The week kicked off with a once in a blue moon sighting featuring no less than six of our Djuma cat characters.
On a chilly Sunday morning, after a long night listening to the Avoca lions roar, we set out in the hope of finding them. As the darkness gave way to overcast skies we meandered through the area where the last booming calls had resonated through the cool air. Before we found the lions, Thandi appeared, slinking through the long grass. Clearly intent on finding something, she weaved her way swiftly through the bush but, unbeknownst to her, she was about to place herself in a rather uncomfortable spot. Thandi had inadvertently walked directly into the three Avoca boys whose tawny coats blended well with the wintery grass, one of the boys saw her coming and lay watching as she moved closer. Luckily Thandi’s senses kicked in at the right time and she spotted the lions. Both lions and leopard stared at each for a moment that seemed to last forever. Thandi broke off in a sprint to put as much distance between her and the lions as possible. The Avocas, wary from the evening’s patrol, decided to watch Thandi move off and continue with their morning’s relaxation.
The leopardess’s troublesome morning was far from over however! As she slunk away from the Avocas, the tell tale snorting of impalas rang out south of her. She immediately moved in to investigate. The reason for her strange behaviour earlier in the morning quickly became apparent as she spotted an intruder in her territory. Thandi, never one to shy away from a fight, and probably hyped up after the face off with her tawny counterparts, launched in the direction of the unknown female. They emerged from a thicket side by side. The intruder turned out to be Thandi’s daughter, Kuchava!! Even though Thandi raised Kuchava, she was in no mood to be tolerant of her in dependent daughter’s transgressions. Thandi gave chase with intent – bursting into a full speed run and jumping at her daughter. Both females ended up entangled in a ball of slashing claws and chomping teeth. Thankfully it didn’t last long and both cats got back to their feet unscathed. Kuchava seemed to have received the message and began to move with Thandi as mother escorted her daughter towards their territorial boundary.
Suddenly the warring leopards scattered. Out of nowhere the three-burley figures of the Avocas appeared once again, clearly curious as to what all the fuss was about. Thankfully both females saw them coming in time and managed to escape. Thandi took the low road and used cover to conceal her exit while Kuchava opted for higher ground and bolted up a large knob thorn much to the dismay of the lions. Realising there was nothing to gain and that their element of surprise was gone, the Avocas moved off into a thicket.
If that wasn’t enough there was another twist to this crazy tale as the Duke of Djuma entered. Tingana alerted by the commotion strutted in, nose to the air trying to figure out just what he was getting himself into. He thoroughly investigated the surrounding areas only to settle down at the base of the tree in which Kuchava was perched. I can hardly blame him for not wanting to get involved – I too wouldn’t want to get involved in a spat between this mother and daughter. Unfortunately for the Duke, his rest was short lived as, unbelievably once again, the Avoca boys arrived! Tingana luckily had time to get away and quickly exited the scene leaving the lions as the undisputed kings of the big cat world.
Kuchava unfortunately then had to spend the rest of the day up her spikey tree as the lions lay resting close by. Later on when the coast seemed clear, Thandi once again come charging in to prove her dominance with a few growls and some defiant scent marking. We left the girls uncertain as to what the night would hold. It seems the ladies came to an unspoken agreement and went their separate ways. A few days later we found tracks for Kuchava and her cub crossing into Torchwood while Thandi was seen later in the week with no visible signs of injury.
While the cat chaos unfolded in the south we thankfully managed to catch up with Tlalamba far removed from the perils of lions and her mother’s territorial dispute. She spent her morning watching us from a termite mound before deciding to move closer to Short Trunk and her elephant herd. She watched for a while before getting bored and finding herself a safe and hidden spot in the long grass.
Arguably the most energetic of our leopards, Xidulu, also paid us a visit. She made a brief appearance in the western sector as she busily went about her morning hunting, using every available vantage point to scout from. She unfortunately then moved west out of our traverse.
The Styx Pride also made a welcome appearance this week in the far east of Chitwa. The pride is looking better than they have in months. They meandered through the beautiful winter sunshine before briefly attempting to hunt an impala. Unfortunately for them the impala sensed danger and managed to run away before the pride got too close. The lions weary from the effort flopped down to enjoy the warmth of the sun’s rays.
After a busy start to Thandi’s week things settled down and she was spotted down in the south of the reserve hunting impalas around Twin Dams. In true Thandi style, she gave us the slip as darkness fell and crossed south in the night. It wasn’t for long though – the new queen came back late in the week, killed an impala and feasted with Tlalamba for a full day before being seemingly robbed by Tingana in the night.
Talking of Tingana it was a great week for us in terms of finding the aging Duke. We only went one day without his presence on Djuma! Unfortunately, it was a week of mixed emotions, he started the week in fine fettle looking as good as ever after a series of opportunistic meals but after disappearing south for a day he returned in a rather sad state. His right ear drooping and sporting a rather serious limp. The origin of his injuries remains a mystery. Judging from the wounds and reports from his jaunt southwards, we are lead to believe that he could have possibly been injured in the hunting and killing of a warthog or in a fight with hyenas that were heard excitedly giggling and whooping the day he returned. Either way he was in discomfort and spent the next few days trying to deceive those looking to usurp him by sawing loudly and laying down many olfactory territorial markings. Luckily for the Duke his week ended on a good note as he managed to follow his nose to Thandi’s impala kill, he topped up his belly and spent the morning resting and healing.
There wasn’t only action in Djuma this week the Sausage Tree Pride males in the Mara were also out and about with fresh new scars on their snouts, seemly after being embroiled in competition for lionesses. It seems though that all disputes were settled and later in the week the victor was seen mating with one of the pride females. The lion trend continued as the Owino pride was also found. The Owinos were on the hunt before stopping for a water break and then finding a mound to rest up on.
As they say we have saved the best for last and that was certainly the case this week! Late on Saturday afternoon a mystery leopard was found lying in the middle of the road. It was a male and whispers grew as he lay there with his back to the camera. Everyone held their breath waiting for him to turn around and confirm our best guesses and highest hopes. Just like he always does, he obliged, turning his golden gaze to the camera, it was the little chief Hosana!
I’m sure there wasn’t a single person watching that moment that didn’t instantly smile and feel a little warmth inside as Karula’s last boy made his return home. Hosana looked magnificent – his neck and shoulders thicker and his body heavier than we remembered. He is certainly growing up to be incredible male. He was his usual playful self as he entertained us all by stalking scrub hares and ambling about the bush. We eventually left him walking into the night in the hope that his return will not be short-lived.
Written by: Tristan Dicks
Featured image by: James Hendry