Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Kubasa Hlambe!

As per my promise here's an update on the White Lions. Please note that the events described occurred while I was on leave and I have put this together from what others have told me. I did manage to chat to Leanne who witnessed most of the events and kindly passed on the information.

The White Lions have been very unsettled of late with us finding them travelling great distances in no particular direction, sometimes venturing out of our traversing area for a couple of days which was becoming more and more often. A reason for the great distances they were travelling was the unsuccessful hunting attempts that passed by nightly and by the time I left on leave they were all looking gaunt, tired and pretty desperate.

While on leave I got a message that they had been found on a zebra kill, this was great news, as it would feed them all very well for a couple of days, allowing them to rebuild their strength and give them time to rest and recuperate. Well that's what one would think. It turns out that the zebra and an outside influence put in motion a series of events that was the worst thing that could possibly have happened to them.

Leaving them feeding on the Zebra one evening everybody returned the next morning to check up on their development, to their surprise, and a site that must have struck immediate fear into the finder was to find the White Lions gone and in their place were three Mahlatini Males. Immediately everyone set about trying to locate the White Lions and make sure they were all ok. It 's not the first time that the White Lions have been chased off a kill, having being dispossessed twice before by the Timbavati Males. On both those occasions the females were able to defend the cubs and all of them got away safely. It must have been a very anxious morning until they were all found safe and sound together. Unfortunately this is not where it ended as there appeared no escaping the attention of an unusually high concentration of lions in the area.

Making their way South West the White Lions were very unfortunate to run into the Timbavati Males who were on their way to the zebra kill themselves, somehow Lions can always locate a free meal. From what I've heard the Timbavati Males gave chase and splintered the White Lion Pride and very nearly caught one of the young male cubs, apparently they were right on his tail, literally. After narrowly escaping, the cubs were now split from their two mothers, who were still to be found together. They spent many an hour trying to reunite with the cubs, contact calling continuously, and looking around the area frantically. As the hours passed their desperation became more and more apparent, and their luck was not to change as they ran into the Timbavati Males once more, on this occasion both females coward to the ground in total submission while one of the males laterally presented, a dominance display, he then gave chase once more, at which the females ran for their lives becoming separated from one another in the process. Things had gone from bad to worse and one can only imagine the anxiety and fear the lionesses were now going through.

After all they had been through, and now also being separated from one another, they still went about trying to relocate their cubs, who we have learnt over the past months, have always taken top priority, no matter what! Their perseverance finally paid off with one of the mothers finding the youngsters in the vicinity of their unfortunate run in with the males. Immediately she started to head North, away from the Zebra Kill and all the Lions it was somehow attracting. This still left one female alone desperately looking for her Pride, Leanne was following her and mentioned that the lioness was visibly shaking and at one stage actually stopped for a moment, lost all bladder control and wet herself, before setting off again contact calling. Physical and mental exhaustion was making its presence felt. Sometime during the night the lone lioness caught up with her pride and they were all found together the following day, highly mobile to the North West.

During all of this the Timbavati Males dispossessed the Mahlatini Males of the Zebra, the third Pride to now feed on the carcass. With all the Male Lions in the South East it was only natural that the White Lions would travel to the North West, specially given that the Mahlatini Males who originally drove them from their territory were no longer there, home was obviously calling. The White Lions have now left our traversing area and Leanne was able to track them back to their original territory and more than likely the area of the cubs birth. I guess after what they have been through they may as well return home and hopefully reunite with the rest of the Timbavati Pride who will be able to offer them some protection.

I personally don't think we will see them in the near future, but we live in hope. The most important thing to all of us though, is that this incredibly special pride, The Kubasa Hlambe, as they are affectinately known, are safe and out of harms way. It could be presumed that being White makes them special, but I think it's also the mothers natures that have endeared them to us and how they are totally and utterly committed to their young. They have gained our respect and won over our hearts!

Piecing this together from multiple sources a measure of “broken telephone” undoubtly has crept in and the events that occurred may not be exactly recounted but it should be enough to give you the idea of what unfolded and keep you in the picture.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

"Flying Solo"

Greetings to you all, hope all is well, I'm back! Arrived back to drive on Monday, a little earlier than usual, but I guess there is no rest for the wicked!

I returned early as we were a little stretched at the lodge and this would also mean that I'd be without Jacky for a couple days, my solo d├ębut. Flying solo doesn't come without its challenges, first up is the ever present danger, let me rephrase that, ever present embarrassment, of getting lost. This is only amplified with the sun going down. Although Jacky wasn't physically with me he was still taking care of me and amongst organising my vehicle, he went to the effort to arrange me a smaller, lighter spot light, so it would be easier to drive and shine the light, and my arm wouldn't get as tired as if I was carrying the standard spot.

