Boulders leopard presents her cub

As personalities go, there are a few leopards that love parading around and others love to lurk around in the shadows.

The Boulders female leopard lies in the middle of this scale. I have had the pleasure of sitting an entire game drive with her, but I have also had days where I want to pull my hair out trying to track and find her.

These days finding her foot prints are a little more exciting as there are an extra set of tracks accompanying her. Boulder’s has another cub that is growing stronger by the day. The youngster is starting to follow mom around while it moves between different kills.

I recently managed to view the cub for the first time and it was a spectacular introduction. As I arrived into the sighting, the youngster nestled itself in long, dry grass. It peered at me with the most inquisitive eyes.

Mom had made a small kill and the cub eventually moved towards where it was stashed away. Most of the food was already consumed by the time I had arrived. The youngster looked at the meal and dismissed it as if it only was interested in the good stuff.

Once it got bored with its mangled meal, it moved on towards mom. It thought that practicing stalking in the driest, strawlike grass was a fanastic idea. Clearly stealth is not its speciality quite yet. Before the stalk even began, Boulder’s noticed the shenanigans and gave the cub “the look”.

The cub changed its tone and in typical cat –like fashion, it went over and greeted her with great enthusiasm.

I look forward to my next tracking session and creating new memories with this duo.

Othawa lion pride enters a new era

The Othawa lion pride has provided us with a roller coaster of emotions over the past few years.

I have only been in contact with the pride since early 2018. At that stage the Othawa Male lion was only starting to come of age. One of my favourite moments with him was hearing him roar for the first time. This coincided with the arrival of the Matimba males.

After the young Othawa Male left the area, the Matimba male lions took over the pride and sired their first Othawa cubs.

The 2020 lockdown period provided a few interesting surprises. After not seeing the Othawa male for many months, he finally graced us with his presence again and showed off his good looks.

After a long and hard lockdown period, the Matimba male and Othawa pride managed to take down a buffalo. I was extremely fortunate to witness the entire encounter from start to finish.

Soon enough the pride dealt with the arrival of the Tumbela male lions. They kicked out the Matimba male and took control of the pride. One exciting moment of any take over means that there will most likely be a new litter of cubs to look forward to.

In the meantime, the young Othawa Breakaway female arrived back in the area after a leave of absence. She has struggled to reunite with her pride, but has since joined forces with the single Ximungwe lioness.

Another major shakeup occurred when the Birmingham and Nkuhuma male lions entered the scene. Their first order of business was to evict the Tumbela male. Unfortunately during one of their encounters they managed to get hold of an Othawa juvenile.

Within the last few weeks, increasing pressure from the Birmingham coalition and the arrival of the two Plains Camp male lions, an unfortunate shift in the pride dynamics developed.

Another encounter with the opposing males resulted in the loss of the two elderly Othawa lionesses. This was a day that was inevitable, yet we feared for the future of the young Othawa mother and her youngsters.

For a short period the single Othawa mother and the five juveniles crossed over to another area of the reserve. There was talk that one of the young females was missing and a few days later the young male was preyed on by a hyena.

The Othawa pride has finally returned leaving us with one adult and three young females. The Tumbela male lion has not provided any support to his pride over the past few weeks. It is unclear which way the dynamics between the various males will unfold.

For now the Othawa lion pride keeps moving forward. As long as they are able to dodge the competing males, the young mom has a chance to raise the juvenile lionesses to adulthood.

What has your most memorable moment with the Othawa Pride been?

Basile spends intimate moments with her cub

Who would have thought that a tiny rocky outcrop could stir up so much emotion?

One of my favourite female leopards, Basile, has moved her den yet again. This time she has used a set of rocks that I have driven past countless times before. Behind one of the boulders a little cove opens up, leading up to a bunch of nooks and cranny’s for the cub to hide in while mom is out.

I have waited patiently to spend an intimate moment with Basile and her precious little cub. Luck was on my side and she granted me an opportunity.

When I arrived I could see Basile in full view. The cub was still suckling so I sat quietly and waited for the youngster to finish up. Mom was alert and attentive to any surrounding sounds that infiltrated the space around her.

Soon after feeding, the adorable cub turned around and went to go lay close to mom, also taking in the sounds emanating from its environment.

