A Week of Changing Tides in Photos

I was most tempted to simply copy and paste last week’s opening paragraph to kick off this week’s blog, as we had another good week of weather; the cold front that did move through the area brought a slight chill, but it was not too windy, and there was only the odd sprinkling of rain.  Either side of this, we enjoyed some warm, sunny weather and a Timbavati that clearly thinks that spring has already sprung as a few Mopane Pomegranate bushes joined the Knobthorns in their early flowering – times they are a changing!   

It wasn’t only the flowers that showed signs of change, but this week saw an interesting development in the lion dynamics in the area that could potentially signal the start of some big changes in this region.  Whilst all five of the Vuyela males (in their different fragments) were seen during the week courting the River Pride lionesses, as well as the Sark Breakaways, it was six Birmingham Breakaway males that made more than a brief appearance in the south-east this week.  We had a sighting of these males as they crossed through the south-eastern corner last week, but this time they spent a few days within our concession…and they weren’t alone.  They had found the company of a lioness.  A Mayambula lioness.  As you may be aware, this pride has been on the run for a few months now trying to keep their eleven youngsters safe, but trips west bring them into contact with the five Vuyela males; trips north saw encounters with the three Birmingham males; and trips south brought them into contact with both the Birmingham Breakaways, as well as the Ross males.  They couldn’t go anywhere without encountering some lions.  Exactly what happens when we are not watching them is left to speculation, but at some point, one of the Mayambula lionesses (I still have to confirm if it is the lioness that lost her cubs last year) decided not to run anymore and made a move to appease the Birmingham Breakaway males.  She spent a couple of days mating with one of the males whilst the other five young males looked on.  If it was a ploy to distract the males to give the rest of the pride time to move off to safer surrounds, it worked, as the males remained in the area for the latter part of the week.  If, however, it is a sign of things to come – that the Birmingham Breakaways could become the pride males of the Mayambula Pride – then we are in for some interesting times ahead.  It would require a miracle of sorts for the youngsters of the Mayambula Pride to survive on their own, but with the oldest sub-adults only approaching 20-months of age, it is not impossible for them to be self-sufficient.  Inexperience will count against them greatly, but I have seen equally young lions pull through after being chased out.  The Mayambula females will likely do their best to keep distracting the six new males, and hopefully these tactics will give the sub-adults a little bit of extra time with the pride until they are better equipped to survive on their own.  Sadly, a more likely scenario is that this could be the first real step towards a pride take-over of the Mayambula Pride, and that the Birmingham Breakaway males will continue to put pressure on the pride until either the pride leaves the area altogether; the sub-adults flee on their own and the adult lionesses stay behind, or more tragically, the Birmingham Breakaways shed blood.   

The Mayambula lionesses won’t be pushed over, so it is anyone’s guess as to how this will play out, but the potential future of this pride is exciting.  Seven adult lionesses.  Six young male lions with many years left in them.  Both lineages likely to carry the white lion gene.  I know I am dreaming, but this could be the first steps in creating a real ‘super-pride’ in our little corner of the Greater Kruger.  We are a long, long way from this, and there are many paths that this story could take, but for now, I will allow myself to dream pleasant thoughts, as I know too well that this could also turn into a real nightmare for these lions.  Only time will tell. 

With regard to the other lions, it does indeed appear as though the River Pride lioness did lose her cubs, as nothing in her behaviour suggested she had any maternal duties.  The pride was in the area for most of the week, accompanied by two or three Vuyela males. We caught up with them one morning as they were finishing off a kill, and a day later were still in the area chasing off a hyena that walked right into the pride!  There were two other Vuyela males that popped up to say ‘hi’, but two days later these two males were back with the Sark Breakaway Pride in the west.  I noticed that one of the lionesses had apparent suckle-marks around her teats, and sure enough, that afternoon four cubs popped up in the area that we had seen them that morning!  Although we didn’t see them, we hope that they continue to keep the cubs in the Timbavati and that they can raise them successfully under the protection of the Vuyela males. 

On the leopard front, it was a quiet week once again, but Nyeleti’s daughter was found with a bushbuck kill on the banks of the Nhlaralumi, and after a few fruitless visits to the site, we eventually found her resting up the tree with her kill before she went to feed.  Ginger found a clan of hyenas finishing off an impala kill on the open areas of the east, and although we suspected it was a leopard’s kill they had stolen, we half hoped it was from a cheetah!  We did manage to find a large male leopard in the area a little while later to confirm our original suspicions.  Steven ended off the week finding a leopard not too far from Tanda Tula Safari Camp on his way home last night. 

It was a week filled with elephants too – the large herds continued to hang around most sections of our concession and entertained us on a daily basis, even making more regular visits to our camp waterhole.  Apollo remained in the area, but we only bumped into him once.  A small herd of 80-odd buffalos also spent a couple of days around Tanda Tula, and they too came to enjoy a drink in front of camp.  There was a much larger herd of 300-400 buffalos in the west, but we did not venture out that side of the Timbavati to see them. 

With the Knobthorns flowering in the east, there are a few more giraffes gathering in the area to enjoy the nutritious flowers, and they were joined by a good number of ostriches (by our standards anyway) in the east too!  One drive I had three separate ostrich sightings, which is not something I have done before!  Although the wildebeest and impalas are frequenting the open woodlands of the east, it appears as though the zebras are all hanging around in the central regions; we even got to see a new foal of a week-or-two old.  

The wild dogs popped up one morning, but it was a pack of four; I am not sure if they are four of the five, we usually see, or another pack of four, but these small packs are always difficult to keep track of.  We still await the return of the big pack, but with the good lion activity in the area, it is maybe not a bad thing that they steer clear of this part of the Timbavati for a while.  Glen did tell me that he saw a lone cheetah crossing from the Timbavati into the Klaserie as he was making his way into camp one evening.  And I will say it again, but I am still waiting to find our two cheetah brothers in the east now that we are back home…maybe next week! 

Until next time!