Wildlife Journal May 2011

May is here, the dawn chorus permeates the lowveld of Mpumalanga in the crisp air and easterly breeze that herald winter’s beginning. The daily temperatures this month were very pleasant with days rising to a balmy 26°C and dropping to 13°C at night. The days have been clear and the light for photography wonderful but the summer rains are reluctant to let the bush die down. No one is complaining of course, especially the animals, which are all enjoying this extended availability of food. The sand river is still flowing, but peacefully now, compared to the constant flooding that it had to endure through summer. The game viewing as usual has been terrific, most game drives have been richly rewarded with large buffalo herds, hippos in rafts of about twenty, big and small cats and many colorful birds.

 Leopard (Panthera pardus)

MashiyabanchiMay leopard viewing has also been good with numerous sightings of these elusive cats, often lying in trees in the morning or evening light. The new territorial male of the area, Xindzele has become very active patrolling and constantly defending his territory. This male is handsome he leaves all who see him in awe. He was discovered near Tree Tops and following as he walked along the sand river, he then picks up on scent of another leopard. Soon after, Mashiyabanchi, the male who occupies the North was spotted on the opposite of the river. The two leopards were watching one another, Xindzele tried to cross the river to force Mashiyabanchi from his territory.Hlabankunzi a female leopard continues her mission to get Xindzele male to mate with her, she was literally throwing herself at him but she failed again as he showed no interest on her. Later in the month she killed a female impala and hoisted the carcass into a marula tree.Ximhungwe pride

The lion prides in whose territories we live has once again provided many of the month’s highlights with the four male cubs providing regular entertainment. The Mapogo brothers are holding on they have been on their own for a few days. One of the Mapogo brothers was found lying up he spent two days at the dam probably as a result of a full stomach. Very entertaining on late afternoon he has been quite vocal, roaring often.

Some great news with Ximhungwe pride, it seems that the pride is slowly getting back to normal as the Mapogo who was responsible for killing the previous cubs has now accepted the new arrivals they found all together the two smaller cubs resting on the dam wall at Cutline Dam.

Ottawa pride are having such a difficult time, after the loss of their only two mothers of the pride, one was killed by a buffalo bull and the other fell in a poacher snare. The pride consist of only a sub adult and cubs and sadly one of the seventeen month cubs was killed this month by two males from the North eastern Sabi sand. The pride’s territory is very loose at moment they just seem to move in a direction where there is less activity of other lions. They are not in good terms with the father males, Mapogo because there are young males that should have left the pride still in the pride. Nevertheless they remain great hunters and are in health condition.

Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

Elephant (Loxodonta africana)Elephant herds are plentiful at the moment. A herd of approximately sixty were observed between at top clearing northern section of the reserve. We constantly herd moving up and down the sand river. Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer)The large herd entering our traversing area.

The large herd entered our traversing area; Buffalo herds have been seen entertaining us throughout the week. Action packed viewing included mating, play fight and wallowing at George’s dam. Many calves have been born recently.

More than the big five…..

Further great news this month is about the pack of cape hunting dogs. We mentioned on last report that the wild dogs have a den on our side, in the western sector Sabi sand. We are delighted to report the pups started to emerge from the den and that there are eight new pups from the pack. We been extremely fortunate to spend time at the den site of Africa’s second most endangered carnivore and are one of the top ten endangered mammals on the planet. Motility rate of the cubs is very high and their dangers include lion, leopard and hyenas on one after while spending time with the dog family suddenly the alpha female jumped and gave warning to the cubs to go in a hole we saw the danger slithering through the grasses, puff adder snake. (Note the top right corner of the photo on the right)

In and around camp

From their breakfast table on the veranda guests saw elephants, buffalos, kudus and many more as they came to drink at waterhole in front of the lodge. A herd of impala is forever on our lawn and a pair of pied king fisher fishing in the sand river is a regular sight.

