Tuesday, 30 June 2009

29th & 30th June – Big 6!

The last two days at Motswari have been pretty good, and produced sightings of not only the Big 5, but also the elusive wild dog!

Monday morning started off with a lion roaring near the camp at about 4 am, but unfortunately we tracked the three Mahlathini male lions from right opposite the camp and off the property to the north. A bit further south, the large herd of buffalo had been relocated, still milling around the same area as the previous few days. There was the odd sighting of some elephant bulls, but it was the Nhlangula male rhino found on Vielmeter property that was the highlight of the morning. This male rhino was at least standing up today, but as with yesterday’s sighting, he was not overly active! Still, it was great to see him in the open and get some nice photographs of him.
Monday afternoon belonged to Rockfig and Nkateko leopards, as they were found with an impala kill up a marula tree not far from Hide Dam. All of our vehicles got to see these two leopards, although it was a bit disheartening to see that both leopards were nursing injuries. Rockfig had a fresh flesh wound on her right ear, possibly inflicted by her very own daughter, as the two leopards were seen fighting with one another early in the afternoon. Nkateko had an older injury, but it was not a pretty sight; she has a rather large and deep wound on the side of her face, and it appears to have occurred a couple of weeks ago, the cause of the injury is unknown. It is not lie-threatening, but it does look saw, and was weeping and still bleeding, although she thankfully wasn’t showing any signs of discomfort. Still, despite being upset at seeing their injuries, he two provided for good viewing. Nkateko was up in the marula feeding on what was left of the impala, and aggressively hissing at her mom whenever she wandered too close to the tree, looking for scraps! Rockfig gave Nkateko some of her own medicine when Nkateko came over to embrace mom but was greeted with a snarl. Rockfig eventually returned to some left over scraps about 50m to the east and started feeding on that, while Nkateko took advantage of her mom’s free handouts – and based on that day’s hostilities, we have to wander how much longer their relationship will last? Other sightings included hyena, African wild cat, elephant and the herd of buffalo.

Tuesday was another very good day, and started off with a nice herd of elephant in the company of a large bull. This individual soon took exception to our presence and it showed as he charged towards the vehicle! Luckily it was only a threat display, but his antics sent the herd running off. A bit later, Palence found the six members of the Sohebele pride of lions wandering around north of Madash dam. They were on a mission and were followed moving through the bush until they settled down a couple of kilometers away. Johannes picked up on a few hyenas running around, and saw them finishing off an impala carcass, and when I heard this, my first though was that there might be some wild dogs around, and sure enough, minutes later, Steve found tracks for a pack of wild dogs, and they were located not 500m from where the lions had settled down. The dogs themselves had also settled down for the day, and didn’t make up for their lost meal, but instead chose to rest for the day. Other sightings of the morning included a group of seven bull elephants, and Herald found Nkateko female leopard in the same marula tree as last night, although the kill was finished. Johannes also found Kuhanya female leopard west of Madash dam late in the morning. Giraffe, waterbuck, some beautiful male kudu’s, warthog, hippo, and impala all made an appearance too!

In the afternoon, the wild dogs were found resting in the same place, and later got up and managed to kill an impala west of Karans camp. Godfrey was around and saw some of the feeding, I unfortunately missed the action, although I did bump into a few members of the pack on the way home, but as it was dark, I didn’t follow them. Only four members of the Sohebele pride were seen in the same place they were left this morning, but they must have moved off, and I had no luck finding them later in the evening. The buffalo herd was found slowly moving towards Voël dam, and Steve also saw some lone buffalo bulls near the lions. Palence had four buffalo and a small herd of elephant drinking in front of the lodge just after we set off for drive. Palence also had a short sighting of Argyle Jnr female leopard, but she seemed nervous and was not pursued through the bush.

So, with lions, leopards, buffalo, rhino and elephant being ticked off over the last two days, we were all delighted, but to have the wild dogs around was a special treat, and we hope we can find them again tomorrow!

Monday, 29 June 2009

28th June – Good Leopard Viewing Continues…

Last year, the 28th June provided one of my most memorable days game viewing in the Timbavati, with four different leopards seen in the afternoon, including two males up a marula tree fighting over an impala kill, with eight lions underneath it, and a third leopard walking around 50m away! This year, I ‘only’ managed three different leopards during my afternoon drive!

