Rangers Diary 14 – 20 October 2012

Styx lioness by Ryan Johnston
Styx lioness by Ryan Johnston

Sunday

We were lucky enough to find tracks for the female leopard, Salayexe, coming out of the area where she had stored her kill a couple days before. The rain had prevented us from going into the area, and now that it was drier we could start actively tracking her. We found her relaxing on the edge of a gully system with her cub in attendance, and watched as the female gave her cub his morning bath. The big male rhino, Londoz, was spotted, and it was great to watch the “big guy’ demarcating his territory by visiting his middens and spraying and or scraping. We also had a sighting of the Styx pride as they were busy gnawing on the remains of the buffalo, and witnessed some really exciting interaction between the sated lions and the hungry hyenas. A herd of 20-plus elephants were also seen while out on the morning drive.

Styx cub by Ryan Johnston
Styx cub by Ryan Johnston

The afternoon saw us following the Styx pride away from the area of the buffalo kill, and further south toward our boundary. The young cubs had to work really hard to keep up with the rest of the pride, especially with their very round bellies restricting their movement! Three old male buffalo were found lazing with a rhino bull (Londoz) at one of our pans. A very rare and exciting find was a sighting of a honey badger that we were lucky enough to be able to follow as he trumped along one of our roads. We were fortunate to spend a fair bit of time with this crazy critter before he wandered off into the bush.

Wild dog with impala kill by Ryan Johnston
Wild dog with impala kill by Ryan Johnston

Monday

Heading east to follow up on reports of a wild dog being seen in the area, we found four buffalo bulls grazing on the banks of a small drainage line. We left them shortly afterwards to follow up on the wild dog as wild dogs move quickly, and cover great distances – as a result, a quick response to a sighting is essential. We soon located fresh tracks of a single wild dog and began to follow them. Along the way we came across a highly mobile hyena, and decided to follow it in the hope that the hyena would lead us to the wild dog. Our gamble paid off as the hyena located the wild dog as it was finishing off an impala kill. The hyena stole the remains and we followed the wild dog as he made his way west. Salayeshe (a territorial female leopard in the west) and her cub were located by another ranger in the west.

A female leopard was located in the east, quite close to one of the lodges. She was stalking a small herd of impala, but unfortunately the area did not provide much cover for her, and the impala soon sensed her presence. She moved away into cover as the impala began alarm-calling. A white rhino cow and calf had been found in the north, grazing along in the afternoon sunlight. They seemed to be a little skittish, and moved off into a thicket where visibility was lost. As the sun was setting, we stopped for a drink, but we were soon interrupted by the sound of baboons alarm-calling. We quickly packed up and made our way towards the alarm-calling baboon troop. After searching for a few minutes, we discovered what was causing the panick among the baboons – Ntima (a territorial female leopard) was on a missing, trying to get out of the sights of the baboons as they had alerted all the animals in the to her presence

Tuesday

The morning’s safari started out a little slowly where sightings were concerned. But, as it began heating up, the animals started moving out the thickets and one of our rangers found a herd of almost twenty elephants. We responded to the radio alert, and arrived just in time to see the herd crossing the road and out of sight.

Making our way east, we responded to a leopard sighting of Thandi, a territorial female leopard in the far east of the reserve. She has been lactating heavily for the past few weeks, but unfortunately we have yet to locate her den site. She weaved in and out of the Bush Willow thickets and we followed until the bush was to thick to go any further. We suspect that she was on the lookout for a meal.

After a long, hot day we knew we could find a few thick-skinned mammals hanging out close to the waterholes, so that was our destination for the afternoon. We soon came across three buffalo bulls that were lying in a small puddle of rain water, quite close to the road. They were quite content in the cool muddy water, and paid no attention to us.

