Monday, 2 November 2009

30th & 31st October – Bad Day for the Hyenas!

The bush felt nice and fresh after the 8mm of rain we received last night; all the dust had settled, but it wasn’t enough to spur the vegetation back into life. It did bring some of the smaller creatures out that we stopped to enjoy; a leopard tortoise, matebele ants, termites, and some lions!

I ambled towards the three Mahlathini male lions and their three-day old buffalo carcass, and found one of the males busy feeding while his one brother rested against a marula tree nearby. The third lion was resting a bit to the north in the Mopane thicket seemingly watching over his latest victim; an unfortunate adult hyena whose back appeared to have been broken during the night as it was no doubt attempting to scavenge from the carcass. The hyena’s body lay in a small hollow on the ground, but distressingly the poor thing was still alive! The lions had broken its back, but had failed to kill the poor thing, and as it lay helpless in the hallow, it gave a twitch of the ear every so often; but it had given up even trying to stand up and had accepted its fate.
The male lion lying closest to the hyena was awake, and I sat with him for a while, hoping to see what he would do if he got up and had to walk past the hyena in order to get back to his brothers, but he didn’t move, so we left the area.

We had sightings of impala, and a giraffe near Mbali dam, then there were some waterbuck lying up in the cover to get away from the cold weather and the wind. One of the southern stations had found those two male rhinos in the same area they have been hanging around for the last couple of weeks, so I headed down to see them. After a few minutes we managed to relocate them, but they started moving to the north, and we really struggled to keep up with them as they weren’t stopping! Eventually they paused and allowed us to get a slightly better look at them, but they were moving towards our western boundary, so I went and parked on the Timbavati access road and waited for them to cross; at least we would get a clear view of them! They stopped as I rolled my vehicle closer, so I stopped too. Then a civilian vehicle that was coming down the road spooked the rhinos, so they turned around and moved back to the east, but we decided to leave them and head over to the next sighting. Godfrey and Herald commented that they managed to get rather close to the two rhinos and had good sightings of them.
Herald had found the five Sohebele lions that had returned from their expeditions in the east; although from their deflated bellies told of their failure to find food over the last few days. They were found sleeping on a grassy mound just north of Makulu dam, and were all huddled up trying to keep warm during the miserable morning weather, but were inactive all morning.

Heading back home for a nice warm breakfast we had a brief sighting of a honey badger as it was scampering around the undergrowth, then we saw a small breeding herd of elephants west of Java dam, many impala, some kudus and some nice birds. Godfrey found Rockfig female leopard sleeping up a marula tree east of Vielmeter camp. She got down from the tree and carried on to the east. She was looking well healed and her belly was reasonably full, so she does appear to be on the road to recovery! Elliot also found a breeding herd of buffalo on Java airstrip, but they moved to our eastern section during the course of the morning, and there were also a few elephant bulls up north.

The weather got worse over the course of the afternoon, and we had a chilly and slightly damp afternoon drive, with gloomy grey clouds blanketing the sky. The weather didn’t aid our game viewing, and we had a quiet afternoon in the north.

I tried to track a breeding herd of buffalo, but they had been past De luca trough and headed north east towards our boundary, so I stopped following up. Godfrey also tracked a second herd of buffalo off our southern boundary, so we weren’t having much success on the buffalo front! We did however see a nice large elephant bull feeding near the camp, but came short at the northern hyena den, and for the umpteenth time in a row, I have not seen any hyenas there for some time, and am starting to think that they have moved off.

There was a small herd of zebras and some impala in the east, but not much else to write home about. After drinks we went to have a look at the Mahlathini male lions and again found one of the males feeding on the buffalo, while the other two rested nearby. Sadly, the hyena was still alive and lying in the same area she had been earlier.
My most interesting sighting of the afternoon was however that of a female baboon that was sitting in a tree near reception, and had been barking most of the afternoon. As we left for game drive we saw her in the tree, and as is typical, she saw us and climbed down. She had something in her hand, and when I looked more closely, I saw that she was carrying a dead baby baboon! It is well-known that baboons will exhibit this behaviour after one of their offspring has died, but it was the first time I had seen it. They will sometimes carry the dead baby with them for several days until the thing literally starts falling to pieces; a sad sight to see. We drove past the camp later in the drive and again saw the baboon sitting up another tree, but she again descended and ran off with her baby.

Herald went further south and saw the Sohebele pride of lions that had moved only a few hundred meters during the course of the day, and were a bit active; the appeared to be stalking some bushbuck in the sedge along the banks of the Nhlarulumi riverbed north of Makulu dam, but had no luck. Godfrey got to see Nkateko female leopard near Hide dam yet again – she has been very active in that area this past week. She didn’t make it an easy sighting for Godfrey as she wouldn’t sit still, and was using the windy conditions to hunt, and kept moving throughout the sighting, sometimes in rather tricky bush, but Godfrey had a good sighting never the less.

