Back In Business! - Timbavati Tales #3
February 13th - So after almost three weeks out of action, most the lodges in the Timbavati returned to normal following the devastating floods that hit the area on the 18th January 2012, and I think we were all quite eager to get back out into the bush and enjoy what nature had to offer us...just a pity the animals were not feeling this same spirit!!!
Heading out into the reserve for the first time since the floods, the thing that shocked me most was the damage that had been caused, and not just around the rivers (I can still call them that, as they are still flowing; not bad considering they only normally flow for a three or four days each year – it’s now been four weeks!), but rather the roads! I guess I should not be surprised, as with 450mm of rain, every road and path in the bush turned into a rivulet of sorts; one thing was for sure though, it certainly made driving around the reserve a lot more adventurous, even if we weren’t seeing much!
As can be expected, after that amount of rain, the growth of the vegetation was quite astounding; we are quite used to the lush green foliage on the trees at this time of year, but for me it was how well the grass-growth responded to the rains, and the seepage of water out the ground over most of the reserve was just fuelling this growth continuously, and will do so for weeks to come! This sounds great - and no doubt it is for the bush - but when elephants start disappearing from view quicker than a beer at a rugby game, the difficulties we were to face over the coming weeks became far too apparent!
Despite the trying and difficult conditions, we persisted, and headed out every morning and evening to see just what special treats the bush had for us! The very first morning drive I went out on, my tracker was busy sniffing the air and about to tell me that he could smell leopard, when two tiny little leopard cubs popped up on the road ahead of us! As we were the first vehicle they had ever seen, and mom wasn't around, they jumped into the grass and were gone! These cubs belong to an amazing mother called Argyle Jnr, and prior to losing her last litter before anyone could see them, she had raised seven of her last seven cubs to maturity! Some of our guests were lucky enough to see this leopard kill a fully-grown male impala right in front of them one morning, but unfortunately the hyenas stole the kill from her!
Sadly, while leopards are normally our strong point, the conditions were just far too ideal for them, and if elephant s can disappear, then leopards remain permanently invisible! We did see a few old faces, such as the impressively-sized Argyle male who seems to have permanently shifted his territory about 10-15km south. We also got to see the gorgeous Nthombi a few times, and it appears that her new cubs are also alive and well, although we are yet to see them. Our regular leopards around the camp have been disappointingly scarce, but they are still around judging by the tracks and the alarm calls of the monkeys!
Lions proved a challenge at times too, but we got to see the Jacaranda Pride, Machaton Pride and Mafikizolo Pride during the first week of running – there is sadly still no sign of the Timbavati Pride and their new cubs, and this is a concern for us, as they were last seen feeding on a buffalo in the river near the camp the day before the floods hit! One animal that for some reason didn’t survive the flooding was a large buffalo bull, and this created an interesting sighting when the young Mafikizolo Pride arrived to find the buffalo in the river, but were too scared to go into the water to feed...and with a 4m croc lying next to the carcass, I guess I can’t really blame them for being hesitant!
The bigger herbivores were hit or miss, and with so much food and water about at the moment, the rhinos, buffalos and elephants can wander far and wide, and do not need to concentrate their activities in our reserve – this wasn't great for us, but we did enjoy some good sightings none the less! As Marula-Season is in full swing, we could often find elephants spending ages under the female marula trees snapping up all the delicious fruity treats they were producing! Other good news is that for the first time in many, many years, we have a new little rhino calf in our area – so small in fact, that we could just see his little ears sticking up above the grass! While the guests all thought this was too cute for words, I did have to laugh when my tracker first caught sight of it and turned to me to say “Sjoe, it’s so ugly!”
Our wild dog pack paid us a couple of visits, but it was a bit concerning to see that there were three less pack members than when we last saw them, and we are not sure if some of the adults broke away, or if something happened to them? Still, they were doing well and were seen with a baby wildebeest kill one evening, and on another occasion some guests were lucky enough to watch them eating an impala only 10m from the verandah of our Private Camp!
Sightings like these kept proving to us that the animals are around; one just needs that bit of luck to be in the right place, at the right time to see them! But fortunately the bush isn’t just about the big things, and we have had some wonderful smaller creatures about – many reptiles and insects have come out in force following the rains, and there is always something to look at! What I have personally enjoyed most about the changed conditions are the new bird species that are popping up! I have had a number of personal “firsts” in the reserve; red bishops, red-billed teals, pin-tailed whydahs, grey-headed gulls, whiskered terns and while not a first, we have had some lovely sightings of all sorts of water birds, particularly African fish eagles and marabou storks catching many fishesfishes.
So yes, the bush has definitely changed since the floods, and whether the impacts are going to be good or bad remains to be seen – but I have a feeling that good things are coming! The bush is looking fantastic, and full of life, and as soon as it starts to thin out a touch, I think all the animals will come out of hiding! Either way, it is just great to be back in business!
Go check out www.motswariblog.blogspot.com for daily updates from the reserve, as well as Chad Cocking Wildlife Photography on Facebook for more photos