A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GAME RANGER by Chad Cocking

A WEEK OF GROWING CONCERNS – 23RD August 2019

The winds of August continued to blow through the Greater Kruger Park this week, but what it did bring was a week of comparatively mild weather, and even a need to grab the ponchos one morning as the cloud cover started to gently drop some of its precious, watery cargo in isolated patches across the reserve. Sadly, it did nothing more than settle the dust in the Timbavati, but it was wonderful to be able to take a deep breath and smell the characteristic petrichor that precedes the first rains of the season. The less said about flowering Knobthorn trees this blog, the better! It appears that the areas south and west of the Timbavati are all enjoying the smells and sights of these acacias bursting into flower, while we sit and await the first evidence that spring hasn’t forgotten us. It appears that this differential rate of flowering has temporarily drawn the giraffes out of the area and for the first time in a while they are a little bit on the scarce side this week. That being said, if they have indeed moved south to enjoy the bounty of nutrients that the flowering season brings, my hope is that they will be browsing all the available flowers like mad now, and when our Knobthorns to eventually spring to life (pun intended), the giraffes will come flocking back to our concession to replicate the abundance of their towering presence that I have been speaking of to the guests since I experienced it last year. Until such time, I have to be content with the fact that at least some of the tree Wisteria’s decided to bloom early for a change this year!

However, it is not the lack of Knobthorn flowers that is concerning us at the moment, but rather the name sake of another common tree in the area, namely our beautiful Marula leopardess. We are now into the fourth week with no sightings or even signs of her. Tracks for her two cubs have been seen hanging around the Nhlaralumi Riverbed, and a couple of sightings have been had of the young male, but not a single track for an adult female leopard has been seen in the area around the cubs. Is it possible that she has come back into estrus at an extremely early stage and heaved her cubs into a life of independence at an unusually young age of ten months old? The earliest I have personally seen a leopard being sent out into the world alone has been one of our dominant males, Ntsongwaan, who was only thirteen months old when Nthombi cut ties with him, but I have read of sub-adults as young as eleven and twelve months being left to fend for themselves. This would be the best-case scenario for Marula’s well-being, and her disappearance might literally be down to her being out of the area looking for a male to mate with. Sadly though, with each passing day, the concern is growing that we may just never see her footprints littering the game paths of the areas around Tanda Tula Safari Camp. Perhaps the lions got her, maybe even hyenas? No one knows. Yet, I do know that I am often wrong with these things, and it wasn’t all too long ago that I had written off one of the Zebenine lionesses before she made a welcome return. I am hoping like mad that I will once again be having to write a blog admitting that I have been wrong. In her absence, our leopard viewing was not as good as usual, but we did have a better time of it than last week. Nthombi and her son – to be named Hlangana, which means “to come together” (after the fact that he was born at the confluence where two riverbeds come together) – gave us a few great sightings, not least when they were found with a kill that the Tamboti male was trying to steal from them! Hlangana proved that he was a fighter, and it didn’t matter if it was his mother or his father that wanted “his” food, he wasn’t giving it up without a fight. This resulted in a scene of the Tamboti male trying to drag the kill away with Hlangana simply hanging on and being dragged with it! As mentioned, Marula’s son was seen a few times, including one sighting where he caught a banded mongoose, proving that he too can make ends meet through opportunism. Thumbela was also tracked down a couple of times, once in the presence of a very shy male that she appeared to be trying to mate with, based on her incessant scent-marking and calling. When we caught up with her later in the week, she was still clearly looking for a mate; let’s hope Madzinyo can find her soon and help get some more cubs into the area. It was also good to hear of a few sightings of Sunset female leopard showing herself on the western side of the concession again after a fairly quiet period from her.

The lion sightings were once again a daily occurrence, and we were awoken to the sounds of the Mbiri male lions roaring close to Tanda Tula on an almost daily basis. The Mayambula Pride remained in their more traditional haunts in the eastern parts of the concession and were found feeding on a zebra kill one windy afternoon. Although that was the only kill, they were seen with, they appeared well-fed for most of the week. The Mbiri males moved around the central and eastern parts of the concession for the whole week, almost completely ignoring the west for a change. My personal highlight was spending a morning with all sixteen lions of the Mayambula Pride as they headed to a waterhole for a drink. The smaller Mbiri male did break off and join up with the Zebenine lioness and her daughter for a day before returning to the bigger pride; the Zebenine’s are looking good and making the most of their situation. Ginger and his guests were also fortunate enough to catch up with the two Ross lionesses on one of their afternoon trips to the west.

This past week was slightly reminiscent of last winter’s abundance of elephants and the herds moved back into the area in full force and could be seen feeding around the camp and drinking from the dam on a daily basis. We also had some nice buffalo bull activity close to camp, but the herds that had seemingly settled in the area have moved to the south, with one large herd moving in and out of our concession, and generally operating away from where the lions have chosen to settle.

And that is that for the week! Be sure to check up next week to see if there have been any further developments on the leopard front. Until next time!

Cheers ~ Chad

By courtesy of the Tanda Tula Safari Camphttp://www.tandatula.com/blog/

You can also follow Chad on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chadcocking

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