Sunday morning was relatively quiet once again, the cold morning keeping the animals a bit less active. I did manage to tick of giraffe, waterbuck, impala, kudu and hippo, but I really wanted rhino. The southern stations had found Nhlangula male rhino quite far south, but I had a South African guest that had never seen a rhino, so we made the trip down. As the morning warmed up, we saw more impala, a herd of nyala, some more giraffe, and then arrived at the rhino sighting, but Nhlangula still obviously thought it was too early in the day for him to be up, so he pretty much just slept, got up once, but soon returned to the same spot and fell asleep again. Heading back to camp, we saw a herd of zebra and some giraffe drinking at Elephant dam, but there was not a great deal else out there that we saw.

There were a number of animals found late in the morning, including four of the Sohebele sub adult lions, the lost male still not having found the rest of the pride, but no Motswari vehicles responded to this sighting. Johannes tracked and found Mbali female leopard sleeping on a termite mound near Peru dam, and there was another report of a young leopard up north. Andrew also found a large herd of buffalo moving away from Karan’s camp towards Mbali dam.

The afternoon was once again somewhat better. It started with six bull elephants on the Motswari soccer field, no doubt looking for some opponents! There was then a small herd of elephants near our airstrip, and some fair general game in the form of impala and waterbuck. I found another herd of elephants that were slowly making there way towards Mbali dam, where a large croc was basking outside the water. The herd then went and drank below the dam wall, and while watching them, we saw a Pied Kingfisher catch a fish, and Mbali female leopard came wandering along the reeds and up to the dam wall on the opposite bank!

It was not possible to get to her position, but it didn’t really matter, as at the same time, Godfrey found Kuhanya, Mbali’s daughter, walking around near Madash dam. We went and had a look at her, before moving on to see the large herd of buffalo that I had missed out on in the morning. We spotted them on the other side of the Nhlarulumi, and as we were driving around, about 100m from the buffalo, we had a quick sighting of our third leopard of the day, a slightly nervous male leopard that soon moved into the reeds and was lost. The buffalo herd was feeding in a nice area, but soon darkness fell and we left them. Although the Sohebele sub adults were still in the same spot as this morning, we did not go and see them. Herald did manage to find the lost young male lion near Java camp, still looking for the rest of his pride, lets hope he finds them soon!
Heading back to camp, we also found a large hippo grazing outside of the water at the empty Sohebele dam.

So all-in-all, not a bad day at all in the Timbavati!

27th June – Winter is Here!

Today was the first really cold morning that we have had, with the mercury dropping to 3°C shortly after sunrise! The cold morning didn’t encourage much activity from animals, and the first half of the drive was rather quiet, even impala were seemingly hard to come by! What was nice was seeing a pod of hippos outside of the water at Mbali dam, the cold water had driven six hippos onto the bank where they were standing in an attempt to warm up. It was also great to see one of the really small calves out of the water and dwarfed by its large mother! Luckily, things did improve, and Godfrey found Mbali female leopard resting on a termite mound up north, west of the Nhlarulumi riverbed. I responded later in the morning, but she was still fast asleep a few hundred meters south of her original position. After about 20 minutes or so, she finally woke up and started wandering around, showing interest in something that we could not see, but we eventually left her to her own devices.
Herald found one of the Sohebele sub adult male lions on Java airstrip, but no luck was had finding the rest of the pride in the morning, nor the three Mahlathini males that had, according to the tracks, been chasing them around all night. The lion tracks were going up and down, north then south, east then west, and left us all with a big headache. Closer to camp, the elephants were a bit more in evidence, and besides the odd bulls, a small breeding herd was seen during Andrew’s bush walk, and later came and drank at the lodges waterhole, as did five large bulls just before lunch.

In the afternoon, we tried again to find the Sohebele pride, and eventually started making sense of the tracks. We had no sooner dropped the trackers off to follow the tracks when a ranger from a neighbouring lodge bumped into the pride of lions sleeping in the Nhlarulumi, just below Leopard Rock Hide. The lions were in the company of a herd of more than 30 elephants that were slowly feeding along the banks of the Nhlarulumi, but passed by without noticing the lions. Two male giraffe were also in the immediate area, no more than 40m away, and the Sohebele female showed some interest, but their slightly bulging bellies showed that they had eaten during the night, and they were in no mood to go after the giraffe. Other general game included waterbuck, kudu cows and bulls, as well as a male nyala.

