty-plus elephants that were spread out feeding over a large area. Just beyond the elephants were many impala and a troop of baboons, and we watched with baited breathe as a female was hanging suspended from a small branch after trying to get away from a large male; had the flimsy branch she was clutching to broke, she would have had a drop of 6-7m! Luckily for her the male calmed down and allowed her to climb back onto a sturdier limb before they both descended and moved off with the troop.
I then headed towards lion pan where the breeding herd of buffalo had been found moving to the west away from the Nhlarulumi riverbed, but they were feeding in Mopane thicket which didn’t allow for us to fully gauge the size of the herd.
My intended sundowner spot had been stolen by a herd of elephants, but as it was the very large group, I decided not to argue, and just passed by. We drove for close to a kilometre along the Nhlarulumi riverbed and there were just elephants scattered all over the show; it was great to see so many relaxed elephants. Some of the younger herd members came and few a couple of meters from us, and showed no concern for us – a truly remarkable experience being so close to these amazing creatures.

Heading back to camp we passed some buffalo bulls at Mvubu crossing, another two elephants closer to camp, as well as a nocturnal lesser bushbaby. In the south, Herald had seen Rockfig Jnr female leopard feeding on what little remained of a day-old kill – that of a grey duiker. The hyena den was also active down south, and there appeared to be tracks for the Sohebele pride near Jaydee pan, but sadly they were not found.

Sunday morning saw me heading straight south in the hope of seeing Rockfig Jnr leopardess, but sadly she had finished what little was left of her duiker kill and had moved off to the west, and was not located during the drive. I still popped in to see the southern hyena den, and found one of the adult hyenas outside the den with her two tiny cubs suckling milk from her. A third bigger cub lay just at the entrance to the den site, but there was no sign of her mother.
Also down south, we saw a couple of giraffe, including a female and a calf, some impala and nice raptors, including a beautiful bateleur eagle perched in a tree. I was going towards Entrance dam when Elliot radioed in to inform us that he had just seen Kuhanya female leopard kill a duiker (Elliot was watching the duiker when suddenly Kuhanya appeared, and she waited until the duiker went behind a termite mound, then she bolted straight towards it and around the mound, and once the dust settled, Kuhanya emerged with the duiker firmly clamped in her jaws!), so I decided to head back north. Murphy tried to strike again, and I had no sooner started moving back north when Nthombi female leopard was found in the south near Elephant dam, but I decided to carry on to the north; Johannes however did go to see Nthombi.

Heading back to the north we came across that very large breeding herd of elephants as they were making their way down towards the Nhlarulumi riverbed just west of Mbali dam, and we were treated to a great sighting as the elephants just kept rolling in. The herd made their way to some mud wallows that had been left behind as the water in Mbali dam receded, and we went and watched them for a while. At first we tried to view them of foot from the riverbank, but as more and elephants moved in, the first group started to move out…in our direction! We quickly went back to the land rover and then made a way in to the sighting and watched as the elephant herd streamed past us towards Mbali dam.
It was great watching them splash about in the mud, and then we again faced the mother of all traffic jams as dozens of elephants moved along the road, dust bathing every few meters. We eventually got through the herd of elephants, as well as the kudu, impala, warthog and giraffe that were all scattered around the dam. The two young pythons were also at Mvubu crossing in their favourite tree as the elephant herd approached to drink some water in the crossing.
While we were enjoying the elephants, our main reason for returning to the north was still waiting for us, but things had got interesting! Mbali female leopard, Kuhanya’s mother, had moved in and chased Kuhanya off her kill, but Kuhanya had only retreated a few meters and refused to give up on her kill. Considering Mbali’s poor condition of late, I can not say that I was sorry to hear what was happening, as a meal would be most welcome for her.
When I arrived, Kuhanya was back feeding on her kill that she had moved under a terminalia tree in a small drainage line east of Klipdrift crossing. Mbali was resting in the shade not 5m from where Kuhanya was feeding, and there seemed to be no aggression between them. After a while, Kuhanya had had enough and left her kill and moved closer to Mbali who returned this gesture by snarling. Kuhanya gave a soft call, just like she used to do when she was younger, and then went and lay down not 2m from Mbali, and for a while it seemed just like the old days.
Kuhanya then got a bit hot and moved further south, and once out of sight, Mbali sat up and moved to the kill cautiously, but chose to go back to sleep rather than feed. We then relocated Kuhanya and followed her for a few hundred meters before she found a nice shady spot on top of some rocks that had a small, shady boer-bean tree growing amongst them, and we also decided to all it a morning, but not before finding three hyenas sleeping in Trade Entrance dam yet again.
The hot weather persisted well into the afternoon, so it was no surprise to find two of the hyenas still resting at Trade Entrance pan as we started our drive. Carrying on towards the leopard sighting from this morning only produced a sighting of a steenbok, but we were rewarded with some good viewing at the kill. Mbali female leopard was still in the area of the duiker kill, and we had no sooner arrived when she decided that it was time to start feeding on the carcass, so got up and dragged it into the shade before commencing with her meal.

