Chad’s Year in Photos

Re-reading the blog I typed up twelve months ago, and I have to be honest, it feels like a lifetime away!  In an age when we are all inclined to comment about how quickly the years pass, these past 365 days do not seem to have moved quite as quickly.  It feels like we have been in our new camp forever, yet we only moved back a mere six months ago!  I almost can’t even recall what it was like opening up the front doors of Plains Camp and overlooking the gorgeous Drakensberg mountains; it was only when I was going through all of my images that I fully appreciated the fact that we still spent half of 2023 at our temporary home. 

The past twelve months have once more laid out a real feast of wildlife sightings for the guests and guides of Tanda Tula alike, and it is such a rewarding job going over my images for the year as I attempt to narrow it down to the highlights of the year, and there were many!  Spending time watching the 25 members of the Giraffe Pride settled around the plains at the start of the year, to seeing the Sark Breakaways continue to grow from strength to strength.  The Mayambula pride had a tough year, and with pressure from the Birmingham Breakaways, the Skorro males abandoned ship and left the remaining 17 members of the pride to fend for themselves, and fend they did!  We also saw the return of the River Pride to their old haunts, and under the guardianship of the ever-more-impressive Vuyela males, this pride has started their next chapter as they welcomed a new litter of cubs into the world.  We got to enjoy some slightly more regular cheetah sightings back in the east, and I once more got to enjoy the excitement of what is becoming my once-yearly cheetah kill!  Several packs of wild dogs spoilt us through the year; some had success and grew in numbers, while we sadly watched the demise of others under the constant pressure of a healthy lion population.  With the incredible rains that started off the year (we got over 400mm (16 inches) of rain in February alone, for a season total of 756mm), we were blessed with a lush green environment throughout the late summer, and all the herbivores enjoyed the abundance of food that followed, making for another very easy winter for them.

Yet, despite those numerous stunning moments out in the central Timbavati, the highlight of the year was no doubt walking back into our incredible new home here at Tanda Tula Safari Camp!  After 18 months of building – flood delays and all – we officially open the doors to our newly renovated Tanda Tula Safari Camp!  While we were all incredibly grateful for our temporary home at Plains Camp, it is difficult to put into words what it felt like coming home!  The delays and final stages of finishing up the project no doubt added many years of stress to all involved, but it was joyous to watch how the whole Tanda Tula family pulled together to get things done and open our doors to our first guests.  Their reactions said it all!  Beaming smiles and continued exclamations of “wow, wow, wow!” emanated from guests of new and old, as they enjoyed the new camp.  As special as our safari suites overlooking the Nhlaralumi riverbed are, it was the fact that the soul of Tanda Tula remained intact and that the same friendly faces were still there to welcome everyone back that made everyone fall in love with the new camp.  With all of the hard work behind us now, we look forward to many more happy years in these surrounds, and I sincerely hope that the smile that etched itself on my face every time I looked at the new camp in those early days never fades, and when you come and visit, I am sure you will see exactly why the smiles are still so broad! 

But before we talk too much about the camp, let us not forget that all of our furry and feathered friends did their bit to make sure that we all enjoyed our time in the Timbavati, even when we weren’t lounging on day beds or splashing in the pools.   

So without further ado, sit back, grab a glass of wine (or coffee, either will work!) and enjoy going through some of my highlights of the year that was.  


Leap of Leopard(s) 

I will kick start proceeding with what is likely my favourite images of 2023; a fortuitous capture of the gorgeous Savannah female leopard as she leapt across a body of water that probably looks bigger than it was!  After years of seeing images of leopards doing similar things across the handful of perennial rivers in the Kruger Park, it was great to be able to finally add such an image to my collection. 

Evening Feast 

Although Scotch got the best of this sighting (he watched as a group of boisterous impalas began fighting right in front of a couple of lionesses – it was the last error one of those rams made!), it did make for quite a scene watching two Giraffe Pride lionesses feasting as the sun set.  Following a year of seeing frustratingly little of the Giraffe Pride around Plains Camp, the start of 2023 produced regular sightings of this fantastic pride. 

