I almost cannot find words to explain the past month at Mombo. Almost, but not quite. It has been one of those months that make us feel even more grateful and privileged for living where we do.
The most extraordinary new development has to be that of a particularly special cat who has exploded onto the Mombo scene with her boisterous two cubs and is not failing to amaze. We went out on a drive recently and as we headed out of camp, Graham announced confidently that he would “find us a cheetah.” We all laughed and put it out of our minds. An hour or so into the drive, which took us into the northern territories of the concession, we stopped to look at some tracks on the road. We were about to head off again when we heard the distinct and angry protestations of a nearby troop of vervet monkeys. Immediately, we paused to listen and sure enough, the monkeys were gazing out at something further north across the floodplain and shouting vehemently at whatever it was they could see. We all thought “leopard” and decided to investigate.
As we bumbled across the floodplain, we craned our necks to try and spot the gliding shape of a leopard through the grass. As we approached we all grabbed binoculars to see what was ahead while somebody joked “is it a cheetah?” No, it wasn’t a cheetah... it was three cheetah.
After a lot of scrambling for more binoculars, we slowly began to creep towards them, not wanting to disturb or scare them away. The mother and her two youngsters were making their way to a termite mound, where they soon flopped down and lay nonchalantly, ignoring the vehicle as we edged closer. We were able to watch them in awe for a good hour. One of the cubs even attempted to ‘stalk’ the vehicle!
Since this first sighting, the cheetah family has been seen regularly, and twice guests have witnessed the mother bringing down an impala and calling her cubs to ‘play’ with her prey. On one occasion, she was interrupted in her schooling by a group of hyaenas, who wrestled the still-kicking impala from the cats and set about making their own meal of it. The cubs are not easily perturbed, however, and have been seen chasing both hyaena and wild dog as if they are afraid of nothing. We hope they stick around, it’s truly wonderful to have cheetah prowling the concession again!
Not to be outdone, the leopards have been popping up everywhere as well. Legadima has graced us with her presence in camp, having not visited in a good few months. She walked underneath the boardwalk at Tent 5 just after the guests had left for morning drive, and then loped very casually under three management houses before emerging on the road where the guides were waiting patiently for a glimpse of our famous beauty. Her absence for the past few weeks was put down to her lying low with a cub, and although only a flick of the youngster’s tail has been seen recently, it’s enough to reassure us that both mother and offspring are doing well; perhaps next month we will have more proof.
Another leopard cub has been dominating attention, however. The female known as Maru has a playful daughter who has been seen several times on her own this month, climbing impossibly high trees and gazing down at guests in wonder. Her mother can’t have been far, but it is hugely encouraging nonetheless to see how well her cub is doing, and to know that despite so many infant leopard deaths in the past few months, there is still hope for the next generation of these gorgeous cats.
The torn-eared female, Legadima’s daughter, was seen hunting baboons near camp this month and making use of a much larger mammal in her endeavours. Just before sunset, she inched towards a troop of baboons, using the bush for cover. As we watched we noticed a breeding herd of elephant quietly eating nearby, oblivious to the presence of the stalking cat. It soon became apparent, as she crept closer and closer to one of the elephants, that the leopard was making use of their size and their munching noises to disguise her own, less welcome agenda. As it became dark we had to leave her, still lying in the shadow of a large cow elephant, waiting for her moment to strike.
There have been more excellent rhino sightings again this month, particularly of white rhino that have been pleasantly relaxed and undisturbed by the vehicles. On one occasion, we watched two adult rhino and a baby and were just reminiscing about the incredible encounter when we heard the unmistakable rasp of a nearby leopard. We headed towards the sound and were rewarded with a combined sighting of the still-relaxed rhino and an even more relaxed male leopard, who strolled past us, unaware of our complete and utter amazement.
We have been honoured by ongoing sightings of the various prides of lion in the area. The Maporota Pride has been in camp a few times this month, hunting frequently in the floodplain overlooked by management houses and the staff village. Their attempts are often thwarted by one of the pride’s over-ambitious young males, but they did manage to kill a warthog near Tent 1, just as the guests for that room arrived for their orientation! The same pride was seen tearing into a lechwe recently, but as it was outside their usual territory and very much in the Western Pride’s domain, they ate very quickly and with many shifty looks over their shoulders. It is interesting to note how unwilling they are to get on the wrong side of the maned female and her gang!
Although we have been amazed and astounded by each of the above sightings, there have been several other stars this month. Honey badgers have descended on Mombo Camp in force, and have been seen marching about in front of the breakfast set-up, and sniffing around the general manager's office! We have also had side-striped jackal in front of the main deck, and further sightings of the bat-eared fox family not far away from camp as well.
The first confirmed hint of the seasonal shift has also arrived: one lonesome carmine bee-eater has been seen swooping about near the Tully Tully Bridge. It won’t be long before this early arrival is joined not only by other carmines but by many other spring and summer visitors, whom we await in excitement.
Managers in camp: Graham, Jemima, Dani, Sean, Kirsty, Britt, Cayley
Guides in camp: Moss, Sefo, Callum, Doc, Vic, Ona