Rangers Report September 2011

Posted on September 28, 2011

The lush riverine Sand river wonderland is currently an allurement for wildlife of all sorts as we anticipate the first rains. Unique sightings of rarely seen usually nocturnal animals have also abounded as they revel in the cool weather before the heat of summer is upon us.

September sundowner shared with some whitebacked vultures

Hlaba Nkunzi
It is fabulous to see that she has been frequenting her “core” territory around Leopard Hills this month, that is except for a brief sojourn up to the Sand river in hot pursuit of Xhinzele.

One afternoon we discovered his tracks and what we thought were those of the Xikavi female very near the river bank. A little tracking and some good luck brought us around a large Jackalberry tree and down a ridge just as she promptly began presenting herself to Xhinzele while flicking her tail and rubbing against him! We were then treated to our first observation of them mating out in the open (See the great footage in video highlights, thanks Megan Disch).

We are all debating at the moment whether she already has a small bulge, the next few weeks will tell.

It’s not an easy task for an aspiring 2 and half year old female trying to establish herself in prime leopardess territory as Thlangisa is discovering. She has been seen mostly in the northwest where perhaps there is a little space available and not too much activity from territorial females.

She has introduced herself to Xhinzele this month and it was rather amusing to watch her eagerly following him around for 2 days presenting her self while he totally ignored her advances except for the odd growl for all her efforts!

Metsi and cubs
She is mostly traversing the south of her territory now that her cubs have reached independence while both 16 month old youngsters have been seen frequently up north around Leopard Hills camp.

The relaxed youngster came of age this month with his first documented kill about 800m from our camp and what a first kill it was! Half way through dinner out on the deck one still balmy evening the serenity was broken by a side striped jackal’s eerie alarm call, we pinpointed the sound and decided to follow up there first thing in the morning. We were totally unprepared and astonished with what we found! The ravenous youngster had managed to subdue a fully grown porcupine and dragged it high up a tree! It was also the first porcupine sighting for some lucky guests and for us rangers the most relaxed porcupine we have seen in years!

She is being found more consistently now that it is the end of winter and the vegetation is low on the Sand river and has been seen mating with both Xhinzele and Mashiabanje on opposite banks of the river. Her prime riverine territory is split in half by these two adversaries and she is caught somewhat in the middle of it all! See video of her and Mashiabanje mating and look out for the wake up “wack” she gives the poor exhausted young chap with her paw!

We were pleasantly surprised to view Shangwa and her 1 year old male cub a few times as they ventured over from the east for the first time this year! Shangwa is the oldest female that is viewed in the west (13 years) and also the mother of Xikavi (6 years).

Xhinzele & Mashiabanje
The tension between these two has heated up again and we were in the thick of a territorial stand off between them on the bank of the Sand river. Xhinzele was on “his” deck at Tree Tops roaring while Mashiabanje sat and glared from the northern bank (See video). Xhinzele has added a few more battle scars to the top of his head, whether these are from conflict between these 2 or were inflicted on the hunt we are not sure. Xhinzele is covering a lot of ground patrolling and in the process being pursued by the females which means we have been treated to some fantastic behavioural sightings involving him!

Mashiabanje has been viewed more frequently on the northern bank of the Sand river and is looking bigger and stronger than ever. He has a distinctive scar left of his nose, surely a clash with Xhinzele will add some more character to his face shortly. Listen out for his deep growl when mating with Xikavi in the video.
Xhinzele patrollingMashiabanje with kill
Xhinzele LH

Every time we find him his commanding presence captivates our guests, those light coloured piercing eyes tend to stare right through you! He has been found more frequently this month as he has been more active in the west of his territory enforcing his dominance here!

He is still busy establishing himself in the vicinity of the Dayone river down in the south west. He has begun scent marking and calling albeit rather tentatively and still has a way to go before becoming a confident territorial male, it is hard to believe that he is the same age as the more imposing Xhinzele (both born Nov 2007).

Mapogo Coalition
The more time the 3 rulers of the west spend together the more chance we have of experiencing one of their earth shattering roaring displays! We were treated to a few such performances this month (See video highlights for some impressive vocalisation, thanks again Megan Disch). They have been venturing east more this month and are obviously feeling a little pressure but are more than holding their own!

They currently face the significant threats of the 4 Majingilane males to the east mostly on Londolozi, the 6 young Matimba males further north and the 4 Southern pride males in the south. Some sad news is that the Southern pride males killed the remaining young 3 year old Ottawa male mid month! It sure is a tough task as a male lion seeking out an existence in the prime but hazardous territory of the Sabi Sands right now!

Have a look at the Sabi Sands map below and how the male lion coalitions are currently positioned remembering that the 6 mighty Mapogo ruled this whole area for so long!

Sabi Sands Male Lion Coalitions

Ximungwe Pride
For most of the month we were spoiled with 9 cubs, the latest additions were 4 tiny 6-8 week old cubs that were found at their den in a dry river bed for a few weeks. Towards the end of the month we think that a Spotted Hyaena discovered the den one night while the mother was out hunting and 2 of the little ones were killed. This is sad but a harsh reality for lion cubs and it is actually quite lucky that 2 of them managed to survive.

So now we have the 3 lionesses with the 5 cubs (2 x 9 month, 1x 4 month and 2x 2 month) who are spending most of their time together while the lioness with the 11 month cubs is spending all her time one her own and is providing plentiful supply of prey animals for the healthy looking young males.

Parades of Elephants are in abundance every day along the Sand river, one memorable occasion was when we were watching the lioness with the 2 older cubs as they lay near the river digesting their impala kill when a parade came along and chased them off spoiling their afternoon siesta. See video highlights.

White Rhino
We celebrated World Rhino Day this month on the 22nd! Leopard Hills is dedicated to the cause and we are going the extra mile to protect our cherished pachyderms! Along with the Rhino Force bracelets we have available at our shop we are also organising a Big Birding for Rhino’s Day to raise funds! Please contact the lodge should you wish to be involved.

As always the full spectrum of rhino sightings abounded this month, cows and calves, sub adults and of course the magnificence of the bulky territorial bulls patrolling.

The peculiar behaviour of the bull hippo with the adopted 9 month old calf continues. The calf does seem a little disorientated at times and we found him out of the water alone standing in the shade of a guarri bush one afternoon. He wasn‘t afraid of us and stood his ground and stared as we approached, hopefully he is not this brave should the Mapogo coalition find him!

Painted Dog Pack
The painted wolves have returned and delighted us a precious few times this month. The youngsters are now 6 months old and confident emerging adults. 4 out of the 8 pups have made it this far which sounds low but in reality is a fantastic success rate for wild dogs and we now have a healthy and hopefully stable pack of 10!

The nomadic pack roams far and wide, even as far as the Kruger National Park over 40km away so there is much excitement every time they are back!

For those interested and who know this pack see the video highlights section for some interesting footage of the Alpha male and female as well as the Beta female scent marking for dominance. Usually it is only the 2 Alpha’s exhibiting this behaviour however in this pack the Beta female is also tolerated as a dominant animal.

Spotted Hyaena
The female with the 2 male cubs has moved on from the new den site that we found, she has possibly rejoined the communal den with the rest of the clan somewhere. This was mid month and not before we experienced some wonderful sightings of these 2 cubs as they entertained each other around their termite mound den in the afternoons (See video highlights).

The Spotted Hyaena population does seem to be on the increase in our area and we are hearing and viewing them a lot more consistently.

The large herds have been plentiful this month, we estimate a herd of at least 600 passed though our camp towards month end. The most memorable occasions have been spending time with them as they indulge in their morning or afternoon drink and mud wallow at a favoured waterhole.

Video Highlights
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A memorable month of UNUSUAL sightings

Pangolin, Porcupine, Serval and Honey Badger…throw in some unique bird sightings to delight the birders and WOW what a month we had!

Let’s start off with some video.
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A once in a lifetime pangolin sighting a mere 800m from our lodge, savoured by extremely lucky guests and jubilant staff!

Kori bustard tracks were seen on drive and apparently one ranger even managed a quick glimpse of the huge bird! First time in the last few years that the world’s heaviest flying bird (up to 19kg) has been recorded here!

Grey headed bush shrike (Spook voel) after it had killed and stashed a Vine snake, look in the top left corner of the image and see if you can spot the snake.

A yellow billed hornbill caught a huge shiny burrowing scorpion (Opistopthalmus glabrifrons) in perfect evening light, it was a real mouthful to try and swallow.

Male african finfoot on the Sand river

Unlikely neighbours! A business of dwarf mongooses and a yellow throated plated lizard share a termite mound. Thanks to the eagle eyes of our regular guests Joan and Arnold Kalan for spotting the lizard and mongoose peering out of the mound!

Relaxed malachite kingfisher perched on the edge of the river.

19 thoughts on “Rangers Report September 2011

  1. Wow what a month!! the very best rangers report yet guys. wonderfull imags and video too, brilliant thankyou. We so wish we could come and visit you again this year but hopefully next year. Keep up the good work till then

    Kind Regards to all

    James and Debbie

  2. Amazing Report DD, was spell bound by the sightings you guys were privileged to have witnessed.Your report was truly captivating and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. well done DD Well done!

  3. Howzit Dave,

    Great report.

    Its brilliant to be able to keep up whats happening with all the territorial leopards and prides in the West, especially having been aquainted with all of them over the past months and more recently during the brief time that I spent at Leopard Hills just over 2 weeks ago. The rest of the sightings are also incedible.

    Looking forward to the next report.

    Best regards to all at the lodge

    Brett – Safaris For Me

  4. Thanks for the Nice Monthly Report and the lovely video Dave,There is some confusion Regarding Ottawa Pride is it not the Youngest 18 month Old Male Cub who was Killed by Southern Males ?

  5. Excellent report Dave, thank you and what a fantastic month for sightings – so wish we were back there at Leopard Hills but your reports keep us going
    Angie and Loren

  6. To confirm you comment re any fighting between the two male leopards here is another sighting during sept 2011:

    Two of the larger male leopards were sighted patrolling their territory west of Kirri crossing. Xinzele approached Mashiabange salivating which often precedes a battle. Both began a deep growl and slowly moved closer together. After several minutes of posturing, they both charged forward with flailing claws in a fury of loud coughing calls. The battle was over in seconds, leaving each with a new set of scars. Xinzele was sighted the next day with a couple of small puncture wounds to his chest.

  7. Glad you all enjoyed this month’s report as much as we enjoyed reliving and sharing the stories!

    Thanks Ravi, you are right there is some confusion regarding which Ottawa young male was killed by the Southern pride.

    It was probably the 18 month old as there were reports this morning of older Ottawa males up in the Northern Sands…the story continues!

    We havent’s seen the Ottawa pride this side for a while and are reliant on reports from the east so any information is very welcome.

    Lin, thanks for your detailed account of the battle between two fierce rivals, Xhinzele & Mashiabanje! I’m sure it’s not the last…

  8. Thanks Dave and all your guests for sharing such magnificent sightings in the form of a riveting report and stunning photos and videos of truly special animals. Cannot believe how chilled the xinzele was! Felt like I has just been on drive –
    Thanks LH – awesome

  9. Thanks for the update Dave,Actually Chitwa Chitwa Posted on their FB Page that 5 Tsalala Females made a Buffalo Kill then 2 Ottawa males Arrived on the Feast but Soon 4 Majingis Came Running in and Having Numbers Advantage Chased Off 2 Ottawa Boys.

  10. Can anyone give us a family tree on the leaopards, as it would be interesting to see which relate bsck to Makwela, who we followed during our visits to Ulusaba until she died.

  11. Hi Ian, I agree it will be very interesting to share the Makwela lineage! Hlaba Nkunzi is Makwela’s daughter and is now 5 and a half years old.

    I will get hold of a family tree and post it in this months report.

  12. Thanks Dave,
    we would have seem Hlaba Nkunzi as a cub and with her cubs last year.
    Your blogs are a great way of keeping up to date with a wonderful part of the world.

  13. I hope my favorite leopardess Hlaba Nkunzi rears new cubs to adulthood. September was an awesome month in LH! Look forward to a return. so many new prides and leopards… Wow Joy

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