Rangers Diary: 20-26 November

Xivambalana (Karula's male cub)
Xivambalana (Karula’s male cub) by Ryan Johnston


The morning started off very overcast and it looked like we’d be in for some rain a little later on during the day. We headed out towards the eastern sector, where we found small groups of male buffalo all over the place, as well as a lone rhino grazing peacefully by itself. We were heading back towards the lodge after our morning coffee break when we came across Karula’s two youngsters, Xivindzi and Xivambalana, moving parallel to one of the main roads. The siblings were happily engrossed, stalking squirrels and birds, and stopping every so often to play tag with one another.

Our first point of call this afternoon was to locate Mafufunyane, as he’d been spotted drinking at the waterhole in front of the lodge just before the drive. We hunted around for a bit, but he’d probably moved into the thick bushes behind the dam wall for a snooze by the time we got there. Carrying on from there, we saw a male rhino following a female and her calf towards a big waterhole. He looked keen to mate, but the cow wasn’t interested as her little one was still too young. We also came across a young bull elephant walking along the road, and later on we saw a breeding herd of about 12 elephants that had just finished drinking at a waterhole.


The morning kicked off with lions roaring to the south of the lodge. Even though they were a fair distance away, it was still exciting to hear these kings of the African bush announce their presence to the world. We received a radio call that two male cheetahs had been spotted, so we headed in their general direction to see if we could find them. We didn’t see any point in rushing though, as they were already close to the Kruger Nationak Park boundary by that point. On the way there we discovered a male rhino scent marking his territory, and he obligingly gave us a full display of exactly how it should be done. We then got word that the cheetahs had decided to hang out for a bit, so we immediately made our way over to see them. On the way back we came across the Ostrich Kopjies female leopard. She looked to be in really good condition, and it seems that she has finally left her cub as well.

We found Mafufunyane soon after setting out this afternoon. He’s not looking his best at the moment, but hopefully he’ll find some food to strengthen his condition and fatten him up a bit. Next we came across drag marks and leopard tracks, and on following up discovered Karula and her two cubs with an impala lamb. It’s always nice to see these three leopards together, but being able to watch the two youngsters playing is especially rewarding. Now that they’re a little older, the size difference between brother and sister is clearly evident. We were on a mission to find elephants, and as luck would have it we came across a herd of about 25 individuals drinking at one of the waterholes just east of the lodge. When the herd moved off, a rhino bull arrived to quench his thirst.


It was raining heavily when we got up this morning, so a lot of the guests opted to stay indoors rather than risk getting drenched. The few brave souls that did venture out were rewarded with a sighting of the two Kahuma male lions. It didn’t amount to much however, as the boys just huddled together under a thick bush in a bid to stay dry.

By afternoon the rain had let up, and so the drive was a lot more productive. Soon after we got going we ran into one of our large rhino bulls. He seemed quite content with the cooler weather, feeding slowly on the moist grass, and scent marking every now and then just to let everyone know he was around. We went back to check on the Kahuma males, but they’d since moved off into an area where we couldn’t drive. We noticed two buffalo bulls in the vicinity, so at least there was the prospect of a meal for the brothers. We then found ourselves privy to some bush politics. First we camce across a big, unknown male leopard. He wasn’t very relaxed around the vehicle though, so we maintained a respectful distance. Next we spotted a hyena, and shortly thereafter we saw Nduna, another younger male leopard. But it was only once we noticed the impala up in one of the trees that we realised there was some thievery going on. Nduna tried to make his way back towards the carcass, but his larger counterpart was having none of it, and summarily chased him off.


Male leopard 'Mafufunyane'
Male leopard ‘Mafufunyane’ by Ryan Johnston

There was a light drizzle when we woke up this morning, and it looked set to continue throughout the drive. We headed north to see if we could find the two Kahuma males that had been laying low in the thick bush yesterday afternoon. After checking around a dam in the area, we came across some tracks indicating that there were more than just two lions around. The tracks led us up and down and around in circles, before eventually heading back into the bush towards a drainage line. We followed the tracks on foot and found the Tsalalas females lying in the drainage line. There was no way to get in there as the heavy rain had severely limited our off-roading capabilities, so unfortunately all our on-foot tracking was for naught. We carried on from there and found Mafufunyane lying next to the road with his head in some long grass. It was only once he moved towards a tree however, that we caught a glimpse of the baby impala he was snacking on. It was great to see that he’d managed to catch himself something to eat, as he’s been looking extremely skinny lately.