The cold and windy weather thankfully didn’t persist beyond Friday, and Saturday was a pleasant day; perfect game-viewing weather – cool, cloudy and still! I headed straight south, wanting to go and spend some time at the southern hyena den. Speaking of the hyenas, we received the ‘good’ news that the hyena at the buffalo carcass had eventually died and was no longer suffering. Heading along western cutline we saw some impala, and two separate elephant bulls feeding off the road. I was almost tempted to head back north when I heard that Elliot had found the Argyle male leopard north of Vyboom dam. Unfortunately though, the leopard was heading straight north, and after a short while Elliot watched as he crossed our northern boundary into Ingwelala.

I pushed on south, and we then found three hyenas about 600m from the den, and it appeared as though they had a kill, so we went closer and found one of the adult hyenas dragging a half-eaten impala straight towards the den site. The other two female hyenas, including the clans matriarch were simply walking next to the poor hyena doing all the work, and made no attempt to get any of the food, or indeed help carry the load! The hyena carrying the carcass was very well fed, and we assumed must have stolen the carcass from a leopard, but was now dragging the cumbersome load back to the den with a dogged determination that I have not seen before!
She would walk for 15-20m then have to drop the carcass to try and get a better grip, and then carry on, invariably stumbling slightly on the legs or head of the impala. We parked ahead of her and she came and dragged the carcass right past our vehicle, while the other two hyenas sniffed inquisitively at us, and once again showed an interest in my tracker’s leather shoes! We followed the three hyenas as they approached the den site, and when they got within visual distance of the termite mound, the non-working hyenas ran up ahead. We went and parked at the den site and found out that sadly one of the older cubs had passed away, and its body was lying dead at the northern entrance to the den site.
The female hyena carrying the carcass eventually arrived at the den and went and dropped it right on top of the dead cub and then called for the second cub to come out of the den and feed, which it promptly did, but it did not look in good condition – it was very lethargic and clearly lacking in energy as it tried to pull some sustenance of the impala. It was extremely interesting series of events, and great to see and hear the adult hyena vocalising around the den. Another guide found a drag mark almost 2km away from the den, and indicating that this hyena had put in an immense effort to bring the carcass back to the den site; something very admirable for a mother to do for her cubs! However, what made this sighting extra special for me was the fact that this hyena was not the mother of the remaining older cub, yet she had gone to all this effort to bring a meal back to a youngster that was not her own! She also stood guard while the little one started feeding; but it didn’t appear to be necessary, as neither of the other hyenas made any attempt to feed of the carcass. It was an amazing sighting for me, and for the guests, and just proved to us what incredible animals hyenas are, and that the bad reputation that they have is rather misleading.
After a cup of coffee, we decided to head even further south to go and have a look at the three Timbavati male lions that had killed an adult giraffe near one of the southern airstrips. It was a long way to go, but we slowly made our way there, past a couple of giraffes near Machaton dam, an interesting sighting of two male steenboks having a brief skirmish over a female, and then as we approached the Nhlarulumi riverbed again, we saw loads more impala, some nice giraffe and kudus. We arrived to find the three male lions looking extremely fat and sleepy; only one was lying next to the two-day old carcass, the other two a bit further away. A jackal flashed past in the background, but the lions paid no attention. One of the males woke up and gave us a yawn before wandering over to the land rover and stopping to relieve himself a few meters away! I have seldom seen guests sit so dead still! Eventually the lion carried on and went and lay with his brother!

I had no sooner arrived at the lion sighting when I was informed that Rockfig Jnr female leopard had been found in the area that we had come from, so we decided to head back there after the lions, and so we did! We saw some dwarf mongooses of the way, a nice group of very relaxed kudu bulls, a large bachelor group of about 15 buffalo bulls slowly making their way towards Elephant dam, and then we arrived at the sighting of Rockfig Jnr.
She is looking in great shape, and her belly is getting bigger and bigger, so hopefully her cubs will be arriving soon! She was very active while we were with her, clearly looking for a meal based on the way that she was using all the termite mounds as look outs. She scent marked as she went, and we were almost ready to leave her when she suddenly started stalking towards a bush. I turned off and we sat quietly, looking but not seeing anything that she may have seen. She went and crouched behind a bush, and then a steenbok appeared just on the other side, and we realised the hunt was on! But leopards are patient animals, and the steenbok slowly fed away from the leopard, totally unaware of her presence. Rockfig Jnr didn’t do anything rash, and watched the steenbok move off and look away before she tried to get closer once again. The problem was that the steenbok had crossed a rather open and grassless patch that would make stalking difficult, but Rockfig Jnr managed, and the steenbok went and lay up in the grass, maybe 5m from a bush, and Rockfig stalked closer and then sat down. From our viewpoint it looked like she was clearly visible to the steenbok, which lay there staring right in the leopard’s direction, and the leopard sat in the open staring straight back, but there was no reaction from either animal! Rockfig Jnr almost seemed to have lost interest, but we then realised that a small bush was obscuring the steenboks view, and he had no idea that danger was lurking 15m from him!
Rockfig Jnr then used the bush as cover and stalked to within 7m of the steenbok that was still lying on the ground and unaware of her…she was just readying herself to pounce when something caught the steenboks attention and in an instant it picked up on the leopards presence and dashed off to safety; Rockfig Jnr didn’t even bother with the chase, but instead walked off to look for another unsuspecting target!

