Rangers Diary 7 – 13 October 2012

Sub-adult Styx male lion by Ryan Johnston
Sub-adult Styx male lion by Ryan Johnston

Sunday

Making our way west from the lodge in search of white rhinos this morning, we soon came across the tracks of a small pride of lions. They seemed to be heading towards a nearby waterhole, so we jumped ahead and managed to find the Tsalala pride just off the water’s edge, soaking up the morning sun. They soon moved off into a shady spot where they seemed to be bedding down for the day. Then a call came in saying that a white rhino bull had been located not far from where we were, so we responded to the sighting and saw a young, fairly skittish, bull. He soon moved off into the thickets and we lost sight of him. The Styx lion pride was located by one of the other rangers in the east. They had also found themselves a shady spot, and were lying down grooming each other. After a short stop we moved on and while heading towards the lodge we bumped into two old buffalo bulls that were just waking up from an afternoon snooze. They tend to sleep a lot more this time of the year as there is a lot of good grazing, so less time is invested in feeding than in the drier winter months. A nice heard of elephants was also found not far from the lodge – about twenty in total, with a few very young calves that were suckling.

We headed out with the intention of re-locating the Styx pride that had been seen in the east this morning. Making our way towards a waterhole, we found a nice heard of elephants that had come down to drink, followed by a large bull a little later. On the herd leaving the waterhole, a few of them started trumpeting. They had seen a couple of lions, and flushed them out the thickets and onto an open area. It was two lionesses from the Styx pride. The two went to the water for a drink, and the older female of the two began contact-calling, attempting to locate the pride. A few hundred metres away from the lion sighting we found about twenty buffalo bulls lying in a muddy wallow, trying to cool themselves and shelter from the harsh sun. One of our other rangers who had headed out west for a safari, found the Tsalala pride, still fast asleep in the same shady spot where they had been seen in the morning.

Salayexe's cub with a cane rat kill by Ryan Johnston
Salayexe’s cub with a cane rat kill by Ryan Johnston

Monday

We struck gold as we drove out of the lodge, with a sighting of the tracks of lions that had been walking straight through the camp, and toward the access road. Within five minutes of getting mobile we found the four lionesses we call the Breakaway pride. They were slowly, but steadily, moving towards our airstrip where the general game often is found grazing in the morning, so we decided to stick with them. Unfortunately for the lions, they were spotted by a well hidden impala just before they were able to stalk up to the strip. The hunt was blown by the alarm-snorts that alerted all within earshot. We stayed with the big cats, and were treated to a wonderful display of the four playing. We were also lucky enough to watch a large herd of elephants spread out and feeding on a more open area. Salayexe and her cub were also seen, and as we was close by, we joined the sighting just in time to see her come out of thick bush with a cane rat kill. She dragged the large rodent for some distance into a large drainage line, before stopping and calling for her cub that was safely concealed in a jumble of roots.

The afternoon was very warm indeed, so the Breakaways were found lying up in the same place as they had been seen in the morning. We found buffalo wallowing in one of the rain filled pans, as well as a rhino lying up in some shade nearby. Salayexe, the female leopard, and her cub were in the same spot as the morning, and we spent about 40 minutes with them, enjoying watching the antics of the cub.

Young male cheetah by Ryan Johnston
Young male cheetah by Ryan Johnston

Tuesday

This morning’s safari started off nicely with a sighting of a large herd of elephants. The herd was really relaxed, and with so many elephants in the group – all doing different things – they kept us entertained for quite some time. Just after leaving the herd, we bumped into two old buffalo bulls resting close to one of the small pans. After a great coffee stop, we got an exciting update. Two cheetahs had been spotted on the airstrip, close to the lodge! We headed straight there and saw that it was a young male and female, two of the four we had seen a month or so ago. There was no sign of the other two brothers, and we are not sure where they were. The two siblings lay out on the airstrip, grooming one another. They looked as if they had settled down for the day, but they then caught sight of a herd of impala and started showing interest, heading towards the antelope. Unfortunately the herd spotted the cheetah before they could get close enough. The cheetah gave up, settling for a drink before finding a shady spot to spend the warm morning.

