Saturday, 8 October 2011

05th and 6th October – What Game Rangers Do On Leave!

Photo of the Day
Jacaranda cub climbing a tree!
05th October - Morning Drive
(Wayne, Marka and Herald)
8 x lions (Mafikizolo Pride) – Java, Terminalia
2 x leopards (Klakisa female and one son) – Java, Terminalia

05th October - Afternoon Drive
(Herald and Marka)
12 x wild dogs – Argyle, Buffalo Pan
4 x lions (Jacaranda Pride and one Xakubasa female – 3 lionesses and 1 cub) – Mbali, White Syringa
1 x leopard (Klakisa’s boy) – Mbali,  DungBeetle

06th October - Morning Drive
(Herald and Marka)
4 x lions (Jacaranda Pride and Xakubasa Lioness – 3 lionesses and 1 cub) – Argyle, Buffalo Pan Access
2 x rhino
4 x buffalo bulls – Argyle, Argyle Dam

06th October - Afternoon Drive
(Herald and Marka)
4 x lions (Jacaranda Pride and Xakubasa Lioness – 3 lionesses and 1 cub) – Argyle, Buffalo Pan Access
1 x leopard (Argyle Jnr female) – Argyle, Great North Rd
2 x rhino
3 x buffalo – Motswari, Camp

Weekly Synopsis
Greetings again folks, as Grant has so kindly pointed out, Ranger Chad shall be taking over blogging duties for the next couple of weeks, and I look forward to some of the same excitement and excellent sightings that Grant, Herald and Marka have been enjoying over the last week...which is a surprise, seeing as though I didn’t actually leave the reserve for my leave!
I know that many people find it quite perplexing that someone who lives in the bush chooses to spend his leave, well, in the bush!  I did exactly this a few weeks ago on a trip to Serengeti, Tanzania (and yes, I am aware that I still owe you all a BIG blog update on that trip!), but that was a totally different experience all together!  This past week was not all that different...only about 4km different to be exact!  I went and spent the week with my family and some good friends at Ingwelala, a shareblock adjoining Motswari where my family has a holiday home.
I knew for sure that I would move across to Ingwelala, and all of the animals that have been there would suddenly move to Motswari, and I wasn't far wrong!  Fortunately I had radio contact with Grant and Herald, and through some good communication, we managed to keep one another informed on the movement of animals between the reserves to all of our advantage!
Prior to my leave, I did have a few days in the camp to do some work on my book (sorry, taking a lot longer to put together than I thought!), but having the Jacaranda Pride so close to camp, it would have been a crime not to go and spend some time with them on my afternoons off! 
One enjoyable afternoon was spent watching them in the riverbed north of Argyle Dam, where the lone cub tried her best to find a playmate in one of the lionesses, but to no avail!  It was truly enjoyable to watch this!


Jacaranda Pride and their entertaining cub
I ended up delaying my leave by a day to help out with driving some guests at the lodge, and considering how good the game viewing had been, we struggled a bit on the two drives I took. The first did see us enjoying a lovely breeding herd of elephants, as well as a pack of wild dogs; and while you can never turn your nose up at wild dog sightings, it wasn't the best I ever had due to the low light and the fact that the pack ran into the Nhlaralumi as I arrived!  My curse had started!
The next morning, I got to see leopard, but it was worrying as much as it was a huge surprise.  I knew Grant was in the south with me, looking for rhino, as I was.  So when I got mobile after coffee at Makulu Dam and heard him talking about Argyle male leopard, I was a bit perplexed; how had Grant gotten back north so quickly.  When he gave me the location, I thought he had lost his mind, or his ability to identify leopards, as he told me he was on our southern Vielmetter property, a good 15km away from Argyle males’s territory.  I had to go check this out for myself, and sure enough, Grant was correct (not that I ever doubted him...well, not all that much!).  Amazing, and even more amazing was that he was apparently seen at Rockfig Camp the week before!!!  I still need to confirm this, but one can only wonder what “our” leopard was thinking to go all that way south!  Fortunately he was heading back home to the north when we left him...(Edit - i can confirm that he was indeed seen at Rockfig camp over 20km from Motswari!!!!)

Impalas and even Argyle male doing their best to get away from Chad! hahaha :)
And arrive home he did!  After hearing that he had stolen a kill from no fewer than three other leopards 100m down the river in front of camp, he had consumed what he could and then carried on north towards Ingwelala.  I waited patiently on Ingwelala until Giyani told me that he had gone to sleep, and I would have to come onto Motswari if I wanted to see him; I needed no second invitation and made my way towards this brute of a leopard and found him resting on a termite mound.

Argyle male back home in the north, where he belongs :)
Other sightings around Ingwelala included a large breeding herd of over 300 buffalo, as well as some nice elephant on our first evening drive.

