Tanda Tula in the Timbavati - Male Lion - Photo: Chad Cocking
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A Week of Unexpected Changes

Chad Cocking | A Week In Pictures

Greetings all, and welcome back to another weekly update in the daily lives of the animals that call Tanda Tula their home.  I came back to work a day earlier than expected, and it was just in time to change my mind about my approach to this week’s post.  My initial plan was to give a recap of the year so far, but with the developments in the world of our lions over the last few days, I thought this would be a far more relevant, and exciting, post.

The River Pride was joined by the two Nharhu males early in the week when the pride was found feasting on a large kill on the thick banks of the Machaton Riverbed, to the North of Tanda Tula Safari Camp. It was difficult to ascertain what they had killed, there was a brief moment when even I thought the large straight horn tip I could see may have even belonged to an eland!  Common sense prevailed and with a little more investigation, we soon saw that it was actually a large male waterbuck that the pride had caught.  This in itself is something that is rather rare in this part of the concession.  The two males were lying close by, stuffed full, while allowing the rest of the pride to feed.

Tanda Tula in the Timbavati - Male Lions - Photo: Chad Cocking

A couple of days later the pride were found just after they had caught a young kudu. The males were not present, they had wandered off to the East.  A couple of days later the cut-nosed male was found resting in an open area near the large fig trees, but it was clear he had been involved in a fight – was it with the sub-adults from the Mayambula Pride?  Were the Mbiri males back?  Or was there another coalition we didn’t know of operating in the East?  It was difficult to assess the extent of his injuries, but when he was found in exactly the same spot the next day, we realised it was not good news.  Two days later, when he was still in the exact same spot, we started to fear that he was in fact far more severely injured than first assumed, and now we were worried for his life.

anda Tula in the Timbavati - Male Lion - Photo: Chad Cocking

Without the males, the River Pride continued to feed well and were found with their third large kill of the week, a wildebeest, just to the South of Safari Camp. That evening they even visited the camp waterhole during dinner.  So, when I was awoken with the sound of two male lions roaring close to camp, I naturally thought that the injured Nharhu male had reunited with the limping male and were now making their way back to the pride.

Tanda Tula in the Timbavati - Male Lions - Photo: Chad Cocking

Tanda Tula in the Timbavati - Male Lion - Photo: Chad Cocking

The pride had relocated into the thickets of the Nhlaralumi Riverbed the next morning not too far from camp, and tracks for two male lions were also in the area.  However, when Foreman checked on the injured Nharhu male by the fig trees, he was still there.  That meant it wasn’t the Nharhu males roaring, nor indeed their tracks close to the River Pride.  I was back on drive and Eric and Jack set about tracking down these male lions and found them close to our camp, but upon arriving, it was not the Mbiri males we half expected them to be.  There were indeed two of them, but they were younger, and much shyer lions that none of us recognised.  That evening whilst having dinner, they began roaring right where the guides had left the River Pride earlier in the evening and we all realised that in the last 24 hours, things had changed greatly for the lions of the central Timbavati.

Fortunately, the River Pride with their cubs came moving through the camp during dinner and hustled away in the opposite direction to where the new male lions were walking.  As their roars disappeared to the North, I started feeling hopeful that they may just have been passing through… however, I woke up with them roaring close to camp once again this morning.

When they were located, they were heading straight South to where the injured Nharhu male had been left.  Upon checking on this male, there was nothing more than a few clumps of mane hair, blood-stained soil and a scrap of meat overlying a mass of hyena tracks that for all intents and purposes, seems to spell the end of the cut-nosed Nharhu male.  Interestingly, there were also tracks for two lionesses (presumably from the Mayambula Pride) that came into the area to investigate the commotion caused by the hyenas, but their tracks left the area to the South…and tracks for a male lion left the area to the West. Exactly whose tracks they were is a mystery.  At first I thought it may well have been the injured Nharhu male, but after talking to Civilized, he is certain that the Nharhu male is no more and that it must have been another individual.  The River Pride were also found resting not too far from Tanda Tula, and surprisingly hadn’t vacated the area as we had all imagined they would have.

A friend of mine helped me identify the two new male lions as the Skorro males from the Northern Timbavati; dominant males of the Western Pride that resides further north.  I cannot say that I have seen these lions in our concession before, but at almost 7 years old, they are reaching their prime, and based on the happenings of this past week, it looks like they are intent on expanding their control in the area. With the damage done to the Nharhu males already, and with a limping male seemingly the last lion standing (albeit on three legs), the odds are good that these Skorro males (not to be confused with the name that some guides use to describe the limping Nharhu lion) are not going to simply just walk away.

They walked straight into the heart of the Nharhu male’s territory and started roaring their heads off – that takes guts, and a confidence that shows they know that this land is now theirs.

This does not bode well for the River Pride, and without the protection of a coalition of strong males to defend their territory, the mothers will have to do their best to keep away from the new males.  If this is to succeed, it may require the River Pride lionesses to do what they did over three years ago in a move that brought them into the area. They will have to uproot themselves from the area that has been their safe haven for the last two years and venture off into lands unknown until they find an unoccupied area and eke out a living until the cubs are old enough to survive on their own.  It would take an extraordinary amount of effort on their part (and the cubs), as well as an equal measure of luck to avoid all leonine competition for such a period of time, but it is not impossible.

The Xakubasa Pride with their two white lions did just this back in 2009 to protect their young cubs and the two mothers managed to raise them to maturity.  Realistically though, the outlook is probably on the opposite extreme of the optimism scale, and if the Skorro males want this territory and the lionesses that go with it, they will pursue the pride until they find them, and sadly for the five youngsters of the River Pride, when these new males eventually find them, they will become causalities of a pride take-over.  This is sad reality of life in the bush but something that has happened on countless occasions over time immemorial and will continue to happen for as long as we can keep these majestic cats alive.

For now, though, the future of the limping Nharhu male and the River Pride remain undetermined (and even the fate of the injured Nharhu is still based on circumstantial evidence); the only thing that is for sure is that their futures are far less certain than they were at this time last week.

In other news, Xigodo continues to make himself at home around camp, and he has been seen wandering around here for the past two nights.  Nyeleti’s tracks have also been coming and going, but she has been far more elusive.  The two separate buffalo herds have continued to utilise the central part of our concession, and the elephants have been around in good numbers, and these numbers grew by one this morning!  We came across the most special scene of a herd of elephants that were welcoming a newborn calf into their family – the calf could not have been more than an hour old, and it was fascinating to watch the interactions within the herd.  Be sure to check out our Instagram page for a video of the newborn calf.

anda Tula in the Timbavati - Newborn elephant calf - Photo: Chad Cocking

Until next time folks, keep well and stay safe and be sure to check back again next week to see just how much of the predicted drama has unfolded here at Tanda Tula.

Cheers

Chad

anda Tula in the Timbavati - Newborn elephant calf - Photo: Chad Cocking

anda Tula in the Timbavati - Newborn elephant calf - Photo: Chad Cocking

anda Tula in the Timbavati - Newborn elephant calf - Photo: Chad Cocking

anda Tula in the Timbavati - Newborn elephant calf - Photo: Chad Cocking

 

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