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A Week of All Creatures Great and Small in Photos

Chad Cocking | A Week In Pictures

Just like that, we rip another month off of our calendars and begin closing down a year that has flown by. This blog will be our last weekly update for 2022 before we return to our regular updates at the beginning of January 2023. Be sure to keep a lookout for my year-in-review blog on the 19th of December with a roundup of the highs and lows of 2022, as well as a selection of my favorite images from the past twelve months. If narrowing down this past week’s photos is anything to go by, then I am in for a tough time making that final selection.

This past week was a cracker, and we were treated to some wonderful viewing throughout the week, even in some inclement weather. Although we only recorded 11mm of rain at Tanda Tula Plains Camp, there were a couple of big downpours last weekend that resulted in some parts of the concession receiving almost 50mm in less than an hour. Once the cool weather system passed through, the sun did come out towards the end of the week and resulted in temperatures rising to the mid-to high-thirties, and with the longer days, this heat did start to have a noticeable effect on the vegetation and we could see certain areas getting drier by the day. Mud wallows that helped water a week ago are now nothing more baked mud, and some of the annual flowers have gone a bright shade of yellow as they dry out. Despite this, there is still plenty of greenery around – especially in the western half of the concession – and the animals are very happy.

As expected, the week belonged to more and more baby animals joining four-legged families. The highlight for my guests and I was no doubt finding a wildebeest calf that must have honestly been born a minute or two before we arrived on the scene. Considering calves are normally standing within two to five minutes of being born, the fact that this one hadn’t even attempted to get up on its feet yet tells me how close I was to seeing a birth. Still, one of the magic moments of birth is seeing the baby take its first step, and we were fortunate enough to be able to spend about half an hour with the wildebeest herd as the baby found its feet and began wandering around. As the week pushed on, more and more calves were seen daily, and although we saw others that were within half an hour old, none came quite as young as did our first calf sighting.

The baby theme was strong this week; I saw a few groups of newborn warthog piglets, some tiny zebra foals, loads more baby impalas, a very young giraffe, and possibly best of all, a flock of week-old ostrich chicks in the east. I sadly missed out on the chicks hatched to the resident pair of ostriches close to Plains Camp, but was overjoyed to see seven chicks with the pair around Tanda Tula Safari Camp.

I do suspect that the baby that has been on most people’s minds – and that includes you, Amber – is the fate of the lost Giraffe Pride lion cub. Quite frustratingly, the pride disappeared for an entire week (which just happened to be the seven nights that I was driving some regular return guests that had never seen the Giraffe Pride before). As luck would have it, the pride – ALL 25 members, including the lost cub – were found on the plains near camp the morning after my guests left, and not only did we have a portion of the pride just behind camp this morning, but another several individuals came walking past camp whilst the guests were enjoying their breakfast this morning. The good news though, is that the cub has been found, and all members are looking great. In the absence of the Giraffe Pride, we were fortunate enough to have the Sark Breakaways spending quite a few days in the western sections, and pushing far further south than we have seen before.

By the end of the week, there were two lionesses, the five subadults, and two of the Vuyela males spending time in the area. With the Mayambula Pride also being absent for the entire week (barring one sighting of the two Skorro males in the north-east), the River Pride made a welcome return to the area and spent the majority of the week within the central part of the concession close to Safari Camp. I hadn’t seen the pride for several months, and it was great to see how the young males were maturing. Sadly the pride has lost one lioness since my last sighting of them (although from all accounts she disappeared a few months back), so they are down to two adult lionesses, one almost-adult lioness (the sole survivor from the 2020 litters), one sub-adult lioness and three sub-adult males, giving us seven lions in total. Later in the week, the pride drew the attention of a single Birmingham Breakaway male, but by all accounts, the lionesses were able to keep him at bay and were the bigger aggressors in the two encounters that were witnessed. This was the same single male lion that began the week with his buffalo kill near our northern boundary. Another lone Birmingham Breakaway male was also found near Nkhari Homestead at the end of the week.

Despite seeing some good lions across the reserve, the best lion sighting for me was the surprise finding of the limping Monwana male and young Giraffe male lions found resting on the plains in the morning. In the evening we relocated them in an ‘acacia’ thicket, but at a nearby waterhole, we found a poor impala ewe that had experienced some major complications with giving birth and appeared to have a still-born lamb inside of her that was rendering her completely vulnerable. As it was at the dam where our wild dogs usually come into the property, I suspected she would meet her end with them, and if not them, then the lions. She had moved into a thicket around sunset, and then after our drinks, we swung past the dam and found the two male lions having a drink and sniffing around in the area. It didn’t take long for the Giraffe male to pick up on the impala’s scent, and once he did we soon heard her being put out of her misery in the adjacent thicket as the Monwana male limped hurriedly in that direction to get his share of the spoils.

Despite the good presence of the lions this week, we did get to enjoy a few good leopard sightings. My favorite was seeing dear old Thumbela looking in far better shape than she has for a long time. Scotch had seen her close to Safari Camp the day before where she caught a steenbuck but soon lost it to hyenas. The next day she was found in the same area where she was last seen the morning before, so we can assume that she had caught something for herself and had a good feed. Her front-right leg has healed up completely and the front-left leg is looking considerably better and appears to be healing after five months. That being said, it is still an open wound, and she is not in the clear just yet. Nyeleti was found with her two cubs near our Bush Breakfast spot one morning, but by the time we got into the area she had dropped them off and carried on looking for a meal, which based on where she took the cubs the next day, was somewhere north of our concession. We also got to see a familiar face when one of my guests spotted a male leopard under a bush whilst bumbling around close to Plains Camp one afternoon. It is the same male that was last seen on Nkhari property some distance away. He is semi-relaxed and after a few minutes he got up and walked off into a thicket, so we left him in peace. Plans to look for him after dark were thwarted by the male lions catching the impala.

The predatory action this week was brought to a close with my guests getting to enjoy three different packs of wild dogs, all of which were found with kills. After hearing that the waitering staff had enjoyed a fantastic sighting of the wild dog harassing the zebras and wildebeest on the plains in front of camp one afternoon, we set off to find them the next morning. Despite one of the guests having seen some dogs run past his suit whilst having morning coffee, it took us some time to find the dogs (the newborn wildebeest did slow us down). We found the pack finishing off an impala before they went to drink at the waterhole in front of camp and ran off. When we eventually relocated them again, they had caught a sizeable warthog and were tucking into that. The next day a small pack of three male wild dogs was found on the plains in the morning and we got to see them catch and devour a baby impala. The week ended off with the 20-plus members of the northern pack feeding on a duiker on our northern boundary to round off a fantastic week of wild dog viewing (and a less fantastic week for the prey animals).

It was so great to see elephants around every corner again; bulls, herds, wallowing, swimming, drinking, pushing over trees…. you name it, they were doing it. We had daily (and nightly) visits from the bulls to our camp pan, and they featured on every drive this week. The buffalos were a little less active, although the week started with a herd of about 100-150 in the west, and ended with another herd of 150-200 in the east.

The Plains were simply alive with game the whole week, and all the guests commented on what a treat it was to be able to drive on them – as small as they are, they are still an absolute hot spot for game, and something so different to what we experience in the rest of the Timbavati.

So, a long blog with lots of photos, but based on what we saw this week, this is still just a smidgeon of what we got to experience.
Be sure to check back in a couple of weeks for the year in review. Until then though, have a wonderful holiday and festive season wherever you may be heading.

Until next year, Cheers!

Chad

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