Monday, 21 December 2009

10th & 11th December – WHITE Lions AGAIN!

One of the reasons that I started the blog was to give potential guests an idea of what they can expect to see when visiting Motswari; a realistic, day-to-day glimpse of what is going on in the Timbavati. I feel that this is far more accurate than a monthly sighting’s report which condenses 60 game drives into one report, and of course game-viewing will sound great! With the blog, you get a truer picture of what is being seen, and you do sometimes see that, not being a zoo, we do have the occasional quiet patch of game-viewing, but on average, our game sightings are rather good, as has been testified by this blog over the last nine months.

Now the reason I bring this up is to bring home the beauty of the Timbavati, and what makes it such a special place for me and the guests that visit the lodge. My last set of guests that I drove did not have the most productive viewing on the Big 5 front, and sadly left without seeing a leopard (only the second time I can recall this happening to one of my guests in the last 2 years!), but I think the fact that they saw 16 wild dogs while staying at Motswari made up for that! Still, those two days, and the next two that followed were a bit quiet by our standards, and it becomes a bit worrying as a guide when the animals are not showing themselves, but we have to keep on trying, and never give up, as you just don’t know what will turn up, and just as you are reaching the point where despondency starts creeping in, the Timbavati delivers something truly special, and that is exactly what happened on Friday afternoon, and more than restored my faith in this paradise!

Thursday morning saw only Palence driving, and although he had managed to see one of the Timbavati male lions north of Machaton dam on Wednesday afternoon, a phone call from a camp attendant in the remote north-eastern corner of our reserve informing us that there was a pride of lions in the area that had killed a zebra on Wednesday led Palence to go and see what was going on. Palence made the trip deep into the Umbabat and while he didn’t find lions feeding on the zebra (it was finished already), he did still manage to find the pridesleeping at the camp’s waterhole. The unknown pride of lions, possibly consisting of the remaining members of the Jacaranda pride, was comprised of four lionesses and two male lions – one young, and one old. The hearsay that the old male lion was the Sohebele male lion was proved untrue, as his ID was confirmed to be that of an unknown male. He was a good size, and is clearly not related to the young male that was accompanying him. The young male was following around one of the lionesses that was in oestrus and clearing interested in mating with her; the deep, fresh wound that he was nursing to the right of his spinal chord was possibly inflected during a fight with the bigger, older male of the lioness. The honeymoon couple then moved away from the other three lionesses, and this relaxed pride was left to alone for the rest of the morning.

In the afternoon, the camp had no guests as we needed to do some maintenance on electrical circuitry, and as a result, the staff got to enjoy an evening off! The guides took some of the staff out on a game drive to give them a glimpse of what the guests get to experience, and with my interest piqued about this pride of lions in the north-east, I slowly made my way through to the area. The golden sun bringing out the bright greens of the Mopane as we meandered through the Mopane woodland that makes up the predominant vegetation of this area, and as one would expect, there were a couple of elephant bulls around, and I had three different sightings of elephant bulls while Godfrey had several more.

We arrived at the waterhole and found that the old male lion was still resting in the shade nearby, while the younger male lion was still shadowing the lioness, and they were lying nearer the waters edge. The young male looked in a little discomfort when he moved, and the deep gash on his back was still bubbling with blood, but I am sure he will make a full recover; it is deep, but in an area that he can still lick to keep it clean, but not scratch so as to open it up continually. While we watched them, they didn’t mate, but when she moved, he was right behind her, and analysing her urine once she had finished; although he tried to mate, he never got the green light, and we left them still in the same area and carried on with the drive.

There was not a great deal about, but the area was looking nice and green compared to when I last visited this part of the reserve, but there was still an evident lack of surface water. We stopped for a drink and enjoyed a pleasant sundowner before heading back to camp, bypassing the lions again, still in the same place. Some of the staff went to have a look at the Mahlathini male lions that had killed a buffalo on the Timbavati Access road, but with a number of vehicles from the neighbouring shareblocks in attendance, the lions had dragged their kill further from the road and were now some distance off it, and the staff didn’t stay long and they too returned to camp for a bit of a party in the boma! We had my farewell party and enjoyed a good old braai (barbeque) and some music and dancing! As the early hours of the morning crept in, we called it a night, and relished waking up a touch later in the morning than we would normally have to do with guests in camp! As there were no guests in camp, we didn’t have a game drive on Friday morning.

In the afternoon, I received some new guests and headed out to see what was around. Through out the early afternoon, there had been a couple of elephant bulls hanging around the camp, and we found another bull elephant feeding on the airstrip, so spent some time watching him enjoy the wild flowers that were growing along the side of the airstrip.

