Saturday, 4 December 2010

Summer Has Arrived!

'TIA' - This Is Africa
After little more than two weeks away from the Timbavati, I returned for another visit to Motswari, and wow, what a difference two weeks makes!

Two weeks prior, the bush looked as though someone had dropped an atomic bomb on it; almost everything appeared dead, but such is the miracle of rain, that within such a short space of time, the majority of mopane trees had started growing their fresh, nutritious leaves; the bushwillows were all springing back to life, and many of the annual flower species were shooting out of the ground. Baby animals from all species were being born and starting to venture out into the great unknown; the warthogs, monkeys, impalas were all showing off their next generations.  As if that wasn’t proof that summer had arrived, the unmistakable call of the woodlands kingfisher rung out across the bush, and thus adding the penultimate touch to the summer bush – the only summer visitor we are still waiting for are the immaculately coloured carmine bee-eaters that should arrive in about 2 weeks time. 

Baby warthogs

New born impala - probably less than 1 hour old

Saddle-billed Stork
Summer is a time of plenty for the animals; both predators and prey alike. The fresh vegetation growing everywhere, as well as the relative abundance of water in all parts of the reserve allow the animals to disperse away from the ‘green belt’ of the reserve; the Nhlaralumi riverbed and all its large dams. Sadly, this does make the jobs of the guides and trackers infinitely more difficult. Not only have the big herds of buffalo and elephant dispersed well beyond our unfenced borders into the surrounding Kruger National Park, but even those that have remained disappear with surprising ease into the cloak of greenery that now engulfs the reserve.

If a 5-tonne elephant can disappear, then the carefully camouflaged cats can pull a Houdini in the blink of an eye! The number of young animals being born, particularly impala lambs, provide a steady supply of food for the predators of the area, the rain crusted soil makes tracking them on foot more of a challenge, and a lazy leopard lying in the lush grass can easily escape even the most attentive eyes.

With this in mind, it would seem that summer is not a good time for game viewing. And while it is indeed a bit more challenging, and my week at Motswari after the rains was a bit quieter than my week before the rains, it does not mean that the game viewing is not good. If it weren’t good, then how else could I have ticked off the Big 7 at Motswari for the second time in succession!

While one can’t hide the fact that elephants pulled off a temporary disappearing act, they were still around, and a relaxed breeding herd and the odd bull were still being seen. The buffalo herds were absent, but the clusters of dagga boys made regular appearances across the reserve. Strangely enough, the rhino viewing seemed pretty good after the rain, with rhinos seemingly moving into the area as opposed to out of it following the rains! I saw a number of different rhinos, and several new faces, as well as the old familiar ones! Mtenga-tenga was his usual docile self when he was found sleeping on Giraffe Plains one morning, and was also active on Vielmetter one morning; possibly sensing the intrusion of a slightly skittish male rhino from the east, who we had seen earlier that morning. In the remote east, Grant took a chance and found us two rhinos on Scholtz, but sadly they were extremely skittish and we did little more than glimpse them as they bolted off into the mopane thickets. The next morning, a stroke of luck allowed us to find a large male white rhino not too far from camp. He too ran off upon seeing the vehicle, but by approaching him on foot, we got a good view of an impressive specimen! In addition, Johannes was joined by two rhinos one evening at Klipdrift Crossing while he was having a sundowner!

Mtenga-tenga's foot - clearly showing the three toes of a white rhino

The mud-encrusted eye of Mtenga-tenga
Red-billed oxpeckers on the back of a rhino
Red-billed oxpecker looking for ectoparasites in a rhino's ear

Young male kudu
General game has improved with the rain, with waterbuck, kudu and giraffe featuring prominently on most drives. There were also several groups of zebras around, as well as the welcome return of some wildebeest to the area, including a herd of more than 20 that were found on Java Airstrip. It was however the predators of the Timbavati that once again stole the show!

Even before I arrived at the lodge, I met Lianne on the road, and she informed me that the White Lions had managed to kill themselves a giraffe, and as I was with friends that had been coming to the Timbavati for more than 20 years and never seen them, I wasted no time in heading out on a midday drive; especially as Godfrey informed me that three cheetahs had also been seen near Voel Dam in the morning! Taking the off-chance that these diurnal animals would still be in the area, I drove past hoping, but not expecting to find them; well not until my friend spotted them sleeping on a termite mound in the middle of a mopane belt – the last place one would expect to see cheetahs!

Waterbuck at Makulu Dam
It was the same three females that had been around on my last visit, but this time it wasn’t getting dark, and we were in no hurry, so got to spend a good half an hour watching them as they remained alert on top of their mound.  

On the lookout - a young female cheetah

Yawning cheetah

Serenely beautiful creatures - such a treat to view them again in the Timbavati

From there we headed straight down to Steep Nhlaralumi, where we had been told the lions had their giraffe kill. I was hoping it would be easy enough to find, and well, it was. The lions had killed the large female giraffe right in the middle of the road, but having fed on it for three days, it was almost finished. Despite their bloated stomachs, some of the lions still tried to fit a bit more in their massive bellies! It was also amazing to see the white lions back in the reserve, and to see just how big they were getting!

