That Rain Dance Worked A Little Too Well - Timbavati Tales #2
01 February 2012 - I started off my last blog discussing how green the bush was, but truth be told, without good follow up rains after the initial early summer rainfall, the bush was starting to look a bit drab and brown, and I was starting to wonder if we were going to be in for another long winter in the northern Timbavati, especially when, not 10km south, the rainfall had been substantially better, and as a result the animals had all moved to where the food and water was. With this in mind, I wanted some rain; enough rain in fact to fill up our northern dams that were all but dry.
Sitting in Johannesburg on the morning on the 18th January, preparing to head back to the Timbavati for another work cycle, I was happy to hear that some areas in the Timbavati were getting some rain. Still, I didn’t think that my calls for rain would be answered, and when chatting to the staff back at the lodge, I jokingly mentioned that I was sure that our camp dam was still probably bone dry, as it hadn’t filled up for seven years. I was a touch wrong.
It was only when a picture of Cyclone Dando was posted on the web that I suddenly realised that the rains that began falling on the Tuesday morning, and had yet to let up by lunchtime the following day were no ordinary rains. So unordinary were these rains that there had not been rain like that for more than half a century, and even the large floods of 2000 paled in comparison.
By the end of the 36 hours of continuous rain, we recorded no less than 430mm of rainfall, the equivalent of our annual rainfall in a little over a day and a half! While this figure itself is quite impressive, it still doesn’t do justice to the scenes that emerged during the floods!
Realising that help was needed, I made my way as close to the reserve as possible, and knowing I couldn’t drive in, I was hoping to catch a helicopter ride in as the guests in the reserve were being airlifted out; this was a great plan if only Hoedspruit hadn’t become cut off from the rest of the country as all the rivers surrounding it burst their banks and prevented any access into the area by road!!! As a result, I was only able to get into the Timbavati the next day, and fortunately by then, the rains had stopped and the damage had been done; but we were lucky, only a few of our rooms were affected, and all the staff and guests were safe – not everyone was so lucky, and as the flood waters subsided, the extent of the damage became apparent.
The brutal force of nature has rarely been more evident to me than it was driving around in the days following the floods; roads became rivers, drainage lines became rivers, and rivers, well, they became even bigger rivers! River beds that remain dry for 350 - 360 days of the year, or even years on end were torrents of gushing water so strong that very few of the dams built on them survived; massive concrete walls were knocked over, and the collapse of one dam wall invariably led to those down stream not being able to cope with the influx of water, and they themselves got washed away!
What amazed me the most was the destruction that the little drainage lines caused, barely noticeable when dry, but now impossible not to see, as they left gaping holes in the road! The access road into the reserve was washed away in several parts but such streams and will take many, many months to fix!
Once the overall impact of the floods had been ascertained, the job of cleaning up and getting the reserve back to normal began, and we have spent the last two weeks trying to fix roads, open river crossings, and getting the camp ready for when we reopen. As a result of the floods, the reserve has been pretty quiet for the last two weeks, but even in just driving around doing work, we have had sightings of rhinos, elephants, a pack of wild dogs that spent a day at the camp (Murphy’s Law, they would come when there are no guests to see them!), Kuhanya our resident camp leopard, and while we haven’t seen lions, we have heard them. It is still too soon to determine if any animals were lost in the floods, and while I do fear for the latest litter of lion cubs born to the Timbavati lionesses (who were feeding on a buffalo carcass in the Sohebele River near the camp the morning before the floods), I guess only time will tell if they made it. Good news is that a friend visiting the lodge last week did see a lone white lioness on his way back to his camp, so we know that she survived! And hey, I won’t lose faith, as on countless occasions prior to this, nature has proved to me just how resilient animals can be!
We get back to normal this week, so hopefully being out there, we will be able to get a better idea of what our animals have been up to, and I will be able to keep you all posted on the animals of the area again, so until then, stay dry! -Chad