As with all cats, grooming is an essential part of the day. Mom proceeded to comb through the fuzzy fur of her son. With long strokes she ensured that she cleaned the cub’s entire coat. If you thought that this moment could not get any cuter, the baby got up and started grooming mom too. Is it just me or can you see mom smiling too?

Once the necessary morning routines have been completed, the next order of the day is of course play time. As successful and stealthy as Basile is as a huntress, she possesses an equally playful and caring side as a mother. Mom knows all too well that the white tip of her tail sparks far too much curiosity in the inquisitive eyes of her little boy.

As she started flicking the tail around, the little cub took no time to practice its instinctive hunting skills. The cub crept closer and pounced upon its helpless victim.

I have witnessed leopards apply the greatest degree of patience. Not only when they are hunting and stalking down their prey, but even tolerating their cubs when they too would love a little nap. Once the cub got bored with moms tail, her twitching ears seemed to be the most fascinating thing. The best ways to play with mom’s ears – bite and chew on them of course!

Having already lost one of this litter’s cubs early on, I trust that Basile has finally learned to take better care of this blue eyed beauty and keep him safe from harm.

Adventures at the hyena den

If there is one animal that looks as if it is always up to mischief, it has to be young hyenas at a den.

I am currently fortunate to witness a set of two hyena cubs moving freely around an active hyena den. Most of my encounters with these rascals seem to be catching them in the middle of some kind of game. Their endless supply of energy never seems to fade.

I have seen them since they were little and they are growing at an alarming rate. Besides their curious nature, it is always fascinating to watch the colour changes on their coats. There is also a period where their legs grow faster than the rest of their body. This disproportionate shape adds to their adorability.

The cubs know all too well that there is a limit to which they may explore their environment. Their den is situated within a large termite mound. The entrance is a large hole that leads deep inside, providing them with ample cover for when danger strikes or when mom is out looking for a meal.

The most entertaining part of spending time with these little ones is watching how inquisitive they are with the presence of a vehicle nearby. Sometimes I get lucky and they venture along a well-trodden pathway towards the vehicle. They may sniff my tires, stare blankly at me wondering what I’m doing there. Then they turn around and run straight back to the termite mound.

Have you ever had the opportunity to spend some time with tiny hyena cubs?

Hlambela – the one who swims

Tucked away on an inaccessible koppie (hill), a set of two little leopard cubs were born. After many weeks caring for and protecting the cubs, the Boulders female leopard brought her youngsters down the koppie and finally allowed us to catch a glimpse.

After his independence, the young male started to venture into water sources hoping to catch a seemingly easy meal. For some reason he took a fascination to a variety of ducks. I watched as he would diligently wade through the water and even try to swim after these highly specialized water fowl without success. Often times I would see the disappointment written across his face as he simply could not accept this defeat. Witnessing this bizarre behaviour led to him receiving his name, Hlambela. Hlambela means “the one who swims”.

A great deal of my 2020 lockdown period was spent watching Hlambela grow up. One of his success factors was that he remained within the heart of his father’s territory. This area allowed Hlambela to move freely between major water sources and perfect his hunting skills in deep drainage lines. Together with his sister, Tisela, he took a fond interest in mongoose. These easy meals helped fill his belly until he took on larger prey species.

As time moved on, Hlambela developed from a juvenile into an adolescent. With a spike in testosterone, he soon realised that he was no longer a boy. One of the coolest moments was hearing Hlambela rasp for the first time. He finally had his own signature. Without wasting time, he realised that scent marking would be a quick way to carve out his own space. This posed one potential problem. He was still moving around the central parts of Ravenscourt’s territory. He started moving further towards the edges of Ravenscourt’s stronghold, but still has not had any major clashes with his father.

Hlambela is easy to identify amongst the leopards that I come across. He is currently the only male in the area to sport a 2:2 spot pattern. He has also recently developed a scar across his nose.

Some of my favourite moments spent with this male were inside the grounds of my lodge. One evening Hlambela was found snoozing next to the pathway of one of the rooms. I recall walking some of my guests from a boma dinner to view him casually resting along the pathway. He displayed no sign of agitation and simply watched us, watching him in pure awe. Without overstaying our welcome we headed back, speechless.

Curious Crowned Hornbills

As the winter approaches and the aloes start to flower, a walk through the botanical gardens is bound to deliver a feast for the eyes.

It was a quiet weekday morning in the Lowveld National Botanical Gardens in Nelspruit. I knew that foot traffic along the pathways would be minimal so I set myself up near a clump of flowering aloes. I could hear a chorus of birds chirping away in the nearby trees. It was simply a matter of minutes before the sunbirds would visit this section.

As I’ve learned many times before, patience is the key. Soon enough I heard the chirps of a White-bellied Sunbird heading my way.

I caught some quick glimpses of the larger Amethyst and Scarlet Chested Sunbirds flying around too. One of the females perched on some plants nearby and posed for a brief moment.

Suddenly, an array of nasal whistles broke the silence nearby. I had heard this call before, but I had to look around to confirm which bird it was. To my surprise three Crowned Hornbills flew in and perched in a tree above me. I certainly was not expecting them and had no idea that they even frequented the gardens.

These comical birds seemed as curious with my presence as I was with theirs. They hopped between the branches, looked for a bite to eat and then moved on to another. I was in awe with how close they moved around me. I sat still and enjoyed this special sighting and soon enough they flew off towards the Crocodile River.

Othawa Breakaway lioness meets an elephant

Watching the king of the jungle in its natural habitat certainly stirs up a great deal of emotions. Watching a lion view the real king of the jungle stirs up a different set of emotions entirely.

It has been an age since the Othawa breakaway lioness has been walking circles around her original pride. The big question is why has she not joined up with her pride yet? As a youngster she had fled from the pride together with her male siblings. The arrival of new dominant males in the area meant imminent danger for the inexperienced band of four. After circling the Kruger National Park for a year or two, the lioness returned.

Of the few instances that I get to spend with her, I seem to find her resting upon higher ground. Often she will be resting upon a termite mound. Sometimes I find her lounging on a dam wall warming up in the sun. Being a single lioness, this gives her a great vantage point to look out for other predators and possibly an easy meal. She has been extremely successful in feeding herself and keeping out of harm’s way.

There have been recent reports of the young lioness trying to approach the pride. Has she been hesitating fearing rejection from the Tumbela males? Perhaps she is not sure how the older Othawa females will tolerate her with the six juveniles around? I do hope for her sake that she takes the leap and manages to reunite with her family. This will not only keep her safe, but greatly add to the long term sustainability of the pride.

One of my recent views of this individual was finding her resting on the wall of a small watering hole. She simply lounged about, minding her own business. During the stillness of the afternoon something caught my eye. I was quite surprised that the lioness had not picked it up yet. A large elephant bull entered the scene.

What was most interesting to me was watching how long it would take for her to realise an elephant was approaching from her rear. Finally she caught the scent or heard a noise as all her senses moved towards the elephant’s direction. She sat quietly and did not seem to flinch. She simply sized up the bull and calculated his movements. The elephant also did not seem to notice the lioness nearby. It was obvious that the elephant simply came in for a late afternoon drink.

Watching both animals merely enjoying the waterhole was rewarding. The elephant slowly moved around the waterhole, testing which side it preferred drinking from. The lioness performed a series of yawns and stretches. This movement eventually gave away her position and the elephant finally realised she was there. The elephant gave a sudden head shake and puffed himself up. The Othawa breakaway female casually got up and moved from her position, not threatening the bull in any manner.

The elephant seemed to accept her exit. He quenched his thirst and also decided to leave the scene.

The Talamati pride pays a visit

Dynamics are always changing when it comes to lion prides and their territories. There has been a new pride that braved exploring beyond their comfort zone.

The first evening the pride crossed over the cutline they managed to catch an impala. There have been a few accounts of them entering and exiting the property overnight.

During the first encounter we witnessed a pride of one older female and seven sub-adults, two of which are male. Their manes are only starting to show under their chins. Considering their ages, they all seemed tall in stature and exhibited great muscle tone.

A few days later the Talamati pride moved deeper into the sector. Scattered around a prominent waterhole, a dazzle of zebra moved around the waters edge. Night fell quickly and the lions edged ever closer. During the morning drive we managed to locate the new pride feeding on a zebra.

With their bellies full and a great source of water nearby, it seemed as if they would be hanging around for a while. A day later there were tracks of a male lion leading straight towards the new pride. The male lion tracks belonged to the darker mane Tumbela male lion. He must have caught the scent or audio of the Talamati pride with the zebra carcass. Judging by the tracks he entered the area and chased them all straight back to where they came from.

