Great Tuskers are always a special sighting. Magnificent and established, these old bulls are a proud testament to strength, wisdom and peace in the bushveld. This last week saw such a Tusker move through Londolozi, a unique sighting in addition to all the other interesting big cat movements going on. The Tsalala Pride seem at home at their new densite with exceptional viewing of the older cubs over the past few days. Of course, what would a week in pictures be without the magnificent Majingilane Coalition. Not only did we witness one of them mating with a female from the Sparta pride, but we also the whole coalition together early one evening. Take a look for yourself…
The week started out with an absolutely brilliant sighting of the 'Tsalala Six', as they have become known: the two lionesses and the four six-month old cubs. We found them before dawn having a drink in the Manyelethi River just south of the densite which has been housing the very little ones. They became playful and all climbed this Albizia tree nearby. Here, the lioness seemed to be mimicking a leopard, although didn't seem quite as comfortable with her balancing.
Kicked out of the tree by the lionesses, the 6 month old cubs resorted to playing on the nearby rocks.
As they started their ascent to the densite, located high in some picturesque koppies, the sound of a male calling closeby grabbed their attention. They did not call back to the male, and eventually made their way to the peak where the lioness presumably nursed the youngsters who are still too young to come out of hiding.
Not only has it been rare to see this pride as they spend so much time with the small youngsters at the hidden densite, it is even more rare to see all four older ones posing together!
This week we were lucky enough to get a visit from a 'Big Tusker'. This one appeared to be very old, and as Freddy, the tracker with whom I am privileged to work, pointed out, you could count his ribs. Elephants only get six sets of teeth in their lifetime, which are constantly worn down by the endless chewing as they consume their daily rations of sometimes up to three hundred kilograms of vegetation, yet when the last set is worn through, they have to make do without. Therefore, they will eventually become malnourished, and it is said that elephants die from starvation rather than old age. Unfortunately this magnificent animal seems to be in those final stages of his life.
This beautiful giant had all of us speechless as he drifted by, pausing occasionally to slowly chew the Round-leafed Teak branches.
A herd of impala drink at Camp Donga.
The Majingalane Coalition has been relatively silent this week. Three of them have been moving together, frequently on Sparta, but not roaring often and staying away from other male lions. They were also tailing a herd of buffalo for a while, but as far as we could see, were not successful in hunting. Lions, without a very distinguishing feature, can be difficult to differentiate and we have been working towards getting proper identifications for these animals. The handsome male above, for example, has plenty of battle wounds on his face but they are fairly superficial and will eventually heal. We need to look at permanent things like notches in the ears, and even the spots above the whisker line, as we do with leopard. For now, the one above has been known as 'The One With the Missing Tooth', because his upper left canine tooth is gone.
'The One With the Dark Mane', however, showed us he has all of his thirty teeth! He is also easily identifiable at the moment by the open wound next to his right eye, and his prominent limp with the right hind foot.
He seemed to read our minds as we wondered what exactly was wrong with his foot to cause the limp, as he promptly displayed it for us while grooming. It is difficult to say what might have caused an injury like this, but at least it looks like it is not infected and in the process of healing. Plus, this lion will have the added protection from the rest of the Coalition in the meantime.
Two days later, it would appear that the male lion's injury wasn't a burden at all: he found himself a female! One of the Sparta lionesses, to be exact. They were mating for a few days and it will be interesting to keep an eye on this pride further, as it seems that most of the five females have now mated with the Majingalanes.
Quite typical of lion mating, the Sparta lioness gave him a very aggressive post-coital sendoff. He then responded with an earth-shattering roar.
Extremely inquisitive by nature, one of the hyena youngsters emerges from the densite to investigate our morning visit. They appear to be at least a few months old, and will stay at the densite for a few months further while the adults leave nightly to scavenge and hunt. Hyenas suckle for longer than other mammals, but if there is a carcass nearby, the young will be brought to feed on the meat.
A Secretarybird walks past an impala. We have been treated to occasional sightings of a pair of these rare birds over the past few months, but their shyness makes them difficult to photograph. This one, however, was busy hunting, looking for any reptiles trying to warm themselves in the winter sun, and didn't seem to mind our presence, even displaying the diagnostic quill-like crest feathers.
The Camp Pan Male feeds ravenously on a young nyala kill. He had just chased away his daughter, the Vomba Young Female, from her prize which she had hoisted in a weak tree skeleton, presumably to prevent access for a larger leopard such as Camp Pan. She was correct: when he climbed the tree, it collapsed under his weight, but not before he could snatch the carcass. He landed with a crash, shook himself off, and decided this Tamboti tree was a much more appropriate place to take and feed off the kill. Theft is becoming a trend for Camp Pan; in fact, the last three sightings we have had of him with food, it has been stolen from other leopards. Even though he is getting older, and being pushed further from his territory by the Dudley Riverbank 5:5 Male, he is still perfectly capable of hunting. Perhaps he is also getting wiser, knowing that stealing a kill from the females is a much easier way of scoring a meal!