Buffalo herd on Ingwelala
A broken car on the first morning that didn’t bode well, but we sorted it out and found another smaller breeding herd of buffalo and a few elephant bulls about the reserve too.

Buffalo herd and a hornbill at sunset
The next day started with that aforementioned sighting of Argyle male, and then carried on with some buffalo bulls and some elephant bulls, nice hyena, but no sight of any lions?

Spotted hyena drinking and resting with a more active turtle dove flying off
In the evening, I paid the town of Hoedspruit a party-related visit, and whilst popping into Motswari on the way out, did find Vyeboom Dam male leopard at Trade Entrance Pan, 100m from my house!  Needless to say, I didn’t quite make the morning drive, but in typical Murphy’s Law fashion, the white lions pitched up on Ingwelala!!!  I had to write a field guiding exam in the afternoon, and on returning to Ingwelala went to follow up on the lions.  After some more nice buffalo and elephant bull sightings, we were informed that the lions were relocated, but unfortunately Ingwelala has no protocol regarding the number of vehicles in a sighting, and when I arrived to see more than a dozen vehicles waiting for the lions to pop out of the bush (there is no off-road driving there), I simply turned around and drove off, knowing that the lions wouldn’t show themselves until after dark in any case.

White lions on Ingwelala - the day before The Battle on Sohebele Plains
As I finished drinks, a friend mentioned that they had come into the river crossing, and I made my way there – by the time the lions started walking down the road, there were only 2 other vehicles and we sat and enjoyed a nice sighting of the three Xakubasa sub-adults – a bit concerning was that they were looking very thin and in need of a good meal!  I informed Grant of their location, and while he had a brief sighting, he at least knew where to start tracking them in the morning (read for the full story on that unforgettable day!).  With the lions gone, we settled for a lovely relaxed large-spotted genet instead back at the cottage.

Large-spotted genet
It was a bit depressing to hear that ALL of the northern lions were on Motswari the next day – great for the guests and guides, but not for me at Ingwelala!  As the white lions, the Mahlathini males and the Jacaranda Pride with cub had all been found around Sohebele Dam, I didn’t hold much hope of seeing lions for a while on Ingwelala...but then my friends called to say that they had a pride of lions in the far north, near the Kruger Park boundary, and it happened to be the long-lost Jacaranda Four (at least the adult lioness and a couple of sub-adults), as well as the old granny lioness of the Jacaranda Pride (that has been absent since they reunited with the Xakubasa mothers); long story short, we had lions!  Not a great sighting as they were resting under a terminalia bush, but nice to see lions none-the-less.  Sitting waiting for them to come to a nearby waterhole in the afternoon didn’t help as despite waiting for an hour, nothing pitched.  Poor afternoon?  Well, not really.  Despite the gloomy weather, we found ourselves a lovely rhino bull – something I have seen less than a dozen times in over 27 years of visiting Ingwelala!  Five minutes later we found a slightly nervous leopard, and some buffalo bulls, to go with other buffalo and elephants we had seen in the morning. 

White rhino
We also received news that the Jacaranda Pride and one Mahlathini male were less than 500m from the Ingwelala boundary, and heading our way; we tried after dark, but had no luck – so while not a perfect day, we still ticked off the Big 5, which for Ingwelala is quite a feat!
The next morning, Herald informed me that the other two Mahlathini male lions were also walking from Motswari towards Ingwelala.  I could hear him in the bush, but sadly the lions stopped not 80m from the Ingwelala boundary and we didn’t get to see them; so off we went to look for the Jacarandas and cub – fortunately they too were located, but just in the Timbavati side of the Ingwelala boundary – unfortunately just before I arrived there, they moved deeper into the bush, and while we could see them – and the cub – it wasn't a great sighting, but still wonderful to have all these lions again!
The rest of the morning saw us enjoying giraffe, four elephant bulls and a lone wildebeest as the mercury rose.  Late in the afternoon, looking forward to going out to look for the lions, our plans got put on hold by a late afternoon thundershower!  The lightening was in itself a rather spectacular affair, and a good soaking rain fell for about 45 minutes.  As it cleared, we braved the elements, and went to check on the Mahlathini males – we found one, but sadly as he was walking off into the bush.  not to fear, the Jacarandas were near, so we made our way to where we had left them, but in the rain, it made things difficult.  We could hear them contact calling close by, and I tried to direct Marka to where I had heard them, but the heavens suddenly opened and in that rain, the only thing we were likely to find was going to me a few drowned rats, and perhaps a reindeer.  We raced home, but it was too late, and we were absolutely drenched!  All-in-all, 28mm fell, and by morning, the trees had already started sprouting new growth!  The power of water is amazing!
The next morning saw me planning to go follow up on the Mahlathini males, whose own habits made their “route” quite predictable.  I sadly got held up by the sight of Argyle male leopard eating the remains of a buffalo skin that belonged to a buffalo bull that was no longer with us; once more showing leopards’ versatility and resourcefulness when it comes to finding food!

