Following the first rains last week, this week the sun shone bright (and hot) and supplied the solar energy needed to start changing the bush from a damp, brown landscape into one that is starting to bud with life wherever we look! The most astounding transformation came from the Mopane Pomegranate (Rhigozum zambesiacum) shrubs across the Timbavati that have all burst into a blaze of bright yellow flowers, seemingly overnight! Their vibrant golden blossoms almost overshadowed the still-glowing Tree Wistarias (Bolusanthus speciosus) with the mauve flowers (although interestingly, I came across a tree that was flowering pure white flowers – nature always provides some surprises for us!), as well as the host of trees budding fresh green leaf growth. Needless to say, the browsers were loving life, with kudus, giraffes, and elephants being seen in the area in good numbers. Although the temperatures warmed to the high 30s for most of the week, we did end off on a cooler note as a slightly windy weather system moved into the area. As with our recent windy weather changes, the change in conditions provided for some cracking game viewing, and we once again had a week of some stunning sightings.
Although this is a “week in pictures”, I managed to miss almost all of this week’s highlights with my camera, but fortunately, they made for far better videos, so do enjoy these little clips that some of our Tanda Tula guests managed to capture.
Firstly, a sighting that I won’t forget in a hurry. After a scintillating start to some guests’ stay at Safari Camp (see the next video to see how our first evening drive went down), we headed out a little later the next morning towards the sound of a roaring lion. While making our way there, a colleague managed to locate one of the Vuyela male lions not far from where we were, and we headed towards him. A group of giraffes scattered around some open woodland caught our attention, and we stopped to watch them. While watching the calves, we noticed three giraffes come running over the nearby crest and in our direction. At first, I thought it was due to the nearby lion, but I soon realised it was merely a young male giraffe pursuing a giraffe cow that was coming into oestrus. The pair soon settled near us when a larger giraffe bull approached her, and without much discussion, the smaller male moved off. A few minutes later, another large bull came walking over the crest with purpose. The male that had been courting the female most recently noticed this and immediately locked focus on the incoming bull; as the latter approached, we found ourselves right in the middle of the action, and I will never forget the scene of these two giants walking up to one another and meeting up about 20 metres from where we were parked; they circled each other once and then wasted no time in starting a bout of ‘necking‘ (this is how giraffes fight), the likes of which I had only ever seen on wildlife documentaries! Although the size difference between the males was obvious to us, it did take a few minutes of fighting before the smaller male realised he was outgunned and had to concede defeat. Have a look at this video to see the incredible intensity of these fights – simply unbelievable!
Driving away, the guests couldn’t believe our luck and commented that the giraffe sighting was even better than the lion sighting the night before…and that is saying a great deal, as we had an awesome sighting the night before. With gloomy, windy weather around, we knew that the nine members of the Sark Breakaway pride were likely to hunt. We arrived on a large clearing near Nkhari as the pride was eyeing some distant wildebeest; some lions had split off to do the chasing while the others waited in ambush. Sadly, for them, the distance was too great and the area too open, and they were eventually spotted, and the wildebeest ran off. Carrying on, we followed the pride for a bit before they stumbled upon some impalas in a much better hunting area – it had cover and the pride got down to business. We turned our lights off and waited. The nervous energy of running hooves soon broke the silence, and although a slight bellow came from the darkness, it wasn’t enough to trigger a reaction from me. It was only when the first growl emanated from the same patch of darkness that we realised that the lions had caught one, and we made our way to that area to find the sight of all nine lions fighting over their hors d’oeuvres for the night! What a sight, and what a sighting to kick off the week.
If that provided the excitement at the start of the week, our final sighting on the final drive of the week was the cherry on top of a great week of viewing. Following a windy night, some guides had tracked down Nyeleti’s daughter with a duiker kill; it was a sighting that drew quite a bit of vehicle attention, so we opted to enjoy a bush breakfast first and pass by the leopard on the way back to camp after breakfast. We could not have asked for a better sighting; the young female was resting up in the tree with her kill but was snarling constantly at the thick bushes on the banks of the Nhlaralumi. Dale had seen a leopard get flushed from that area by the elephants a little earlier, but I had assumed it was her sister. I was thus a little surprised when the Tamboti male showed up. He is limping badly, but this didn’t stop him from ascending the tree that housed the young leopard and her kill. He ignored her snarls and charged straight towards the kill; this led to the leopardess having to take evasive actions that amounted to being flung 20 feet out of the tree! She hit the ground running and moved out of the area to go sulk. Despite the fall, she looked none the worse for wear.
In between all this action, we were treated to all-around good general game viewing. The lions were once again quite active this week. The best part of the week was having the Sark Breakaways and their cubs set up base just outside Nkhari Homestead. The pride had made a buffalo kill in the area, but due to the fact we hadn’t driven there for two days, we missed it! Following the good feed, the pride spent three days in the same spot (anchored by the young cubs), but after that, they moved around and hunted in the area. We ended the week with 15 members of the pride lazing around a drying pan on Nkhari as two of the Vuyela males joined the pride, with one lioness seemingly coming into oestrus…maybe we will get more cubs soon! The only thing more impressive than 15 lions together this week was 20+ lions together! The Giraffe Pride spent a few days in the eastern part of their territory, which meant we didn’t have to travel too far to see them. They ended up finding the remains of a dead sub-adult hippo at Sunset Dam that the hyenas had been enjoying until that point. The next day, the three small cubs were seen with the pride, but we did not venture out west to see them. The Mayambula Pride visited our concession twice this week, but on both occasions, they walked around the eastern sections all night, but returned south on both occasions – this was no doubt due to the vocal nature of the Vuyela males. Only one lioness of the River Pride showed up this week.
The leopards were fairly good over the past week too; the Xiwumbane male was found with a large impala kill in the central areas, and we caught up with this beast of a leopard the next morning too as he headed off marking his territory. Mafufunyane female was around for a day with her impala kill, but as it was too large to get into a tree, the hyenas stole it and we only saw the odd tracks for her around the area later in the week. I was surprised to find a very relaxed young male leopard on our southern boundary one afternoon – at first, I thought it was the Dumbaba 3:3 male I mentioned last week, but upon investigating further, it was not him. His face looked familiar, but it is not a male I seem to have photographed before. As it turned out, while I was watching this male surveying his world from a termite mound, the Dumbana male was already back in his natal range over 60km away!
We were spoiled with two large herds of buffalo in the area to kick start the week – one herd was around 250 members and the other was close to 400 individuals (including our long-horned non-binary bull); they spent a couple of days in the area before moving off opposite sides of the concession, once again leaving us with just a few groups of buffalo bulls. The elephants were around every day, and most warm afternoons saw at least a herd of two visiting the waterhole at Tanda Tula Safari Camp. Apollo was seen a couple of times this week, but I failed to catch up with him, despite a few searches in the area.
One thing I did mention last week was that the ostrich nest seemed to have disappeared…so you can imagine my surprise and elation when we came across the pair of ostriches with almost a dozen newly hatched chicks! These were the youngest chicks I had ever seen (and probably only the fourth clutch I have been blessed to see here in the Timabvati), and it was a sighting I won’t forget in a hurry!
That helped round off a truly memorable week of game viewing, and I am now most sad that I will be going on leave, as I know I will be missing out on some great things. Fortunately, I am just away for one week, so will be back in action soon. This does mean that there will not be A Week In Pictures next week, but do keep a watch on our other social media platforms, as there will still be loads of great content coming your way!
Until next time!