All organised, I was off. I did have the advantage of a sighting from the morning of ten wild dog that I headed straight for as I thought this would be a good way to start off. After navigating my way there I found the sight with relative ease, “this wasn't to bad, I can do this”.

So with the confidence boosted I left the dogs as they became mobile, I wanted to respond to Mbali who had been found not far away. As I approached the sight however they lost her in the thick reeds in the riverbed that she was making her way along, hmm, “ what would Jacky do?” I decided to drive around to the opposite bank and took a chance that she would reappear in the vicinity of where she was last seen. As I rounded a corner, I could hear a number of birds alarm calling off towards the river bank, confidence still running high, I proceeded to tell my guests that the birds alarm calling meant that she was there and it was only a matter of minutes before we would find her. Driving off the road and into the thick bush to the source of the birds alarm and my crowning glory, I came up empty handed or should that be headed! The birds were still going crazy but there was no sign of a leopard. I looked up into the trees to locate the birds and hopefully a direction for their distress, at which I found a small Pearl Spotted Owl and thus the direction and reason for all the commotion, “what the chances!”

Leaving the area ego somewhat deflated I did not venture far before deciding that I would take sundowners on a ridge above the river that allowed us to keep an eye out and hopefully afford me the chance to regain my now flailing ego. Drinks passed without any luck and now I had the added joy of having to drive and operate the spot light while still operating the radio and looking for game, I don't know how the self-catering camp guys do it. Unbeknown to us Irish Luck was with us and as we approached the dam up river from where we had drinks there in our spot light stood a male leopard on the dam wall. As we approached he got mobile slowly towards a drainage line and an area of very thick vegetation, at this point the thought did cross my mind that these leopards were “taking the mickey,” so not allowing them to get the better of me I followed. This is when things got interesting! I was now no longer on the road and heading in who knows what direction, so the potential for getting lost was almost a guarantee, added to this I was trying to direct other stations to the sight, never an easy thing when you don't know where you are yourself. To make life easier I had dropped the spot light into my lap, as I was trying to talk on the radio and navigate through some pretty thick bush scattered with the more than occasional boulder. Somewhere along the way I mentioned to my guests that I had the faint whiff of something burning to which they replied they had also picked up on it, this little mystery quickly exposed itself as an ever increasing heat spread from my lap and down my legs! OK, so maybe smothering a high powered spot light in your lap is not the “brightest” of ideas! I guess we were, know I definitely was, paying wildlife tax and after avoiding a somewhat very embarrassing incident, our male leopard took a seat in a small clearing allowing us a couple minutes great viewing. Once he decided our fare was up he stood and got mobile again, it was also our cue while vaguely remembering where we came from to embark on our next adventure, A Way Out!

Surviving my couple days, Jacky and I are now back and I will be posting our adventures from the weekend as soon as possible, as well as news of the White Lions and what has become of them while I was on leave.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Godfrey in Fine Form!

Howdy all, thought it about time I bring you up to date with the weeks goings on and in particular one afternoon drive, that Godfrey was in very fine form.

As you all should know by now we experienced a particular quite patch on the lion front, specially as the White Lions went on a extended vacation, however they did return, unfortunately it would appear that it was for only a day, because as soon as they entered in the West they made there way East and back into Kruger. Silly me, to think that I could manipulate “Murphy's Law”, that'll teach me! No doubt they will return somewhere in the South in a couple days.

During our lion-less time, a whole four days, felt like a lifetime, we were fortunate that our other regulars stepped in to fill the gap, with some new players also stepping up wanting to make a name for themselves. In particular a clan of hyena's that can number anywhere from eight to fourteen that we now find nearly daily around camp. On one occasion eight of them were found hunting an injured Daggaboy. It made for interesting viewing as all eight hyena's would approach the old male buffalo upon which he would turn and charge at them, scattering them like pins in a bowling alley. This occurred countless times as the hyena's were relentless but the old male stood his ground and fended them off on each occasion. We eventually left them to their game of tag believing it was a touch opportunistic on behalf of the hyena's, I guess the smell of blood from the injury on the buffalo's rump was to overwhelming for the hyena's to ignore without trying their luck.

Our Leopards always come to our rescue, with Kuhanya and Mbali never failing us. Even though they are not seen as regularly these days, due to their shift in territory or should I say possible expansion, they seem to make an appearance when needed most. On this occasion we spent an hour with Mbali as she waited for a Steenbok, that she had stalked so painstakingly close to, to get up from its resting place and start feeding in her direction, totally unaware of her presence. As the Steenbok got within metres of Mbali, she for some reason got impatient and broke early giving the Steenbok that vital seconds head start and enabling it to escape. It was fascinating to watch and even though we didn't get to see a kill, we all had a new appreciation for how much effort and patience goes in to a hunt!

