Saturday the 10th of September
The day began blustery and overcast. Strong gusts of cool air swirled bone dry dust high into the atmosphere. James was out on foot exploring a few of the smaller things when a flick of white fluff caught his attention. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be the fuzzy white tail tip of a leopardess. The bushwalk team approached carefully and eventually got a view of Shadow lurking in the grey and burnt out undergrowth. James hopped on the radio immediately and called Jamie into the sighting. When she arrived however, Jamie realised that her tire was flat and would soon need to leave. Tayla then made her way across the reserve and managed to weave her way through the thickets until she eventually caught up with the leopardess. It seemed Shadow had managed to make a small kill. After retrieving a small piece of the carcass she wandered her way back towards Arathusa where she eventually went flat just off the MMM boundary road. The back of her neck was sufficiently ruffled and covered in bite marks, a clear indication that she had still been mating. With no recent reports of her cub, it is almost certain that, once again, Shadow has failed to raise a successful litter. WE eventually left the flat cat to her morning business and set out to see what other adventures may have lay in store. Later that afternoon Jamie managed to catch up with this covert cat once again. Shadow didn’t make it easy however, she had concealed herself so expertly in the golden and coppered undergrowth that WE drove past her several time before she made herself visible atop an ancient termite mound. There she sat against the steely grey background of scudding clouds and eventually rested her head on the tip top of the mound. Heavy eyes then followed her heavy head and soon she was snoozing peacefully in the gathering gloom of an overcast twilight.
(Shadow resting on a termite mound, Screenshot Credit: Kaarina Pietiäinen, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Shadow however, was not the only fantastic feline to grace us with her presence. On Cheetah Plains Brent had a run in with one of the Styx lionesses. Initially the sighting looked promising as she bounded her way across the southern boundary with killer intent in her eyes. It seemed she had been on the hunt but after failing to catch her quarry she decided the best place to recoup all that lost energy was right next to the vehicle. The Styx pride have certainly seen better days, the scruffy lioness was still fighting off a fairly serious bout of mange. Her dark grey skin was visible through thinning fur, constant licking and itching was accompanied by frustrated head shakes in an attempt to ward off those pesky biting flies. The lionesses rested her lean legs and soon began to call out to the rest of her pride. She spent quite some time making low vocalisations with her attention trained firmly to the south. Eventually it seemed to dawn on her that the rest of her pride was not interested in joining her. She then rose up and ambled her way back in the direction she emerged from until WE eventually lost sight of her tawny mass among the sun-scorched vegetation.
(Styx lioness, Screenshot Credit: Julyia McHoevers, safariLIVE, Cheetah Plains)
Sunday the 11th of September
Another morning dawned full of promise. The cooler weather over the past days provided much relief for both the safariLIVE crew and animals alike! Unfortunately, it’s just too little too late for some. Once such creature was a buffalo cow in the prime of her life, but the lack of food and the intense African sun proved too much for her. But nothing in the bush is ever wasted, most certainly not when Xivambalana is around. The impressive male leopard had made the most out of the buffalo carcass as well as the capacity of his stomach. He had quite literally fed himself to the point of bursting, so much so that when he rolled from one side to another he would let out a low growl at his self inflicted discomfort! No doubt Karula would look upon her son with a mixture of pride and disgust if she had been witness to his absolute gluttony. Weighed down by the extreme amount of buffalo that had been consumed he eventually fell asleep. Later that afternoon when Brent returned Xivambalana had obviously had enough time to digest at least some of his morning feast. It was time to eat again and the big male leopard then attempted to climb bodily into the buffalo carcass. All that was visible of his gorgeous spotted pelt was his backside and long tail that flicked with irritation as a result of the fly invasion that had occurred. Once he had satiated his appetite for the second time it was back to peaceful napping in the cooling relief of an overcast afternoon.
(Xivambalana, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Cheetah Plains)
Xivambalana was not the only cat on Cheetah Plains. The Styx pride were also out and about, once again they were found relaxing in their favourite spot at Djuma dam. However, WE only encountered two of the scruffy little cubs and one Birmingham male. The cubs were still battling the demodectic mange infestation that has significantly reduced their fluffy appearance. Again the cubs itched and twitched their way through the day actively rubbing up against the rough ground and each other for any small relief from the constant irritation caused by the skin mite. This time all three lionesses were present along with the other four cubs all still looking rather moth-eaten (or mite-eaten in this case.) The cubs seemed to be making at least some kind of improvement. Although their physical appearance is still unsettling, they are becoming more active, even if that activity is simply more enthusiastic scratching! The lions stayed true to form and spent the afternoon fast asleep, they took the odd itching break, and every now and then a hungry cub suckled hungrily. Eventually WE left the sighting in search of further adventures.
