What one finds over the years is that there is a continual oscillation between lion-focused periods and leopard-focused periods. Sometimes there’s as much drama in one population as in the other, but more often than not it’s one species hogging the limelight. While both the Ntsevu and Mhangeni prides are stashing cubs in the Sand River and the Birmingham males are heard nightly, it is the leopards that have provided the most interesting spectacles over the last week.
Of course the big news is the by-now accepted demise of the Tamboti female, but the Anderson male’s eye, the Nhlanguleni female’s cubs, the Mashaba female denning in the centre of the property and a whole host of young, recently independent leopards cropping up all over the place have all played their part in making the last week as exciting a leopard week as one could wish for.
This might have been a case of enjoy-it-while-it-lasts, as August is renowned for being a windy month, and when the wind blows the leopards retreat into drainage lines and thickets, so we will be placing a heavy reliance on the expertise of the Londolozi tracker team over the course of the next few weeks.
For now, enjoy this Week in Pictures…
One of the Birmingham males follows another male and four Ntsevu lionesses towards the Maxabene river. We were parked down in the sandy riverbed, and it was impressive having this male descend steadily towards us from above eye-level. The Birmingham coalition have been maintaining relatively stable and consistent movements in the east of Londolozi, yet we are still waiting for them to push deeper into the north in particular. The demise of the Tsalala pride and consequent lack of mating opportunities in that area may well have something to do with this big coalition anchoring themselves to the Ntsevu pride.
A young elephant died in the centre of Londolozi (more on this sighting next week), and of course the vultures arrived in droves. A rare Cape Vulture was seen at the site on consecutive days, and can be seen here perched on top of the kill, its yellow eye, blueish facial skin and larger size setting it apart from the common white-backed vultures. Cape Vultures breed on cliff sites, of which there are none close to Londolozi, but during the non-breeding season can wander up to 750km away from their nests, hence why we see them here on the odd occasion.
A slightly slower shutter speed reveals a bit more of the carnage of a wake of vultures on a carcass. The majority of the meat had by this time been consumed by hyenas and lions, so the noisy birds were only really picking for scraps. The ribcage can clearly be seen here, as well as the small tusks sticking out to the right of the photo.
Bushbuck are shy antelope, as the name suggests. Their preference for thicker habitat means that they aren’t often seen coming down to drink, especially since much of their moisture requirements comes from the plants they eat. This ram however was feeding in and amongst the Phragmites reed thickets of the Sand River, so it was a simple matter for him to wander over a few steps, have a drink and then simply melt back into the vegetation.
The Nhlanguleni female and her cubs are being seen more regularly, largely due to the fact that the Mashaba female has been shifting her territory south and east; the Nhlanguleni female has been filling in the gap behind her, with a couple of sightings of her and the two cubs near the Londolozi camps. We estimate the cubs to be about 4-5 months old now, and the fact that they are regularly being taken to kills hopefully means that the female will be bringing them out of their usual Sand River hiding places more frequently and sightings will be more consistent.
I feel a bit guilty including this photo, as Ranger Guy Brunskill was meant to come out with me on this drive but didn’t see my message about departure time. He’s never seen a Pangolin. And is probably still refusing to believe that one was found and that we saw it moving around in broad daylight without him. This is the pangolin, Guy. Maybe next time. Or in a couple of years…
Black storks aren’t as common at Londolozi as some of the other stork species. Fairly nomadic in the non-breeding season, they drift in and out as food supplies dictate. There has been a small group spending time near the Causeway of late, which makes sense as their preferred food source is fish and other aquatic creatures, and the dwindling pools of the Sand River make for an attractive reservoir. The group has been roosting fairly consistently on some dead Knobthorn trees up the slope from the river, and while sitting with the Nkoveni female leopard one evening we managed to snap a couple of shots of them coming in to land.
This is the Nkoveni female in the same sighting as the Black Stork photo above. We sat with her for well over an hour as she called for her cub, but there was no sign of it. When she was found at the same spot the next morning, still calling for it, we began to fear the worst, but thankfully the pair were found a few days later by Ranger James Souchon. Sightings of the cub when it is already with the mother have seen it fairly relaxed, but it seems hesitant to leave cover on its own and approach her if a vehicle is present (we restrict the sighting to one vehicle while the cub is still young). Although sightings have been intermittent, the cub seems healthy, although with the Anderson male steadily encroaching south of the river, we are hoping it can remain hidden from him, although its paternity – like in most leopard cubs – is far from certain.
