The month of February started off lively with fantastic animal sightings,
Elephant herds seemed to be more localized than usual hanging around in the area which was great for us as you spend no time looking for them. If they were not feeding around the camp all you needed to do was drive a short distance along the Nharalumi River to locate them. Herd sizes ranged up to 50 individuals in the herd.
Buffalo sightings were limited to bachelor herds in the beginning of the month but the large herds returned to our area during the latter part of February. Several leopard kills were recorded and the Kubasa pride made welcome return to our area after a few weeks of absence. I witnessed one of the most precious sightings of my 13 year career as a guide in the bush. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to watch a lioness move her cubs from a den sight to a new den gently carrying each one in her mouth by the scruff of their necks. The big move to relocate the FOUR bundles of fur took over an hour.
Two of Africa‘s most endangered wildlife species were also seen on several occasions during February, African Wild dog and Cheetah.
We received very little rain this month and the bush is showing just how quickly it can dry out without precipitation. We are hoping that we will get some last rains before the dry season kicks in.
I have to say that I am privileged to be a guide in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve and I have witnessed some of the most amazing and rare animal sightings and interactions during my time in the reserve. Armed with my camera I have managed to capture and record these experiences and for me to share them with you is an honor.
Certainly one of the most special sightings that I will treasure for a long time to come was when one of the Machattan lionesses moved her new litter of five cubs to a new den site. It all unfolded before me and as a wildlife photographer should be, I was ready to snap away and capture this wonderful moment.
Please understand there is a lot of tact and judgment involved as not to interfere or disturb the lioness or the cubs. I have to add there is a lot of luck involved here and our timing was perfect.
This is how it happened: I was on a normal afternoon game drive heading south and I had a plan and this plan was to find and spend some time with one of the resident lionesses of the Machattan Pride. I knew the lioness had a new litter of cubs but no one had any idea how many or where she had hidden them. Luck was on my side and after only a few minutes in to the drive I was told by one of the guides over the radio that the lioness had been spotted close to the edge of river bed resting in the shade of a large tree. This was my chance I was waiting for. With purpose I headed straight to the location and on arriving, Albert and I managed relocate her position in the riverbed where she was resting. Instinctively I felt that although not visible at this stage, the cubs were close. This was where she had hidden them amongst the tangles and dense riverine undergrowth of the river bed. I whispered to my guests that we needed to now sit tight and quiet and WAIT! They were all very excited about “Operation Lion Cub!”
After waiting for what felt like an eternity in the hot Africa sun, the lioness finally lifted her head up and looked in my direction. We held our breath in anticipation and with a “plonk” her head dropped to the ground and she fell asleep again, “shucks”.
At this point I could sense that the guests were getting a bit fidgety and I knew that I had to keep them interested. I started telling them more in detail about the lioness and about the hardships a mother faced in ensuring the survival of her cubs in the bush. This seemed to keep the guests distracted from the sun bearing down and before we knew it we had been there 45 minutes. AND THEN IT HAPPENED????. the lioness rose gracefully from the soft river sand and sauntered slowly straight towards where we had parked. Her deliberate intent to bee-line in our direction did make me feel slightly uneasy but I kept my cool and monitored her for any signs that might tell me it was time to give her space. The guests at this time were motionless and dead quite that a pin drop could be heard. I watched as the lioness brushed past within a few feet of the right side of my vehicle and disappeared into a thicket on the banks of the river bed. Seconds later that all familiar high pitched “yowl” of a lion cub squealed out from the thicket directly behind my vehicle. “I can‘t believe it,” I told my guests. Albert was just as astonished and surprised to realize that the cubs had all this time been sleeping within a few feet of the rear of our vehicle. I can just picture it… We had been the baby sitters and probably mommy had been grateful to get a little shut eye while we were close to her cubs protecting them from any danger.
The lioness emerged from the brush gently carrying one of her cubs in her mouth. This little bundle of tan colored fur with eyes just opening was a mere two meters away from us. I went ice cold and my hair on my arms stood straight up even though it was over 33 degrees Celsius. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven, I was choked up with emotion; this was once in a life time experience! The lioness proceeded to move four cubs to the new den site and we got see it all.
I was able to capture these wonderful images of our special experience.
We had just left the lioness and cubs only to be met with another fantastic sighting. This time the older litter of four cubs made a sudden appearance from the bush. I could not believe my luck and to top it off their mother also arrived on the scene a few minutes later. The cubs would not leave mom alone for more than a second showering her in love and affection. This maternal bonding went on for thirty minutes and it was addictive to watch. I hope by presenting you with a series of images that it might give you an idea of this wonderful sighting we had. At the end of the month I was informed that all the cubs were still alive and were seen feeding on a buffalo carcass later during the month.
Our resident female leopards are doing well and were sighted frequently.
Rockfig jnr and her cub are both healthy and have produced the majority of our leopard sightings during 2010. Tumble the daughter of Rockfig jnr is a real fighter and she has no problem looking after herself. As mentioned in the last month‘s report she is slowing becoming an independent leopardess.
Mom still hunts for both of them but Tumbela has been seen hunting on her own when mom is not present. Hunger is a great motivator.
When Tumbela eventually decides to leave her mom permanently, we are hoping that she won‘t travel to far from her natal ground and settle in her own territory nearby. Most leopard cubs become independent between 18-22 months of age. I have though seen leopard cubs become independent at 12 months of age which is very early and then again I have seen leopards only moving off at 32 months. Tumbela is now 15 months old at the end of February and I hope and suspect that she will be around till the end of the year.
The young male leopard called Xinope-nope male is a magnificent male leopard to view. He has an incredibly relaxed nature which is uncommon among male leopards in the wild.
I hope that he will stay and take a resident position up in the south so that we can view him for many years to come. Compared to females, male leopards are difficult to habituate to safari vehicles. At only 20 months of age he is already bigger than any adult female leopard we have in Timbavati. He is stocky, has a solid face and always looks like he means business. We suspect that he is now fully independent from his mother and I hope that the dominant male of his area won‘t chase him off or try to kill him. Male leopards are extremely territorial and hostile to other male leopards in their territory. They won‘t hesitate to attack and kill an intruding male leopard that invades their territory.
The relaxed 3 female cheetah cubs know as F8, F9 and F10 by the research team in Timbavati has been seen several times this month. They have grown into young adults and are relaxed with our vehicles. I am hoping that they will remain in our area for the next few months. We also got to see a double kill that was made by these youngsters.
Feeding lasted more than an hour.
I am assisting in collecting data for the research team in the Timbavati and their reports can be viewed as Morné mentioned in the January wildlife report.
Anyway that‘s all from me this month dear friends. I hope and trust you are healthy and well.
From all of us at Kings Camp, have a great month.
Head Guide of Kings Camp
Photography: By Patrick O’Brien
Editing by Warren Moore