Oh! How wonderful it was to be back on drive in the gorgeous summer surrounds of the central Timbavati after all those weeks away! The bush is looking amazing, full of birds, mammals and – considering it is the middle of summer – fantastically mild weather; I even needed to dust off my jacket for the fresh early mornings that had a distinctive autumn feel to them before daytime temperatures rose and made for perfect pool weather! The weekend was rather breezy which kept the animals confined to the thickets for a while, but as soon as the wind dropped, they all came out. We also recorded a further 12mm of rain on the weekend.
One aspect that I particularly loved about this past week was that despite there being hardly any vehicles out, we still managed to find some fantastic sightings: in fact, during the course of the week of driving, I only responded to two sightings – one on the very first drive, and one on the very last.
The highlight of the week for me was the abundance of general game in the east of the concession; the open areas were filled with zebras, impalas, wildebeest and impalas. One afternoon bumble through the East had us seeing in excess of 150 zebras scattered amongst herds of hundreds of impalas, and dozens of wildebeest and giraffe. It turned out to be my favourite drive of the year so far (although it didn’t hurt that we also found elephants, rhinos, hyenas that had just stolen a kill from a leopard and ended off with lions on the hunt). Although there are still spots of thick bush and long grass that the plains game is avoiding, the open areas in the west and the burnt areas in the northeast are alive with animals!
The lions taunted us all week; every trip to the south-east in search of the Mayambula pride saw us finding tracks of where the lionesses had walked on top of our tracks during the night, but each time, they went down into the impenetrable Machaton Riverbed where the den site is. Tracks confirm that they are still there with the cubs, but they certainly are testing our patience by not showing themselves! Over the course of the week we did find one Skorro male near the den roaring for his brother, and on another occasion we found two of the younger lionesses, but other than that, we had to use our imagination and picture them walking all over the show! The River Pride spent a couple of days in the area, but it did take a little bit of work to track them down. The lionesses are looking fantastic, and all five youngsters are getting bigger by the week. There is still no sign of the Nharhu male following the pride this far south. In the west, tracks for the Giraffe Pride were reported a few times, and a single lioness was found one morning, but we didn’t venture that far to look them.
On the leopard front, it was encouraging to see that the incredibly relaxed Xidulu male continues to be seen in the east, and he was seen on two successive days quite near Safari Camp. Thumbela left her tracks all over the show, and we only succeeded in finding her on one occasion; Glen had just jumped off to follow some fresh tracks for her as I reversed 80m back to check another road, and whilst reversing she came walking past us! Xigodo young male was the unfortunate leopard to lose his kill to hyenas during the week. We were watching some rhinos when we heard hyenas fighting and shot off in that direction in search of them, fully expecting to find the hyenas fighting with wild dogs. Upon arriving at the location of the descending vultures, we saw only three hyenas tucking into an impala before Glen’s eagle eye’s spotted the leopard hiding in the grass a short distance away. He must have used the long grass for cover as he caught the impala in the relative open in the middle of the afternoon, but without any nearby trees to hoist the kill into, the hyenas scored themselves a free meal. Scotch also caught up with the young male leopard that we have been seeing around Nkhari, but after a short while he disappeared in some long grass.
The cat sightings were completed this week by two sightings of the relaxed female cheetah in the east. Despite the sightings being several days apart, the two sightings were within 100m of one another. At the risk of cursing this run, she is seemingly becoming quite resident in the area! On both occasions her belly was very full (which is also making us wonder if she might not also be pregnant), and with the bounty of impala on the plains in the east, it is no surprise. The bigger surprise is that she is hanging out in very close proximity to the lion den, but for some reason the lions don’t seem to be venturing north on their hunting expeditions. Hey, if it means that we can have regular cheetah viewings, then the lions are most welcome to stay in the south!
The breeding herds of elephants went from abundant to somewhat scarce, but unusually we had a constant presence of bulls in the area throughout the week, with sightings on most drives. These bulls included some impressive bulls in full musth that spent their time sniffing out oestrus females in the herds and chasing off younger and smaller males. The buffalos were very scarce this week and were represented by a handful of sightings of bulls, and one breeding herd moving around in the west.
All in all, though, it was a fantastic week to be out guiding! So, we hope you enjoy this week’s story and photos, and will catch up again next week.
Until then, stay safe!
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