Sitting typing this with my aircon blasting, I cannot believe that a week ago I was talking about a cold weather – following a week of temperatures in the mid- to high-30s (in Celsius, so high-90s in Fahrenheit), the cold weather seems like a distant memory. Despite the heat and continued drying of waterholes, the bush continued to let us know that spring has sprung. Amongst the otherwise dusty colours so typical of this time of year, the trees continued to burst into flower; whilst the knobthorns and long-tailed cassias continue to show off their yellow flowers, it was the tree wistarias that stole the show this week as they seemed to be blossoming all over the show. Not far behind were the white and yellow flowers of the gardenia’s, and although less showy, but even greater in number were the red bush willows and the dwarf bush cherries. Were it not for the heat making it feel like summer was here already, it would almost have felt like spring this past week! Luckily, the despite the heat, the game viewing continued to be excellent, and as if they read my blog last week, even the leopards came to the party!
In fact, it was probably our best week of leopard viewing in some time to the point where one could quite happily not respond to a sighting of a leopard, knowing that they would likely see one again in the next drive or two! Nyeleti, both her daughters, Tamboti male, Nkhari male, the “new” Thumbela, and another two males that I still need to identify all showed themselves in the eastern parts, whilst both Ntsongwaan male and Sunset were seen in the west. You might be asking who is the “new” Thumbela? With our blue-eyed gal seemingly having been pushed out of the area (I would say dead, but a friend told be that some guides saw her about 6 weeks back), a new face has moved in to take her territory, and she has pushed as far west as the Nhlaralumi riverbed – this is quite a move considering that our past couple of sightings of her have only been in the far eastern sections. I bumped into this leopardess just before I went on leave and was blown away by her apparent confidence with the vehicle when we first found her, but she soon moved off. This time around, I was left with no mistaken impressions as to how she felt. We followed up on a kill that Jack had tracked down near Tanda Tula Safari Camp one afternoon and found a leopard casually dragging the carcass towards some cover – not quite sure who it was, we approached slowly as she was sitting feeding in the grass. After a short while, she came charging through the long grass in our direction, but quickly returned to feeding as if nothing had happened. When I tried to move a couple of metres forward, she came towards us again, so we left her in peace and closed off the sighting until nightfall. The next night she was up in a large jackalberry feeding on the kill and couldn’t care any less that we were there! It was our first time seeing her with a kill, and at least now we know to keep our distance, but the fact that she is rather tolerant of the vehicle for a new face is an encouraging sign. Sadly she looks like she is already a mature leopard, so we are not sure how long she will be around for. Whilst she is no Thumbela (in nature and in looks), she has got the potential to provide for some good viewing in future.
It was also pleasing to see a few other leopards showing that they are getting more relaxed, especially at night. Glen tracked down another unknown male with a warthog kill one day, and we enjoyed a good (albeit patient) sighting of him as he came to drink one evening. On another occasion, the Nkhari male gave us a fair sighting one morning, but when he was located at a waterhole that evening, he was much more relaxed. Amazingly, when he approached a fully grown male that was roaring close by, the dominant male leopard barely even paid attention to the younger male! The large male (who hasn’t got a name, but we see him around the central areas) simply walked past the submissive male and went for drink. The Nkhari male followed behind, but got no response from the larger male – after his drink, the big male wandered off and the Nkhari male decided to go back to sleep. I can only imagine that this young male is indeed the son of the larger male, and hence there was not a response? Either way, it made for a fascinating sighting.
If the leopards were good, the lions were even better! One of my guests saw 50 different lions during her stay here, and we didn’t even go and see all the lions on offer! We did venture out west on two occasions to enjoy sightings of the Giraffe Pride, with there being 21 and then 19 members present. On the first occasion, we had no sooner pulled out and stopped for drinks where the growls of fighting lions hit our ears, but before we could even think about heading there, the fighting had stopped as the pride had already devoured their way through an impala kill in a matter of minutes! The lioness with the three new cubs has started bringing them into the concession, but no one has seen them yet – only their tracks. Fortunately, the Sark Breakaways were a little better with showing off their cubs, and I eventually got to see the four little ones (around four months old already). The pride continued to remain in the central and western areas, although as the week drew to a close, the Giraffe Pride (without the Hercules male) ventured into Sark territory! On the subject of cubs, it appears as though the River Pride have also had some new cubs; from the reports, there are three new faces. The bush grapevine alluded to one of the cubs being very light in colour, but I am hesitant to say that it could be a white lion until we see some proof. Despite having the cubs some distance north of our concession, the week ended with three lionesses and two Vuyela males spending the day near Tanda Tula. Still, they didn’t come quite as close as one of the Vuyela males and the youngest River Pride lioness that spent three days mating in the vicinity of camp – his roars woke us up one morning, and when we found them at the entrance to the camp, we understood why they were so loud! Add to this a sighting of 17 members of the Mayambula Pride hunting in the east, and you cannot have a bad week of lion viewing. The next morning there was evidence of a successful hunt on our eastern boundary, but with three of the Vuyela males in the area sniffing around, it was no surprise that the Mayambulas had moved further east. A few days later, a couple of members were found finishing off another zebra kill near our southern boundary, but this time it was two males (likely Birmingham Breakaways) that had chased them off the kill. Only Steven found one member of the pride after that.
Add to these great cat sightings many stunning elephant sightings (including a herd of over 50 at a waterhole one morning), resident buffalo bulls, and lots of zebras and giraffes, and you can see why it was such a great week! We also enjoyed sightings of a small pack of four wild dogs, and for those that saw them last week, we can luckily report back that the dog with his ripped scrotum is doing well enough and will hopefully make a full recovery. The large pack of dogs with their pups did not show this week, and sadly, neither did our cheetahs, but we cannot complain, as we were spoiled by the rest of the animals!
That is all I have time to share this week, but please be sure to check back again next Monday to see what else has happened here in the heart of the Timbavati!
Until next time!