A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GAME RANGER by Chad Cocking

A WEEK OF UNCERTAINTY IN PICTURES – 5th July 2019

This past week has been the last week of my work cycle; one that has been a truly fantastic six-weeks of game viewing for me, and as always, I am a little sad to be going on leave for fear of what great sightings I am certain to miss out on! That being said, absence makes the heart grow fonder, so I will be most excited to be returning to the central Timbavati in two weeks’ time. 

The week-that-was was a slightly tough one for us, as after days of uncertainty and hope regarding the outcome of the Zebenine lioness that was attacked by the Mayambula Pride last week. At the start of the week, our trackers did an excellent job of tracking down one of the lionesses with the year-old female with a kudu kill, and when they made their way back to the den site the next day, I was hopeful that the mother of the new cubs was still around. Sadly though, when I heard that the two-week-old cub was out of the den site and crying for milk, my heart sank. Surely if the mother had died, would we not have found her remains? That question was answered a few days later when gathering vultures drew our attention to an area very close to where she was last seen, and sure enough, deep in the block, the remains of the mother lioness were found being fed upon by a hyena.

It was a strange sight to see this once proud lioness lying lifelessly as natures scavengers returned her to the earth. Even stranger was then watching (what was for me) a new, young male leopard stalk up to her carcass and begin feeding as soon as the hyena moved off. At first, I assumed that the caution he showed was due to the hyenas in the area, but that idea was dispelled when, after a lengthy approach to the carcass, he started feeding and the crunching drew the attention of a nearby hyena that came to see who was eating the carcass. I expected the leopard to bolt off at the first sight of the hyena, but he didn’t even so much as react with a snarl as the hyena approached! From this reaction, I can only assume that his trepidation was more related to walking up to something that still looked very much like a lion with the intention of making dinner out of it. Sadly, the confirmation of the loss of the mother lioness not only seals the fate of her new-born litter of cubs, but it will now test the remaining lioness’s ability as a mother and provider for her year-old daughter. The subadult is not yet of an age to contribute towards any hunts and is about 6-8 months away from being of any use in that regard.

It will be a defining period in this pride’s future; if the remaining lioness can provide for herself and her daughter for the next few months, they will then be in a position to start rebuilding the pride. If she is unable to do that, this may well be the start of the end of the Zebenine Pride. Fortunately, nature has a habit of surprising us, and I am mildly confident that under the protection of the Mbiri males, these two lionesses will be able to make it through this trying period. Our lion stars from last week were a little less cooperative this week, but we still saw the Mayambula Pride on most days this week; they moved well west of their typical range and found a safe spot to leave the cubs as the lionesses spent the week hunting in the western part of the concession. Although we didn’t see them on any kills, their rounded bellies told of unseen hunting successes. The Mbiri males made a rare trip to the eastern part of their territory this week, and it was wonderful waking up to their roars on several occasions this past week. They definitely put the hard yards in on the territorial patrolling front and were also seen way to the west of their range feeding on a buffalo calf which they had stolen from the two Ross lionesses. These same two lionesses had been found the day before in the presence of the Black Dam male - it would have been interesting to have seen the outcome around the buffalo kill had he been present! There were no sightings of the River or Giraffe Prides this week.

Other than our new male leopard showing up at the dead lioness, we had a few other individual leopards to keep us entertained this week; Thumbela leopardess was found with an impala kill very close to Tanda Tula Safari Camp (an area also outside her usual range) before she returned back east to her new cubs. Ntsongwaan male made an appearance towards the eastern limits of his territory sporting a number of scratches indicating that he had been in an altercation with another leopard. Nthombi and her son spent a few days around their impala kill before heading back north. And “Marula” was found with an impala kill not too far north of camp; I saw her briefly, but as she was sleeping in such an inaccessible area, we opted to try the next morning – I was however very concerned that she had a kill but hadn’t gone off to fetch her cubs. With the week we had had, I was expecting the worse, but the uncertainty of their outcome was soon clarified when it was eventually determined that the leopard with the kill was not Marula; but in sticking with this week’s other theme, it was merely Nyeleti female walking around outside of her usual range! With only the uninvited Tamboti male joining her at the kill, we can assume that N’weti (who was also seen walking around on her own this week) has now officially reached independence – so well done to Nyeleti for raising what will hopefully be the first of many offspring!

As for the rest of the game, it was a good week of winter viewing – there were plenty of zebras around, the giraffes are starting to become more numerous, the kudus are easier to spot, and pleasingly, we had some semi-permanent buffalo herds in the central parts of the concession; one herd, in particular, was several hundred members strong! Crashes of rhinos, parades of elephants and the glorious Apollo helped to round off another fantastic week, and it was a fitting way to end off my work cycle. I will catch up with everyone again in a few weeks’ time.

Until next time ~ Chad

By courtesy of the Tanda Tula Safari Camphttp://www.tandatula.com/blog/

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