Tanda-Tula lion, Chad Cocking, Timbavati
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A Week of The Big Cats of the East in Pictures

Chad Cocking | A Week In Pictures

I am back, after a wonderful week down on South Africa’s east coast was, but it is always a treat to return to the Greater Kruger, especially at this time of the year.  The bush is turning a golden shade as summer’s greens slowly become a distant memory; temperatures are about as close to perfect as they get all year, and with it still being holiday season here in South Africa, we still have many locals enjoying safaris with us here at Tanda Tula Safari Camp.

Tanda Tula mating lions, Chad Cocking

As usual, my absence meant that there was some great game viewing on offer: as I spent my time swimming in the Indian Ocean, our guests got to enjoy lots of lion activity mostly in the form of the River Pride that moved much further north than they have ventured for many months. The leopard viewing sounded excellent too, from Marula Jnr with two kills to Nyeleti and the pale-eyed male mating, as well as good views of Thumbela and her growing cub. Our relaxed female cheetah added to the list of sightings that made me jealous and very eager to get back into the swing of things.

Tanda-Tula lion and cub by Chad Cocking, Timbavati

I was only on drive for a few of the days this week, but it was a week filled with the big cats in the eastern parts of Tanda Tula’s concession, with the River Pride being the main attraction throughout the week.  As mentioned, they moved north along the Machaton Riverbed over the past few weeks and seem to have settled very nicely into the area with the three little cubs doing very well.  They seem to be having far greater hunting success in the area, and this is not surprising as having been based further south for the past three months left very few general game species in that area. So, the move to old hunting grounds around the biggest body of water in the east (Machaton Dam) was almost necessary, and it paid off handsomely. The pride had finished a wildebeest the day before I got back, and then two days later they were found fat-bellied at Machaton Dam, having eaten during the night once more. To end things off, when we followed up the next morning, the pride was located with a massive male kudu kill just east of camp that kept them feeding for another day and a half before they returned once again to Machaton Dam.

Tanda-Tula lion cub feeding, Chad Cocking

Tanda-Tula lion cub with kudu ear, Chad Cocking

Even when the whole pride wasn’t at the dam, the oldest lioness was found on most days mating with the two Nharhu males – first it was the cut-nosed male, but she didn’t look overly interested in him, but once the limping male took over, their mating activity intensified greatly. There has been no further word on the sickly Nharhu male, but one morning whilst sitting with the mating pair (while the limping Nharhu was at the kudu kill to the west), another male lion could be heard roaring in the east. The mating lions looked in that direction, but didn’t react at all, which made both Glen and I wonder if this roaring was possibly coming from the third male – the same male I had been telling my guests was likely dead! Time will tell if he returns, but I am still doubtful.

Tanda-Tula male lion, Chad Cocking

With the River Pride being so much more central – and vocal – this week, our other prides that have been looking to establish themselves were far less in evidence. Although the Balule females had reunited with the Dundee male the week before, there was no sign of them this week. The Sark breakaway pride were seen further west within our concession, and members of the Giraffe Pride were reported on three occasions this week, the last time seemingly in the company of the Sumatra male lion following the unfortunate find of a dead male lion in the far west that is presumed to be the non-limping Monwana male. If this is the case, the injured Monwana male would be unlikely to keep these two larger, stronger males at bay and there might be yet another change of guardianship of the Giraffe Pride females.

Tanda-Tula Nweti Leopardess by Chad Cocking

With the lions being as active as they were in the east, it is perhaps not too surprising that the leopards were a little more difficult to come by, but it wasn’t through a lack of trying! We found fresh tracks for leopards every time we drove in the east but tracking them down proved another story all together! Despite consistent attemptas, Thumbela eluded Glen and I this week, but we did manage to catch up with N’weti female and Xigodo male in the eastern sections over the course of a few days.  The pale-eyed male was also reported, and at night it sounds as though he is slowly becoming more comfortable with the vehicles.

Tanda-Tula young leopard, Chad Cocking

Towards the end of the week, whilst looking for leopard in the east, Glen let me know that there were fresh cheetah tracks heading towards some of the open areas, and we promptly went to check there.  Finding white-headed vultures, bateleur and tawny eagles in the area, I was convinced that the cheetah was there with a kill, but despite checking with a vehicle and on foot, we had no joy.  Glen went back to the original tracks, but they seemed to head west, and I was just about to pick him up when Civilized radioed to say that as he was leaving some elephants, he bumped into two cheetahs in the very spot we had been looking! It was another relaxed female with a sub-adult of just under a year, and the first time I had seen them (this is possibly the sole remaining offspring of the mother seen in the south-east last year with her three cubs?).  They looked very well fed which was a good sign, as the mother cheetah was walking with a slightly concerning limp on her back right leg – never a good sign in a cheetah that needs to be in pristine shape in order to be able to hunt successfully. They walked around the open area looking for a shady spot to settle in before they went to sleep.  As always, it is such a treat to see these stunning cats.

Tanda-tula cheetah portrait, Chad Cocking

Tanda-Tula cheetah and sub-adult, Chad Cocking

Away from the cats, the east had a few groups of zebras and wildebeest, but wasn’t as productive as usual (most likely as a result of the presence of the lions), and the west seemed to have better non-cat sightings. On the odd occasion that I ventured west of the Nhlaralumi Riverbed, we were rewarded with some good sightings of buffalo bulls, elephant herds, zebras, giraffes and rhinos.

Tanda-Tula baby elephant, Chad Cocking

We have another busy long-weekend coming up this week, so I am sure that with the extra eyes and ears on the lookout for game, we should be rewarded with some more great game-viewing here in the central Timbavati, so be sure to check back then and see how our animals are getting on.

Until next time, take care!

Cheers
Chad

Tanda-Tula baboon troop, Chad Cocking

 

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