The game viewing during December was incredible and was one of my best months this year by far.
The game drives were packed with action that included lions killing a buffalo bull, hyenas fighting lions for the same kill and finally hyenas fighting hyenas of what remained of the kill.
We also received a down-pour of more than 8 hours of rain on the 24th of December, one day before Christmas and again on the 27th of December.
When the rain had cleared and we were able to go on drive one could feel the energy of the animals in the bush from the Impalas running around and elephants playing in the mud.
The female impalas also gave birth at the end of November and this is seasonally timed to perfection every year. This means a new generation of fleeting impalas are filling their ecological role as food for the top predators from lion to the smaller predators like Cape hunting dogs.
It has been a while since I have seen and photographed the incredible high amount of action sightings as I did this month and I would like to start off with a very rare animal to our area, the African Wilddog. These extraordinary animals were hunting very close to the camp and we witnessed several kills. It is an almost impossible task to photograph this amazing predator in action. Normally one gets to photograph them during a feeding session if you are very lucky. On two occasions the Wilddogs were seen hunting close to the boundary of the camp. Although several impalas were caught and eaten it still makes no impact to the resident herd of impala. One particular sighting stands out for me as I followed the Wilddogs hunting a Steenbuck. Soon after I lost visual contact, with the pack chasing the small antelope, we managed to obtain visual again of the pack feeding on a Steenbuck which they caught and consumed in less than 3 minutes. This is the most productive and successful predator in the African bushveld with a hunting success ratio of no less than 70%.
The mystifying Ross Pride made a return to the western sector of Kings Camp. Several great sightings ensured that our guests were treated to watch this large pride which consists of no less than 10 lions. A new large male lion that I have not seen before was with the pride and I would assume he is the dominant male of this pride. Two smaller cubs of approximately 12 months of age were also present. The females of this pride looked a bit tattered and I can only assume this is because the pride core females are ageing.
Nevertheless the pride was still in a position to take on a large Cape buffalo during a rainy night. Strong wind and a heavy rain made it difficult for the old buffalo to detect the direction the lions came from. Nevertheless the condition favored the lions and not the buffalo and the pride took advantage and killed the old bull. Feeding lasted 3 days before a clan of 15 hyenas arrived in the early hours of a crisp morning. Minutes later the pride except of one of the older lionesses moved away and the hyenas moved in to feed. I noticed on earlier sightings that the now remaining lioness found it difficult to compete with the other lions and often ate last. What made the situation worse for her was that her teeth were worn down and this meant that she has to eat slowly and with difficulty.
Realizing that she was weak the Hyena clan wasted no time to deal with the old female lion trying to kill her. Sadly, the old lioness was without the assistance of her pride and now at the mercy of her arch enemy which she did battle with her entire life.
In an all out effort the leading hyena took her masterful clan in to battle. Once the signal was given by the Matriarch hyena by means of a call the attack was launched. The call was so loud that it was almost deafening while saliva dripped from her mouth with hatred drawn on her face.
The scene was set and several attacks were launched simultaneously from all directions.
Like a general the lioness was determined to make a last stand and tried with great difficult to defend herself from being killed in this savage battle. It lasted a mere minute but felt like a lifetime. She was out of breath and looked very drained. As aged as she might have been she still had enough fire in her for one more battle with her enemies and by doing so she made a last statement to the hyenas that lions will always be the King of Africa.
Surprisingly a sudden change of behavior was noticed when another clan of hyenas arrived at the scene. The original clan that attacked the lioness first redirected there attack to the approaching hyenas.
This opportunity gave the injured lioness an advantage and she moved into a thicket bleeding from her now visible wounds whiles the hyenas took their new battle to the approaching new hyena clan. Out of breath the lioness laid her head down on the soft grass and unknowing to us at the time her last warm breath left her body. Once so powerful and majestic now her lifeless body lied motionless under a tree.
In the mean time the two hyenas groups went into battle ready to kill for a pile of bloody bones and territory. Hyenas are super amassing predators and I often say had they been twice there own size they would be without a doubt the dominant predator specie in Africa.
The fight lasted only few minutes and was quickly settled with the original clan resuming power at the kill.I took theses images of the hyenas fighting for dominance. It was one of the most memorable sightings as a guide.
Kings Camp‘s two resident leopards Rockfig Jnr. and Ntombi have both given birth to an unknown number of cubs. This is one very important time in both leopards‘ careers as this will be both female leopards‘ second litters.
Does this mean we are going to have two new generations of leopard cubs in 2012…
Both female leopards are very thriving and have raised their first litter successfully.
These predators are amassing in many ways and it gives me so much pleasure showing and informing our guests about these beautiful spotted cats. Where else in the world can one follow a female leopard totally oblivious of our presence in a hunt or watch a female groom her cubs in front of a vehicle filled with guests. We are indeed privileged to be able to view these amazing animals.
Join us in 2012 for a once in a life experience that can bring you so incredible close to these cats that you can be part of their lives even if it is only for a few minutes and you will see what I mean with how magical these cats are.
I wish you all a happy and great New Year. We hope to see you in 2012.
From Patrick O’Brien Head Guide of Kings Camp and the ranger and tracker team.