Wednesday

An overcast and relatively cool morning saw us having a quiet start to our safari. It was only after about an hour that we spotted a small group of male buffalo just off one of our boundaries. They were later joined by a couple of young male elephants. We have seen large numbers of both zebra and giraffe over the past few days, and both are always interesting to see. The highlight of the morning drive was certainly seeing the female leopard, Ntima, who was found stalking a herd of male impala. Fortunately for the impala, they headed onto an open field where the leopard couldn’t make an approach unseen. We sat with Ntima until she lay down and took a cat nap in the morning sun.

In stark comparison to the morning drive, our afternoon safari was off to a flying start with a sighting of about 15 elephants and a herd of in excess of 200 buffalo. Another herd of 300 or so buffalo was found a ittle later feeding on an open area, along with three rhinos – two females and a male. It was a really special sighting witnessing these two large breeds in the same sighting. The lone male wild dog was seen during the afternoon, but he was lost when he disappeared into thick bush in pursuit of an impala. The highlight this evening was the sighting of the Breakaway Tsalala lionesses much later on. They were found on the open area on the other side of the dam in front of the lodge. We were extremely lucky to watch the four females in the pride fan out and hunt waterbuck that were grazing on the open area. After a nerve wracking build-up, the area came alive with lions and waterbuck running in all directions, but with no result for the lions this time. An amazing view!

Thursday

We had a very quiet morning drive. We went across to the area opposite the lodge to see where the lions went, and found their tracks heading east. After a while we found the four girls on the main access road to the lodge.

Our afternoon drive was a great success as we found a herd of elephants and a rhino bull. We also found a rhino cow and her calf. We also found the four Breakaway lions resting close to where they had been in the morning. We were very pleased to find Salaheshe close to the north-western boundary, and were hoping to see her cub as well, but it never showed itself.

Friday

Due to the rain, there wasn’t much action to be found. One of our rangers stopped for a quick cup of coffee, and was joined by a young leopard cub and then by the cub’s mother. It was Salayeshe (a territorial female in the west). Everyone was urged back into the vehicle, and they followed Salayeshe and her youngster for a while as the playful youngster bounded and leaped, playing with its mother. They soon left the sighting to give another guide and his guests an opportunity to view the leopards. Xivambalana, a young male leopard that moves around the eastern parts of the reserve, was also briefly seen before moving into a thick drainage line.

This afternoon we headed out in search of the Breakaway pride, that we had seen tracks for in the morning, Making our way east towards the area we bumped into a small herd of elephants that were grazing on the tall green grass on the bank of a drainage line. As the elephants headed off, we lost visuals and were unable follow them off-road due to the amount of rain we’d had. Continuing with our search for the lions, we began checking a few waterholes close to the area where we had seen their tracks. At the first stop we found four buffalo bulls grazing around a small pan. We stopped and viewed them for a while before leaving to follow up on the alarm-calls of a tree squirrel. Upon investigating we found the lions, all fast asleep with their legs in the air. No doubt they had made a kill during the course of the day, and lay down to digest their meal after having had a drink of water.

Salayeshe was also located again this afternoon. She had left the cub somewhere in the drainage line before heading out to hunt.

Saturday

This morning we found our share of big cats. First we found Xivambalana resting on a termite mound, surveying a large open area around him. We then saw the four Breakaway lions just as they were finishing a young zebra kill. We had our coffee stop and as we drove, we noticed tracks of a female leopard and a young cub. We carefully searched the area and suddenly saw Thandi lying in a large Marula tree. There was no sign of any cubs there though. She climbed out of the tree and we followed her as long we could, hoping she would lead us to the cubs. She went into an impenetrable thicket and we lost sight of her.

This afternoon we found a group of buffalo bulls on our way to find the cats again. We found the four Breakaway lions resting in the same area as they had been this morning. They eventually noticed some waterbuck in the distance and we watched as they carefully tried to get close enough for a chase. Unfortunately they had very little cover, and the waterbuck saw them and ran off. Then we went looking for Thandi. We found her walking around and followed her. She took us to a tree where she had a duiker kill. We stayed for a while, but unfortunately the cubs still eluded us.

And that brings to an end yet another spectacular week! Remember to visit our Facebook albums to see more photos from our game drives.

Until next time,

The Arathusa Team

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