A Week of The First Rains in Photos

Just as we were starting to worry that our pans and waterholes were about to dry ahead of a hot, dry summer, the rain gods were incredibly kind to send us the first proper rains of the season, and over the course of 24 hours, we received 40mm of rain to kickstart the summer rainy season. It had an immediate effect of settling the dust (once more revealing the spectacular Drakensberg mountains), cooling things down, and rejuvenating the dry grasses. Within a day of the rain, the first green shoots were emerging from the burnt areas, and by the end of the week, some of the new blades were almost a couple of inches long! The perennial grasses started to turn a shade of green too, and slowly buds began to emerge on numerous tree species across the central Timbavati! Most of the smaller pans filled with water, and even Machaton Dam was given a lifeline, filling up somewhat from where it had been just seven short days ago.  The cool weather that followed allowed the water to settle into the soil as opposed to simply evapourating into the air. I do however fear that with a strong El Ninò forecast for this summer, it won’t be long before the hot, dry conditions return and will begin to relentlessly suck the moisture out of the wallows and greening grasses, once more returning the bush to a browner shade. I do sincerely hope I am wrong though! One thing the rain did do was ruin my standard plan of hitting the few remaining waterholes at the start of a hot afternoon, as with water now spread everywhere across the Timbavati, the animals could go and drink wherever they wanted; this did make for tougher guiding conditions, but as you will see, it was still another wonderful week out there!

I perhaps gave too much credit to our leopards last week and fell into the trap of thinking that they would be around daily when I opted not to turn around and go back and see a leopard (Nyeleti’s daughter) at a kill I had just passed (she wasn’t there when I drove past minutes earlier). It took me another six drives before I got to show my guests a leopard, but the rain and limited off-road driving were largely to blame for that. Fortunately, the dry spell was broken when the alarm calls of impalas outside of Tanda Tula Safari Camp drew Scotch’s attention, and upon following up found Mafufunyane female suffocating a massive male impala! This was the same leopard that charged me last week, and whilst Scotch initially thought it was a young male leopard (the guides made the same mistake last week – she is just a massive female), I soon realised who it was when, whilst taking a break from dragging the carcass towards cover, she snarled at us! Not wanting to tempt fate again, we gave her the space she wanted and watched her impressive strength as she dragged the 50kg carcass a couple of hundred metres to some suitable cover. Earlier in the week, N’weti was found resting up a marula tree with a steenbuck kill of her own, but strangely she didn’t go and fetch her cubs. I am not sure if they were too far away or if something has happened to them, but it did strike me as odd that they weren’t there. Some interesting news was the subsequent identification of a young male leopard seen last week. He is a young male born in a private concession on the eastern boundary of the Kruger over 60km away! He is known as the Dumbana 3:3 male, and interestingly, his brother (Dumbana 1:1) was also seen in the western part of our concession this week too! The 1:1 male (reference to his spot patterns) was first seen in the Timbavati at the end of July, while the 3:3 male stayed near the Mozambique border, but in the space of a couple of weeks, the latter managed to make his way to the Timbavati, inadvertently ending up in an adjacent area to his brother! It would be wonderful if these boys could hang around, but with the number of other males around, I am not overly confident. We also had a sighting of Sunset young female, when she was treed by a pack of four wild dogs. I suspect they chased a steenbuck into the leopard, and she opportunistically grabbed it and headed into the middle of the closest thorn tree to get out of the way of the dogs!

On the lion front, we got to enjoy some good moments with the Giraffe Pride when 18 of the pride members were found in the south-west on the first rainy day. Despite the rain, we managed a great sighting as the pride got up to hunt in ideal conditions. A couple of sunny days earlier, the pride had been quite far east in their territory, but upon following up the next morning, we found nine members of the Sark Breakaways in the area instead! The River Pride females visited only once before returning north (no doubt drawn back to the cubs, which have “sadly” been confirmed to be only tawny cubs and not one white cub as previously reported). The Vuyela males remained very active around Tanda Tula Safari Camp and could be heard roaring most nights, if not on the drive, then at least from our Safari Suites. Towards the end of the week, the scar-eyed male picked up a nasty set of wounds on his rump, and the other dark-maned male got a good puncture wound on his lip. From the sounds of their roars, they spent the night sleeping off fat bellies close to camp and only moved off in the morning, so I am not sure who they had an altercation with. This leads me to believe they fought with one another! There were roars to the south a few times during the week, which could possibly be from the Birmingham Breakaways; time will tell if they decide to make a push for Vuyela territory. There were no signs of the Mayambula pride this week. 

Aside from the small pack of four wild dogs, there were only reports of a pack of eight dogs in the far west, but no further signs of the large pack of 30. The cheetahs decided not to play along again this week, which means they have to be closer to making a return!

It was a cracking week for elephants yet again, and following the rains, there were good elephant herds across the concession, but especially around Tanda Tula Safari Camp. Apollo showed himself on a couple of occasions in the eastern sections, but it won’t be long before he heads off back into the Kruger National Park, and we will have to wait until next winter for his return. We even had a few buffalo bulls that decided to spend some time around the camp. A herd of 100-plus buffalos briefly passed through the northern sections, but the herds once again remained elusive. Giraffes abounded in the central and eastern sections, and we also enjoyed good zebra activity in the area once more this week.

On the bird front, we got very excited when it appeared as though the ostriches had a clutch of eggs in the open woodlands in the east, and both the male and female were seen incubating eggs, but by the end of the week they had disappeared, and upon investigating further, there were no signs of any eggs. Goodness knows what happened to them, but hopefully they lay some more soon. We also had a few sightings of the endangered southern ground hornbills across the concession.

And that, folks, is that! I trust you enjoyed another recap of the happenings around Tanda Tula, and be sure to check back next week for some more updates! 

Until next time!