Photo of the Day
|Shongile female with her two boyfriends! Machaton male on the left and Makepisi male on the right!!!|
3 x leopards (Makepisi male and Shongile female mating with Machaton male) – Peru, Xinzele Rd
1 x elephant bull – Motswari, Xinatsi Dam link east
1 x buffalo bull – Motswari, Soccer Field
(Chad, Marka and Herold)
2 x rhino (female and female calf)
2 x rhino (female and male)
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Motswari, Camp
1 x breeding herd of elephants, Peru, Sohebele Plains
1 x elephant bull – Motswari, Southern Access
1 x buffalo bull – Motswari, Southern Access
After last night’s freezing drive home, I wasn't keen on heading out in the even colder early morning!!! My freezing nose meant that I could barely travel more than 10km an hour, but we pushed slowly towards Piva Plains and then to check the eastern side of Peru for Argyle Jnr leopardess and her cubs.
We saw some impalas and kudus, as well as a few birds, but in the coldness of the morning, it was a touch quiet. Then we suddenly forgot it was cold as we sat and watched the most interesting sighting I have ever witnessed in the Timbavati.
As we were driving, Petros’s head probably too frozen to be moving around, one of my guests said “over there!” and we turned to see a leopard standing in the grass about 20m away, focussed to the east. My first instinct was that it was Argyle Jnr, as she was not even paying us attention, but fixing my binoculars on her, I saw it was a young leopard, and from the side profile I questioned Petros if it was Kuhanya – a bit out of her usual territory, but it looked like her. Then a second leopard moved in the background, and a third to the left – both big males – and as the one on the left was quickly identified as Makepisi male (that dark golden-brown eyes are unmistakable), we came to the conclusion that this was the same family I missed out on a few days back – Klakisa female (and having hardly ever seen her, I couldn’t confirm or deny that the female leopard was her or not), Makepisi male and his shier brother Xindzuti.
|What a sight - three adult leopards together! Initially we suspected it was Xindzuti and Makepisi with their smaller mother, Klakisa|
As the female and one male moved off, and Makepisi male followed behind, all seemed in order with our assessment of who they were – the female was move and seemed a bit nervous, following the one male whenever he moved, with Makepisi moving behind. Eventually all three came together and the female growled vehemently as Makepisi approached, but the other male was fine and ignored the Makepisi, eventually sauntering off with the female in tow; even Petros laughed and commented how you could see that the mom didn’t like Makepisi and only the other brother. As I sat interpreting the situation, I was describing how the young boys were old enough to be independent, and that this was possibly the moms way of letting them know that they must now just leave her alone.
Carrying on as the trio moved through the bush, we would find the males sitting next to each other as the female ran off, then a clan of four hyenas approached and caused them to split – Makepisi apparently ran up a tree and we stuck with the mother and her other son.
Then, the “son” got up and started mating with the “mother”....oopsy.
Sitting in disbelief – more for the fact that a son had just mated with his mom more than that fact that this was the first time I had seen mating leopards in almost 5 years (last time was the late Mangadjane and late Rockfig in 2007!) – I thought I had better double check the leopards. As the male stood watching us 20m away, a peek with binoculars let me realise that this was not Xindzuti, but rather the dominant Machaton male, and as the female was so relaxed, I jumped to the conclusion that the female was indeed Kuhanya (and I was only a touch jealous that she had a new boyfriend)!
|Eventually, we identified the female as Shongile (and not Kuhanya as i initially suspected)|
|The honeymoon couple|
With Makepisi out the picture for a bit, Machaton male got to work, and we saw them mating another 4 or 5 times in the next 5 minutes! Was impressive to see and hear, although I didn’t take one picture (sorry!) because I was driving and just enjoying this spectacle that we were viewing!
What made it so amazing for me was not the mating, but the fact that the Machaton male was so amazingly tolerant of his son! Ordinarily, male leopards have very little to do with their off-spring (although Argyle male used to let his sons share his kills), and would mostly chase them off. To then throw a female in estrus in the mix – a situation that almost always brings the most possessiveness out of any male – and see the dominant male showing absolutely no aggression or agitation at the presence of another male (even sitting next to him at times!!!!) just blew my mind! Clearly Machaton knows that Makepisi is his son, but still....there are not many fathers that would let their sons follow thm on “honeymoon!!!”. Possibly his young age and fact that he is not a sexual threat meant that Machaton didn’t have to worry about the young male, but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that he would let this male follow him while he was mating!
After a truly remarkable sighting, we left Johannes to enjoy the sighting and went for a cup of coffee. We did spend a bit of time following five of the Xinatsi hyena clan members near the mating leopards as we were leaving the sighting. After coffee I stupidly ignored a sighting of a herd of elephants nearby to go look for a larger herd that was heading towards Xinatsi Dam; but all I found was one large lone bull elephant that didn’t really feel like playing along.
|Hyena and elephant|
The morning had passed us by so we returned to camp to make the other guide jealous of our sighting...only a bit later when checking my photos did I realise that I had made another mistake, and the leopardess was not Kuhanya, but indeed Shongile – no surprises as she was searching hard for a male yesterday – the fact that she was so far out of her usual territory is not unusual for females in estrus that will sometimes venture further afield to seek out a suitable mate. Even more interesting, when Johannes found the honeymoon couple on his way home in the evening drive – there were now FOUR leopards together!!!! Johannes thinks they were Shongile, Makepisi, Machaton and Argyle Jnr (Shongile’s mom)...making it five leopards that Johannes saw in the afternoon!!!
I didn’t see one. But I wasn't on a leopard mission, but rather a rhino one; and we saw four of those.
The guests all enjoyed a herd of elephants at the camp dam during lunch, and we started the drive immediately with a large elephant bull that came and fed on a tree 5m from us – incredible to be so close to such a giant!
|Elephant bull near camp|
A few hundred metres along the road we joined Herold with a lone buffalo bull before moving south to where Giyani had reported tracks for three different groups of rhinos in the morning. Along the way we saw kudus, impalas, steenbucks, duikers and a nice herd of zebras, with a very cute foal.
|Herold and his buffalo bull|
|Zerbas and impala on Java airstrip|
Nearing the area of all the rhino tracks, Giyani was checking to the east of the river, and I thought I would check to the west a bit – so I took a road that drove through the middle of where the different tracks had been heading into – all I saw was a relaxed troop of baboons and no rhinos.
It was thus a bit frustrating that two different sightings were established about 300m either side of where I had just driven! Oh well, I didn’t find them myself, but as I was close, I went to join Giyani with a male and female white rhinos. They were semi-relaxed, but we didn’t go off road to see them, preferring instead to view them at a bit of a distance from the road as they stood doing very little.
|My first sighting of a new male and female rhino|
As we were watching them, the mother and her calf were found nearby, so once the other guides that hadn’t seen rhinos had been through, we moved from our two adults to the mother and calf, and enjoyed a bit more of an active sighting as they grazed and the mother suckled the calf – always love the whining sounds she makes as she drinks milk.
|Rhino and her female calf|
It was getting dark, so we left them and then went to enjoy a drink before trying our luck with the leopards. Johannes found Xindzuti as we were enjoying the stars and listening for sounds of the mating leopards.
We didn’t see much besides a black-backed jackal and some elephants at the camp, and missed Johannes’s call of four leopards at Sohebele Dam as we were back at camp already...probably a good thing, as he just wanted to brag that he won the day “5-3”...guess I have to find at least two more leopards tomorrow!