A Week of Feasting Felines in Photos

Another week has passed, and we still have to pinch ourselves every day we arrive back at our beautiful new camp. I did have to smile when Scotch got back from a month’s leave – he went away when the grass was still being laid on the lawns, no furniture had been unpacked, and the camp was a far cry from what it was when he arrived back last week… he just walked around with a massive grin on his face as we showed him the suites, the main bar area and everything else that had come together over the past weeks. I am not going to lie, the fact that we had a cracking week of game viewing made being back home even sweeter, and we were left with many happy guests.

On the last drive of last week’s reporting period, we managed to find a fresh impala kill close to our bush breakfast site and excitedly went out in the afternoon to see some leopards – yes, leopards. We knew that it was Nyeleti that had made the kill, stashed it, and headed off to go and fetch her two daughters. Together with another guide, we began back-tracking Nyeleti as her tracks headed to the northern boundary of our concession – the daughters have spent the past couple of weeks about 2km north of our concession – and from the reports on her tracks north of the boundary, she had found one youngster and the tracks were heading back; Given told us to go and check one riverbed crossing where she likes to come back through, and sure enough, the tracks for both of them were there, and within a few minutes we were watching two leopards strolling back towards their kill; it had taken us all drive, but we did it! Nyeleti had left the kill on the ground and knew she had to get back there to hoist the kill before the hyenas found it. Like London buses, we had no sooner enjoyed our sighting of Nyeleti when we found Thumbela’s 2.5-year-old son at Machaton Dam – it has been ages since we saw him, and it was good to see he was still around and doing well.

The next morning we checked on Nyeleti’s kill, and she was nowhere to be seen – she had gone off to find her other daughter; what a diligent mother. This was made more impressive by the fact that the total round trip to find each daughter was around 12-15km. Late in the morning, reports from the north came through that her tracks were heading back south, and as we were close by, we went to see if lightning could strike twice – and arriving at our northern boundary, found fresh, fresh tracks for them coming into our concession along the road we had just driven; turning around, her tracks were on top of my vehicle tracks from not 5 minutes earlier, and we soon found the other daughter being led back to the kill. This gave us two days of good viewing of the leap, and following this, tracks for the two daughters gave us the run around near camp, and after three drives of trying without success, we gave up, only for the girls to be found with their duiker kill on the one drive we didn’t attempt to track them! To round off a good week of leopard viewing, Thumbela young male also had his impala kill stashed up a marula tree in the east for a couple of days and gave us some more wonderful viewing.

Despite the good leopard viewing, the highlights of the week for me were no doubt the sightings we had of the Mayambula Pride. After a day of failed tracking when we tracked the pride off of our southern boundary, the pride returned with a bang when they woke up guides close to Nkhari Homestead as they fed on a wildebeest kill. We arrived with the pride still growling and fighting over the remains of the kill, with one Skorro male present. Since the altercation with the Vuyela males last week, there had been no sign of the other male, and based on his past injuries, his lack of appearance, and the nervousness of the other Skorro male, many of us assumed the worst – that the Vuyela males had caught him and put an end to his life. When the lions were feeding on the wildebeest, another male lion roared nearby, and as there was no initial reaction from the pride, I thought that it may have been the missing Skorro male – maybe he wasn’t dead. Then one subadult male from the Mayambula pride jumped up and ran off to the south… then another, and within seconds the entire pride – Skorro male included – had abandoned their kill and were running off. One lioness that had missed out on the feeding frenzy wasn’t going to leave so easily, and began eating – the hyenas that had been keeping their distance soon realised they had a chance with only one lion left, and gathered around and soon their excited calls drove the lioness away and she ran off to join the pride and the hyena’s patience paid off. We waited for the other male to arrive, but he took his time, so left the area after the hyenas were done and rejoined the Mayambulas as they went to drink, but they were constantly looking over their shoulders. Even when they settled, the older lionesses kept on moving the pride towards safety. We eventually left then and saw why they were not happy – a single Vuyela male was only a few hundred meters behind them. Between us leaving and Tristan relocating them, the Vuyela male must have made contact and outnumbered 16-to-1, he was sent packing, and this allowed the Maymabula Pride to eventually settle.

A couple of days later the pride returned to the heart of their territory in the south-east, and I had no sooner arrived at the sighting and could see the youngsters stalking when the cry of a zebra came from a few hundred meters ahead of us – they had just caught themselves breakfast; we rushed around to find the most impressive sight of 19 lions all fighting over a fresh kill (the lioness with the two-year-old cubs had rejoined the pride). The sounds were as intense as the visuals – such as when a sub-adult ripped a fully formed foal from the zebra’s womb – and it was a sighting that left us all in awe. The pride hung around for a couple of days, and if that wasn’t enough when we saw them the next day, the second, skinny Skorro male had come back from the dead and rejoined the pride, taking them back to twenty members! I could scarcely believe he was still alive and had no idea where he had been hiding. To help the situation, Scotch found them with another zebra kill a couple of days later, ensuring that the male got a much needed meal.

Elsewhere in the lion work, there were reports of the Giraffe Pride being active on the plains in the west, and the River Pride females and Vuyela males continued to move around the central regions (we found one male walking around roaring after drinks one evening), and the Sark Breakaways were reported on our periphery one evening. So, it was a busy week for the lions, but the dynamics of the Mayambula Pride and their attempts to evade the Vuyela males proved that it is a long way from being over this week – the Vuyela’s have yet to follow the pride into the heart of their territories, and this is where the pride seemed to find their only solace. We hope that the two Skorro males can regain their condition and confidence and put in a last effort to defend their pride, at least for another few months to give the youngsters a chance to make it to adulthood.

Big cats aside, we had a few sightings of a pack of six wild dogs – it is the same collared pack that we were seeing regularly at Plains Camp, but they seem to have shifted their movements much deeper into the Timbavati – maybe they are over ducking and diving through fences beyond the border of the Greater Kruger region? We still await our first cheetah sighting since our return to Tanda Tula Safari Camp.

The elephants that were in absolute abundance last week took some time off, and we had to work harder to find their pachyderms in the central regions, but there were still resident herds for those that wanted to see them. The groups of buffalo bulls were joined by another 300-400 buffalo this week when a massive herd began moving into the concession from the north – it is the same herd that our enormously-horned non-binary buffalo is part of; this individual was seen with them this week, but I sadly couldn’t find him when I went looking.

Giraffes and zebras continue to make their presence felt in the eastern sections, and we had some more good sightings of ostrich, kudu, nyala, warthogs, honey badgers, hyenas, and much more this week. For those of you that met him at Plains Camp, you will also be happy to know that Nova, our African wild cat, is also loving his new home and has settled very well into life back at Tanda Tula Safari Camp.

And that folks, is that! I am away for my leave, so there will no doubt be some special sightings (which I am sure will include a cheetah or two knowing my luck) in my absence, but I will keep you updated on those upon my return.

Until next time!