Greetings, and welcome back to your weekly fix of photos and updates from Tanda Tula. It was lovely to be out on drive for the whole week, although I paid the price by having some 2000 photos to sift through and then narrow it down to what you all get to enjoy on the blog and social media! It was an odd week of weather for summer, with the days being quite warm but unusually humid. Humid weather typically results in some rain, but aside from a couple of periods of light drizzle at night, we didn’t receive enough rain to even register on the rain gauge. A storm did blow over one hot afternoon, but it appeared to reserve its rainfall for the northern half of the Timbavati, leaving the central and southern regions dry. This lack of rain for the past couple of weeks has led to some areas beginning to once again be covered in browning grass and the smaller pans and wallows drying out. Despite there not being any rain forecast for the next week, we still have another couple of months left of the rainy season to help top up the pans and nourish the soils before we move into the dry winter. While winter too is a few months away, the days are shortening and the nights are cooling. Before we know it, the green season will be a thing of the past!
For now, though, the summer continues to be one dominated by the lions. There were a couple of interesting developments this past week; it appears as though the older lioness of the River Pride has given birth to a new litter of cubs; her heavy lactation, evident suckle marks, and separation from the other lionesses are all good signs. She appears to have had the cubs in the Machaton riverbed to the east of Tanda Tula Safari Camp, but the cubs are likely only about two weeks old, and we will only get our first views of them towards the end of March. The other youngest lioness of the pride kept the new mother company on a few occasions, but she eventually moved into the northern Timbavati, where reports suggest that the pride with the three cubs had a good few days of hunting success some distance from their territorial core. One potential explanation was the return of the Birmingham Breakaway males to our concession. A single male was found in the company of two Mayambula lionesses in the south-east, and with one of those lionesses also sporting fresh suckle marks (and the other being pregnant), it appears as though these males have already sired the first cubs of the next generation of the Mayambula Pride. A couple of days later, we tracked down four of the Birmingham Breakaways, and they have definitely grown in size and stature since I last saw them! Dark manes adorn their widening heads, and for the first time, I saw the real threat they could pose to the Vuyela males. Although the Mayambula Pride’s tracks once more crossed through the area, there was no further sign of them this week. The Vuyela males continued to be very evident across the central and western parts of our area, with a couple of members joining up with the Sark Breakaways. We enjoyed fourteen of these lions one cool morning as they rested off after a good meal. Later in the day, some elephants chased them towards a natural pan where they drank and then collectively roared their dominance over this part of the Timbavati. They spent much of the week in the area, being seen with their four cubs on a wildebeest kill in the west before pushing right to the western parts of their boundary. There were only reports of fragments of the Giraffe Pride and no more sightings of the Sark Pride.
The leopards continued to frustrate me, although the other guides seemed to have better luck than me this week. After a couple of days of searching, Eric eventually joyfully turned around to the guests and asked, “Would you like to see a leopard?”. The distant leopard he had expertly spotted resting up a marula tree turned out to be the large Xiwumbane male, but sadly that day he was not in the mood for company and descended the tree before we could get much closer. Fortunately, we did get a good sighting of Nyeleti’s relaxed daughter later that afternoon, and it is encouraging to see how much more relaxed she is becoming. She was found a couple of times during the week, but it was invariably right at the end of the drive as we were arriving back at camp. Nyeleti left tracks around but proved elusive, as did N’weti. Given and Ginger tracked down an unidentified female leopard to the west of Tanda Tula, and I have my suspicions that it could be Marula Jnr, but that is speculation.
With me being on drive all week, it was no surprise that the cheetahs remained absent this week – but trust me, they will be seen next week when I am off drive for a couple of days! I did wake up at 4am to the whooping calls of wild dogs one morning, and after getting temporarily distracted by some lions as we headed east, we did manage to find three members of a pack. Their constant calls told us that there were missing members, but as the pack was not seen or heard for the rest of the week, we couldn’t be sure how many members there were. The northern pack lived up to their name and remained in the very northern Timbavati this week.
As much as I moan about having bad luck with cheetahs, I cannot complain about the luck we had the evening after the wild dog and leopard sightings. We were making our way slowly back to Tanda Tula when one of the guides called in a pangolin! Having a very experienced safari-goer and return guest with me who had never seen a pangolin, it didn’t require a second thought about heading off to see it! To say Roger was overjoyed with this sighting would be an understatement of note! What a treat to not only see these holy grails of the Greater Kruger, but an even bigger privilege to share the moment with someone who knows how rare such a sighting is. The animal was quite calm and sat watching us as we grabbed a few photos before leaving him to wander off into the darkness. We did pay for this lucky moment by spending the next two days unsuccessfully looking for more leopards, but such is the way of the bush…and like most people, we were happy to take the pangolin sighting!
The zebras remained in evidence throughout the week, but for the second week in a row, the giraffes were not as common as we are accustomed to, which is a little off. Fortunately, there were a number of elephant herds moving across the entire concession, and they showed up on almost every drive.
That is all I have time to share for this week. I trust you will enjoy the images, and I look forward to sharing more next week.
Until next time!