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A Week of Sizzling Summer in Photos

Chad Cocking | A Week In Pictures

Last week’s pleasing warmth became something of a burdensome heat over the past seven days. Although the thermometer didn’t record temperatures higher than the high-30s, it was the first time in some time we had guests asking to go out for the afternoon later than the regular 4 pm schedule, just to give the sun some time to lose some of its strength. Despite this heat, there was a pleasing trend that the evenings and mornings were still very mild and pleasant, always allowing for a good night’s rest. Although the summer feeling is great, the short-term forecast shows nothing but more sun and partly cloudy skies, with no sign of any follow-up rains heading our way. This is a little concerning for the area, as the rainfall so far this summer has been less than spectacular.

The patchiness of the rainfall hit home this week on one of my sojourns to the east in search of cheetahs; hopeful, I know, but I had found them on two of my last three trips east, so it was worth a chance. Whilst checking the open woodlands of the southeast, it was mind-blowing how over the space of 2km the bush went from lush and green to a landscape that looked like it was as brown as early winter. One block of land (sandwiched by four roads) had tall green grass growing on the northeastern corner and barely a shred of green in the southwest). With another week of heat coming our way, even the greener parts of those landscapes are going to show daily changes as the precious moisture transpires from them. Fortunately, the areas around Tanda Tula Plains Camp remain the greenest in the area and resulting in an abundance of game in front of the camp.

Although I have harped on about the herds of plains game on the plains throughout our time at our temporary home, this was once again one of those weeks that were just magical on the plains. In the early mornings and late afternoons, multiple herds of dozens of zebras and wildebeest, as well as the resident herd of probably 300-400 impalas would all be out grazing on the plains as journeys of giraffes, troops of baboons, and the odd smattering of nyalas and kudus popped out of their usually dense habitats to feed on the plains. Invariably a jackal or a hyena could also be seen skulking about, and with the Drakensberg as a backdrop to these scenes of abundance, it left one’s heart filled with happiness.

Despite trying to capture such moments on camera, I realized this week that such scenes will have to be stored in my grey matter’s memory bank when we head back to Safari Camp; although you can be rest assured that now we have grown to love the magic of the plains, we will be paying regular visits this side even once we have returned home.

The Giraffe Pride eventually left us a sign that they were still alive and well. Early in the week, it started with one set of male lion tracks near camp. This was followed the next day by a gathering of vultures to the south of our southern boundary, but some investigation led to tracks for the whole pride now coming onto our boundary…but they crossed back south. The next two nights followed the same pattern – the pride would come onto our boundary road, but head back into the property that gave them their name. Eventually, after five days of leaving nothing but signs, we bumped into the whole pride resting off full bellies on the boundary road. Needless to say, the next day they had gone back south, but on my last day of work before heading on leave, who should be found resting off even fatter bellies at Sunset Dam…the whole Giraffe Pride. There is no doubt that in my absence over the next two weeks, our guides and guests will be spoilt with the pride and their antics, and when I return, they will have moved off again.

In the east, the lion dynamics became a little more interesting as the Vuyela males continued to make their presence known. One of the males had paired off with the youngest lioness from the River Pride and was found mating in the vicinity of Tanda Tula Safari Camp for several days, taking a partial break to feed on a waterbuck kill, but even then, with bellies fatter than the Giraffe Pride, the male was expected to perform his mating duties. Other Vuyela males would pop in, but we got a surprise towards the end of the week when the two Skorro males were found with the same lioness in the same place that the Vuyela male had been the day before. Luckily it appears as though the Vuyela male moved off without harm, and I heard that all five members were found with three River Pride lionesses a few kilometers to the north of our concession towards the end of the week. The Skorro males went back south, and for now, both parties seem content to remain within their respective territories, even if the Vuyelas have pushed further east in the past week than they have before; but I am sure this was merely out of a desire to follow the estrus lioness. The Mayambula pride remained out of the area, but this could be a response to the not-so-distant roars of the Vuyela males.

The leopards this week made us work a little harder for them than usual, but we were treated to a few good sightings of these elusive cats. Sunset female was found resting up a marula tree near our bush breakfast site one morning, so after some bacon and eggs we popped out to admire her beauty. We saw her tracks in the area a few times after that, as well as tracks for Ntsongwaan male (it has been ages since we have seen him), but sadly they didn’t lead to anything. On the Klaserie River, the Mvuvu female graced Ginger with her presence one afternoon before she moved into the thickets on the banks of this perennial river.
From all accounts, she is now very relaxed with vehicles, and I am hoping that I get to see a little bit more of her over the next three months. In the central regions, we had one sighting of the Nyeleti leap, when she had both of her daughters on the banks of the Nhlaralumi where she had a kill stashed in the thickets.

We were also wonderfully spoilt with great elephant sightings this week; some big herds full of babies spent time in the western areas, and with temperatures reaching the 30s by mid-morning, we often found elephant bulls swimming in the water to cool off, much to the dismay of the numerous hippo pods in the area. The mud wallows were also fantastic for rhinos, and we got truly spoilt with sightings of multiple crashes in the area. Buffalos on the other hand were a different story. Although there was one small herd of a few groups of buffalo bulls hanging around in the wallows and pans in the central areas, in the west we were limited to a handful of sightings of a lone bull close to Plains Camp.

So, did we manage to get our Super 7 for the fourth week in a row? Sadly, unless we are counting sightings of their tracks, we failed. There were a couple of sightings of the small pack of four running around the area, but as is usually the case with this pack, the sightings were brief; we were hot on their trail one morning but sadly nothing came of our search. The only report of a cheetah was towards the end of the week when a single cheetah collared in a game reserve in Mozambique was reported by the Timbavati conservation team in our area, but sadly she wasn’t seen.

A few other highlights of the week were the times spent with the hyena dens in the central and western sections, as well as finding a pair of ostriches in the east. I am not sure if it was the same pair that had the eight chicks at the end of last year, but if it was, the news isn’t good as they were walking around without any chicks.

So, after good sightings of the Big 5, plentiful plains game on the plains, and an assortment of all creatures in between, it was another wonderful week of summer in the Timbavati. I am away for the next two weeks, so there won’t be any updates next Monday, but I will be back in action at the beginning of February, so be sure to check back then to see just how many sightings I have missed out on.

Until next time, cheers!

Chad

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