Sunday, 27 June 2010

Long Lost, Nearly Forgotten, Friends!

Yes, yes, I know it has been some time. Things have been somewhat busy at Motswari and my continual battle with all things electronic continues, think I fall into the category that is commonly referred to as technophobic. To add confusion to the mix, I have written a prior blog that I'll post after this one, due to the above mentioned technical condition I suffer from, so please bare with me. Prequels are all the rage and if that doesn't give me licence then I'll be forced to play my Murphy card.

Getting write into it, excuse the pun, our story this week centres around long lost friends, but before I get started you'll have to bare with me while I rewind you through the events that led to this particular moment in time. To bring you into the picture it takes place after some interesting developments in our ever fluctuating lion dynamic. Firstly, we had followed the White Lions over a couple of days as they steadily headed South and into an area that we do not traverse. Along the way we found them one morning finishing off a zebra foal that they had just caught. What made this more interesting than usual was to watch the pecking order that seems to have developed. You would expect the older bigger male cubs to dominate their younger cousins but it appears the roles are reversed and it is the little ladies that get the lions share, well after mom that is. Having said that, the white cubs do dare to cheekily challenge mom, hence the cut around the eye that you may notice in the pics.

The White Lions then went missing for a couple days but were found a few days later the furthest South that we have seen them venture. Their location may have come as a surprise but the fact that they were feeding on a baby giraffe certainly didn't! They had entered the Timbavati Males and Machaton Females territory and were taking a big chance. I think we all knew that it was only a question of time before they would be found and chased off, at best! This had happened once before. True to the predictions, that evening while standing by waiting to access the sighting, we heard this loud unearthly growling coming from the bushes ahead. We unfortunately did not get to see the encounter but we certainly heard it, and arrived on scene as the White Lion moms ran off into the night to the North. From what was described to us, it appears that the White Lions were feeding at the time when one of the Timbavati males ran in on them, almost immediately the cubs reacted and ran off to safety while both moms turned on the male to buy the cubs time. Apparently at one stage one of the mothers was on the males back, fighting, it all came to a quick end as another of the Timbavati males ran in and joined the fight, I guess the females had bought the cubs enough time and needed not risk further injury to themselves. We entered the sighting as the females fled the scene and the males took over the giraffe kill. Looking at the males, they were pretty cut up with many bloody scratches and what looked like a couple puncture marks. Worry set in, cause if they looked this beat up what condition were the White Lions in.

Luckily the question was soon answered as we bumped into them as we headed back North. They all had regrouped and were drinking water at a dam none the worse for wear, from their appearance you would never believe what they had just gone through, not even a little scratch to tell a tale, another testament to how powerful these females are. Overcome with relief, a realisation dawned that these cubs where in great paws and a confidence born that the future for them looks very bright. ( Leanne caught all the action on film, so keep an eye out for her White Lion series, coming soon to a screen near you.)

After their encounter they travelled to the North East and back into an area that we do not traverse. It's fortunate they went to the East as days after, a pride of ten plus lions, including two large black manned lions, their females and their offspring at various ages, were found on our Western boundary. These strangers had killed a buffalo and also were trespassing on the Timbavati Males territory, guess “the boys” were preoccupied with their recently acquired giraffe. I have once seen this pride once before, in the very far South, actually near the Timbavati access gate, a long long way from our traversing area. By the time we found them they had already finished off the buffalo and were resting off their indigestion. The following day they were gone from our area but were seen heading speedily South.

As the days passed Jacky and I kept constantly checking the Eastern sections looking for any signs of the White Lions return. They tend to follow a pattern and have definite favourite spots, but we came up with nothing. This brings us to the why and where we found ourselves that particular morning on the Eastern boundary, when we came across what we had constantly been looking for, Lion tracks. We picked up the tracks following a heard of buffalo and at one stage they gave chase, unsuccessful. From here things got a little confusing as we had tracks for the buffalo going in all directions and Lion tracks going around in circles, definite White Lion M.O., what contributed to the confusion was that there where no cub tracks that we could find. We decided that if we found the buffalo we would find the lions, as they clearly were following them. It did not take long to follow up on the buffalo and we where soon surrounded by a massive herd. As we made our way through them to the leading front Jacky caught glimpse of a lions tail out the corner of his eye as it disappeared into a Mopane thicket ahead of the now alert herd. It appeared from the buffalo's behaviour that we had missed another failed attempt and the Lions were calling it quits and heading off. As we headed of in pursuit we got glimpses of what appeared to be one of the White Lion females but as the visuals got better we discovered that in fact we were following an adolescent male, this was totally unexpected and threw us as it did not fit in with our preconceived thoughts. Who was this adolescent male and where did he come from? As if to fuel our confusion, two other adolescent males joined him. It couldn't be! They have never looked this good and there has been no sight or sign of them in nearly three months. Add the coincidence of finding the tracks at the same dam where we last left them as injured bags of bones, after an encounter with the White Lions at a Buffalo kill, was to big to comprehend immediately. Sohobele males, hunting buffalo, looking in great condition, I think not, but there before us stood three Sohobele Males, our long lost, nearly forgotten, friends! Needless to say the rest of the morning was spent following them wondering where they had been, what had they had been up to and how great it was to see them again, especially in such good condition.

