Monday, 2 November 2009

28th & 29th October – Mahlathini Males Return…and take down another buffalo!

Wednesday started as another cool and cloudy day, and sadly with another empty promise of rain. I went to check on our northern hyena den, but yet again found no activity, although there did appear to be fresh hyena tracks in the area. I am however starting to think that they may have moved den sites again.

I was heading back south when Godfrey called to tell me that he had found the three Mahlathini males that had returned after a weeks absence! That was good news, but what was even better was that they had killed another buffalo, and this means that they aren’t going anywhere for the next few days. What was a bit freaky about this sighting was that while driving back to camp last night, I had envisaged finding these male lions killing a buffalo on Piva Plains…and where had they actually killed the buffalo? Less than 100m from Piva Plains!!! I wish all my dreams came true like that!

I headed over to see them, but they were lying spread out around the area, looking extremely well fed and panting heavily after a good feed! The buffalo was a large buffalo bull, and yet again these lions proved to be expert buffalo hunters. I would guess that these male lions have killed at least 20 buffalo’s since they arrived in the area just over 7 months ago; not bad going!

Leaving the lions, we had a large herd of impalas on Piva Plains, and then a nice breeding herd of elephants a few hundred meters away, with some young calves. The herd was walking steadily towards the Nhlarulumi riverbed for some food and water, and in so doing gave us a number of great walk-by’s.

I stopped to look at some hippos at Peru dam, and yet again found many impala, some kudu and a couple of crocodiles around Mbali dam. After coffee we ticked off more kudus and impalas as we slowly headed towards a large breeding herd of buffalo that had been found crossing back into the Timbavati near Voël dam. We arrived to see them as the herd was starting to settle down for the morning, although some of the young males had other things on their minds!

We slowly made our way back towards camp and came across a lone warthog feeding next to the road, and a few minutes later my tracker spotted a leopard up a marula tree. As we were in our north western corner, I wasn’t sure which leopard this could be, so I just stopped on the road and had a look though binoculars and instantly recognised her as a young female leopard that I had only encountered once before, some time in March this year. She was reasonably relaxed back then, but I didn’t push my luck this time, and only approached to about 50m, at which point she stood up. I do however believe that she did so as she had spotted a steenbok, and not because she wanted to run away; I say this because the whole time she was looking in the direction of the steenbok and not us.

After a couple of minutes I edged closer, but she jumped down the tree and started stalking towards the steenbok. I kept my distance, but even as I drove, the leopard seemed comfortable enough until she stopped at the side of the bush and took her stare off the steenbok. I stopped and looked through my binoculars, and noticed something moving about 2m away from her. At first I didn’t have a clue as to what it was until it jumped up and ran off; it was a civet! This nocturnal relative of the mongoose family regularly falls prey to leopards, especially young leopards that find it easy to catch as it is not the quickest of the carnivores. I have seen Nkateko and Rockfig with a dead one before, and heard many stories of leopards killing civets, so I was bracing myself for a special sighting as this young leopard was about to catch a civet right in front of us…but she just stood there and watching as the civet slowly bounded off, not even making a half-hearted attempt at a chase. Instead she focussed her attention on the steenbok and carried on stalking it, so we left her in peace!
There were more warthogs, some kudu, a large tusked elephant bull at Vyboom dam, many impala, and four elephant bulls near the camp. Johannes found the young female leopard up another tree a bit later in the morning, and also saw the Vyboom Dam young male leopard below Vyboom dam wall as he headed home.

In the afternoon I went to check the eastern section to see if there was any sign of the Sohebele pride returning during the course of the night, but I found no signs of them around. In fact, there was again not a great deal of activity in the eastern section, with just some impala, steenbok and two small herds of zebra’s being found. As I was approaching the central region again, I heard that Nkateko female leopard had been found near Hide Dam, so I slowly made my way to see her, but she went down into a big drainage line as I was approaching, and she was lost before I could even get a glimpse of her. I didn’t spend too much time trying to relocate her as my guests had already had some great leopard viewing, so I went to spend some time at the hyena den instead. Herald did manage to find Nkateko, but he didn’t have a great sighting as she was moving in the drainage line and then started stalking a steenbok in the thick bush.

The hyena den was nice and active, with all four cubs outside the den, as well as three adults in attendance. The matriarch was with her two small cubs and shared some tender moments with them before allowing them to suckle while the two older cubs sat to the side. It was a bit concerning however to see the poor state of health of one of the older cubs; he looked extremely thin and there was no sign of their mother around.

One of the other hyenas arrived, and that sent the two small cubs running back to the den, but the older cubs participated in the ritualised genital sniffing that the adults were all partaking in, and it showed some good intereaction with much vocalisation.

After a nice sundowner, we slowly made our way back to camp, not visiting the Mahlathini male lions who were reportedly sleeping in the thick Mopane north of their kill. Godfrey had a sighting of the Vyboom Dam male leopard, but this youngster was not very cooperative and kept moving to the opposite side of the dam wall to where Godfrey was, so he was left on his own. There was also a breeding herd of elephants found in the north, and I had a glimpse of a side-striped jackal as I was heading home, but it just ran across the road and into the darkness of the night.

My guests checked out early on Thursday, so I didn’t have a morning drive, but the other guides got to see the Mahlathini male lions at their buffalo kill, Mbali female leopard west of Peru dam, and Kuhanya female leopard was also found a few hundred meters further on resting up a marula tree. There were also loads of buffalo around, with at least three breeding herds of buffalo being reported across the property; at Mbali dam in the north, at Makulu dam in the central regions, and then another at Hide dam in the south.

I got a new set of guests on a rather gloomy Thursday afternoon, and we got off to a nice start. We located two buffalo bulls just west of our airstrip, down in the Sohebele riverbed, but they soon came out of the riverbed onto the eastern bank as they grazed towards the airstrip.
From there I made my way towards the three Mahlathini male lions and their buffalo kill. The males were scattered around their kill, but not feeding. One of the males was lying on Piva plains, and soon one of his brothers came to join him, and they engaged in some mild brotherly love, but soon they both fell asleep and we moved on. The vultures were all still waiting patiently in the surrounding trees, but they will probably have to wait for at least another two days before they get their turn to feed on the remains of the carcass.

Mbali female leopard had been found in the same place as she had been in the morning, so I slowly made my way to the area, checking Vyboom dam first. There was a small herd of female kudus and a couple of giraffe feeding near the riverbank, but not a great deal else in the windy and cold weather.
Mbali had moved down to Peru dam to drink, but luckily headed back west, and we arrive to find her lying in the open. She soon got mobile and wandered off to the south west scent marking as she went. She soon spotted some impala in the rapidly fading light, so we decided to leave her to try and hunt them on her own, and headed back to camp for a warm shower! We bypassed the Mahlathini males on their buffalo kill and spent a few minutes watching as two of the lions were feeding on the carcass.

Other sightings of the afternoon included three different buffalo herds seen on Java by Elliot, two breeding herds of elephant, and best of all, 8mm of rainfall that fell during dinner time! It was not a great amount of rain, but it is a start!


  1. Thank you Chad and Petros for a truly unforgettable experience (29th Oct - 1st Nov).
    What we saw on our 6 game drives was beyond our wildest dreams and far exceeded our expectations. Thanks also for sharing your knowledge and teaching us so much. We will follow your blog with interest from now on.

  2. hey rosie!

    thanks so much for the comment! glad you enjoyed the trip, and also that you are keeping up with the blog...

    havent seen these males for a while, but been seeing some different lions which is great...also, mbali is looking like she might be pregnant (the leopard we saw on the first drive) again, so hopefully some cubs soon!!!

    all the best