Impala
This month’s sightings report compiled by Khimbini Hlongwane
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Insight to Secrets – Keith Jenkinson

Leopard

Insight to secrets by Keith Jenkinson

Humans have always been fascinated by all of the world’s cats and the relationship dates back as far as 7 500 BC, a shallow grave of a
human and a cat was found in Cyprus both ceremoniously buried facing west with
stone tools and sea shells indicating some kind of early symbiotic relationship. The relationship between humans and cats has always been an ambiguous one though, in the Middle Ages cats were often considered in league with evil and were slaughtered en masse. As the numbers of cats diminished in Europe  their food source, rodents, flourished and the back plague spread rapidly!
In ancient Egypt cats were kept to control the number of rodents in grain stores and cats were also associated with the goddess Isis and Bast.

In Japanese folklore a landlord noticed a cat indicating to him in a waving movement, he was intrigued and approached, as he got close to  the cat lighting struck where he had just been standing. Thus cats are considered to be good luck (Maneki Neko) in Japanese folklore, and are believed to invite wealth. Figurines of this cat are often found in Japanese shops and restaurants.

In Africa the large cats have always been in conflict with humans, early humans were most probably a prey species but as we evolved we quickly started to out-compete the large predators. Today many farmers still see leopard as vermin and stock thieves, as a result animals are often shot or
poisoned.

In many African cultures the Chieftains wear leopard skin as
a royal head dress, this historically has not been a problem as the number of
Chieftains in South Africa is small and legal “controlled” trade in leopard
skins was able to supply the demand. The Shembe church is a 4million strong
church in Kwa-Zulu Natal that requires all of its members to wear leopard skin.
This church is about 30 years old and is now cause for grave concern for
Leopard conservation in Africa as a huge demand for skins has been created.

An illegal trader was found various body parts of over 150 leopards in 2008 but was later acquitted of 252 charges due to legal technicalities!

Projects to produce realistic fake fur for this purpose are
on the go and will hopefully eradicate this problem.

For many years conservationist were of the opinion that the
leopard is one of the few large cats that is able to survive close to human
settlement due to its intelligence and tenacity this view is now being
scrutinized by many conservation authorities. An on-going study has shown a
sharp decline in leopard numbers in various areas of Southern Africa. The study has also highlighted the need for more research projects. This is where the Sabi Sand will be able to play an integral role in leopard conservation.

The population of leopards in the Sabi Sand is world renowned
for being unique in their tolerance to humans. The Sabi Sand is one of the only places on earth where leopards can be observed by humans without altering their day to day behaviour. Leopards are naturally secretive animals and in most areas will avoid humans at all costs. Being such a stealthy and intelligent cat makes the leopard a very difficult animal to study and many projects have to rely on camera traps, collared individuals or even tracks and signs of the animals to determine populations.

In essence every game drive at Inyati is a researchers dream, as every visitor is presented with ample opportunity to photograph leopard and have a glimpse of their daily behaviour.  Guides in the Sabi Sand have been collecting data by viewing these animals for many years and this data is now being shared with the Endangered Wildlife Trust to bolster their studies.

Apart from having an accurate population dynamic study the Sabi Sand presents some insights into these majestic cats that have never before been accurately recorded.  Guides and guest at Inyati often see leopard mating, this enables us to create accurate family trees and monitor the lineage and dynamic of male leopard over the past 30 years.

Female leopards trust us enough to often allow guides and guest the opportunity to view interactions with cubs, this will enable us to determine and accurate weaning and survival rate of cubs. This in turn allows us to establish a population growth curve that would impact on future conservation management
plans.

The past two years has offered us the opportunity to witness
the effects of a change in dominance of males in specific territory.  A well known male named Wallingford (Wally)
survived to the ripe old age of 18 (a record for a wild leopard in the area)
but lost his territory in July 2009. We know this because we witnessed him kill an impala in front of Inyati camp before an afternoon drive and he was last photographed then.
 A young male we named Tekwaan then took over the territory and mated with various females. The influx of males after Wally was
astounding. Within two months 6 male leopards were spotted in the area, Tekwaan had his work cut out but seemed to hold strong until late 2010 when he disappeared. No one has solid proof of what happen