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This month the lack of rain has really started to bite. The bush is very dry and it has meant that game viewing has been excellent as the animals focus their attention around the remaining waterholes – this of course includes Marco’s Dam and our waterhole opposite the bar. It has meant that our guests can sit back and relax with a cool drink on our deck and before too long they will be rewarded with animals coming to drink – or in the case of a group of 13 grumpy buffalo – sit right in the middle of the waterhole scowling at any animal – including elephants – that dare approach! It has been the amazing site watching ÂÂÂ interactions between different species – especially with the buffalo dominating the waterhole.
Whilst the Big 5 has been seen regularly on our drives this month I would like to focus on the hyenas. We were delighted to see two new, very black pups tottering around a new den site close to camp. This means that in a few months’ time there will be two more ‘naughty’ hyenas joining the rest that come into the camp nightly in the hopes of scavenging for scraps (usually without success as we try not to encourage this and have an efficient food waste disposal system) or chewing the odd chair or cushion!
Another very rare incident witnessed by our guests was four ambitious hyenas trying to kill a well protected young elephant calf. They really tried hard – this was very unusual to see- but the outcome was that the elephants successfully defended their baby. However, as a consequence, this particular group of elephants understandably has become extremely sensitive to the presence of hyenas. We know that they are around camp when we hear lots of screaming as the elephants are chasing the hyenas!
August has been a very strange month - mainly because we have had some unusual sightings in terms of animal behavior rather than rare species. It was also unusual in that in the middle of the month we had an unseasonal 6mls of rain – but this was followed by some more seasonal heat! The bush remained unfooled by this and everywhere is now extremely brown, dry and dusty!
Amongst the more unusual events occurred one afternoon as the guests were relaxing on the deck by the bar after lunch. Just to the left of the bar we have a series of tunnels used frequently by a large group of banded mongoose which is regularly seen during the day in camp. On this particular day some vervet monkeys started alarm calling and the next thing that happened was a young male leopard next to the deck was observed trying to catch a mongoose – he failed but what an experience! Talking of leopards they have been making themselves very obvious on drive recently – in fact we had some guests who saw seven leopard sightings (four different leopards) in three days! Amazing for these normally elusive and secretive cats. Not only that but also one of our regularly seen female leopards who happens to be very relaxed around vehicles was spotted with new cubs – so small in fact that they could hardly walk! Naturally to give the new mother space the rangers agreed on staying away from the area unless the mother was present and relaxed.
Needless to say this strategy has worked and although the game drives are still keeping their distance the mother has been seen still in the area and the cubs are still suckling. Hopefully by respecting them like this she will feel more comfortable as they get older so that all of our guests can enjoy such a special sighting. On a final leopard note - late one morning next to the office a small movement in the bush caught our eyes – it was the tail of our resident female leopard creeping around in broad daylight! Maybe she wanted to check her Facebook page!
One night we laid on a special riverbed dinner for a special event – a 70th birthday party! We had 21 guests in total (which included 10 residents from two other lodges) and the hard work in setting this up paid off as it looked wonderful with the tables surrounded by fires in the riverbed itself. Just before we invited the guests to take their seats following their pre dinner drinks on the deck I noticed some eyes! We had gatecrashers! Three large dagga boys (male buffalo – very dangerous potentially!) calmly grazing less than 20 meters away!
July was definitely the month for cat sightings! It has been absolutely incredible. The cheetah mother with her five well grown cubs have been seen a few times on our drives – and given that lions and cheetah do not mix, and the lions have been very busy locally, it has been a big surprise to see her at all! Amazing that she is rearing all five cubs so well!
Staying on the cat theme it has been all action with the lions recently. Many of you will be familiar with the soap story of the Machaton females! The latest news is that the lioness with the two small cubs has moved them to our neighbouring property along with her sub adult son, but has withdrawn from sightings for the past few weeks. The other lioness with her three two year old sons has been highly mobile but also very successful, and in fact, were responsible for an amazing sighting not long into one afternoon drive. I was pointing out a large warthog and some zebra to some guests when I became aware of a blur to my right. I noticed that it was the Machaton lioness stalking. The net result was that the male warthog was caught right in front of the vehicle, and the lioness was soon joined by her three sons! Within less than five minutes two hyenas were on the scene and also the zebra came to spectate – clearly sensing that the lions were otherwise occupied feeding! It was truly an amazing spectacle.
Winter has truly set in with very cold mornings but unusually very hot days. The aloes are now in full bloom and while they are regularly attracting the brilliantly coloured white breasted sunbirds, the black headed orioles are conspicuous by their absence
Now that the bush is really drying up the waterhole by the bar has visitors every day – and often at night while we are having dinner – some are noisier than others! We have seen over 25 elephants there at a time, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, impala and kudu.
One afternoon we were all very puzzled watching a lump of elephant dung moving towards the water – when binoculars showed the ‘lump’ to be a sizeable leopard tortoise! Normally when it is so cool and dry these animals go into a form of ‘hibernation’ so it was surprising to see this animal out and about! Having said that we had another reptilian visitor in camp of the legless kind! A lethargic puff adder appeared on the path one day having a last bask in the sun before finding a cosy hole in which it could pass away the winter months!
May has proven to be a hectic month for Umlani – not only on the animal sightings front but also on the human side of things!
The first weekend in May found Umlani managing a wedding for no less than 170 guests! Although the wedding was held on our neighbouring property, Keer Keer, Umlani staff assisted – and what a terrific job was done by all making it a truly memorable occasion for everyone.
Staff and wedding guests and of course not forgetting the happy couple Rob and Tania! There were many highlights of course but one memorable one was Umlani hosting dinner for 170 in our riverbed on the night before the wedding. We kept it simple – no chairs or tables – just a great poikje and accompaniments, chocolate brownie for dessert, several fires in the riverbed for light – it was magical!
We let the bush and Umlani work its magic on the guests getting everyone in the right mood for the wonderful wedding day the following morning. It was very hard work but what a blast! We have just about caught up on sleep now!
Moving onto the animals now – wow – we have to start with the amazing sighting of a pangolin! Mid May one of our vehicles was lucky enough to be close to the very rare sighting of this elusive animal!
All of us in camp were extremely envious and this caused a real buzz amongst all the bush teams in the central section of the Timbavati!
Lions: Again May has proven to be exceptional for lion encounters. On the drives the Machaton female with the three sub adult males seems to have re-established herself locally to Umlani after having disappeared for about 8 months! We thought that she was dead! One incredible incident occurred one morning with this group by camp.
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