It is Monday, so that means it is time to take a few minutes break from your day to day activities and enjoy a little recap of the past week in the heart of the Timbavati, and what a week it was! Upon returning from my leave last week, it did indeed sound as though there had been some great game viewing in my absence, but I am happy to report that none of the animals got the memo that I had returned to work and were all happy to play along and provide for some more memorable sightings.
Funnily enough, it was not only these sightings that blew us away this week, but for a couple of days out there, the conditions got rather cold and blustery! The weather man had been forecasting a big change in weather as a cold-front approached from Cape Town; besides dropping from 40°C to around 17°C, the front arrived with some strong winds of over 45km/h – a fair deal stronger than we are accustomed to! Not looking forward to this change in weather – and the wind in particular – I kept trying to boost my guests’ spirits by telling them that even though it would not be the most pleasant out there, there was always a good chance of finding some predators with kills, as strong winds such as predicted play right into their hands (or paws, technically) for hunting.
The wind arrived. It was strong, it was blustery, and if I am honest, it was not the most pleasant weather I have ever done a game drive in. But two days later, it was not the wind that had blown us away, but rather all the incredible sightings we had enjoyed…and guess what, it was an absolute feast for the predators out there!
I had been heading towards Nkhari to go and look for some lions that had been around the day before when Tristan went and ruined my plans; he radioed in to say that he had found a female cheetah in the east, close to Machaton Dam. I promptly turned around and moved towards the area, but so did most of the guides that were on drive that morning, not knowing how long she would be around. I was slowly making my way towards the sighting when the guide just in front of me called to say that he had just found another two cheetahs at Machaton Dam if I would rather go and join him! Mmmmm, two cheetahs or one??? I opted to bypass Tristan’s single cheetah for the two brothers who were a little more active. Fifteen minutes later we watched them chase down some impalas, then heard the unmistakable bellow of an impala being grabbed by a predator, we knew we had made the right choice! We watched as one cheetah suffocated the poor impala and his brother began feeding immediately. Unlike the last time I watched these two cheetahs make a kill, there were no hyenas running in to steal it from them this time, and the boys got to feast on the meal for the rest of the morning.
If two cheetah sightings were not enough for the morning, the guide heading to the cheetahs just after me also bumped into the large pack of 30-odd wild dogs with their pups! So, both species of animal that I was so envious of missing out on last week made a return on the morning that I had not been looking forward to at all! Add to that three different leopard kills hoisted into trees, and I was suddenly beginning to change my mind about windy weather! Sadly, despite the pack size, the wild dogs were lost as the guides couldn’t follow them when they went through an environmentally sensitive area, but at least it gave us something to focus on in the afternoon.
With one of my guests onboard that had opted out of the exciting morning drive due to the cold weather, we headed back to try and relocate the cheetahs; the male cheetahs had finished their kill and moved off, but fortunately the female cheetah had spent the entire day sleeping off her full belly in the exact same spot! When a hyena came lurking past, she moved off and we followed her until she ascended a fallen tree to keep a better eye on the hyena. When she moved off, we headed towards where the wild dog pack had been found after that had moved in the middle of the day.
It became the first of several sightings of this stunning pack of wild dogs – with twelve pups and close to a dozen and a half adults, they require a load of food, and this meant that they were active most mornings and afternoons; the pups are just over 3,5 months old and although mobile, tended not to follow the adults on the hunt. This meant that they sat around playing with one another as the adults went off to find food. We enjoyed a few sightings of the pack in different states of activity over the days; from resting up huddled together on cold mornings to trying to dig a hare out of a hole. The highlight of the week for me was opting to follow the adults as they went hunting one afternoon and watching them devour an impala in next to no time, with the mandatory interactions from the thieving hyenas. The pack spent most of the week in the area, and we hope they decide to stick around for a little longer!
What was pleasing was that these rare predators showed face while the lions remained active in the area; usually when the lions are around, the smaller predators remain scarce. Luckily, the lions were on form this week too. The Sark Breakaway Pride seems to be getting more and more settled in the area, under the guardianship of the Vuyela males. One male spent the first half of the week with the pride when they were found with a wildebeest kill and carried on following them for a couple of days afterwards. Glen tracked them down resting in the Zebenine Riverbed the morning before the wind, and the next day they were found in the west of their territory with a waterbuck kill, which it appears the Vuyela male commandeered. To our surprise, we followed up on some suspicious hyena activity on Nkhari the next morning (it was still windy) and found that the Sark Breakaways had immediately returned to the central parts of our concession and made another wildebeest kill. Even without the presence of a large male lion, the large lionesses and growing young males were able to keep off a dozen hyenas. Whilst we were watching them, the missing lioness from the pride was seen in the west with her four cubs; sadly though, that was the last sign of them this week, and I am still awaiting my first sighting of the little ones! The Giraffe Pride (or fragments thereof) remained reasonably active in the west around Plains Camp, and there was a report of the Hercule’s male in the western section too. To make things more interesting, two unidentified male lions were seen in the central regions this past weekend too; they had tried to get a buffalo one evening, but the buffalo evidently got away. Our guides that went to see them did not recognise them, but I suspect it could be two of the Birmingham Breakaway boys, but I have been known to be wrong…often!
I mentioned last week that we had found Nyeleti’s one daughter with a duiker kill and you could expect some updates from that; sadly, it proved a frustrating sighting as she was never at the kill, and with the wind, she moved the kill and wasn’t seen again. The young Nkhari male leopard used the wind to his advantage and caught an impala close to Nkhari camp, but he too made it difficult for us. We had one good evening sighting of him when two hyenas disturbed his sleep and chased him up the marula tree that housed his kill. Only Steven seemed to have luck finding him feeding in the day, otherwise he tucked himself away in the thickets, out of the wind. At the same time another impala kill was found hanging in a marula tree west of Nkhari, but it turned out it belonged to a very nervous leopardess, and we only saw her one afternoon when looking for the wild dogs, but even from about 80m she made a quick exit from the tree and went to hide behind a fallen tree. N’weti also had a kill nearer to Safari Camp, but the only evidence was a quick sighting of her cub and a drag mark going into an impenetrable area. Likewise, Glen also tracked a large male leopard that clearly had a kill on the banks of the Machaton Riverbed, but it was not going to produce any sightings in that area, so we didn’t pursue that. Even when we got to see Sunset female in the west (close to where our wild dogs caught an impala), she was criss-crossing the Zebenine Riverbed and made it a real challenge to keep track of her movements. So, whilst all the other predators spoilt us, the leopards did make us work a little harder!
It was not only a week of predators, but we continued to have loads of zebras, wildebeest and giraffes all around the eastern sections (but strangely not many in the west at the moment); the elephant herds were on and off but did move into the area in bigger numbers as the week drew to a close. The buffalo herds remained elusive once more, and we only had a few groups of buffalo bulls hanging around, which makes it even more impressive that our two unknown lions managed to find one to attack!
And that, is that! A week of fantastic viewing, vastly differing weather conditions and the emergence of more flowering tree Wistarias, leafing Cassia trees, and even the odd string of stars flowers emerging. It will take a lot to beat our sightings over the past week but be sure to check up again next week to see what the Timbavati has in store for us!
Until next time!