Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mambirri - The Little Lady (Post By Rudi Hulshof)

There is the inevitable sadness that will forever be associated with the loss of an animal that has become familiar to rangers, guests, photographers, and wildlife enthusiasts worldwide. In the Western Sector of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, we feel this emotion at present due to the loss of a true little lady leopard that died earlier this week.
Mambirri, ( TWO - in the Shangaan language spoken by the local Tsonga tribe ) named so because of her 2 spot identification marks above each whisker line, was a leopard that called the area already mentioned above: home for a period of about 10 years.
Born to Makwela, and fathered by the Wallingford male, she was part of a litter of 3 females that all survived to independence, early in 2004. It was at this stage that this leopard became my favourite because of her amazing resilience, and her will and fight for survival.
I cannot remember the exact dates, but around the time of her independence, Mambirri was surprised by a lion pride at a large rocky boulder. She was caught unawares, and given a serious working over, leaving her torn to shreds, and unable to move on all four legs, constantly hobbling around on three paws. How she managed to get out of the clutches of the lions is still a mystery.
For a few weeks, we saw her losing condition rapidly, due to a cigar sized hole bitten right the way through her front right paw, and soon we did not see her at all anymore. The way of the wild was what everyone proclaimed, and we made peace with the fact that she had either died of starvation, or that she had been killed by larger predators.
Mambirri had all but disappeared from everyone’s minds, when one day, 8 months after Mambirri’s disappearance, a leopard was located deep in the south of the traversing feeding on a duiker that had been hoisted in a tree. Much debate followed about the “new” leopard in the area, until we could get a clear view of her spot pattern, and the healed front right paw that still showed the healing scar from her lion bite, and we could positively identify her as Mambirri.
She was slightly more nervous than before, but in a few weeks she had started to relax to the point where she would almost brush past the cars on her travels around her new territory. Her continuous pain was obvious as she walked with a limp for a few years , before normality returned to her gait. Every winter though, we would see her tighten up, and the stiffness return, and with it her limp would worsen. Her front paw had obviously healed, but would never be the same as before, and have weakness associated with it. She had survived by scavenging on the smallest of prey, mongoose, monkeys, rats, birds, etc, etc, until she was again strong enough to catch large prey items, what a fighter, never giving up!
Skipping forward a few years, after successfully raising 2 litters, it was about a month and a half ago that Mambirri was seen mating with the Kashane Male Leopard. These two honeymooners vanished for a while, and a week later a thin, hungry Mambirri was seen again after her marathon bout of mating with Kashane. She had started to spend time in the area left open by the death of Makubela Female in July, and seemed to have donated her old territory to her newly independent daughter Nthlangisa. Her condition was getting rather desperate, and this caused her to take a risk and attempt to catch a warthog in front of Idube Private Game Reserve where I am based.
Sitting in the office I heard the squeals, and went to try and investigate the source of the noise. A known warthog sow ran past me frantically searching for her single piglet, and it became obvious that it had been caught by a predator. Taking a vehicle to the front of the lodge did not help, for as I drew adjacent to the lodge, my staff alerted me to the fact that an injured leopard had just passed through the bar and boma area, into the river bed running in front of the lodge.
Monkey alarm calls over the next two days gave away the presence of the feeding leopard, but the area she was in made finding or seeing her impossible. On the afternoon of the third day she wandered to the lodge water hole, drank, and lay down. I had to take note of the earlier reports about her being injured, and went to investigate, only to see her right front paw in a horrific state, split down the middle, from her wrist, with 2 toes flapping on either side of the separation. It seemed her earlier injuries, and weakened paw had come back to haunt her, and I could only guess that in an attempt to save her piglet, the warthog sow had charged Mambirri, at which Mambirri had attempted to slap away the advancing mother, which led to her getting a tusk through her paw, which then ripped out between her toes.
She vanished in the time that it took me to return to the lodge to get a vet dispatched via the Sabi Sand Wildtuin management, and no further action could be taken.
The following morning she was again in the lodge grounds, behind the kitchen, and a leopard, especially and injured one, cannot be left to wander around guests or staff. We dispatched the state vet, and wildlife managers to come and dart her to remove her from the Lodge, and would have assessed her condition and made decisions regarding her treatment at that time.
