Ranger Diaries: January 2010 - April 2010

Posted by Game Rangers on Fri April 30, 2010 in Ranger Diaries.

In 1989, Marco and Marie Schiess had a vision to create a camp in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. The purpose was to develop a place that encapsulated their vision of having a true wilderness experience, an African adventure in a camp that blended into nature and was built out of natural materials. 20 years later, Umlani is one of the most popular lodges in the South African Lowveld as it has remained true to its initial core philosophies. 2010 marks a very special year for Umlani as we celebrate 20 years of providing guests with this unique wilderness experience.

For 20 years, these core philosophies are those which have resulted in Umlani remaining unique in the industry of luxury wilderness travel. With a few upgrades here and there, the camp has remained much the same over the last two decades. The staff have come and gone but many of the families have been working for the camp since the beginning. Martha Mathebula started at Umlani in 1994 and she is still with us today and so is her daughter, Shirley. We have many guests who have visited Umlani as it was starting out and continue to visit us now 20 years later. It is always very special to have them with us as we hear of the many adventures and difficulties faced while the camp was developing in a far more isolated area in those days. There weren’t as many suppliers or lodges then in the area to assist you when the honey badgers drank all the milk!

All those campfire stories & anecdotes bring us to March 2010. We’re heading into Autumn now and one can feel the chill in the early mornings and evenings. The days are getting shorter and the vegetation is thinning out. The second half of the rainy season has been very much drier than the first. We anticipated more rain this season which did not arrive. The last good quality rain was in November 2009 and since then we’ve had small bursts of rain but nothing substantial.  Since January we’ve had approximately 93mm of rain. This means that the bushwillows have already started showing signs of autumn coloration and if we don’t get more rain in April then they will shed their leaves earlier this year. We’ve even noticed that the bird activity isn’t as it should be at this time of year. The constant call of the Woodlands Kingfisher has diminished as it has become increasingly drier.

The reserve has also had some operational changes. In January this year we saw the gate move back 10km closer to the Guernsey Road. The new gate is now fully functional and guests have to travel a little further before seeing our entrance sign board.

A young black rhino bull was introduced into the Timbavati by our headquarters and was seen on the Kambaku and Umlani properties in February this year. There are still constant sightings of Black Rhino in the south, which is a very positive sign and hopefully within the next few years black rhino will be a more common sighting in the Timbavati.
 Our guests were treated to a variety of game over the last few months. Wild dog, cheetah and the white lion cubs have been an added bonus on our game drives. The white lion cubs, their two siblings and the two older females were found on a giraffe kill earlier this month. The giraffe was a heavily pregnant female which made for a heavy meal for this family. It was only a matter of time before the big Timbavati males moved in on the kill and chased off the white lion pride.

We’ve been very lucky to have seen so many different leopards in the area. Our resident leopard, Rock Fig junior, has had two cubs which we’ve seen from time to time. She is incredibly relaxed and allows the cubs close to the vehicles which has been very special for our guests. Ntombi, a female from the north has also made her way down to this end of the reserve and we’ve seen her regularly. Our guides found another female leopard and her slightly older cub on a duiker kill in a tree on Umlani. Another female, Nkuteku has also been seen regularly and even killed a big Impala ram at Marco’s dam. Needless to say, we’ve had a bumper season for leopard sightings!

On Friday the 20th February one of the guides reported a dead lioness at one of the dams. She was spotted lying alone at the dam the previous day and on return she had passed away. The female was spotted having a fight with one of the Timbavati males just two weeks before. The vetenary service did a post-mortem which revealed that she had died from injuries caused by the fight. She was 17 years old. We also lost our last lion cub from the Machaton pride earlier this year. The other female in the pride has now given birth to more cubs so we look forward to following their progress this year. The white lions cubs are now 11 months and we’ve had the privilege of seeing them now and again as they’ve developed into juvenile adults.  

There have been a few staff developments over the last 3 months. Our tracker Shadrack and his wife, Charity, celebrated the birth of their baby boy in February. Joana Mathebula returned to Umlani in January after 4 months maternity leave. Her baby, Hope, and Ruth’s (head chef) little boy make the staff village a lively and happy place to be. Derrick, who used to head up our maintenance department, is now part of our tracker apprentice programme. Our assistant managers, Louise and Kyle have settled in well and are enjoying their new life in the bush. We are constantly updating our Facebook fan club page and twitter so if you are a techno-bug then please follow us or join our group.

We are fast approaching Easter and soon after that we’ll be heading into our chilly winter months. In June, South Africa will host the FIFA world cup soccer and as I said in my previous report, I hope some of you will be able to visit us between the matches!
As Umlani heads into its 21st year we look back and celebrate all the changes and developments that have taken place here. We are in the process of powering the camp totally by solar energy which will pump our water, power the office and staff accommodation, as well as heat our water. These are only a few exciting changes that we are in the process of implementing in the camp, staying true to our ecological vision and being leaders in the industry for sustainable development.

To all our family, friends, past and future guests, we wish you a very happy and blessed Easter,

Warm Regards
Marco, Marie, Christie & the Umlani Team

Intriguing moments:
Away from all the light pollution, with the rains almost gone and the clouds slowly disappearing, we are starting to see the brilliant night skies and constellations of our Milky Way Galaxy more clearly once again.

The word “Galaxy” stems from a Greek word ‘galaktos’ which means ‘milk’. This was formerly only used for the Galaxy we find ourselves in (The Milky Way). All the stars we can see with the naked eye, including the sun, are part of the Milky Way Galaxy. It is estimated that the Milky Way measures about 100 000 light years from one end to another.

For more, see the Timbavati Nature Reserve blog