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A week of invading lions

Chad Cocking | A Week In Pictures

As another month gets torn from of our 2022 calendars, we move into the last month of winter…already!  The temperatures also seem to indicate that the coldest days are behind us as the day times have been warming to mid- to high-twenties most days, and even the mornings are lacking the chill that has been accompanying us the past few weeks.  It is still amazing to see just how good the condition of the bush in the Timbavati is at the moment. Despite the environment eventually taking on some form of winter colours, one doesn’t have to look too far past the brown grasses to see that beneath the drying upper parts of the grass, there are still plenty of green shoots out there.    

The red bushwillows are eventually turning yellow and readying themselves to drop their leaves, and our natural pans are slowly starting to shrink as the warmer days speed up evaporation.  Despite the look of winter settling on our surrounds, the first signs of spring are already showing as the knobthorns started sprouting flowers last week.  For those who have followed these blogs over the years, you may remember how excited I get at this time of year waiting for these very flowers to emerge.  I am hoping like mad that this year will be a bumper flowering season for the knobthorn trees, as Tanda Tula Plains Camp is surrounded by loads and loads of these trees! 

 

I ended off the last blog not expecting to be driving too much this past week, but some changes in bookings led to me being out on drive for most of the week, and what a week it was!  The lions of the east took centre stage as a week of unexpected intruders led to some interesting sightings, and they could have some even more interesting consequences over the coming weeks and months.  The first intruders introduced themselves when they – “they” being two youngish male lions that have now been identified as young males from the Black Dam Pride in the neighbouring Thornybush – were found trailing behind a nervous looking Mayambula lioness.   

The Mayambula Pride had been found finishing off a kill beyond the western limits of their territory early one morning before moving down into the Nhlaralumi Riverbed to rest their full bellies.  The next day the guides following up found a single lioness moving rapidly back towards the core of the territory, and soon the reason for her haste became known when the two young male lions appeared.  Luckily the lioness managed to throw them off of her scent trail and the intruders stopped just short of the area where the other Mayambula lionesses were with the cubs.   

The pride was found moving over our eastern boundary the following day, but fortunately all eleven cubs were still fine, and when they returned a day later and killed a wildebeest it seemed as though the intruding males had not had much impact on their behaviour.  A day or so later, the males made a reappearance right in the heart of Mayambula territory and walked around scent-marking and spraying as if they owned the place. Even the not-so-distant roars of the Skorro males didn’t seem to deter them.  Being smaller males I was not too worried that they would pose much threat to the Skorro males and the Mayambula cubs.  When the two young males were seen crossing west into the Klaserie at the end of the week, I thought that their exploration of the area was over. 

I was wrong. 

 The next morning as I headed east in search of male lions, I got word that two male lions had been found close to Nkhari homestead.  Shortly after another young male lion was found in the area, and then another.  It was all a bit confusing for the guides, and difficult to keep up, as the lions were all moving in different directions, and there was more roaring coming from different directions.  I was heading there slowly, but when the two young male lions suddenly turned into a group of five male lions, I wasted no time in getting into the area!  Arriving in the sighting expecting to see the Vuyela coalition, I was somewhat surprised to see that it was another coalition of five males, but somewhat younger than the Vuyela boys, and still with some way to grow. 

The mystery as to who they were had to be put on pause as one of the dominant Skorro males came roaring into the area, and quite unexpectedly left very soon afterwards with the five young males chasing after them…oh dear!  Only two of the males persisted in the chase as they all disappeared, roaring as they ran into the distance.  The three other young males stayed behind and continued to roar, with other calls echoing from all directions.  A short while later the two young males – subsequently identified as the Birmingham Breakaway young males from the southern Timbavati – came running back from where they were heading with reports of the Skorro male not far behind them.   

As lions moved off in all directions, we soon found that we had lost them all, and the two Black Dam males that had been around earlier had also vanished.  Luckily, the roaring close to field camp led to one of the Skorro males being located as he headed back north, but minutes later after losing him briefly, another report came that there were two males running back in the total opposite direction.  These lions were making it impossible to follow them, just when I thought I knew what was going on, another lion would pitch up.  It soon ended up with the two Black Dam young males pursuing a lone Skorro male, but upon realising that he was being trailed, soon turned on them and chased after them, asserting his authority.  As the morning wore on, the lions settled down; the Black Dam males spent the day next to Tanda Tula Field Camp and the Skorro male returned to the Mayambula pride. We have no idea where the five Birmingham Breakaways disappeared to.  

While this was all going on, Ginger also managed to find a single Mayambula lioness, and then another two lionesses and three cubs (not to mention a pack of wild dogs after they stole a kill from a leopard).   

So, what does this all mean for our lions?  It is too soon to tell, but it could make for an interesting few weeks if these invading lions continue to hang around.  The way the Black Dam males were scent marking and roaring, they seem to believe that they owned the place. However, it seems unlikely that they would overthrow the two Skorro males, as long as the latter stick together, which didn’t seem to be happening yesterday!  The fact that the Birmingham Breakaways chased off the Skorro male so easily is a little concerning, but as these males are quite young, I can’t see them taking over the territory just yet. I don’t think the Mayambula lionesses would be too welcoming of their presence.  For now, my prediction is that the Skorro males will have to work hard to keep these intruding coalitions at bay, but as things stand, I can’t see them losing out to either group just yet.   

Aside from that action, the single Sark lioness managed to kill herself a large kudu bull near Nkhari and kept it away from the hyenas for a couple of days.  Two of the Mayambula lionesses also managed to kill a warthog one afternoon to round off a good week for the pride.  The Giraffe Pride continued to frustrate us by only leaving tracks around Plains Camp without any sightings. 

The leopards were also on form this week with several individuals showing face and having some kills.  Scotch started the week finding a young male in the west with an impala kill, and he hung around for a couple of days.  Nyeleti and her two cubs showed up after a fairly long absence and also gave a couple of days of good viewing when they were found with a kill before the last scraps got stolen by wild dogs.  As mentioned, Ginger also found a male leopard that had just had his kill nabbed by some wild dogs.  Sunset female was seen on a few occasions, with her ending our week resting up a marula tree.  Later that morning she caught a steenbuck before hiding the kill and heading off in search of her daughter.  The biggest surprise of the week though was arriving at a leopard sighting and finding that the large male leopard was the long lost Tamboti male from central Timbavati who was now seen in our western sections.  He was looking a little on the hungry side, but it was good to not only see him again, but also to see that he was still very relaxed with our presence! 

The week wouldn’t have been as enjoyable as it was if it wasn’t for the other characters that call Tanda Tula their home; the hyena den continues to delight guests on a daily basis, as do the herds of plains game around Plains Camp.  There was some lovely elephant activity in both the western and eastern sections of the concession this week, with some large breeding herds making themselves at home.   

We also enjoyed the presence of no fewer than four different breeding herds of buffalos, with a couple of herds numbering well over 300-400 individuals, making for magic sightings whenever they were on the move and headed to water.   

Throw in a few sightings of three different packs of wild dogs, and you will have to agree that it was quite a week our guests got to enjoy! 

I look forward to seeing what next week brings us – so be sure to check back for more updates soon 

Until next time, cheers! 

Chad 

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