Rangers Report December 2011

Posted on December 29, 2011

The height of summer is upon us and scorching hot sunny days often lead to spectacular evening thunderstorms. It is the time to celebrate life and family as the year draws to a close and how fitting it is that Hlaba Nkunzi has returned home and given birth to her cubs…

Her cubs are hidden somewhere in the rocks on the left of this image, below suite 8, this is the Dayone male strolling past during mid December.

Hlaba Nkunzi
A few months of speculation as to her potential choice of den site has culminated in her coming “home” to Leopard Hills (As if there was ever any doubt…) to give birth in the safety of the rocks below suite 8!

Here she is approximately a week before she gave birth.

A few days after giving birth, suckle marks and matted fur visible…

Suckle marks close up.

Both males (Xhinzele & Dayone) have been through the camp while her cubs have been hidden here and great news is that there has been no aggression from either of them or from Hlaba Nkunzi toward the 2 males! We estimate the cubs are 7-10 days old now so we are hoping for our first glimpse of them during the first 2-3 weeks of Jan 2012.

In the meantime we are treated to her daily meanderings through the camp to suckle the tiny hidden fur balls. We will keep you all posted with lots of images and updates soon…

A little info on leopard cubs.
The gestation period of leopards is 90 to 105 days and the female gives birth to a litter of typically two to three cubs.

Newborn leopards are tiny, covered with dull grey fur that shows just vague spots and with their eyes tightly closed, they are completely helpless.

Leopard cubs open their eyes after 4-9 days and can walk within two weeks. During the first 8 weeks, while the mother leopard has to leave the den from time to time to hunt, the cubs remain in hiding. Only when the mother returns will the cubs walk out of the den and play outside with each other.

The mother will leave young cubs for up to 36 hours while hunting and feeding before returning to suckle them, they will be weaned at around 3 months.

While still mostly residing in Hlaba Nkunzi’s territory she has been her usual playful self and has been viewed consistently, more often than not perched high up a Marula tree scouting around for prey.

With the many nursery herds of impala lambs around being her prey of choice we were spoiled with an exceptional sighting of her stalking out in the open, then the chase and almost a kill!

Metsi and cubs
Her month has been spent down in the far south west and central areas where she has taken over the late Mambirri female’s former territory.

Her 2 sub adult male offspring have been seen infrequently but are both alive and well, they are however keeping a low profile, avoiding the dominant males!

She has been seen south of the sand river this month but is still residing mostly up in the north of her territory across the river.

She has been seen a few times without her male cub, he is moving about on his own a lot, becoming more and more independent now that he is a year and a few months old.

The Dayone male’s regular movements up north towards Leopard Hills have kept Xhinzele down in the south of his territory towards month end, he has been scent marking and calling zealously! See video footage.

The Mabrak river now seems to be a clear territorial boundary for these 2 adversaries, not ideal for Hlaba Nkunzi being caught in the middle, they bisect the core of her territory and her current den site!

Look at the images above and notice how he has filled out recently, becoming more and more intimidating and confident by the day!

He was seen once in the far north during the month, let’s hope 2012 brings many more sightings of this imposing male!

He gave us a few commanding appearances in the east, most memorably one morning when 2 of the Mapogo disturbed his resting place and he reluctantly hauled his full belly out of there!

How will he react to a confrontation with Xhinzele? This question will be answered soon, for now he has been spending a lot of time around Leopard Hills and south and west of us.

Here he is scent marking in front of suite 8.

We are not sure if he did mate with Hlaba Nkunzi but she does seem relaxed with his presence around the camp so we assume so.

Mapogo Coalition

The elder of the Mapogo and the short maned male have been prowling together for most of the month, spending a lot of time east, looking after the threat from the Majingilane’s that side. The other male has been living an easier life further west with the Ximungwe pride for much of the month, taking advantage of the hunting expertise of the lionesses.

Ximungwe Pride
The three lionesses with the four cubs (Ages ranging from 5 to 11 months) have remained together as a complete pride the entire month, spending much time up in the remote north west of the reserve. See video of the cubs and lionesses interacting.

The lioness that lost her cubs last month has been on her own much of the time and the Mapogo have been taking turns following her around, checking her scent and condition as she will come into oestrus again soon. See video of short maned Mapogo performing the flehmen grimace to test her reproductive condition.

