I mentioned last week that we were expecting some more rain over the past weekend, and for once the weatherman’s predictions were spot on! With 90 percent chance of 60-100mm forecast over the period, it was pretty certain that we were going to get wet and after 48 hours of soft soaking rain, the rain gauge had 66m of rain in it and left us with a very wet and soggy Timbavati. I haven’t recorded any rainfall in the month of May since I started collecting data, and research shows that the average monthly rainfall for the month of May over the past 40 years is only 5mm. We have received 75mm this May, and has left the bushveld in an incredible state going into the official start of Winter. The areas surrounding Tanda Tula Plains Camp are lush and green, and even further west the bush has a green tinge; the typical autumn shades that are usually well entrenched in the surroundings at this time of year feel as though they are still several weeks away from showing themselves, and I can only imagine that the herbivores are loving having this bounty of food around.
Arriving back from my short break last Friday and starting with guests the afternoon before the rains were due to arrive, I had to make sure that we saw as much as we could just as an insurance policy, as one is never sure just how just how lucky one will be with animals during such rainy periods. The first afternoon was fantastic as we headed east to go and see the Mayambula Pride and their cubs who had been found not far from Tanda Tula Safari Camp. Along the way we got to see a large breeding herd of buffalo, elephants, a host of general game and arrived at the lions just as the sun was setting. Despite the timing, the cubs were rather restful and as the pride awoke, yawned and groomed, it was only the mothers that got up and walked off leaving the cubs at the den.
We managed to see Xidulu male leopard on the way back to Plains Camp, and were delighted with a good afternoon. The rains arrived that night and continued through the morning leading to a drive in the rain, but we persisted and got to see some lovely elephant bulls. That afternoon remained surprisingly dry, but for fear of getting caught too far from camp we stayed in the area of Plains and enjoyed zebras, giraffes, hippos, wildebeest and hyenas, but one of the more magical moments was seeing a glorious rainbow as a break in the clouds led to some brief sunshine.
During the night the rains continued, and whilst out on morning drive tracking rhinos, we came across some fresh tracks for the Giraffe Pride in the area. As the rain continued the tracks got more and more disturbed, and the fact that they walked all over the show didn’t give us a clear direction and eventually we had to quit. One thing we did establish though was that it looked as though the cubs were clearly still left somewhere in our concession. The afternoon rain subsided for just long enough for us to have a short drive, but we were buoyed by the forecast that Monday would be a sunny and dry day!
Waking up to a colourful sunrise we headed out as a light cloud cover dropped a slight drizzle on us for a couple of hours, but with more sunshine and a double rainbow for company, we knew we were going to have a good day! The lion tracks came back to the area where we suspected the cubs were hidden, and Glen got tracking. It was slow going as the pride moved up and down, but he did manage to find some of the lionesses resting deep in within a block. As the ground was still totally soaked, there was no chance of driving in to see them, so we decided to take a walk with the three guests and got to see a few members of the Giraffe Pride before they got up and moved into a thicket. We decided to try them later that evening, and carried on with drive. We followed up in an area where impalas had been alarm calling earlier in the day and found Sunset female leopard along with what looked like a young male. Sadly they only spent a short time walking close to the road before disappearing deeper into the bush. The morning ended with some elephants feeding around our vehicle and loads more general game popping out to enjoy the sun…as much as we love rain in the bush, it was really great to be dry again.
With the afternoon mission set to find the lions, we took it easy around Plains Camp and enjoyed some good general game, rhino a very large breeding herd of buffalos in the area close to the lions, and then went to sundowners with a pod of hippos and a colourful sunset. Whilst watching another day end, we could hear the lions roaring in a couple of directions; we opted to follow up in the contact calls closest to us and bumped into one lioness crossing the road ahead of us. We jumped ahead to the next road and found her again…followed by all ten cubs! What a treat, but they carried on on their mission, so we once more jumped ahead to the next road, and as we found them, they reunited with the rest of the pride, including the Hercules and Sumatra males. We sat with the males as the females started to roar a little further down the road, and we got to sit and enjoy the experience of having a male lion roar within 5m of us! After the lionesses and cubs walked past again with the cubs we left them to it and watched the myriad of stars above our heads as the whole Giraffe pride roared behind us – magic!
The next day was a leopard day, and although the morning was a little quiet, we still managed to see a breeding herd of elephants, a herd of buffalo and found a skittish male leopard with a kill. The hyenas were out in full force and besides an active den site, we had several other sightings of these fascinating creatures. In the afternoon, we had to drop a guest off at the airstrip, and the other return guests wanted to go and see the construction of the new Safari Camp, so we did a marathon drive. It began with giraffes and the skittish male leopard up a tree with his kill, but sadly he came down even with us stopped 80m away. Later that afternoon we managed to see the pale-eyed male leopard feeding on the last remains of an impala kill belonging to Thumbela and her son. It was by far the best sighting of this leopard I have had, and even with it being day time, he tolerated our presence at close quarters. We left him when we spotted Thumbela and her son popping out for a drink at Machaton Dam. To close up the afternoon, we bumbed into yet another male leopard on the Plains Camp access road – 5 leopards in a drive, not bad for a still-wet Timbavati! And, we just missed making it 8 in one drive when we just missed seeing Nyeleti and her cubs on our way to Safari Camp earlier in the afternoon – both Dale and Foreman had seen them, but they sadly left the road before we arrived in the area.
My last drive for the week was a slightly quieter affair, but it was mostly filled with regretting not taking a chance! The female cheetah and her two cubs were found east of Tanda Tula Safari Camp, and I had a feeling that if we committed to the trip, she would almost certainly get up and move deeper into the bush (which was still too wet for off-road driving). Murphy’s Law, because I didn’t commit to going, she naturally stayed around all morning resting with the cubs! It was one of those things, and I will have to keep my fingers crossed that they show up again soon. To end off the week, as I finished drive, the Mayambula lionesses eventually introduced their 3 newest cubs! We are not sure if these belong to one or two lionesses, but the cub count is now up to 11!
The arrival of all of these cubs should be of no surprise, as they are all clearly aware that I am about to head off on a small sabbatical. I am heading off to Kenya for a month to spend a month as a “photographer in residence” at a camp in the Masai Mara. The Timbavati has a habit of dishing out the cheetah sightings whenever I go to East Africa to look for them, so I am sure that they will be out in force during June! It is always sad being away from Tanda Tula for so long, but I am looking forward to getting to experience a different landscape, some different wildlife and taking a few photos while I am at it! But, you can be rest assured that I will be back soon, and cannot wait to return to the Timbavati.
Until next time, cheers
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