This afternoon we headed straight towards the two cheetahs to see what they were up to. We found them both resting in the shade, full bellied. A little way off from them we watched two pairs of tawny eagles fighting over the remains of a steenbok carcass. The eagles attracted a couple of vultures and they in turn, attracted two hyenas as well. The cheetahs were not too happy with this, and they slunk away into a thicket to get away. We passed four old buffalo bulls resting in a thicket as we spotted a herd of elephants drinking in the distance. We watched as the herd drank before splashing themselves with mud and water. While sitting with the elephants, we heard a lioness roar, so we headed off to see if we could find her. It took us a while, as the lions were on the move, but we finally located two of the Styx lionesses. They had obviously been separated from the rest of the pride and were now trying to find them. They both roared a few times while we were with them, but never got any response.

Wednesday

We started off our safari by moving directly eastwards to the airstrip to follow up on hyena alarming. On arrival we found four rhino sleeping on the warm sand of the strip (two males, a female and a calf). On venturing closer, we watched as a herd of wildebeest began advancing east slowly while alarm-calling. Two cheetahs were flushed out of the grass that was concealing them! The cheetahs then proceeded north, parallel with the airstrip, before sneaking through the bush willows as they stalked a small herd of impala. Unfortunately for them, they were soon spotted and the impala began alarm-calling, sending the cheetah further north. We then responded to a buffalo sighting further to the west, and came apon a large herd of nearly 200. The herd took off north as we entered the sighting, and as we made our way to the back of the herd, we found the Styx pride of lions hot on the heels of the buffalo. Having missed their opportunity, they lay down and began grooming each other. When we left the sighting the lions had started to move north again in pursuit of the buffalo herd. We then stopped for a short coffee break and before we were able to get a drink in, we heard impala alarm-calling, so we packed up quickly and made our way to find what the impala were concerned about. We spotted the leopard they had obviously seen – the female, Ntima. She weaved her way through the bush willow thickets, and we eventually lost sight of her. A large herd of elephants was found grazing by one of our other rangers, and a sighting of the female leopard, Salayexe, was also reported in the west.

With it having become really warm during the day, we headed off to the new rain-filled pans to see what action was to be found there. Close to the lodge we found five buffalo bulls lying in the cool, muddy water. They were soon disturbed by a small herd of elephants that came to the same pool to mud themselves. One of the other guides managed to find a female leopard, Salayexe, and her cub. She seemed to have had a long day hunting, as she had just returned to the den site. After a quick greeting from her cub, she lay down and the cub began to suckle.

Thursday

Lion sightings have been great over the last couple of weeks, and this morning was no different. We had a lovely sighting of the Styx pride of eight lions as they stalked impala. We watched them try their luck with the wily antelope, but it was clearly not their morning. We were then entertained by a small family group of elephants, with a tiny calf that was still a little wobbly on its feet. Our next sighting was a herd of about 10 buffalo bulls that were not all that interested in us, and gave us what we refer to as the “taxman’ stare! The highlight of the morning was a viewing of the female leopard, Salayexe, who was found with a large female impala that she had treed. She had just brought her cub in too, and it was a treat to watch the youngster’s antics.

The afternoon was very cloudy and rain was imminent when we headed out. We tracked and found a young male and female lion belonging to the Kahuma pride. Shortly after finding them, ane while watching them stalking waterbuck, it started to rain. Fortunately we could still head off-road and as we had new guests with us, we decided to head to the area where we had seen the female leopard and her cub on a kill. On route we passed a small herd of elephants, and much general game such as zebra and giraffe. The female leopard was ‘cat-napping’ when we arrived, but we were lucky enough to watch the cub cutting his tiny teeth on some impala meat.

