A Growing Pride

Nothing is constant and everything changes. Luckily there has been an exhilarating change in the bush.

The young Othawa lioness has come of age. I was deeply excited when I heard that she was pregnant for the first time. All I had to do was to wait around 110 days to get word about new lion cubs. After a 6 weeks settling in period, I could go searching for them.

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Lionesses will usually steer clear of the pride for a few weeks after giving birth. It was just a matter of time before she introduced them to the pride.

Unfortunately I missed the introduction itself. What I did get to see was her parading her cubs proudly after stashing them in a thicket while she was hunting.

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I managed to get the whole litter shuffling along, following mom through an open clearing and down the road. The cubs wasted no time when they passed by a mud wallow. They lapped up water as fast as they could. The mother was on a mission to take them to the safety of the pride.

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She produced a litter of 3 cubs. They are still too young to confirm the genders. The young cubs have integrated successfully within the pride. Their energy is typical of growing cubs. I have had plenty sightings of them playing, learning new skills, feeding and interacting with various pride members.

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Standoff

When you are in a densely populated leopard area, it is only a matter of time before they start to clash.

It has been a long while since I’ve seen Hlabankunzi. She used to hold territory around Leopard Hills and has started making her way back. Unfortunately she got forcefully removed from her last territory by her own daughter, Scotia. Hlabankunzi came off second best. Her right ear got ripped off and she sustained an injury to one of her paws.

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She has aged a lot, but at 13 years old, Hlabankunzi still puts on a good show. As I left a sighting of her recently, I was called back only to see another leopard stalking Hlabankunzi.

As I came around the corner I saw Boulders female trailing Hlabankunzi. Boulders has become one of the dominant female leopards in the area. I assume she was heading back to her two cubs that she hid away while hunting. Unfortunately Hlabankunzi found herself in Boulders’ territory. She was completely unaware of Boulders’ presence.

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Hlabankunzi moved up onto a termite mound to rest for a while. Boulders snuck up behind her and calculated her next move. Hlabankunzi eventually caught sight of Boulders and both females immediately started growling at each other. Neither really wanted to get injured. Boulders must have realised that she still had hungry cubs to feed so she just moved out of the area.

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I’m not sure how much time Hlabankunzi still has left, but at least she managed to survive another day.

Timbavati Lions

I simply can’t get enough of the bush and a few weeks ago I spent some time in the Timbavati Game Reserve.

My first introduction was a very pleasant one. We found one of two Mbiri male lions on a wildebeest kill. Despite some battle wounds this boy looked in great condition. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this male.

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The next day we went to look for the other Mbiri male lion. The sun was starting to set and the heat of the day had already subsided. We entered a dry river bed and found a beautiful lion pride basking in the sun.

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As the air started to cool down, the cubs started to get active. They were very curious with the presence of our vehicle, but approached with caution.

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Besides the wonderful lion sightings, I was fortunate to find a leopard hunting, seeing plenty general game and simply enjoying the beautiful landscape that the Timbavati has to offer.

The Herald

With the rise in temperatures and the first set of rain, the Lowveld has transformed itself into a lush, green reserve.

Many small creatures have started becoming mobile again due to the summer weather. I recently found this little Herald or Red-lipped snake slithering around.

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This was still a youngster reaching about 20cm in length. Their colours vary from greyish to olive/grey. The head is usually darker and white speckles may be seen along the body.

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The name Red-lipped snake comes from the obvious red/orange upper lip. The name Herald came about when the Herald newspaper in the Eastern Cape announced the discovery of the snake.

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They are considered to be more nocturnal and are often found around water bodies, feeding on oversized toads.

My presence did not seem to deter the snake. It remained rather relaxed and posed beautifully for some photos. They are considered mildly venomous, but pose no threat to humans.

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Into the forest

There is something so mystical about spending time in a forest. Is it the sounds, smell or the density of the woods that stirs up this mystery?

I spent a few nights in a simple little log cabin tucked away in the Magoebaskloof mountain valley in the Limpopo province, outside of Tzaneen. The main goal was to seek out and find the elusive African Emerald Cuckoo and Black-fronted Bushshrike while hiking. Unfortunately, plans changed drastically when storm clouds moved in and it rained for two days straight.

During one of the rainy spouts, I noticed some movement in the nearby trees from my viewing deck. When I looked closer I was pleasantly surprised.

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I have seen samango monkeys before, but I have never had the opportunity to photograph them. They are found mostly in forest areas and this often makes it tricky to get them out in the open.

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I did not get to observe them for too long. They moved swiftly through the forest canopy and moved out of the rain.

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Even though I struck out on my birding quest, I had a great stay overall and can’t wait to get back.

Moments of magic

It might be hard to imagine such a large animal being so relaxed. I reminisce about some magical moments being surrounded by these awesome animals.

Rhino-4Getting images of animals at eye level or close to it is not always easy. I found myself below a bank and this rhino approached me head on. This view provides a completely different perspective of these peaceful creatures.

Rhino-3White rhino are generally placid animals. However, when two dominant males cross territories they will clash. I witnessed two titans going head to head and not holding back. This male was the victor and he managed to get away with only a few scars.

Rhino-1It is always a pleasure finding rhino calves and watching their interaction with their mother. This female was rather protective so I only barely managed to capture this moment in time.

