Monday, 16 November 2009

15th & 16th November – Leopard Happy Hour!

The last few days have been marked by a good number of leopard kills; especially in a 300m radius around Peru dam wall where there have been four leopard kills recorded in the last three days; three made by Mbali leopardess and one by Argyle male! The first two kills made by Mbali didn’t actually produce sightings of her, but the last two kills were quite interesting as each leopard managed to catch a pregnant impala ewe (within 200m of one another), and as a result they both ended up with a little two-for-one deal!

Sunday morning started off with Johannes informing us that there was a large breeding herd of buffalo resting just 200m east of Sharalumi Cottage, so he we headed north of camp, past a couple of giraffe, and eventually relocated the buffalo moving to the north west. The herd seemed to be in a bit of a hurry, and headed into a Mopane thicket, into which we did not follow.
There were more giraffe, some impala and then three elephant bulls feeding along western cutline. The bird life was quite good this morning, and every day we are seeing more of our migratory species arriving; the call of the woodlands kingfisher is already common place around the reserve following their arrival four days ago. I headed south as it had been my intention to go to the extreme south to go and see two of the Timbavati male lions on a large buffalo bull kill, Johannes and Herald were already on their way too. I did however want to stop off at the southern hyena den along the way, especially as it seemed that there was a good chance that the cubs might have been killed by warthogs two days ago. Just north of the den site we found a nice herd of seven giraffe, with some entertaining young calves amongst them.

We arrived at the den site and found two of the adult hyenas lying outside, but no cubs. The mother of the cubs then got up and walked to the entrance to the den and started making a strange vocalisation and began digging at the entrance, as if she wanted to get inside. From the circumstantial information I had been given, I took this to be a negative sign, and had no sooner told my guests that I was quite sure that the cubs were dead when out came one cub, and seconds later the second one followed! I felt a fool, but a happy fool none the less!

The hyenas then put on a great show and we had a really beautiful sighting of the family as the cubs confidence is clearly growing, and they started venture further from the den…well at least 15m from it now! They approached the vehicle confidently with mom in tow, but she didn’t like this adventure as much as the cubs, and she soon grabbed one by the scruff of the neck and took him back to the termite mound where they continued to play around before returning to the den to sleep! Feeling much happier knowing that they were still alive and well, I went and had a cup of coffee!

After coffee, Andrew saved me a long trip further south by telling me that he had found the three Mahlathini male lions with a buffalo kill north of Makulu dam. Not long after that, Johannes informed us that he had found the Machaton pride resting near Sweetwater pan, this after initially finding where they had finished a kill just east of the waterhole (Johannes thinks it might have been a young zebra). I headed to the Mahlathini males as they were closer, and found the three handsome young males resting, fat bellied near the buffalo calf’s carcass. It was a bit puzzling that they were so full, yet had not eaten much of the carcass, and there were no tracks for the buffalo herd in the area, so they must have killed the buffalo at least 24 hours ago, before the rain. Only later in the day did things start to make sense when the half-eaten carcass of a second buffalo was found in the drainage line 50m further away; the second carcass was that of a female buffalo. The lions did not do much all morning, and we left them resting in the open.
This however was not the most puzzling sighting of the morning, no, that belonged to the Argyle male leopard. A guide from another lodge had found him sleeping in the marula tree in which his kill was still safely stashed and left him there. Palence arrived half an hour later but found nothing; no leopard, no kill. After a bit of searching the leopard was relocated a short distance from the tree, but there was no kill anywhere – exactly what happened was a bit of a mystery, but we can assume that he must have dropped it and an opportunistic hyena made off with the spoils. Godfrey arrive later, and was surprised to find that Argyle male now had another kill…or two! Yet again there was an impala ewe half eaten on the ground, and the unborn but well developed foetus hanging in the tree above. This was great for Argyle male, but not good for Mbali female leopard, because it was her third kill in as many days to be stolen! Godfrey saw Mbali too, but she was resting about 30m from her stolen kill, and soon moved off to the east. I arrived in the hope of seeing Mbali, but had no luck on that front, so just spent a few minutes watching the Argyle male, although he wasn’t too happy to see us, clearly having had a rough morning. He was snarling (as he usually does when his kill is on the ground) and hissing, but he went a step further today and changed the vehicle! Luckily it was only a little warning and he stopped after a meter or two and wandered off and flopped down on the ground north of the carcass. We respected his warnings and kept our distance from him, but soon left him and headed back to camp.
The morning also has some other interesting small creature activity; there were several tortoises out and about, a nice young crocodile on Concrete Crossing, some terrapins, good birds, and the one I found most interesting was that of a catfish crawling along a small shallow water channel connecting a puddle of water to the large Peru dam. These fish have rather powerful fore-fins, and the ability to ‘breathe’ for a while when out of the water, and we watched as he struggled to pull himself to the main body of water where he eventually made it to safely and swam away! Before returning to camp, we saw more impala, two buffalo bulls, and then a lone giraffe on our airstrip to round off a pretty good morning.