Heading back to camp, we ticked off a hyena, as well as some entertaining bushbabies bouncing around the acacia and Mopane trees in the south.

Friday, 26 June 2009

26th June – Two Leopards with a Kill

Friday was a rather good day for us at Motswari, and we were treated to some great game viewing. A couple of bull elephants were feeding on our airstrip, and then the slightly warmer morning allowed for some more active general game. We saw some nice kudu, waterbuck, steenbok, duiker, loads of impala, and several herds of giraffe as well as lone bulls.

I was driving around Vyboom dam when I was informed of a leopard up a marula tree on the opposite side of the Nhlarulumi riverbed, so I turned around and headed straight over there, finding the female leopard perched beautifully in the tree, with the remains of an impala kill right at the top. From her relaxed manner, I assumed it was Kuhanya, although it was literally 10m from our northern-most boundary, and in an area she doesn’t normally frequent. I left the sighting as she went to the top of the tree to feed, and Johannes pulled in. He then told me it wasn’t Kuhanya, and I said I was sure it was, and bet him a couple of beers on the outcome. After seeing some more giraffe, waterbuck, impala and a troop of baboons, I stopped for some coffee. Once finished, Johannes called me to ask I would like to come and see Kuhanya female leopard, and I knew I would be made to eat my words, as a few minutes later I watched as she casually strolled 2m past my vehicle…which was not the problem…except it was at the same time as the other “Kuhanya” was still feeding on her impala kill a few kilometers away! I was wrong, and the leopard with the impala was indeed Shongile female leopard, daughter of Argyle Jnr.

I didn’t spend a great deal of time with Kuhanya, instead I was quite interested in going to see the three Mahlathini male lions near lion pan, but as usual, they didn’t feel like cooperating, and I had no sooner joined Palence in the sighting when they moved down into the thick reeds and vegetation on the banks of the Nhlarulumi riverbed, and that was the end of our sighting! Not even two nearby giraffe could coax them out.

The afternoon was even better. It started off with a nice herd of nyala, as well as small breeding herd of elephants with a very young baby just north of camp. We also found a lone buffalo bull sleeping on Motswari wedge, but the large herd that had drank in front of the lodge at 2am this morning were not found. Shongile was still feeding on the little bit of meat still left on the impala, and one of her siblings, a young male, was also seen in the area. Johannes found the Sohebele pride of lions not too far away, sleeping in the open. All six pride members were present, but they were still looking very thin and in need of food. I left them moving off into the dark towards Peru dam, and with some luck they will get a meal tonight. Palence bumped into Mbali female leopard at Concrete Crossing a few minutes after leaving the lions, and she then bumped into Johannes who was having sundowners nearby! After my drinks and a few more elephants, I returned to the site of the impala kill, and found the young male leopard up one marula eating the final bits of the kill, with three hyenas wandering around the base of the tree feeding on the numerous scraps that the leopard was gifting them! Shongile was herself in a second marula tree about 30m away, and just staying out of trouble. She got restless and jumped down, but when one of the hyenas came over to inspect, she quickly jumped back up the tree before hissing her displeasure at the hyena! She realized that it would be a long wait, and fell asleep in a perfect leopard pose, not even opening her eyes when we left the sighting half-an-hour later! A clear sign that she is getting more and more relaxed with every sighting!

24th & 25th June – Back in Business!

Hello there! It’s great to be able to finally send another update from Motswari, after having the entire northern Timbavati booked out for the last week and a half. Things returned to normal on Wednesday, and we are all getting back into the swing of things.

Andrew started driving on Tuesday afternoon and had a great sighting of Mbali female leopard stalking and almost catching an impala. The next morning, he found two white rhino’s in up north, which is a rare sighting indeed! I joined in with the drives on Wednesday afternoon, and had a great welcome back to the Timbavati. The general game was enjoying the warm winters day, and we managed to tick off impala, warthogs, waterbuck, kudu, zebra and an elephant bull, but along with them, we saw Mbali and Kuhanya together near Peru dam. Johannes found these two leopards wandering around in the Nhlarulumi riverbed towards Peru dam. I arrived and had Mbali wander off back to the north, and Kuhanya went her own way, and went and lay on the dam wall near some hippos. She later moved off to the north as well, but I had left her to go and see the remaining members of the Sohebele pride, all six, who were at Voël dam.

