Timbavati Tales: Africam's Newest Wildlife Blog by Chad Cocking
Last week we featured the white lion pics of photographer/field guide Chad Cocking. Chad has joined up with Africam and will be writing an exclusive blog for us each week called "Timbavati Tales". Here's his first post, we hope you all enjoy it.
Green. It’s a colour not normally associated with the African Bush, but at this time of the year, the bushveld glows an emerald green as the welcome rains nourish the thirsty soils, and the trees are quick to respond – first the bushwillows and acacias, and a little later the marulas and mopane trees. But you wouldn’t know this unless you were out there watching the bush every day.
Green. It’s also a colour that I think I cause a lot of people to turn each day when I post my daily blogs about my life as a game ranger (well, technically a “field guide”, but it doesn’t sound as cool, does it?). Now it was never my intention to cause this degree of envy in my followers, but I can’t really blame them, for I am truly Blessed to be surrounded by a myriad of wonderful creatures on a daily basis as part of my “job”; I would say I’m living my dream, but that would be just be far too clichéd, albeit true!
However, living out this amazing life is no fun unless it is shared with others, and while I get to share it with handful of guests each day, I really want to share my experiences with a wider audience, and it was with this in mind that I started a daily blog, chronicling my sightings and stories so that people that were stuck in their offices hundreds or thousands of miles away, could get their “fix” of the bush each day.
Well, that is all well and good, but why would anyone care about what I have to say? And I often ask myself the same question, but my “following” has grown immensely over the last year, and so I’m going to try it again here, so without further ado, let me introduce myself!
My name is Chad Cocking, and I am field guide based in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve, adjoining and open to the world-famous Kruger National Park. I have been working at Motswari Private Game Lodge in the Timbavati since early 2007. It’s a bit odd that my calendar is about to flip over into 2012, and I am still here...”odd” in the fact that I was only meant to spend a year of my life in the bush before going back to the city to carry on with “a real job” (sorry, I’m in an “inverted-commas mood” today!). I guess that is the effect that the bush can have on people, and spending one week out of every five back in Johannesburg, is enough to make me realise that I am in rush to move back to the city!
I won’t profess to be a great guide or all that knowledgeable on creatures great and small (most birds are still LBJs – Little Brown Jobs – to me). I won’t profess to be very good at finding animals (I do a dance if I spot something before my tracker does). And I won’t profess to be a particularly good photographer (I just have a fancy camera). But what I can say is that I love my job, even on Monday mornings, and it is this passion that gets me through my daily life. And it is this daily life that I enjoy sharing with everyone that is willing to listen.
While what you have read so far is about me; this blog is not. Rather, it is about the amazing animals that I get to spend my days with. The Timbavati is one of the premier private reserves in South Africa, part of an open system with the Kruger Park that is larger than Belgium! Animals are free to roam in and out of the reserve, and you just never know what to expect; every day is different. While I think it would be a lie to say that the Timbavati is as productive as some other areas, the bush is not always about seeing the animals, it’s also about the experience, and that is where the Timbavati comes into its own. That is not to say that we don’t see animals; we do!
The Timbavati name became famous in the 1970’s, following the discovery of its White Lions – not albinos, just a rare genetic form of lions whereby they are born snow-white. For most of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, there were some naturally-occurring white lions in the reserve, but following the death of the last one in 1992, there were no confirmed sightings of white lions until 2006! Sadly, neither of the two litters of cubs that contained white lions born in 2006 survived, and it was not until two white lion cubs were born in 2009 that more than just a privileged few got to see them. These two cubs have done what no white lions could do for almost two decades, and survived until independence, and are still seen from time to time by our guides and guests. Last month, we also welcomed the newest white lion cub into the wilds of the Timbavati, when one of our northern prides were discovered with a small white lion cub in their midst’s. This cub is only the fourth know, naturally-occurring and totally wild white lion in the world – treasured animals indeed!
While white lions often steal the show, they are just one of the many animals that we follow. There are several lion prides in the area, but our whole lion structure is in a state of flux following the recent killing-off of our old resident pride by three new male lions in the area (incidentally, the fathers of the newest white cub). The void left by the demise of this pride opened the door for the white lions to move into the area (after being chased out of their old territory by these same males), but when the mothers of the white cubs came back into estrus, who did they turn to to mate, well, you guessed it, the three Mahlathini males (it’s like a real-life soap opera)! This new void is still waiting to be permanently filled, but a new pride has moved in – a pride that seems to have hardly ever seen vehicles before, as they simply run-off when they see us! There are not many areas in Southern Africa where you can still find such wild lions! But that again, is the beauty of the Timbavati; you never know what to expect.
Our leopards are also pretty special. Very special in fact. We have a very healthy population of leopards in our area (around 20 known individuals of varying degrees of “relaxedness”), and get to see them on most days strutting their stuff around the reserve. While not as famous as some of our southern neighbours for leopards, I do trust that you will get to love these individuals as much as the others.
While the cats get most of the attention, it is not just about them – we have fabulous elephant activity in the reserve, some massive buffalo herds that move through the area, white rhinos, giraffe, zebra, kudu, waterbuck, zebra, wildebeest, hippos, warthogs and many other species that all contribute to making this reserve a special place. We also get to see my favourite animal quite regularly; the African wild dog! Despite being highly endangered, the Timbavati has a couple of packs that utilise the area on a regular basis, and they always provide a great deal of excitement when they are around.
Sound good? Well I hope so! This is merely an introduction to myself, the reserve where I work, and the real stars of the show, the animals I get to share my life with. I will be writing a weekly blog update for Africam about the happenings of their lives in the Timbavati, with loads of photographs that I hope you will all enjoy. If the weekly blog catches your interest, please feel free to visit www.motswariblog.blogspot.com for our daily blog updates.
So until next time, happy reading!