(Styx cub cuddling up to mom, Screenshot Credit: Kaarina Pietiäinen, safariLIVE, Cheetah Plains)
Back on Djuma and in complete contrast to the Styx pride was the incredible Nkuhuma pride. Found by the expert safari guide Rexon, Tayla was called into the sighting during the sunrise safari. The lions were back in a favourite spot of theirs on the edge of a dry river bed between Gowrie cutline and Hyaena road. They have carved out quite a home for themselves with access to water nearby and shady nooks and crannies to rest in during the heat of the days. This is exactly what the picture perfect lions did for the majority of the day. Of course the cubs had other ideas, with boundless amounts of energy they scampered about biting, pouncing and stalking. Later in the afternoon one sleeping lioness fell victim to a nip on the nose and reacted in a rather disgruntled manner by tapping the fluffy offender sternly on the head. The sighting evolved into a moving carpet of lions as the cubs pounced from adult to adult spread out across a small clearing. The panthera perfect day ended as the sun sank beyond the western horizon and the last seconds of the sunset safari ticked away.
(Nkuhuma lioness reacting to a cub after a nose nibble, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Monday the 12th of September
The dawn light crept across Djuma as reports from sightings on the dam cam came flooding in. Several of the Nkuhuma pride members had been spotted having a late night drink, the interesting thing was they arrived at the pan covered in blood. This meant the search was on to discover where they had made their kill. Unsurprisingly it was almost exactly where they had been resting up the day before. Another large buffalo bull have fallen victim to the incredible hunting prowess of the lionesses. By the time WE arrived the lions had already consumed quite a large amount of their beefy prize. Famous lion table manners ruled as the cats growled and bickered over their chosen eating spots. The cubs seem to be learning very quickly, that only the most aggressive guarded claims are kept. Their adorable mews turned into blood curdling and guttural snarls. One little cub even managed to force the majority of his fluffy body into the abdominal cavity, a rather macabre sight then followed as his little back legs kicked and flailed while the top half of his body was wedged deep between buffalo ribs.
(Grubby Nkuhuma cub covered in buffalo, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Not much could get Brent to leave a lion sighting, but today was one of those exceptions. Frantic reports flooded the radio, three adult wild dogs had been spotted moving westward on Buffelshoek cutline. Not wanting to miss a chance with his favourite animal, Brent sped off to give chase. Soon enough he was right in the middle of the puppy pandemonium! These dogs are the only remaining members of the Lower Sabi pack, the rest of which tragically fell to an outbreak of canine distemper some months ago. Despite this, the pack was looking healthier than ever and demonstrated this to a tee, as they corsed through the thinning lunar landscape made so by the ever persisting drought conditions. Eventually the dogs arrive at gowrie cutline and trotted off happily in a southerly direction. Little did the dogs know there was a lion kill not far off this road with five protective Nkuhuma lionesses and their eight precious cubs. The dogs came to a halt within a stone’s throw of the lions, clearly the smell of buffalo carcass had caught their attention. WE waited and watched with bated breath not wanting any harm to come to either the cubs or the critically endangered painted wolf! But along with the smell of dead buffalo came an unmistakable whiff of lion! once the dogs had realised they were not alone they quite literally turned tail and bounded off in the opposite direction. Once back on Buffelshoek cutline the dogs trotted, called to each other and scent marked at any opportunity before heading northwards and off our traverse once again!
(Wild dog from the Lower Sabi pack, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Tuesday the 13th of September
The lion luck of late has been absolutely phenomenal! WE kicked off the day with another visit to the Nkuhuma pride who were still greedily gorging themselves on their buffalo kill. Most of the adults had already filled their stomachs to maximum capacity, but like with most big delicious meals, leftovers are just too good for some to resist! Two of the lionesses fed noisily while pulling the carcass to-and-fro as the cubs scampered about in reckless abandon! But once the heat of the day began to build it was off to enjoy those wonderful all-day cat naps!
(Nkuhuma lioness, Screenshot Credit: Kaarina Pietiäinen, safariLIVE, Djuma)
To the east the Styx had also managed to bring down their own beefy breakfast. Another buffalo kill could only ever be a good thing for the Styx pride. Both the lionesses and cubs need as much nutrition as possible to effectively fight the ever persistent mangy mites. The Styx table manners are no better than the Nkuhuma ones and the lionesses, cubs and their ever present Birmingham male companion fed in complete gluttony! Eventually the big cats had consumed enough to keep them satisfied for a short time. They lay near the carcass, carefully guarding it from the beady eyes of a great number of vultures just waiting for their moment to descend and pick the rest of the kill clean.
