Wednesday, 8 June 2011

07th June – The White Lions of the Timbavati

Photo of the Day
White Lions of the Timbavati
Morning Drive
(Chad and Grant)
5 x lions (Xakubasa Pride – 2 x lionesses, 2 x white lionesses, 1 x tawny male) – Java, Buffalo Kill Rd
1 x leopard (Argyle Male) – Argyle, Argyle Dam
1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Motswari, Camp Pan
1 x buffalo bull – Argyle, Timbavati-Umbabat Cutline
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Argyle, Lover’s Leap
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Jaydee, Makulu Crossing
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Java, Buffalo Kill Rd

Afternoon Drive
5 x lions (Xakubasa Pride – 2 x lionesses, 2 x white lionesses, 1 x tawny male) – Java, Buffalo Kill Rd
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Java, Buffalo Kill Rd
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Jaydee, Jumbo Drive
3 x elephant bulls – Motswari, Trade Entrance Pan
2 x elephant bulls – Motswari, Camp
2 x elephant bulls – Java, Marula Overhang
1 x elephant bull – Mbali, Dead Marula

Daily Synopsis
Most days I love my job.  Other days, like today, I have to pinch myself to believe that I get paid to do what I love doing so much (speaking of loving my job, please go read my post at describing my life as a game ranger!).
Before jumping into today’s wonderful sightings, I just want to rewind to my first drive with my new guests, and my first drive back for a few days.  I was on drive a bit unexpectedly, but only too happy to be back out there; my first drive was wonderfully set up with Argyle male being a few minutes from camp with a kill, and as my guests were here for four nights, I didn’t plan on rushing anywhere this afternoon.
The drive started off with some squirrels, impalas, birds and then a small breeding herd of elephants to the west of our airstrip.  After watching them for a while, I made my way towards Argyle male leopard and his kill, but stopped to watch a nice bachelor group of impalas at Argyle Dam, not 70m from where the leopard’s kill was.

Elephant and some impalas at Argyle Dam
While watching them, some other impalas were alarm calling 200m away, and soon Petros spotted Argyle male leopard making his way back in the direction of the kill from the west.  We went and waited in the little clearing near where his kill had been, but nothing happened.  When I looked at the tree, the kill was gone.  Oh dear.  So I went and tried to look for the leopard in the ridiculous thicket where we had seen him disappear.  Nothing.  Then the impalas started alarm calling, and I heard what sounded like the distress call of an impala, and was quite convinced that the leopard had just killed one, so immediately raced around, only to find the impalas feeding happily and no leopard.  Oh dear.
Tired of this, I thought I would go check the kill site again, and was informed that he had in fact moved the kill.  We found a hyena sleeping in the drainage line, and soon heard the leopard as he ascended a nearby tree and went back to his kill.  This drew in the hyena, and the leopard snarled in displeasure, but soon lay down to rest.  We waited some time, hoping he would go feed, but he was clearly too full to bother, and we got some joy out of watching the hyenas milling about.  The most interesting thing for me was the way that the leopard urinated on both hyenas when they arrived under the tree!  Maybe it was co-incidence, but he did it twice, and I had a good laugh!

Hyenas waiting for the mightily impressive Argyle Male to drop some scraps from his kudu kill
We left him to go and enjoy a wonderful sunset at Lover’s Leap before carrying on.  The night drive was once again productive (although I was rather bummed to miss a sighting of Mbali leopardess on Piva Plains opposite Lover’s Leap! ), and we saw bush baby, a hippo outside the water at Concrete Crossing and two more near Vyeboom Dam.  We also saw a lone elephant bull and two massive porcupines before arriving back at camp.  Going to bed, we could hear the distant roar of lions, and I was almost sure that this would be enough to turn the white lions away from the area once again, but I still went to bed quietly confident that we had a good chance of finding them tomorrow...

Giant Eagle Owl tomorrow arrived...and guess what!  I was still sitting with a breeding herd of buffalo 50m from the lodge after they had drunk at the mud wallow next to Elephant Room (the herd slept in front of the lodge last night) when a guide from Simbavati River Lodge radioed in that he had tracks for lions, and it looked like they had sub-adults with them.  We knew immediately that our pride had returned!!!

Breeding herd of buffalos at the Lodge
Grant, being Grant, wasted no time in getting that side to follow up on the tracks.  I left the buffalo to head into that area, but on hearing that the tracks had crossed into Mbali (where we only traverse with one vehicle at a time) I decided to let Grant do his thing, and assist where I could if the tracks crossed out onto our Java property. 
To kill time, I went to see what Argyle male was up to, and found him still up the tree in the company of two hyenas.  He was however finished his kill and no sooner had we arrived when he jumped out the tree and ran off north; the hyenas didn’t take long to get to their feet to follow him, but when we caught up (in the rain!), he was heading straight to where I had actually expected to find him earlier – the comfortable Argyle Dam Wall! 

Argyle Male - what a brute he is!
He went static there, the rain stopped, and we got a much better visual of him than we did last night, and enjoyed some time with him as he watched the hyenas milling about below the dam wall.

Argyle male on Argyle Dam Wall
We left him and carried on to go help Grant, only to hear that he had organised a tracking team to assist, so I let Petros join Marka and Patrick as they headed out to go track the lions for us.  I found a small herd of elephants at Lover’s Leap, then went for coffee at Sohebele Dam.
Breeding herd of elephants
I heard that the trackers were still following up on tracks, so carried on west, hoping wither they would get luck, or I could bump into some rhinos.  While the latter eluded us, we did see a male giraffe, then a couple of females later on.

