Usually this newsletter begins with an update on the Moporota Pride’s presence in camp, but this month we were visited by a very different cat. Early one morning, I was sitting in the main area having waved the guests off on drive. Suddenly, I heard a game viewer pull into the rotunda, and I leapt up thinking that the guests had forgotten something and were going to catch me in a rare ‘feet up’ moment as I was waiting for the day to begin. Instead, I saw Cisco waving at me and pointing at something in the bushes next to the boardwalk. He called out “inkwe” and I stopped in my tracks. There was a leopard in the bushes.
The squirrels and francolins were going nuts, indicating the presence of a predator, and I crept towards the office to peer through the shade-cloth window and try to spot her. The game-viewer eventually pulled out as the leopard did not materialise. I sat typing out the day sheet and glancing over my shoulder every now and then as the squirrels continued chattering frantically. Other managers arrived and I spent a lot of time shooing staff away from the area where I knew the leopard was lying, nervous that someone would be pounced on before morning meeting. Graham took a walk down the boardwalk to have a look, assuming the leopard was Legedema gracing us with her presence after a long absence from camp. Kirsty and I were sitting in the office chatting away when we heard the unmistakeable snarl of an angry spotted cat: we jumped up and saw Graham emerge from the undergrowth looking rather sheepish: “Yup, it’s Pula. Don’t go down there!”
It was, indeed, the torn-eared daughter of our more regular visitor, and she remained in the rotunda for the rest of the day. We couldn’t greet guests returning from drive, having to meet them instead at Mombo Lounge, and although we did not see her for most of the day, we knew she was still lurking there. At dusk, one of the maintenance guys called on the radio to announce that he’d spotted her skulking towards the canteen, and the game viewers pulled in to the back-of-house on their way back from evening drive. She outwitted us once again, however, and disappeared as enigmatically as she had arrived.
It would not be a Mombo newsletter without mention of the lions in camp as well - they did not disappoint this month, and we have even started a tally on the wall of one of the new offices to document their visits. They trooped through camp a couple of times, making unsuccessful attempts to hunt lechwe and impala, but one evening was made particularly memorable by their casual wandering through the rotunda. Sean and I were waiting to meet guests and we could hear the baboons alarm calling a little way off. We thought, stupidly, that the lions were still a fair distance away. I walked back up to the main area to check on something and was called on the radio by Sean, who was still standing in the rotunda holding a tray of face towels: “Jem, I have found the lions.”
I swung around just in time to see four of the Moporota Pride nonchalantly walking past Sean as he stood there, still as a statue.
More recently, the lions killed a buffalo on the soccer pitch which provided an interesting soundtrack for those of us trying to get some sleep here in camp. Guests were treated to the sounds of a rather elongated death, as the buffalo’s moans cut through the cold night air and the grunts of the lions fighting over the giant carcass followed soon after. The next morning the hyaenas had descended and their whoops came from every direction. Soon there were ten very fat, satiated felines lying flopped under a bush on the soccer pitch while scavenging jackals crept nervously around, trying to get a nibble or two of what was left.
This increased predator activity has not stopped managers from trying out new methods of wowing guests as they return to camp. We have been meeting them back on the Tully Tully Bridge with great punch bowls of Mojitos or Bloody Marys, tin mugs hanging on thorn bushes ready to be handed to the guests as they drive past. The first time we tried this, the guests were very happy, although they did ask us if we were completely insane to be lurking outside camp with no obvious escape vehicle as it was getting dark. We answered that it was all in the name of a good sundowner cocktail.
The lone wild dog has been seen regularly, accompanied by her faithful jackal friends. Guests were a little concerned to see her looking rather bedraggled and with some mange on her coat, but we are happy to report that she is getting back to her old self, and we could even hear her calling from camp recently. The fact that she is so active at night is intriguing, as we always assumed that her lone status would force her to lie very low when other predators are more active. Her charisma grows each day, her defiance of our assumptions being just another reason to admire her.
With the slowly rising water levels, the birdlife has exploded near camp as well. We have had mind-boggling Pel’s fishing-owl sightings at Little Mombo as well as main camp: the two adults and their over-exuberant chick have been providing countless photograph opportunities as they catch and eat cat-fish overlooking the breakfast table, or swoop down to the water in front of camp to hunt during pre-dinner drinks. The two wattled cranes are still displaying regularly in the floodplain, and numbers of jacanas, saddle-billed storks, pied kingfishers and many other water birds have turned up since their feeding grounds have expanded.
One of the more extraordinary sightings this past month has been of another rare and beautiful cat. Two separate serval sightings were recorded not far from camp. The first was of a female who was hunting in open grassland and only two days later a different individual was seen behaving in an equally relaxed manner around the vehicles. This sudden emergence of a normally secretive cat has been put down to topographical changes since the water has started rising: smaller animals, insects etc. have been forced out of their regular homes and the servals themselves have mostly likely moved their dens to safer, drier ground. We can only wait in excitement to see what other unusual wildlife might pop out of the bush as the water keeps rising!
Managers in camp: Graham, Jemima, Dani, Sean, Cayley, Kirsty and Cheri.
Guides in camp: Doc, Cisco, Tsepho, Sefo, Callum and Moss.