While driving back to the lodge at the end of a great afternoon game drive we came across a spotted eagle owl sitting in the road. We stopped to enjoy the presence of this wise old owl.
We noticed that she was holding something in her talons and on closer inspection saw see that she had a dung beetle in her grasp. She held it down and did not seem very interested in her prize. All of a sudden she hopped into the air leaving the beetle behind and flew to the other side of the road where we could see some movement on the road.
As we continued watching her we saw that she was dancing around a large scorpion, trying to get the scorpion into a position that would suit her. The whole time the scorpion kept up its defence by lashing out with its tail, trying to sting the owl. This didn’t deter the owl as she pounced on the body of the scorpion and in a flash had bitten the sting off the tail of the scorpion, rendering it harmless.
How wise of the owl as now the spotted eagle owl could take her time and just stood on the scorpion for a few moments before picking it up in her beak and swallowing it alive.
She proceeded to spread her wings and fly off into the night.
With the Murphy family as my guests on the game drive vehicle, we were making our way to an area south of Southern Camp. I knew there were three lions in the area, but I clearly told the Murphys that while they may see lions, leopards were elusive and they were definitely not guaranteed of seeing them. My words weren’t cold when we spotted a female leopard lying down in the open, relaxed as could be.
Somehow, I instinctively knew she was not alone. Shortly after we spotted her, the leopard got up and crouched into a stalking position. But there was no prey in sight. What she was actually doing was cautiously making her way out of the area, as she was intruding on lion territory. She knew it and a resident lioness also knew the leopard was about – and wanted her out of her domain. If the leopard didn’t leave of her own accord, she’d be forcefully chased out.
When leopards feel threatened by another predator, they will either try and make their way out of the area or find a tree to climb for safety – out of the reach of lions. This exact scenario played out the very next morning on our game drive.
Not long into our drive, we came upon a male leopard up a tree. He was not there willingly either – the lions lying around the base of the tree had clearly chased him up as he was a threat to their territory. In the same way, leopards often drag their kills into trees to keep them out of the reach of opportunistic lions and hyenas. But today’s sighting was different, and there was no kill in sight. It was simply a territorial battle.
Sometimes, finding the unexpected is just plain luck – and, of course, being in the right place at the right time. