Friday, 4 December 2009

29th & 30th November – Lions Still on Buffalo Kill

Sunday and Monday were another two pleasant days to end off the penultimate month of 2009, and it was made easier by the fact that we still had some lions in the area!

I was heading straight towards the buffalo kill of the pride of lions on our Kruger boundary when Johannes called me as he needed help! Being the obliging gentleman I am, I happily went to help him. Of course the fact that the ‘help’ he needed was keeping up with the Argyle male leopard as he walked south along the bank of the Sohebele riverbed towards Argyle dam didn’t affect my decision to give him a hand! Johannes had spotted him while driving on the opposite side, but I arrived and found him on the eastern bank, but moving through some tricky vegetation which made getting a long, clear visual of him a bit difficult, but we made do with it until he ended up on top of Argyle dam wall. He lay down momentarily before carrying on south, and we managed to keep up with him and got him crossing in front of us a couple of times, but as he headed towards some thick Mopane, we decide to give Herald a chance in case the leopard was lost. As it turns out, he wasn’t, and was followed as he made his way towards Sohebele dam, and was left showing an interest in some impala on Sohebele plains. Shortly after I left the leopard, two hyenas came running past with excited postures, but we couldn’t follow them to find out where they were running to.
I returned to my mission and made my way down towards the pride of lions, and found that they were still in the area, and indeed three of them were busy feeding on what remained of the carcass. While the feeding had been done in a clam and relaxed manner yesterday, now that the food was running out, there was the occasional bit of snarling and fighting as one lion intruded on another’s space!

After a cup of coffee, we carried on with the morning drive, but it was sadly a rather quiet one, and there was not a lot happening on the eastern sector. There were some impalas, a few steenbok, and the highlight for my guests, some wild flowers whose name they found rather amusing (but then you would too if you had been up all night!).

A herd of elephants had been reported earlier in the morning, but I had no luck finding them; how things have changed since the rains have come! Less than a week ago you could spot elephants from a couple of hundred meters away, but now they just disappear in the greenery that is flourishing across the reserve!

In the afternoon, we spent a bit of time in the north, seeing some impala, a large male kudu, and then a small group of elephant bulls feeding east of Sharalumi camp. The three elephants seemed to be enjoying the new growth on the trees, although it wasn’t enough as we watched one trying to push over a large tree, but thankfully he gave up before he managed to do it.
I decided to head back towards the lions, as it would probably be our last chance to see them, so headed back to the east, bypassing the area that the male leopard had been left in the morning, but only found two buffalo bulls at Broken dam. We watched them grazing for a while before carrying on eastward. The five lions had finished their buffalo, and were now lying in the open; bellies fattened being a comfortable level, and panting heavily, despite the cool and cloudy conditions. They were very relaxed this afternoon, only lifting their heads to look at us when we repositioned the land rover. The most activity they showed was when two hyenas started calling excitedly in the direction of the carcass about 100m away from the lions. The bigger of the two young males sat up in a flash and got to his feet, walked about 15m in their direction. The physical exertion was too much for him, so he sat down again, and as if he realised that it wasn’t even worth the effort to go over and chase them off, he returned to his original position and flopped down with an audible thud! We went to see if the hyenas were there, but the only scavengers that we saw were the vultures, so we left the lions and went to enjoy a sundowner as a storm approached from the south-east.
Other sightings for the afternoon included some zebra, giraffe and a buffalo along the Timbavati access road that Elliot saw, and then Giyani saw a male leopard running off from the dead giraffe carcass near Java camp. Despite the threat of rain, we enjoyed a scrumptious dinner in the bush. With lighting illuminating the distant skies, but when the wind suddenly picked up, we headed back to camp for a good nights rest. Despite the conditions looking good for a nice downpour, it was another empty promise of rain, and the bushveld stayed dry during the night.

On Monday morning, I was told that a leopard had been roaring east of the Nhlarulumi, so I went to check the area, but found nothing on the leopard, although we did see some steenbok, impala and waterbuck. I went to check on a dead impala that a leopard had been feeding on last night west of Klipdrift crossing (where Kuhanya had her kill last week), but just found the ripened remains of the impala, now starting to really smell to the point that the leopard had left the area. I returned to Peru dam to have a look at our resident pod of hippos, and then returned to the vehicle to hear the good news that Johannes had found Mbali female leopard west of Mangwa clearing.

I headed straight there and arrived as she finished drinking from a pool in one of the small drainage lines. Once finished, she moved off into the bush and spotted some distant impalas, but showed no real conviction to stalk them; instead she carried on walking around scent marking. Mbali was not extremely fat, so she had not eaten much in the last two days or so, but she was looking in a very good condition (although she had another wound on her back right leg), and to Johannes and I, she did look as though she might possibly have had something in her belly. The something we suspect, was not food, but perhaps he next litter of cubs? It might be a bit premature to confirm her pregnant status, but there is a good chance that she may well indeed be expecting more cubs which is fantastic news!
We might have been reading a bit to much into this suspicion of ours, but while following Mbali, she walked up to a termite mound, and instead of doing her usual trick of using the mound as a lookout for prey, instead she disappeared down the whole created by a warthog! I have never seen a leopard go into a hole so completely before, and if we knew no better, we would never have seen her! She spent a few minutes inside before popping out again, she looked around and returned inside. Was she possibly looking for a potential den site for her cubs, or was she just checking to see if there were perhaps some baby warthogs to feast on down in the hole? Regardless, it was a pretty unique sighting, and we followed her for a while longer as she used another couple of termite mounds for their usual purpose, and while watching her resting on one such mound, she spotted a steenbok and ran off after it, but as the steenbok had already spotted her earlier, we knew she had no chance, so we went and had some coffee.

Again I tried to find either a breeding herd of elephants or three elephant bulls that had been seen earlier in the morning by Godfrey and Elliot, but sadly they could not be relocated, so I went to follow up on a small herd of buffalo that had been seen on Sohebele plains earlier, and I found them heading east away from Karan’s waterhole.
I was the only vehicle driving from the lodge in the afternoon, but enjoyed being at there almost on my own! We went and checked on the area where Mbali had been in the morning, but there was no sign of her, and we only managed to tick off impala, steenbok and one waterbuck. I checked on a slowly filling up Voël dam before seeing a large breeding herd of buffalo slowly feeding towards the dam.
I continued south in the hope of being able to see the Nhlangula male rhino that had been found heading towards Sweetwater pan, and arrived shortly after he had finished his mud wallowing and was moving towards Nkombi pan. We followed him as he fed on the way towards the pan, but left him some distance south of it and went to have a drink at the pan with two hippos that had made the larger of the two pans their home. The started yawning and getting active, but didn’t leave the waterhole while we were there. As we were finishing up, the rhino came strolling past about 40m from our chosen spot, but he carried on heading west towards the Klaserie.
Heading back to camp we saw a giraffe, some impala with babies, a hippo feeding out of the water at Makulu dam, and then we went to see if there were any hyenas feeding on the dead giraffe, but all we found was a smelly carcass!

It was already late, so I was heading straight back to camp, but as always, you never know what to expect, and we had no sooner gone past Java airstrip when a young, mature male leopard darted across the road in front of us and crouched in the grass next to the road! I stopped immediately with the leopard no more than 10m away, and he lay looking at us for a brief period before getting up and moving off to about 25m and sat down. I tried to go off road, but he got up again, so I stopped until he lay down. I tried to get a clear view, but he got up and walked back to the south. I followed him for a while, although by giving him space, it meant that we didn’t maintain a visual on him. I was about to give up, deciding to check around one more thicket when we spotted the leopard again, and he sat down. We got in front of him and sat as he walked 20m in front of us down towards the drainage line and we left him to it. I did not recognise the male leopard, and as he was always moving, I didn’t have a chance to get a picture of him, but his semi-relaxed demeanour is encouraging, and he has the potential to become a relaxed leopard given more viewing opportunities.

We got back to camp and headed to bed with the thunder rumbling in the distance, hopeful that tonight won’t be another empty promise!


  1. Not only am i thrilled to see the white lion cubs
    I am absolutly blown away to see the river beds flowing
    I came to visit only 16 months ago (saving hard to come again) and seeing it all as it is now its hardly recognisable , you must all be thrilled , thanks so much for keeping us updated so much has changed there in such a short time !


  2. thanks marcelle!

    i cant even describe to you the shange in the bush...there is water everywhere!!! the riverbeds and dams are stunning - hippos all over the reserve, the fish swimming in the small streams, the chorus of frogs - it is hard to believe it...there are little dams that i never even knew existed that are full of water; the reserve is so, so beautiful at the moment, words and photos can not describe it...and the worst part is that first time guests arriving adn seeing it so green can not begin to appreciate the change that has taken place in the last two weeks from a desert like landscape to a lush oasis...i still get a huge smile on my face when i drive past the big dams viewing is tougher, but in the far south saw several groups of giraffe, zebra and wildebeest, and the wild dogs were on our western boundary today, so hopefully they return soon...will keep you posted!