Saturday the 20th of August
The day began bright and quiet on Djuma. After a sunrise safari spent following tracks all over the reserve the safariLIVE crew headed out in the afternoon with low expectations. Yet this is the wild and you never know what’s going to happen. A fact made true by the materialisation of a lioness at Buffelshoek dam. The Nkuhuma mother was padding her way across the dam wall before heading down into the cooling respite of a thick and shady drainage line. As she did so she began to call out in low gentle tones and soon 3 tiny tawny teddy-like lion cubs waddled out of the thick bush. The bounded and played taking it in turns to pounce on mom’s tail. Soon another 2 little terrors joined in the cub melee and all 5 lions began to make their way steadily north. Eventually they crossed out of our traverse to join the rest of the pride and although the sighting was brief it was nothing less than incredible!
(Nkuhuma cubs, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Sunday the 21st of August
Dawn broke warm and bright as the end-of-winter sun begins to warm to it’s summer intensity. Leopard tracks littered the roads of Djuma, Brent and James did all they could to catch up with the covert cats yet to no avail. That afternoon however our luck changed as the Queen herself decided to make an appearance. Karula has pulled off another stunning appearing act and spent her afternoon roaming the drainage line right behind the lodge and within view of the safariLIVE crew camp! The wild is rough place to live and the queen appeared to have fallen victim to a vicious thorn attack. Leopards however, are tough animals and Karula is one of toughest, a few thorns won’t bother her for long! Karula kept the action low this afternoon as she enjoyed a refreshing drink and then reclined in dappled winter sunlight. Soon she made her back into the heart of the drainage and just as Brent was leaving the sighting he caught a glimpse of her leaping with extreme agility over the Vuyatela fence! Perhaps the Queen was on her way to enjoy a spot of high tea on the Vuyatela lodge deck.
(Karula, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Monday the 22nd of August
Sleep time is an incredibly important time and very highly valued amongst the safariLIVE crew. Yet with hungry, hunting lions about this can become challenging. The night time peace was torn by booming roars and distressed bellows as the Nkuhuma pride and Birmingham males managed to secure another buffalo kill. Brent and James headed out in the predawn calm focussed and intent on finding the cacophonous cats! Soon enough the kill site was discovered and James picked his way into the block to discover 4 of the Nkuhuma lionesses, 5 of their precious little cubs and 2 of the Birmingham males. The lionesses were feeding indulgently while the males, already full to the point of bursting, slept soundly under some nearby shrubbery. Lions are not exactly famed for their good manners and demonstrated this beautifully as the lionesses growled committed warnings at each other while they fed. The 5 cubs watched hopefully from a distance, unsure of whether or not to join in the morning feast for fear of being reprimanded by an angry aunty. Their little teddy-like faces were already drenched in blood yet cute would not be a sufficient enough word to describe just how precious their bloody appearance made them. After a few more tiny nibbles on the carcass it was time to explore, the 5 little trouble makers scampered about sniffing and chewing on anything that dared move. Eventually they joined their beachball shaped parents for a much needed morning cat nap. Such was the order of the day for the lions. After eating themselves into veritable coma’s the cats spent the afternoon sleeping off their beefy breakfast while the cubs snoozed and suckled gently late into the windy and dusty late winter evening.
(Nkuhuma lioness with older cub, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Tuesday the 23rd of August
The morning kicks off with the Nkuhumas, their cubs and the Birmingham males all still enjoying their buffalo buffet. Upon arrival at the sighting one of the Birmingham males was making short work of what remained of the day old carcass. All 5 Nkuhuma lionesses were present and accounted for as were all 8 of the cubs. The 8 little terrors spent the morning pouncing on each other and the adults before settling down for a nourishing drink from the 3 lactating lionesses. A few squabbles ensued over who got the best suckle position but soon the scene calmed and the cats rested peacefully in the little shade provided by a leafless tree. It would also seem as though one of the Nkuhuma lionesses is in oestrous, every move she made was closely shadowed by one of the Birmingham males. He wouldn’t let her out of his sight and made sure he was constantly at her side displaying what could only be described as lion chivalry. Eventually all the cats decided it was time for their most favourite activity, sleep. WE left the sighting as the vultures began to arrive, the lions tossed unimpressed looks at the great avian scavengers who had so rudely barged in on breakfast, completely uninvited! As fate would have it, the lions made short work of their buffalo kill and pride member went their separate ways. All of the cubs and 3 of the Nkuhuma lionesses made their way west while Amber-Eyes and one other lioness escorted the Birmingham males to the Galago water hole. The amourous pairs relaxed at the water’s edge drinking at their leisure, although no mating occurred the interest displayed by the males indicated the females were soon to be in oestrous. WE left the scene in the darkening twilight as the lions slowly wound their way north through some particularly vicious thickets.
(Little Nkuhuma cub yawning, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
To the west a different story played out. Tingana, the dominant male leopard on Djuma and Arathusa had been found resting up in the shade of the Marakeni drainage line. The impressive male leopard had recently stopped mating with Shadow, a very interesting development as it could possibly indicate that Shadow had lost her only remaining cub. Yet reports from various sources stated that Shadow’s 5 month old cub is indeed alive and well. Perhaps this information will bring us one step closer to understanding Shadow’s failure to successfully raise a cub to independance. Nevertheless Tingana found himself alone and in his element as he slept away the warm morning hours. Barely moving, save for the odd glance in our direction, he remained flatter than “flat earth theory.” Eventually we moved out of the sighting to allow other safari goers to enjoy a viewing of the dominant spotted feline.
