Friday, 12 March 2010

Another Couple Rough Days in Paradise!

Surprise, bet you didn’t think you would hear from me this soon, but I’m going to try stick to my promise and keep on top of this blog. Also with my exam behind me, for now, don’t think it went that well, I have some more time on my hands.

So I started on drive for the first time since leave the end of last week, and wow what a four days, as I mentioned previously I could fill a blog per drive, actually, I would go as far as to say per sighting. Leopards again take the number one spot with seven being seen in six drives and that does not include Rockfig Jnr and her two cubs. The limelight this week definitely belongs to the boys with a sighting Johannes found on Nharalumi access, not even a kilometer from camp. Don’t think I’ll ever know how he found them, he is a master when it comes to tracking. The scene came straight out of National Geographic. Picture a rocky drainage line, lined on both sides with thick purple pod cluster leaf trees and grass that towered to mid door level. Driving in, one could only wonder of the quality of the sighting, but as if someone read our minds a clearing appeared with a lone Marula tree. It was here that we were to find Argyle male feeding on part of a young kudu below the tree, while the rest of the carcass hung in a fork in the tree. After positioning ourselves and switching off Jacky pointed out another leopard in the background, skulking around some bushes. You could see from his behavior what his intentions were and as if on cue he made a run from cover and climbed the tree to the kill.

This did not phase Argyle male in the least and we sat there watching him feed below while this younger male fed directly above him. After a short while and not wanting to push his luck this youngster broke off a piece of the carcass and scurried down the tree to feed on it a short distance away, again amazingly enough, no reaction from Argyle male. Witnessing this interaction and behavior unfold in front of us was something special and I can only think that Argyle male did not react as the young male is one of his offspring, which one is still a mystery. I have chatted with "The Chad"and by the sounds of the behavior of the younger leopard it could possibly be the Vyboom Dam Male or there is also the chance that it is Argyle Young Male, the jury is still out.

What a way to start your drive and pretty hard to top, well that’s what you would think? Not far down the road we bumped into Mbali in a clearing beside the road, what made this sighting all the more special, apart from her being one of my favorite leopards, was that there were clear signs that she is lactating and thus confirming my first blogs suspicions. The cubs themselves have not been seen, but watch this space!

You find when you start off with such an epic drive that invariably the next drive is bit of a wet blanket in comparison and the following drive started off in that direction in more ways than one. On setting out we were caught in a cloud burst that drenched us, we were to find out later that it was very isolated, as passing other game vehicles we were getting very strange looks, like "Why on earth would they be wearing ponchos?". Their question was quickly answered as the cloud seemed to be following us around, and as if not to want to share in Murphy’s Law we found ourselves alone once again. I believe in wildlife tax, and in periods that are quiet and I’m not seeing much or being rained on is another good example, I believe that I’m paying those taxes and that something special is in store for later. Lucky enough we did not have to pay much and we were soon rewarded with a Maglatine male lion and three Klaserie females sitting in the open at Voeldam.

It was very nice to see how relaxed this male was with the females and maybe they have changed their ways, well at least one of them maybe has. It could be that as he was alone he was relaxed and that when the three of them are together they become very aggressive and take it out on the females. It appears that the Maglatines are setting up home in the North, as we have only seen them on the odd occasion. It is always nice to see these males, but on the other hand it is good news for our White Lions, who can hopefully settle down peacefully in our area without having to worry about the Maglatine Males.