Xakubasa Pride on their giraffe kill

White lions of the Timbavati
The next day I started my stay as a guest, and was out on drive with Grant. Upon hearing the white lions were near Nkombi Pan, we planned to get there around sunset, hoping to get them going to the water to drink, but upon finding just how fat and sleepy they were, we knew we weren’t going to get out opportunity. It was thus with great delight we heard that they were still in the exact same spot the next day, and we both joked how lucky we were to get a second chance. The timing could not have been better, and while sitting watching the western hyena clan bathing in the water on one side, the Xakubasa pride arrived to drink on the other. I had asked Grant to organise for the lions to line up “tawny male, white female, adult female, adult female, white female, tawny male”, but he couldn’t quite do that. I however quickly forgave him as a young tawny male came and plopped himself down next to his white cousin to drink in the perfect setting. It was a picture perfect setting, and I clicked away like there was no tomorrow, and managed to get the white lion shot I had always dreamed of; my ultimate white lion photo.

Mother and daughter - Xakubasa Pride
Hyena at Nkombi Pan

Pregnant female hyena cooling off on a hot day

White lioness going to drink at Nkombi Pam

Xakubasa Pride
I was delighted with that, so to then get to watch the cheeky white youngsters chasing after the hyena clan was just an added bonus – and personally made this my best sighting of the pride ever! As much as I didn’t want to leave the sighting, the pull of three cheetahs a couple kilometres up the road was just too much to resist, so we went to join Herald as the three cheetahs lay relaxing in, you guessed it, a mopane woodland! To make the afternoon even harder, we had to enjoy a G&T while watching the full moon rise over the African Bushveld!

My Dream Photo!

Piercing blue eyes!

Young male lion at Nkombi Pan
White lion's mother
White lion chasing off a clan of hyenas
White lion sisters watching a clan of hyenas
Weary hyenas giving way to the lions
Tired of chasing hyenas
More yawning cheetahs - am I that boring?
Always alert and on the lookout
Sadly the next day, the sad news broke that the one young tawny male from the pride had died; however, I can guarantee you that the sadness would have been a hundred times worse had it been one of the white lions that had died! Life in the bush can be tough.

Despite this sadness the next day, we still had some reasons to smile; the beautiful Nthombi perched up in a marula tree, the Mahlathini males (except the one that was off mating with the other sisters of the white lion mothers) as well as the three cheetahs feeding on an impala kill! Three cheetah sightings in 4 days; it was so magical to drive around and half expect to bump into cheetahs!

Nthombi female leopard

Cheetah feeding on impala
Things did quieten down a bit, but there was still good game viewing to be had, especially with the white lions spending 6 straight days near Nkombi Pan. The hyenas were quite prevalent near camp, but the leopards seemed to be hiding! Herald found Argyle Male one morning with a duiker kill below Sohebele Dam wall, and we had a nice sighting of this brute finishing off the kill. Interestingly, he was full of fresh cuts and scrapes – it is a bit of a mystery how he picked them up? Possibly an altercation with another leopard (one brave enough, or stupid enough, to mess with him) or a hyena. The northern pack of 10 wild dogs popped in towards the end of my visit, but they didn’t provide nearly the same sort of excitement they did on my last trip; but it’s still so wonderful to see them using the area so regularly!

Two cheetahs feeding on an impala

A fat and satisfied cheetah

Argyle male leopard coming down from the tree in which he ate his duiker kill

Argyle male leopard

Argyle male eating the last piece of his duiker kill

African wild dog
My last highlight of the trip was when I joined Marka for a drive on my last morning; he was desperate for leopard, and showed good persistence looking for any sign of Argyle Male leopard, who I had heard calling near the airstrip shortly before game drive. Although he and Elliot searched all over, they were just not having any luck, but Marka continued checking the ‘leopard areas’ in the north, and eventually struck gold when he found Kuhanya female leopard resting up a marula tree near Buffalo Pan; an area she hasn’t been in for many months! The reason the guides had had no luck finding her near her usual spots was because she was nowhere near them! Exactly what she was doing back in the west is not sure, and whether she stays there or returns to the east remains to be seem, but as a female now reaching sexual maturity (she just turned 3 years old at the end of November), it is possible that she may have been looking for a male, or just drawn into the area now that her mother, Mbali, is not using it much anymore.

Kuhanya female leopard

It was a great way to end off another memorable stay at Motswari, and to once again tick off the Big 7 was just amazing – a real privilege to say the last! I certainly hope that this becomes a feat that many more visitors to the lodge get to ‘achieve’ over the coming months!

African wild cat

Hope you have all enjoyed this blog post, as well as the new look site – and I hope to be able to share more updates with you folks in the near future!

Take Care!

Kind Regards,

Chad Cocking


  1. This is fantastic and for somebody like me who has been lucky enough to have visited twice this year brings back amazing memories.

  2. The new look website is great and a wonderful way to keep up-to-date with all the happenings on the reserve. Thank you.

  3. Hey Chad! My uncle has told me so much about you and realy wants me to meet you... When are you going to Ingwelala again to visit my uncle, Heinz?


  4. Great new site and updates.
    Some of the best wildlife photos I've seen.


  5. Hi Chad
    Stunning!!!! Great photos, as usually! Haven't had time yet to look at mine. How are you doing? We sink in snow. Lots of love to everybody at Motswari.

  6. Many thanks for the update, your photos are stunning, so good to see the white lions getting so big!

  7. thanks so much for all the kind words - it was a trip to remember, even if only for that one white lions sighting alone presenting me with the chance of a lifetime - so glad to be able to share it with you all....hope you enjoying the daily updates!!!