Rangers Diary: 17-23 January

Male leopard at Arathusa Safari Lodge
Mafufunyane - male leopard by Brendon Cremer

Monday 17th

Lot’s of rain during the night made for a bit of a sticky drive this morning. But thanks to some great tracking, we still managed to find Mafufenyane – one of our big male leopards – with a female impala kill. Finding at least a couple of kills after a stormy night is not unusual, as the strong winds offer the perfect conditions for hunting.

He’d dragged his prize across the road and down into a drainage line. The area was inaccessible by vehicle, so we decided to follow up on foot. Fortunately for us the big guy was fast asleep, and didn’t even realise he had visitors.

When we went back in the afternoon we were lucky enough to see him hoisting the kill up into a tree, which is always a magnificent sight. After the exertion of dragging his meal to safety, he then promptly draped himself over a branch and passed out for the rest of the afternoon. Two opportunistic hyenas camped out at the base of the tree, just in case some tidbits fell their way.

Tuesday 18th

What started off as a fairly slow and uneventful morning, soon turned into something really exciting. We found a small herd of about thirty buffalo on the airstrip. We could tell from their tracks that they’d been moving quickly, so we decided to head in the opposite direction to see what we could find. This turned out to be a good call, as we soon ran into four members of the Styx lion pride. The only one not present was the pregnant lioness. Her stomach was extremely large the last time we saw her, so if she hasn’t already given birth she soon will. We could see that the pride hadn’t eaten, so we left them to sleep.

Some more good tracking resulted in us finding three rhinos – two bulls and a young cow – resting in a drainage line. When we found them again later that afternoon, they were feeding in a big open area. There was still some tension between the two males, and a couple of times it looked as if they might come to blows.

An already great day turned into a spectacular one, when we ran into the pack of seven wild dogs.

Wild dogs at Arathusa Safari Lodge
Wild dogs by Brendon Cremer

We watched in awe as they ran down the airstrip, scattering herds of impala, wildebeest and zebra in their wake. They eventually killed an impala on our driveway, and once they’d polished it off they spent the rest of the day sleeping in the shade.

Mafufenyane spent both the morning and evening drives sleeping up in his tree. We managed to spend the evening with the lions again, and we watched as they put together a hunt. Unfortunately their efforts were spoilt by the inexperienced young male in the group.

Wednesday 19th

After struggling to find elephants for a few days, we managed to track down a herd of about twenty early in the morning. They weren’t very relaxed though, as one of the cows had a newborn calf with her. So after viewing them for a short while, we moved along.

We were fortunate enough to come across a pride of eight lions that we see from time to time. The pride – which consists of two large males, four lionesses and a couple of four month old cubs – spent the night feeding on a young buffalo. It was great to see them all fat and happy.

On our way home from morning drive we saw Shadow – one of our female leopards – and her cub up a tree with an impala kill. They were also looking nice and full, and watched us with interest from their vantage point in the tree. Unfortunately they dropped the kill sometime during the day, so when we went back in the afternoon we found nothing but hyena tracks.

The afternoon brought with it another surprise, when we found Nsele, a young female leopard that we hadn’t seen in a while. When we first arrived she was fast asleep in a tree, but it wasn’t long before a herd of impala caught her eye. We spent the afternoon watching as she inched her way closer to them. Her efforts weren’t successful however, and when we left her she was still hungry.

Thursday 20th

The morning drive was a difficult one, as we’d had more rain during the night. But in spite of the precarious conditions, we still managed to find a large elephant bull feeding on the reeds and other lush vegetation growing around the edge of one of the pans.

After driving around for quite a while, we eventually found the young Styx lioness. She was resting in some thick bush looking disgruntled. From the look of things she’d been chased north by the four Majingilanes males, and separated from the rest of her pride in the process.

In the afternoon we found five rhinos enjoying a good mud wallow, and scratching on one of their favorite rubbing posts.

Shadow – the female leopard – made another appearance, and we watched her for some time as she went about with her scent marking duties. Later in the afternoon she killed another impala, but unfortunately she dragged it into some very thick vegetation that was inaccessible by vehicle.

Friday 21st

More rain arrived today, which was great. Even though the wet weather makes for some difficult game drives, we’re extremely grateful for the rain. We watched as the dam in front of the lodge literally filled up before our eyes. It’s at least three times as full as it was on Thursday, and is currently about half full.

Although we were only out briefly in the morning, we did manage to track down a herd of about twenty elephants. They kept us entertained for ages as they splashed around in a mud wallow, covering themselves in mud, and just loving the rain.

The afternoon drive was absolutely awesome, as we found a female cheetah with her sub-adult female cub resting on the airstrip close to the lodge. Nice big stomachs showed that they’d had a good day.

Two of the Machingilhane male lions
Machingilhane male lions by Brendon Cremer

While we were watching them we heard lions calling, and went to investigate. We found two of the Majingilanes males with a Styx lioness close to our southern boundary. Lions don’t usually roar during the heat of the day, but clearly these guys hadn’t received the memo. They gave us an incredible show, roaring every five minutes or so. This is surely one of the most formidable sounds you’ll ever hear the bush (although the thundering footsteps of an elephant chasing can also be quite intimidating).

Saturday 22nd

The female cheetah and her cub spent the entire day resting smack-bang in the middle of the airstrip. If they moved 10m throughout the day it was a lot.

A large group of elephants moved through the area, and we spent much of the afternoon with them. The herd had lots of little ones, as well as some large bulls, so it was interesting to watch them as they went about their business.

We spotted a couple of old male buffalo in their usual mud wallows, although they weren’t interested in doing much more than keep cool and avoid the flies.

The real surprise came right at the end of the day, when we bumped into Safari – our old female leopard. We haven’t seen her in ages, so it was good to see that she is still looking strong and healthy.

Sunday 23rd

We found another impressive herd of elephants on the airstrip this morning. We spent a fair amount of time with them, as their family dynamics are wonderful to observe.

A group of six rhinos was hanging around one of the dams. After quenching their thirst, they collapsed in the shallow waters and promptly went to sleep.

The pack of seven wild dogs made another appearance. When we found them they were resting in a riverbed, seeking respite from the afternoon heat. The alpha male and female were mating, which is unusual. Wild dogs normally breed in late autumn, so that their pups are born during the winter months. Still, it was a once in a lifetime sighting for our guests.

The Tsalala pride, including BB – the old lioness with no tail, and four of the sub-adult lionesses, managed to kill a zebra. We looked on in awe as they gorged themselves silly. After eating as much as they could, they then flopped onto their backs and fell fast asleep. The kill could easily have lasted for another day or so, unless hyenas got wind of it and chased them off.

And that’s a wrap folks. Hope you enjoyed reading the week’s happenings as much as we enjoyed writing about them. Visit our Facebook and Flikr albums to see more photos.

Until next time,

The Arathusa team 😉

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