Saturday, 21 November 2009

17th & 18th November – Leopards Still Feasting!

The last two days have continued to provide for some good game viewing, and the good run of leopard kills continues; another five leopard kills were found around the northern Timbavati over the last two days, although only two of them produced sightings of the leopards responsible.
On a cold (17°C) but dry Tuesday morning I headed south to see if Nkateko leopardess might still be in the area, despite losing her impala kill to the hyenas last night, but sadly there was no sign of her in the area. I went to check on the hyena den again, hoping that the slightly warmer weather would bring the two cubs out, but this was not to be, so I carried on checking the area.
On my way south, I did stop off to have a look at two buffalo bulls feeding in the area around Sohebele plains, and had some fair general game about this morning, with several sightings of giraffe, three herds of kudu, and the omnipresent impalas and a lone waterbuck. After a cup of coffee, I made my way towards where two of the Sohebele lions had been found, at the sight of the Mahlathini males’ buffalo kill.

The Sohebele lions were not the ones that were found yesterday, instead it was the third young male and the little female; both were looking in much better condition than the other two pride members, and had reasonably fat bellies; how much they managed to scavenge off the buffalo carcass that the three Mahlathini males had left was not know, but I suspect that the Sohebele lions might have had a small kill of their own before arriving at the carcass. While we watched them, they lay about 70m south of the carcass, and just watched the vultures and marabou storks circling around, but did not go to investigate what little remained of the buffalos.

Kuhanya female leopard had been found in the north for the first time in almost ten days, and Palence had managed to see her earlier in the morning as she rested in a tree west of Peru dam. Herald went to try and relocate but was not successful in his attempts, but did find where Kuhanya had had an impala kill stolen from her by some hyenas, but no carcass was found.

I spent some time with four elephant bulls feeding in the Mopane trees that are eventually starting to grow their new leaves, just on the eastern side of Peru dam. Along with the other animals, I am sure that the elephants are only to pleased to see the green shoots coming through what was parched earth only three days ago! The green grass shoots are springing up everywhere, the wild flowers are shooting up slowly, and the new leaf buds are showing themselves on all the trees that appeared dead and lifeless just before the first rains! Heading back to camp we saw some steenbok, a duiker and an elusive bushbuck.

The bitterly cold weather had turned slightly windy by the afternoon, and the gloomy conditions didn’t produce a great deal of sightings for us during the drive. The impala herds were out in force, and we saw several large herds as we made our way towards where the Argyle male leopard had been feeding on Mbali’s impala kill for the last few days, but he had finished it all and moved off. I then went to check on the hippo pod at Peru dam, and passed more impala and a small African rock python in a tree at Mvubu crossing.

I was heading towards a sighting of Kuhanya female leopard after she had been relocated in the same area she had lost he kill last night, but I almost made a very sudden U-turn when a radio call came through that an unbelievably rare pangolin had been seen south of Lily Pan! I was on my way when I heard that it had gone into a termite mound, so I decided to skip it for the time being and go to see Kuhanya, especially as Mbali female leopard had now also arrived on the scene! The scant remains of the impala kill were still in the area, but neither leopard went to feed on them.

When I arrived, the two leopards had separated, so I chose to go to see Kuhanya first, and she was walking around sniffing the area quite a lot before carrying on. She then spotted a large waterbuck and a few kudu and stopped her approach as if seriously contemplating stalking them! She soon lost interest and lay down to groom herself a few meters from the vehicle, and all of the guests agreed that she was the most beautiful leopard they had seen, and who could blame them!

We left Kuhanya as she fell asleep and went a few hundred meters south to where Mbali had been left sleeping on a termite mound, and we managed to relocate her in the same spot. She was looking cold and miserable, but she appeared to be in a good condition. She didn’t do a great deal while we watched, but it was still nice to spend some good time with this special leopard.

I decided to make my way to the termite mound where the pangolin had been seen, but sadly all we saw was a porcupine running away as we approached. I bravely went and stuck my head in the hole, but there was nothing inside, much to my disappointment! Other sightings for the afternoon included four buffalo bulls seen by Andrew near the leopards, three buffalo bulls in the camp just before dinner, a female and rhino calf near elephant dam that Palence saw (Johannes had found them near Lily Pan in the morning), and the two Sohebele lions were found in the same place as this morning. One of the southern guides also found the impala kill of an unknown, but nervous, female leopard near Steep Nhlarulumi crossing west of Elephant Dam.

I left a bit earlier on Wednesday morning as my guests were checking out early, and it proved to be a good choice. At about 5h30, just as we climbed onto the Land Rover, we heard the three Mahlathini males several kilometres roaring to the south, so made our way to that area. I was also in need of zebras, but didn’t find any around Kudu Pan clearing. Another guide then said that he thought the lions were roaring further to the west, so I changed my initial route to check Western Cutline, and when my tracker jumped down to check on a track, we heard them roaring again, in the area we initially suspected them to be. I used my map to orientate myself directly, and guessed that they were calling from Scholtz River Rd, so headed off to the area, as we were going through the Sohebele riverbed up to River rd, out popped the three Mahlathini male lions!

