At this time of the year there is a different kind of beauty that engulfs us during the dry winter months
The mornings are crisp and the evenings fresh in the bush. On the game drives one can easily spot the long neck of a giraffe peeking out over the top canopy of the thorny Acacia trees while the golden colour of the sun casts a soft yellow sheen of silky light over the bush. Its beauty is very calming and therapeutic for the soul.
It was on one of these beautiful afternoons that Albert my tracker picked up on some very fresh and enticing tracks of a female leopard that had recently walked along the road. We slowly followed her tracks along the windy and beaten bush track when suddenly we were faced with a “roadblock”. A multitude of chunky legs the size of tree trunks caused the earth to shudder and reverberate around us. A herd of more than 40 elephant heaved out of the bush and onto the road in front of our Landover. Everyone on the vehicle was extremely excited by this magnificent surprise, well, almost EVERYONE! Albert my tracker was least impressed as he turned to me in an annoyed state and expressed his aggravation that these giants had destroyed the tracks of the leopard on the road. How was he going to track her now?
These tracks belong to the elegant and beautiful Ntombi leopardess. She is a strikingly beautiful and relaxed female leopard that is just over 5 years old. She is a first time mother and so far has done a fantastic job raising her only cub, a young male that is now 15 months old. The young male is spending a great deal of time in front of the camp in the dry riverbed. This kind of habitat offers protection from the larger predators and his arch rival the spotted hyena. I still believe his mother is supplying him with the majority of his food requirements but it is only a matter of time before his life of independence will start and this young male will be forced to fend for himself. We had a fantastic sighting of both of them on a kill in front of the lodge for three days.
Our most notorious female leopard sought by many and photographed by thousands, Rockfig Jnr has been infrequently seen this month and there is a good reason for this. I suspect that she gave birth at the end of the month. It will more than likely be at least another eight weeks before she will make any attempt to bring them out from her well hidden and secretive den site. As soon as more information becomes available on her new cubs we will post it on Kings Camp blog.
Our lions sighting were excellent this month. Not only did we see several large kills but it was also significant as the “Kubasa” pride made a return to our area for a few days. Those few guests that were fortunate to see these white lions can count themselves very lucky. The two white lionesses have grown into young and beautiful females nearly doubling in body size since we last saw them. On the afternoon that we viewed them sleeping on the banks of the Nharalumi River, they were rudely awoken only to be chased off by a herd of 50 elephants. The prides movement is very sporadic and unpredictable at the moment making it impossible to determine where they will move to from day to day. Currently it seems that the pride prefer to reside in the North West corner of the neighbouring Klaserie Private Nature Reserve. I also suspect that the constant dominating presence of the Timbavati and the Mahlatini male lion coalitions in our area might be responsible for the prides lengthy absence from Timbavati at this time. However we are ever so hopeful that at even give time the pride can make a return to the Kings Camp.
The Machaton pride was on a good roll this month and I am very happy to report to you that the nine cubs are all doing well. I have my eye set on the smallest and the only female in the litter. She is small in comparison to her male siblings but this little girl has a strong character and ego and is not afraid to stand up to her brothers. I have watched her carefully and at several sightings she doesn‘t allow her male brothers or the adult lionesses to push her around and bully her. The Timbavati males have shown extreme tolerance of the little ones and allow them to feed with them on the same carcass without showing any indication of aggression or annoyance. The pride received an unexpected bonus in the beginning of the month when a large male giraffe died a natural death in thick mopane bush. The lionesses found the carcass three days later but only after a small clan of hyenas found it first. It was amazing to see them struggle to open the large stomach of the giraffe but once that mission was completed it was a feast for all for several days. Numerous large hyenas would dominate the carcass for a few minutes and would then leave. After the hyenas moved off, a small group of Black-back Jackals would then take control of the carcass with a few hundred vultures joining in for scraps. The hyenas would then return and even though they could not eat anymore, they would purposely chase any smaller predator or scavenger away from the carcass. This lasted two days and on the third day, the Machaton pride with the aid of the Timbavati males took control of the carcass. They fed until they could barley move and looked like they were going too burst. You might think that they are being piggish about feeding so frequently and gorging themselves, but the truth of the matter is that they just don‘t know when their next meal will come. So when an opportunity like this presents itself, of course they are going to maximise this opportunity.
After this intense feeding session they moved away from the remains of the carcass and lay down in the soft riverbed for literally a day and night digesting their large meal. This was until a herd of around three hundred Cape buffalo crossed the path right in front of the pride the following morning as they lay snoozing in the sun. The adult lionesses seized this opportunity with relish and immediately moved into action. The cubs scrambled to cover and concealed themselves in the nearest thicket on the bank of the riverbed watching their moms plan and implement an attack. The cubs remained motionless. As the herd of Cape buffalo crossed the riverbed, their heavy bodies in the soft sand slowed them down as their hooves sunk into the substrate underfoot. At this point a lioness broke cover and forced the herd of buffalo to retreat back in the direction they had come. Instinctively the buffalo herd made a dash for the cover of the dense vegetation lining the banks of the Nhlaralumi River only to be met by a second lioness waiting in ambush for them. The lioness launched down the embankment latching onto the muzzle of a buffalo cow. By holding the animals muzzle shut, she prevented her victim from calling out and bellowing in distress to the rest of the herd for assistance. The herd did not see the cow being taken down and continued to stampede to safety away from the lions. The buffalo was quickly killed as the cubs remained hidden for the time being. Minutes later a soft contact called signalled to the cubs that an approach was safe and they wasted no time to join in on the feast that lasted another three days. A day later one of the Timbavati males joined the pride and not surprisingly took control of the kill immediately. Nevertheless, all members of the pride by this time were well fed.
Large herds of elephants as always are seen during most of the game drives at Kings Camp. The Matriarchal herds have moved away from the open grass plains and spend most of the feeding time on the banks of the Nharalumi River where they can find sufficient food at this time of the year. A few large and impressive bull elephants were also sighted and one specific bull named “Battle” by the Elephant research team in Timbavati graced us with his presence for one week. One day he spent an entire morning feeding right in front of the camp. Majestic and powerful makes him the true King of the bush!
That‘s all for this month dear friends. I hope you enjoyed the game report that I complied as much as did compiling it. This month was a month to remember!
Regards Patrick O’Brien and the Team.