During your first year as a guide, everything is exciting and new. As you get more experienced though, you begin to understand a lot more, particularly when it comes to behaviour and the interactions between the different species. This added understanding makes it exciting again in a whole new way. 2010 was a fascinating year, with Nyaleti Female’s three cubs and Maxabene Female’s two all growing up fast, and we also had the introduction of the much anticipated Majingilane Coalition, who wreaked havoc on the prides previously overseen by the Mapogo. Below are pictures that document some of this, and a few others thrown in along the way-hope you enjoy!
A large devastating hunter, this powerful leopard was a descendent of Saseke Female, a territorial female who resided north of Londolozi
Just like the Natal Mahogany tree featured last week, there are a number of trees on Londolozi that every ranger will drive past and wish to see a leopard in one day. There is a large albizia tree that grows out at an angle over the Manyaleti River that is just one of these trees. On hearing after game drive that someone had spotted a leopard here, a group of rangers quickly piled into a landrover and raced to the spot to find one of the Nyaleti Young males. And as with the mahogany, this is still the only time I have seen a leopard in this tree!
Over the years I was fortunate enough to spend many hours with the "Nyaleti's". This was a particularly memorable sighting-after following the mother for some time through what was very close to impenetrable bush, we watched her meet up with her three over-excited cubs, who proceeded to put on a real show for us.
I mentioned last week that we don't see cheetah too frequently, so when this female was spotted from the Tree Camp deck one morning after breakfast with her cub, we headed out to keep track of her. At about 1pm, at the peak of the day's heat, she sped across the clearing and caught this impala ewe-my first and as yet only cheetah kill.
The Imbilo Female was a daughter of the Nyalethi Female. Here she is up a marula tree, keeping an eye on the Tsalala Pride nearby. Unfortunately her vigilance let her down a few months later, as the Tsalala Females and some of the Majingilane males managed to catch and kill her after she had caught an impala just north of our boundary. Despite the fact that animals are killed out here everyday, when it happens to one that you have grown to know somewhat, it is always a little more difficult.
This leopard was born to the Nyelethi female in March 2008, but sadly did not live long enough to establish herself.
2010 will always be remembered as the year the Majingilane Males arrived on Londolozi. You can see even from this photo how their manes have grown when compared to more recent images-here one prepares to cross the Sand River, something I had never seen a lion do until that moment.
Growing up, the two Maxabene young males provided us with endless entertainment-here one of them sizes up his chances with a buffalo bull!
For me, this is probably my favorite leopard photo, mainly just because it is different from anything else I have taken. The Maxabene Female snarls at a hyaena that is getting a little too close, with her breath on the cold morning lit up by the sunlight coming through the trees.
Although it is probably just us humans projecting onto the animals again, it really did seem as if the two Maxabene young males were the leopard equivalent of delinquent children who spent their lives on the couch, refusing to help with housework or get a job! Not only is he getting a good clean here, but she was still hunting for the both of them at this stage, despite them being considerably bigger than her already.
A Pied Kingfisher hovers over Ronnies waterhole-the only shot I have got of one of these fascinating birds in flight
One of the great things about working as a guide is being able to experience the bush through a new set of eyes and with new excitement with every set of guests. At the same time we are also fortunate to spend a lot of time out in the bush with friends. We don't see the Othowa Pride very often on Londolozi, so when we heard they were on our boundary a group of the guides headed out to see them. Despite it being midday, it was overcast and they were still quite active. We spent an incredible hour with them watching them play, the cubs learning to hunt by stalking the rest of the pride.
Nightjars are notoriously difficult to identify. Not only are they nocturnal birds, but all the species look somewhat alike and unless they fly have little by way of distinguishing features. After a bit of research this turned out to be a European Nightjar. They are seldom seen during the day, sitting still and camouflaged on branches such as this and it took an incredible spot by Simon Mathebula to reveal it. Supposedly the European Nightjar will always roost parallel to the branch they are on.
A whitebacked vulture comes in to land at the site of a giraffe kill made by the Sparta Pride. The had left what little remained of the kill to be fought over by the vultures, hyaena and a lone black backed jackal.
The Nyaleti Female peeks out over a branch in between a bout of mating with the Marthly Male-another sighting I was fortunate enough to spend with some good friends
It was a special sight seeing the Sparta females and their cubs all drinking together. Fathered but the Mapogo, these three cubs unfortunately were never going to last long once the Majingilane took over
We were on our way to the hyaena den site off Strip Road when we came across this young Tsalala lioness. The pride had been split up by the Majingilane and five of the sub-adults had been wandering on their own when they must have stumbled across the hyaena den. Without the adults around, the hyaena must have sensed their chance to get one back on their old enemy and the lioness was caught by them. When we arrived the was lying near the den, badly injured and bloody with her tail chewed off. The clan was happy to leave her lying there, but any movement and they quickly surrounded her again.
Here she snarls defiantly at an approaching hyaena. She tried to stand up a few times but collapsed and we were sure she would not see out the day. On returning in the afternoon she was gone-to what we felt must be her final resting place. But we seem to continually underestimate the resilience of the animals here, and few days later we heard that she had been seen by our neighbors, many kilometers away. She managed to live another two months or so before she became another statistic of the Majingilane takeover
We were on Marthly River road when Lucky Shabangu made a great spot of the Vomba Female lying in the Sand River below us. Fortunately it was winter and the river was low, so we were able to get right down into the river, along with another guide, Rich Ferrier and his guests. After a short while she started moving and we both realized what was going to happen. We quickly parked our cars in the anticipated position to view her jump and waited, frantically trying to get the correct camera settings.
Looking at this shot now, I still find it amazing how far she jumped from a standing start!
And then the landing-judged to perfection she touched down gently, just centimeters from the waters edge and continued on her way
Another personal favourite-the Sparta Pride look back to an area where they were just chased off the remains of a kill by some hyaena, as the rising sun just creeps above the horizon