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A week of the first rains

Chad Cocking | A Week In Pictures

So, our weatherman’s predictions for the week of rain were actually somewhat accurate – and although the rain didn’t fall on as many days as forecast, when it did rain, it rained properly! We had the most wonderful 10 hours of soaking showers that ended with 71mm falling over Tanda Tula Safari Camp, and whilst the dry riverbeds didn’t quite start to flow, the bush got the long-awaited rains that it was so desperate for.

Within hours of the rain, the bush sprung to life: grasses seemed to sprout a more verdant shade of green within minutes, the termites released their future-kings and -queens, and driving around the bush we saw a bounty of smaller creatures coming out. There were tortoises, crabs, giant land snails, millipedes, frogs and a host of birds, including our first sighting of European rollers, and the long-awaited return of the calls of the Woodland Kingfishers – although, these odd calls are still a far cry from the incessant ringing out of their vocals that we are used to hearing at this time of year! By the end of the week, we had caught sight of even more baby impalas (not that the rain affected this), and we saw many more wildebeest calves dropping than the week before. All in all, it was a week that really started to feel more summery.

The lions played along nicely again this week, and our guests saw the cats on most days. Sightings were made up mostly of the Mayambula Pride and their Skorro males – sometimes together in their entirety, but more often than not split into smaller fragments. We saw the pride on a very motivated hunt one evening until the wind started howling – the weather system was blowing in fast – and after that, some of the pride members seemed to lose the others and spent the next couple of hours wandering around alone until they eventually regrouped.  A day later, the whole pride was lying together looking very fat-bellied and continuing the trend of us only ever seeing them after they’ve finished their kills. One morning, we heard another male roar close to the pride in the far west, which was interesting. The two Skorro males were in the far east, and the lionesses soon got up and walked in the opposite direction. We didn’t manage to find the roaring male, as he was deep in the bush, but I suspect it was likely one of the Vuyela males.  The next day, the Mayambula pride were unsurprisingly found in the heart of their territory in the east.

This week also saw the reappearance of the Ross and Hercules females as they popped in for a brief period. Both girls were looking in good shape and their bond seemed as strong as any other lionesses, which is fascinating considering they are unrelated. The biggest surprise of the week was the appearance of eight members of the Avoca Pride in the south-west of our concession. Whilst we didn’t venture down to see them, it was interesting to hear that this pride made a very rare and random visit to our area and were encroaching into the Giraffe Pride territory. It seems they were trailing a buffalo herd and this led to them coming north, but time will tell if it was a one-off visit, or not.

Our leopards continued to make life difficult for us this week, and my sole sighting was of a female on our southern boundary. Although I have seen this female once before, it was also very a brief sighting (we were too busy following cheetahs at the time), and so it was lovely to spend a little more time with her and a baby impala kill. She is a leopard that, despite not seeing vehicles often, is fairly relaxed in our presence and we followed her as she dragged her kill to a thicket before settling down out of the wind and rain. In addition, Stephen saw the same semi-relaxed young male near Nkhari again, and naturally, as soon as I stopped driving the leopards started popping up. Ginger found N’weti in the east, Ntsongwaan was once again seen on a couple of occasions in the south-west, and there was even a first report of Nyeleti in almost 4 weeks! Foreman also bumped into what looked like the Xigodo male on his way home one evening, ending off the week a lot better than it started out.

In addition to the leopards coming out, Foreman also found a family of four cheetahs in the south one morning.  It is almost certainly the same group we saw a few months ago, which were last seen in the same part of our concession at this time last year. It definitely appears to be a trend that at this time of year, there is a peak in cheetah sightings in the open sodic areas of the south east. Sadly, for us, the foursome didn’t hang around for long and soon headed back towards the Kruger Park.

The elephants moved back into the area this week, and one of the more remarkable aspects of their return was the number of tiny new-born babies that are walking around with the herds, the appearance of which suddenly makes their older cousins somewhat less cute than they had been just a week ago! In a total reversal of behaviour, our buffaloes made an exodus from the area and we were not graced with their presence at all this week. There were still a couple of herds around, but most of them were seen in the west and not in our central parts.

The general game was once again very good, with loads of giraffes and zebras in the central areas.  The hope is that with the rain falling across the reserve, the game will start spreading back to the freshly burnt areas of the east where sweet new grasses will be emerging to draw in the plains game.

And that is a wrap for this week’s sightings. Be sure to check back again next week as we enter the last month of 2021. Until next time though, keep safe!

Cheers

Chad

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