A White Christmas 

Well, not quite Christmas, but it certainly felt like it when this growing Birmingham male lion and his two tawny brothers began spending time in our eastern sections.  Although this leucistic white lion was seen on occasion in 2022, we began dreaming that they might try and settle in the central Timbavati, but it was not to be.  With pressure from the six Birmingham Breakaways from the south and the five Vuyela males from the west, there was seldom any real chance that our dreams would come true.  As it turned out, the coalition seems to be settling in the Umbabat Nature Reserve to the north of the Timbavati.  Anyway, it was fun while it lasted! 

The Plains 

These daily scenes of the open plains of the west, filled with wildebeest, impalas, zebras, and giraffes, framed by the distant Drakensberg mountains, are definitely ones that we will miss from Plains Camp.  With the highest density of plains game in the region, one could easily spend an entire afternoon enjoying the bounty of life without having to leave the plains.  Fortunately, we do still pop down to enjoy these scenes from time to time. 

Hyena Cub 

It wouldn’t be a ‘Year in Pics’ if it didn’t contain at least one photo of a cute little hyena cub!  Despite the hyena clan around Plains Camp moving to a different area due to pressure from the Giraffe Pride, there were two other clans that denned within our concession and gave us moments like this.  Fortunately, it looks like the den site close to Tanda Tula Safari Camp is coming back to life, so hopefully there will be many more hyena cubs in our near future! 

The Nhlaralumi in Flood 

With 418mm having fallen during February, mostly due to eight consecutive days of rain due to a cut off low and a further few days of heavy rain due to the approach of a tropical cyclone, the Nhlaralumi sprung to life – for just over five weeks, we could actually call it a river!  As much as this delighted us, it was a real nightmare for the construction of the camp, as it meant that no supplies could make it to the building site!  My only regret is that we couldn’t enjoy the sight of the flowing river from Safari Camp, as that would have made for one beautiful setting! 

The Vuyela Males 

 These five male lions continue to assert their dominance over the central Timbavati, and despite my predictions of potential warfare at the end of last year, it was a year of relative calm.  Their pressure deposed the two Skorro males from their reign as kings of the Mayambula Pride, although despite this, the Vuyela’s have not made any further challenges on the Mayambulas.  The Birmingham Breakaways have not been seen for months, although roaring from the Kruger Park in the east suggests that they are still around.  But when it comes to roaring, few coalitions are as vocal as these Vuyela males.  They established themselves as the dominant males of the River Pride, and added four more cubs to the growing Sark Breakaway Pride. 

Young Blue Eyes 

What a treat it was to get an up-close and personal look at this young southern Ground Hornbill a couple of days before it fledged from the nest.  This chick was the first successful fledgling from our nesting box in a decade!  Although the youngster is still alive and well (I saw it this morning), the adult female of the group was sadly killed by two intruding ground hornbills whilst she was in the nest incubating her latest clutch last month.   

Tiny Tots 

One of my highlights of the year was coming across this ostrich with a clutch of 11 newly hatched chicks on our eastern open areas.  The whole family was incredibly relaxed, and made for a memorable scene.  Sadly though, this proved to be yet another failed effort to raise these chicks in the area, and after only a week, there was no further sign of the chicks.   

The River Pride Trio 

Despite losing a litter of cubs earlier in 2024, this trio of cubs born to the River Pride in mid-August are faring much better and providing our guests with a good dose of cuteness.  They were born some distance north of our concession, but the lioness eventually brought them back into the core of their territory, and they have continued to spend time within the area.  The youngest lioness of the pride is also lactating, so these three will soon have some cousins in the mix.  The lioness herself is a fairly light individual, and I always get hopeful when such lionesses are pregnant that perhaps one of those little ones will be even whiter in colour!   