We followed them for a while, and the crossed through the block to Western cutline, so we went around waited for them to emerge, their continued roaring giving away their presence! It was nice to watch them on the move for a change, and also interacting and playing with one another like I had no seen them do before! After following for a short distance, they settled down on the edge of a Mopane thicket and spent the rest of the morning there.

Not too far away we had a nice breeding herd of elephants; something that had been lacking for the last few days, so got to spend some nice time in their company, and again we enjoyed the antics of the cute babies. We headed to Java dam for some coffee, bypassing a herd of kudus and a herd of impalas with two new born babies along the way, but understandably the impala mothers are a bit nervous and run off quickly when approached. The babies and mom’s usually start relaxing after the first two weeks, and then we can look forward to much “oooo-ing and aaaah-ing” from the guests!
After coffee, we heard that Nkateko female leopard had been found with another adult impala kill, not 300m from where she had killed the last one two days back, so I headed down to go and see her. She had again struck it lucky and caught a pregnant ewe, so had already ripped out the foetus and taken it up a nearby marula tree while the mothers partially eaten carcass lay well hidden under a terminalia bush; too well hidden in fact, and as Nkateko was lying next to the carcass, it didn’t provide for the best visual, but it is great to see her hunting so well!

Talking of leopards hunting well, Johannes found another impala carcass hanging up a marula tree east of Mbali camp, but found no leopard in attendance; although I am pretty sure it belongs to Java Dam female leopard, in which case, we wont be seeing her with the kill (she is very secretive when it comes to her kills, and will sometimes move a kill to a new location if we find it!). Also, when the guides went to follow up on the impala kill west of Elephant dam, they found that it had been taken up into a tree on the eastern side of the Nhlarulumi, and directly opposite on the western side of the riverbed, a second kill, a nyala ewe, was also found hanging in a tree! Despite this, no leopard or leopards were found in the area; there were tracks for both a female and a young male leopard.

Heading back to camp, I checked the hyena den but found nothing, then saw more kudu, a giraffe, some impala and then a large male warthog before returning for a nice hearty breakfast.

Wednesday afternoon was a fair one, the clouds broke momentarily during the middle of the day, but returned in the afternoon, yet the temperature was still noticeably warmer than on Tuesday.

The drive started out with two elephant bulls feeding on the fresh green Mopane’s surrounding Trade entrance dam, and then I headed out towards Vyboom dam, passing a small group of kudus, a lone giraffe bulls, and then in the Nhlarulumi riverbed north of the dam we had a herd of waterbuck, a herd of impala, and several giraffe feeding on the trees growing on the central island. I proceeded to the dam wall and we found the last remaining Sohebele lioness, the young female, sleeping on the eastern side of the dam wall. She was alone which was a bit disconcerting and we have no idea how she managed to get separated from the one Sohebele young male that she had been with the day before. Her belly had subsided somewhat, but she looked content enough, and just slept while we watched her. We didn’t spend a great deal of time her, and carried on with the drive.
There were more waterbuck before we came across five elephant bulls feeding in the water below Peru dam wall. We spent some nice time with them watching as they browsed on the river vegetation and then came on to the western bank and found a grand old leadwood tree that two of the elephants used as a rubbing post to remove the mud that they had coated themselves with. It was quite entertaining to watch, and the sound as they scraped their thick hides against the rough dry wood was something else!
I slowly made my way down south back to where Nkateko had her kill, and passed some more waterbuck, impala and kudu en route. I checked on the hyena den once more, but yet again there was no sign of either the cubs or the adults, so I carried on to Nkateko female leopard. She had impressively taken the adult impala carcass up the same marula tree that she had earlier stored the baby impala in; no mean feat it must be said, as the dead weight of that impala would easily have outweighed Nkateko by at least 25 percent! With her kill no secured, she could afford to sleep in peace, and did just that! She was however lying on a nearby grassy termite mound, and only occasionally did she awake and look around before drifting back to sleep. This is the first time that we have seen her hoist an adult impala, and for a small leopard, such a large meal will last her for between three and four days, so we won’t have any trouble showing our guests leopard for the next while!

The three Mahlathini male lions had been relocated in the same area that had been left this morning, just off Western cutline, and a couple of our guides wen to see them. Giyani had left them heading north, and I checked the area on my way back to camp, but had no luck on the lion front. I was tempted to go and check on Java Dam leopards kill, but it was getting a bit late, so I headed back to camp instead.

There had been a sighting of a large breeding herd of elephants along the Nhlarulumi riverbed which Andrew found, and then we had a couple of elephants in the camp upon our return.

And that rounded off another good couple of days game viewing at Motswari. The forecast is for some rain over the next few days, but seeing is believing, so as always, we shall just have to wait and see what happens!

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