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!

August 8, 2011

Eternal Enemies

          The beauty of a non fenced reserve is the element of surprise.  At any moment, any animals can turn up, and therein lies the fascination and intrigue of this job.  The other day, we discovered an adult male lion and 2 younger males on a fresh buffalo kill.  For the next 3 days we watched these huge cats gorge themselves to bursting point.  A male can put away 30-40kgs in a sitting and their comical appearance resembling that of having swallowed a pair of beach balls gave us plenty of amusement.

Male lion repels another hyena raid on his hard earned buffalo kill

          The presence of a large kill brought with it the inevitable hyena party.  At its peak, numbers reached about 30, yet none of them were bold enough, or stupid enough to try and steal a morsel from the ferocious diners.  Each time they plucked up the courage to form a raiding party, they were sent scurrying by the biggest of the males.  Ultimately, the coalition finished off every palatable item and the hyenas were left looking forlorn and miserable as they scrabbled over the scarce remains with the vultures.

3 hyenas keep their distance from th buffalo carcass

          Some lucky guests at Selati witnessed the wrath of the hyena gang late one night when they had an all out war with our group of females and cubs.  By all accounts, about 35 hyenas took on the lionesses, and this time they came out on top, stealing a fresh zebra kill from the females, sending them scattering all directions.  With this harassment and the presence of males that posed a threat to the cubs, the lionesses have once again retreated to the safety of the southern section of the reserve.  Sightings of them have continued to be good and all 10 cubs still continue to defy all the odds.

Blood drips from the mouth of one of the lionesses on a fresh zebra kill

The lionesses scan the horizon for their next meal

The next generation being led to less dangerous ground

3 of the lionesses keep a close eye on proceedings as they move to a new hunting ground

           It is hard not to get too attached to the animals when you spend hours every day watching them go about their daily lives.  We are privileged to watch the younger members of the community grow up in their natural habitat and we share their trails and tribulations during their battle for survival.  There is no more poignant case at the moment than that of our young male leopard.  After his torrid beginning of just escaping the same fate that befell his brother (death at the jaws of the Xihangalas, the dominant male) he has matured into a handsome young specimen.  In the last 2 weeks he has come of age and we have seen him kill his first impala with his bare claws.  The most traumatic period of his life is behind him with the arrival of adulthood but with his impending abandonment by his mother, his next test has just begun. The life of a leopard is hard and lonely and we all have or fingers crossed that his hunting skills have been sufficiently honed to see him through.

Xihangalas monitoring his territory from the vantage point of one of the many termite mounds

          In other news on the reserve, the wild dogs have since move on with their cubs and have not been seen in the last few weeks.  The den site stands empty but we still live in hope that they will return in time.  As usual, the beauty of the open system has compensated for their loss and we have had regular sightings of a huge buffalo herd with numbers estimated in the 700s cutting a swathe through the bush.  We are all waiting for the lions to discover this feast but thus far they have been left to their own devices.  It’s still very impressive to be sat in a sea of buffalo as they cruise past the car; it feels like you have been accepted into the herd. 

Buffalo bull gives the 'bank manager' stare

One of the last looks at the wild dogs before their departure

Enthousiastic young rhino gallops through the grass

          There have been some interesting happenings on the feathered front also, with confirmed sightings of woodlands kingfisher, wood sandpiper and red breasted swallows in the last week.  All 3 are migrants and not expected to return until October.  Perhaps the climate changes are finally manifesting in their behavior or maybe they just set their watch wrong this year?!  Only time will tell…

Close up of the fork tailed drongo as he follws the land rover looking for insects flushed from the grass by the tires 

Co operative breeding group of the beautiful magpie shrikes