Our resident Machaton pride had a very successful month during October. The prides condition is great and the cubs are looking healthy and strong.
Their hunting success rate is excellent currently and I contribute this partly to the poor condition of certain prey species at the moment. Being incredibly dry and the vegetation sparse, this is normal for this time of the year as most apex-predators benefit from the conditions. These conditions will however change quickly with the onset of the first rain which intern will ensure new nutrient rich vegetation is available for the herbivores. The herbivores will rapidly regain body condition and strength making it more difficult for the predators to hunt them. This is nature‘s way to ensure a balance of predator vs. prey.
The pride succeeded with several large kills including a large female giraffe and a number of buffalo calves. The pride also seems to be occupying the southern part of their territory most of the time and are spending less and less time with the dominant Timbavati males. We are now down to 7 cubs from the original 9 that were born. Considering that the majority of lion cubs don’t survive the first year, this pride has done very well and I am confident the remaining seven little boys will make it to the top.
The oldest lioness of the pride is now approaching her 19th year. She has done a sterling job keeping this pride together over the years and teaching her daughters the laws of survival. Although she is now an old lady, she still looks amazingly healthy and full of grace. I have watched her carefully over the last year and noticed that her tolerance for the cubs is getting less. I think she has earned the right to being a little aloof when it comes to little cubs biting your tail and clambering over your back when you are trying to rest. She has completed her duty as a mom and a core lioness of the pride and is without doubt a dynamic leader of her family.
The Kubasa pride was also seen on a few occasions during the month of October. The pride has been divided for the last two months due to both adult females breaking away from their teenage offspring to mate with the Mahlatini males in the North. To avoid a possible attack from the male lions, the two young white lionesses and the young male decided to play it safe and avoid the dominant male lions for now. This is also due to the fact the three young lions are unrelated to the males. In lion social behavior, any adolescent male or female lion unrelated means competition to the dominant males of the region. The end result is simple move away or be killed.
Although we had an abundance of leopard sightings this month, Ntombi and Rockfig Jnr leopards played hard to find. Ntombi and her son were seen on the boundary of the camp on a few occasions and much to my surprise I personally found the young male leopard one evening walking between the staff accommodation. He was of no threat to anybody but merely exploring his territory. This is what young leopards do as he moves closer to independence.
The maternal instinct to reproduce and be a mother again is pushing Ntombi to search out a mate. Normally female leopards will mate with the dominant territorial male that controls the area that her territory overlaps in. If for any reason, the dominate male is not around she will leave her core territory to seek out another adult male from a neighboring territory. If Ntombi is successful, this will surely mean new leopard cubs in 2012.
Rock fig Jnr‘s daughter, the Tumbela female was seen on a few occasions very near to Kings Camp. Her moving away from her natal area is a natural process as she seeks her own territory as an independent leopard. Unfortunately for her, she was exploring in the territory of Ntombi and this could only end in an inevitable confrontation and a fight between the two. This epic battle was witnessed by two other rangers. I was unfortunately not on drive when this rare sighting happened much to my disappointment. The rangers that did manage to witness this fight informed me that Ntombi as small as she is was too experienced and powerful and managed with relative ease to overpower Tumbela and chase away out of her territory. I suppose this is what they mean when they say, “dynamite comes in small packages”. I feel sad for Tumbela as she is an animal that we have watched grow up and we would love her to stay in our traversing area.
One of my favorite female leopards, Mbali was seen infrequently during the last two months. I am anxious and fearful that she is close to end of her road as a dominant female leopard. She was born in the Nharalumi River bed in December 1997 close to a crossing we know as Kilpgat crossing hidden between huge boulders the size of three adult elephants. Although very well concealed, I was extremely lucky to see her as a cub for the first time in February 1998. It was on an afternoon drive that I will never forget my sighting of her lying next to her mom, the famous Java leopardess. She was the size of a fur ball and almost entirely black with sparkling blue eyes. I have followed her closely for the past 13 years watching her life unfold. The thousands of guests and many rangers that had the privilege of being around this small and relaxed female leopard would understand my feelings towards her, she is magic!
Cape hunting dogs (Wild dog) sightings have increased tremendously over the last three months and we are seeing a pack of thirteen dogs on a regular basis. They comprise of five pups and eight adults. We have had some great sightings trying to follow them as they head out on their hunts. To keep up with them as they race through the bush can be very challenging. However, if you are familiar with the area you can occasionally plan your route around the hunt to be in the right position at the right moment. I was fortunate to witness two kills in front of me. One particular sighting stood out above the rest and that was when a heard of Zebra were plagued by the wild dogs. Normally dogs won‘t take on adult zebra but the presence of a foul had them interested. I have learned that you can never under estimate team work in a pack as they can be an explosive hunting unit that is well co-coordinated with excellent communication systems. Their hunting success rate is 70% on average, more than double than that of any large predator on this planet.
Our resident male rhino Mtenge-Mtenge had to prove all his worth this month as his skills were put to the test by a large powerful male in the south. Battle scared he returned to his favorite dam, Machaton dam to relax and soothe his wounds is the water. Look closely at the images and you can see the scaring on his powerful face.
Well, that is it from me this time dear friends. I hope you enjoyed the report. Take care.
Patrick O’Brien Head Giude of Kings Camp.