Ranger’s Diary 16 – 22 June 2013

Dwarf mongooses - Robin Hester
Dwarf mongooses – Robin Hester

Sunday

This morning unfortunately turned out to be very frustrating where game viewing was concerned. We heard lions roaring in the south-east, and when we went to investigate, we realised that they were still some distance south of our boundary. We then found tracks for a leopard with cubs heading into a thick gulley behind one of the dams. We followed the tracks on foot, and eventually caught a glimpse of the two youngsters – Thandi’s two cubs. Unfortunately there was no way of getting to them in a vehicle, and we left a bit disappointed. We did find a herd of elephants on our way back to the lodge however, so the drive was not completely fruitless.

The afternoon drive proved to be very successful to our relief. We spent about an hour with an amazing herd of 40 elephants feeding in the riverbed. There were lots of babies and youngsters playing and pushing each other around, which is always very entertaining. We also found two hyenas resting only a hundred meters from the elephants. We then found Thandi and her two cubs walking down the road, and followed them for a while before stopping for drinks just before sunset. On our way back to the lodge we were surprised to find Lamula walking around. It was a real pleasure to see the beautiful male leopard again, as we do not get to see him very often. It seems that he has moved his territory further south of our boundary.

The female leopard, Shadow - Robin Hester
The female leopard, Shadow – Robin Hester

Monday

This morning we headed straight to the area where Mvula was seen killing one of Shadow’s cubs, in the hope of finding the other cub. When arrived, we just found the young dead cub with Mvula lying close by. Although this is part of nature, we didn’t linger as it was quite heartbreaking to see. We found Shadow not too far from the scene, scent marking as she moved steadily south. There was no sign of the other cub. She was very aggressive towards the vehicles so we decided to leave her, as she was probably still stressed from the previous night. We just hope that the other cub survived the encounter, but only time will tell. We finished off the drive with a sighting of a large herd of zebra and six giraffe, all out in the open by the big dam in front of the lodge. There was a very young giraffe suckling from its mother.

Grumpy hyena pup - Robin Hester
Grumpy hyena pup – Robin Hester

This afternoon we decided to head toward the hyena den site to see the pups. We were all still very upset about what happened to Shadow’s cubs, and the hyena pups are always entertaining. On arrival at the den, there was not a hyena in sight. It wasn’t long however, before two curious pups popped out of the den to investigate what was going on outside. The two pups walked straight up to the vehicle and starting sniffing the tyres. An adult hyena then arrived at the den with a leg of what looked to be an impala for the pups. We watched the pups enjoying their meal. Driving out of the hyena den site we found a large breeding herd of elephants. There were a lot of calves running around and playing with one another. Between the hyena pups and the elephant calves, they manage to put a smile on our faces and we went back to the lodge feeling a whole lot better.

Male leopard, Mvula - Robin Hester
Male leopard, Mvula – Robin Hester

Tuesday

We headed out toward where Mvula had treed Shadow’s cub the night before to see what had gone down from the night before. We were on the track into the sighting when we spotted Shadow perched on a termite mound, staring intently in the direction of her cubs’ carcass. We sat with her for a while before following her into view of the tree, and saw that the carcass had been fed on, but the culprit was nowhere to be found. While watching the sad spectacle of Shadow sniffing around and calling softly for the fallen cub, we heard kudu alarm-calling further to the wet of us, followed by the sawing roar of a male leopard. He was less than a kilometre away, but moving away from us. When the rangers found him he was on the move, marking and calling as he went, and by the amount of salivating he was doing, he seemed to be ‘in a mood’. There were tracks of another male leopard in the area, but no visuals of him.  Further east Thandi was found on the hunt but was difficult to follow in the very dense bush she was stalking in. On our way back to the lodge we located a large herd of about 20 elephants that were feeding contently in nice open wooded area. We got in close to the relaxed herd, and followed them as they slowly drifted through the woodland.

The afternoon saw us heading back to the sad spectacle of the cub carcass, but this time without any luck of leopard activity. We followed tracks though and while tracking Shadow, saw a number of vultures close to the area of the cub. Surely couldn’t be that many for the tiny carcass? On closer investigation we found a carcass of a buffalo that had been opened by a large predator. But who? We were puzzling over this while looking at the sighting, when a low growl emitted from the surrounding bush. Lion! A young male had claimed the old bull buffalo we called Charlie. The neck of the carcass did not show any sign of trauma so we presume that the +- 5 ½ year old male had found the buffalo dead or just about dead, and had started feeding. He was wary of the vehicles, so we came back after dark and found he visibly relaxed under the spot light. We identified him as the previous Kahuma youngster that had not been seen for some time. It was so exciting to see what great condition he was in. While we had been tracking this male, the other rangers had found the Kahuma pride and two Matimbas on the carcass of a young hippo! Crazy lion activity, when nothing had been seen for days. Mvula was found walking and patrolling in the evening, and covered lots of ground while the guys were with him. We also found the herd of about 20 elephants we had seen in the morning close to our dam, as well as another surprise – a large herd of about 300 buffalo that were steadily grazing through the west.