Feeding giraffes and an African Hoopoe
Hearing nothing from the trackers, I carried on to the western boundary, with kudu and impalas as company.  It was only when I was in the north-western corner that I heard Grant talking about the lions.  They had been found.  And yes, they were White!!!
They did seem a bit nervous of the vehicle, but that was a combination of not having had vehicle attention for four-months, as well as the thicket area that they had chosen to walk in!  Grant did his best to keep them, and succeeded, although he says even he was impressed at where his trackerless vehicle had taken him!  While not a fantastic sighting, he and his guests were just overjoyed to see them, as they had until then had a quiet morning (barring two breeding herds of elephants, including one in the elephant sighting).
I was happy for him, and sorry that I wasn’t closer, but knew I would get a chance in the afternoon, so rather than using my viewing opportunity this morning, carried on towards camp. We came across a nice scene full of guineafowls, impalas, kudus and a herd of zebras near Concrete Crossing, and the carried on to the camp, passing a lone buffalo bull along the way.

Kudus, impalas and a herd of zebras

I was the only drive out in the afternoon, and had a simple mission; go see white lions.  Fortunately it was a lot easier than it sounds as they hadn’t moved far during the day.

I started off with a few elephant bulls near the lodge, then tried a bit of the eastern section.  We saw some lovely mopane trees.
It took us until Java Airstrip to see our first impala, but we were also greeted with a wonderful scene of a large herd of zebras running around and rolling in the dust.  With the open setting and afternoon sun lighting them from the back, it made for a very dramatic scene and some wonderful photo opportunities.

Stunning zebra sighting on Java Airstrip
There was also a group of warthogs that came running past. 
Warthog, impala and crowned lapwing
We then made our way to see the lions, seeing giraffe, impala and some elephant bulls on the way.  After a vehicle that had got stuck in the sighting managed to free himself, a gap opened up for me, so I went into the sighting, not really stopping to admire the nice breeding herd of elephants that were feeding not 70m from the pride as the light was fading quickly.
Still, we arrived to a magical sight of our pride in their old abode!  And man, they have grown into real lions in the last four months, and are looking in top condition!!!  The whole pride was lying posing in the open before the two whites decided it was fun to go and stalk a flock of guineafowl (wow, I saw soooooo many guineafowl today!!! ); needless to say they didn’t catch any.

Xakubasa Pride are back :)
The pride them moved to a middle island in the riverbed and continued to slowly rouse with yawning and grooming.

Didnt take me long to fall for these lions again - just wonderful to have lions in the north again!!!
The young male and one of the white lionesses then engaged in some play-fighting while the rest of the pride headed west out of the riverbed.

Just like a brother and sister! 
We went around and relocated them once more, as they appeared to be stalking some impalas, but with no luck.  It was getting dark, and it became so obviously apparent how visible the white lions are at night, and how difficult it must be for them to hunt!  This just reinforces what an amazing pride this is to be able to do so well despite so many things going against them!
They eventually abandoned the hunt, possibly disturbed by the large herd of elephants that walked past the area before both lions and elephants walked down the same path towards Makulu Dam, only 100m from one another!
We closed for a well deserved drink in the dark, and had one hyena walk past us.  Heading back to the lodge was rather quiet for a change, and we only saw another elephant, but no nocturnal creatures...not that we were complaining after another spectacular day in the Timbavati!


  1. WOW Chad, what a day. Great sigtings and I just love these white lions!!!
    The guests you have now are VERY lucky, and I would have loved to see Argyle Male and the hyenas, that must have been some sighting!
    Love the Zebra pictures with the dust, some of them could also have made it to the picture of the day.
    I am sssooooo glad the white lions are back and doing VERY well, they really look in good shape, I hope they stay for a while.
    Thanks for the update and spectaculer photos!


  2. Wow, the white lionesses and the tawny male have grown! I'm glad they're back.
    It also must have been great to have so many sightings of Argyle male recently- he has such a beautiful face.


  3. YAY YAY YAY! I am so happy they are back, and i wish i was there to see them. They have grown up so much and are still as beautiful and majestic as before.

    Thanks for the amazing photos and i hope to see more of them! and that they stick around until i get there in july!

  4. WOW THE WHITE LIONS ARE SO BEAUTIFUL.Hope you can work some magic and keep them around until we are there again at the end of September. Love looking at your brilliant photos every day.
    THANKS so much.
    Jen from Australia.

  5. I long for the bush every time I browse through your Blog Chad.
    Lovely photos of the Lions.
    Thanks Man.

  6. Thank you Chad for sharing !
    White lions are so beautiful...
    Many excellent pics in this post !

  7. Hello Chad,

    White lions are back ... Good news
    Viewing conditions and excellent photography in the riverbed.
    Pose, scene of games ...
    The picture of the day is superb.
    When the jaws of the leopard, a real adventurer bush

    Gene and JP

  8. Hello Chad
    So great to see the white lions again. They grown so much since I saw them last time. I hope I will be lucky too see them in November again. I also love the pics of the Zebras. And all the others of course. Thank you so much for sharing!

  9. They look gorgeous and your captures are amazing as always!
    It's great that they made an appearance after so much time away from the reserve.