Things really heated up this week, on all fronts! Temperatures touched high-30s, game viewing was on fire, and so was the eastern part of our concession! With the hot, dry conditions and predicted winds, the reserve was on high alert for the possibility of fires. At this time of year we are extremely vigilant and extra cautious. For once though, these warnings of fires proved accurate and the reserve’s emergency channel started coming to life as it was realised that a decent-sized fire had started in the north-eastern corner of our traversing area. The teams seemed to have it under control with back burns, bowsers and beaters, but as the afternoon heated up, a strong breeze blew in and started to undo all of the hard work the staff had been putting in to containing the fire as it soon started jumping roads.
We were all fortunate that the area that the fire was burning in was free of any infrastructure, and we had the dense and green Machaton Riverbed and its associated bare sodic sites along its river course offering good protection against the camps further west in the Timbavati. Eventually, after several hours of trying to contain the blaze, the decision was made to let it burn itself out, using existing burnt areas as the fire breaks that they were ultimately intended for. All in all, after three days of burning, around 1,500ha of the eastern Timbavati burnt, of which about 950ha sat within our concession. The fire left behind a smokey, blackened landscape.
As destructive as this may appear, fires are part of a natural cycle, and are essential for ecosystem maintenance. The timing of the fire could not have been better, and a few millimetres of rain combined with the existing moisture in the soils meant that within two days of the fire, green shoots were already erupting through the charred remains of last winters’ grass cover. Once the first decent rains arrive, this area will transform into a nutritious green paradise and hopefully act like a magnet for all the grazers in the area. The other burnt areas within the central Timbavati are greening up nicely as we look forward to what will hopefully be another wet summer.
Away from the burnt areas, there are lilies starting to pop up one by one. This week I saw the first Scodoxus or snake lilies, as well as the one-day lilies (Pancratium tenuifolium) emerging from the ground, and I am sure this trend will continue as more rains fall. This week also saw the mopane pomegranates burst into flower, as well as the dwarf boer-beans, a sure sign that summer is coming.
I was only on drive for four nights last week, and they were a fantastic few days. The absolute highlight being seeing wild dogs on seven consecutive drives. The great thing was that we were spoilt with not one, but two large packs! The pack of 21 from last week with the 11 adults and ten pups hung around for a couple of days in the south and we had a lovely sighting of them one morning when we tracked them down and found them finishing off an impala, chasing hyenas around and eventually settling at a nearby pan. The next day we caught up with the northern pack of 25 wild dogs and got to watch these incredible animals over the course of a couple of days as they interacted amongst themselves, as well as the ever-present hyenas. As is typical of wild dogs now that their pups are big enough to move with the pack, they didn’t hang around for too long and both packs moved out of our area, and we now await their return.
The mating lions of last week also continued into this week before the young lioness lost interest and wandered off in search of the pride, leaving one of the Skorro males feeling somewhat lonely based on the amount of roaring he was doing. One windy afternoon that sent temperatures from 38 to around 15 degrees Celsius saw us finding this male curled up in a ball trying to get out of the cold wind. I had just told my guests that he wouldn’t waste his energy roaring I these conditions when he suddenly heard another pride member roaring upwind from him and immediately responded. He kept calling as he marched off in search of his pride mates but the wind and possibly lack of sun saw him getting seriously disorientated and he walked off in a completely wrong direction! Later in the week, we did catch up with all seven lionesses and one of the males as the continue to move large distances on a daily basis looking for enough food to satisfy the energy requirements of this large pride. The week also saw the two Sark breakaway lions making a reappearance and they are looking in good shape, and he is growing into a nice young male! The Giraffe Pride were found in the west late in the week, but with the Mayambula Pride around, our guides didn’t travel that far to see them.
It was another quiet week on the leopard front, with Xigodo making a few appearances after he was found feasting on the remains of a dead male nyala on the banks of the Nhlaralumi. Then we also had a surprise sighting of Marula Jnr one morning as we were pulling into a buffalo sighting. Thinking it was a skittish leopard as it bounded away in the thickets, we slowly made our way around to see if we could get a better view. The next thing a blur of white ran straight for the buffalo, and this was following by trampling hooves and a slight scream. At first I thought she must be super skittish if she ran from us straight into a herd of buffalo, but Glen said we must go look as he was sure the leopard made a kill, and sure enough as we approached, we realised that it was Marula Jnr female, and she had caught herself a grey duiker, and that she had simply been stalking the small antelope the whole time. She eventually dragged it away to an impenetrable drainage line area and we lost sight of her, but it once again shows that you just never know what to expect in the bush! As for the buffalo, it was the only occasion that the large breeding herd paid us a visit this week, and the rest of our sightings were made up of the odd buffalo bulls in the area.
With mud wallows and greenery emerging all over the show, the elephant activity was not as consistent as it has been in the late dry season, but we still had some stunning sightings of several families moving around Tanda Tula Safari Camp. My last drive of the week saw us coming across a grouping of some 50-60 elephants just after we had seen the leopard kill! Giraffes remained plentiful in the area, but the grazers like the wildebeest and zebras seemed to have dispersed. The fact that their favoured areas of the reserve got burnt no doubt spurred that on, but they will be back in the not too distant future.
So, as can be seen from the above, as well as this week’s selection of photos both here and on Facebook, it was quite a week here in the heart of the Greater Kruger, so hope you enjoy this week’s update!
Until next time, keep safe!
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