My Spotted Friends

Their thundering calls were already booming across the bushveld when the first hint of dawn was on the horizon. I was about to record the Ground Hornbills when a jackal’s mobbing calls had me change plans. Heading east in the open savannah was easy going with the only cover being little Sida bushes. It was only just getting light, visibility was poor when I saw something running across my path ahead. For some reason my brain imagined it to be a kangaroo like animal. Very embarrassed and not having seen one of my special friends for so long, it was a hyaena! She ran off but when I switched Joanie off she stopped, looked around, then got back to sniffing around. As it was getting light I thought she might bolt if I followed, her but not. She was happy to have me follow. We were on the edge of the mopane as she stared north into it. I got out the car wanting to film her silhouette against the dawn light. At first she didn’t see I was out the car, but when she did her curiosity go the better of her and she approached. Yay… I was back in the land of my most special friends. She didn’t come too close and walked by happy I wasn’t a threat. Jackals were going crazy mobbing something to the north-east. She was keen and back in Joanie, I followed her. But she didn’t go straight to the calls, she did a wide circle and then into a thicket of Sickle bush. The worst for punctures. Deep in the thicket was another hyaena tucking into an impala carcass. They both fed frantically as only hyaenas can, swallowing chunks of meat at a time. The jackals were still going crazy but further into the thicket. They weren’t shouting at the hyaenas.
The hyaenas took the carcass deeper into the thicket. I just couldn’t follow. The jackals stopped shouting and came to feed on the scraps left by the hyaenas. There was some intense growling coming from where the hyaenas had gone. They must have stolen the kill from a leopard, which was now trying to retrieve its prize but the hyaenas would no doubt have held tight. Soon it was all over. Well what I could see was all over. It was quiet. The hyaenas had taken the kill and would no doubt have finished it between them. The leopard and jackals would be picking up the scraps. And that’s life. Never easy…

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Lion manners

20th August 2019
I spent a long night with the girls. The same 2 lionesses from last night. They crossed the track in front of me. The 2nd lioness didn’t follow her friend, she came straight towards me. As if that wasn’t enough, she came round to my door a hands reach away staring up at me. I watched her in the light of the moon. We stared at each other. I puzzled as to her motive but was confident she wasn’t about to leap into Joanie. Then as if having approved that I looked just fine and was just another male, she headed off to join her friend. I caught up with them just as they entered the donga where the leopard and her cub had the kill a week ago. Now there were 3 lionesses. Strangely for the rest of the night I never saw 3 lionesses again until about 4am. Having crossed the donga the girls continued south into dense Croton. Usually I’d turn away at this point but tonight I decided to bite the bullet and put Joanie through her paces. The Croton didn’t last and soon we were on a small floodplain. It was sandy and fairly open. We dropped into the river and crossed. That was easy. On the southern bank I took the only gap and came out in some open big tree country. I’d lost a lioness, but the one I was with rested up. I was parked under a Raintree. It was busy shedding its leaves, the ground below carpeted and crunchy to walk on. As usual it was a quiet night. So quiet I could here the odd leaf fall from its perch, tumble over others on its way down and then float to the floor where dry leaf falling on dry leaf might the slightest sound. We were soon on the move again as the 2nd lioness joined us. Eyes ahead. The girls tried a tactical manoeuvre, both of them moving to opposite flanks. But it was of little use as they went charging after the impala at a 100m. We changed direction now circling west. The riverine was dense. I was in the thick of it now, no turning back. The lions were taking the only gaps there were and I had to get Joanie to squeeze through them too. Which wasn’t took bad, except when there’s a huge log across the opening. The girls of course jump over but I haven’t managed to get Joanie jumping yet. I ended up going the long way round and then having to find the lions again. Not easy in this country where the leaf litter is so dense it’s hard to follow any tracks. Each time I had to rely on either baboons alarming, impala alarms, jackal shouting and trying to maintain the direction I last had them going. We turned back north and crossed the river again. We had now done a complete circle from where I’d found them. There was no sign of the males from last night. The girls must have sent them off to do something constructive, like patrol the territory. We were still travelling north, now in open Acacia savannah country. Impala were everywhere and out of the blue the third lioness had reappeared. Where she’d been all this time I can’t work out. The team again approached the impala with what seemed like another tactical manoeuvre. One on each flank and one down the middle. It didn’t last and the lioness on the west charged in long before any of them were in position. There was chaos, impala running everywhere. A male turned back on himself straight towards the lioness. The moon was casting lots of light and seeing the lioness the impala went into overdrive and jumped high over the lioness, but not high enough. She jumped high her front paw outstretched she ankle tapped the impala. He tumbled to the ground and I was sure he’d get away, but she had gathered herself faster than I could see and was onto him. His death cries brought the others charging in and the bunfight began. 3 lionesses who only minutes ago were all loving and playing with each other were now literally at war with each other, all that mattered being getting their slice of the pie. The aggression was intense and so different to the caring manner of other predators, especially wild dogs. When wild dogs kill, the adults stand back and let the puppies feed first. If there were lion cubs here they too would have been caught in the middle of the rumble with no preference. It was only a few minutes and the carcass was ripped into 3 as the girls went to feed alone. Dawn was just creeping in when one of the male lions arrived, but too late my boy. Jackals were already finishing off the last scraps as the lionesses retreated north into the mopane…