N’weti’s cub 

This little beauty is the fifth generation of a lineage of leopards I have been blessed to have followed during my time in the Timbavati.  Although N’weti had a litter in 2022, she was unsuccessful in raising them.  Second time around, and one of her litter of two has made it to around eight months old.  There is still a long way to go, but things are looking good that this young chap could make it. 

Mountains and Mountains 

There was something to be said about being ten miles closer to the Drakensberg mountains and watching as the sun dipped over them in the late evening.  The 6000ft of elevation dwarfed even our biggest inhabitants. 

Savannah Female 

Although she never flooded my camera’s viewfinder with her presence, it was always a treat when she did.  One of the most relaxed cats in the area – and arguably the most beautiful too – Savannah leopardess knows how to strike a pose with those pale eyes. 

Mayambula Pride 

Towards the end of 2022, the Mayambula Pride lost half a dozen members – mostly from their two youngest litters, but also a couple of sub-adults.  Things stabilised at the beginning of 2023, but as they started moving into Vuyela male territory (likely under pressure from the Birmingham males and Birmingham Breakaway boys), things became less certain.  Here the pride stops for a drink after having hastily abandoned their wildebeest kill as the roars of an approaching Vuyela male got closer.  Despite having a Skorro male, and numbers on their side, they were not wanting to fight.  When the single Vuyela male eventually caught up with them, the Mayambula lionesses stood their ground and sent the Vuyela male packing.  The pressure on the Skorro males got too much, and they abandoned the pride not long after this.  Fortunately, they ended the year with 17 members still alive and well, even without the protection of pride males. 

Giraffe Pride 

Few moments will stick out in my mind from 2023 as those spent with the ravenous Giraffe Pride feeding on a fresh kill; with the plains holding such a bounty of food, it provided a constant source of sustenance.  On this particular evening, they had been hunting, but the miserable weather had caused me to head back to camp…as I was about to close down, Tristan called to tell me that the pride had successfully caught a wildebeest!  Of course, minutes later, the weather didn’t seem so miserable anymore as we pulled up alongside twenty-plus lions fighting over the still living gnu!  Over the course of the year, the pride went from strength to strength despite the eventual demise of the aged Sumatra male.  All other members survived, and two new cubs were born into the pride, still controlled by the impressive Hercules male – this means that the pride is standing at 26 members.   

Sark Breakaway Pride 

Our third largest pride spent much of 2023 within the Timbavati, only moving into the Klaserie from time to time.  The five subadults all made it to an age that they would be ready to face independence should things go pear-shaped; fortunately for them, as things stand, this seems a long way away.  Four new cubs were born to the pride in mid-June, and all made it to the end of the year, bringing the pride’s total to 13 members, plus the potential of the five Vuyelas.  As it is, the males spend their time moving between the two prides and are doing a good job in keeping other lion threats at bay.  We hope that 2024 sees them pushing deeper into Timbavati’s wild landscapes. 

Summer Greens 

With an abundance of grass and leaves, all of the megaherbivores had a feast in the Timbavati following the February rains.   

Bright Skies Ahead 

A young member of the Giraffe pride stands atop a mound as he seeks out the rest of the pride.  With a pride of this size, it was no surprise that some members got temporarily disoriented on a regular basis; fortunately, they always found their way home. 

Wild Dog Feast 

It was once again a year that gifted us many sightings of these highly endangered carnivores.  The first half of the year saw a couple of smaller packs (as well as the larger Ngala pack) making use of the plains, and once we were back at Tanda Tula Safari Camp, we enjoyed sightings of the northern Timbavati pack – 26 members at last count.  Impala lambing season once more provided an endless supply of food for these energetic hunters. 

Playing on the Plains  

In scenes reminiscent of east Africa, watching the members of the Giraffe Pride playing on the plains after a meal (in this case, a giraffe) was always a treat. 

New Life 

I always say that I can go out and see something new in the Timbavati even after all of these years of guiding – on this day, a brand new korhaan chick provided the magical moment as it scampered over the road following the mother. 