Unfortunately, the dart used to tranquillise her, never plunged, and she vanished before we could get another dart into her. We had hoped that she would survive, and possibly heal, but were rather pessimistic about the odds in her favour.
She was missing for two weeks, with no further sign or chance to get a vet to dart her, when the Local village alerted the reserve that a leopard had been seen outside the boundary fence, and was posing a threat to the lives of the inhabitants and their children. For over 2 weeks she was seen regularly, raiding the chicken coups of the subsistence farmers in the village, decimating their chicken and goat stocks, and being a threat to the inhabitants. Every time a report was received, a team was sent to find her in order for a vet to come and dart her, but alas, she evaded the teams time and time again.
On her last night, she had been seen charging at some people, and the team came to find her. They located her, and whilst waiting for a vet to arrive, she again made an attempt at entering the local village, looking at the severity of her injury a decision was made that she needed to be put down, before injuring, or even killing a person, or further jeopardising their livelihoods by catching any more of their poultry or live stock.
An immediate post mortem was conducted, and the reports were that she had severely dislocated bones in her foot, some broken bones, her foot had, as had been observed, been split in two, with half hanging on each side. The injuries were too severe for her to survive in the wilds, and thus she had resorted to raiding the village at nights to get food to survive.
Had we managed to get her darted the first day, we would not have been able to do much for her as her chances of survival would have been zero, she would have had depleted mobility, no chance of chasing prey, no real chance at protecting herself from competition, and she would have lost the ability and agility to climb trees, or protect her prey by hoisting it into the trees away from hyaenas or lions.
Further damming internal problems were revealed in the post mortem examination, which also supported the theory that she was not going to survive much longer. Her stomach contained only chickens, not sufficient for a wild leopards nutritional needs, but more alarmingly she was in a stage of liver failure, caused by her body producing, and needing to process the large amounts of adrenalin to combat her constant pain, which would have caused her death shortly. Her adrenal glands and kidneys were severely enlarged, and internal organ failure was a immanent.
I would like to think that her suffering was ended mercifully, and find solace in that fact. Her death thus comes as a relief, rather than just loss and sadness to us that knew her.
Rest now Little Lady, you experienced enough suffering in your life.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Latest Rangers News

February is often one of the wettest months of the year; the bush is lush and healthy providing ample food for the herbivores and cover for the predators to hunt and the dams are all close to full. The birds also have ample food supplies and a large variety of species can be seen on every drive. The marula trees are at the peak of their fruiting season so the elephant herds are also frequently encountered at this time of the year.

The first month of the new year has been filled with fantastic sightings and a lot of the activity has taken place close to the lodge, some of it even inside the lodge!

Along with the increase in elephant herds due to the ripening marula fruits we have also had a lot more sightings of big bull elephants in musth. Many people are not quite sure what musth is so I will attempt to explain here:
Musth is a periodic condition in bull elephants marked by a large rise in reproductive hormones - testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times. The word is derived from Persian مست (mast) which means "intoxicated" though in modern usage, refers to a state of enjoyment, fun, pleasure or gratification—of any kind, experienced by humans or other creatures. Musth is linked to sexual arousal or establishing dominance, but this relationship is far from clear. Signs that a bull elephant is in musth include the constant dribbling of strong smelling urine that often covers the back legs (the strong smell is caused by high levels of organic chemicals ketones and aldehydes). Musth bulls also discharge a thick tar-like secretion called temporin from the temporal ducts on the sides of the head; however in African elephants all sexes and ages may excrete temporin at times of heightened emotion so the fluid alone is not a sign of musth.
Although bull elephants in musth can become aggressive this is not always the case and many of the musth bulls we see here stay very relaxed and can be viewed safely.