I had a long drive ahead of me, so I left Mbali to carry on feeding, and found a small breeding herd of elephants feeding along the drainage line not 80m from her. As I was leaving the area, I went to see if Kuhanya female leopard was still in the same spot as this morning, and found her as she was walking straight back to the kill, and straight through the herd of elephants that were quite well spread out. Not one of the elephants seemed to notice her, and Kuhanya arrived at the scene of her own kill.

She moved closer, and even used Elliot’s vehicle as cover, but not after stopping to lie down for a short period in the shade his land rover provided! I left the sighting, half expecting the elephants to chase both leopards off, but Elliot stayed and watched as Kuhanya moved closer uttering a soft call, but Mbali didn’t respond the way she wanted; instead she just growled. Kuhanya ran past and lay on the northern side of the kill waiting for Mbali, but Elliot said that she soon got impatient and ran in with a blur of speed, and that surprise sent Mbali dashing off in the opposite direction; Kuhanya had gotten her kill back!

The reason for my long drive was due to the inconsideration of both the Sohebele pride and the Mahlathini male lions not having come back to our property for the last few days, and so we needed to travel to the extreme south where the Machaton pride and Timbavati male lions were resting near a waterhole after having finished off a buffalo kill. It was a long way to have to go, but that is the great thing about our relationship with the lodges in the Timbavati – we were able to get permission to travel down to Marco’s dam to view them.

The trip south was a bit quiet, just steenbok and impala’s showing themselves, and then we made a stop off just east of Nkombi pan to have a look at three white rhinos! Nhlangula male rhino was in the company of two other male rhinos, but it was not company that he wanted; he was trailing them and trying to chase them out of his territory! The two intruding males were nervous, but had other things on their mind, so still provided for a good sighting. They eventually ran off to the west after they got ahead of the dominant Nhlangula male, and disappeared. We followed Nhlangula for a while as he amble about trying to follow their scent trail, although he was going in the wrong direction! We left him heading to the north, and decided to stop for a quick drink in the middle of the bush as the sun was setting. We had no sooner set up and poured our drinks when Nhlangula came wandering back to the south, but on the opposite side of the land rover. He then kept following his nose, and walked to within 20m of where we had stopped, but he appeared not to even notice us, and simply strolled on by with not so much as a twitch of his ears to acknowledge our presence! It was an absolutely wonderful experience, and one of the best sundowners I have had in the bush!
That stop delayed us a while, but I pushed on south, ticking off a couple of giraffe along the way, but I eventually arrived at Marco’s dam, and got to show my guests some lions! There were three male lions resting, fast asleep, on the eastern side of the pan, and one lioness and her two cubs were sleeping on the dam wall on the western side. They were a bit more lively, albeit only marginally. They sat up and watched as a steenbok came to drink, and one cub moved all of 2m before flopping over to rest her fat belly. While not the most exciting sighting, it was good to see some lions again – I was getting withdrawal symptoms having not seen them for two days!!! But Murphy’s Law, because we travelled so far to see these lions, some lions are bound to pitch up in the north tomorrow!
Other sightings for the afternoon included a reasonably relaxed female leopard on the Timbavati Access road, south of Double Highway which Herald found, but she moved into the Klaserie. Herald also saw a pack of seven hyenas feeding on what appeared to be an old kudu carcass as he headed home from the lion sighting, and that was also on the Timbavati main road. There was also a breeding herd of buffalo and a breeding herd of elephant in the vicinity of Makulu dam.

So that rounded off three days of game viewing; the elephants were great, as were the leopard, but we just really want our lions to return, and soon!

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