As mentioned last week, the cold front that was predicted to hit us during the week did indeed bring our first “cold” snap. Now, don’t get me wrong, by the standards that most of you are used to our week was far from cold with daytime temperatures still sitting in the region of 21 to 24 degrees celsius, but the mornings were a slightly different story, especially if they involved the person writing this blog going out on drives in an open game vehicle! Despite the cooler weather, I did brave the mornings and quite unsurprisingly wasn’t really rewarded with much until the temperatures started warming up! Despite this trend, there is just something very alluring about being out in the bush before the sunrises.
So, what exactly did the morning’s bring other than numb fingers? Well, for the first time in a long time, we had more leopard sightings than lion sightings over the past few days! We were treated to views of Nthombi, Thumbela females, and Xisiwana and Tamboti males over the course of the week. Nthombi was found after a morning of dogged determination to find her, and it was great to see her looking so good, and clearly still lactating. A day after this sighting, we did receive word that she was seen with one “big” cub to the north of our concession. However, at three and a half months old, her cubs would still be very small and not as large as the one described from the north. Perhaps they saw Nyeleti and her cub there, but we shall have to wait to see photos to confirm this, one way or the other. Thumbela was found at Machaton dam one afternoon, but she was looking in desperate need of a meal – fortunately, an experienced leopard such as Thumbela will find a way to make the ends meet. The two male leopards were both seen right by Tanda Tula Safari Camp at the start and end of the week respectively. Xisiwana once more set off the monkeys when he was viewed stalking impalas and nyalas right opposite the verandah at camp; Tamboti male was found at the waterhole after the ever-vigilant impalas spotted him and began alarm-calling. There was also a report of Marula Jnr being found to the west of our concession, it is always encouraging to know that she is still being seen within her mother’s old territory.
Strangely, the lions were a rarity this week! In fairness, the first half of the week saw us spending very little time looking for them as we were more focused on looking for wild dogs and leopards, and after last week’s spoils, we thought it would be good to have a “break” from such great lion viewing. When we did spend time looking for them, they frustrated us, as despite tracks walking all across the centre of their territory, they proved elusive. It was compounded on the last morning of the week when fresh tracks for all parts of the pride (as well as a male lion roaring close by) led to nothing more than wonderfully scenic drive around the River Pride’s territory. Fortunately, they are still around, and I am sure that next week will provide greater reward for our efforts.
The elephants were once more a permanent fixture, with one stunning herd in particular spending some good time in the north-western part of our concession. It is a herd that seem to be regular winter visitors and are recognisable due to the number of tuskless cows within the herd, as well as their incredibly relaxed nature. Although most herds pay little attention to the vehicles in this part of the Greater Kruger, this herd is particularly at ease in our presence which leads to simply stunning sightings.
Nature’s ebbs and flows were again at work this week, and following a week of daily buffalo sightings, we once more returned to a state of buffalo-less viewing; well, at least there was an absence of any large buffalo herds being seen this week. The buffalo bulls remained fixed around the riverbeds and waterholes and signs of these large bovids would be seen across the reserve, with two bulls, in particular, making themselves at home at the waterhole in front of Tanda Tula.
My personal highlight of the week though was no doubt the sighting of a large pack of 24 wild dogs that came through the central Timbavati with a very pregnant looking alpha female. It was a different pack to the fifteen dogs that we saw last week, and it was an impressive sight to see so many dogs moving around as a hunting unit – an even more impressive scene was watching them effortlessly eat their way through an impala that they caught during the hunt that afternoon with almost no fighting between pack members. The only fighting was with a pair of hyenas that were looking for scraps, but fully aware that they couldn’t displace such a large pack from their kill. This commotion drew in some lions, but luckily the wild dogs were not caught by surprise. Sadly, I wasn’t able to drive the next morning but following up on their tracks in the afternoon showed that they made their way straight across our concession to the east. As always, we are keeping our fingers crossed that one of these packs den in the area! It was also interesting to hear that the big pack of 35-odd dogs was also within the far western reaches of the concession making for a total of more than 70 of these highly endangered carnivores that have moved through our area in the past weeks; quite a remarkable bearing in mind that there are only an estimated 350 or so in the entire Greater Kruger system.
And that is that for this week; following the fantastic viewing around Machaton Dam the past week, I will be spending the next seven days sitting at the dam and enjoying what happens there, so be sure to check up on the blog next week to see just what came to visit!
Until next time, keep well!