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Mob attack

There was no sign of the baboons this evening. Little was left of the impala carcass and the cub was making sure to get the most of it while mom chilled about 20m away from me. She was already coming to accept me. With his full tummy the cub bounced out the tree and tumbled with mom. It was some time later in the night I heard clambering up a tree. The mother leopard had climbed a Leadwood about 50m away. Then I saw the brute, a male lion at the base of the Nyala-berry. Hopefully the cub was out of harms way, but the lion was only interested in scavenging, being the prize scavengers they are. He found the carcass on the termite mound. There really was nothing left but bones and a little skin. Even so he ducked off with his scraps and disappeared into the donga.
Dawn arrived fresh and crisp. The sky was clear and soon the sun peeped over the Chimanimani mountains. I wasn’t sure if the leopards were still around. A jackal suddenly shouted his mobbing call not even a hundred meters to the east. The leopards or lion must be there. I couldn’t see the jackal as it was obscured by the small Acacias. Cameras up and ready to roll, I drove towards the mobbing sound. Coming round the bushes I saw a number of baboons around too. Just then all hell broke loose. Elephants had completely trashed a False Marula tree that was now lying in pieces on the ground. The Capparis creeper that had been growing in its canopy lay as a thicket on the ground. The ground all around was hard and bare with the next lot of bush about 30m away.  It was surrounding this thicket that all the action was taking place. Baboons had cornered the mother leopard. She had nowhere to go as they made threatening advances at her. Was her cub in the thicket with her? Eventually she couldn’t take it any more and went on the attack. A big male baboon in front of her took the brunt of the attack as she threw teeth and claws at it. The moment was brief and then she ran pursued by an angry crazy mob of about 20 baboons. They were close enough to bite her as she ran for a dense thicket. It was an unbelievable sight. The leopard running for its life with this mob all psyched and on the rampage. Like angry mobs of people demonstrating, except these guys were ready to kill. But she made it and reluctant to follow her into the thicket the baboons left her. There was another commotion in a Nyala-berry back in the west. When I approached about 15 baboons fell from the tree desperate to get away. Did they think the mother was returning? What were they doing up the tree and what was the commotion all about? There was still a baboon right in the top of the tree. Also in the canopy of this tree a Capparis creeper had made its way to the top. Capparis creepers are armed with small hooked thorns. Then the screaming growling sound again. It was coming from the creeper. The cub had tucked itself deep into the thorns right on the edge of the creeper and just above it a baboon was trying to get to it. The cub stood fast lashing out at the baboons advances making a lot more noise than you’d expect from such small fur-ball. With all the other baboons having left the tree, this baboon was taking chances if the mother returned and eventually realising it, he left. Mother and cub had each survived their own scary mob attack…

