Thursday, 10 December 2009

04th, 05th & 06th December – Another Two Days of White Lion Viewing!

In light of the fact that we had guaranteed white lion viewing for several days, I was a bit disappointed that I was going back to Johannesburg for a few days (although The Killer’s concert was great!), and I actually returned a day early from my leave hoping that I would have one more chance to view the white lions, but sadly it was not to be.

The Mayumbuya pride with their two white lion cubs were the highlight of the days I missed, and were seen every drive for three days straight; they fed, interacted with their mothers, played around with the other cubs, and just acted like normal lions, despite the extremely special nature of their genetic lineage. The Rockfig clan of hyenas also arrived on the scene, and the lionesses took turns chasing away up to six hyenas from their giraffe carcass!

I came back on Saturday, figuring that it would probably be the final day of feeding on the carcass for the pride, but to my surprise (and disappointment, in a way) I heard that the four Sohebele young lions were now the lions that were in attendance at the giraffe kill! Whether the Mayumbuya pride had chosen to leave the carcass on their own accord – especially considering the number of maggots that were now devouring the carcass – or whether the sight of four unknown lions was enough to send them running, the fact of the matter is that they were gone, and the Sohebele pride, for the second time this week, had earned themselves a free meal; albeit far less appealing than some fresh meat!

On Saturday afternoon, I headed down to watch the Sohebele lions on the kill, and found that the Rockfig hyena clan had moved their den for the fourth time this season, and were now utilising a termite mound just off western cutline, not far from Hide Dam! The mother and the two cubs were out playing in their new home, and the cubs continue to get more and more relaxed and were quite inquisitive, coming within a couple of meters of the land rover to see what we were! We assume that their last den was flooded after the rains, and being on a drainage line that was still carrying a trickle of water, the chances are good that their home was inundated with water.

I continued to see the lions, and arrived just as it was getting dark, the gloomy clouds didn’t aid photography, but I had a great sighting of the Sohebele pride. The thing that pleased me most was their condition; they almost looked like proper lions! Harsh as that might sound, anyone who has seen these lions over the last year knows full well that they are not in a good condition, and always look skinny and starving, but today they looked different. Not big, not fat, not beyond worry, but they did look far healthier than I have seen them in a while. The hip bones and ribs that are normally so prominent were disguised by a bit of muscle, and they seemed to have a spring in their step. The young males were even making half-hearted calls to one another; the beginning of a roar almost! There was not a lot of meat left, and as mentioned, the maggots were making quick work of what was left, but there was still some free food to be had, and they found a portion of the stomach that had remained uneaten. The one male picked it up and came and lay not 3m from my door and lay down to eat his share!

One by one they got up and had a quick drink in the little stream trickling past the kill, and then went and lay in a small clearing on the opposite side of the drainage line, keeping an eye on two hyenas cautiously approaching the kill. Herald then called to tell me that he had Rockfig Jnr leopardess north of Hide dam, so I headed over to see if I could see her, but sadly she was lost going down into the thickets of No Name riverbed, and was not seen again. It is however a positive sign that she is still in the area, as this could mean that her cubs are still alive!

Other sightings for the period included a one day return of the Mahlathini male lions, when they were found at Argyle dam on Friday, but moved back north off the property on Saturday, straight towards the area where the Timbavati females that their white lion cubs have been spending the last few months; this does not bode well for the future of those cubs, as the murderous Mahlathini males will no doubt kill them given half a chance.

The leopard sightings were represented by a single sighting of Mbali female leopard, one sighting of Kuhanya female leopard, a second sighting of Rockfig Jnr leopardess, and then a sighting of a young male leopard at Steep Machaton crossing, where a duiker kill had been found. He was seen in the daylight, and was nervous, but didn’t run away from the vehicle which sounded positive. I was assume it is the same young male leopard that I saw in the area a couple of days back.

There were several elephant sightings, with a couple of breeding herds of elephant returning to the area, a breeding herd of buffalo was seen near Nkombi pan, and then there were two sightings of white rhino; one of Nhlangula male rhino up in the far north, at Voël dam (which is not fuller than it has been for several years, and will hopefully draw in more rhinos during the coming winter of 2010), and then in the south Mtenga-tenga was seen for the first time in some time.

No further rain fell over the weekend, but there is still some water moving through the Nhlarulumi river, possibly being supplemented by the small drainage lines that are still carrying a trickle of water, even a week after the last rain! It might not sound like much, but for us in this dry part of the country, it is quite extraordinary to see! What also amazed me when I returned was the water just coming out of the ground at several places around the reserve! The ground is still very saturated, and the water is seeping through the soil to create visible streams on the surface – most noticeable on some of the roads – as the seep lines start to form again; something the area hasn’t seen for more than five years!

So the bush is looking fantastic, a green paradise with water everywhere, but we have already seen the effect that this has had on our game viewing, as the abundance of water and thick bush makes our sightings less certain and more dispersed, and thus more difficult to find all the animals, but it is a wonderful time of the year, and I still cant believe the transformation we have seen in the last couple of weeks!

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