On a morning drive a radio call came in that lion tracks were finally found in our traversing area all stations stepped up to help track them. It was somewhat confusing as two sets of tracks were found in a similar area but appeared to be from from different lions, so while some set out about tracking one set a couple of us got busy on the others. To cut a very long and frustrating morning short we came up empty handed on both sets, having been led jointly in circles for hours. After brunch we organised a tracking team to follow up before afternoon drive but they also returned with the same frustrations of the morning, ok, maybe a little more! Setting out on afternoon drive we had given up on the idea of finding this now very elusive cat, when as is the bush's nature of total unpredictability it presented us with a Timbavati Male lion lying out in the open sleeping next to the road. He may have looked dead when we visited him but a lion is a lion and we were very grateful to break our dry spell!.

The following day there were Lion to be found all over, with us first finding the White Lions, on what now appears to have been a day trip. All three Mahlatini Males were also found, I guess the abundance of large buffalo herds have tempted them back into the area. Not to be outdone by their male counterparts the Machaton Females were found in the South stalking a herd of Buffalo as well. Amazing how quickly things can change!

A drive that stands out a head above shoulders from the others, was an afternoon that Godfrey, Motswari's Head Guide and Assistant Manager, turned on the magic! It started within mere minutes from camp, where Godfrey responded to Impala alarm calling. Parked amongst the herd the reason for their alarm became apparent as Shongile, a female leopard, dragged her Impala catch in front of the vehicle and into the shade of the nearby bushes. I was in the area as we were following up on a Leopard we had seen whilst on bush walk, and arrived on scene in time to watch her start feeding. Once we were in position, Godfrey handed over control and moved off to continue his drive, whilst the rest of us responded.

Having watched a while we too moved on, our plans were to head to the West were a very large herd of Buffalo were slowly making their way to a dam, always a nice scene. Before arriving on scene, Godfrey who must have had the same idea, reported an interesting interaction between the herd of Buffalo and a herd of Elephant that had also now arrived at the dam. He also commented on the how the elephants were trumpeting and behaving whilst in the riverbed below the dam, usually a good indicator of a predator. Again as I made my approach Godfrey moved off.

After spending some time with both the buffalo and elephant we also started to head off to find a sundowner spot, but luckily before we did Godfrey's voice once again calmly announced that he had found three rhinos, Shangula, a female he was pursuing and her calf. Guess drinks could wait. Arriving on scene Godfrey yet again left us to follow the rhinos. While trying to keep up with the now moderately mobile beasts we got stuck in a drainage line and had to have the whole vehicle off load and push, no one gets a free ride. Once wildlife tax was paid we relocated the rhino before handing over to the next stations to carry on, while we now set about finding a sun-under spot!

Returning after drinks it was Godfrey's voice yet again that broke the silence and announced that he had found the three Mahlatini Males hunting our buffalo from earlier that afternoon. As it was nearing dinner time I had already set about heading home and unfortunately was unable to respond to the sighting. It appeared there was no keeping up with Godfrey and one by one we all slipped by the wayside. However Godfrey was not yet finished and on his way home he swung by the area where the Elephant were unsettled earlier, to find a male Leopard making his way out of the riverbed. Any thought of trying to make a comeback was now definitely dashed! As a consolation prize, on our approach home along Motswari's reception road we found a male Leopard stalking a young giraffe, but a hyena that was following him spooked the baby giraffe and he ran off to live another day. A great sighting and an amazing way to bring to an end a drive that must be in contention for my “all time top five!”

My intentions were to post the blog above before the weekend and then post another before going on leave tomorrow, but as per usual things are a little crazy at the mo. So what follows is a brief update of the long weekends sightings, so as to keep you busy while I'm away for the next week.

So, we were right and the White Lions have returned in the South. They have taken to travelling great distance when on the hunt and can cross our entire traversing area in a twenty four hour period, it makes for fun tracking, NOT!

The Mahlatini Males are still with us even though they were found on the Western Boundary very near to home and we all thought they would cross out back to Klaserie. Ok, hoped maybe a better choice of words, but they have turned back and are now to be found in our Central traversing area, this is not good news for the White Lions as they will keep on the move to avoid the Mahlatini Males and will not be able to settle down.

On the other hand very welcome visitors were the four wild dogs that popped up in the area. Still trying to piece together who they are and how they fit in, may have to consult “ The Chad.”

Otherwise the buffalo have seemed to have moved on but the Elephant are still to be found all over the North in a variety of social groupings, you need only take your pick. Our trusty Leopards are to be found around camp and we need not travel far to find our faithful friends.

Well.............., that about wraps it up for now, will catch you all in little over a weeks time, and who knows what the bush has in store for us, already looking forward to getting back and finding out!