My new guests arrived, and it was a perfect afternoon drive to start off with; everything was set up nicely (except the cold and gloomy weather – the temperature had dropped down to 22°C from 42°C two days ago!). The general game was a bit quiet due to the cold and slightly windy conditions, and we only saw impala and steenbok before making our way into the Argyle male leopard sighting. He had not eaten much during the day, and the adult impala was still on the ground while the baby was hung in the tree above. Argyle was a bit more chilled this afternoon, and only snarled slightly as we pulled in to the sighting, but we gave him his space and he was quite relaxed. He didn’t do much in the afternoon, although he was awake and looking around the whole time.

I wanted to head down to Sweetwater Pan to see the Machaton pride, so I went along the Timbavati access road to get there, and got lucky seeing some other lions along the way; it was two of the young males lions from the Sohebele pride, but sadly they were looking in a very poor condition, and had not eaten for a while. They were lying just off the road, but they didn’t do too much besides try and keep warm!

I carried on to the Machaton pride of lions, and also found them rather inactive after their meal last night. There were three adult lionesses and just the one remaining cub – no one is sure what happened to the second cub, but it is just the little female that is left from the original litter of three. The lions barely moved while we were watching them, so we left hoping to have more luck with the Mahlathini males after dark. Not far from where the lions were sleeping, we came across a lone hyena heading straight towards the sleeping pride, so we followed her for a while, and then went and waited with the lions hoping to see some interaction, but the hyena circled past the lions about 40m away, and not one of the lions picked up on its presence, and the hyena carried on towards where Johannes had found the remains of the lions kill, so we left the area and went for a drink.

The Mahlathini male lions were a bit more cooperative, and we arrived to find one of them lying with its paws on the baby buffalo, while a second lion was feeding on the adult buffalo in the drainage line not too far away. He was feeding on the carcass, but it was not the easiest area to access, so we had to watch from about 20m away. As we left the lions, we came across a pack of four hyenas waiting just on the periphery of the area, but while the male lions are in attendance, they would be stupid to try anything. They didn’t appear to be from the Rockfig clan, but they were extremely relaxed around the vehicle, so I suspect they are possibly from the western clan. Heading back to camp, we had two brief sightings of one civet and one genet.

Monday morning was another cold and miserable day, and the temperature had dropped even further, and the sweltering heat of last week now seemed a distant memory! The rain held off for the first part of the drive as we headed south along western cutline towards Vielmeter. Again the cold weather didn’t promote a great deal of activity amongst our animals, and we only saw a couple of herds of impala, and one group of kudus, but that was all forgotten when Gabriella (one of our loyal guests) spotted Nkateko female leopard in a tree not far from the road. We pulled closer and found that she had a baby impala in the tree with her, and assumed that she had just caught a new born baby. She slept for a while, but awoke and got active when she spotted some impala moving in the distance, and promptly jumped down and looked to stalk them.