The wet blanket was drying fast, and was made warm and cozy by our next sighting later that morning. We were approaching a herd of buffalo in some pretty thick bush when we came across some very peculiar behaviour of a group of buffalo that crowded around a very young buffalo, must only be a couple days old, licking it and almost encouraging it. During all this commotion, Jacky again asked if we would like to see a leopard, to which all the guests replied disbelievengly they would but were somewhat skeptical as we were in the midst of a big herd of buffalo. Again Jacky worked his magic and pointed out a male leopard in a tree on the outskirts of the herd. On seeing us the leopard climbed down and speedily made a retreat but not before attempting to catch a steenbok that he had flushed on his way down, leopards are ever the opportunists. Leopards have been known to take baby buffalo amongst a herd and climb directly up a tree before the herd has time to react. Maybe this was a failed attempt that had unfolded moments before our arrival, one can only assume, but it remains a mystery, you have to love nature! Heading back to Motswari for brunch a call came in that they had found the White Lions. Having a particular soft spot for them, a minor detour was in order, ok, maybe it was not such a minor detour, having to go half way across the reserve, but they are white lions after all! On arriving they had made themselves comfortable in the middle of the Nharalumi river, which wouldn’t have been a bad thing if they were lying out in the open sandy section but they had chosen the thickest bunch of reeds one could find, go figure! Well at least we got a glimpse of them and it would require a revisit that afternoon to get a better look.

The following days adventure was to follow up on the White Lions see if we could get a better look see! Setting off earlier than usual it was not long before we got a call from Lianne saying she had tracks along the Nharalumi river, as we were in the area we joined forces in tracking them down. True to form, they were playing a good game of hide and seek and had us going in every direction. Slowly and steadily we started to close in, the advantage of working as a team you get to close the gap quicker and make up the lost ground from the night before. Once we established we had them in a block, the trackers went in to locate their exact position. We did not have to wait long when we got the call they had been found; driving in we found them resting in the shade after what was a very long nights walk. They tend to move these great distances and in every direction when they are on the hunt, what amazes me is how the cubs not only keep up but also endure the long distances. During our adventures we also were very fortunate enough to come across a Serval, my first in the Timbavati, unfortunately I was unable to get any pics, if you thought leopard were elusive, these guys take the cake, but we did get a nice visual nonetheless!

Something that did compete for the number one spot and could possibly be a joint top sighting this driving period was the sighting of Rhino. I know, I hear you mumble, how could this possibly compare to what has gone before, as many people find these tanks of the bushveld to be somewhat a little mundane. Once again Johannes was the master, not only did he find one but a crash of eight! For our area this is very unusual and had only been seen on a couple of previous occasions and what was a first for many of us. The group seems to come across from Klaserie in the late afternoon to drink at one of the pans in our traversing area. Amongst this group is Nhlangula, a large male that we often see, his presence amongst this herd of strangers seems to calm them and make them more approachable.

The herd itself seems to be a mixture of young and old, male and female, with one particular male standing out due to the length of his horns. From not having seen them before we were privileged enough to get to see them again the following day, again late afternoon a little south from the day before. Lets hope they continue to visit and become more relaxed around the vehicles, it is something special and very impressive to see!

With one driving spell completed it was a couple of days before I would drive again. With my new guests staying for two nights, it always adds a little pressure as it doesn’t give you much time to show off everything, as you can read there is a fair amount to show, and that’s why we always try recommend staying three nights. We were in luck though as Mbali had made an impala kill that she was still feeding on under a bush out in the open, Irish logic. So that is where we started our safari and one of the first animals they got to see after impala and that did not include the dead one Mbali had caught, not a bad start if I may say so myself.
True to Mbali style she chose rather to stash her kill under the bushes than drag it up a tree. We left her that evening thinking that would be the last we would see of that sighting, as the hyenas were sure to find it that night and steal it from her.

I thought I would try my luck with the crash of rhinos next and headed off to the south. Unfortunately this time it seems that I would be paying wildlife tax again and came up empty handed, fortunately others seemed up to date with their taxes and called in a pride of lions at Voeldam. On arriving at the sighting we came across two females and a young male, not a hundred percent sure of who they were, but an educated guess is that they were more than likely members of the Voeldam Pride. We sat with them a while as they were hunting Impala, they got themselves into a good position but unfortunately one of the females broke a little soon and the distance was too great to close, we left them regrouping and heading to the South.

As has become Jacky and my MO, we set off the next morning early in search of the tracks of the White Lions hoping to catch up with them and check on their progress. On this occasion we were beaten to it with a call coming in that they had been found, as conciliation they were found in an area that we suspected they might be. Its always nice to find lion early in the morning as I find them to be at their most active during this period, especially on the social side, with the parents grooming themselves and the cubs, as well as the cubs interacting with one another. While we were being spoilt to all this social behavior of one cat, I learnt that another cat, Mbali, had not lost her kill to the hyenas over night and would require another visit, it would be rude not to!