(Styx lioness, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Cheetah Plains)
That afternoon WE spent a few more wonderful hours with the Nkuhuma pride. Initially the lions had tucked themselves away in the deepest and shadiest of thickets. Yet when Jamie returned later the whole pride was out and about. The cubs sprang from one adult to the next using the lionesses as make-shift trampolines. One very brave Crested Francolin chanced its luck by feeding near the carcass, hoping against hope he had not been spotted. But the keen eyes of the cubs are not so easily fooled, they stalked the hungry little bird clumsily, becoming distracted as the myriad of interesting things in their environment. The francolin is also nobody’s fool, with his experience behind him he knew exactly the right time to move away from the budding little predators. Eventually the sighting became too dark as the sun disappeared behind the western mountains. Jamie made her way out as the lions began to tuck into their buff dinner once again.
(Happy family Nkuhuma pride, Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Wednesday the 14th of September
Another cool and cloudy start to the day, and of course our first stop had to be the Nkuhuma pride. Upon arrival at the sighting WE were shocked to see the buffalo alive! Yet not in a way you may think, over the past few days flies have abounded on the carcass and moving white waves of maggots rippled through the entire chest cavity. This however is nowhere near enough to put a lion off it’s lunch, or breakfast for that matter. Two of the lionesses were still firmly stuck in and ripped off what little strips of meat were left. The cubs, cuter and more playful than ever made the usual chaos, tumbling around and play fighting. This all ended rather abruptly when a few uninvited breakfast guests showed up. But instead of the usual hyaena’s or vultures this time it was a rather disgruntled herd of elephants. Disturbed by the smell of putrid buffalo and the low growls of lions dishing up the elephants moved closer to investigate. They roamed over to the carcass and sniffed around with their ears out and tails stiff. The lions, not to be mistaken for stupid animals, had already come to the conclusion that it was time to skedaddle. The lions tucked themselves away in the deepest part of the dry river bed, bodies flattened to the ground and cubs kept quiet and close by. Eventually the elephants decided it was no longer worth the effort and slowly moved off and away from the offensive felines.
(Nkuhuma cub, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Thursday the 15th of September
Another roaring start to the day! Two of the Nkuhuma lionesses and one Birmingham male were spotted on the Djuma dam cam shortly before the start of the sunrise safari. James made his way down to the Vuyatela dam and found the lions already starting off their long day of cat napping. After a few minutes our favourite Nkuhuma lioness, Amber-Eyes, arose and walked slowly past the accompanying Birmingham male. He clearly misinterpreted this as a sign of affection and when he moved to follow she turned and gave him a firm swat leaving him both embarrassed and confused. Amber flopped down next to her pride mate and so the great sleep-a-thon began. Later that afternoon not much had changed, except now the lions were sleeping in the shade rather than in the suffocating, white hot radiance of the African sun. That was until one very brave and quite oblivious impala ram wandered a little too close to the sleeping cats. Amber-eyes and her Nkuhuma pride mate flattened their tawny bodies to the ground and tucked in their powerful back legs ready for the pounce. Unfortunately the impala managed to spot them at the last minute, the lions then relaxed in a manner that suggested they were never interested in the first place. Soon after, it was back to the intense job of napping well into the twilight hours.
(Birmingham male, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Now although we all love a sighting with Amber-Eyes and her two companions it did beg the question as to where the rest of the pride was. James wandered this himself and made his way around the reserve carefully searching for any sign of fresh tracks. Eventually he managed to catch up with the other three lionesses eight bundles of Nkuhuma terror! A very amusing scene then unfolded as the cubs harassed one lioness in particular. Clearly the milk she was producing was of a superior quality to the others as at least four of the cubs squabbled over who got to suckle next. The poor lioness in question simply wanted to do exactly what all her other pride mates were doing, sleep! But the cubs constantly pestered her leading to few growls and swats. This however, did not deter the feisty little monsters and eventually she gave in to their persistent demands with an expression of defeat upon her face. Later that afternoon Tayla returned to the pride. The cubs, after having their fill of milk for the day, played in the relieving shade of their chosen drainage line while the lionesses dozed off the heat of the day.
