The two big stories out of Londolozi this week are one sad and one happy.

The sad one is the loss of the Mashaba female’s litter of three. Aged only a few months, at least two cubs were confirmed killed, and as the third has not been seen in around 10 days, it is also presumed lost. Tracks of lions were in the area at the time of the discovery, and an unidentified young male leopard has also been spotted once or twice within the female’s territory, so both are possible suspects, although we are unable to say with certainty who the actual culprit was. This is the second time this female has lost a litter of three, but she has raised two cubs to independence already, so in terms of the success rates of female leopards in the wild, she has already done enough to secure the continuity of her genetic lineage, especially as both her independent offspring are female.

The good news is the reforming of the Tsalala pride. All three surviving adult females and the four remaining cubs were on an impala kill recently, and although we don’t want to confirm anything just yet, it seems likely that the Tsalala and Tsalala Breakaway Prides will merge into just the Tsalala Pride once more.

Look out for a post from either Alex Jordan or Sean Zeederberg on this in the next few days, but for now, enjoy this Week in Pictures…

Hyenas will regularly wade into waterholes to cool down. Tracks had been found nearby of the Nkoveni female leopard, and tracker Shadrack Mkhabela followed them to where an impala kill had been robbed by a hyena. The bulging stomach and blood on the face of this individual led us to believe that he was the culprit. The leopard, meanwhile, had decamped and headed into the Sand River. f3.5, 1/5000s, ISO 1600

Yellow-billed hornbills are ubiquitous across the South African Lowveld. Although they look similar, the male and female can be told apart by the size of their bill. The male’s casque on his top mandible extends further towards the tip, whilst the female’s has a more pronounced taper. This is a female, although it can be difficult to tell if the two sexes aren’t sitting next to each other. f8, 1/800s, ISO 1600

With water levels in the various waterholes and the Sand River itself at a low as we await the first proper rains, the hippo population is becoming more stressed as space becomes limited. Most evenings at the lodge have the roars and wails of fighting bulls as a background ambience, and big displays by the males are commonplace if the Land Rover’s stop near the water’s edge. This individual shows off his impressive dentures to warn us to keep our distance. f6.3, 1/2500s, ISO 640

Summer is the time that the impalas, warthogs and wildebeest give birth, but the local vervet monkey population are often overlooked as being almost exclusively summer birthers (at least in this region) as well. The population that roams the camp are already starting to birth their infants, and as can be seen by this mother and her offspring, there is an incredibly high level of dependency in the youngsters’ early days. f3.2, 1/800s, ISO 640

Many of you may have watched the quelea video from earlier this week. The population of these small birds is still flocking down to the river to drink and roost each evening, and with vibrant sunsets such as on this day, the silhouettes of countless tiny brown birds is truly something that has to be seen to be believed. f5.6, 1/6400s, ISO 1000

Temperatures are starting to soar, but not much rain has fallen yet, and wallows with enough squelchy mud are hard to find. Fortunately for this rhino bull, there is a large enough wallow on the edge of his territory to provide him with a muddy refuge during the hottest hours of the day. f5, 1/1250s, ISO 320

The violet-backed (formerly plum-coloured) starlings have been flocking in in droves from central Africa. These summer migrants add a brilliant splash of colour to Londolozi’s bird population, and a number of individuals have selected this common spikethorn tree just outside the Londolozi Creative Hub for its fleshy fruits, and can be found feeding amongst the branches on most afternoons. f8, 1/640s, ISO 2000

This large male warthog (differentiated from the female of the species by the large pair of so-called warts under his eyes) was snatching a last meal before retreating into his burrow for the night. With the grass on Londolozi yet to flush properly, warthogs – who have poor digestive systems – have to extend their feeding hours well into the afternoon in order to maintain their nutritional requirements. f3.2, 1/640, ISO 320

Yellow-billed oxpeckers are relatively rare on Londolozi,and are generally found in higher numbers further north. We do occasionally see them in the big herds of buffalo, but that’s about it. To see this one potentially looking for a nesting site in this dead Leadwood tree was rather exciting, but unfortunately it flew off without looking like it wanted to stay. f4.5, 1/2500s, ISO 640

The pink around the edges of this elephant calf’s ears are indicative of its extreme youth. And of course it is tiny. This particular herd was enjoying one of the few green patches of grass around, and in and amongst them was a small flock of barn swallows – one of which can be seen swooping in from the right of the picture – who were feeding off the insects that the elephants were flushing out. f6.3, 1/800s, ISO 640

