Wildlife report for December 2010

By Patrick O’Brien on January 20, 2011

The bushveld has gone through tremendous changes within the last few weeks

It was still very dry at the end on November and one could see that certain animals were showing signs of stress as the food sources dwindled. But this all changed during the first two weeks of December, dark clouds filled the skies of the Timbavati and thunder could be heard kilometers away. Then it rained, rained and rained. The rivers started to flow and in no time the dry brown veld turned into a lush green paradise.

This all happened at the right time as days later the impalas started giving birth to their lambs. We now have 38 new impala lambs in our resident impala herd that frequent the camps entrance road. It is a wonderful sight to see the young animals with their mothers so relaxed in front of the camp.

For us guides, it was a busy month at the camp and in between normal daily game drives we even managed to partake in a scorpion course over a 3-day period. We had a lot of fun finding and learning about the different types of scorpions in our wildlife rich area. This course has enriched our knowledge and understanding of these little critters that are seldom seen unless you know where to look. With the aid of a special UV light torch we are able to easily find scorpions as the outer exoskeleton of the scorpion shines up fluorescent in the UV light. Finding them allows us to explain their ecological role in the environment to our guests.
A group of small birds drinking at camp
The successful Machattan pride and their new litter of four cubs are alive and well. The cubs are growing fast and look incredibly healthy which is great news for their survival. Lions cubs have a high mortality rate and in our area it is not uncommon to have only 30% of the cubs survive their first year.
Mother and cub
Another interesting fact about lions that I would like to mention is prey selection by lions from different regions in Africa. This part of lion behavior is poorly documented for the main reason that a person needs to spend incredibly long periods in one area to gather sufficient data on what prey species are preferred. As long standing guides working in the same area this allows that opportunity to gather this info.

Extensive statistics collected over various studies show that lions normally feed on mammals in the range 190-550 kg. In Africa, generally wildebeest rank at the top of preferred prey which therefore for makes making nearly half of the lion prey in the Serengeti followed by zebra. Most adult hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, elephants, smaller gazelles, impala, and other agile antelopes are generally excluded.

In the Kruger National Park that includes our area, the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, giraffes and buffalo are regularly hunted. Cape buffaloes constitute as much as 62% during the dry season in Kruger National Park. This is due to the high number density of buffaloes found in the park and neighboring reserves like the Timbavati. Occasionally hippopotamus is also preyed upon but this is rare. Warthogs are also often taken depending on population density and availability.

In areas around the Savuti River in Botswana, some of the lion prides have adapted and specialized in hunting elephant. Park guides in the area reported that the lions, driven by extreme hunger, started taking down baby elephants, and then moved on to adolescents and, occasionally, fully grown adults during the night when elephants’ vision is poor.

After a lengthy absence from our area, our famous white pride, the Kubasa pride are now back and seem to have taken up residence around the camp. This pride appeared to be in poor condition nutritionally, which was probably due to the fact that they had gone many days without a meal.

The pride did make one large kill close to the camp at the end of the month when they successfully took down an adult kudu cow. Several hyenas rode their luck with the two adult lionesses but after several aggressive threats from the lionesses, the hyenas backed off
The white pride starting
 The two white female cubs
Rockfig and her little daughter Tumbela are doing very well and have provided us with their usual fantastic sightings. Mom and daughter are starting to spend more and more time apart from each other. Leopards generally become independent from their mother when they are between 18-22 months.
Tumbela during late afternoon
Nthombi and her son were not seen that often this month. I think this is due the two factors, namely, the bush is very dense and lush at this time of the year especially after the heavy rains we received and secondly, the high amount of kills leopards make at this time of the year especially now that the impalas are lambing. This means that they tend to stay on the kills for a number of days without moving around. Our trackers rely on finding fresh tracks when they move about to track them down. With NO leopards on the move there are NO tracks, and with NO tracks we cant find them! Quite simple!
Nthombi leopardess
Nthombi and son.
Another stunning leopard that is fast becoming a regular on drive is the Xinope-nope male leopard from the south. It is unusual for male leopards to be so relaxed. We are hoping that he will stay in the area, as there are very few animals as impressive as a fully-grown male leopard.
 the young Xinope male
It was a great privilege that the guides and trackers had the opportunity of spending a couple days with South Africa‘s scorpion expert: Jonathan Leeming. Jonathan is one of South Africa‘s foremost experts of scorpions and spiders and has recently written the book on this particular subject: “Scorpions of South Africa”.

The objective of the course was to explore the smaller creatures in the Timbavati like the Arachnids that are often overlook. The insects, arachnids and bugs that surround us tend to be easily forgotten in the shadow of the larger and more exciting animals that roam in the bush. During the two days of digging around under dried wood and rocks we were amazed to discover the array of different species of spiders and scorpions that abound in our area. We also happened to find two of the most venomous scorpions of South Africa.

Jonathan directed the rangers to dig and scratch and dig some more for scorpions in the surrounding bush. We managed to find eight different species for examination. Each species was examined, discussed and handled. We all gained a wonderful insight into the lives of scorpions and how they fit into the broader eco-system of the African bush.

I took these images of my team at work during the course.
A few scorpions we found during the morning
Jonathan and the team
Below is a link to Jonathan website:

That all for this month dear friends I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a happy and blessed 2011!

Warm Regards

Patrick O‘Brien.

7 thoughts on “Wildlife report for December 2010

  1. I can’t believe I’m actually going to say that I find the pic of the birds the most beautiful…me, the #1 "leopard fan"!!

    Actually Patrick, all these pics are fantastic….thanks for sharing.

    Stay well, stay safe.

    Kindest regards.


  2. So glad the white lions are still safe, they are so precious. A really great posting Patrick, images as brilliant as ever and some good reading.

    I can’t imagine Albert was too keen on the scorpion hunting, when we were out with you last August he was telling me he didn’t like scorpions!

    Wishing you and everyone at Kings Camp a safe, healthy and happy New Year.

    with our love

    Phil & Lynda

  3. Thanks so much for the update on all things at Kings Camp. The photos are fantastic and I would love to come back one day and see the park all green and beautiful although I imagine it would make it more difficult to find the animals than it was in November when we were there!

    My favourite photo is the one with the white white lions and the green green grass!



  4. Thank you for letting me relive my wonderful trip over and over again. This is my favorite vacation of them all. I keep comparing other vacations thnking they will be better but it doesn’t happen. Thanks for the memories. Marion

  5. Hi Patrick,

    You may remember that the lions actually took down a giraffe at the end of the month and had the exchange with the hyenas while we were there in Dec!

    Anyway, we all had an amazing time with you and are still talking about our game drives and the hospitality at Kings Camp!

  6. Hi Patrick.

    As usual, your pics are splendid. Love the birds and all the rest.Blessings to you and yours for 2011.


  7. Hi Patrick,

    Thanks for sharing the update on the White Lions. When I shared my photos with family and friends they were interested in how the cubs were progressing. Amazing shots of the Leopards as well.

    Stay well, my best,


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