We headed out west from the lodge, having heard reports of drag marks crossing a road with tracks indicating that there was a female leopard in the vicinity. Soon a territorial female leopard, Salahesh, was located with an impala kill in a small Acacia. A few hyenas were patrolling the base of the tree. Having had a good feed already, she was fast asleep. We heard a few trees breaking not far to the north of us, so we left Salahesh to go and investigate. We found a large herd of elephants browsing along, and pushing small bush willow trees over in an attempt to get at the nutrient-rich roots of the tree.
The day began to heat up rapidly, and we found herd of buffalo bulls on their way to a small waterhole for a drink. We stopped for a while, and then continued on to find a place to have our coffee break. After a short stop, we had a report from one of our other rangers saying that they had located Mvula, a big male territorial male leopard, in the east. He headed south down the road scent-marking either side as he moved, before coming to rest just off the road. Another leopard, Ntima, was located not far from the male leopard sighting. She had already bedded down for the day in a Tamboti thicket, and visuals were limited, so we left.
We started off the afternoon safari with the weather still being fairly hot, and made our way north along a riverine area. We soon found a huge herd of elephants – about 60 in total – and spent a while with them, watching them graze and browse. A few of the cows moved down into the dry river bed where they began to dig for water. Elephants prefer fresh water and know exactly where to find it. We then went to a nearby waterhole where we found tracks of a bull white rhino, and after following his tracks for a while, we spotted him – still covered in a thick mud paste from his mud bath. He continued along a small game path, stopping occasionally to mark his territory.
After a break, we got going again – now in search of the cats, as the light faded away slowly. One of our fellow rangers located a mating pair of leopards, so we set off to view them. The leopards were identified as the male, Lamula, and the female, Kwatile. We watched as they mated a number of times, in full view of us. As we were running out of time, we made our way back to the lodge, and on route, had a brief sighting of the female leopard, Thandi, who crossed the road quickly and moved out of view.
We started off the morning in search of the mating pair of leopards that we’d seen the previous evening, but ended up bumping into the Tsalala pride of lions not far from the lodge entrance. We followed them as they moved straight towards the dam in front of the lodge. Before arriving at the water, they came across a small herd of waterbuck that they began hunting. Unfortunately for the lions, the waterbuck spotted one of the young lionesses and the hunt was over. The pride then lay down behind the lodge, and we left them shortly thereafter.
Moving north again after the lion sighting, we located a breeding herd of elephants with a very young elephant calf, which seemed to be almost a week old. We also saw two old buffalo bulls not far from the elephant herd.
One of the other rangers managed to locate Mvula, the territorial male leopard in the east. He had killed an impala the previous night, and had now hoisted the kill high into a large Torchwood tree. He fed on the impala carcass until full, and then came down the tree to groom before resting as the day began heating up.
On the way back to the lodge, we found two young white rhino bulls in the thickets. We tried following them, but with the bush was so thick that we lost sight of them, and continued on to the lodge.
The afternoon started off with us finding the Tsalala pride at the water’s edge in front of the lodge. They were still covered in blood, so they must have made a kill during the course of the day. Having left them sleeping behind the lodge, it is assumed that the kill was made close to the water, and was possibly an impala or waterbuck. Both frequent the waterholes in great concentrations this time of the year. We watched them drink for a while before they came to rest in the shade of a small Jackelberry tree.
One of the rangers went to follow up on Salahesh, a female leopard that had killed an impala and treed it the previous day. She was relocated, still lying up in the Acacia tree, feeding on her kill.
We located a breeding herd of elephant with four buffalo bulls at a small wallow in the east, and watched them feeding before we headed out to have sundowners.
Getting going again after a short stop, we made our way to see Mvula, the male leopard that had been found in the morning with the impala kill. He had gone up the tree again, and was feeding on the impala carcass as four hyenas patiently waited at the base of the tree in the hope that the leopard would drop the kill, or perhaps allow a few scraps to fall.
On our morning drive we saw a herd of elephants and a rhino bull, but we were hoping that we’d get to see some of the leopards and lions as well. We were driving close to the airstrip when we were surprised to see a lone female wild dog running steadily west across the airstrip. We kept up with her as long as we could. There was no sign of the Tsalala lions, so we headed north. To our delight we found two Nkohuma female lions and their sub-adult male youngster on a fresh zebra kill. We went back to where Mvula had had his kill, but found nothing there. We then headed south to the boundary, and found him walking just as he was about to cross the boundary. We also found the four Styx youngsters walking towards the southern boundary. They were alone, and kept making soft contact calls. This was unusual and a bit alarming. Eventually we saw the old female, Gogi, appear out of the bushes, and she followed them and caught up with them. She was also contact-calling, and even broke into a full roar. They were obviously trying to locate the rest of the Styx pride, and we left them also crossing south.
This afternoon we once again found a herd of elephants while searching for the big cats. We then found the Nkohuma lions, still enjoying their zebra feast. We had our sundowner break, and then we heard that two leopards had been found. We went to the area and saw something unusual. It was Wabayisa, Thandi‘s male cub, in a tree with the remains of a duiker kill. On the ground close to the tree was another young male leopard of roughly the same age and size. It seemed to be the male son of the Inkanyini female, who moves around north of our area, and who we do not see often at all. The two youngsters kept a fair distance from one another, and the Inkanyini youngster never tried to approach the tree with Wabayisa and the kill in it. They are half-brothers, both having Mvula as their father, but with different mothers.
It was a rainy and cloudy morning as we went searching for the Nkohuma’s, but there was nothing at the sight of the Nkohuma kill, not even bones. We found their tracks and eventually found all three sleeping and with very full bellies. We also saw a group of 20 buffalo. There was no sign of the two young male leopards.
This afternoon it was still overcast and raining like it had been in the morning, so there was little game to be seen. We found a wonderful group of 60 elephants, and also saw the Nkohuma lions still resting in exactly the same spot as this morning.
With rain having set in, the guests decided they would give the morning safari a miss.
In the afternoon it was still raining and the bush was now soaked, but we headed out on safari nontheless. Animals were very scarce with it being so cold and wet, but we did manage to find one elephant cow that was grazing in the rain.
We headed out on a wet and chilly safari and, after seeing nothing for a while with the animals being tucked away in the thickets, the call came in over the radio saying that two leopards had been located. They were Mvula, a big territorial male leopard in the east, and Xivambalana, a young male leopard. They were surprisingly only a few meters from one another! Usually the territorial male does not tolerate another male in his territory. Mvula had a large impala ewe in the tree above him. We’re convinced that the young male had made the kill, and that Mvula the territorial male had stolen it from him. With the rain starting again, we headed back to the lodge.
The cloud cover had cleared a little and the sun peaked out on us, which seemed to make the animals a little more active as, on leaving the lodge, we came across a small breeding herd of elephants. The group was moving quickly through the bush, and we battled to keep up with them, so we left the area soon afterwards.
Moving east, we located a large herd of buffalo bulls which had just departed a small waterhole and were now making their way north through a dry river bed, stopping occasionally as they found a few blades of green grass on the edge of the drainage line. We decided to go check up on the two male leopards located that morning to see the progress they had made on the kill, but only found Mvula, the territorial male, still at the kill sight. Clearly the young male leopard, Xivambalana, had realised that he had no chance of retrieving his impala kill, and had moved off.
It was raining hard in the morning, so we were unable to go out on a game drive.
During the day the weather cleared up, and we were excited to go out and see whether there was anything to be found. We did not find any cats , but we did see an impressive rhino bull and a herd of elephants.
Until next time,
The Arathusa Team