The cheetah hasn’t been seen much of late, and we were lucky to find him just before sunset on this evening. Being at the bottom of the predator hierarchy, and far more vulnerable at night than their spotted cousins the leopards, we don’t view them after dark as the spotlight can have a pronounced impact on them. As a result we had very limited time with the male on this day, and by the next morning he was gone. f3.5, 1/250s, ISO 320

James Souchon, Richard Mthabini and their guests enjoy time with a small breeding herd of elephants on an open crest as the sun drops. The splashes of green in the background are a combination of Marula and Knobthorn trees that are the first ones to leaf in the season. f5.6, 1/320s, ISO 1250

Young elephants take a while to get full control of their trunks. This, as well as a tendency to put on displays of false bravado, can lead to comical facial expressions and wild flapping about of their nasal appendages, resulting in bursts of laughter from any Land Rovers which may be watching, and a serious dent in the dignity of the calves. f7.1, 1/400s, ISO 640

Another pair of hippos engage in combat. These two were a couple of young males and their fighting wasn’t too serious, but hippo engagements can go to the death, or at the very least result in serious injury for one of the combatants. f2.8, 1/250s, ISO 2500

The Mashaba female pauses to listen as she moves through a dense Tamboti thicket. She spends a lot of time in this particular drainage system near camp, which is frustrating for us as vehicle access is very limited, and the alarm calls of bushbuck or nyala that betray her presence regularly have to be foregone, as we know that trying to find her in these thickets is more often than not a thankless task. f2.8, 1/500s, ISO 640

After leaving the Tamboti grove, she was spotted by some guineafowl, and their raucous alarm-cackling had the leopard slinking off to hunt elsewhere. Sadly the Mashaba female has almost certainly lost her latest litter, with two of the cubs confirmed dead and the third unaccounted for for well over a week now. f2.8, 1.3200s, ISO 320

About the Author

James Tyrrell

Photographic Guide/Media Team

James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills were well developed, and he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team as a result. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the photographic skills ...

View James's profile


on The Week in Pictures #307

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Marinda Drake

It is sad that the Mashaba female cubs were killed. Love the violet backed starling. We recently saw a yellow billed oxpecker in the central parts of Kruger. The first time that I have seen them so far south. Always special to see them.

Denise Vouri

I was saddened to learn of the loss of the Mashaba female’s cubs, but know that she will eventually give birth to another litter. On the flip side, it’s great news that the Tsalala pride seems to be putting aside their differences to bond together as a serious family. Great reporting as usual.

Darlene Knott

So sad about the leopard cubs! They are so vulnerable with only a mother to protect then and hunt for them. But life goes on. The photos from this week are beautiful! Thanks for sharing, James.

Mary Beth Wheeler

We felt some ‘invested’ in Mashaba’s cubs as we saw her mate with both Piva and Inyathini in April, so we’re especially sad to read of their demise. Not a good time these days to be a leopard cub…

Callum Evans

All of these photos are absolutely beautiful!! The shot of the Mashaba female in stalk mode is sublime and that cheetah sighting looks like it was unbelievable! I love the atmosphere in the spotted hyena photo, not to mention the two hippo photos! I remember looking at the Insta post of you photographing that starling; and seeing a YB oxpecker in that area is pretty special!

Callum Evans

I’m reall upset to hear about the death of the Mashaba cubs, I was really looking forward to following their progress. I’m still holding out a shred of hope for that last cub, I like to be optimistic. I suspect that lions were the culprits, though at the age the cubs were at hyenas are also highy likely (which could explain lack of evidence on the third cub). The leopards have not had a good few months.
I did see the post about the poteintial reforming of the Tsalala Pride, it’s a very exciting time on the lion front! Looking forward to seeing what happens in the coming weeks!

Jane Addey

Wonderful pictures – loved the violet backed starling.
But… having had the privilege to see the Mashaba cubs when they were about 4-5 weeks old it feels it very sad to hear about their demise. It really brings home the precariousness of bringing up young and how difficult it is for a leopard to protect themselves as well as keeping their cubs safe from lions and hyenas. Let’s hope Mashaba has a new litter soon!

Justin Levin

Sad to hear about the loss of Mashaba female’s litter.

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