Another perfect week of “winter”. I need to use the inverted commas as this week felt like anything but winter. Yes, the mornings are still crisp with a chill in the air, but with daytime temperatures remaining in the mid-20s Celsius, it was a mild, pleasant week here in the Timbavati. Even the cold front that hit didn’t do too much to change that, and awaking to what risked being a rainy morning, we were greeted by calm sunny skies. The little bits of rain that have fallen over the past month have kept a slight green tinge in the short grassy areas, and most deciduous trees are still hanging onto their foliage – short-term memory loss aside, I cannot recall having seen the central Kruger looking like this in mid-August before. The Long-tailed Cassia trees joined the list of early-flowering species, and our first report of the migratory Wahlberg’s eagles were received. If I didn’t know better, I would be tempted to say that winter has passed us by but knowing my written words’ propensity to come back and bite me in the butt, I am sure we still have a couple of cold snaps left in the winter’s armoury.
The weather was not the only calmness this week, but it appeared as though the lives of our lions remained relatively calm too…well, at least from what we could see. In fairness the Birmingham Breakaways and Mayambula prides remained largely absent from our area for the week, with tracks for the pride being seen only once before a single Birmingham Breakaway male and Mayambula lioness were seen at Machaton Dam. The Vuyela males were vocal most nights, but their activities annoyingly kept leading them to the north of our concession; we were able to catch up with single members of the coalition on three occasions during the week though. The Sark Breakaway Pride pitched up late one afternoon in the central parts, and it is impressive to see the young lions growing up; they are approaching two years old, and it won’t be too long before the lionesses are ready to mate again. There were no reports of the four cubs being seen this week, although the lactating lioness was seen walking around on her own in the west late in the week. The Giraffe Pride also showed face on three days this week in the west, but none of our guides made the trip out to that side of the concession to see them.
Our spotted feline friends continued to make us work hard to enjoy the presence of their company. Nyeleti was seen on a couple of occasions in the old heart of her territory, but she remained alone, and this suggests to me that she has eventually cut ties with her two daughters. We found her close to our bush breakfast spot one morning as we were about to stop for a delectable breakfast; we had simply been passing some impalas and warthogs when they all began alarm calling; realising that it was something larger that a false alarm, we headed off-road into the bush and soon came across Nyeleti as she made use of the cloudy weather to search for a meal. Later in the week the young male leopard from Nkhari was found with an impala kill near and gave Scotch a good view as he fed on his kill safely stashed in a marula tree. That afternoon I thought I had beaten the odds and found the presumably late Thumbela. Glen pulled off a cracking spot as he caught sight of a leopard fast asleep in the long grass next to the road. We passed the sleeping cat and stopped, and at first I thought that the leopard was dead, as it hadn’t even flinched as we drove past! The gentle up-and-down of the chest let me know she was alive, but with Thumbela being the only cat relaxed enough to stay fast asleep as a vehicle drove past, I was almost certain it was going to be her. We pulled off the road a little further away, and still no movement from the leopard. After a few moments the leopard lifted her head, and glancing at her through my binoculars, I was disappointed to see a golden pair of eyes staring back at us. It wasn’t our blue-eyed girl. Still, in her awake state, the leopard didn’t seem to mind that we were parked about 10m away, and I was about to get super excited about the prospect of having a new, super-relaxed leopard in the area…but as I tried to get my camera to grab an ID of her, she decided that she had other places to be, sprang up, and trotted off to a small drainage line and slunk away. Scotch and Glen found her in the area last month, and I am sure that with a bit more exposure, she has the potential to become a very viewable leopard.
My attempts to coax the two male cheetahs out by writing about them didn’t work, but we were able to see our other rare predators this week when we had the pack of five wild dogs spend a day in the central regions. In the far west, the other pack of four was seen running around near the Giraffe Pride one morning; it does appear as though there are indeed two separate packs out there; one of four, and one of five. There is still no word on the big pack of 30 making their way back south…not yet anyway!
The elephant herds continue to make the areas around Tanda Tula Safari Camp their home, and have been visiting the camp dam on a daily basis – even as I type this I can hear them screaming at the waterhole! Apollo was seen following a herd one day and sharing in a false marula tree that I am sure he ripped down! It is my first time seeing him in the company of other elephants (but that could be my short-term memory loss again). He is an amazing elephant and always provides for a great sighting. Two buffalo herds of 200-odd members were moving around the central and western parts of the concession during the week, and it always amazes me that we can find our big-horned non-binary buffalo in the middle of so many…it just goes to show what a standout character he is!
The giraffe herds continue to be active around Tanda Tula, and there were very good numbers of zebras moving around the area this week to once again round off a most enjoyable week of guiding out there. I will be out guiding for another week, so be sure to check back next week for more images and stories from the heart of the Greater Kruger
Until next time!