Ahhh, home sweet home! What a treat it was getting mobile from Tanda Tula Safari Camp this past week – not only because it was good to be back in the area that is so close to our hearts, but it also meant that we have been able to welcome some of the first guests to the all-new Tanda Tula Safari Camp. Aside from enjoying views of breeding herds of elephants, giraffes, nyalas, monkeys, baboons, impalas, and bushbuck from the comfort of the new safari suites, our first week back in the central Timbavati was filled with great sightings.
Ginger got the ball rolling with his guests, and his first drive included a pack of wild dogs, three Vuyela male lions roaring next to his vehicle, and to add a cherry on top, a large male leopard resting next to the entrance road on his way back to camp!
I joined the fray a couple of days later and started with a few of the same species – although I did have to chuckle that on my first drive back out from Safari Camp I headed to the southwest and not my beloved east as I had expected. However, it was the lure of wild dogs that attracted me, and we managed to find a pack of six members as they got active for the evening; we left them to go and see if we could relocate on two of the Sark Breakaway lionesses, and we got lucky… we almost got “unlucky” too when a wild dog came chasing a duiker straight past the slowly-waking lions. Fortunately, the dog veered off before realizing the near and present danger; the rest of the pack arrived a few minutes later, but it appears as though they hadn’t heard the other dogs’ alarm calls and almost ended up running into the lionesses. Once again, fortune was with them and the lionesses seemed reluctant to waste their time and energy chasing after the wild dogs, and everyone left the area happily.
The next day, I got some time in the east as we were tracking a male leopard, but soon got drawn away from the area by the news that the Mayambula Pride and Skorro males were found nearby. I have been waiting to come back to this area to spend more time with one of my favourite pride of lions. Sadly, the Skorro males are not in good shape, and have been involved in some series of fights of late – we are not sure if it has been with the Birmingham males, the Vuyelas, or perhaps even some other unknown coalition. The rest of the pride was looking good, and that evening we watched as they had their evening drink ruined by a grumpy hippo. After this, the pride went on a bit of a walking spree. They headed far north, and way out of our concession but returned to the heart of the River Pride/Vuyela males territory on our northern boundary. They were drawn by a small breeding herd of buffalos, but it appears that during the night the Vuyela males predictably picked up on the Mayambula pride and a great deal of roaring and fighting could be heard. The next morning the pride’s tracks were all over the show before they were eventually found back in northern Timbavati. A couple of days later the Vuyela males could be heard roaring in the same area and tracks suggest that the Mayambula pride was chased again. The problem for them is that wherever they run, they seem to bump into a male coalition somewhere. This does not bode well for the stability of the pride, or indeed the survival chances of the younger members. The lionesses can either spend the next year on the run and move off into the deep recesses of the Timbavati and Kruger, or something will give with either the Birmingham or Vuyela males taking over the pride. One thing is for sure though, the lionesses are not going to go down without a fight and will do their damnedest to keep their youngsters alive – already the mother of the youngest lions seems to be keeping them away from the pride.
We also enjoyed a couple of sightings of the River Pride lionesses in the central regions before they disappeared north with all this commotion. I also made a journey to the plains in the west to see most of the Giraffe Pride (we counted 21) one evening – although the sickly Sumatra male was present, we only saw the impressive Hercules male as he lazed about with the pride. So all in all, with four different prides seen during the week, it was a good one for lions, even if the future is a little uncertain at the moment.
The leopards were not as cooperative, but that is not to say they were not present. One morning we found tracks for no fewer than five different leopards. The big male that Ginger found at the start of the week has been walking around the eastern side quite frequently based on his enormous tracks crisscrossing the area. Thumbela’s son also appears to still be making use of the area around Machaton Dam, but there have not been any sightings to confirm whether his mother is still alive or not. N’weti was seen just north of our boundary one morning when two Vuyela males ascended the tree that housed her kill and stole it. When the guides realised that her cubs were also present in the area, they closed down the sighting to not put pressure on them. Late in the morning once the lions had moved off, I had a distant visual of N’weti resting up a tree whilst one of the cubs was not going anywhere and staying safely out of harm’s way at the very top of a black monkey thorn. Tracks for N’weti made frequent forays into our eastern sections, but we were unable to find her. On the last morning of the week, at the very end of the drive, we were able to find a kill of Nyeleti’s close to our bush breakfast sight – she had gone to fetch her two daughters, so fingers crossed that next week holds some more regular sightings of those three.
Other than the cats, it was pleasing to see how many elephants were around the eastern sections, and they were seen every drive, often in good numbers. It is so nice to have these breeding herds around again, and they have once more started visiting the waterhole in front of Safari Camp.
The buffalo were represented by a few groups of buffalo bulls in the central regions, as well as a small herd of 80-odd in the north. Earlier in the week a herd of several hundred was moving around the south-western sections, and we got to see them on our first drive in that area.
If we were a little worried that we would miss the good herds of plains game in the west, we were a little mistaken – the eastern open woodlands had many, many giraffes around, good zebra numbers, and a fair number of wildebeest too, as well as ostriches, kori bustards, and ground hornbills. Kudu bulls were seen following the female groups, and the camp nyalas seem delighted by our presence. Add this to an active hyena den, a couple of hippos across the dams, jackals on the clearings, and the general beauty of the central Timbavati, and we could scarcely have asked for a better week.
Now we look forward to another week here in the Timbavati!
Until next time!