A young giraffe ruminates while waiting for its mother to finish feeding nearby. Weaned at about a year, calves will start browsing long before that, relying less and less on their mother for nutrition until she stops producing milk altogether. Giraffes are very vulnerable when lying down like this, and will usually only do so when out in the open, far enough from cover that they can hopefully spot an approaching predator in time to get to their feet once more.
There are few more peaceful scenes than a lone mega herbivore drinking at a waterhole in the soporific warmth of a late winter’s morning. We were on our way back to camp when we bumped into this large white rhino bull. He was marking territory at a prominent midden, and we knew his direction would take him straight to a nearby waterhole. We opted to delay our breakfast in order to wait for him to come and drink, and weren’t disappointed.
This poor dark-capped bulbul made a grievous error in judgement and slammed into the window of the Londolozi office a few days ago. When we went outside to investigate the cause of the noise, he was sitting on the floor, blinking rapidly and clearly stunned. We moved him into the shade and poured him some water in the lid of a jar, and after a few minutes when the stars had stopped spinning, he gave a quick head shake and flew off, with his dignity the only thing damaged.
There’s nothing particularly spectacular about this photo, but I included it to illustrate just how tough a kudu’s lips and mouth are. This bull is feeding on a Buffalo-thorn, a tree so laden with nasty hooked thorns that a human dragging an arm through it would receive many cuts and embedded thorns in their skin. I don’t even want to imagine what would happen if we stuffed our face in and amongst the branches and tried to munch away. Yet somehow kudu and other browsers like giraffe remain unharmed, and are therefore able to take advantage of the nutritious leaves.
Breaking news about the Anderson male leopard; he still has his eye! When we initially found him with the injury, we had a close look and it certainly appeared as if the eyeball was gone. Now that the swelling around the area has abated somewhat, it appears as though the eyeball is still in there. We will run a full report on him this week. The sighting in this photograph came at the end of a frustrating – although ultimately successful – morning of tracking him. Euce Madonsela had found his tracks early on but as we were looking for the Nhlanguleni female we opted to come back later to work them. Returning to the area, Euce tracked him for well over an hour, following every lead, until impalas alarming gave the leopard away after he had twisted and turned and changed his route for the umpteenth time. We eventually found him lying on a termite mound not far from the impala herd, looking just as intimidating as ever.
The same morning as the Anderson sighting above. Another superb tracking effort by Euce Madonsela had resulted in him watching the Nhlanguleni female take down a bushbuck right in front of him, ON FOOT, in the Sand River thickets. The leopard realised Euce was there and immediately dragged the kill into an inaccessible tangle of debris. Returning that afternoon to see if she had maybe moved it, we were disappointed to find that there was still no way to get a view with the Land Rover, especially as tracks showed that she had by now fetched her cubs to the kill. We gave it one last crack the next morning, and fortunately the female had hoisted the bushbuck carcass into a nearby River Bushwillow tree, and we were treated to an amazing sighting of her and her cubs feeding throughout the morning. Here one of the youngsters goes into an instinctive crouch-to-pounce position as it watches its sibling walk past.
At first I though this Sombre Greenbul was being rather idiotic – getting blasted by a sprinkler each time it revolved and not moving out of the way. Then I realised it was actually being very smart; by staying on its branch, it was able to have a great bath without exposing itself like it normally would to fly down and bathe in a puddle or pool somewhere.
It is well known that giraffes will eat bones in order to supplement the calcium in their diets. Osteophagia is also seen in kudus, but off the top of my head I can’t recall seeing other herbivores practicing it here, although I’m sure some will do so. This particular bone was from a hippo carcass – an old bull that had been killed by a rival in 2015 and whose bones still lie scattered on a clearing to the south-west of the Londolozi Camps.
The Mashaba female has been steadily shifting her territory south-east to take over the territory of the Tamboti female, who we can now presume to be deceased. After yet another brilliant track-and-find by Euce Madonsela, she was found on an unhoisted impala kill on this particular morning. Returning just as the sun was approaching the horizon that evening, we were hoping to see her take the impala up a tree, but instead were treated to this beautiful scene as she settled down for a long drink at a pan nearby. She didn’t manage to hoist the kill, and tracks the next morning indicated that it had been stolen by lions.