Argyle male leopard eating an old buffalo skin on Ingwelala
After he had tired of chewing on skin, we slowly went to follow up on where I expected the Mahlathini males to be, only to get a very scratchy radio call announcing that two male lions had been found in the area I was heading.  Sadly we couldn’t get lucky and they must have moved off into the bush and out of sight.  There was little else about that morning, and so I decided to take my friends and family for a drive on Motswari in the afternoon – but hearing about their quiet afternoon, I wasn't sure I had made the right choice!
Fortunately, I have a proud record of always having shown Ingwelala visitors at least one large cat (and on one occasion, only wild dogs, but they didn’t complain!) on any drive I have taken them on.  This afternoon was no different, but it did require some long-distance driving!  We started late, but still enjoyed some kudu, giraffe, waterbuck, impala, buffalo bulls and elephant bulls around Argyle Dam and Sohebele Dam.  Then I decided to go south to Tanda Tula to see the Machaton Pride near Machaton Dam; the route south was not that eventful. 
Young kudu bull
I did decide to pop in to check on the hyena den on Java, and got lucky enough to find the two cubs for the first time!  They were considerably bigger than I had imagined, considering since I found the den a month ago, nobody had seen one of them?  In any case, it was still great to see them, and even in the absence of an adult, they lay at their burrow entrance and just watched us curiously – very cute chaps!

Hyena cubs at their Java den
I then proceeded south, seeing a nice herd of giraffes before stopping to watch two relaxed female rhinos on one of the open areas in the south. 

White rhinos in the south
From there, I was going to head home, but with a few minutes to spare before the area around Machaton Dam was closed for a bush sleepout, I popped into the lions – it was great to see all ten lions resting together, and while they weren’t the most active, with a stunning sunset on the western horizon, it was a scene that screamed of Africa!
Making the long trip home, we ticked off bushbabies, two hyena sightings and then tried for that new(????, possibly Gijima male though), nervous young male leopard that has been hanging around the last few weeks – he had a kill near Sean’s Clearing, but I failed to even find the tree, let alone the leopard!  By the sounds of things, he wasn't very relaxed, so I also didn’t want to put pressure on him.
So only 4 of the Big 5 in that drive?  Only slightly disappointed, I promised to go out “lion hunting” (with spotlights of course) on our last night.  After dinner, we headed out, and before we had even left Ingwelala camp, we had found Argyle male leopard again!  So there, Big 5 in one evening then!
Hearing that the Mahlathini males had last been seen crossing off Ingwelala, we decided to still chance our arm.  Sitting in silence in the area I thought they might be heading, we soon heard a low contact call!  It was back on our property, and so the hunt was on – we moved around quickly to where we thought the call was coming from, and as we slowed down, we could hear the roars ahead!  Pulling not 150m forward, we found one of our male lions!  Success!
While watching him, the second male joined him, they greeted one another warmly and started walking on.  Pondering the whereabouts of the other male, we followed the two males, but as I swung around, out popped the third brother!  They all reunited and lay down about 50m off the road, and we sat quietly listening to the night sounds.  Some barely audible roaring of distant lions brought on the inevitable, and while watching them, all three brothers responded to this with a mighty roar – Africa at its best!  I think that in the 2.5 years that I have been following these lions, that is the first time I have been sitting with the lions when they have roared; and I hope it’s not the last!
And that about summed up my week’s leave in the bush!  While I might have missed out on the action of Motswari, it was still wonderful to have spent time with no fewer than 5 different prides of lions, 2 leopards, rhinos, elephants, buffalos and 22 other species of mammal!
I think I return to driving on the weekend, but will keep you updated over the next few days (and I can already tell you that I saw a pack of 14 wild dogs in front of Sharalumi Camp yesterday evening, only a couple of kilometres from the lodge – so great to have them in the north again!
Until next time, enjoy J


  1. What is the story with the white lions and their brother? Have the mothers abandoned them to join their birth pride? Is this normal behaviour?

  2. Thanks to Grant and Jacky we were in the vehicle the day the Mahlathini males were chasing the White Lions. It was terrifying to see the danger they were in.That White lion showed us just how special she really is and I hope with that spirit they will all survive future challenges, the first of which is to kill and get that good feed you say they need.Please keep up the good work on the blog and let us know how they are going. Our 5 days at Motswari was fabulous and we look forward to returning as soon as we can.
    Kim & Jen from Australia.

  3. Fabulous photos Chad

    We look forward to the update from the bush and perhaps some news on the white lions after their ordeal last week!

    Sounds like you had a 'good week off!'
    Sue and Andy UK

  4. Awesome pictures as usual Chad!
    Welcome back, and I am glad you enjoyd your leave (in the bush) :).