When He Was King 

This was the day I knew the Skorro males days were numbered.  A week before, an altercation with some of the Vuyela males had put their world in a spin, but this was one of the last times I saw the Skorro males with the Mayambula Pride.  They became nomadic, lost condition and one eventually returned to try and scavenge off a buffalo kill made by the Vuyela and River Pride lions.  Although they were gracious enough to let him feed on the first day, twenty four hours later, he was breathing his last breath as the Vuyelas turned on him. 

Non-Binary Bull 

Although not as abundant as we have had in the past, there were still regular winter visits from the large buffalo herds as they came to quench their thirst at the numerous waterholes in the central Timbavati.  It was always a challenge we gave ourselves to find this unique bull – with his sweeping horns – when his herd was around.  With such a standout appearance, it didn’t take long to find him amongst several hundred companions. 


Enough said.  Winter saw the gentle giant return, and he was bigger than ever.  Few animals in this area get the wows and gasps that this behemoth does.  We look forward to his return in 2024. 

Tree Climbing Lions 

The young Giraffe lions continue to show a fascination with climbing trees, and while going up is somewhat graceful, their descents still leave a lot to be desired! 

The Angry One 

While I had speculated that dear old Thumbela would be around for a  while yet, it appears as though her nemesis swooped in and took control of her territory.  With only an occasional report of the blue-eyed Thumbela early in the year and a dubious one later in the year, it is probably safe to assume that she is no longer with us.  And if she does, it seems unlikely that she will venture back into her old stomping ground.  The reason?  Mafufunyane.  The biggest female leopard I have seen in the Timbavati – and the grumpiest too – she has been seen around the eastern sections for the past few months.  Almost every guide that finds her calls her a young male, and she is rather possessive of her kills.  She has just given birth to a litter of cubs, but based on her past performances with us, I am not counting on seeing these cubs any time soon! 

Come on Little One 

One of my dreams is to find a lioness moving her den site and carrying her young to their new home.  This will have to do for now, although in this case, it was more an attempt to take a stubborn cub back to their nearby buffalo kill.  Eventually she gave up and walked off, and luckily the three cubs followed. 

Eyes Bigger than Your Stomach 

When this large warthog walked towards a pan to drink, the two dozen wild dogs that were resting there thought Christmas had come early.  The adults soon realised that there was no chance of bacon for breakfast, but the young wild dogs had different ideas.  They were soon made to realise that this warthog was not to be messed with! 

The Mating Game 

The Vuyela males continued to spread their genes, and this lioness is now pregnant.  She will be a frist time mother, and we await the arrival of her litter in early 2024. 

The Future 

Nyeleti was successful in raising both of her daughters to adulthood, and in fact, they got a few extra months of maternal doting than they should have!  Nyeleti was still providing meals for them until they were two years old.  As 2023 drew to a close, the two daughters went off on their own to start their independent existences.  Sadly, neither are nearly as relaxed around the vehicles as their mom, and it will be interesting to see how they come of age over the coming twelve months.  On this occasion, the more relaxed of the daughters had a duiker kill and was seeking out some grass to eat to help purge her stomach for the meal; she came walking right up to our vehicle in search of green grass, but in the dead of winter, was left wanting.  It showed me that there was hope that she could become more relaxed with time. 

Leaping into 2024 

And that, folks, is that – just like this wild dog hopping up excitedly to see what was over the hill, we too are excited about what is to come in 2024!  A whole year in our beautiful camp, tourism getting back to pre-covid levels, and the possibility of another exciting twelve months of game viewing ahead. 

I know I cannot wait to see what it brings, and I hope you will all be along for the ride.  Thanks to all of you for the continued support over the year, both in person and for those that visited us, as well as all the wonderful likes, shares, and comments on our social media over the year.  We look forward to continuing to bring you more magical moments from the heart of the Timbavati.   

See you in 2024!!!