But the bush being the bush, you never know what to expect, which makes every drive a new adventure, so I set off, and revelled in the fact that within a couple of minutes I was driving past a glorious body of water glistening in the sun; Argyle dam! While not full, it is still a change from just seeing grass there, and we had a very distant visual of a hippo when approaching, but it was back in the water when we arrived. I carried on past Piva plains, finding some waterbuck and impala, a warthog family, as well as a leopard tortoise in the area, then I checked Sohebele dam and continued towards Concrete crossing. The water in the area amazed me; not only were Madash Dam and Francolin pan looking stunning with a bit of water, but all the emerald green grass growing around it brought them to life; weaver birds were busy making nests, white-faced whistling ducks swam around on the surface, and the terrapins dived into the water as we approached. The little drainage lines on which these small waterholes was now also hosting nameless waterholes further to the west, and as I drove I realised that with so much water, the next few days of game viewing would not be easy!
Crossing Concrete Crossing was an exciting adventure too, especially as you could not see any of the concrete that constituted the crossing!!! Luckily some poles had been placed on the edge of the bridge, so we had some guidelines, but that didn’t convince my tracker, and he jokingly wanted to know what would happen if a big crocodile came swimming up and took him off the tracker seat, of course I told him “we would take some photo’s”! On the western side of the Nhlarulumi river we saw more impala and waterbuck, and then carried on south past the southern end of Peru dam, which had backed up to Mbali dam wall, and made crossing Mvubu crossing look a bit risky, so we didn’t attempt it, instead we enjoyed a unique scene of dozens of catfish swimming up a little stream to a small overflowing ‘waterfall’ inlet from Mbali dam, obviously in a natural attempt to swim upstream to colonise new waterholes, but the 1m high waterfall proved to much for these fish and they just seemed to be sitting underneath it enjoying the influx of new water!
At Mbali dam there were three groups of hippos; most likely the pod of hippos from Peru dam that always move back to Mbali dam in summer when it fills up before returning to Peru dam in winter. There were more impala and waterbuck around as we carried on along the Nhlarulumi towards Vielmetter. On the way, we got told about some lions that were quite far south, further south than I had been before, and knowing that it might be our best chance to see some lions, I made the proposal to the guests, and they said we should go! Along the Machaton river, we had a nice herd of giraffe, some fresh tracks for a leopard north of Vielmetter camp, but no luck in finding her – but with the distance we had to travel, we didn’t spend too long tracking.
Heading through the clearings and open areas from Entrance dam south to Machaton dam, we came across many impala, a herd of zebras and some more giraffe. At Machaton dam, in the fast fading light, we saw a herd of wildebeest, a rarity for us considering I have seen more wild dogs than wildebeest in the Timbavati! Carrying on south from Machaton dam I entered unchartered territory, and it was great to think that after almost three years at of working at Motswari, there were still areas I had not seen before! And seeing what I did see in the darkening light, made me wish I had arrived there a bit earlier, as it was a beautiful open area, and no surprise that there were more zebra and wildebeest out grazing in it! I drove and drove and drove, and eventually got to the track taking us off-road to the lion sighting in another relatively open, if not rocky, area. We eventually managed to locate on three of the lions we had come to see; two Timbavati males and one Machaton lioness sleeping in the open. Some of the pride had been feeding on a buffalo kill for the last few days to the south of their current position, but looking at the one male lion when he got up to move, he did not look as though he had eaten much at all, and I actually grew a bit concerned seeing his thin condition, especially in light of the fact that these Timbavati males always look so strong and healthy. I hope that is just a lack of recent food, and not the fact that they are slowly succumbing to the effects of a TB infection; the same disease that led to the death of their father almost 5 years ago.
Realising that we were extremely far from home, we decided to leave the lions to rest, although I was hoping that they would roar for us, it was not to be. We had just pulled back onto the road when a breeding herd of elephants came ambling through the clearing and past our vehicle, with a couple of young calves in tow. Two hundred meters further along we saw a spotted hyena moving in the direction of the lions, and while following along the road, we passed another small herd of elephants. The hyena then stopped and stared into the distance, and then the most amazing sound in Africa started erupting from the area that we had just left; the lions were roaring to proclaim their rights to their land! Although I would have loved to have been sitting next to them listening this, it was still a special moment for the guests and me, and what made it magical for me was that it was not one, not two, nor even three lions roaring. I don’t even think it was just four lions, but I could almost count five lions roaring at once as their calls echoed across the African savannah. There were two groups of lions roaring, just a hundred meters or so apart, so I suspect that the rest of the pride were on their way to reunite with the three lions we saw.