This afternoon we set out in some pleasantly cool and overcast weather. The drive got off to a good start we found the four Tsalala lionesses lying on the road in the shade of some bushes. We sat with them for quite a while, but they didn’t seem keen on doing much more than just laze about. Heading to the eastern sector, we found Mafufunyane fast asleep on the road. He lifted his head and turned a couple of times, but that was all. He’s still looking quite skinny and weak, so he probably just needs to rest up. We also spotted a few groups of male buffalo here and there.


The morning drive started off quietly, but treated us to some great sightings in the second half. We ran into Jordaan, our notoriously skittish male leopard, and he gave us exactly three minutes of viewing time before disappearing back into the bush. No sooner had we left him, when we came across Karula stalking impala. She had no success though. We ended off the morning with three rhinos and three buffalo communing around the same mud wallow.

This afternoon we set out with the intention of finding some elephants. These gentle giants have been scarce of late, but we eventually came across a big herd on our western boundary. With our mission accomplished, we then went back in the other direction to follow up on the four young Tsalala females. As we approached the area we saw a rhino bull walking in the road, and then directly after leaving him we found the four lionesses. We were treated to an incredible sighting as one of the females climbed up into a tree right next to the vehicle and stared down at us from her perch. We stayed with the Tsalalas for a while, watching as they hunted impala without success. The bush was full of surprises today, because on the way back to the lodge we came across one of the Majingilane male lions. He walked straight towards the vehicle and started roaring. What an experience this was for everyone watching.


Male cheetah
Male cheetah by Ryan Johnston

This morning belonged to the spotted cats. First we came across Thandi, who was taking advantage of the cool morning to wander around and scent mark her territory. She eventually came to a rest up on a termite mound, where she posed for us in the morning light. Not long after leaving her, Salayexe went up a large Marula tree and did some posing of her own. We concluded the morning drive with a great sighting of our two cheetah brothers. The pair was walking along, and stopped en route to defecate on a fallen tree as a means of scent marking. They are the only large cat to use faeces as a means to mark their territory.

This afternoon started off quickly again, with both rhino and buffalo bulls making full use of one of the many mud wallows around at the moment. A little further along there was a young elephant bull, which gave us three of the Big 5 in a very short space of time. We then decided to follow up on the lion tracks we’d discovered this morning. It took some careful tracking, but we eventually managed to locate the four Tsalala lionesses. They were resting in a thicket when we found them, but soon moved out onto an open area when they spotted an impala herd. The buck were too alert for their would be predators however, and spent some time giving the lions the run around. The exhausted Tsalala group eventually gave up and headed off to rest at one of the pans on the edge of the clearing. On the way back to the lodge we bumped into Ntima, but we weren’t able to stay with her for very long as she soon crossed into a deep drainage line where we couldn’t follow.


Our first plan this morning was to head back into the area where’d we’d seen Ntima last night. Luck was on our side, as we arrived to find the female leopard waiting for us on top of a termite mound. We stayed with her for sometime before she again slunk down into the drainage line. We could smell that there was a carcass of some kind nearby, but unfortunately there was no way of geting down there to investigate. We then found a herd of elephants feeding in some thick riverine vegetation, so we spent some time watching them. We were about to stop for coffee on an open area when we noticed Karula’s cubs, Xivindzi and Xivambalana, on the other side. The two were in a playful mood, stalking and jumping all over each other, and just enjoying their Saturday morning!

There were three buffalo bulls resting in the mud wallows on the airstrip this afternoon. It was very hot, so after leaving them we decided to see what was going on at some of the other waterholes. Three rhinos arrived at the same time as us, and we spent an entertaining half an hour watching these large herbivores cover themselves from head to toe in mud. We received word that Thandi had killed an impala lamb, and immediately headed off to find her. She was resting on a termite mound when we got to there, while her young male cub was up in the tree feeding. The little glutton was eating as fast as he could. He is looking very fat at the moment, so the impala lambing season must be doing him well.

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

Until next time,

The Arathusa Team

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