My last drive of this spell started off extremely slowly with even Impala proving elusive, it appears they can hide really well when they want to and don’t even get me started on the giraffe. They had done a complete disappearing act and were the one thing my guests really wanted to see before leaving that morning. The drive was also made that much slower by the fact that I had passed up on the opportunity to go visit Mbali at her kill again, or what was thought to be Mbali. On closer inspection it was found to be her daughter, Kuhanya, who had hoisted Mbali’s kill into a tree, before being disposed of by Argyle male, with a hyena ever present should the opportunity of a free snack become available. You can imagine how long my drive became after hearing this unfold on the radio especially as I was viewing mopane scrub, nothing against mopane scrub, but once you’ve seen one they pretty much the same. I obviously was paying some major wildlife tax and was looking forward to the reimbursement and preferably sooner than later. Admittedly we were kept waiting awhile which had me worried, but it was all worth it in the end, I need only say four words, "Rockfig Jnr and Cubs!"

We arrived just as Rockfig Jnr chased off a hyena that had had a go at one of the cubs, which were now sitting in the upper branches of a tree beside the road. As if nothing had happened mom settled nonchalantly next to the road, on seeing this the cubs gained confidence and quickly joined her.

Again we were spoilt to cats interacting, with mom cleaning and suckling the cubs in between bouts of them chasing one another around and taking a particular fancy to a community spiders’ nest within their reach, I pity the poor inhabitants, brings a new meaning to shaken and not stirred! During the entire goings on Jacky pointed out the size of one of the cubs paws, they are huge, and leads us to believe that one is a male and the other a female. I mentioned this to another guide and he agreed, as he got to view the males defining features. Having to leave the sight, I was fully aware that Rockfig Jnr and her cubs had come to my rescue and saved us from a fully exclusive botanical drive!

On our way home I got a call from a fellow guide that spotted me driving on a distant hill in the direction of camp to say that if I was interested, Kuhanya was still resting in a tree not far from where all the action occurred earlier that morning. Being a sucker for leopards and having a reputation for being late for meals, I promptly turned around, I would hate to disappoint everyone, and quickly visited a beautiful lady. It’s going to be interesting to see how Mbali interacts with Kuhanya now that she has a new litter of cubs, and yet another thing to look forward following.

These are only some of the highlights of what occurred in what amounts to five nights worth of driving, with many more that could keep me going a lifetime. I did not even get the chance to mention the many elephant herds and the impressive buffalo herds that are in the area at the moment. Not to mention the great birding and all the little things that we get to see daily, so I have added a few images that hopefully tell the story!


  1. It is such a treat to read your report. I just can imagine the trepidation you must feel when you find another family of leopards. The pictures are so vivid and beautiful. I took my husband to Palm Beach in south Florida for his birthday mostly because there is a wildlife refuge there and a “safari” park. We saw a couple of lions and leopards at the wildlife refuge and many animals in the safari park. This for sure pales to what you see, but it was still great to watch these beautiful animals. I did a post on the wildlife refuge already but next week I intend to write one on the safari park. I am researching the arguments “for” and “against” such places and zoos to include in my post. I can see both views. Of course it would be so much better to be with you in the reserve, but how many people can afford to do that? Your reports are so good that it’s great coming along “virtually” with you and watching the animals.

  2. nice one meneer murphey!!! glad the leopard population is growing; imagine having mbali, rockfig jnr and nthombi with cubs at the same time - leopard sightings are going to be insane this year!!!

    interesting behaviour with argyle male and his son, and "the chad" was correct, that looks like vyboom dam male feeding on the kill (5:4 spot pattern), although he is growing up quickly! man, last time i saw him he still looked like a youngster!

    also great to see new lions coming into the area...look forward to more news on the fate of the sohebele lioness and the machaton pride so far north...