Carrying on, we went past Sohebele dam and saw a lone hippo as well as a young crocodile that must have made his way into the area from one of the other large waterholes to the west. There were a good number of impala around as we headed past the flooded Concrete crossing towards a breeding herd of buffalo that had been found drinking at Voël dam. Along the way we saw some distant giraffes, steenbok, more impala and a herd of zebras feeding in the more open areas along the road, in addition we also saw a lone black-backed jackal. We arrived at Voël dam and found that the breeding herd of buffalo had moved off, and checked the eastern side but found no trace of them; later Elliot picked them up as they were crossing the Timbavati Access road into Klaserie. I had already moved out of the area hoping to find the Argyle male leopard that a guide from the neighbouring lodge had seen around noon with a baby impala kill, but he had moved off from that spot. Before I had time to really search the area, I got a radio call from Godfrey who was out doing work on the reserve.

I answered and he said “You won’t believe it…” I automatically assumed there were wild dogs at the camp (an overly optimistic assumption, but we had seen vultures circling in the morning, and thought it might be for the wild dogs), but Godfrey replied, “No. White lions on western cutline”! Before he had even finished his sentence my foot was pressing down harder on the accelerator as I headed quickly into the area. I was a distance away, but about 15 minutes later I slowly pulled up to join Godfrey at what was to become one of my most memorable sightings of my stay at Motswari.

The lions were from the same Mayumbuya pride that had killed the giraffe of Eastern Cutline last week, but they were now about 5km straight north of that position, and relatively deep into our traversing area, right up on our Java property. There were only two lionesses present this time, as well as the four cubs – two tawny, and two white. And this time, they really looked white!!! I was not filled with the ‘disappointment’ like I was when I saw them for the first time, as they weren’t as white as I had always imagined; no, this time I was in awe of their presence – these lions were white, these lions were special!

They were all lying on and next to the road, and seemed quite curious and moved closer to the land rover before lying down again, and then the lionesses disappeared, but we stayed with the white cubs as the last remaining light of the day faded. In the dim light of the dusk, the difference between the white and tawny cubs became evident, and as the world lost its colour and turned grey, the tawny lions almost disappeared, but the white lions stood out remarkably. I was just loving the fact that I was watching these special lions when all of a sudden the young ones froze and looked intently into the bush, and I had no sooner stopped when they ran off with a purpose, and the other vehicle in the sighting radioed to me that the lionesses were chasing something, but they had missed. This radio message had no sooner ended when I heard the unmistakable squeal of death, and I knew that they hadn’t missed. We manoeuvred our way through the bushes that were getting a bit thicker, but the squealing prey of the lions acted like a flashing beacon, and within a minute we pulled up right next six lions trying to get at one large male warthog while the one lioness did her bit to subdue the still kicking swine.

The other five lions started to bite into the underbelly of the poor hog as it struggled to free itself from the death grip of the large lioness, but it was too late…the game was all but over. After several minutes, the lioness eventually released her grip and the warthogs head thumped to the ground, and she then joined in on the feeding that had started five minutes ago, and within no time her face was just as red as the other lions. Well, except for the two white lions, their faces looked pink!

The pride of six lions set about getting what they could from their meal, and despite it not being the biggest meal they would have had, there was still very little fighting and growling as one would expect; possibly the mother was more tolerant as it was her cubs. The second lioness did snarl and growl at one of the cubs when it got too close, but overall, it was a comparatively placid affair as we sat enthralled by what we had just witnessed; not only had we seen the ultimate in predator behaviour, but we had also seen it performed with two of the most special lions in the world; two truly wild white lions - I was in seventh heaven!

Sadly we had to leave to give a couple of the other game drive vehicles a chance to see this, but the half an hour we spent with them was truly unforgettable! We carried on home, seeing a nice civet on the way, but nothing could top the experience we had just had, and it was an experience that typifies what the Timbavati is about, and goes back to the opening paragraph of this blog entry.

Other than that, Elliot and Palence had a short sighting of a female leopard on the Timbavati Access road, by Ingwelala Bridge, but didn’t have luck seeing the Mahlathini male lions that had dragged their buffalo carcass too deep into the bush to be viewed from the road.


  1. Hi Chad
    Your sentance " my foot was pressing down harder on the accelerator as I headed quickly into the area." reminds me of when you got a call about the Pengalin and we went to the Termitemound and you decided to go and stick you head in the hole to see if one had been there.
    You made the holiday.
    Les & Karen

  2. LOL, i wont forget that in a hurry either....dont know what i would have done if it was down there!!!

    Thanks for reading and commenting Karen, i hope you have a great Christmas tomorrow, and an enjoyable New you i cant wait for the blog to be up and running again in the next couple of weeks....

    all the best to you and Les