Wow, our weatherman was not wrong…to say that this week has been a hot one would be the understatement of the year! The temperatures touched the high 30s on a daily basis, and aside from a couple of drives with a light cloud cover that gave us a little reprieve, we were finding ourselves going out earlier in the mornings and later in the afternoons just to avoid the intense heat – and we weren’t the only ones! Our waterhole at camp was well frequented this week by buffalos, elephants, impalas, wild dogs, wildebeest, warthogs, hyenas, and the resident nyalas, as well as a few more days with the lone hippo bull before he moved somewhere else. The lush green that had carpeted the Timbavati only a week ago now seemed like a distant memory as the hot sun burnt the moisture out of the grasses and plants, and by the end of the week, the bush was looking decidedly thirsty. That being said, it is still greener than we have seen in years past at this time of the year, but with the onset of a strong El Ninò, we can expect a summer of hot, dry conditions.
There is no doubt that the animals felt the heat, but we were still able to enjoy some good game viewing across the week, even if there were the odd quiet patches as the animals hid in the shade. The lions were the stars of the week, and we saw no fewer than 62 lions in our concession this past week, with all the prides showing face. The Mayambula Pride returned a couple of days after their double zebra and giraffe feast, and Tristan found 12 members walking with purpose in the eastern areas, despite the late morning heat. The next day, we tracked them into the deep, shady Machaton Riverbed but had no sightings of them beyond that; not that we missed them too much. At the same time, the River Pride were walking around the central areas with one Vuyela male, and with their cubs hidden on the banks of the Nhlaralumi near Tanda Tula Safari Camp, we caught up with them several times. They ended the week with a large buffalo bull kill, and this led to some very fat bellies for lionesses and cubs alike. Fortunately for the pride, two Vuyela males were also present, and this helped keep the behaviour of the decrepit Skorro male in check. Although I missed it, this intruding male was found with the River Pride’s cubs, as well as the Vuyela males at the kill – how (and why) they tolerated him is a mystery (perhaps it was his kill? Although in his state, I am not sure he would have had the strength to pull a buffalo of that size down), but there was a point where this tolerance ran out, and it appears that upon trying to return to the area, the Skorro male was fatally injured by the Vuyelas and River Pride and succumbed to his wounds on Sunday. A sad end to a once majestic male.
Speaking of pulling buffalos down, the Hercules male managed to get himself a young buffalo in the west one evening, but when 23 members of his Giraffe Pride arrived, he had no option but to share with them! Twenty members of the pride had been seen in the same area a few days before, and it is always such a treat to see so many lions together. I also got my first sightings of the two cubs – they are about the same age as the River Pride cubs. The four Sark Breakaway cubs returned late in the week in the far western portions of their territory, and together with the nine adults and a Vuyela male, made for quite a traffic jam on our access road! All in all, it was a great week for lion viewing across the reserve.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for our leopards once again, and Nyeleti was the only one playing along to any degree – we saw her a couple of times, including one morning right opposite one of the Safari Suites at Tanda Tula when she had the remains of an impala hoisted up a small tree in the riverbed. I suspect she somehow stole the remains of the kill from a hyena, as the night before I had watched a hyena come chasing an impala past me whilst I was having a barbeque on a rare night off! The lone hyena succeeded in catching the unfortunate ram in the riverbed below suite 8 and ate the poor antelope alive. As it was only one hyena, I think that it sat feeding on it for a while, and when a gap presented itself, Nyeleti ran in and stole the remains. Mafufunyane was around in the east on one occasion, and a leopardess with an impala kill spent four days in the west, but as she was a little shy, only showed herself at night. We actually caught up with her on another occasion when we were heading back to camp and saw her resting up a large tree before descending and disappearing into the darkness.
The leopards were not the only spots to “not play along” this week. Well, I think Dale will have a different story, but my take is that it was very rude of two cheetahs to pitch up on my only afternoon off! Dale headed east to get away from the sun and was well rewarded when he found a relaxed female cheetah with an incredibly relaxed subadult cub! The youngster was full of life and interactions with the mother and put on quite a show. Sadly, that was the last time they were seen this week, but fingers crossed they hang around.
We also had a few visits from the big pack of 26 wild dogs (I eventually got to count them properly) in both the central and western sections. The week started with the pack being found close to Tanda Tula for a couple of days in a row, and they made full use of the baby impalas around, as every time we saw them, one of the pups was running around with an impala head in its mouth! I had guests that really wanted to see a kill, and with the dogs in attendance, I was quietly confident, but the heat was even too much for them, and with fat bellies, they did not put too much effort into the evening hunt, and in typical dog fashion, the next day they were gone. They did resurface in the west later in the week and spent two days in those areas feasting on impalas. Needless to say, I witnessed the previously mentioned hyena kill the evening my guests checked out!! Maybe next time.
The elephants were a little up and down this week, but the herds did have a good general presence, ending off the week with a good number moving into the area. The waterholes became a favourite spot to find them, along with our resident buffalo bulls, and even a couple of herds of buffalos too. A herd of 80 was in the eastern part of the concession towards the end of the week, with a larger herd moving around the western parts of the property. Even the zebras and giraffes fluctuated, and some moments they were difficult to find, and the next they were out in force; we did have a lovely sighting of a herd of 16 members around a waterhole late one morning and got to see some good interactions too.
Be sure to check back next week to see if our good run of form continues…and if it was anything like this morning’s drive, we are in for one crazy week!
Until next time!