Just like that, we are already a week into 2023. I won’t lie, the first drive of the year after only 2 hours and 44 minutes of sleep (not that I was counting) was not the easiest one I have ever had, but it was well worth being out there and kicking off the new year in great fashion with some lovely sightings of elephants, rhino, some sleepy lions and an equally sleepy leopard it wasn’t only our guests that had stayed up late seeing in the new year.
With last week’s blog I moaned about the fact that the western sectors were starting to look rather dry compared to the central regions around Tanda Tula Safari Camp; this week though, the rain gods looked down favorably on the western sector and sent us a very welcome 117mm of precious rain (the central regions only received around 40-50mm) that completely transformed the feeling of the west. By the time the sun had come out at the end of the week, the grasses were displaying their verdant hues, flowers and lilies were popping up all over the show, and almost every dam and pan was filled to the brim. The Klaserie River was flowing from bank to bank, and due to the amount of rain in the south, even the Nhlarulumi and Zebenine riverbeds were transformed into temporary rivers. The downside of the rain was that it did limit our access to some areas of the concession in the east, and with the ground being completely saturated, we were not driving off-road and damaging the soils, so we did require a little more luck than usual to enjoy good sightings…fortunately, mother nature delivered once again.
The lions that have been such a feature of late were suffering the greatest headache and took it very easy this week, making it slightly challenging for us to enjoy their presence. As mentioned, the first drive of the year saw Glen spotting four members of the Mayambula Pride about 30m off the road in some long grass – as it was an area that had been well wetted by the previous rains, we just viewed them from the road until they fell asleep and disappeared from view. Whilst following up on them in the afternoon, Steven from Nkhari Homestead found a single female cheetah resting in the open area where the lions had been in the morning. This hurt me slightly as, based on a report of tracks for the two male cheetahs in the same area, we had spent a good part of the morning driving around looking for cheetahs on the plains in the east. Needless to say, the lions soon picked up on the cheetah and chased her across the open sodic site, but she got away and settled on the other side of the riverbed. The next morning two Vuyela male lions were located in the southwest (quite deep into the Timbavati) with a young giraffe kill that kept them around for a couple of days. The five young members of the River Pride spent the middle of the week in the central regions before returning to the north. It appears as though the two remaining adult lionesses from the pride have hooked up with the Vuyela males and from their behavior, it appears as though one has already given birth to cubs to the north of our concession. Both lionesses keep returning to the same area, so it might be the start of a new chapter for the pride. The three young males and two young lionesses will have a challenging time over the next few months as they find their feet in the area without their mothers. It would be wonderful if the two young females could rejoin their mothers once they are a little older; but with the older of the two just under three years old, they are too young for the new males to be interested in them.
When the rain fell later in the week, it was the Sark Breakaways, and two of the Vuyela males popped up to save the day. Some interesting news is that the single Sark lioness that had been wandering around on her own for the better part of a year has now reunited with the pride, and will hopefully stay as a permanent member. With three lionesses still needing to have cubs, this pride also has the potential to grow into quite a force in the western Timbavati and Klaserie areas. The Giraffe Pride decided that they had given us enough attention over Christmas and were not seen in the area at all this week.
With the lions not being overly active, we had a fairly good week of leopard viewing. Sunset females provided for the bulk of our viewing in the west. We found her just east of the dam after which she is named early in the week and followed her as she walked around scent-marking and calling, clearly a good sign that she is coming back into estrus. Tristan had a good few days of leopard viewing when I was off drive and found Sunset’s daughter as well as another big male leopard close to Plains Camp. Nyeleti and one of her daughters started the new year with their impala kill in the north and gave us a couple of days of good viewing before moving off. Luckily, they were located on another kill a day later very close to Tanda Tula Safari Camp. They were the only ones that made use of the conditions for hunting, and Tristan and Jack found Sunset female near our bush breakfast site she eventually led us back to an impala kill that she hoisted into a marula tree close to the road and spent almost three days feasting on that, giving us a great chance of seeing a leopard during the rainy week. We also spent a short time with the other unnamed leopardess that frequents the areas to the north of Sunset’s territory.
Although the elephants haven’t quite come back into the area as we expected after the rain, they are more evident. The bulls are once again seen regularly close to Plains Camp, with the herds being a common site in the central regions. A large herd of 250-300 buffalo also settled in the areas around Safari Camp for the week to complement the buffalo bull sightings. With ample food and water, we hope that this group will spend a little longer in the area.
The plains game that left the plains once the lions moved in last week all returned and the wildebeest, zebras, and giraffes once again became a common sight around the camp.
We also got to see a small pack of three wild dogs running around the plains a few times during the week. The larger packs remained elusive, but it is still a treat to see even a small pack. Together with the cheetah sighting at the start of the week, this ensured that we had our second Super 7 week in a row. We will keep our fingers crossed that they can make it a hat trick next week.
Be sure to check back next Monday to see if we were lucky in that regard.
Until next time, cheers!