Thursday morning was a quiet one, the start of the cool and cloudy weather, and besides two breeding herds of elephant and a breeding herd of buffalo, the big game sightings were a bit quiet. It was however a good drive for some nice general game, and that’s what I was concentrating on. We went and had a look at our pod of hippos in Peru dam, we had some nice giraffe on the airstrip, zebra, impala, kudu, waterbuck, and just enjoyed taking it easy.
Thursday afternoon saw me getting a new set of guests, and I was keen to show them some lions, and as both the Mahlathini males and the Sohebele pride were off the property, I thought I would go south to see the Machaton pride in case the others didn’t come back in time. I headed straight south and ticked off steenbuck, impala, zebra, kudu, duiker and giraffe. As I was heading south, I heard that not only had the Machaton lioness and her cubs been found, but that two of the Timbavati male lions were also seen mating with an unknown lioness south of Impala dam, so I decided to go and see them instead.
We arrived to find them in their usual comatose state, but as is habit when they are on their ‘honeymoon’, they mate once every 15-minutes or so. After a short while, the female roused herself and with a bit of coaxing got the male up and he proceeded to mate with a short way from the vehicle. As he finished, she snarled and growled at him as is customary, but what happened next was not! The male still growling from the mating session looked up and straight into my eyes and instantly took except to my presence and charged straight for the Land Rover! It was the first time to be charged by a lion, but I knew that he was just play-acting, and there was no serious intent behind his actions. Still, to sit staring at an angry lion at only a couple of meters away was something else! I shouted and banged the door and he stopped his approach and stood snarling, then backed off slightly, but when my eyes met his again he charged in once more! It set my heart racing; a pure adrenalin rush! He then calmed down and went and lay next to the female and we went to have a look at the other male lion who was just relaxing 50m away, and was possibly the cause of the anxiety in the first male. I had an Italian couple with me, and it was their first safari, and they remained totally calm and unphased through the whole episode, and as the wife later told me, she thought that this is how lions normally act!
We left all the adventure and excitement behind and moved to Eileen’s dam where the third Timbavati male lion, and the Machaton lioness and her cubs were resting, but they had picked a poor spot to rest in the long grass on the side of a termite mound. As we were about to leave, one of the cubs lifted its head from the grass and moved over to mom to begin a suckling session, and once he closed his eyes, we headed back to camp. On the way back home, we ticked off a hyena, three hippos outside of the water grazing near Klipdrift crossing, and then we had a nice sighting of a porcupine on the airstrip.
Other sightings the guides ticked off in the afternoon were two separate herds of buffalo, one at Mbali dam, and one that came stampeding towards Elephant dam where Andrew was having his sundowner drink. There were also three breeding herds of elephant and two elephant bulls. Herald found the large Argyle male leopard near Argyle dam, and followed him for a short while until he moved into a thicket and was not pursued.
Murphy’s Law, because I drove so far to see the lions on Thursday night, both the Mahlathini males and the Sohebele pride decided to return on Friday! Andrew tracked and found the five Sohebele lions in the north, west of Argyle dam, and reported that they were looking in a good condition after their expedition into the far reaches of the Umbabat, and it was good to have them back. The Mahlathini male lions had returned from the west and were found on Makulu plains, and moved towards Baboons Hotel were they went to sleep in a small guarri thicket. I headed down to see them, hoping that a large herd of buffalo passing by might spur them into action, but sadly not. The three male lions just rested in the thicket, only lifting their heads occasionally. The breeding herd of buffalo was making good use of the cool conditions and spent the morning grazing towards the Machaton riverbed, and they were quite a large herd, probably between 300-400 individuals. Not far from the buffalos I found a herd of about thirty elephant browsing near the Machaton riverbed, and they were extremely relaxed which provided for a great sighting.
I checked up on the hyena den, but sadly there was no activity, so I headed home. Other sightings included zebra, giraffe, another breeding herd of elephant near Java airstrip, two buffalo bulls while I was watching the hippos at Peru dam, and the usual general game.
Friday afternoon was terribly windy and quite overcast. The general game was quiet, although we did see a few kudu, waterbuck and impala. The Sohebele pride had moved, but nobody put any real effort into tracking them, and the three Mahlathini male lions were still sleeping in the same spot as the morning, so Herald and Elliot went to see them. I was looking for leopard in the north but had no luck.
The southern stations did manage to relocate on a male white rhino that Giyani had found in the morning at Entrance dam. He had however moved quite a distance north, and when I arrived he was heading north near Mhlowla clearing. Unfortunately I got to the sighting as it was getting dark, and the relaxed male grazed nonchalantly around the vehicles. While our initial thoughts were that it was Nhlangula male rhino, we are now having second thoughts, as there does appear to be a second relaxed male rhino in the area over the last few days.
There were also a couple of sightings of male buffalo near Vyboom dam and Peru dam, as well as some elephant seen at Vyboom dam and Klipgat crossing. The wind ensured that there was not much about after dark.
For Saturday morning I had only one mission – find a leopard! I sadly failed and for the first time in almost 18 months I had a guest that left without seeing one of these beautiful creatures. It wasn’t through a lack of trying though. There were tracks for Mbali female leopard around but despite spending a good part of the morning looking for her, we just didn’t manage to find her. Even in the south, there was just no sign of any of our leopards, and in fact, it was a generally quiet morning. I saw some nice giraffe in the north, three bull elephants feeding very comfortably around the vehicle, kudu, waterbuck, impala, African wild cat, a hyena on the airstrip and some mongooses, but overall, it was a very disheartening morning.
In the afternoon, I still needed a leopard, and some lions. For the first part of the drive, the only thing that was found besides the usual general game was a large breeding herd of about 250 buffalo that headed towards Mbali dam where they went to drink in the last light of the day. Herald also saw a herd of elephant near Java camp, and while I was heading down there a call came in that Nkateko female leopard had been found west of Hide dam, so I immediately headed south. As I was making my way south, Andrew radioed to tell me that Morris had tracked and found the Sohebele pride of lions sleeping south of Buffalo pan (they did momentarily show interest in a herd of impala and two buffalo in the area, but eventually went to sleep again), and while I wished to see them, I thought that they would be around tomorrow and that I would rather go and see the leopard instead. I arrived as Nkateko walked into a Mopane thicket east of Entrance dam, and she moved behind my vehicle, but a hyena came running in and that sent Nkateko dashing off out of sight. By the time I got out of the thicket, she had disappeared and I spent about 15-20 minutes driving around trying to relocate without luck; I was very upset, as the brief visual we had was not what I wanted my guests to see.
I was slowly heading out of the area when Herald radioed to tell me that a pack of hyenas had just chased and caught an impala in front of him, just west of Vielmetter camp, so a half-smile returned to my face as I headed over there, and just as I was passing the area on the opposite side of the riverbed, Nkateko popped out onto the road in front of me! With a smile fully returned, I followed her as she made her way along the cut line in the general direction of the hyena den, but she soon started trotting east until a herd of impala’s became visible. We turned off the lights as she stalked closer, but the impala moved off to the south, but they hadn’t detected the leopard. We decided to let her hunt in peace and headed back to camp, with a glorious starscape above our heads. Our leopards had returned!