Greetings World! And welcome to another week of photo highlights from the heart of the Timbavati.It has been just over three months since our country went into lockdown, which has given us over thirteen weeks of missing you all, and 104 days without you here to share in the magic of Tanda Tula Safari Camp.So, for this week’s blog we are going to have a look back at some of the highlights of our time spent in the camp during lockdown.
But first, an update since my return of all the events before I took some time off. Firstly, many of you were concerned about the fact that only one of Nthombi’s cubs were seen two weeks ago, but the afternoon after that last sighting, there was a report that both of her cubs were present at the kill! This news was a great relief to all of us. I was only out on a few game drives over that week; the two weekend bumbles (without my camera) produced sightings of the River Pride lionesses and the Nharhu males (the cubs were also all seen alive and well that weekend) and a brief sighting of some members of the Mayambula Pride. Dale had actually seen nine of them feeding on a wildebeest that morning (as well as Ntsongwaan male leopard square up against another male).
The next two drives were spent filming a sofa safari in the presence of a gorgeous male cheetah! He was well fed and spent the day lazing around close to Cheetah Plains, but sadly without the need to hunt, he didn’t get up much. The last two drives were spent examining lion and leopard tracks without much joy, including tracks for the Mayambula Pride moving fairly deep into the northern parts of their range. These are hopefully signs of trends that can be expected as the pride moves around searching for food and water for their almost adult-sized youngsters. As frustrating as it was not being able to find the cats we were looking for, it made me realise just how lucky we have been over the past few months to see what we have seen.
The main story from the first part of lockdown was no doubt the constant presence of the River Pride and their growing cubs; from seeing the new litter for the first time back in April to being privileged enough to watch them grow bigger and more confident by the week. The three Nharhu males made their presence known on an almost nightly basis with their roars, and we became accustomed to finding them on a daily basis (to the point where we would sometimes simply drive on past them in the hope of finding something different, like elephants!). As this period came to end, the pride became less predictable and moved greater distances – often with the cubs – which made it a little more challenging to track them. Two of the lionesses have still been mating with the males, and we hope that they too, will have cubs in the not too distant future. This will hopefully anchor the pride to the area once more.
Nthombi’s cubs were the special characters that kick-started our lockdown period after her den site was located by some of the last guests to visit the Timbavati. Sadly, after she moved them from there, we lost track of her for many weeks. Sporadic sightings of her eventually culminated in us finding her with the cubs who looked to be in great condition; we almost can’t believe how old she actually is when you see her looking so healthy and well-toned. As you may remember, the leopards did an amazing job of hiding from us in the early days of lockdown when the greens of summer were still in so much in evidence, but as time passed, sightings became more regular, and we even got to catch up with Nyeleti and her growing male cub. Thumbela, Xidulu, N’weti, Tamboti, Marula Jnr, Xisiwana, Hlangana, and Goya Rd male have all made appearances on our social media platforms and as the dry season progresses, we are hoping to see more and more of these stunning spotted cats.
On the subject of spots, we have also been treated to two cheetah sightings in this time; this might not sound like a lot, but considering I had only enjoyed two sightings in the last two years (with all the game drive vehicles out and about searching for game), it makes both of these sightings even more special and noteworthy.
Our other endangered predator, the African wild dogs, have also made regular appearances throughout lockdown, although we quickly realised just how difficult it is to keep track of their movements when you are the only vehicle out there! We were treated to sightings of three different packs during this time, but it sadly seems as though our hopes and dreams of having them denning within the concession have not come to fruition.
The elephants ebbed and flowed but have really come into their own the last few weeks. We have also been treated to more regular sightings of buffalos (some herds had over 300 members), and our general game sightings have been very strong, particularly in the east. During my two days spent sitting at Machaton Dam, there were constant visits to the waterhole by zebras, impalas, warthogs and wildebeest throughout the middle of the day.
But, as far as special moments in lockdown go, who could forget the good fortune we had to see the holy grail of safaris when we got to spend some time with the oddest of creatures, the Ground Pangolin. I had only ever managed to photograph scales of curled up individuals before, but this time patience paid off and we were able to watch as this individual uncurled itself and walked off into the bush leaving us with massive smiles etched across our faces.
We cannot wait to have you all back here one day soon, so that we can share in these magic moments and bring these same smiles to your faces. Tanda Tula is ready for your return, but until you do, in the not too distant future, we will keep on bringing the animals to you.
Until next time, stay safe!