If I feared that my verbalisation of the amazing sightings we enjoyed last week would cause the incredible run of drives to come grinding to a halt, it turned out that I had nothing to worry about! The past seven days have been equally special out there, and we even got blessed with another sprinkling of rain mid-week to keep the bush looking lush and green.
My stupendous luck (and a fair dose of Jack’s skill) for finding lions and leopards on a daily basis lasted most of the week. Only in the last few days did I actually have to pick up the radio to respond to a sighting (which was mating leopards, so I was allowed to).
The east was once again the place where it was happening, and we caught up with a restful Thumbela east of camp early one morning. She was still showing signs of lactation – indicating that her cubs were alive and well – but the next time we saw her she was being very flirtatious with Xidulu male leopard. After spending some good time enjoying the antics of her teasing, we were rewarded with a wonderful sight of the pair of leopards mating! I am not sure what to think, but Il try and avoid the worst-case scenario of the fact that she may have been mating because she has actually lost her latest litter of cubs.
Instead, I fall back on several previous experiences where I have indeed seen new mother leopards mating with males shortly after giving birth; possibly due to confused hormones, but more likely as a way of appeasing and distracting males away from the den site. Time will tell which scenario is correct, but in the moment, the sight of mating leopards made us more than happy. We continued our leopard-finding run with a wonderful sighting of the irregular visitor, Nthombi, as she lazed up in a Marula tree (read the next paragraph for the most exciting find of that morning).
The next day, Nyeleti female leopard was found walking away from her den site back into an area that she had been seen in the previous night. She gave Scotch the slip as she walked into a thicket, but as I was certain that she had a kill she was returning to, I headed into the area regardless and then Jack spotted her resting under a bush with a massive male impala kill.
The rain arrived that night which put a halt on off-road driving, so we are not sure if she managed to tree the kill or not. It didn’t stop us from finding another leopard kill the next morning. This time, it was Ntsongwaan male, with a wildebeest calf kill stashed up a Marula tree which gave the guides a couple of days of leopard viewing.
After a few days off, I returned to action, but failed to find a leopard on a couple of drives. Fortunately, we did still get to see Nthombi with a baby impala kill as the week drew to a close, and then yet again, found her walking about on this morning’s drive looking decidedly pregnant! This is great news, although raising a litter of cubs at her age will be a real challenge. Her previous offspring, Hlangana, was seen this week looking in really good shape. And just to top it off, N’weti was seen a couple of times in the east too.
It wasn’t only leopards that we were finding, but we also had a fantastic week of finding lions on an almost daily basis too! The big news of the week was that a couple of days after Jack tracked down the returning River Pride lionesses in the east (where Jack even commented on how pregnant the one lioness was looking), we both had a feeling that their return to the Zebenine Riverbed was for one reason and one reason only. Jack did not want to track them on foot for fear that they may have given birth to the cubs the day before, so we did some leap-frogging searches along the banks of the Zebenine. When on our third “look in” we spotted the lionesses in the riverbed. We parked on the opposite bank and almost immediately Jack picked out the unmistakable cries of new-born lion cubs – he had found the new den site for us! Due to the sensitive nature of the den, we have temporarily closed the area down, but will have our chance to see the cubs when they get to around 6 weeks old.
Another find was the relocation of the Nharhu males that appear to have found a second pride to take care of. It’s a small pride of two lionesses that first showed up when the male lions set off from Machaton Dam and came across them only to chase them off our northern boundary. The next afternoon, responding to their roaring in the area, we located two males, one of whom was mating with a lioness from the long lost Timbavati Pride (the same pride that had white lion cubs in 2009). These lionesses have returned to the Timbavatifrom the wilderness areas of the Krugerto the east, and it remains to be seen how long they will hang around. It would be wonderful if they could set up a safe territory under the protection of the Nharhu males to the north-east of Tanda Tula Safari Camp.
It wasn’t only in the east that we were striking gold, but a rare sojourn west saw us finding the Vuyela Pride venturing into unchartered lands. This pride of six – five young males and a lioness – have been spending most their time in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserveand the western Timbavati, but this week saw them utilising the more central regions on a couple of occasions. They are in top shape and it was a treat to see them for the first time.
The lion week was almost perfect for us, a case of close but no cigar. The reason? There were tracks for the whole Mayambula Pride at Marco’s Dam in the central region, and I rushed over to help look for them, but it soon became apparent that their tracks had already crossed out of our concession to the south, and as it turns out, they had ventured so far that they ended up on the Krugerborder that afternoon. I guess we missed our one monthly chance, but will keep crossing fingers that if they can move that far in one night (over 10km), there always remains a chance that they can show face at any time.
If these sightings weren’t enough, we had the pleasure of a couple of large herds of buffalo for most of the week with elephants scattered across the central regions. We saw giraffe and zebra herds in the middle of the property too. We were even fortunate enough to have a pack of wild dogs come and spend a couple of days within our concession. We spent time watching them harass a herd of buffalo that had settled not far from where the dogs were resting which was a great way to end off another stunning week of game viewing.
Oh yes, and I also got to see my first ever klipspringer (a rare antelope in these parts) at Tanda Tula; bring on next week!!!
Until next time, cheers!