As mysteriously as they appeared they disappeared and the following day we couldn't find any sign of them. Later that morning a call came in that a Male Lion was found around the area that we left them the previous day. We rushed off to visit our re-found friends but on our arrival we were in for another surprise, there sat a older male lion, who at first we thought was the Machaton Male but when another male appeared from the nearby bushes it became clear that we where looking at two of the Mahlatini Males. In contrast to the Sohobeles they look the worse for wear since last seeing them also a couple of months ago. We tend to see their brother more often, who now seems to be spend his time with the three females from the Timbavati Pride. (Oops, forgot their pics, will add at a later stage, don't want to push my luck to far.)
It's strange how in one week things can change so drastically and that when you finally think there's stability, or what resembles it, new players are added or old one's make a re-emergence to reaffirm another one of natures wonders, there is no such thing as stability or balance as we know it, in the wild!

Presently the White Lions have returned to Motswari property and are all in good health and look as if they fed well during their sabbatical, it could explain why they have not moved much in the past couple days and when they have, it hasn't been far.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Little Miracle.

Wanted to share with you most probably my best moment in the bush, up until now. I say most probably because I spent many a family holiday in the bush and it could be that my memory fails me, as we had many an unbelievable experience! To be politically correct I should rather say, " my best moment in the bush of late."

It all took place late one morning while returning to camp after doing bush work. As we approached camp we noticed that there had been a sizeable elephant herd move through the area, the extent of the broken branches and sheer number of tracks being somewhat of a give away. So seeing two stragglers came as no surprise and they seemed to be peacefully feeding either side of the road, nothing unusual about that, but as we got closer we were in for a little surprise. There behind one of the females balanced a newborn calf, that must have literally been born a few hours earlier. It was still wet and looked as if it had just made it onto its feet. It was something amazing to watch as it tried to gather itself and gain its senses as well as orientate itself to its new surroundings. Mom was not at all perturbed with our presence, guess the energy required during birth had taken it all out of her and she felt that she need not waste unnecessary energy on us mere observers. True to form I did not have my camera with me, as I never take it out on bush work, another of life’s little lessons! After watching in amazement for some time the guys finally wanted to get back for breakfast, I took this opportunity to fetch my camera and return to the scene.

Arriving back mom and baby had not moved much, actually very little. I parked the car and settled in to observe the first few hours of a baby elephant’s life. What struck me first was how hairy the new little one is, it appeared to be covered in a very soft fluff. Secondly, how quickly it started to gain control of all its appendages and how naturally things occurred to it. Case in point, it first started moving around its trunk and kind of stretched it out, followed by folding it back into an S shape, once it mastered that, it tilted its head back exposing the mouth. Watching it perform next to its mother, I was wondering what on earth it was trying to accomplish, until it tried moving in under mom, then it all fell into place. It was practicing to clear its trunk and expose the mouth so that it may feed. It appeared frustrated, as if it knew why and how, but it didn’t know where to feed. At first it practiced on fresh air then moved around and under mom trying on a number of body parts but not finding the correct position. This was not made any easier by the fact that it was still trying to gain its footing and mom was its, PLP, (public leaning post). Every so often mom would shift and baby would end up on its bum, this is when it occurred to me that during the entire time that I had spent with them I had not heard a noise out of either of them, there was complete silence.

On one occasion the second female did approach with what looked like curiosity and on reaching mom, she gave off a gentle soothing rumble and touched her, as if reassuring her with her trunk before returning to the opposite side of the road to her feeding.

Something else that was fascinating was the mother’s behavior. During all of this she stood in an open area beneath a large Mopani tree, where she had flattened the grass and exposed the soil beneath. Here she would urinate, but instead of it being the normal yellow it was blood red, this would fall to the sand where she would mix it in with her foot before picking it up with her trunk and throwing it over her body. I’m still trying to follow up on this behavior and why it occurs or what significance it has, as she spent a great deal of time engaged in it.

While sitting there I heard this noise approaching, like wind through the trees. The next minute I had this bicycle being thrown onto the seats behind me and a complete stranger jump in the passenger seat beside me. He was on his way to Motswari from a neighboring farm before running into the elephants. Before being properly seated he said to me, "kom laat ons ry, ek’s bang!" (come let us go, I’m scared), after convincing him, partially, that mom and baby were no threat we sat and marveled at another of nature’s miracles!

It was not long after this that mom and newborn slowly crossed the road and made their way to a thicket of trees. I took this as my queue to depart and leave her to her motherly duties.Later that afternoon I returned to the sight but mom and baby were no where to be found. I took this opportunity to look around the area, where I found the umbilical cord and what looked like the placenta a short distance from where we had initially found them. This confirmed that the baby had indeed been born earlier that morning at the spot that I now stood.