The rains have come and the beautiful saturated hues of every shade of green have started to show after a long dry winter. The return of the migratory birds coupled with the birthing season of the impalas makes this time a truly special time to be in the South African wilderness.
However, despite all the rains it has certainly hasn’t dampened the sightings – anything but in fact. The lion sightings have probably been some of the most exceptional that I have had in my last 5 years at Sabi Sabi.
I will come to the lion sightings later and will start with the leopard sightings which to me have also been incredible. One of my favourite leopard sightings this cycle was that of the Kigelia female when we hosted a photographic seminar at Bush Lodge. It had been a while since I had seen this leopardess and she certainly made up for lost time. After coming down from a fallen Marula tree, she was chased by a small clan of hyenas that forced her up a large Knobthorn tree. It was twilight and we were able to get some wonderful images of her as she snarled and then patiently waited for her harassers to leave.
Kigelia’s younger sister, Ntsumi, has been growing in stature and she is certain to give you full value for a sighting. Her hunting ability is far exceeding her age and she has been seen these last 6 weeks to be able to take down fully grown impala rams – no small feat for a leopardess that is just 2 years of age.
Another leopard that we are starting to see a little more of is the Msuthlu female. One of my most memorable sighting of her this cycle was when we followed her and in a blink of an eye she made the most of an opportunity to kill a Black-bellied Bustard. It was so quick and a fantastic illustration of how agile and opportunistic these cats can be.
Maxabeni has also been seen regularly, as the rains have been consistent, this dominant male of the north has to continually walk his territory and its boundaries consistently scent marking to keep interlopers at bay. My favourite image of him this cycle was when he ascended this termite mound in the pouring rain to survey his territory.
We have also seen Wild Dogs on the reserve a few times this cycle, which is always special given their dwindling numbers on the African continent. My most intriguing sighting was when they came across a baboon which seemed to be dying at a nearby waterhole. At first, they did not seem to notice him until their inquisitive nature had the better of them. Having not eaten that day, it was quite surprising that they didn’t attack and kill it but an interesting sighting none the less.
In the early part of the cycle we have seen large herds of buffalo travelling throughout the reserve in search of good grazing as well as much needed water.
Where there are buffalo, there will be lions. The Mhangeni Pride, along with one of the Majingilane males had followed one of these buffalo herds from the north, but that same herd seemed to also have caught the interest of the Southern Pride. On that morning we had noticed evidence of a confrontation, with tracks for both prides meeting and the presence of blood in the sand. The larger Mhangeni Pride, coupled with the Majingilane male were no match for the Southern Pride dispersing them in different directions coupled with few fatalities of the younger cubs – a sad loss reminding us that nature can be cruel.
The following morning the Mhangeni’s, minus the Majingilane male, brought down a buffalo cow in the early hours of the morning in the pouring rain close to Little Bush Camp. This large pride with growing male sub adults devoured the carcass leaving little for the afternoon.
We found them later on at a nearby seasonal pan providing us with some fantastic photographic opportunities.
Prior to their confrontation with the Mhangeni’s, the Southern Pride gave me some of my most special moments this cycle. It all started early on, when we found them on a buffalo kill but the action started when the herd of buffalo still in the area decided to return to the site of their fallen comrade. It wasn’t about rescuing the fallen but to try and get one over the arch enemy and level the playing field. Here are some of my favourite images and a short video clip.
For more images and a blow by blow account of the sighting, click here.
A few days later the Southern Pride were at it again killing two buffalos in one night. Despite feeding on those buffalos for a day, the fortunes of the pride took a turn once more as they were chased off by the ageing Matimba males.
It is not often that you get to witness a full hunt to kill of a buffalo by lions. In my time at Sabi Sabi this is only my second time witnessing this and it was a real privilege as I got to share this with my guests who had come to Africa for the first time. The beauty was it wasn’t lost on them who realised that they were witnessing something quite brutal but few ever get to witness.
*Not for sensitive viewers*
During the time of the split, two adult lionesses managed to bring down yet another buffalo for them and three of the cubs. They were later joined by four addition members at the kill, however this youngster didn’t seem intent on sharing!
We spent some time with the pride as they slowly moved toward a large waterhole. We were very hopeful that they were going to make their way there as it was high up on the list of “Photographic Dreams” to capture images of a pride of lions drinking at night. Our intuition and understanding of animal behaviour gave our guests an opportunity to capture some wonderful images, which were followed by lots of high fives and hugs back at the lodge.
As mentioned earlier, the Matimba males have been seen frequently during this cycle and one of my best sightings was watching these males slowly start to wake, bond and groom each other before moving off into the night.
A great way to end off a cycle and there is little doubt that I will remember this cycle for some time to come, not just because of the awesome sightings and great images we captured, but most importantly the people we got to share them with. To all of you, thank you!