The local leopard population provided our visitors with many great photo opportunities as well as greater insights into the lives of theses beautiful creatures. The dynamics of a predator population are constantly shifting and we have been seeing many leopards in the vicinity of the lodge as the different individuals stake their claim to the unoccupied female territory and the overlapping area of male territory that Idube sits in the middle of. In the past month five different female leopards and four different males have been seen on Idube property, of that number two individuals (1 male and 1 female) are still new to the area. The Hlab’nkunzi female has been seen inside the lodge grounds on a number of occasions now and it seems she is pushing her boundaries more to the east in an effort to avoid the westward movement of the Xinzele male who has been moving around ion her core territory frequently. Sadly Xinzele did manage to corner one of Hlab’nkunzi's cubs mid-month and killed it. Male leopards will often kill young cubs that are not their own in order to get a chance to father their own cubs in the area. It is a pity that this youngster was killed as at close to a year old it would have only been a couple more months before she would be independent. The remaining cub is still well and was seen with her mother close to Idube soon after that incident. Also interesting to note is the fact that Xinzele and Hlab’nkunzi’s cubs are cousins as they are all grand-offspring of Makwela.
The gradual move to the west by Xinzele has been brought about partially by the absence of the more dominant Tegwaan male in the area and partially by the increased presence in the east of the Xindlevhana and Kashane plus the as yet unidentified young male we have been seeing. Tegwaan has not been seen for a long time now but there is still a possibility he is up in the less traversed North-Western corner of the reserve. One indication of this being the case is the movements of the young Mashiabanj male in the North – He has seldom been seen going into the western half of the area North of the river, probably because the territory there is marked already.
The Mabirri female leopard was seen close to the lodge a few times after she finished mating with the Kashane male, on one occasion she was seen limping over the lawn and into the drainage line in front of the lodge. The next day the monkeys were giving alarm calls around the lodge and after some investigation Mabirri was found very close to where she had last been seen, with no obvious signs of a kill. On closer inspection it was found that she had quite a big wound on her foot, she again limped off and disappeared. She was later spotted close to the garages and there it was clear by her tracks that something was wrong, the pad of the injured foot was only leaving a three-toed track, the state vet was called as a safety precaution but when it came to darting the leopard she suddenly became a lot more agile, the first dart hit her shoulder blade and the drug was not released, the leopard disappeared. Since that incident Mabirri has only been seen once and her tracks led from there into an area of quite dense undergrowth, where it is unsafe to track her on foot. Some of you may remember that as a youngster she suffered a similar injury to her foot (the same one) and in the end she survived without help and grew into the very successful leopard we know today; hopefully she will get over this latest injury as well especially as she can use the skills she learned last time.
Mabirri’s recently independent daughter Tlangisa has been moving up and down looking for a safe place to settle, she is still mostly seen in the south where she grew up but has moved up into other areas frequently, getting into some trouble on the way - first running into the three Mapogo male lions close to the lodge and most recently she ran into her older sister Metsi and was chased away after a brief but intense confrontation.
The three Mapogo male lions seem settled now and are seldom apart unless one of them is mating – this has been a frequent occurrence with the one Ximunghwe lioness whose cubs were killed late last year. The males shared a couple of kill with the Ximunghwe pride, at a wildebeest kill close to the old airstrip the two cubs belonging to the older lioness even came to feed, it seems that all the males have accepted this pair of cubs, the first ones conceived after the return of the Mohawk maned male known as Mr. T.
The Ximunghwe lioness with the tip of her tail missing is presumed to have given birth up on one the same hill her last litter was born on, hopefully those cubs will be brought out for us to see sometime soon, the other females are probably carrying cubs as well now so perhaps this year the pride will have better luck in raising the youngsters.
The other lions in the area – the Ottawa pride have not been seen as regularly as usual due to the high water level rivers in the sand river making it impossible to cross north for most of the second half of the month.
The flooding river also meant that the painted hunting dog pack were also not seen as much as we would have liked, the one sighting we did get of them before the river flooded saw the pack chasing the Mashiabanj male leopard up a tree!
The big buffalo herd has been in and out of the southern part of our traversing area and the male cheetah has also been spotted a few times again now that some of the clearings have been opened up.
Hopefully these next few weeks will provide us with just as much entertainment; if you follow us on Facebook and Twitter you will find real time updates and pictures straight from the drives!
Until next Time,
Best wishes,
Rob The Ranger