(Nkuhuma pride with cubs, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Friday the 16th of September
Fresh leopard tracks lit up the roads of Djuma nature reserve as the sun slowly crept over the easter horizon. Jamie was hot on the heels of the culprit but despite her best efforts the cunning cat remained elusive. That was until the radio crackled with reports of a leopardess weaving her way through the bush. Jamie caught up quickly and of course it couldn’t have been anyone other than Karula. The queen of Djuma was looking hungry and on the hunt. Yet as WE all know from past experience, trying to keep up with this incredible leopard is much easier said than done. Karula took us on a harrowing journey through thick bush, down drainage lines and over termite mounds. Every now and then she would ascend a tall termite mound and look through the bush, seeking out movement of any of her favourite prey species. This culminated in a thrilling stalk, the Queen had finally found a suitable target worth pursuing. The unawares duiker was browsing in a drainage line just out of sight. Karula crept closer, taking careful precise steps, never taking her eyes off her intended victim. She turned into a blur of spots as she pounced, unfortunately she missed by a tail hair and the duiker darted off into a large thicket. Karula then pulled another one of her famous disappearing acts. Despite the incredible efforts from all the guides on the reserve Karula had once again disappeared.
(Karula, the Queen of Djuma, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Saturday the 17th of September
After a day without the lions it seemed the safariLIVE crew was beginning to enter a little bit of withdrawal. Yet the early morning light provided the needed cure, the lions were all enjoying an early morning drink at the Djuma pan moments before WE set out on our sunrise safari. Tayla and Xander saddled up and headed straight to the lions. All five of the Nkuhuma lionesses, their eight gorgeous cubs and one Birmingham male were present and on the move. Tayla did a fantastic job of keeping up with them. The Birmingham male became a true source of fascination for the cubs as they surrounded him and took turns approaching him for a quick sniff and poke before dashing off to the safety of the lionesses, almost like a game of “truth or dare” where “dare” was the only option! The male displayed incredible patience mixed in with a little irritation. It seemed he had come off second best in an argument, a large and swollen puncture on his face was clearly causing much discomfort yet he put on a brave face and ambled along with the pride. Eventually the lions came to a stop near twin dams where a beautiful bull giraffe was enjoying his breakfast. The youngest of the Nkuhuma lionesses decided this was a fantastic opportunity to go on the hunt and she approached the giraffe with intent in her eyes. After chasing him around for a short while she cast an eye back towards her pride mates who watched her with curiosity. Despite her pride mates lack of hunting enthusiasm, she continued to harass the large bull. Eventually she gave up and the giraffe went back to his breakfast. The cats then bunkered down on the edge of the Milawati drainage line and dozed the morning away. Lazy lions kicked off the sunset safari, yet they weren’t lazy for long. They teased for hours by grooming, stretching and yawning. Eventually the lions decided it was time for action, a young male kudu had unwittingly wandered into the drainage line below where the lions had been resting the whole day. A chase ensued but the lions were unsuccessful. They then went flat and Tayla pulled out of the sighting.
(Nkuhuma lioness chasing giraffe bull, Screenshot Credit: Debra W. Baudoin, safariLIVE, Djuma)
The lions however, were not our only spot of luck. Karula and her precious prince and princess were found feasting on the remains of a small duiker kill. When Jamie arrived in the sighting the not-so-little Hosana was feeding ravenously. He was precariously positioned at the topmost boughs of a tall tamboti tree. Once he had satiated his appetite he made a somewhat inelegant descent to the ground. Xongile then took her opportunity and shot up the tree in seconds! While she fed, Karula and Hosana groomed and napped in pure contentedness atop a termite mound near the base of the tree. Jamie whiled away the last few moments of the sunrise safari watching the happy rosetted family enjoy their time together. That afternoon Jamie headed out early to catch up with the Sabi Sands favourite royal family. Upon arrival it became clear the the leopards had consumed all that was left of the of the small duiker carcass. Not a scrap remained and all three of the cats were flat and satisfied. Karula was lying a short distance away in a shaded drainage while Xongile and her stunning brother rested in peace upon a termite mound. All of a sudden Karula was awake and alert! She glanced over her shoulder, she slunk with urgency towards her cubs who had already vanished by this point. She expertly concealed herself in a thicket of bushes. Jamie stared around in bewilderment, there was no sight nor sound as to the cause of this sudden display of behaviour. Shortly after, air-cracking barks shattered the peaceful scene. Two male baboon were fighting a short distance away. Leopards and baboon are famously antagonistic towards each other and it became clear as to why the great Queen had scarpered from the sighting! Despite her best efforts, Jamie was unable to relocate on the royal family.
(Hosana, Screenshot Credit: Marieke van Nistelrooij, safariLIVE, Djuma)