Themba is a male nyala who is the real owner of Bateleur Lodge. He is perfectly content though, to allow us to think that we are – as long as we keep him well fed! He is there every day after all, while we are merely his guests from time to time.
Nyala or Tragelaphus angasii is a spiral-horned antelope native to Southern Africa. Nyala are very shy buck and in our many visits to the Kruger National Park, we only saw them once or twice and then too, at a distance. When we bought Bateleur Lodge, we certainly didn’t expect to have them as semi-permanent house guests!
The males are a bit bolder, although they are generally still gentle, shy creatures but the females tend to be extremely reticent. It was several months before they ventured out from behind the cover of trees when we were around. They are remarkably interesting to observe because the males and females look so significantly different. The males weigh in at a hefty 95 to 125kg whereas the females only tip the scale at 55 to 68kg. All nyala calves look like females when they are born. As they grow up, they slowly change colour and after a few months their horns start to develop – many young ladies we have named as such, have turned into young gents! It has been a huge privilege to observe this process.
Themba (aka Narrow Horns)
Themba was orphaned as a baby and the caretakers who used to live on the property raised him. We were introduced to him when we came to view the Lodge for the first time. He patrols the Lodge keeping a watchful eye for predators and other impertinent nyala males who dare to venture into his territory. Over the last 2 years, he has been chased by several other large males – Spot, Alpha and Creeper, just to name a few. This year I am delighted to see him with his own family. My boy, Themba, has some bonny babies of his own!
At first we were a little wary of Themba – after all, male nyala have intimidating horns and the previous caretaker has a nasty scar from an accidental run-in with one during mating season. Themba, however, is a determined, persistent rascal who will patiently stake you out and wait for a treat. I remember arriving at the Lodge after a quick trip to Hoedspruit for provisions on our first visit as owners and finding Themba patiently waiting for me on the side of the house. He managed to train me quickly and now I know when my boy is hungry. We abide by the rules not to feed wild animals, but Themba was hand raised and therefore thinks of himself as our pet and visits us regularly.
The caretaker’s chalet has been renamed Chalet 4 and during lockdown we used it as a large grocery cupboard. Everything we bought from Hoedspruit was taken there, wiped with bleach and stored until we needed more provisions. Themba quickly figured out that if we were in Chalet 4, the chances of carrots and apples were much higher! He would blockade the entrance and even stick his head in through the top of the door to see what was transpiring and what was on the menu for the morning. Zaza was delighted everytime her buddy came to visit and Teens 1 through 3 also looked forward to seeing his naughty face at the door.
We spent 6 months during lockdown at Bateleur Lodge and Themba was a welcome companion. There are very few animals who venture onto the deck. The occasional porcupine and genet, monkeys of course, a honey badger once that we know of and recently, Themba! Teens 1 through 3, and Zaza dance. A lot! Themba was a little pest during lockdown and would go and stick his nose right into their Zoom sessions. A couple of times when he made it clear that he was going nowhere, they had to retreat inside and dance in a much smaller space.
Themba is easily recognisable by the 3 spots on both sides of his face, his narrow horns – and of course his tenacious spirit! On one of our first trips to the lodge, I fed Spot, mistaking him for Themba. He is a lot more reticent and withdrawn though. Themba would have none of it and chased Spot away, letting him know in no uncertain terms who the treats were for. I was pretty relieved because unknown male nyala are dangerous as we mentioned before. We are all very careful even with Themba (I’m constantly reminding the offspring) because a simple warning from our boy could result in severe injuries for us. All wild animals should be treated with caution and respect.
Themba is a master of camouflage and he seems to vanish as soon as he passes the tree line. However, lions, leopard, hyaena and cheetah roam freely in the estate, so I still always worry about him – even though he is fully grown. I am grateful when he reappears. We adore Themba and dread the day that he won’t return with his rakish stroll and flaring nostrils. He will, however, leave many descendants as a reminder of a beautiful soul.
Themba means “trust, hope and faith” in Zulu, (one of South Africa’s most commonly spoken languages), and we hope we are worthy of our beautiful boy’s Trust, Hope and Faith!
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