April proved to be yet another good month in a run of good months to start off the year for us; statistically, it proved to be boast the most big 5 sightings of the year so far, but this was mostly due to the large number of elephant herds that made the northern Timbavati their home for most the first few weeks of the month – we recorded 240 elephant sightings over the course of the month, which is almost double the monthly average for this time of year. The temperatures in the mid- to late-morning were still quite high for most of April, as were the afternoons, and this had the effect of drawing the herds and bulls towards the watering points at these times of days, and it was not uncommon to find three or four different herds of elephants around the large waterholes like Argyle Dam. Towards the end of the month, the sightings dropped off as the herds moved on; possibly as a result of scattered rain fall in the area.
Speaking of rain, there were a few downpours during the course of the month – whilst the southern Timbavati came out well on top overall, our northern concession still looks better than areas further south in the reserve; there was one late downpour that led to us receiving 13mm in the north and 0mm further south. But, the big rains that fell in the middle of the month saw the south receiving between 65-100mm of rain, which resulted in all of the rivers flowing, and we were lucky enough to be able to witness the rivers starting to flow; it is incredible to see them going from sandy riverbeds to watery paradises in a matter of minutes! Although the south was inundated with water, it might be a case of little to late for many of the tree species that had already started shedding their leaves, but there is no doubt that the grasses will respond well to these late rains.
On the animal front, April proved to be – yet again – a fairly good lion month, with 48 sightings of a number of different prides being reported, and some interesting dynamics emerging in within the concession. The Timbavati pride of six started the month off with a bang as they were seen taking a mother warthog and a piglet that led to a great sighting in the east. They then made themselves very scarce for the rest of the month until the last week when they returned from the Kruger National Park and did their usual loop down to the southern areas of our concession before making it back to the central regions. The Western Pride of nine have grown by a few lions as two adult lionesses now have cubs to the north of our area, which is still keeping their movements quite restricted. That being said, they still featured quite regularly and popped in regularly during the month. Duma male lion joined up with an unlikely partner in the form of the old Ross male, but sadly the latter’s condition was just so poor that the union didn’t last, and the Ross male passed away towards the end of the month. This has left Duma alone again, but probably stronger for it – he is quite content to walk around the reserve roaring, seemingly unafraid of who he might upset. One evening the two Sumatra male lions were on his trail, but hearing their roars, he made his way back west to Klaserie. Speaking of the Sumatra males, they were also seen quite regularly, and spent a few days mating with the two Ross lionesses at Elephant Dam. In the east, the lone Sumatra lioness is doing much better and she was found on three occasions with good meals; once a young buffalo she took down, on another occasion she was feasting on a fully grown male kudu with the two Machimba males, and lastly she was seen feasting on Xiviti’s male impala kill while the leopard just looked on! The Machimba males are getting around, and their tracks are often seen moving onto Java and Masungulo before heading back to the east, but with some dedication and a little luck, these two beautiful males do show themselves from time to time.
The leopard sightings remained fairly good, with 52 sightings (a touch above average for April) that saw a number of our regulars showing face. Inkanye female was seen more frequently this month than she has been for a while, and spent more time in the northern part of her territory, much to our delight. That however didn’t stop her from moving all over the show and she was found as far south as Java and as far west as Scholtz, no don’t looking for males to mate with; although she was seen with Tshwukunyana male, no mating was witnessed. Tshwukunyana male was active in the central part of the concession and was found with a few large kills this month – on two occasions Ntima male (his brother) joined up to share in the spoils, and on the second of these occasions, Klakisa female was also at the kill! He will have to be on his toes, as one evening we found a large, unknown male walking around the heart of his territory. Another large male was seen in the south, but he was very nervous, and Madzinyo male also showed face on one occasion. Shongile female was very scarce, with only a couple of sightings to her name, but news from Ingwelala was that she was seen mating again, so fingers crossed that she will be having new cubs in a couple of months. Machaton male was also seen on one occasion. Nyelti female leopard also graced us with her presence on Masungulo one afternoon, but there was no sightings of her mother, Rockfig Jnr. Nthombi female surprisingly remained very elusive yet again, and although she was seen in the heart of her territory one morning, she was just not showing herself. Mondzweni male, her last son, is doing very well in the south, and growing each time we see him – luckily he has his mothers incredibly relaxed disposition.
The buffalo herds started to return, but still in very small numbers, and although not as frequently seen as we hope they will be in winter, we still saw them on 59 occasions, about average for this time of year – as were our rhino sightings. The best rhino sighting belonged to a mating pair that were seen doing their thing, so perhaps a new born baby in 16 months time? We had a scare one day when one of the female rhinos was reported with a bad limp and a bleeding foreleg – fearing the worst, the vet came out with a helicopter to assist, and whilst she was injured, it was an injury that was caused naturally, and not through the bullet of a poacher. The rhino looks to have made a full recovery.
Most pleasingly though, the wild dogs returned to the concession. Two packs moved into the area – one was a pack of eight with a collared female (likely the Investec pack), whilst our regular pack of eleven showed up again with all their members still in good shape – the alpha female is looking quite pregnant, and is showing a big belly for this time of year; their tracks did go past their old den site from last year so we are hoping that this means they might return to den here again this winter. Their hunting efficiencies led to a number of kills being seen, mostly on impalas. As there is usually a dip in wild dog sightings in April, it was great to see not only a big increase from our side, but also a notably above average 14 sightings this month.
In other sightings, the general game remains relatively good in the area, although as the bush is drying out, the zebras and wildbeest are becoming scarcer. The kudus provided for good viewing this month as the females started coming into estrus to signal the start of their breeding season, and the largest bulls were often seen courting the females. We also found the first active hyena den in many months in the north, and although there are only four cubs, there was some really good activity with adults and sub-adults around the termite mound as the youngsters became more and more accustomed to the vehicles.