The last sighting I managed to see of the Talamati’s was about five of them laying on the banks of the Sand River. This was a bold move for the new pride as they were laying on the edge of the Othawa pride’s prime territory.

The pride did not stick around for too long and connected with the remaining members closer to their previous territory. They have moved out for the meantime, but I most certainly would like to spend a little more time with these lions again.

Tumbela male lions and their cubs

A cool, yet cloudy summer morning set the tone for an incredibly playful scene. Not far from camp the roads were littered with the tracks of lions on the move.

Not wasting any time I set out in the direction of the tracks. The flawless footprints led me past a waterhole and towards a silver cluster leaf thicket. I circled around the thicket towards a grassy clearing behind. I had a hunch that the tracks may end up in that area.

As I turned the corner and the tree line came to an end, some enthusiastic faces greeted me.

The Othawa lion pride has managed to make two successful wildebeest kills within the last week. With the first meal the cubs and the females managed to feast exclusively on the carcass. A few days later they managed to join the larger Tumbela male lion on another wildebeest kill.

After a few days of lethargy and bloated bellies, the cubs could simply not resist playing around and working off their new found energy.

Within the group of six there is a majority of female cubs. As I entered the sighting I watched an array of shenanigans unfold in the open grass. It seemed as if the order of the day was to give the little male cub a hard time. The girls teamed up and ran circles around the boy. They would jump on him, wrestle him and use him as their hunting practice target. This lasted a short while before he decided he had had enough of their drama.

Cubs often find their own source of entertainment while the adults get some rest. A few of the youngsters found a log that provided entertainment. Others carried around some sticks and another ran off with a clump of grass.

The larger Tumbela male has come a long way and he is finally starting to fill out and take on the appearance of a large male lion. His muscle tone is increasing rapidly and his mane has taken on an orange hue with a black undertone.

The smaller Tumbela male is still keeping strong and moving along with the pride. His mane is slowly, but surely starting to grow. He has a far lighter colouration than the larger male, but is equally as handsome if not a little more.

The cubs certainly have taken a liking to the larger male. He reveals having a soft spot for the little ones and will tolerate them using him as a bouncing castle or begging for cuddles. They too have learned not to push the boundaries and let the big boy sleep when sleep is needed.

A short walk with butterflies

As the summer peaks over the Lowveld, an intense humidity spikes and conditions turn favourable for viewing butterflies.

I enjoy taking a casual walk through my local botanical garden, the Lowveld National Botanical Garden. Usually my focus is birding and with each visit I hope to tick off something new on my growing list. A recent visit proved extremely quiet on the birding front. With hardly a bird in sight, I had to move on to a slightly greater challenge.

Admittedly I have not spent a great deal of time focusing on butterflies. My first real introduction to the field was when I attended my field guiding course. One of the trainers was a butterfly specialist and his knowledge and enthusiasm awakened an interest in the field.

Some of my earliest memories spent with butterflies are running around on the school play field chasing these flying insects, wondering how they can dodge me with those tiny wings.

As I walked through the gardens I noticed a specific flower dominating a certain section of the flower beds. I was sure that any nectar that the flower contained would attract some butterflies. I found a comfortable spot and waited patiently hoping that a beautiful butterfly would land on the flower in front of me.

If birding taught me any patience, photographing butterflies certainly would teach me tenfold more. Butterflies fluttered by and landed on every flower except on the ones I was positioned at.

I quickly accepted that sitting and waiting was not going to cut it. I got up and maneuvered around the flowers the best I could. There were so many factors I had to take into account while photographing these butterflies. They kept moving in and out of the shade, affecting the light metering. A slight breeze kept moving the flowers which made focusing frustrating. Each butterfly species seemed to have a slightly different way in which they approached and landed on a flower. The amount of time each species spent at each flower varied greatly too.

Even though the technical aspects of photographing these subjects proved a little challenging, viewing them remained a great deal of fun.

I noticed quite a few butterflies intertwined in their mating embrace. What was most fascinating is not how they managed to hold on to each other, but that they also managed to fly together in this fashion.

As the seasons start to change and different plants, flowers and fruits dominate the various landscapes, I look forward capturing the diverse splendor that these butterflies offer freely.