No, that is not a typo; our guides did get to see a cheetah on Saturday morning, the first sighting since August last year, but a bit more on that later!
Friday morning was a bit quiet, there was no activity around Mbali’s kill, and just the head and neck were left. Giyani did manage to see a few elephant and buffalo n drive. Friday afternoon was a bit better, once again elephant and buffalo were ticked off, and Andrew managed to locate the Argyle male leopard in some thick bush just to the west of Mbali’s impala kill. Giyani also got to see Nkateko female leopard down south wandering around near Machaton Cottage. On Friday night, while doing a drive on the neighbouring reserve, I did get to see the whole Sohebele pride together sleeping on the main Timbavati access road, and although the five sub-adults (and even the two adult females) were looking a bit thin, they appeared to be in a good enough condition, especially the skinny young male who I had presumed was dead before I went on leave. He is however looking quite good (at least compared to the last time I saw him over a month ago!), and he wasn’t limping when he was walking, so maybe he might just make it! Both female lions were showing signs of lactation, and I would assume both have had cubs, although only one of the females teats were showing clear signs of suckling.
Saturday morning produced a sighting that is never expected, and always creates a lot of excitement! The southern stations found a relaxed male cheetah in the south, and Andrew was lucky enough to be able to respond to this extremely rare animal. The male cheetah is presumed to have come in from the western Klaserie, but by all accounts was extremely relaxed with all the attention he was getting. Although cheetahs do occur in the area, the vegetation here in the Timbavati is not ideally suited to their needs, that being open grasslands to use their incredible speed to chase down small to medium sized antelope. Although cheetahs can hunt in the woodland areas quite effectively, the presence of lions, hyenas and even leopards sometimes puts enough pressure on them to drive them away. Sightings are thus rare and always treasured. The last sighting of a cheetah on a game drive was last August when we saw a mother and her fully grown son down south. Godfrey also told me that he had seen a very skittish female cheetah a few months back on Scholtz airstrip, one of the last places you would expect to find one due to the thick Mopane woodland in that part of the reserve!
Saturday morning also saw the three Mahlathini male lions being found on Karan’s airstrip, and they were followed for some time before settling to the west of Karan’s Big Dam. In the afternoon, I eventually managed to get out on a drive, and I found a herd of about 100-150 buffalo whilst en route to the lions. I managed to locate the three lions sleeping not far from where they had been left in the morning, and got to see first-hand the change in their behaviour! It was really pleasing to see what the other guides had been speaking about; these lions were eventually relaxing around the vehicles! It took a while, but they have realized that the land rovers do not harm them, and now that such a mind-shift has taken place, we can have some good sightings of them. Admittedly, they are still not as nonchalant with regard to the vehicles as our other lion prides, but they do not run away, and settle down almost immediately once a vehicle pulls into the sighting. We will still give them their deserved space, but I can only imagine that they will continue to get more and more relaxed around the vehicles.
The cheetah was unfortunately not relocated this afternoon, so I missed out again, but there is always a ‘next time’! The rest of the afternoon was a bit quiet, a some zebra, impala, waterbuck, kudu, hippo, civet, genet, bushbabies, a spotted eagle owl, and then a side-striped jackal on our airstrip. As I approached the camp, that herd of buffalo was arriving for a drink at Trade Entrance Dam. They cautiously approached the water, but soon ran off as a hyena came running in! Once they realized it was only a hyena, they returned to drink. At camp, the leap of leopards was seen again by the staff. Just after we departed for game drive, the alarm-calling vervet monkeys alerted the staff to the presence of a predator, and they soon spotted a leopard resting on a low branch just up the riverbed, 100m or so from the breakfast verandah. After sunset, the waiters saw a couple of leopards at the waterhole in front of the lodge – a great sign that this family is spending a good deal of time around the camp. There were also tracks for a rhino walking past the back of camp on Saturday night, and with the elephants again showing themselves during lunch and at night, we had a busy night around camp last night!