(Tingana, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Wednesday the 24th of August
The return of another safariLIVE favourite today. Shadow, the dominant female leopard to the west has been found deep on Arathusa. It would seem that she made a successful impala kill, yet the way of the wild is often harsh and unfair. A marauding group of hyaena’s had stolen her freshly hunted breakfast leaving her with only the most unappetising titbits. A look of sheer disgust was etched on her face as she attempted to eat her way around barely digested grass materials still remaining in the stomach. But Shadow’s poor luck only deepened further with the discovery of a large fresh gash on her back right leg. The open and weeping wound did not hider the slender leopardess in the slightest, just another lesson from the school of hard knocks. The question of her cub’s where abouts is also still pressed tightly on many concerned lips. Although there have been reports of her cub being alive and well there is yet to be a confirmed sighting of the mother and daughter pair together again.
(Shadow, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Thursday the 25th of August
Early morning sunrays split the skies over Djuma and cast their crepuscular light over the Vuyatela pan. Soon the scene was littered with lions as all 5 Nkuhumas, their 8 cubs and 2 of the Birmingham males strode purposefully towards the pan for an early morning drink. Once there, the cubs lapped eagerly while the lionesses kept a careful eye out. One of the youngest cubs displayed exceptional courage as it wandered further away from the safety of the pride apparently transfixed by the little lion reflection displayed in the glassy water. Eventually mom ambled over and encouraged the naughty little monster to stay away from the water, yet her efforts were in vain. The little cub insisted on venturing to the water’s edge and a scene not dissimilar from one you may encounter in a supermarket sweet isle played out. The little cub growled and complained as mom lifted it in her exceptionally gentle yet fierce jaws and forced the tiny fuzz ball into safety. More growls and complaints soon followed and as a show of independence the cub marched straight into the water, only to discover, to its horror, that water is indeed wet (watch video here)! Once the tawny cats had quenched their morning thirst they retreated into the sunlight shielding shade of the drainage line behind the Vuyatela dam wall. Here they remained until they were convinced the sun had truly vanished from the sapphire blue African skies. The pride then repeated their morning movements making a beeline for the vuyatela pan. This time however, the lions found themselves at eye level with a grumpy hippo bull who snorted and sprayed his displeasure as he found himself surrounded by 15 lions! The pride then slowly meandered their way into the darkness of the gathering night.
(Nkuhuma lioness shepherding a naughty cub, Screenshot Credit: Marieke van Nistelrooij, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Lions were not the only spot of luck WE had today. Once Africa’s apex cat had gone well and truly flat Brent decided a dry river bed cruise was in order. As he weaved his way along the Milawati drainage he paused to have a look at some rather fresh female leopard tracks, a few meters ahead he then found 2 sets of fresh little leopard cub tracks. A couple more meters and a well timed glance upwards lead to the discovery of Karula, Xongile and of course the not so little anymore Hosana. All three perfectly rosetted felines were fat and flat after snacking on a recently perished baby duiker, courtesy of the queen herself. By the time Brent went back to the scene on the sunset safari the covert cats had moved off and not a trace of the kill remained. He then found Karula’s tracks crossing out of Djuma to the south, but the lack of cub tracks indicated that the royal youngsters were still stashed on Djuma somewhere!
(Queen Karula, Screenshot Credit: Debra W. Baudoin, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Friday the 26th of August
To say the WE have been spoiled with lion sightings recently would be a gross understatement. Roars boomed out in full surround sound as the safariLIVE crew prepped for the start of the sunrise safari. Not 5 minutes after leaving camp Brent had already caught up with the noisy culprits. Once again, all 5 Nkuhuma lionesses, their 8 terrible terrors and 2 of the Birmingham males were taking it easy in the gentle morning light. The cubs scampered about and played with boundless energy, fascinated by every dry twig and blade of grass that fell in their path. Lying out in the open however is only as good when there is no direct sunlight and as soon as the white hot orb had risen the cats were up and into the thickets, seeking shady shelter. Brent followed as best he could until he lost the main body of the pride to a particularly nasty block. He then picked his way out to the nearest road upon which he caught up with an unimpressed Amber-Eyes being closely tailed by one of the Birmingham males. Amber along with the youngest of the Nkuhuma lionesses appear to be coming into oestrous hence the amorous males devoted attention. This has been a source of tension in the Nkuhuma pride as the males intentionally block the lionesses from greeting or even touching their fellow pride mates resulting in the odd growl and swat off. But as the mercury rose the cats fell into their daily slumber. Brent eventually left in search of any more action.
(Nkuhuma lioness with two cubs, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
The lion luck certainly seems to be on Brent’s side. After leaving the Nkuhuama’s Brent made his way west in the hopes of catching up with one of our favourite spotted cats yet as he was about to turn onto Arathusa a radio report turned his plan on their heads. The Styx pride had been found on Cheetah Plains in the throes of an epic buffalo battle! Brent sped off and arrived shortly after the battle had been won. The 3 lionesses, exhausted from their battle, were lying not far from the carcass recuperating their strength as their 8 scruffy cubs clambered and fed greedily on the fresh kill. One of the cubs was so stuck in that once he had extricated himself from the hind quarters of the great black beast his entire body was coated in scarlet, glistening blood. The cubs are already displaying infamous lion table manners as they squabbled viciously for the best part of the kill. But their squabbling was not kept amongst themselves, one particularly brazen cub challenged the accompanying Birmingham male for a feeding spot and soon learnt why dad is considered “king of the beasts.” The male growled his disapproval before lifting the cub bodily from the kill with one razor sharp claw. The cub was dumped unceremoniously next to the carcass growling and swatting furiously at the large male lion (watch video here). Soon the lionesses joined in the fray as the cubs stood proud atop their beefy breakfast. Eventually Styx too pressed their stocky, tawny bodies into any available shade before nodding off for a morning cat nap.
(Styx pride with their cubs and one Birmingham, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Cheetah Plains)