Friday, 29 April 2011

Leopards, leopards and wild dog puppies at Exeter

I wasn't able to do live posts the next few days at Dulini, as the connection was very slow, and we spent so much time in the sun that I was pretty tired! It was an amazing few days though. Each drive we managed to see at least one leopard, and overall in our stay I believe we saw 8 individual leopards, and had a total of 17 sightings. I am going to post pictures, most of which speak for themselves, and a few of my favorite sightings from the trip.

Metsi Female

Kashane male leopard 

Mashiyambanje Male leopard

Mashiyambanje male leopard
Metsi female and son

Hlaba Nkunzi scent marking

Last month when I was at Dulini we saw the daughter of Hlaba Nkunzi, and she gave us quite a charge. Subsequently she was killed by the Xindzele Male, most likely because she was too young to mate with him, and had a run in with him. This trip her mother had come into Oestrus, which is basically the period when she is able to conceive. She had sought out the Xindzele Male and was trying to convince him to mate with her. We were fortunate enough to witness the beginning of this process, as she spent the morning  trying to entice him. He was having none of it though, and was constantly growling at her, no matter what she did. She would purr, and roll around on her back, parading in front of him, and he would lie in the grass growling at her in displeasure. At one point she walked right up to him, and he sprung up and began to slap her around. It was very exciting to watch, but all happened so quickly I wasn't even slightly ready to capture it! It was impressive to realise how quickly there cats can move, In the below picture my shutter speed was greater that 1/400th of a second, yet all parts of the leopard were in motion. It is also nice to see the size difference between the male and female, which is vast. 

A blur of spots

Hlaba Nkunzi vs Xindzele

Unfortunately over the next couple of days the two leopards got separated as Hlaba Nkunzi crossed into the Hippo Dam females territory and was chased around a bit. The Xindzele male also had an intruder in his territory, the Babalas Male, a young male leopard, and spent a good portion of two days scent marking and calling loudly to signify his dominance and territory. All of this did however make for some active viewing! At least the leopards weren't sleeping in bushes...

Xindzele Scent Marking

Xindzele after testing the air.

Babalas Male considering jumping the fence

Nervous Babalas Male

The most special sighting of the trip for me took the form of wild dog puppies. Most drives we would stop off at the wild dog den site, although quite often we would only find a couple of the adults resting up at the den. The dynamic was a strange one, as both the Alpha and Beta female had given birth in separate mounds. No pups had been seen at the Beta mound at all, and as is often the case, the Alpha female will decide if the other pups will live.  The alpha female had been seen a few times at the beta den site, and it seemed as though she was perhaps stopping the other female from suckling. There is no way to know until the pups emerge, so there is always hope. 

One afternoon we left the lodge early and made our way to the main den site. On arrival we could hear a loud chorus of pups who had obviously come out of the den site for the first time properly, although they were out of site around the far side of the mound. They were crying just like normal puppies do, and the parents could be seen fussing around the moving grass. After sitting hopefully for around 20 minutes, we were rewarded with something very exciting! One of the pups came tumbling down the side of the den into the grass and we got to see the little two week old black body with its spotted legs! It was the most exciting moment. The alpha male then picked it up ever so gently and carried it back up the mound and placed it in the entrance to the den. We saw two puppies that afternoon, and that was enough. It was very special to see, and something we are unlikely to experience again. It was only the second time they had been seen, the first was shortly after they were born. What a treat! Anyone in the area in the next few weeks is sure to have some incredible sightings, I'm quite sad I won't be there though!!

Two week old puppy at the den site.

On our last afternoon drive, we again managed to see the Cheetah which sometimes visits the area. He had come onto the property and was resting up on a termite mound (one of two favorite spots of his I am told). So, it was another cat to check off the list. It was a huge mound, and he really had a great vantage point from atop it. 

While watching him we could elephant and rhino in the background! The caracal also put in another appearance late one night. He was calmly sitting in a small clearing, completely unconcerned by the presence of the vehicle, very unusual!

One of the funnier sightings was that of a rhino 'humping'. We actually called another ranger to the sighting, it was so funny. This rhino had been scratching himself on a termite mound (or hump...) He then proceeded to 'scratch the spot' over and over again. Each time he did so, he would take a break to lick the mound before resuming his business. The whole vehicle was in absolute hysterics!

 Flick between these two photo's for an olden day version of a movie.

The last time we were in Dulini we had spent a fair amount of time looking for the Ximungwe pride lionesses who had recently given birth, but had been unsuccessful. This time we had sighting of both sets of cubs, the first around 4 months, and the other around 6 months.

Cub in river bed late evening

Ximungwe pride younger cubs

The cubs were an absolute delight, chasing each other up the river bed, paws struggling in the soft and wet sand. They were having a rough time of it, as the mother had begun to wean them and wasn't letting them suckle, which produced countless cries and begging sounds. The older set were on a kudu kill with their mother, and we arrived early morning as the condensation from the ground was rising around them, and evaporating of their fur. Their breath was also condensing as its warmth met the cold air around us. 

Larger Ximungwe pride cub early morning

We also saw the remaining three Mapogo male lions on a number of occasions. The most memorable of these was watching them roar from about two metres away, their calls filling the air, and echoing off branches and banks in the distance. Such a powerful sound, one of the really impressive sounds of nature that fill one with awe. It was a wonderful trip, from the rangers to the lodge to the wildlife. The weather even played its part for the most, and I turned a number of shades browner, the sun baking my skin and the earth. What a relaxing Easter weekend, with not too much sleep, far too much food, and 17 or so leopard sightings. Not too shabby!!

Mapogo under spotlight

Hlaba Nkunzi

Evening patrol

Xindzele rolling in dung

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