A Week of Young Ones in Pictures 

I don’t think I have ever been so happy to get rained on during a game drive!  After almost two weeks, our heat wave broke, and we all rejoiced.  A dense cover of clouds and a strong breeze heralded the arrival of a change in the weather, and although we were a little wet by the end of our drive, we all thoroughly enjoyed the relief it brought from the heat, and even though it was only around 11mm of rain that fell, it had an immediate impact on the surrounding landscapes of the Timbavati that greened up almost overnight.  Not lush, verdant vegetation as we have come to expect over the last few years, but enough of a green tinge to let us know what summer could look like.  A couple of cooler days followed, and although it warmed up later in the week, it never got quite as hot as the last couple of weeks.  The tortoises emerged, dung beetles resumed rolling their dung balls, and the first reports of European rollers filtered in.  It was a week of some different weather, but we once again enjoyed some generally productive drives…although no drive quite came close to the one that kicked off the week! 

Heading East with only one guest on a cloudy morning, we bumped into a group of resident buffalo bulls as we left camp, but continued East to see if there was any magic waiting there for us.  Along the way we found the odd groups of impalas, a few zebras and giraffes, but nothing too exciting…yet.  Alarm calling baboons drew us to an area expecting to find the Mafufunyane female leopard, but we were even more pleased to find that the cause of their consternation were spots of a different sort!  The two cheetahs that had been around last weekend were still here, and we got to spend some lovely time with the mother cheetah and her cub as they moved across the more open areas of the east.  It was most encouraging to know that she had been around for a few days, and who knows, maybe she spends a little more time in the area.  We had no sooner left the cheetahs when Glen spotted a well concealed leopard in an apple leaf tree – this time it was Mafufunyane female, but we opted not to follow her when she eventually descended the tree and moved off.   

With the cheetah sighting drawing in a fair bit of attention, we opted to head out West to see the Sark Breakaway lions, but whilst en-route, a report of wild dogs came through not far from where we were, so we made a turn in that direction and arrived at a waterhole as a dozen wild dogs came trotting through the bush towards the waterhole.  Within a few minutes 25 members were around the dam; the last pack member called and the pack got up to go and greet her – in running towards her they inadvertently flushed a baby impala and gave chase!  Despite a good effort, the lamb was eventually run down, and the pack enjoyed a late morning snack before going to rest.  Carrying on, we relocated the Sark Breakaway pride of lions, but with the clouds slowly letting some heat through, they too got up and moved off into the shade to rest.  After a cup of coffee, a male elephant arrived for a drink at the waterhole where we were enjoying our coffee; he wasn’t the only one, as we had no sooner packed up when a guide passing by to come and watch the elephant bumped into a mating pair of lions behind a bush not 80m from where we had been enjoying our coffee!  Heading back to bush breakfast, I realised that we were only short of a rhino sighting to complete the Super 7 in a morning drive!  Glen was quite relieved that we did not find any of them, as he said it would be bad luck for us if we enjoyed all seven of those species in one morning!   

After one or two quieter drives, I too was starting to think that we had used up all of our good luck for the week in one drive!  Fortunately, we did manage to enjoy more good sightings over the course of the week. 

The River Pride finished their buffalo kill at the start of the week and moved back to the northern parts of our concession before disappearing further north for a bit, but with the three cubs remaining within our concession, the mother lioness and some of the Vuyela males remained within the concession for most of the week.  By the end of the week, the pride had all reunited and spent the day in the company of three Vuyela males.  I followed one Vuyela male to the west one morning, and he led us to the Sark Breakaway Pride, with their four cubs.  The pride later crossed into Klaserie, but did return for a couple of days later in the week.  We actually had a day without any lion sightings, despite having woken up to loads of roaring to the north of camp; the following morning, after having heard no roaring all night, I headed out East in desperation more than anything.  When the Hercules male lion was found near Plains Camp, along with tracks for the Giraffe Pride, I was tempted to make an early call and turn around and head to the far West.  However, I decided to stick to my guns and stay in the east.  A glorious scene of a dozen or so giraffes with groups of zebras, wildebeest and a hyena on one of the open plains was keeping me entertained when Scotch called to tell me that he had found the River Pride lionesses and three males.  Feeling the pressure lift immediately, I decided to slowly head in that direction, but the radio message had no sooner come through when our tracker spotted a lion…and another, and in fact, another 15 of them!  All seventeen members of the Mayambula pride were lying fat bellied out in one of the open areas.  It was so good to have this pride together again and see that they haven’t forgotten about us.  One of the lionesses even looked to be in the early stages of pregnancy and producing milk; time will tell what 2024 will bring for this pride.  As if two prides of lions weren’t enough to kick start the day, there were soon two different packs of wild dogs called in – a just reward for us considering the quieter drives we had endured the day before. 

Once again, the leopards were not overly cooperative.  Nyeleti finished the kill that she had in front of Tanda Tula Safari Camp and we got to see her at our waterhole one evening, but there was only one further sighting of her this week, and once again, she disappeared into an impenetrable area and was left to be.  The most excitement came when an old, seemingly relaxed female leopard with blue eyes was found drinking at a pan in the Eastern sections.  In Thumbela’s old territory.  Could she really still be alive?  The first couple of guides tentatively said yes, but the next guide that knew Thumbela well said it wasn’t her.  I had to go and see this for myself, but despite hoping against all hope that it was going to be her, I immediately saw that it was not our old girl.  This meant that we had another mature, relaxed female in the area…but who was she?  She was not of the habituation level of Nyeleti or N’weti, but she was fine with two vehicles watch her and we enjoyed some time following her around.  An examination of old photos revealed that she was not a new face, but one that I had actually seen almost two years earlier in the remote Southeastern sections.  Time will tell if she is passing through, or planning on making this her new home?   

As mentioned, we ended off the week with two packs of wild dogs in the area; a pack of 26 and a pack of 8.  The 8 had been hanging around the far Western sections around Plains Camp earlier in the week, and Scotch had made a trip down to see them, but by the end of the week they had moved much further East.  There had been no sign or reports of the pack of 26 wild dogs since earlier in the week, but they suddenly reappeared on our airstrip in the same spot that their tracks left our area four days earlier.  With me going on leave for a few days, there is no doubt they will be around for the duration of my absence! 

It would also be logical to assume that the two cheetahs that we saw this week will also return!  Towards the end of the week, we had a brief sighting of the mother and cub on our Southern boundary, but despite a fifty-fifty chance of them moving to the North, they sadly headed back South.  There were also tracks for the two males in the area, but no sightings were had. 

We enjoyed great elephant viewing through the week, with several large herds and some very small calves showing themselves in the areas around Tanda Tula this week.  The waterhole at camp had daily visits from these herds, and on the warm afternoons, most waterholes had signs of elephants.  The buffalo herd that was around last week spent one more day in the area, otherwise the large group of 13 buffalo bulls remained our primary source of buffalo sightings. 

Although I went a few drives without seeing zebras, it appears as though I was the only one struggling to see them!  By the end of the week, we were seeing multiple herds per drive, and the open areas of the East once again had some good plains game viewing on them. 

I shall be back next week for our last weekly update for the year and will be giving you some of the photo and sighting highlights of 2023, so be sure to check back then!  

Until next time!