Lions have been heard calling almost every morning in our eastern parts this week. It seems the Birmingham male lions and Ntsevu females have been capitalising (or trying to) on the presence of hundreds of buffalo that have been moving down to the Sand River in the dry winter months. Many a time over the last few days we found 150+ buffalo with lion tracks everywhere in the vicinity. The lions themselves, however, have been less than cooperative when it comes to sightings.
It may be thanks to the lack of lions that the female cheetah and her two cubs have been frequenting the open clearings in our central and eastern parts. We have been treated to some incredible sightings of these three cheetah, and it may well be that she is set to become the second female in the last few years to raise two cubs successfully on Londolozi.
Leopards have proved how well they can camouflage themselves, even in the sparse bush at this time of year. One morning ranger Greg Pingo found two separate leopards within 10 minutes along the Sand River, both of which vanished into the thickets, while the rest of us spent the whole morning tracking to no avail! Having said that, the sightings we have had are all true testament to how fortunate we are to be viewing the relaxed leopards of Londolozi.
Enjoy this Week in Pictures…
The female cheetah and her two cubs made several appearances on Londolozi in the last week. It has been wonderful to watch them play with each other, often stalking and sprinting after in endless games of catch. Here the two cubs stopped playing to greet their mother, with one cub draping itself over her back. This happened just as the sun was dropping to the horizon – a time cheetah will often get up and move around, sometimes hunting before it gets dark.
Hippos will spend the whole day immersed in water, leaving at night to graze on grass. Here a hippo cow leads its young calf out of the river in the early evening as the hot sun fades away, lessening its impact on the sensitive skin of the hippos.
Having just returned from leave, it is always exciting to get back into the bush. On this morning, we had heard impala alarm calling some distance away from us but decided to go and check the area nonetheless. Further alarm calls from guineafowls drew our attention to an open clearing, where the Flat Rock male leopard was walking in full view. No other rangers were close by, so we enjoyed this moment by ourselves. I spotted the moment where the leopard was about to walk in the foreground of an alarm-calling impala ram, but only managed to get the shot just as he was walking out of frame! A great welcome back to the bush…
A leopard who took advantage of the death of the 4:4 male in 2016 to grab territory to the west of the Londolozi camps.
The causeway is a great place to sit in the evenings in terms of birding. Often pied kingfishers, such as this one, are seen hovering above the pools of water that collect in the river, upstream from the river crossing. In this case, a pair of kingfishers were flying about trying to catch one more fish before nightfall.
As the bush dries out in winter animals are drawn towards the river in search of lush vegetation on which to feed and for a fresh source of water to drink. This is particularly true of elephants. On this morning, three different herds all congregated together at numbering close to 80. Here a young bull at the back of the herd was drinking in front of us, and took a moment to sniff the air, investigating us.
The Mashaba female leopard was found with an impala kill along the banks of the dry Maxabene river. She had pulled it up into the crown of a tree, which is advantageous as it meant the kill was safe from hyenas that are unable to climb, and it was shaded from the sun and blocked from vultures’ view that may be circling above. There was however, a tawny eagle flying about that caught her eye above. These eagles regularly feed on carrion and can often attract the attention of vultures, which in turn may attract other predators. Here she is keeping a watchful eye on the eagle as it flies past.
From the same sighting as above. The female found a comfortable branch at the base of the tree in which the kill was hoisted. She stood still for a while, before yawning and eventually lying with her legs draped over each side, settling in to rest and let some of the food digest.
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the camps and vehicles.
Having not seen lions for a few days, we were excited to find the pride of nine Mhangeni sub-adults one afternoon. They started to move much earlier than we expected, all looking rather hungry and in need of a successful hunt. As they moved along, this young male climbed onto a termite mound for elevation, scanning around for any potential prey. As a positive end to this story, the pride was found looking very full 24 hours later!
A Southern-white faced owl stands staring at us from a dead tree. Normally one only has a fleeting glimpse of these owls, however this individual sat still for long enough for me to correct my camera settings and capture it, no editing required. It was in an area with lots of field mice running about, listening out for their movements in the long grass.
A water (AKA Nile) monitor lizard lies spread across a small granite boulder in the Sand River. They are ectothermic (“cold blooded”), which means that their body heat is obtained from the external environment. In the cooler winter months, they will often lie upon and absorb heat from boulders that slowly release heat that they have retained from the warmer daylight hours. Mammals are endothermic (“warm blooded”), which means that body heat is obtained from internal metabolic processes, thus there is no physiological need for them to bask in the sun, although many do anyway for comfort.
The Mhangeni sub-adults have been moving long distances across Londolozi, particularly in the west and south-west. Although still young lions, all born in early/mid-2016, they have been trailing buffalo herds, hoping to pick off calves or old individuals. In this image, an ostrich moving in the distance had caught the attention of this individual.
Little bee-eaters like this one will use a prominent perch to look out for flying insects. When they spot one, they will fly out and catch it on the wing with incredible agility. Often it takes a few attempts though, and they will fly back to the same perching point, offering great photographic opportunities.
An incredible sighting of the Nkoveni female and her cub in the Sand River. We had actually lost view of them behind a large bush just to the right out of frame, but waited patiently in case they came out again. After about 30-40 minutes, the mother stepped out into the most perfect position on the rock, as the sun began to dip towards the horizon. A beautiful scene!
A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
Giraffe calves look quite out of proportion when they are young! Their legs seem to develop quickly, so that they can keep up with their mothers while they move around, however their necks seem to be a bit slow in catching up… This individual must still be quite young as its umbilical cord is still attached.
Natural frames are great to capitalise on in wildlife photography. I saw this opportunity to try and capture the individual drinking, between the trunk and leg of the elephant passing by, but left it a split second too late. It still turned out as an interesting image, particularly in black and white. Next time!