I continued the ride home, passing many impala, some giraffe, a herd of wildebeest, and then the hyena den along western cutline. Three adults hyenas and the two cubs were at the den and lying outside, but as we don’t like to disturb young animals at night, we didn’t spend too much time with them, and carried on back to camp; we arrived late, but it was worth the trip. In the north, there was some good news too; Kuhanya leopardess was found near Klipdrift crossing late in the evening, but what excited me most was a brief sighting of a pack of wild dogs on the Timbavati Access Road, 100m north of our northern boundary! Sadly the pack of wild dogs did move into the Klaserie, but at least we know they are back in the area!
Tuesday morning started with me keen to go and check to see if there was any sign of the wild dogs coming across into the Timbavati, so I made my way along the northern boundary, checking for tracks but without my tracker as he was of tracking Kuhanya leopardess near Concrete Crossing. Thankfully wild dog tracks are not the most difficult things to spot, and I was soon on their trail as I found tracks crossing south-east into the Timbavati. I asked another guide to assist me, and within about 20-minutes the other guide had bumped into them near Giraffe Kill Lookout; I was not far behind so headed straight there was greeted with the magical sight of 16 wild dogs walking down the road towards me! The pack consisted of ten adults and six pups of about 6-7 months old, and they were their usual active selves and carried on along Giraffe Kill road following the Nhlarulumi River. They arrived at Illegal Crossing and crossed over to the other side, and in a desperate attempt to follow them, I tried to cross the crossing, but sadly the small section of running water and soft sand was too much and the Land Rover got bogged down! Oh dear, I was stuck again! Luckily the other vehicle with me in the sighting could give us some assistance and I was pulled out in a jiffy, but nothing like a bit of adventure!
Johannes then tried to relocate the pack of wild dogs and struggled for a while as their tracks were going all over the show, but he eventually got them as they were finishing off the last few morsels of an unfortunate impala that they had killed. From this meal they went and settled down for the morning, so I decided to carry on and try them again in the afternoon.
The rest of the drive was a bit quiet; I attempted to find Rockfig Jnr female leopard near Entrance Dam, as Giyani had found her there in the morning but as we had not seen wild dogs for five months, the few vehicles that were on drive left the leopard unattended to come up and see the dogs. I had no luck finding the leopard, or a herd of elephants that had also been seen around Tamboti Pan. I carried on and went to check on the new hyena den, but it was too late in the morning and the cubs must have been sleeping in the den, as there was no sign of them or their mother. General game for the morning included impala, kudu, waterbuck and a herd of zebra.
My goal for the afternoon was to follow the wild dogs on a hunt, so I just bumbled about in the north for the first part of the afternoon, but sadly didn’t have a great deal of luck. We did have a distant visual of breeding herd of elephants that had just crossed from Motswari into Ingwelala, but the thick bush hid them from view, so we carried on past Vyboom dam seeing some waterbuck and a male kudu. There was no further sign of the leopard that the trackers had been tracking earlier, so I proceeded towards the wild dogs and saw more impala and waterbuck, as well as a small crocodile along the way.
As I was approaching the area where the pack of wild dogs had been sleeping all day, we spotted one of the dogs running around a few hundred meters from the rest of the pack, but didn’t pursue it. We arrived just as the pack was waking up form the afternoon rest, and when the ‘wandering’ dogs returned, it spurred the rest of the pack into action and they started with their excited chittering and chirping and soon all got up and moved off to the south-east. We followed them for some time, and got excited when a female impala suddenly came stotting into the area and the pack of dogs saw her and gave chase, right in front of us, but for some reason they didn’t appear to pursue her with any conviction and while we lost visual of the impala, we didn’t hear the tell-tale sounds of an impala being killed, and soon the pack members that had given chase came running back and joined the pack and continued to move off at a trotting pace to the south-east. Sadly the bush got a bit too thick to follow them off road anymore, and we had to let them go on their own; we did see them crossing the road on another occasion, but with the fading light we decided to call it a day.
After a sundowner at the now full Java dam (don’t think I have seen it looking so full before!), we slowly made our way home, finding two baby small-spotted genets in a Mopane tree along the way, but they returned to their hole in the tree after a couple of minutes and we made our way back to camp.
Wednesday morning was a frustrating one, as I really needed to find leopard, but again there were just none forthcoming! I went south, hoping to find signs of Rockfig Jnr or Nkateko, but there was nothing. The hyena den was not active, so we pressed on, and the only spotted animals we found were giraffe; and lots of them! We must have seen six different groups of giraffe around Vielmetter, and many impala, some vervet monkeys, a waterbuck, but no leopards.
After coffee at Makulu dam (click on the panaramic shots for a bigger view) I headed back north, but there were no signs of any leopards their either, so I dejectedly had to make my way back to camp, disappointed that my guests had not managed to see any leopards, but I don’t suppose we can ever complain about seeing the highly endangered wild dogs! I just hope that they now stick around our area for the next couple of weeks, but don’t let the impala’s hear me say that!