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Ranger Diaries: October 2009 - December 2009

Posted by Game Rangers on Thu December 31, 2009.

“I bless the rains down in Africa,
Gonna take some time to do the things we never have”
Toto, Africa

And that’s exactly what happened when the rain eventually fell on our dry, barren landscape at Umlani. For those of you, who were with us just before the rain in mid November, know exactly what I mean when I say we had one of the driest seasons in the Timbavati in the last 9 years. The parched landscape became the backdrop for the camp and the animals and while we waited patiently for the rain, the vegetation became scarce and the animals started to move further south where there had been some rain.

The dramatic effect of the dry season was especially evident around our dams. The animals had ravaged the landscape of anything edible or nutritious. Yet the female Impalas still looked plump with their heavily pregnant bellies. Impalas are known to delay birth for up to a month if the conditions are not favourable. The elephants that had made regular visits to the waterhole in front of the lodge were seen less frequently as they took off to find more food to sustain their considerable diets.
The winter season is excellent for game viewing. As the grass gets shorter and most of the trees lose their leaves it makes spotting and tracking a lot easier. We saw some spectacular sightings of lions and leopards. The Machattan lioness has lost yet another cub and is left with a healthy female cub that is approximately 9 months old now. The three Timbavati males are often seen with the three lionesses and the cub on our traversing property. There was a period of about a week in November where we’d find their tracks through camp. On a few occasions we were spoiled to hear them roaring in camp close to the huts. This made for lots of stories and excitement around the breakfast table the next morning.
An adult Timbavati male with the cub from the Machattan lioness

The temperature and humidity level started to sore in November and we frequently had days over 40 degrees. The humidity was building up and we knew it was just a matter of time before the rain came. We had heard there was some rain just further south of Umlani but nothing that reached us. We waited patiently as dark, grey, thunderous clouds blew past us. Then on one balmy summer evening as we were serving dinner, the drops started to fall. The staff on duty gathered in the boma, lifted their hands to feel the droplets and did a little dance of joy. Once you’ve lived and witnessed the harsh conditions of winter you are so much more appreciative of something that may be as insignificant as a few drops of rain.

The rain had hardly wet the ground when it blew over once again. Our serious rain began in mid November. We had 80mm in just over an hour which caused our episodic river, which runs in front of the camp, to start flowing. It started as a trickle down the dry river sand and eventually built up to a steady flow. The roads were wet and muddy and the rivers were a challenge to cross. The line “Gonna take some time to do the things we never have” is applicable here as we really were doing things that we never normally had to. One of our delivery trucks which brings us all our fresh produce got stuck in thick mud on the property next to us. We spent an entire day trying to dig the truck out of the mud with little success. Two days later, when the sun had come out and the ground had dried slightly, we were able to pull it out (we had managed to get the fresh goods out on time!)

Summer is always marked by certain bird and animal species returning to the bush. The Woodlands Kingfisher is always a key indicator of the rains returning and the bush beginning to flourish once again. All the creepy crawlies start venturing out of their hiding places and presenting themselves all over camp. We’ve had a few harmless spotted bush snakes hanging around the office and the bar yet there are many more tracks of other snakes along the roads in the reserve. In a few days everything had changed. The Impala, that we’d been keeping a careful eye on, started to give birth to their young and bush had started to thrive once again.

We had an interesting situation this year when the new shoots and leaves started emerging almost immediately after the first rain. The guides started to notice that a few of our antelope species were dying of natural causes around the reserve. The Kruger National Park released a report stating that due to the sudden influx of rich nutrients into the antelope’s digestive system, they weren’t able to digest it properly and therefore dying sporadically. The problem seems to have subsided after a few weeks of steady rain.

Two young male leopards in the South were seen “stockpiling” baby Impala. Their inexperience and youthful ignorance led them to conduct this strange behavior. They will learn in time that this will not be beneficial for them in the long run as the meat will start to rot or be taken by other predators.

Umlani had its own early Christmas present this year – two 8 month old white lion cubs where found on the King’s Camp property. These cubs are the same ones mentioned in the news section on our website in October. Our guests have had two different white lion cub sightings since 30 September 2009. We also had a sighting of a cheetah that chased and killed a baby Impala in front of one of our game drive vehicles. It was not too long after the kill when the Machattan lioness and her cub chased the cheetah off the kill and happily ate its hard earned food!

At the end of November we had very heavy rain. 166mm fell over a few days and filled our rivers to the brim. We had to send land rovers across the river to pick up any guests or deliveries. The photographs below show the stark contrast from the dry riverbed to the same river in full flow.

     View from the pool and the bar deck

I can’t believe we are almost in 2010. The year seems to have gone by so quickly with so many exciting changes happening in the bush. On the staffing front, we are sad to say goodbye to Giles King as he pursues other avenues in his life. We wish him well for his future endeavors. Christie Fynn will take over as manager at Umlani assisted by Louise Comrie and Kyle van de Vyver.

We are very happy to announce that our ranger, Moses, had a beautiful baby girl named Tyra in October. We wish him and Providence all the best with their new addition. We also wish to congratulate Jimmy who got married in September. Joana Mathebula will be back with us in the New Year after having a few months with her baby boy. Our tracker Shadrack and his wife, Charity are also expecting a baby boy in the New Year.

A very warm and heartfelt Christmas Blessing from all of us at Umlani. We wish all our past and future guests a very blessed Christmas and a happy new year. We are definitely looking forward to 2010 and hosting you at Umlani! This is a significant year for our country as we host the FIFA world cup soccer tournament in June. I hope some of you will be able to make a few matches and then come to relax and enjoy the warm African hospitality of Umlani Bushcamp.

Merry Christmas everyone!
Warm Regards,

Marco, Marie, Tarryn, Giles, Christie, Ginger, Jimmy, Elvis, Moses & the Umlani team

Intriguing moments:
An episodic river is a rarely occurring river formed from runoff channels in very dry regions. The Sharalumi River that flows in front of Umlani camp is an episodic river.