Wednesday, 24 November 2010

A Very Dark Day!

Summer has officially arrived with nearly all our feathered summer migrants having made an appearance, we still await the arrival of the Steppe Eagles and the European Rollers. I guess having further to travel they can be forgiven for arriving late. Some thing that is not late, is the arrival of the Impala calves, with us finding this years first newborns during the past week. At first, we found single mothers with their babies but as the week progressed we started to find them in female groups with the beginnings of the Impala crèches. As everyone knows, if the Impala babies are here, it means the rains have arrived and thus the rebirth of the bush and it's inhabitants. Over the past two weeks we have had sufficient rain to revive the bush and set in motion the rebirth, lets hope we can look forward to a wet summer. Welcoming the rains, it does come with it's own set of challenges, more for us than the wild inhabitants, although I guess it depends from which angle you view it, all things considered I guess it all balances itself out. From our aspect as the grass springs to life and the trees gain their leaves, the bush starts to draw its curtains thus making it that little more difficult to view its' wondrous inhabitants. With this in the back of our minds I don't think any of us expected things to disappear as fast as they did.

As the saying goes, “rather have quality than quantity”, and that's one thing we never struggle for! So our Elephants and herds of Buffalo may have gone on sabbatical, and our trusty Leopards proving a little more elusive than normal, we always have someone that steps up to the plate! On this occasion it has been the White Lions that have provided us with once in a lifetime experiences, backed up on occasions by other marvellous visitors.

Arriving with a bang on Peru, in the North West, where they were found feeding on two young Buffaloes they have gradually moved South but still staying West of the Tsharalumi River. They obviously arrived hungry, as in the first week and a half after finishing the Buffalo calves, they have caught a Zebra, followed by scavenging on a female Buffalo that winter obviously proved to long for. It was here that a large clan of Hyena collected and there was some very interesting interaction between the Lions and the Hyena's. It's amazing to see how much the cubs have developed in the last two months, not only in size but how they have become more confident and are starting to take care of themselves.

After their face off with the Hyena's they did not have to move far for their next meal, killing a Giraffe, there's a surprise, in Steep Tsharalumi Crossing. They spent the next couple of days in the riverbed, once again feeding, sleeping and chasing off the many Hyena's that were still in the area, as well as trying to keep dry, as it was over this period that we received our first substantial summer rains.

It was also during this period that another of our very welcome visitors popped in, the three female Cheetahs that visited us during the previous month. They have moved in from the North West crossing from the Brasserie into Peru and have been slowly making their way South over the last few days. Always a special sighting and something that is rather rare in our traversing area. The direction they are now heading in will take them back to area of their birth, a region that is more suitable for Cheetah, as the Norths vegetation is somewhat thick. The open plains of the South are far more suitable and I'm sure that's what they are in search of.

As I mentioned above, things may have slowed, but we are still finding our special friends, just not as regularly. On the Leopard front, Kuhanya has been awfully elusive and she has not been seen in the last two weeks. We did however find Mbali late one evening traversing a section of an old territory she used to haunt, this could maybe explain why we haven't seen her of late, we've been looking in the wrong area. Both Rockfig Jnr and Ntombi's cubs have not been seen of recent but both moms have been seen on the odd occasion. With the arrival of the new Impala and the baby Warthogs, it will only get more difficult to find them.

The Buffalo have still not reappeared, with us only finding scattered groups of Dagha Boys around the reserve. The Elephant on the other hand have returned with both Kambaku's, large bull elephants, and breeding herds slowly filtering back into the area. On the Rhino front, it's been pretty busy by our standards, with us viewing both Ntenga Tenga and Shangula, we can also add a couple of fleeting glimpses of KNP ( Kruger National Park) visitors as they make their way back at high speed to Skukuza.

On a very sad note I bring you the news that one of the White Lion male cubs has died. This comes the morning after one of my best evenings spent with them.

