It just wouldn’t be December if it didn’t involve me spending a few hours going through my photos and reminiscing about what a year it has been. Fortunately, 2021 proved to be a far less tumultuous year than 2020 for us in the tourism industry, and whilst we are still a long way from being back to “normal”, as the year ticked on and a host of accents filled our camp once again as guests chatted about their day on safari, it really did begin to feel like things were getting back to where we wanted them. Omicron did however have to have the last say, but all things considered, the year has still ended up with us all being in far better spirits than we were at this same point a year ago.
As was the case last year, the animals that call this part of the Greater Kruger National Park their home were completely oblivious to what was happening out there, and other than having a few more game viewers driving around looking for them, life carried on as normal for our beloved four-legged friends. In looking back through my photos, it also struck me just how much has happened over the past 12 months, and how many wonderful sightings I was yet again blessed with. Some 25,000 photos later, and I left myself quite a task in narrowing this down to a selection of only 25 of my favourite images for the year. As I have said before, these may be my 25 favourites today, but if I were to try and make the selection next week, some would be dropped, others added and maybe I would even find a handful that missed my shortlist completely!
So, without further delay, let us have a look back at the year that was, and I hope you enjoy this selection of photos, taken right here on safari at Tanda Tula Safari Camp
A beautiful setting no doubt, but symbolically more important based on the way that despite the fact that 2021 held so much promise for the three Nharhu males and the River Pride, by the time the year drew to a close, they were all but a distant memory for us. One Nharhu male succumbed to illness in April, and the healthiest member of the coalition met his end at the hands of two new male lions in July. This left the limping Nhahru male to defend a vulnerable pride with five cubs – rather than hanging around to see what fate would befall them, they scripted their own future and packed their bags and moved into the northern Timbavati where a vacant territory welcomed them, and they now only occasionally pop back south to say hello.
This year was not as good as last for cheetah sightings (well, at least not when I was on drive!), but I was lucky enough to be around when this awesome foursome spent a few days in the western parts of our concession, and we got to see them feeding on a fresh impala kill one morning. Later in the year, the mother and her three almost-adult youngsters briefly graced us with their presence in the east. Over the course of the rest of the year, the two dominant males popped in occasionally, as did the relaxed female in the east. The east also delivered another relaxed female and her sub-adult son, as well as a shier female.
The same plains that hosted the cheetahs also provide for this stunning view of a buffalo marching along with the Drakensberg mountains as a backdrop. Although this was only a bachelor group, 2021 was filled with far more buffalos than we have seen for many a year, and several herds made our concession their home for much of this period. One herd that visited must have numbered in excess of 500 individuals, although herds of 200 were more common.
Last summer’s extended rainy period led to the return of the gorgeously-coloured golden orb-web spiders that could be found in vast numbers in the Terminalia thickets of the east. Whilst not everyone’s cup of tea, these gentle spiders do make photographic subjects, especially with a rising sun behind them.
Sark Lion vs Hyenas
My first sighting of this young male lion was of a skinny version of him and his sister having a standoff against 15 or more hyenas. The hyenas sensed a weakness in these two young lions and confidently challenged them. Fast-forward a few short months and my guests and I enjoyed this scene of the same male lion confidently defending a stolen wildebeest kill from 19 hyenas! Since then, this male and his sister have roamed quite widely over the Timbavati doing their best to avoid the Vuyela males to the west, yet despite their wandering, the pair remain in a very good condition.
Playing Wild Dogs
Last year’s wild dog viewing was always going to be tough to beat, and 2021 did not provide quite the same level of consistent wild dog viewing as we have gotten used to of late, but this is likely due to the more permanent presence of lions in the area again. That being said, we did record several packs utilising the area over the course of the year; packs of 35, 24, 21, 6 and 5, so over 90 – about 20 percent of the Kruger’s total population – paid us a visit here this year! Whenever they do visit, you can always be guaranteed to provide some special sightings.
Watching Thumbela’s Cub Grow
Thumbela once again proved herself to be a very good mother as she navigated another year with her young son. She had a tough time of it, and shifted her activity widely around her territory based upon what the lions got up to, but with both the River Pride and the Mayambula Pride setting up base in her long-established territory, she had to be constantly on the watch for their presence to ensure the safety of not only herself, but also her son. He grew quickly, and although he gave us a scare when it appeared as though he had injured his eye severely enough to lose it, he surprisingly made a full recovery and the eye looks to be working just fine. The one down side with her constant movement was that we didn’t get to spend as much time with the duo as we would have liked, and this lack of vehicle exposure has led to a young male that is quite shy, and sadly doesn’t bode well for future viewing of him. We can only hope that 2022’s litter includes some relaxed females!
Xigodo young male
Quite the opposite of Thumbela’s son, Nyeleti’s boy proved to be a real superstar over the course of 2021. He was no doubt my most frequently viewed (and thus photographed) leopard this year. The fact that he is a damn good-looking leopard also didn’t hurt. Yet, as good as he was to us in 2021, the year had a few hiccups for him, most notably when he didn’t get the memo that he was independent and spent three weeks sitting around waiting for his mom to come and fetch him for a meal! This led to a rather skinny and desperate looking young male, and just as things were looking like they might not end so well for him, Nyeleti pitched up out of the blue and took him to a much-needed impala kill. From there, he set himself up around Tanda Tula Safari Camp (much to the displeasure of the local nyala herds), found his feet and started branching out. By the end of the year, he had become quite a wanderer and we began seeing him less and less – something we will have to get used to in 2022.
