Hello, hello, and hello once again! I trust that this finds all of you off to a good start in 2024 – happy new year to everyone! I hope that you all enjoyed your festive season, wherever in the world you found yourselves. We had a wonderful end to 2023, not only because we got to share the magic of the Timbavati with our glorious guests, but also because we received over 75mm (3 inches) of rain towards the end of December, which turned this part of the Greater Kruger into a glowing green gem! The year started off with some incredibly mild weather compared to our usual summer standards, and staff, guests, and animals were most grateful for this! With the effects of a strong El Niño still looming, we won’t get too excited about the green surrounds just yet, as El Ninõ is well known for bringing premature ends to our summers and leaving us with long, dry winters. For now, though, we are loving being surrounded by the verdant hues of summer, and based on the sightings we have enjoyed over the past month since the last blog, it seems as though the animals have been making the most of the conditions out there.
As is so often the case in summer, one of the highlights for me is always the abundance of general game in the area – along with their babies! Zebra herds are found grazing across the reserve, the wildebeest and their calves are camped out in the open areas, and there are lots of giraffe, all across the central Timabvati. Herds of hundreds of impalas with their lambs also spend time in the open areas that now sport natural pans all filled with water and short, nutritious green grasses to help nourish the nursing mothers. Dung beetles hover around the copious excretes of the megaherbivores that are also now found across the reserve. Despite the water available across the reserve, we still see elephants coming to drink at the camp waterhole most days, and out on drives, elephant herds are found in all corners of the reserves. Buffalo bulls can be found every afternoon resting in the different mud wallows, and we even had a large breeding herd of buffalo moving around the western parts over the past week. Warthogs and their piglets are running around in the long grass, and it won’t be long before the kudu and waterbuck calves start emerging. Summer really is a time full of life!
We have been very blessed to have the prospect of two litters of leopard cubs to look forward to in 2024! Towards the end of December, it was noted that Nyeleti had given birth to her new litter, and for now, they remain well hidden on the thick banks of the Nhlaralumi Riverbed. Nyeleti’s behaviour has returned to normal now that she has had her cubs, and she has been providing some consistently good viewing – she was in fact the last sighting we saw on our way back to camp on New Year’s Eve! When I was away over the Christmas period, Nyeleti and both of her daughters were found with a kill close to our Bush Breakfast site, although the new mother was evidently not so pleased to have her previous litter hanging around. We also reported that Mafufunyane female had a litter of cubs in the east at the end of November. We managed to get our first glimpse of these two bundles of cuteness at their den site one morning – although mom was lying in a thicket nursing the cubs, both mom and cubs seemed very comfortable with us. Although I won’t get too excited just yet, it was a far better sighting than I had expected based on her feisty behaviour. We didn’t stay long as there were lions close by, and when we went around to the lions, they actually picked up on her scent and went to investigate – Mafufunyane ascended a small tree, and the lions soon realised that there was no food around and left the leopards to be. I am not sure if she will hang around that den site following that sighting, but we will keep cautiously monitoring the area. A leopard suspected to be Marula Jr. and her son were found to the west of camp one afternoon, and then Tristan found her again at the start of the year. Although we still await confirmation on that ID, it would be great if she did start moving back into our area.
While our lions have not had any more cubs (there was a suspicion that one River Pride lioness had dropped her cubs, this now doesn’t seem as certain), the three litters that were born in the second half of 2023 are all still alive and well. The Sark Breakaways got the new year off to a cracking start when they caught a young zebra while Scotch and Steven were watching them late one morning. They continue to pop in and out of our western sections, showing a particular affinity for the areas around Nkhari. The River Pride are moving great distances, which takes them way north in the Timabvati, but invariably brings them back to our area. Around Christmas, the pride was seen with a few different kills in the area. The Vuyela males have been following them north, but after a couple of days of absence, they usually return with a notable need to lay claim to their territory and roar through the night. One of the Vuyela males was seemingly seen close to the Mayambula Pride while I was on leave. With seventeen members around, the Vuyela male wasn’t interested in getting too close. Aside from that sighting, the Mayambulas have not been overly active in the east, with their tracks being seen more than the lions themselves. In the west, the Giraffe Pride continues to operate around the plains that are also brim-full of game…unless it was the day I went down there and it poured with rain!
Fortunately, that trip was not in vain, as I had gone to look for wild dogs, and we got to see two different packs! A pack of eight has been active in the west, a small pack of four was running around the central regions this week, and as I type this, the big pack of 20+ dogs is presently resting near the waterhole outside Tanda Tula…of course, this only happens when I am not on game drive!
Rounding off the big game sightings for the period, we were lucky enough to have several cheetah sightings in the area over the past few weeks; the mother and her growing cub were the most consistent in the middle of December, being seen four times over a couple of weeks, including finishing off an impala kill one morning. Formen then found two cheetahs crossing our access road close to Tanda Tula a few days ago, but we are not sure which two cheetahs they were – when they were found north of our concession the next day, it sounded like they were both very relaxed. A couple of days later, a very relaxed male was also found on Nkhari – we are also not sure who he is, but his tracks were seen in the eastern sections the next morning, so I am hoping that it is not one of our dominant males that has lost his partner? Hopefully 2024 will be a year of continued improvement in the cheetah viewing in this area.
And that, folks, is that! I look forward to sharing many more magic moments over the course of the year, so please be sure to keep an eye on our social media pages for all our updates straight from the heart of the Timbavati!
Until next time!