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

Incredible rains in pictures – 14th February 2020

We ended our previous Week in Pictures blog suggesting that we were in for a cooler and wetter week ahead, with five days of rain forecast in the coming days.

A week later, it is hard to believe that we were worried that after the first two days of promised rain, we had only received 13mm and feared that the big rains might not arrive.  Heading to bed on Sunday evening, we heard the pitter-patter of rain falling and when I woke up the next morning, it was still coming down.  I realised that we had enjoyed a good soaking, but I wasn’t prepared to hear that the area had received between 130-170mm of rain over night!  It was our single biggest downpour for over seven years, and we awoke to the glorious sight of the Nlharalumi River flowing bank to bank for the umpteenth time this summer; the only difference being that this time, the water level was higher than it had been for many, many years.

The rain continued into Monday with another 40mm falling and Tuesday was filled with a soft drizzle that left the Timbavati(and much of the surrounding Greater Kruger)a saturated, watery haven.  Eventually, by the end of the week, the sun had managed to find its way back into our lives, and shone its warming glow onto a lush, green paradise that is a far cry from what it looked like a week ago.

Needless to say, with so much rain, we had water literally pouring out of the ground and all across the reserve as the seep lines began to flow and nourish the grass – much to the delight of the gazers.  It did mean that off-road driving was not possible and even driving on the roads became tricky business (read my latest blog). We weren’t able to cross to the eastern side of the concession due to the Machaton River being full and the areas being waterlogged and by the end of the week, the Nlharalumi was still too wet to use other than the concrete crossings which did make getting around the reserve a little challenging. However, with a little bit of luck, some patience and good attitudes, we were able to make the most of these blessed conditions and get some good game viewing in.

The lions were back to their active selves, and we were able to enjoy sightings of the Nharhu males and River Pride females throughout the week, even after the rain.  The limping male is doing remarkably well with his injured leg and doesn’t appear to be limping at all anymore!  This was really not the outcome I foresaw for him so I am once again pleased that nature has proven me wrong!  We got to spend a couple of evenings in the presence of these males as they roared their dominance across the central Timbavati and we could hear them calling around Tanda Tula Safari Camp on most nights this past week.

We have not had luck seeing the two mother lions this week. We are waiting with bated breath to see whether or not their litters of cubs survived the floods.  The water levels were so high that the flood waters would have rushed straight through their den sites!  They are not the first lion cubs to be born during the rainy season and I hope that even with the rising water levels, the cubs would have been able to scamper to safety.  Time will tell whether I am being unduly optimistic or if mother nature dealt the pride a cruel blow.

Later in the week, a random lioness from the Phalaborwa region of the Kruger was spotted in the heart of the River Pride’s territory and although she has been reported in the Timbavati before, it is the first time we have seen her.

The week started off relatively well with leopards and we enjoyed sightings of Nthombi female in the north as well as had a brief night-time encounter with Nyeleti (whose cubs we are also concerned about, but at two months old, they are almost certainly able to have moved away from the rising water levels of the Macahton) as she walked around scent-marking her territory after the rain.

Xisiwana male spent much of the week moving around the area of Tanda Tula Safari Camp, and although we saw his tracks more often than we saw him, he did grace us with his presence on a couple of occasions. Even Marula Jnr was seen to the west of camp whilst we were sitting with Xisiwana.  The day after the rain, Ntsongwaan male was found with an impala kill in the west, but sadly he finished the kill by the next morning and moved off.  With the east being out of action most of the week, we weren’t able to check around for N’weti, Xidulu and Thumbela, but with conditions as they were, I am sure that they all enjoyed some success during the ideal weather conditions for their hunting exploits.

We once more enjoyed some consistent buffalo bull activity around the camp. Civilised found a larger herd out west.  The elephants were also evident and with so much food, water and fruiting Marula trees around, it was no surprise really that we were seeing these gentle giants on a daily basis.  We had the fortune to see a few large bulls walking around following the breeding herds. Their towering presence amongst the herds never fails to impress those lucky enough to be in their company.

The zebras and giraffes once more showed themselves in good numbers in the western parts of the concession, but following the great rains, it won’t be long before the herds make a move to the eastern open woodlands to enjoy the bounty that has once more returned to their soils.  It’s also great that with less emphasis placed on the Big Five this week, we were able to enjoy sightings of hyenas, honey badgers, black-backed jackals, a host of stunning birds and all the other smaller aspects of the bush that come to life following the rains.

Until next time, cheers! Chad

 

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

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