September was always going to feel like a hangover after the amazing party that August turned out to be with our game viewing, but in fairness, it was a very mild hangover, and we ended off the month with just shy of 400 records of the Big 7 animals, although technically, with the lack of cheetah sightings this month, it was only the Big 6.
As with August, September was a good month for wild dogs, and although there was a massive drop in sightings with the big pack now fully mobile, we still recoded 17 sightings of three different packs of wild dogs spread over the course of the month. The pack of 15 with their seven pups popped into the north a couple of times, and the Investec pack was seen with a bunch of very shy pups once (although we saw the adults a few more times), but the best sightings were of the pack of 20, and it is great to report that all nine of the pups survived their first mobile month! The pack moved to all corners of the reserve, and enthralled guests whenever they were seen.
The lion sightings were much more consistent this month, and the Western Pride played along much better, but this might be due to the sad fact that the last of the cubs also died, and the pride were not tied to any one area. They visited us frequently and were seen on several kills over the course of the month. The pride still split from time to time, and the young males and females are proving themselves to be very adept hunters, and will certainly thrive when they eventually break away from the pride. One of the pride males even made his way quite deep into our concession to join a portion of the pride on a zebra kill, and at the end of the month, he was seen mating with one of the older lionesses. Two new faces moved in from the Kruger in the middle of the month, and these two middle-aged males were seen with a buffalo kill, but headed straight back east into Kruger. The two Mbiri males popped into the north for a couple of days, and seem to have pushed the Sumatra males out west. On the other side of the reserve the lone Sumatra lioness is doing well, and the Machimba male that looks after her has become very relaxed with the vehicles suddenly, and although still a difficult lion to track down, when he is found, he is a great lion to view now. The Timbavati pride remained absent for the second month in a row. Despite their absence, we ticked off 41 sightings this month.
Some fantastic news on the leopard front is that despite my negative outlook on Nthombi’s cub in my last report, I am delighted to say that I was 100 percent wrong and that her cub is not only alive and well, but looking like she (at least we couldn’t see any little boy bits!) is going to be a star! We have only seen her a couple of times, but she is super relaxed with the vehicle, and we will hopefully be able to watch her grow up over the coming months, giving her the space and respect she needs. Although September’s 65 sightings was down from August’s 89 sightings, we still averaged more than two sightings a day of more than a dozen leopards; Nthombi and cub, Shongile female, Nyeleti female (see as far north as Scholtz), Klakisa female, Leadwood female (still nervous), Shongile’s daughter, Inkanye female (walking all over the show!), Tshwukunyana male (holding his ground in our central regions), Xiviti male, Ntima male and Machaton male. The latter two have shown an interesting change in fortunes, and it seems that Machaton male has had a fall from grace, while the younger, stronger Ntima male seems set to take over the northern Timbavati and into the Umbabat, displacing the Machaton male that has ruled here for the last five years. Machaton is looking like he is losing muscle mass, and appearing gaunt; he is very relaxed with vehicles and now and his path is reminiscent of the path that Argyle Jnr female took before she passed away. We had an interesting sighting of Machaton when he was found feeding on a porcupine that he had caught, and just what a mission it is to eat such a prickly meal! Machaton also caused a great deal of excitement late one morning when he caught a large warthog right in the middle of the staff village, but with the staff being drawn to the sound of the screaming pig, the leopard got distracted and the warthog lived to fight another day.
On the big game front, rhinos were a bit more consistent, but very abundant, with only a few individuals moving in and around the area. Some sad news was that the Timbavati recorded their first poaching incident in over two years this month when two rhinos were killed south of our concession along the Kruger boundary. Closer to home, at the end of the month, Johannes found one of our rhino cows with a fresh gunshot wound in her shoulder, and we immediately notified the rangers and reserve management who were able to get out with a vet and help treat the rhino. The vet was optimistic about her chances of a full recovery. The elephant numbers remained high and most herds concentrated their activities along the Nhlaralumi and the big dams on its course; this was most evidenced by the annual game count data. There were many more bulls in the area this month and most drives saw these large pachyderms spread across all corners of our concession, and this lead to 191 sightings for the month. Buffalo sightings dropped again, but we still managed 57 sightings over the month, mostly of buffalo bulls, but with a few herds of 200-300 individuals moving around, but far fewer than we would normally expect – the reserve census suggests that as many as two-thirds of the buffalo died during the drought, backing up the decline in numbers we have seen this year. Interesting to note is the increased grass cover seen in the reserve, and this can be attributed in a large part to the lack of the bulk grazing buffalo herds.
General game was fair, but the game counts in the reserve suggest that most of the general game has headed to the southern portions of the Timbavati, and far from our concession – the wildebeest and zebra numbers are far higher for the reserve than they have been for years, and this is often the case following droughts. We have very few zebras and wildebeest in the northern part of our concession, but there are some herds in the south. Giraffes remain very evident in the north, and plenty of kudu and waterbuck can still be seen around the riverbeds and dams.