Othawa young males
These 2 handsome pretenders made an appearance down south at Christmas time when 2 of the Mapogo killed a young buffalo and they picked up the scent. They were chased off by the 2 titans, who weren‘t overly concerned by their presence in the area initially. There was apparently a short fight the following day and one of the Mapogo did give one of the youngsters a small beating but he is alright.

Finding the parades that have spread out into the lush green wilderness is a bit tougher than in the dry winter months and it is often a fun exercise to track and locate them. This time of year it is sometimes easier to find leopards than the world’s largest land mammal…See amusing video footage of a cocky young male calf showing us some attitude.

We were also very privileged to be present moments after a little calf was born.

Crashes are in abundance, especially in the grassland just north of the lodge where the new growth is enticing them out of the woodland and providing excellent viewing out in the open! Look out for a young male calf interacting with the pack of painted dogs in the video.

With the summer rains having topped up the waterholes hippo viewing has been superb. The impressive audio of hippo’s grunting is one the definitive sounds of Africa, enjoy the distinctive audio on the video section as a raft emerges for their evening feeding.

Painted Dog Pack
As the year draws to a close it is truly fitting that the Painted Pack who we have grown so attached to this past year have decided to spend over a week in our traversing area!

A week of enthralling sightings have well and truly delighted our festive guests! To spend quality time with these highly social and active animals is always rewarded with something exciting! We were lucky enough to view an impala lamb kill made by the Alpha female as well as the build up and all the social greeting that goes on before the pack heads off on a hunt! See video below.

The pack now consists of 9 healthy dogs, 6 adults and 3 sub adults (almost 9 months old now). These 3 youngsters are now more streetwise and will most likely make it to adulthood. In the video look out for them investigating and playing with a young male white rhino calf one windy afternoon when no prey could be found.

Painted Dog Video
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The large obstinancy has been seen frequently in the south, the grazing is particularly nutritious down there on the gabbro soils after the saturating rains.

Video Highlights
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Interesting and unusual sightings captured in December
2 male Black Bellied Bustards (Champagne birds) fighting over a territory, our first time to observe this behaviour and such aggression between these ground birds!

Bird breeding season is peaking now…see below image of a Woodland Kingfisher male courtship feeding his female with a tasty morsel and a pair of Striped Kingfishers displaying.

A majestic Bateleur flying off with some nesting material.

The secretive cuckoos are more often heard than seen in their dense habitat, especially the Red Chested Cuckoo, luckily for us this one decided to rest for a few brief seconds out in the open.

Possibly the most Pangolin sightings ever in one year (8 separate sightings), unfortunately no more this month but here is a perfect example of tracks seen last week.

An odd looking pair of mating giraffe.

14 thoughts on “Rangers Report December 2011

  1. Hi Dave, great blog with fantastic sightings & good to hear about Hlaba Nkunzi’s. Beautiful pics guys!!!!


  2. Hi Dave, great blog with fantastic sightings & good to hear about Hlaba Nkunzi’s. Beautiful pics guys!!!!


  3. The beauties and the beasts! One and the same at Leopard Hills! So many spectacular gifts! Thank you for sharing and the time it takes to do so dave…..a good new year to all. connie

  4. ok sorry..already commented ;> but!! more rhino please!! love any glimpse of them! thanx! how old is that "baby" by the the way?
    hard to have a fave–but rhinos are mine! C

  5. OMG! What wonderful narrative and pics!

    This is an awesome post. What a thrill to read and see all. Thank you so much.

    Happy New Year to you all at LH! Cheers!
    Joy, Camarillo, CA

  6. Thanks Dave for the exceptional update! The photos are just phenomenal! Baby elephant has to be my best. Look forward to your next rangers report.

  7. I am so glad to know that the three wild dog pups we saw in August survived and should make it to adulthood. There were five when we got to Leopard Hills, but sadly, two disappeared while we were there. What majestic animals.

  8. wonderful blog, and such wonderful leopards and animals in Leopard Hills!!Thanks every so much and happy new year to you all!!

  9. Dangerous dave does it again.Superb Report and images are absolutely Stunning!!well done team!you guys are talented and privileged to spend time with those beautiful majestic animals!well done Caster Well done!

  10. Hi Dave,

    great pictures and nice blog, epsesially the first blog i do…
    You know, old man…

    Thank you a lot for the great days with you!

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