Wednesday

This morning we went to watch the Kahuma male lion feeding again. He was looking very full, satisfied and relaxed. No other predators had found or disturbed him and his kill. He is in great condition and is probably around five years old now. We also went to see the two Matimba males and the Kahuma pride as they continued to feast on their hippo kill. These lions were also all looking very full and content, and still had a lot of meat to finish. We then found a herd of elephants accompanied by four large bulls. The highlight of the drive was a sighting of a male cheetah. We followed him through a gulley onto the edge of a large open area. There were some impalas as well as young waterbuck there. He sat and watched them for a few minutes and then decided to go to rest, as there was no cover for him to use in order to get close enough for a chase.

This afternoon we again went to the Kahuma male lion and his buffalo kill. The lion was getting rounder, and his kill was getting considerably smaller. He is really lucky that there are still no hyenas pestering him and attracting attention to his kill. The other Kahuma lions and the two Matimba males had just about finished the hippo carcass. Eventually they all got up and disappeared into a gulley to rest. They will probably move back north during the night. We were really fortunate to see all of them for the last two days. We also had a brief sighting of Wabayiza, Thandi’s older son. Karula also showed herself briefly, crossing the road in front of us and heading into a thicket. We circled the area but never found her again.

Herd of elephants - Robin Hester
Herd of elephants – Robin Hester

Thursday

Driving out this morning, we found a herd of elephants right by the parking area of the camp. They were all feeding and taking a liking to the Knob thorn trees right near the camp. We watch an elephant bull strip the bark from one of the trees and chew on the inner layer – the cambium layer – so he could ingest all the nutritious juices. We then headed east to follow up on tracks of lions called in on the radio. The lions were found –  it was the Styx pride. They were as playful as ever; we had the two young males and two young females chasing each other up and down trees. At one stage the young males was so high up a Marula tree he really struggled to get down. The older lionesses were just lying down as the four youngsters were continuing to chase each other out in the open. The impala and zebra were watching in the distance, alarm-calling at them. The Styx pride eventually settled for the day seeking shade from the now very hot morning sun.

This afternoon we saw a lot of general game at the dam in front of the lodge. There were two male Nyala having a standoff, doing their territory display side by side. There were also a lot of Impala, Kudu and Waterbuck in the open area. Driving along we found tracks of a male leopard. After 40 minutes of tracking, there was still no sign of him. We were about to abandon the tracks when we heard a leopard roar in the distance. We headed straight towards the area of the audio, and found Mvula. Mvula was on a serious territory patrol. He was scent-marking, lifting his upper body onto Guarri bushes to leave his scent on them. He roared a couple of times, to let every leopard in the area know he was in town. He made an attempt to hunt impala at one stage, but his attempted was spoiled by a squirrel alarming the impala and making them aware of his presence. Once he knew that the Impala knew of his presence, he would roar again. We followed him for over an hour-and-a-half and let him fade into the darkness as he entered into the Milawathi river to continue his patrol.

Friday

Morning of the 5th day of the young Kahuma male lion on the buffalo carcass and he is still feeding on it. The cooler winter days and nights have meant that the meat has taken a while to decompose, but the odour after this amount of time is rather rank. We sat with the male for some time as he was sleeping in a thicket, but our patience paid off as he stretched out and began sniffing the carcass. He hooked the massive body with his claws and teeth, and then demonstrated his strength by dragging it towards himself before flipping it over. Once he had maneuvered the carcass into the position he wanted it in, he proceeded to feed. The rest of the morning was pretty quiet other than a sighting of a herd of elephants that came screaming out of one of our central blocks, giving us all a bit of an adrenalin rush! We tried to backtrack to see what had upset them, but can only assume the herd had come close to the lion on the carcass and had picked up the scent. As the morning warmed up, we started heading back to camp for breakfast and found three ‘dhagga boys’ resting close to a mud wallow, chewing the cud.

The afternoon saw us heading further west to look for the buffalo bulls that had been seen in the morning, and found them feeding close to the area. We left the trio and bumped into a bull elephant that was slowly moving through the area, but while following him, we found the tracks of a pride of lions. We tracked them and eventually arrived to find a herd of impalas that seemed very distressed. Following their gaze, we located the four Tsalala females resting comfortably in the shade of a tree, surveying the area. We left the females and headed later on to the buffalo carcass, and found the young male sitting close to the kill, but staring off into the bush. A low growl emitted from his throat, and on closer inspection we saw a lone hyena moving in closer. The male lion suddenly rushed at the hyena, and sent it scurrying into the darkness. He turned and urinated on the spot, looking very pleased with himself, before returning to feed on the carcass.

Saturday

This morning the Kahuma male was finishing the last of his buffalo kill. We noticed tracks for other lions heading in that direction as well. Eventually the whole Styx pride appeared close to him. He noticed them and started moving towards them. They all turned around and ran away in the direction of our open area. We eventually located them again, very close to our lodge, before they went into a thicket to hide and rest. The Kahuma male gave up the chase and returned to the carcass. We then went to the hyena den and were thrilled to see the new baby come out of the den and sit beside its mother for a few minutes. He looks to be no more than a few weeks old.

This afternoon we again went to the Kahuma male. He was still guarding the last remaining morsels of the carcass. We drove around the area where the Styx pride had been resting, but they never came out of the thickets. We watched a herd of elephants feeding and drinking at our dam, and then decided to head east. We went to have a look at Thandi’s male cub, which was resting on a termite mound. We could barely see him as he lay down, watching us carefully. We decided to be patient and it paid off as the young male sat up and moved into the open, giving us a fantastic view of him with the full moon in the background.

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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