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Surviving the masses

It was very windy. I suppose that typical wind we get in August. There was a blanket of cloud rolling in very slowly from the east. It looked like a smooth blanket, its front edge soft and round just catching the last rays of the sun turning the edge pastel pink. A strange beautiful sight of threatening weather. I was arriving back at the leopard kill. There were baboons in the area heading back to their roost. Then all craziness broke out. Baboons screaming and shouting from the Nyala-berry tree. When I’d focused in, the mother leopard was lying on the carcass surrounded by baboons. They weren’t scared and would happily kill her cub. Where was it? She was standing her ground probably protecting her little one someone there. She was facing the donga, her back to me and to several baboons sitting in the Thilacium bushes  at the base of the Nyala-berry. A big male baboon climbed a broken branch that lay on the ground, its broken end on the termite mound where the mother was. He was jumping on the branch trying to intimidate her. It worked but not the way he wanted. In a flash she spun round and launched herself at the branch. There was that wild commotion again, baboons screaming everywhere. A very intimidating situation for any mother. The baboon on the branch was quick and somehow (their tails are always upright) managed to disappear his tail between his legs. Other baboons rushed the anthill. The mother stood fast. She could protect herself up there with the donga providing a safe backdrop that the baboons couldn’t approach from. She had chosen her battle ground well. The sun had set a while ago, the wind had died down and the baboons were still standing their ground not going to roost yet. Some impala had joined the baboons in the donga, feeding all around them. An interesting sight considering there was a leopard only 15m from them. Commotion broke out again as the mother launched herself at another baboon climbing the branch. There was still no sign of the cub. Did the baboons grab it in that first advance when I was arriving there? It was now nearly dark and one by one the baboons peeled off heading west to their roost. (I can hear them now in their roost probably only a 100m away. Dawn will soon be on the way. Will they be back to torment the leopard?) There was one big male baboon, still sitting at the bae of anthill watching the leopard. Only when it was dark did he move off. It was now quiet. That same quiet I’ve often spoken of. Not a sound. Not even crickets down here. The wind had died down completely. The moon shone a lovely light on the scene. (Last night when I got here the moon had long gone to bed.) The Thilaicum bushes stood dark in ‘bright’ light coloured sand. The anthill was in complete darkness. The Southern Cross was perched above the Nyala-berry. That blanket of cloud had turned white, lit by the moon and was still advancing. The only sound now was the mother crunching on the carcass.
With my light on I noticed movement in the leaves above her. Her cub. It had obviously taken refuge high up in the Nyala-berry and with everything being safe, was coming down to feed. They fed and disappeared into the donga. In the middle of the night they were back feeding again. The moon had dipped below the western horizon. It was really dark. The cloud had arrived and it was warm.
Male baboons are now (as I type) greeting the coming dawn with their booming barks. It will be light soon. Will they be back to torment the leopards or have the leopards moved off and will only return after dawn when the baboons have gone?

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Bush-pigs join the crowds

5th August 2019
There was cloud in the sky at dawn. That thin blanket of cloud that looks like fish scales. The sun was just about to peep over the Chimanimani mountains. Golden ‘fish scales’ now filled the eastern sky. Slowly they lost their colour and were soon a brilliant white against the deep blue. I was at Mbirikiri pan.

The grasses are still deep green with a few small areas of surface water. The pan is about 150m in diameter, flanked in the east by small Acacias, a few tall Fever trees and a lone Nyala berry. The flat ground of the pan continues to the north and is fairly open with a few small Acacias. The south and west are flanked by several big Nyala berry trees. Sacred Ibis with their long bills were constantly on the move dipping them into the soft muddy shallows searching for any little wetland creature. A lone Great White Egret, far more elegant in its hunting method, stood motionless amongst them staring down potential prey that might be disturbed by the Ibis’s. Several Open-bill Storks were also hunting in the mix. I was suddenly alerted by excited chirping in the Nyala berry next to me. A Pied Kingfisher all happy with himself had caught a dragonfly larva and was busy beating its brains out on the branch, making sure it was properly dead before sending it down the hatch. As it warmed up, it was a very warm morning anyway, baboons came from the south to drink and eat nyala-berries. A herd of impala followed them in, not only to drink but also to score from the berries the baboons dropped out the tree. A small herd of kudu joined the masses for a drink, but didn’t stay long and headed back south. Two impala males, loaded with testosterone, had little interest in berries. They locked horns, pushing and shoving each other around, kicking up dust, while the baboons and other impala just carried on berry hunting seemingly oblivious to their desperate struggle to pummel each other. The wrestling was one-sided and soon the victor chased after his opponent roaring his victory cry as he did. The social in the south went on for quite some time until the baboons moved off west and the impala followed. As if waiting for them to leave, a lone wildebeest came in from the south, drank, then getting down on his knees had his own wrestling match with the mud tossing it around on his horns. There seems to be something very therapeutic about this action. While he was digging away an unexpected family of bush-pigs arrived. They’re nocturnal animals, but I think the sudden warm weather had driven them to the pan after sunrise to wallow. They were so cool to see just chilling on the waters’ edge. One of the youngsters thought he might challenge the wildebeest and approached to within a couple of meters, but when the wildebeest stopped to look at him he bolted. They all soon left disappearing into the bush to the south leaving the Ibis’s and storks to carry in their frantic pursuit of little creatures. It was already late morning and left them too…

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