Two young hippo bulls by Ryan Johnston
Two young hippo bulls by Ryan Johnston

Friday

We woke up to rain this morning, but decided to brave the weather and head out. We were all glad we did, as it turned out to be a great morning. We started off with a sighting of a large herd of elephants, before bumping into a breeding herd of about 80 buffalo moving across one of the large open areas. We then went to check on Salayexe, the female leopard with the impala kill. We sat watching her for some time as she slept on the same branch that she had been on yesterday afternoon. There was no sign of the cub. Just as we were about to leave though, Salayexe woke up and started contact-calling. It didn’t take long for the little one to respond, and it came running out of the bush and promptly joined its mom up the tree. Salayexe then played with and groomed her cub as we looked on. The Styx lion pride had used the advantage of the rain to pull down a buffalo bull, so we went off to have a look. The lions were still full from the day before, and hadn’t fed very much on the carcass. The lioness with the small cubs was missing though, and we decided to return in the afternoon in the hope that she would be back with the “little guys’.

It was still raining when we got going in the afternoon, but we decided to give it a go and see what transpired. Again we were all happy that we had gone out, even though it was only briefly. We headed straight back towards the buffalo kill, bumping two buffalo bulls on the way. We hit gold when, as we pulled into the sighting, we saw three lion cubs sitting there watching us. All of the pride members were filthy from being wet, busily feasting on the buffalo kill. It was fantastic to watch the cubs tucking in as well. We then noticed a breeding herd of elephants moving straight towards the feeding lions. Neither of the animal groups knew anything about the other until they were literally right on top of one another. This enraged the elephant cows, and they chased the lions all over the place. The poor cubs got the fright of their lives, and ran after their mother as fast as their little legs could carry them! We decided to leave the restless elephants, as the rain started to come down harder. Just before we arrived back at the lodge, one of our female leopards, Ntima, popped out onto the road in front of us, dragging along an impala she had just killed! The rest of the impala herd was still standing around, alarm-calling. Unfortunately, due all the rain, we could not follow her off-road, so we left her once she moved into the thickets. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!

Saturday

One wild dog was spotted on the airstrip chasing a herd of wildebeest back and forth, with the wildebeest then returning the favour! A herd of about ten elephants was feeding along the edge of the airstrip while all this commotion was going on, and paid no attention to the wild dog – eventually moving into the bush. We soon lost sight of the wild dog as he moved into a very thick area. We then made our way to follow up on the Styx pride which had killed a buffalo the previous day. They had made quick work of the carcass, and had almost finished it. We left them dozing under some Gwarri bushes. One of the guides had a very brief visual of a female leopard in a tree before she came down. They identified her as being Kwatile, but due to the amount of rain we have had recently, they were unable to follow her off-road, and soon lost her. A big male lion from the Matimba coalition was spotted in the north. He seemed to have had a meal recently, as he had a very swollen belly and was fast asleep under a small tree, sheltering from the rain.

The single male wild dog was sighted again this afternoon, quite a distance from his position in the morning. He made his best attempt at stalking a small herd of impala, without any luck. He then had a go at a few birds (water thick-knees) that seemed to be nesting on the ground close to a small waterhole. They gave a very impressive defense display, and managed to chase the wild dog away eventually. The Styx pride was revisited by one of the rangers, and a few of them were still feeding on the buffalo carcass while the rest of the pride slept. On our sundowner break we were joined by a large herd of elephants, feeding as they ambled along and paying no attention to us. As the sky darkened, we packed up and continued on our safari. One of our rangers in the north went to follow up on the male lion from the Matimbas that had been seen in the morning. The lion was seen again, and had been joined by another male. They followed the two males as they began contact-calling, no doubt trying to locate a third male that had been seen in the area over the last few days. On our way back to the lodge we were treated to a very brief visual of Lamula, a territorial male leopard in the east. He has a small wound on his right flank, possibly as a result of a kill he had made recently. Antelope like Nyala and bush buck tend to fight back when caught, and it’s not uncommon to see a leopard with a few gashes after tackling one of these antelope.

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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