Rhino-2I found this rhino casually grazing. After spending some time with it I saw it was slowly moving towards a river up ahead. I saw that the sun was setting and found a gap along the river. I moved ahead of it and anticipated this sunset shot.

A king’s legacy

Being the king of the jungle is no easy task. Many lion prides and coalitions have come and gone. Sometimes, their legacies will live on.

One of the lionesses from the Othawa pride was seen mating with the Majingilane male lions before the males perished. A few months later there was talk of the lioness searching for a suitable den site.

There was a flurry of excitement when someone reported that the female did indeed have cubs. We waited for a few weeks for the cubs to settle in. Then one morning she emerged with 3 cubs and presented them to the world.

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The female is an experienced mother and has managed to raise all 3 cubs successfully. At around 5 months old, they are really vulnerable to various elements in the bush. We recently had 2 adult Matimba male lions enter our area. Our concern was that they would discover the cubs. However, the female has done a fantastic job at dodging their movements.

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The cubs are quickly learning the art of stalking, ambushing and hunting. What better way to learn these techniques than by targeting your siblings?

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RIP Sasekile

With the amount of individual leopards that roam around it is not hard to form an emotional bond with these felines.

Sasekile (The beautiful one) recently went independent from her mother Thlangisa. She established a territory adjacent to her mother’s territory. Although I had heard how beautiful and how relaxed she is, it took me a long time before I finally got to see her.

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The day finally came and my introduction to her was full of action. I found her stranded in a tree, surrounded by hungry hyenas that were fighting over her kill. Eventually the chaos subsided and she managed to evade the lurking hyenas.

She moved through long grass and eventually walked down a quiet road.

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Having lost her kill to some skulking scavengers, she proceeded to climb a tree to ensure the coast was clear and to look for a potential meal.

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The young leopard must have spotted something in the distance. She climbed down from the tree and hastily made her way down the road. I followed cautiously. I saw her pause and ahead of her stood some unsuspecting impala.

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She quickly crouched down and leopard crawled to hide her presence. She inched closer and closer. I was in awe as I was sure she would make a kill. How lucky would I be to see her for the first time and with a successful hunt at that. I watched as she moved with calculated steps. She managed to approach really closely. Unfortunately a squirrel noticed her and started alarm calling. This alerted the impala and they immediately scattered to safety.

A week or two afterwards Sasekile walked along the Sand river, moving out of her territory. We got news that she was killed by a resident male leopard. I truly treasure the day I got to see her in all her beauty.

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Fallen giraffe

Seeing vultures or other birds of prey perching during overcast conditions are not uncommon. However, when you find around 40 jostling frantically for their position in the tree tops there’s bound to be something happening below.

I made my way through the block to investigate. I was pleasantly surprised to see why the vultures were so active.

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There had been an old giraffe circling the area over the past few weeks. I have no idea if something killed this male or if it was simply the end of his time. When I arrived there were many hyena lazing about with stomachs sated.

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There was a single hyena testing his strength with the leg bone. It seemed to be a struggle even for the jaws of the hyena.

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There is a clear pecking order with vultures. There were two species present at this kill, the white-backed vulture and the hooded vulture. The White backed vultures are larger and their beaks are designed to rip flesh from the carcass. Hooded vultures generally wait their turn as they are smaller and their beaks are thin like tooth picks. They use their beaks to find meat that other scavengers can’t get to like in between ribs and other bones.

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A young hyena woke up from its slumber. It just resumed feeding when it spotted some vultures moving in closer to the kill.

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The young one took the opportunity to turn chasing vultures into a game. It kept running, almost hopelessly, at the vultures but they saw him coming from afar.

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Eventually the little pup gave up and went to lay down in the shade again once the clouds broke and the morning started to heat up.

Two firsts in one day

There is always a first time for everything. This week I managed to have two firsts in one day.

After spending a great drive with my fellow ranger Nigel and a large breeding herd of elephants, it was time to stop for some drinks with guests. It was a perfect break to an amazing safari drive. The sun had set and the light quickly started to fade. Before we could even cheers our drinks, our tracker confidently exclaimed, “Wild Dogs”.

Everyone had been searching all afternoon for these swift moving canines, but to no avail. So it was surprising to hear these words being uttered from the trackers mouth. I moved towards the road and sure enough a pack of wild dogs came trotting down the road towards our drinks stop. This is a very rare occasion and a truly special event. This was the first time that these endangered animals had ever approached me on foot.

After a very entertaining afternoon we were really spoiled to find a female leopard later that evening. This was the first time that I had come across her since I’ve been at Leopard Hills. She is the beautiful Kelly Dam female. So it was a real treat to find her balancing delicately in a tree with an impala carcass dangling between her legs.

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Usually these types of sightings are on high demand, but for some reason it was just us at the sighting. So we had ample time to view her casually eating the impala.

There are so many things to observe when an animal is feeding. These leopards will tear meat with their razor sharp teeth, lick meat off of bones with their sandpaper like tongues and easily crunch through bones. The sounds alone are an experience to behold.

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No kill would be complete without a hyena skulking around to see what he could potentially scavenge. Kelly Dam managed to wedge her kill properly in the fork of the tree so no luck for the hyena that night.

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For me these first time experiences are what make the bush so thrilling. You simply do not know what is going to happen next.

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