Friday, 15 April 2011

15th April – Look Who is Still Alive!!!

Photo of the Day
Young buffalo calf

Morning Drive
(Chad, Grant, Marka and Herald)
12 x lions (Machaton Pride; 3 x lionesses and 9 x cubs) – Umlani, Old Donga Lookout
2 x leopards (Nthombi and her cub) – Kings, Ridge Rd
1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Vielmetter, Lower River Rd
1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Kings, Hyena Rd
1 x buffalo bull – Vielmetter, Elephant Dam
1 x elephant bull – Motswari, Southern Access
1 x elephant bull – Motswari, Sean’s Clearing
1 x elephant bull – Karans, Western Cutline

Afternoon Drive
(Chad, Godfrey, Grant, Marka and Herald)
1 x leopard (Mbali female) – Peru, Tawny Eagle Rd
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Peru, Mangwa Clearing
6 x elephant bulls – Peru, Sohebele Plains

Daily Synopsis
After missing out on our end of summer rain for the last two months, it seems as though the rain gods are trying to make amends in the last few weeks before the proper onset of winter; last night we received a further 17mm of soft penetrating rain that gave the bush a clean feeling this morning.  Driving around, one notices that many of the smaller mud wallows are filling up, some of the flowers – notable wild lavender – are springing to life again, and even a few of the trees seem to be shooting new leaves again!  But is it a little too late for this rain to make any meaningful contribution towards the changes that are already set in motion?
Whatever the case may be, it certainly seemed to have an effect on the animals, at least in the south anyway.  Desperately seeking leopard, and finding no signs of our northern leopards, Herald and I took full advantage of a kind invite by the southern stations to head down to a leopard sighting south of double highway, while Marka and Grant also ventured further south, but for cats of a different kind.
After having no luck with the leopards in the north, I decided to try for the leopards of the south and headed down Western Cutline.  Finding three different bull elephants feeding next to the road within the first 2km of the trip made me think that we were going to have a day full of elephants as we did yesterday! 
Elephant bull
Eventually they stopped showing themselves, but some impala, giraffe, snake eagles and steenbok did show themselves.  By this stage, we had received our invitation to go and see Nthombi female leopard and slowly made our way there.  En route, we located a breeding herd of a couple of hundred buffalo that were slowly waking up and moving off to the south, with many little babies in their midst’s.

Herald in a large breeding herd of buffalo after the rain
After the buffalo, I headed over to see the Nthombi as she lay sprawled out along a low branch of a marula tree before something caught her eye.  She jumped down from the tree and moved further south, not investigating whatever it was that had caught her attention.  As her male ‘cub’ had been with her earlier, I was quite certain it would be him in the vicinity, but Nthombi carried on walking south. 

Nthombi female leopard
Not long after that, the male cub came running up from behind, hot on the trail of his mother.  I have not seen this leopard since October last year, and could not believe how big he has gotten!  He is easily larger than his mom at only 14-months old, and looks like he will grow into a fine young leopard!  Despite being told he was not at ease with the vehicles, he looked quite unperturbed by our presence, and was far more focussed on finding his mother – when he eventually did, she ran off!  I left Herald to follow her as I had to head back to camp for an early check-out, but was very grateful to have shown my guests a nice leopard sighting before they had to go.
On the way back home, we were a bit pressed for time, but still got nice sightings of a group of zebras, impala, a kudu bull, warthogs, a distant visual of presumably the same buffalo herd we saw earlier in the morning, as well as another large herd of buffalo.  What was interesting with this herd (besides a yellow-billed oxpecker) was that there was a spotted buffalo!  One female had the oddest of white flecks littering her body, and gave her quite a unique appearance!

Zebra; Kudu bull; spotted buffalo!
Grant and Marka were looking for lions, and also made use of a friendly invitation to go and see the 12 Machaton lions in the deep south near Marco’s Dam.  All three lionesses and the nine cubs were present, albeit lying in some relatively long grass which made seeing the all a bit difficult at times.  Grant did comment that he saw plenty of giraffe and zebra on his trip down south.