Trio of Winks
I did enjoying this series of winking animals, although I do think that the hyena in the above series probably enjoys it less than me! What a face, and what a story she could tell, but despite this, she seemed to be in a great shape and had grown to live with her injury. The winking lion is one of the three young River Pride cubs that we got to watch grow up during the first half of 2021 before they moved north. A very chilled barred owlet sitting at our bush breakfast site completes the trio of winks!
The lush greens of summer that started 2021 have returned as our early summer rains have given the Timbavati a verdant glow. One afternoon saw us stumble upon this idyllic setting as a large (albeit uncooperative) elephant bull was feeding on summer’s bounty below a gorgeous rainbow.
This hyena was doing its best to keep a hundred or more vultures away from the dead giraffe that he was scavenging on. The Nharhu males had found the giraffe on day one, but only the limping male hung around for a few days before he too walked off and left the spoils to nature’s clean-up crew.
Although not a regular visitor to our area, this dehorned bull did pay us the odd visit throughout the year, and his surprisingly relaxed disposition gave us a rare opportunity to view and photograph these highly endangered creatures.
The Timbavati’s management, rangers and anti-poaching force once again did an outstanding job in keeping these incredible animals safe within the vast wilderness. Amidst the constantly depressing news of poached rhinos, it is great to know that some of them are not only being well protected, but also contributing to future generations.
This calf was 11 days old when I took this picture as was still adjusting to life in the herd. We had found it the week before just after it had been born and was still covered in blood. As the year drew to a close, it was wonderful to see loads of baby and newborn calves amongst the numerous elephant herds within the central Timbavati. Overall, despite a few periods where the herds moved out of the area, it was a year that was full of elephants, all providing some fantastic viewing, especially from the comfort of our own camp.
I had a few good bird sightings this year, that included my first views of a marsh owl, as well as a rare visit from a Narina Trogon that moved into the camp for a couple of weeks. This however had to be one of my favourite bird moments, it was the first time in my guiding career that I had been privileged enough to see baby ostriches, and was a treat it was!
Marula Junior and her Kill
Although far from the relaxed leopard her mother was, Marula Jnr still provided us with a few good sightings this year. Whilst most of her territory falls to the west of our concession, she does spend some time within our area. On this particular morning we were following a buffalo herd through the bush when Glen spotted a leopard – it seemed nervous as it moved behind a bush very quickly. We stopped and waited, and the next thing it dashed out towards the buffalos. I was thinking that this must be an incredibly nervous leopard to run straight into the buffalo, but then Glen said he thought that the leopard had made a kill, and as we edged forward, sure enough, there she was suffocating the duiker! We watched as she dragged it down towards a deep drainage line and that was the last we saw of her and her kill.
Mayambula Lioness Chasing Giraffe
The Mayambula Pride made a welcome return in mid-2021, although this arrival led to the exodus of the River Pride from the area. The lionesses had succeeded in raising their young to adulthood, and four of the young lionesses remained with the three mature females, but the six young males (who evaded us) seem to have moved off due to the presence of the mature male lions in the area. In July the two remaining Nharhu males began courting the lionesses and we were getting excited about the prospect of the pride growing in size under their reign, but as we were to find out, the excitement was short-lived. The lionesses continued to prove themselves as good hunters, and arriving at Machaton Dam one morning they found a herd of giraffes drinking at the last remaining pool. Despite their fat bellies, this lioness still began chased the giraffe, but without the assistance from her onlooking pride members, she was unlikely to have any luck.
With one Nharhu male lying near the fig trees, dying, we were glum about the future of the lions. So, when we were awoken by two roaring lions close to camp one night, we assumed that the injured lion had made a recovery and started moving with his partner. The next morning though, he was still found in the same position, and we knew that this meant only one thing. New lions. Sure enough, our trackers managed to track the pair down a few hundred metres from Tanda Tula and whilst we didn’t recognise these nervous males at first, a friend successfully identified them as the two Skorro males from the northern Timbavati. That was in early August, and these males haven’t left since, and succeeded in establishing themselves as the dominant males of the Mayambula Pride. With three lionesses already pregnant, and four young lionesses mating with the males, 2022 does hold a lot of promise for this pride. They do, however, have to keep an eye on the eastward advances of members of the Vuyela coalition. For now, though, these Skorro males remain unchallenged.
When they were still around, this River Pride lioness obliged by providing me with my most liked and shared photo of the year as she began stalking some distant impala not far from Tanda Tula. This image is one of my favourites of the year, and does wonders in showcasing the innate power held within the muscles of these powerful cats.
Eagle Owl with Genet
This was a sighting that Scotch found, and he encouraged me to come and see it, and I am delighted that I did, as what an unusual scene to witness! The most relaxed Verreaux’s eagle owl I have seen, and there it sat with an unfortunate genet as its prey – just goes to show how powerful some of these predators are!
One of the highlights of the year was getting to see my first active jackal den site. The pups were rather relaxed, and from the road, we could sit and watch as the two played around under the watchful eye of their parents.
And that is that! My top 25 images of 2021, and I hope you enjoyed them.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you once again for your continued support and encouragement over the course of the year. The pleasure we get from sharing these images and blogs would not be the same if it wasn’t for your wonderful responses and feedback. So, thanks for every like, comment and share that you have made this year, and we look forward to sharing many more magical Tanda Tula moments with you in 2022.
So, until next year, stay safe, stay happy and have a wonderful festive season wherever in the world you may be.
See you in 2022
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