They were once again looking decidedly hungry, but at least they were all still together. During the last 10 days, the five sub-adults were seen with a waterbuck that they had killed, and they were strangely enough joined by their father!!! The Sohebele male returned after another leave of absence, and was seen by the trackers on several occasions on the property. The remaining adult female also seemed to keep in the company of her daughter, while the three males and youngest female stayed together for extended periods. We just hope that whatever combination they move around in, they can get enough food to keep the nursing mother healthy – although we have still not seen any signs of her cubs.

Anyway, after my sundowner, we bumped into the Sohebele pride again, but we didn’t spend too much time with them, instead we let them hunt on their own. Palence managed to find Mbali later on in the evening at Mvubu crossing. We were then treated to three bull elephants in camp that night, and once more drinking from the pool!

Thursday started off bitterly cold but the suns rays soon warmed us up and brought a few of the animals to life. Down south, Nthombi female leopard had been found near elephant dam with the remains of a duiker kill stashed up a tree. She was largely inactive during the morning choosing instead to sleep of her fat belly, quite uncommon for her! We also had some luck relocating the Nhlangula male white rhino near Sweetwater pan. Although it took us some time, as every time the trackers located him, he moved off! Eventually Godfrey and I managed to locate him in the vehicle and had a nice sighting of him. On the way home, Andrew found a large herd of elephants near Makulu dam, and I found a herd of about 250 buffalo near Karans trough. During my bush walk, we found two bull elephants, which are always exciting to walk into! Later that afternoon, just before lunch, there was an elephant drinking out of the pool!

Thursday afternoon was not bad at all. Although we were unsuccessful in locating the three Mahlathini male lions that had been reported in the morning, we did have a nice sighting of that large buffalo herd feeding in the open at Sohebele dam. Palence was watching some elephant on our airstrip when the Argyle male leopard came strolling past, lay in the middle of the airstrip for a while, and then eventually headed off in the direction of the camp. There were a number of large bull elephants seen around the camp once again, as well as a group of five near Argyle dam where the buffalo herd had also settled. I also saw a nice herd of elephants near Mbali dam, and it was good to see a number of young calves amongst them.

So, all the Big 5 have been playing along, and it is great to be back in the swing of things!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

15th June – Sohebele Lioness Eaten by Leopard!

For the last two days, the body of our dearly departed lioness has sat on the airstrip, waiting for the next stage of the cycle of life to come into play. It didn’t take long for the vultures to distinguish the dead lioness’s body from that of an overly lazy lion. White-headed, White-backed and Hooded vultures were all seen in the area over the last couple of days, but mostly one at a time, and not in any great numbers as one normally finds with dead animals; perhaps they knew that royal blood had been spilt? The resident hyena clan was a bit less confident in approaching the lioness’s body at first, although they appeared to have chewed off the ear and nibbled a bit on the opened gut.

Yesterday afternoon, while sitting watching the Mahlathini male lions resting near a buffalo bull that they had killed last night, I got a call telling me that there were two leopards busy feeding on the dead lioness! I didn’t need to think twice and raced over to see this unique sight. By the time I arrived, one of the young males (it appears that it was the two young male leopards of Argyle Jnr’s) had moved off, but his brother was still sitting feeding on the lion! It was quite a sight, and not something one sees every day. Most predators don’t eat one another; they stop at killing each other, not for food, but as a means of eliminating competition. However, there are always exceptions to this, and these leopards clearly didn’t want to pass up on a free meal. After maybe 10 minutes or so, the second young male decided that he too had eaten his share and slipped off into the darkness, not returning to feed again. I quickly went back to camp, and while waiting close to the staff houses, the staff spotted a leopard cross the path back to the staff village not 20m away. We didn’t manage to find the leopard after that, although we did see a large porcupine near the staff village!

I returned to the lioness’s carcass, and the hyenas had picked up on the smell of her rotting flesh, and couldn’t resist. At first it was just a lone hyena, then she was joined by a second clan member. An hour and a half later, there were as many as six hyenas taking turns to feed, with the usual little skirmishes between clan mates occurring as the larger, more dominant females stamped their authority on their subordinates.

And that was the last we got to see of our wonderful lioness, once again becoming part of natures wonder, but sometimes cruel, cycle of life. The rest of the pride had been reported on Ingwelala, adjoining Motswari, and all six of the remaining members were around, although still decidedly edgy. Hopefully they were on their way back to the cubs to the west, as I don’t think the mother has visited them for almost three days.

I will give you all an update when I return from leave next week.