A Week of Cooperative Cats in Photos

With the spring equinox having passed us by this week here in the Greater Kruger, we are starting to get the feeling that summer is almost over as the mornings now carry a refreshing chill, but the daytime temperatures still hit the early 30s. Although we did get a few drops of rain (all of 2,5mm) earlier in the week, conditions remained fantastic for game viewing, and we had another wonderful week of sightings here at Tanda Tula.

The cats continued to play along wonderfully, with another week of being spoilt for choice with the lions that we chose to spend time with. Here at Tanda Tula Plains Camp, the Giraffe Pride continued to make the plains a regular hunting ground and the pride of spending a few days in the area. A year ago we were lucky if we got a couple of sightings of this pride over a month, but now we seem to worry if we don’t see them for more than two or three days. Long may it last. The pride began the week with 22 members sprawled out on the plains having fed the night before. That afternoon one of the mothers left the pride and returned a little later with the three missing cubs to reunite with the rest of the family. Although the pride set off on the hunt as darkness fell, they were not successful whilst we were following them.

In the east, the three River Pride females continued to move around the immediate surroundings of Tanda Tula Safari Camp, and we found a River lioness in the company of one of the Vuyela males close to Safari Camp one morning – two other Vuyela males also sniffing around but soon left the honeymoon couple and headed off in search of the other two females. The group spent the next two days out on the open sodic sites east of Safari Camp. When the three boys left the ladies later in the week, I decided to head east to spend the evening with them, hoping that they would give us a roar (something my regular return guests had not experienced before). We stopped for a sundowner on the crest of a ridge, and when I went to check for a safe bush to ‘mark our territories’, I spotted one of the males lying in the grass watching me from about 80m away. As he wasn’t too perturbed by our presence, we returned to the vehicle to have our drinks and wait for them to roar. Once finished, we got back in the game viewer and went to spend time with them – they got active at the time I predicted, but that was where my predictive skills ended, and despite guaranteeing my guests that they would roar that night, the lions had hunted on their minds and opted for a silent advance into the darkness, leaving me doubting my understanding of animal behavior.

The week also started with the Sark Breakaway Pride remaining in the area, and they were found just off the access road with a fresh buffalo kill one morning; the pride spent a day and a bit on the carcass before moving deeper into the Timbavati. Eric tracked them down a day later as they lazed in a small river bed, and the pride stuck around for another couple of days, making yet another buffalo kill during that time. That was the same evening that the Vuyela males set off on a mission and by morning, they had reunited with the Sark Breakaways, and were sporting bulging bellies – the eleven lions had finished an entire buffalo in a night. That wasn’t the only buffalo to meet its end that night, and about 2km further north, the third Vuyela male was sitting with a buffalo kill of his own that kept him going for the rest of the week.

If that wasn’t enough, the Mayambula Pride also made a return to our eastern sections when they were found close to Machaton Dam. All 20 members were present, and they were looking in fantastic condition. Having spent time with other lions of late, one can now see just how big the Mayambula females are compared to our other lions in the area. Their arrival back to the central regions coincides with the Vuyela males moving back to the west, and I suspect that this is how things will play out over the coming months – when the roaring in the east stops, the Mayambulas will feel confident moving back into the area, but when the Vuyela males are with the River Pride and announcing their presence, then the Mayambulas will move back towards the Kruger Park.

We also had a much better week of leopard viewing with some lovely sightings of the leopards in the west. Sunset was found in the very western part of her territory one afternoon when Scotch found her resting up a marula tree a few kilometers from camp; we followed her as she scent-marked and went for a drink. A few days later she was posing up another marula tree in the eastern part of her territory. She wasn’t the only one pushing the boundaries, and Mvuvu female and her daughter (although I won’t be surprised if it turns out to be a boy) had an impala kill on the plains again, but very close to Savanna’s territory…so close in fact that the one sighting we had of them had all three leopards in one sighting. Savanna didn’t push her luck against the bigger female and wandered off back to the east, giving us a great sighting as she leaped over a small stream before wandering off scent-marking as she went. Mvuvu stayed around for another day, and Scotch had a lovely sighting of her the next evening.

Our pack of wild dogs from the south made a return with their fifteen members and spent two days in the western regions of our concession before they headed off the property back to the southeast.

There were almost more sightings of dead buffalos than living ones this week, but we did see a few groups of bulls, and one small herd of 30-odd buffalos in the central region. The elephants also remained quieter than normal, but we had almost daily visits to Plains Camp from the resident elephant bulls in the area. The herds continued to be more prevalent in the eastern and central parts, but we did catch up with some breeding herds in the western sections too.

On the bird front, the highlight for me was no doubt seeing a newly hatched red-crested korhaan chick – it was an incredibly cute little ball of fluff following behind mom. The vultures continued to be seen all over the show – no surprises there though, especially not with the lions and wild dogs in the area. We got to see all five of the vulture species present in the area, including the rarer hooded, white-headed, cape, and lappet-faced vultures.

And that is that! I am on drive for a few more days next week before heading for some time off, so be sure to check back again next week to on what sightings we have been enjoying here in the heart of the Timbavati.

Until next time, cheers!