What a wonderful time of year this is – the chill of the morning soon gives way to the warmth one associates with clear blue skies above your head. This week has also seen a fair bit of cloud cover and mist around, and this has meant that the early mornings have been far more pleasant than they were last week. Our first major cold-front of the season is expected to sweep across the country this weekend.
The game viewing continued to improve as the bush started to open up ever so slowly; it is also easy to see where a large herd of buffalo had been feeding, trampling the long grasses in the areas that they have been operating in. For a change, they were a constant feature throughout the week. It was only a single breeding herd of around a hundred individuals, but they spent the entire week within the eastern parts of the concession, focusing their attention on Machaton Dam, which became their daily drinking spot.
On the last day of the week, we awoke to find that the herd had bedded right outside Tanda Tula Safari Camp.Sadly, despite tracks for lions criss-crossing all over the area from where the buffalos had come, it once again appeared as though the lions resolutely refused to show any interest in going for the buffalo!
That is not to say that the lions have been going hungry and, on most occasions, when we found the pride this week, they either had visibly full bellies or fresh signs of blood on their coats indicating that they had enjoyed some hunting success the evening before.
The cubs are all doing splendidly and are getting bigger by the week. The three younger, cautious cubs are now just the “three younger cubs” and their cautiousness has turned into curiosity. They are now the first to come walking up to the vehicle when we arrive. It is interesting to note that this appears to be at about the very same age that the older cubs showed their interest in us, indicating to me, that it is not necessarily about how often they see the vehicles as it is about how big they are. Regardless, they provided for several fantastic sightings this week, particularly around one of the natural pans close to their den sites. I was watching an elephant bull bathing in the pan early one morning when I heard the lionesses low contact call, only to turn around and see the mothers, cubs and two Nharhu males coming strolling up to the pan to drink. They continued to play around the pan for the remainder of the morning until I left them to go and see some wild dogs!
The limping Nharhu male continued to mate with the youngest River Pride lioness and it is a bit concerning that despite all the mating, she doesn’t seem to be falling pregnant. The cut-nosed Nharhu male was looking a bit battered and bruised towards the end of the week and it is not certain where he picked up the injuries. It’s most likely fights with the other males over food or mates, but with the Mbiri male lions roaring to the south during the week, the possibility exists that they may have encountered one another? The odds are far greater that the former scenario is closer to the truth.
Our leopards also provided for a few good sightings this week. Most notably was finding a male that I wasn’t sure we would see again following an absence of over three months; the increasingly impressive Xidulu male. He was fat bellied and feeding on an impala ram (another victim of the rut) in the east, which was a bit of a surprise as the day before we had also seen the skittish, pale-eyed male that I feared had come into the area and chased him away. Based on his size, I am now starting to think that the 4,5-year-old Xidulu is not going to be such a push over, even for an older male. Xisiwana male also showed himself towards the end of the week when he was found disturbing the monkeys around the camp waterhole during the middle of the day.
We also got to enjoy some more regular elephant viewing this past week with a large herd spending most of the week between the Nhlaralumi Riverbed and the eastern parts of the concession – yes, we had elephants in the east for the first time in many weeks! Machaton Dam also seemed to be the main draw for them; despite not seeing them drinking, their tracks moved to and from the dam on a regular basis. A couple of elephant bulls and a smaller herd or two have also started to become regular parts of the landscape this week which was encouraging to see.
The week also delivered on some wild dogs in the last few days, following nothing more than their tracks over the weekend. Formen was at Machaton Dam when he heard some hyenas going crazy. On following up, he found the wild dogs in one of the open areas in the east and we followed them until they settled down for the morning. Sadly, the hyenas had already stolen their impala kill, and by the afternoon the pack had moved on and couldn’t be found again.
Despite it being late May, I didn’t notice that any females were pregnant – with denning season approaching in June and early July, they alpha female should be showing definite signs of carrying by now. It is always exciting to have more regular visits from the pack at this time of year as we live in hope that maybe this year, they will opt to den within the central Timbavati!
Other than that, the bush is still looking fantastic and we enjoyed not only sightings of the Big 5, but were entertained by the still-rutting impalas, kudus, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, warthogs, jackals and many, many more sights and sounds. All in all, it was just another week that personified the appeal of Autumn in the Greater Kruger.
Until next time, keep well!