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A Weekend of White Surprises in Photos

Chad Cocking | A Week In Pictures

Another week has passed by here in the heart of the Timbavati, and with each passing week, we are moving closer to winter. This morning was one of the chillier mornings we have experienced this year and a sure sign that the change of seasons is almost upon us. That being said, the daytime temperatures are still wonderful, and yesterday afternoon we enjoyed temperatures in the high 20s – not bad for the start of winter. Despite the lack of late summer rains in our area (the surrounding parts of the Lowveld had some great rain just over a week ago), the bush is still in great shape, and none of the trees have started to shed their leaves yet, so all the animals are looking in great shape and enjoying what is still a time of relative plentifulness.

I only joined the other guides on drive towards the end of the week and spent the weekend on drive with a group of return guests. Sensing the animals had to give them a warm welcome, I returned to drive with a cracking start. We started on the plains with some good general game (although the zebras seem to have all vacated the western sections – there are still good numbers in the east), hippos, giraffes, and a crash of rhinos. This was soon followed by a parade of elephants making their way to a waterhole for a late afternoon drink. Heading further east hoping to get lucky with the pack of wild dogs on the access road, we got lucky and found a dozen members of the pack running down the road as the sun was setting. They headed off into the Klaserie, so we carried on towards the Sark Breakaway lions a little distance away but had a bonus when a leopard was located 200m from where we were. She had the stomach of an impala hoisted in a marula tree, and this meant that her usually shy nature wouldn’t kick in, so we pulled up closer to admire her as she lay resting in the fork of the marula tree. After a minute or two, she got up and descended the tree – I thought this was going to be the end of the sighting, but rather than running away, the female leopard walked past us and into a nearby bush where Jack spotted the remainder of her kill. The leopard realised that it was getting dark and that hyenas were soon to be lurking and she needed to get her kill up the tree, so she dragged the carcass back past us to the marula tree. She made one attempt to hoist the kill but didn’t get very far. She tried again and managed to get the still-relatively-complete carcass about halfway up the tree trunk before losing her grip, sending both leopard and carcass to the ground. As soon as she hit the ground, the leopard jumped back up into the tree, but this time she left the carcass…she had heard a hyena approaching and knew it wasn’t worth risking life or limb over a meal if she tried to get the carcass up again and the hyena came running in and nipped at her. Sadly – as is so often the case for our leopards – the leopard’s hesitation in hoisting the kill before the hyenas started stirring ultimately led to the hyena successfully scavenging the kill off of the unfortunate cat.

After that excitement, we eventually made our way to where the lions had been left and caught up with them after an unsuccessful attempt on some impalas; we then watched the nine pride members strolling down the road before two of the Vuyela males came to join them.

It would take a lot to top the first drive, but when I got a radio call the next morning asking if I was operating in the east, I answered ‘no’, as I was searching for the wild dogs. When the reason for the question became known, my plans changed very quickly… the Birmingham males had been found on our southern boundary, and the white lion was with them. I told my guests there was something worth going to see, but it was a long drive – they said they trusted me, so off we went. I had a moment where I was thinking that I had maybe made the wrong choice after the wild dogs were found on our boundary close to Plains Camp – they had an impala kill that a leopard tried to steal, only to then be chased up a small tree by the wild dogs who spent a while under the tree jumping up trying to get at the leopard. Scotch got to enjoy all of this, but I persisted in my mission and quizzed my guests on what they thought would pull me out east. Suggestions of cheetah and pangolin, as well as a hippo mating with an elephant were made, but none of them suspect the real reason until we got closer. From a distance we spotted the white lion as he lay in the open sand; his tawny brothers barely discernible in the winter-coloured grass. I asked the guests if they could see the lion, and once spotted, I asked if they noticed anything different about him, even at that distance. They said he looked very pale… I told them they were right, and then the penny dropped. We made our way closer and got to spend some time with the trio and their rare recessive-gene’d star. It was exciting to see that they were once again found in the same area where they had been picked up last week; it also meant that the roars heard from that area the day before were also likely from them. The bad news is that it is right in the heart of the Mayambula Pride’s territory. With this new threat in the vicinity, it seems unlikely that the Mayambula will be returning anytime soon, but with the prospect of seeing more of this white lion, we are not overly upset. In a dream world, the Birmingham males will take over the Mayambula in a year or so (once the cubs are old enough to fend for themselves) and produce many white cubs with the females that I am confident possess the same recessive white genes. But, that is a dream for now, and so many stories could play out over the coming weeks, months, and years. The Skorro males are in their prime, and probably big enough to keep off the challengers for now…time will tell how this story unfolds.

The weekend did quieten down after that, but we still had some good elephant viewing in the west and had a really good sighting of the Mvuvu female leopard walking around the plains close to the Klaserie River. Despite finding her out in the open, she was most relaxed with us and we spent some good time following her before leaving her to do her own thing. Another nice surprise was the arrival of a herd of some 250-300 buffalo in the western sector close to Plains Camp – it feels like an age since I last saw a big herd of buffalo.

Earlier in the week, fragments of the Giraffe Pride were seen around Plains Camp, but only in groups of two or three individuals – it is the longest period we have gone without seeing the whole pride together. The river Pride and Vuyela males were very active around Safari Camp, and the construction team notified us of a male lion in the riverbed below safari suite 1 one morning that the guides were then able to locate and view.

On the leopard front, Savanna was seen being chased up a tree by the youngsters of the Giraffe Pride (not far from where she was chased up a tree by the wild dogs a few days later), and Steven found Ntsongwaan male on a territorial patrol late one morning.

I shall be on drive for the majority of next week, so look forward to seeing what mother nature is kind enough to share with us! For now, though, I trust you have enjoyed another weekly report of the happenings of this part of the Greater Kruger Park, and be sure to check back in again next week.

Until next time!




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