Nkateko headed in the direction of the impala, but she soon lost interest, and the reason soon became apparent when we saw that there was another impala carcass under a small Mopane tree! The baby impala was no doubt ripped from the mother impala’s womb and taken up the tree for safe keeping, just as Mbali had done. Nkateko climbed the small Mopane and scanned the area before climbing down to carry on feeding on the carcass; she had already eaten a fair portion of it, but put on a show for us by eating some more.

After our coffee, and a stop at the hyena den which produced nothing, the rain started to fall, so it was out with the ponchos and on with the drive. There still wasn’t much general game activity, only a waterbuck and more impala were seen until we were invited to go and see a rhino a bit further south. Nhlangula male rhino was out and about grazing and quite active in the cool morning, and we had quite a nice sighting of him before heading back to the north.

Herald found the Machaton pride of lions sleeping just south of Elephant dam, and I was not too far away, so I went and stopped off to have a look and see what they were up to, which wasn’t much! The three females were fast asleep, but the eight month old cub obliged us waking up and going to groom two of the lionesses before going back to sleep, and for that short period, we almost forgot that it was raining!

The rain soon died down, and we headed back to camp, taking a detour past Makulu dam to view the hippos, but they were not playing along. We walked along the bank looking for them in their usual hang out, but soon spotted one at the dam wall, so walked over to see it, only to arrive there and see two more heads pop up where we had just been! There was a fifth hippo in the middle, but none of them showed themselves for too long, so we left and headed back to camp. Our guides also saw the three Mahlathini males at their buffalo kills this morning, and Palence saw three elephants at Xinatsi dam.

In the afternoon, I was searching for some elephant, and thought I got lucky when I found a large bull elephant on our northern boundary, but he was not very obliging and didn’t let us get too close, choosing to walk off when we tried. What made it worse was that we watched him push over a knobthorn tree, then tried to go closer to watch him feed, but as soon as we drove off the road he walked away and left the tree he had just pushed over, so we left him to it.

North of Vyboom dam we saw several groups of impala, two young male giraffes, and a herd of about a dozen waterbuck feeding along the riverbed. From there I went to go and have a look at the Argyle male leopard and his kill. He had dragged the adult impala about 1oom north of its position yesterday, and taken it up a large marula tree, and when we arrived, he was up the tree feeding on the carcass. He was extremely relaxed today, and didn’t pay the least bit of attention to us, and this allowed us to get in to some great positions to watch him feeding.

The miserable weather led to us skipping on a sundowner, instead we went to see what the Mahlathini male lions were up to with their buffalo kills, one of which was now finished, and only the baby remained. En route, we managed to tick off some kudu and impala sightings, and then arrived at the lions to find them sleeping a few meters from the kill. They soon awoke and started yawning and doing some ablutions before one of the males moved to the carcass and started playing with the dead body. This got the attention of one of his brothers that went to join him but was chased off as the first male pulled the carcass towards the drainage line. We repositioned and watched as he started feeding and not letting his brothers come near the kill, and any movement from either of them elicited an angry growl that did its job in keep the other two lions at bay.
Leaving them, we found three hyenas still hanging around just out of sight of the lions and waiting for their turn to get at the scraps; they will probably have a chance during the night, as there is not a great deal left for the lions to eat. I also saw a genet on the way home.

As for the other guides; Andrew saw two buffalos and four elephants feeding at Sohebele dam, and Palence had a sighting of a lone bull elephant up north before going south to see Nkateko female leopard and the Machaton pride of lions. Nkateko sadly had her impala kill stolen by the hyenas that were busy feeding on it while the leopard wandered around not far away, but at least she had the baby stored out of reach of the hyenas. The Machaton lions were still sleeping near elephant dam, and did not do much during the course of the afternoon until a hyena approached and they chased it off.
And that rounds-off another two days of special sightings at Motswari, although I am sure that the female impalas are a lot less pleased with the proceedings than we are!

1 comment:

  1. Chad, AMAZING memories from your two guests who arrived on 15th NOV.... will be following daily. Im hooked..