It’s difficult to believe that yet another year has come and gone; it feels like just yesterday we were ringing in the new year, and now we are getting ready to turn the pages of our calendars to 2020!
As always, this time of year gives us that wonderful opportunity to look back over the past twelve months and reflect on all the precious moments that 2019 has given all of us – both guests and staff – at Tanda Tula. It has once again been a fantastic period of game viewing with the Timbavatihaving pulled out all the stops over the course of the year. Trying to condense the happenings of the lives of our wildlife over the last year into a few hundred words is an impossible task, so I guess I’m quite grateful that a picture speaks a thousand words!
A year that started off with great summer rains meant that the food and water resources of the area were in abundance for the animals that call this place home, and we saw the positive effect of that in terms of the consistently good numbers of elephants (sometimes in their hundreds), giraffes, zebras, impalas, rhinos and even wildebeest making use of the concession. The fact that I only ventured to the western parts of our concession about four or five times in 2019 shows how lucky we were to have the game concentrated in the central parts of our traverse area, and close to Tanda Tula Safari Camp(some days we didn’t even need to leave the camp to see some great viewing!).
The lions this year showed us what a dynamic system we are fortunate to live in. The year started off with the Mayambula Pride introducing us to their ten precious cubs. As the months passed, these cubs and their four mothers provided for the bulk of our lion sightings and we saw them on an almost daily basis. The mothers were incredible providers of food, and I have never seen such a healthy litter of lion cubs. Sadly, as the year drew to a close, the need to feed ten growing mouths and the drying water points in the northern part of their territory caused the pride to move further and further south, and the gaps between their visits grew so long that it felt as though we had lost this pride all together. Part of the reason might also have been that the two dominant Mbiri male lions lost the northern part of their territory to three new male lions, and this is a pressure the Mayambula’s did well to avoid. The newcomers ended the year by establishing themselves as the dominant males of the River Pride lionesses and have set things up nicely for what should be a great upcoming year of lion viewing. Stuck in the middle of this were our poor old Zebenine lionesses. 2019 was not a good year for them as not only did the young male cub get killed, but tragically, the Mayambula lionesses also killed one of the adult lionesses. This left one mother with the improbable task of raising her dependent daughter to adulthood and then needing to have more cubs to grow the pride. Fortunately, she is doing a splendid job raising the young lioness who is now becoming an efficient huntress and allowing these two to survive against the odds. Although we don’t see them as often as we used to, they are still more than making ends meet out there!
Our spotted friends also had a year of mixed fortunes. Nthombi did another sterling job of raising her son, Hlangana, to the brink of independence this year, and as she is in such great condition, she may even have more cubs next year. Nyeleti succeeded in getting her daughter N’weti to independence, and is preparing to have her next litter before the end of the year – a mother leopard’s job is never done!
Thumbela did have a litter of cubs this year, but sadly they died quite young and she, too, has to start again. Interestingly, her last daughter (Nkaya female) seems to have moved on to another area and hasn’t been seen for months. The biggest leopard news of the year was the sad loss of Marula, but every cloud has a silver lining, and the fact that both of her young cubs managed to survive from the age of ten and a half months in the absence of a providing mother is nothing short of a miracle! We continue to see both of them from time to time, and they have no doubt passed the most challenging tests of their young lives. In terms of male leopard activity, Xidulu male has established himself more permanently in the south-eastern sections of the concession and will hopefully spend many years here. Together, with the presence of the Tamboti male (now getting much more habituated to vehicles), these two males seem to have done a “good” job in pushing Madzinyo male out of much of his former range, and this impressive male is now seldom seen. In the west, Ntsongwaan continues to hold onto his large territory without any challenge.
The wild dogs treated us pretty well this year with the highlight being when one of the packs moved their young pups into the area shortly after they became mobile post-denning season. These young pups provided for hours of endlessly entertaining viewing, and with so many mouths to feed, the adults did well to provide for them. We also got spoilt towards the end of the year when a pack of more than thirty wild dogs started spending time in the area. Sadly, for me, the cheetahs just didn’t play along this year, with all but one sighting taking place when I was on leave! Luckily, I did see two of these gorgeous cats in mid-winter. Maybe 2020 may be the year of the cheetah for me???
Whatever happens next year, I am sure that it will be a good one, especially if the rainfall at the end of 2019 is anything to go by! The Nhlaralumi has already come down in flood three times in November (it only flowed once last summer), and we haven’t even hit the peak period of the rainy season yet. I won’t count my chickens before they hatch, but the way things are standing with good rains, a new camp in the offering, mating lions and leopards about to have cubs, I can see 2020 shaping up to be another wonderful period at Tanda Tula
Until next year, have a fabulous festive season and all the best for the year ahead!