The afternoon saw us full camp, with five drives out from the lodge.  Together we had a reasonably quiet afternoon, but then most of us were just taking it easy.  Grant and Marka braved the east in the hope of picking up any sign of the Mahlathini males, but they struggled to find anything besides trees and solitude!  Herald had headed south hoping that the Machaton lions would be relocated, only to be disappointed when he was informed that they weren’t around, so he came back north and enjoyed a nice breeding herd of elephants near Mangwa Clearing.
Godfrey and I stayed up north and just bumbled about.  My guests wanted baboons, hippos out of the water, and dung beetles; this proved harder than I imagined!  I started off looking for baboons around the large dams, but instead found impalas, waterbuck, giraffe, warthogs and hippos in the water!

Giraffe on Piva Plains
I headed down to the large hippo pod at Sohebele Dam, and got to spend a short time with some elephant bulls before enjoying some time with the rather active group of hippos; even the very young baby was showing itself from time to time, and the protective mother caused a stir when ever the other hippos came too close!

Hippos at Sohebele Dam
I then headed towards Vyeboom Dam for a drink; just more impala along the way, no baboons and another hippo in the water!  There was no sign of the young leopard that had been seen there in the morning.  As the hippo didn’t emerge from the water as I had hoped, I decided to make my way back towards Sohebele Dam hoping to time it right and get the hippos coming out of the water after dark.  We found a reasonably relaxed civet on the way, and carried on past impala and more giraffe before coming across an animal I didn’t expect to much so that I had actually questioned it’s existence this very morning.  Sadly it wasn’t the mythical pangolin (I still don’t believe they exist!), but something nearly as rare of late.  It was Mbali. 
Our dear old leopard has not been seen for over 2 months, and upon driving past the last spot we saw her some months back, I joked with Petros in my usual way and asked him where Mbali was, and if indeed he even thought she was still alive.  Without giving me a solid answer, he just restated what I thought; we hadn’t seen any signs of her for two months, so who knew?  Maybe she was dead...maybe she wasn’t...less than 12 hours later, she answered my question herself! 
While driving down Tawny Eagle Rd towards Sohebele Dam, in an area I have seen her many times before, there we stumbled upon a leopard ambling down the road, and almost immediately we knew it was her!  It was such a wonderful feeling to see her again – a long lost friend had returned alive and well (and unlike our Nkateko escaped a few days back, there was no bursting this bubble!).  Mbali was looking in reasonably good shape, although as seems to be a permanent fixture on her of late, she was sporting several fresh gashes on her limbs indicating a fight of sorts.  She found some impala as she was walking and we went lights out before realising that even in the bright moonlight we had lost her!  Luckily as Grant pulled into the area, he relocated her, and we watched her watching impala until she nodded off.  She then jumped up and ran towards a bush in the opposite direction and flushed a couple of steenbuck out of it – from the whining sounds, I actually thought that she had caught one, but it was a false alarm.  I left to give Herald a turn, but she disappeared into some thick bush and that was it...just like she had arrived, she had disappeared.

Mbali leopardess - Alive and well!!!
While it was great to see her again, it did beg the question: “where on earth has she been for the last two months!”...and more importantly, “how long is she going to hang around for?”...only time will tell I guess!
It was a great way to end off a very chilled drive...and to top it off, as we approached Sohebele Dam, there were a couple of hippos getting ready to leave the water!  Unfortunately they moved back in as we approached, but one baby stayed out and grazed for a short while before joining its mother in the water again.  I got only half a point for that, and then half a point for finding baboons sleeping on Argyle Dam wall...but that too was after dark so we couldn’t watch them properly!  Guess what I’m looking for tomorrow then!


  1. Stunning photos and a great update.

    Thanks Chad.

  2. Loving your images Chad, especially your leopard pics. Lucky, lucky you!