Hello folks, and a very happy new year to all of you. I trust that you all had a great end to 2022 and a relaxing start to the new year. It has been very busy for us here at Tanda Tula Plains Camp with a full camp over the Christmas and New Year period, but with the busy period past, we too are entering a slightly quieter couple of weeks. As we haven’t given you any updates over the past month, we thought it was well worth sharing some of our sightings and stories with you of how our 2022 ended. We can say that, for the most part, December certainly felt like summer. We reached 42 degrees Celsius on Christmas Day, but I do think that the guests that joined us for the New Year period no doubt thought we were making up stories as the temperatures plummet following a rainy night and we woke up to very windy and chilly conditions that persisted for two days.
The rain that it brought was most welcome, as there had been very little falling during the rest of the month. In the western sectors, we recorded no more than 49mm of rain (less than half of our average for December over the past five years); in the central regions around Tanda Tula Safari Camp, they received closer to 70mm – better, but still not great. The difference in this rain was most noticeable on our game drives to the east where the landscapes were lush and green; a stark contrast to the browning grasses and empty mud wallows that surrounded us in the west. For the most part, this didn’t seem to have much of an effect on the game, but towards the end of the month, we did notice that the elephants and buffalos had all moved towards greener pastures.
I was not driving guests for the first week of December, and this was then followed by two weeks of leave; it thus goes without saying that with my absence, the guides and guests enjoyed some wonderful game viewing. During that period, the areas around Plains Camp produced sightings of wild dogs, regular lions, leopards, and even a cheetah in the western parts. Tristan and Glen got to see a wildebeest give birth, and it just seemed like everyone was disappointed to see me when I came back to work. I am happy to report though, that for the first few days of being back on the drive, it seemed as though the animals hadn’t heard that I had returned and played along amazingly.
My first set of guests asked to see a leopard and a kill; as the pack of 20-odd wild dogs had spent most of the week around Plains Camp and were still resting up in the area, I was hopeful that they might deliver.
Tristan didn’t take long to call me for a leopard after he found Savannah female on the prowl close to camp (later that evening it looked as though she wanted to check in as she was at the gate). With the leopard satisfactorily ticked off, we bumbled around until the wild dogs got active and tried to keep up with them. We were in the process of trying to relocate them when the unmistakable squeal of a dying warthog gave us the helping hand we needed. We arrived to find the young wild dogs running around with a still-alive piglet in their mouths, and this was followed by another portion of the pack grabbing a second, and then a third piglet.
This drive set the bar for the week, and I am happy to say that for the most part, we managed to clear it quite easily most days. We awoke the next morning to find the Giraffe Pride on a wildebeest kill on the plains close to camp. On Christmas eve, we heard that some cheetahs had been seen in the open areas east of Tanda Tula Safari Camp, so headed off to look for them in the afternoon; after some good elephants and buffalos, we moved into the area and found the pair of well-fed brothers resting up on the road on the gabbro plains. After some time with them, we carried on to look for a drinking spot; the first spot had a crash of rhinos waiting on it so we carried on… the next preferred spot had fifteen lions preventing us from having a drink.
We thought that that afternoon was an early Christmas present, but when we went to open up the lodge on Christmas morning we were greeted by the sight of all 25 members of the Giraffe Pride resting on the plains just beyond the camp waterhole. The pride spent another three days on the plains and gave us a real treat daily; from playful cubs to the Hercules male eating a stolen impala kill next to camp.
Thinking that we had seen all we could, it was an incredible surprise to have finished drinks on the plains by camp one evening and drive a little down the road and see what I thought was a hippo grazing out of the water (which excited me was it had been a wish of my guests to see one out the water); Glen then pointed out that it was a rhino. It was getting dark, but I could see it wasn’t a “normal” rhino…upon picking up my binoculars, I almost couldn’t believe it when I saw that it was a black rhino. This sighting – only my 6th of a black rhino in over 15 years here – meant that my guests had done something no other guests of mine had ever done; they got to see the real Super 7 in their four nights… I say “real” as technically, it is the black rhino that is part of the Big 5 and not the white rhino; they had thus seen the Big 5 plus cheetahs and wild dogs.
Needless to say, the animals soon realized I was back at work and made us work a lot harder for our sightings as the weather changed and the year drew to a close.
Over the month, the lion sightings were incredibly good; the Giraffe Pride spent half the month within the area, but when they were absent, we could still count on the Sark Pride, the Vuyela males (who have been seen mating with the River Pride lionesses), the Birmingham Breakaway males (either a single male or the four – one other even began following the River Pride), the River Pride (splitting up more and more as the lionesses begin associating with other males) and the Mayambula Pride. The Mayambula’s seem to have had some bad luck since they were last around and it appears as though they have lost six youngsters; four of the small cubs and two of the older ones. During my week back the most I saw was 15 individuals, so I am not sure where the rest are, but we can only hope that whatever set of males is putting pressure on them, the Skorro males can keep them at bay. It does appear as though the Skorro males have been in the wars, but only time will tell if they were successful in chasing off the challengers. There was a report the white Birmingham male lion and two tawny siblings chased the Mayambula Pride off a kill just to the south of our concession just before Christmas.
Leopards have been difficult to come by, but Sunset female, Sunset’s daughter, Savannah female, Savannah’s son, Thumbela female, and Nyeleti and her two daughters have kept things ticking over. The latter trio had an impala kill in the east to help us end off the year on a leopard high.
In addition to the two cheetah brothers, there was also a sighting of a single male cheetah in the west this month.
The elephants were all over the show in the early stages of the month but as the heat and associated drying of the bush intensified, the herds and bulls did move off in search of greener pastures leaving us with a fifth of these gentle giants in the west, but a good number in the east. Buffalos were only represented by the clusters of bulls spread out in the central regions with very few herds moving into the area over the month (which is the usual trend for summer).
The general game was bountiful for most of December, especially on the plains, but when the lions moved in and began feasting on the wildebeest and zebras, the herds did have to move off. The lions were also reported with a couple of giraffes kills over the month, and it appears as though this also triggered a movement out of the area by many of the giraffes, especially the mothers and their calves around Plains Camp. We can however expect that as the rains come in January and the bush thickens up, the plains game will once again move back to the plains.
And that folks, is that. It was a great end to 2022 and we are all super excited to see what 2023 brings. It will be a massive year for us here at Tanda Tula as we get ever closer to moving back to the newly renovated Safari Camp. Please be sure to keep in touch with us on all of our social media platforms as we will keep on bringing a bit of the bush to you until you can come back and visit us.
Until next time, cheers!