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There had been a group of bull elephants hanging around Safari Lodge for the whole day so it wasn't long before we came face to face with one of them grazing close to the road. He was eating one of the favourites for elephants this time of year, the round leaf teak.
We watched as he grabbed the upper branches with his trunk and then snapped it at the base using one deft sweep of his foot. The branch then began its methodic trip from one end of the bull's mouth to the other. He used his tongue to move the branch towards the back of his mouth where his grinding molars could then strip it of its bark. Eating a corn on the cob sprang to mind but on a much larger scale! We carried on and saw two male impalas in full rut squaring off for a battle. There were evenly matched as far as horn size went so each took it in turns letting out a battle cry of snorts and grunts so uncharacteristic of such elegant antelopes. They clashed several times, their horns smashing together as they tried to deliver a more powerful blow to put their opponent of balance.
These fights are quite frequent as the victor will get dominion over a harem of females to mate with and thus spread his genes into the next generation of lambs born in the spring. We could hear the hippos calling over the water of Skwenga dam so I decided to go and have a look. There were three groups of hippos scattered over the shallows and we also saw a mother with a young baby in one of the coves keeping to herself.
There was prolific bird life with both pied and giant kingfisher, white-breasted comorant, fish eagle, "Egyptian" geese and blacksmith lapwings around the dam. As we were enjoying the serene atmosphere, Kaizer pointed across the water and calmly exclaimed "There are two leopards over there in the grass." Well this caused quite a commotion as guests reached for binoculars and sure enough there they were! I was thinking that the only reason leopards come together is to mate when we saw them come together and then we heard the growl of the female as the coupling was over. I put the Land Rover into high pursuit mode and we made our way around Safari lodge to the other side of the dam.
With Kaizer's direction we were able to find the leopards again sitting in an open patch of grass with the perfect afternoon sunlight on them. The female was Xlabnkunzi, identified by a tell tail scar under her chin resulting from a previous fight with the Mitzi female leopard.
Her consort was the Dewan male who we first started seeing on safari over a year ago. He has been making serious inroads into the old territory of Shinzele who be believe passed away earlier this year.
Most of the mating is initiated by the female, she walks over to the male making a pass in front of him and then moving along the side of his body until her tail brushes against his face. If this doesn't cause the male to mount her, she quickly gets up and rubs the length of her body against him again and presents herself. Usually the male succumbs after several attempts and pushes her down with his forepaws and gently but firmly bites the back of her neck as he begins to mate.
It's all over in a matter of seconds as the male jumps off the female before she can reach his face with her slashing claws! We were enjoying the view of these two beautiful leopards performing their mating dance with the hippos giving their afternoon chorus in the background as the sunset over Rock Lodge.
Suddenly the mood changed as both leopards stood up and looked intently in the direction of the Treehouse. There was another leopard approaching! We could see that it was a female by her size and over the next few tense minutes, she approached the pair. Xlabankunzi took one look and beat a hasty retreat when she recognized her old enemy, Mitzi who had beaten her in battle once before.
Dewan climbed the nearest tree just to be on the safe side and watched as Mitzi sent-marked the ground below the tree. After a while he jumped down and Mitzi climbed to where he had just been to sample his scent. Dewan began emitting low contact calls to the female in a submissive way. These same sounds are used by females to call their cubs. He then began scent-marking and roaring. Mizi moved off in the direction of Xlabankunzi but she had anticipated this and quickly returned to the side of the male to initiate another mating! We noticed suckle marks on Mitzi so she has cubs hidden somewhere, possible close to the hills surrounding the lodges. It will be amazing seeing cubs on Ulusaba again and if this mating is a success, Xlabankunzi should give birth in mid-August with first sightings possibly by September. There's so much to look forward to this winter, we can't wait to see you here to share it with you.
See you soon!
Phillip Andrew and the Ranger and Tracker team
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