HI, and welcome to my blog! I am a field guide in a private game reserve in South Africa and below you will find stories and pictures of my amazing job!

July 19, 2011

Leaps of Leopards

As most of you know by now, Sabi Sabi is renound for its leopard sightings.  Having just returned from a month off getting married and enjoying a honeymoon in Bali, I was eager to watch these gorgeous animals prowling around their domain once more.  What has transpired since my return has been more than I could have ever expected.  The main players once again have been these sleek enigmas of the African night. 
Last week we found the female known as Nottens and her now 18 month old cub, Selati, in a jackelberry tree with an impala kill.  We were lucky enough to get a good view of the male gorging himself on the remains of the carcass.  His experience is growing by the day and is starting to become more and more independent.  He is still being provided for by his mother but has recently been seen taking out a scrub hare on his own so he is maturing nicely.  We try not to get too attached to these animals but watching them learn these life lessons, it is hard not to!

The Selati male keeps a keen eye out as he enjoys his impala breakfast

The Selati male reaping the rewards of his mother's hunt

                Later that night, the dominant male of the area, Xihangalas, no doubt attracted by the smell of fresh blood on the air, arrived at the kill sight and muscled his way into action, chasing the 2 smaller leopards away.  Both showed incredible boldness or perhaps stupidity and stayed close to the kill in case his majesty let any tit bits slip from his grasp.  Let’s not forget that this same male was responsible for killing Nottens’ other cub last year and will have no issues in chalking up another victim should the Selati male stray too close. 
Xihangalas' barbed penis, used to stimulate ovulation, causes the female to lash out as he bids a hasty retreat from her wrath

                The next morning we found Xihangalas and another female next to the water close by engaged in mating activities and to our surprise, Nottens watching close by.  She was not trying to get involved but I presume merely watching the events unfold and keeping an eye on Xihangalas and his intentions towards her cub.  To see 3 leopards together twice in 2 days is special enough but when Selati wandered into the mix to make it 4, we knew we were witnessing something special.  Xihangalas chased Selati up a tree with Nottens trying to run interference.  Thankfully he seemed more preoccupied with his nuptials with the other female that he failed to hammer home his size and weight advantage.  What a way to start the cycle though!

                As if that wasn’t enough, a few days later, we found the Lisbon female with a waterbuck kill in the south.  No sooner had she choked out her victim, a hyena ambled into the equation and casually stole her spoils.  Disconsolate, she settled in a tamboti thicket to watch her prize being consumed.  Shortly after, she was joined by a male and young female!  The new female hasn’t been seen before and she was intent on mating with the male, presenting herself to him at every given opportunity but he was having none of it.  Perhaps she was too young still and her promiscuous demeanor was her way of saving herself a hiding from the male.  Again, a spectacular sighting!

The un-named male from the south shows his contempt towards a young female's advances
                The lion cubs continue to be a great source of amusement most days; their playful behavior so important in developing the skills necessary for life as an adult.  Against all odds, the 10 cubs seem to be doing well, even with the absence of a dominant male to protect them from rogue male lions.  Time will tell if they can continue to cheat fate but their chances of reaching maturity still look grim.  The females within the southern pride have proved themselves before though, with 8 cubs from their last litter now successfully independent!

Two of the cubs locked in an embrace as play continues to dominate their days

One of the cubs delivers a flying headbutt to his sibling during another bout of play

One of the females from the southern pride flaunting her fearsome assets!

The cubs are beginning to develop their tree climbling skills

Lovely silhouette shot of the cubs bathed in the spotlight from another game viewer

                This entry would not be complete without a mention of the wild dogs, who are, for the time being anyway, denning close to Earth Lodge with 6 pups.  We had not seen them for 3 or 4 months until last week but we are now enjoying daily sightings of Southern Africa’s most endangered and efficient predators.  The other day, they took out a sub adult male nyala on the lawn of room 7 at earth lodge and we all had front row seats to the carnage that ensued.  Within the hours, nothing was left of the poor nyala except skin and bones.  The animals in that section cannot rest easy though as wild dogs’ exceptionally high metabolism means that 2 or 3 kills a day are not uncommon!

One of the wild dogs caked in blood after eating a nyala in front of Earth Lodge
                Other highlights to mention are a brand new rhino calf that I found a few days ago.  Three days prior to the sighting we had discovered the placenta from a recently born rhino in a drainage line, its presence given away by nature’s clean up crew – hooded vultures, bataleur and tawny eagles congregating in the trees above.  I have never seen such a small rhino – a 3 day old looks like a medium sized wart hog and we watched entranced as it suckled from the mother, sometimes confusing the location of the teats and scratching around in her armpit instead!  With dinner plate sized feet, his constant unsteadiness and stumbling antics had us engrossed for quite some time before they moved into thick bush.  An incredibly rare sighting of caracal also deserves a mention.

A lilac breasted roller coming into land after an aerial hunting sallie

A rare picture of the nocturnal white tailed mongoose