Another week has come and gone, and after a weekend that saw South Africa proudly lifting the rugby world cup trophy, we were in a joyous mood across the nation. Now we just need our cricketers to follow the lead of their fellow countrymen, and we will have even more reason to celebrate being South African!
In the absence of sport, and in their own worlds, the animals of the Timbavati carried on with their business, providing us with some good game viewing across a range of conditions over the past week. From hot, sunny and sweltering days to cool, windy ones, it was a week that saw it all. And with the forecast for the coming week being one of cold, rainy conditions, it might be a very green looking Timbavati by the time I get back from my leave next week (yes, I am heading off again, but only for a week this time).
From being the stars of last week’s lion sightings, the Sark Breakaways did an about turn and barely showed themselves in the past seven days! The cubs were around for a couple of days, but the lions eventually moved into the Klaserie for a few days; Formen saw them crossing back yesterday afternoon, so we hope that we can catch up with the pride over the coming days. Interestingly, although the breakaway portion was absent, some members of the original Sark pride made their first recorded appearance in the Timabvati! Four unknown lionesses were found in the heart of Giraffe Pride territory near Plains Camp at the start of the week, and we got to catch up with two of the Sark lionesses the next day. Sadly, my first introduction to these ladies was not the most pleasant one as you will read about shortly. Exactly why they have moved from the south-western section of the Klaserie into the Timbavati is uncertain, but they were again seen later on in the week on Savannah Plains, a stronghold of the Giraffe Pride. The latter pride had been active some distance south of our concession early in the week but returned with the Hercules male towards the end of the week and after a day on Savannah Plains in the west, were seen feasting on a zebra kill much further east and spent the next couple of days in the area before crossing into the Klaserie. If the arrival of the Sark pride was unexpected, then the appearance of five unknown lions in the middle of concession was downright surprising! I was about to head into the east in the hope of relocating on a single Mayambula pride lioness that had been found by Ginger in the morning when a radio call came through that some lions were found just west of Tanda Tula Safari Camp. When we got word that all 13 members of the Sark Breakaways were found to the west of our concession, my interest got piqued. Based on the lions’ reactions, they were not terribly used to vehicles and were a little bit antsy and aggressive when first found. I got there after dark, and they were much calmer and at ease with us following them but as they were on the hunt in windy conditions, they didn’t make it easy for me to get clear ID photos. Their tracks headed south the next day, and we saw no further signs of them after that, so goodness knows where they ended up, or if they will return. As the week ended, the Vuyela males moved back into the area, and they were seen in pairs or singularly across the week. After finishing off their honeymoons, the River Pride lionesses disappeared back north, but returned with a bang on the weekend when they woke up Scotch as they fought over an impala kill on the edge of camp. Scotch found them in the morning as they finished off the kill, but as soon as they did, they turned back north and marched in the direction where the one lioness has her cubs; the youngest lioness is also looking quite pregnant now. We can only hope that she has her cubs further south and closer to our concession so that we can see them more regularly…but with six different prides showing themselves this week, I don’t think we can complain too much.
The presence of the lions may have affected the leopard viewing to a degree, but we had a few sightings of these spotted beauties. The week started with the Mafufunyane female still in possession of her impala kill near Macahton Dam, but sadly one morning she decided to try and move the scant remains of her three-day feast and a nearby hyena ran in and took it from her; the leopard hung around for a bit, had a drink, snarled at the lurking hyenas and then moved off towards a thicket where we left her in peace. Her tracks criss-crossed the eastern sections over the course of the week, but no further sightings of this large leopardess were enjoyed. On the contrary, Nyeleti made a welcome return and was found with an impala kill of her own near Impala Dam, just west of Tanda Tula. She spent three days with her bounty, and we got some good viewing of her as she lazed about in and around her kill. The next morning, she surprised us when Glen spotted a leopard lounging in a marula tree in the eastern sections. Suspecting it was N’weti, we approached as I began explaining that “this is the daughter of the leopard we’ve seen the last couple of days, and last time we saw her she had two cubs, blah blah blah”, only to pull up to the tree and see that it was indeed Nyeleti in the heart of her daughter’s territory!
The most intense sighting of the week belonged to some wild dogs. Although we were very happy to welcome back the pack of 30 wild dogs to our area when they spent three days in the western sector, it was actually a small pack of five dogs in the same area that were the unfortunate participants in the sighting I alluded to earlier. We joined the sighting of the pack as they got active and the two adults and three pups headed off on an afternoon hunt, angling towards a small clearing that almost always has some impalas on it…alarmingly, it was the same clearing that two Sark lionesses had been seen resting on in the morning. Even before the dogs got to the clearing, I had told my guests that I had a bad feeling about this sighting, as the dogs were running in a dense area and had no idea the lions were around – indeed, even we did not know where the lionesses had moved to during the course of the day. The wild dogs found the impala, and after a brief stalk chased after the antelopes who all scattered in different directions into the surrounding thickets. We sat and listened, and soon heard the excited chattering of the wild dogs, so headed off into the bush to try and relocate them on a kill. After a couple of hundred metres, I turned off to listen again, but this time the chattering was gone, and all we heard were growls and barks. It was then that I realised that there had been a kill; just not the one I wanted. Instead, it was the very one I had feared – the wild dogs had run into the lions, and the lions had caught one. Searching the thickets, the frenzied running around of hyenas let us know we were close, and we soon came across two lionesses; one catching her breathe on a mound, and another in a thicket, feeding on a wild dog pup. The remaining four wild dogs had managed to escape, but it was too late for the third pup. It was not the easiest sighting to watch, but it is nature, and we are always privileged to be privy to these rare moments.
The elephants continued to enjoy the areas surrounding Tanda Tula and remained regular visitors to the camp waterhole throughout the week, especially on the warmer days – our guests enjoyed over 40 elephants drinking and bathing one warm afternoon. We also continued to have resident buffalo bulls in the area around camp, and two different breeding herds of buffalos visited us, one herd came on three days during the week. The area also abounded with giraffes, especially the central and eastern areas, and Scotch watched as 18 giraffes stared at the passing River Pride lionesses after they left their kill outside Tanda Tula.
It was once again a most enjoyable week out there with some memorable moments. Let’s hope that the same fortunes are on offer for our guests arriving this week, and that the cold, windy weather plays into our hands as it has done so recently.
Until next time!