We headed back to camp for breakfast, but I took some of the guests to go and see the Mahlathini male lions, but they weren’t feeding on what little remained of their buffalo kill. They had been investigating the vultures feeding on the hyenas body, but soon walked closer to the carcass and lay down under a tree to escape the heat of the sun that was trying to break through with a vengeance! Heading back to camp we saw some kudu, giraffe and impala near the airstrip, and managed to see these again on our bushwalk, as well as some monkeys, baboons and warthogs! We also saw a puff adder on the drive this morning, while following Rockfig Jnr.
The afternoon was a nice one, and I was taking it relatively easy in the north; there were giraffe, kudu, impala, a male waterbuck and two buffalo bulls near Vyboom dam, but no sign of the Argyle male leopard. That wasn’t a train smash, as Mbali female leopard had been found near Concrete crossing, so I made my way to go and see her. She had just been spotted by a bushbuck she was stalking when I arrived, so was walking way towards Peru dam wall, but in so doing bumped into anther bushbuck that started barking an alarm call. This didn’t deter Mbali and she appeared to try and stalk the bushbuck, but soon gave up and had disappeared from where Johannes had last seen her. I went down to the Concrete crossing and found her on the eastern bank busy feeding…on grass! She was obviously having stomach issues and did what cats do to assist this by eating grass. She then went and had a quick drink before wandering off. The thing was that she wanted to cross the bridge that we were parked on, but Mbali being Mbali didn’t mind, and simply walked past Johannes’ vehicle before pausing underneath the back seat of my vehicle to survey the area for a potential meal, and when she found nothing simply carried on walking along side my vehicle less than 0.5m from us! She is one amazing leopard.
We let her carry on with her hunting, and we carried on with our drive in a gold-splashed landscape as the suns rays broke through the clouds. There were some impala and waterbuck about, but we decided to head down towards Sweetwater pan where Nhlangula male rhino had been found. We saw a couple of giraffe and a lone zebra near Nkombi pan before going to see the rhino, but he had clearly had a tough day and had gone to sleep in the open! It was unusual for him, as he is normally very active in the late afternoon as this is the time of day when it starts cooling off. Still, it was great to see this relaxed rhino at closer quarters than the two rhinos would allow us to approach yesterday. A herd of zebras wandered past in the distance before we left the rhino to sleep in peace.
Heading back towards camp after a nice sundowner with some nearby giraffe, we had a bit of a quiet period, only seeing a genet and some impala, but we drove past the Mahlathini male lions and found one of the males feeding on the buffalo yet again, but the smell was really starting to ripen, so we didn’t spend to long with them. A lone elephant bull had been on our soccer field earlier, in the drive, but had moved into camp in the evening.
Sunday morning was my last drive for my work cycle before I go on leave, and it was another productive one! The Mahlathini male lions had eventually left their buffalo carcass to the vultures that were now making quick work of what was left, as hooded, white-backed and white headed vultures gathered to get their share of the spoils. Not far off, two hyenas had managed to get one of the buffalo’s legs and one of them was walking off with the leg in its mouth! It is always interesting to watch how the scavengers clean up the carcass once the ‘main show’ is over, and very often, it is the encore that is more exciting than the lions themselves!

We went and had a look at the hippos at Peru dam, and then two large crocodiles were out the water at Mbali dam. There were also many impala in the area, and several lone giraffes along the riverbed to the east of the dam. The Sohebele pride of lions had been found near Jaydee airstrip, so we went to see them. They had eaten something during the night, but probably only an impala or small kudu as their bellies were not excessively fat. For a warm morning, they were reasonably active and we followed them as they moved; stopping to rest occasionally and showing interest in a herd of impalas every now and then, but nothing too serious. The sub-adults looked intent on sleeping, but they kept on following their mother whenever she up to move. We left them after they found a nice shady spot under a boer-bean tree and we carried on to go and see a rhino.
Giyani had found the two male rhinos near Sweetwater Northern Access, and Nhlangula male rhino was a few hundred meters west of them, so we chose to go and have a look at him instead; at least he was awake and feeding this morning!
The general game was good around Makulu dam, we saw a giraffe and a young calf, another male giraffe, some waterbuck, a zebra, many impala, kudu, some hippos and good bird life. After a quick drink there we made our way back to camp to end off another very successful cycle of work, with some more great game viewing!
I hope that when I return next week for my last work cycle at Motswari, the game viewing is as good as it has been this past month!

Until next week, keep well!

Chad Cocking
Motswari Guide


  1. What amazing work you do there. Your write ups are so informative and the photos are incredible. Thank you!

  2. cheers Lorac!

    thanks for taking the time to read through the blog entries and to comment on the posts....much appreciated!

  3. hey chad I hope someone's going to keep this blog going after your work cycles finish.
    I'm sure the photos won't be as superb although the subjects will continue to steal the show!!

  4. Thanks Janet!

    i am sure that the lodge will find someone to do the blog in my absence...but i will probably still contribute to both the Motswari home page and the blog when i get a chance!


    Thanks for following the blog!