Wow, what a difference a week makes! Reading back through last week’s blog, that period felt like a world away. Despite the title of this week’s blog, the tough conditions we faced were entirely due to the good fortune of having eventually received the first meaningful rains of the season.
Collectively, Tanda Tula Safari Campreceived 54mm – with some areas of the concession receiving almost double that – of precious rain this week which resulted in our usually-dry Nhlaralumi riverbed actually becoming a river for two days! It was the most incredible morning to wake up to, to find that the riverbed was still dry, deliver the tea and coffee to the guests, and then look back up and see that the river was suddenly flowing!
We spent the morning following the headwater of the flood as it made its way north through the reserve with enough water to ensure that even the dry sands of the riverbed couldn’t swallow it all. The same story played out the next morning subsequent to some nice follow-up rains the next night. More importantly for the area, this rain had the desired effect of imparting a much-needed green tinge to the winter-parched landscapes of the central Timbavati Private Nature Reserve; looking back to only seven days ago, the landscapes showed the most remarkable transformations. Green shoots emerging from the red soils, trees in various stages of budding new leaves, and almost all of the natural pans once more brim-full of water. Together, with the arrival of the woodlands kingfishers (17th November), red-backed shrikes (19th November), and even reports of European Rollers, we also had our first sightings of new-born impalas this week (19th November). Collectively, all of these signs point to only one thing; summer has arrived!
Despite all of the positive news for the bush and the long-term functioning of this part of the Greater Kruger, the conditions that followed the rain did make our lives a little more difficult. Whereas last week the waterhole in front of camp was abuzz with activity, the rain meant that water was now freely available across the Timbavati Private Nature Reserveand the animals began dispersing. Due to the fact that the initial rains were concentrated more in the west, many of the herbivorous animals moved off in search of fresh food, leaving the eastern sections very quiet. As the week pressed on and the rain fell more evenly across the reserve, the animals started playing along in the east once again. We also had to be far more sensitive following the bigger rains at the end of the week, and as a result of this, we were not able to go driving off-road after the animals, and that did make for some temporary challenges, but as always, the animals too played their part, and despite these limitations, we still managed to see some good game.
To begin with, a correction is needed on last week’s discussion of how the River Pride males were taking over the Mbiri’s territory. This was not because the Mbiri’s returned to claim their land (although, as I type this I can hear them roaring near camp), but rather the fact that we have been able to positively establish the identity of the three males, and know for certain that they are not the River Pride young males, but rather three new boys that appear to originate from the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve. The females that they are spending their time with are the four River Pride lionesses, and as it stands, it does appear that they may in fact, be setting themselves up as the pride males for these four ladies. These two groups of lions provided for the bulk of our lion viewing this week, with the highlight being the three males roaring into the darkness one evening.
Three of the lionesses were seen with a baby giraffe kill earlier in the week and then spent two days sleeping off fat bellies before the fourth lioness re-joined. The week closed off with a sighting of the two Zebenine lionesses resting next to their zebra kill, and it was wonderful to see both of them looking so healthy. The Mayambula Pride remained unseen, despite the positive news that they did return to our concession, albeit briefly; their tracks were found on the far eastern boundary, but sadly we never caught up with them. Other reports of lions in the area included the Giraffe Pride in the far west, as well as the other new pride of five males and one lioness in that western sector, but with lions in the east, the Tanda Tula guides didn’t venture that far afield.
The abundance of leopards that spoilt us last week felt like a thing of the past at times during this week, but despite a few days with no signs of them, we still managed some good viewing. Following a windy night, four different male leopards were found with kills (three by Scotch and Patrick in one afternoon), but sadly, all but one of these leopards were on the nervous side. At the same time, Hlangana male and Marula’s young male were seen together fighting over an impala kill, but once the kill was done, they walked off with Nthombi, and were seemingly playing around with one another like long-lost friends!
The Tamboti male made a couple of appearances but usually gave the guides the slip. My highlight on the leopard front was towards the end of an impressive drive that saw us finding all of the Big Five without responding to one sighting. Glen spotted what I thought was a nervous leopard up a tree, but it turned out that the fixed stare was not directed at us, but rather a second leopard, Xidulu male, walking not 100m away. The “nervous” leopard turned out to be the complete opposite in the form of Thumbela female, and we followed her as she trailed Xidulu towards the big fig trees. Xidulu was then an absolute champion and did what I have dreamt of seeing since I arrived at Tanda Tula – he climbed up one of the iconic trees! A dream come true indeed.
The week ended off with a sighting of Ntsongwaan male with a warthog kill hoisted safely out of reach of the prowling hyenas.
The buffalo herd that had made the central parts of our concession their home, just last week, vanished with the rains, and we were left with just a few groups of buffalo bulls. For some time, it seemed as though the elephant herds may have followed suit, but as the week progressed, the herds moved back into the west, and eventually the east.
The elephant highlight of the week was no doubt a brief visit from the gentle giant that is Apollo, but sadly his stay was fleeting. The giraffes continued to enjoy the fresh knobthorn leaves, but the wildebeest and zebras were far less evident this week as they moved off to greener pasture. Rest assured though; they will be back soon, especially in the east that is now full of water.
We also had several ostrich sightings this week of two new males in the area, and our fortunes with wild dogs may be changing as we did pick up some tracks for these rare predators in our concession between the rains. Hopefully with some drier conditions forecast for the week ahead, it might just make the job of finding them a little easier.
I am heading off for a week so I will fill you in with all the happenings upon my return.
Until then, cheers!