Rewinding a little to put you in the picture. After finishing the Giraffe, they moved a little to the West not far from Enkombe Pan. We had visited them the previous evening timing our visit to sunset in the hope of catching them drinking at the Pan. Unfortunately they had not got mobile by the time of our visit and never looked like they would, preferring to remain where they where, sleeping off their indigestion. The next morning they were found in the identical spot. Chad and I joked that we were given a second chance and again that evening we planned our arrival at very much the same time. Arriving at Enkombe Pan we found a group of Hyena's in the water drinking and cooling themselves. While sitting with them one began calling, at which I got a message from Lianne that the Lions were up and mobile towards the Pan. We positioned ourselves for their arrival, anticipating where they would come to drink. The Hyena's obviously picked up their scent and the younger one's disappeared while the older ones milled about also awaiting the White Lions arrival. On arriving they came straight down to drink, Chad and I could not believe our luck, but it only got better. Once they had quenched their thirst the young females took an interest in the Hyena's that were hanging about. The began approaching them to which the Hyena's stood their ground, by now the mothers interest was also peeked and they backed up their cubs, who on getting closer to the Hyena's gave chase and thus began an intriguing game of cat and mouse, with moms keeping an eye over the proceedings. You could see in the cubs action it was cheekily playful on their behalf and all part of life's learning curve. It was a beautiful sighting and a privilege to watch.

It was while the Lions came down to drink that we noticed that one young male was missing, we enquired about his whereabouts and were informed that he was still sleeping. It also wasn't the first time he has been left behind. Vehicles that visited the sighting after us reported that they had all reunited and were together near the Pan. This morning, being Monday, the White Lions were again found near Enkombi Pan, a little unusual for them to stay in the same area for three consecutive days but they have done it once before on Java. It was later in the morning near the end of game drive that Lianne informed us that it appeared that the young male had died. We don't have much information at this stage but it sounds like he may have been bitten by a snake, as there were no visible external injuries. This could explain why the Pride has stayed in the same area the last 48 hours, he may not have been strong enough to travel. It could also have happened over night that he was bitten and it was purely coincidence that they were in the area for an extended period. As you can read, at the moment it's anyone's guess! I'll keep you updated with any developments.

No matter how it happened we have lost a beautiful Male Lion cub that in a very short time had endeared himself to us and won a place in all of our hearts. It is unfortunate, but Life does go on and Nature will continue to take its course, he however will be sorely missed but fondly remembered every time we see our KuBasa Ngala.

I have included part of an email below which I received from Lianne recounting his last hours. It must have been heartbreaking to witness and I couldn't bring myself to go visit. Thanks for the info Lianne and Will.

Hi Grant,

You might have heard about the very sad news... One of the tawny male cubs of our lovely White Pride died this morning.......

I just wanted to let you know how it happened, we filmed everything and it was the hardest thing I've ever filmed.....

Remember yesterday afternoon you asked me where the other male was, when the pride came to drink at Enkombi Pan? He was still behind.. After the pride had chased the hyaenas around the male caught up with the pride, but didn’t seem to do so well. When he reunited with the pride, there was a big cuddling session, a beautiful sight. When the pride went back to the waterhole, the male stayed behind again but managed to join them later. He was not well, but we didn’t think too much ofit.

This morning we only found 5 lions at the Pan, they hadn’t moved away. The pale female was calling continuously and so was the one young male that was with the pride. He eventually walked towards the mopani ridge, sniffed at something, and then we noticed it was the second male lying there, hidden behind a bush. When we drove a bit closer to have a look at him we noticed he was very sick, breathing heavily and not responding to any calls or movements of the lions at all. Both the female and the young male walked up to him several times, pushing him and playing a bit, seemingly to try and get him to stand up – but he barely reacted. The pride went to rest not far from him and after a while mom and son stopped calling for him, everyone went to sleep..

A bit later the sick male managed to sit up and we actually thought he was recovering slowly, but not half an hour later did he suddenly make a growling noise. His mother, followed by the rest of the pride, quickly walked towards him – he then had a spasm, followed by another growling noise and suddenly he was dead. The lions walked to him, sniffed him, and then Matimba and the white cubs walked off. The mother and son stayed with him for another minute, then also walked off. They laid down on the other side of the dam, in front of the dam wall, and mom and her son continued to call softly for the young male that had just died.

It was heartbreaking Grant..

Eventually the lions all walked away and arrived back at the same spot where they had been for the last few days, north of Khona Bobesi, east of the pan..

Leave couldn't come at a better time, catch you all in about two weeks.

Take care,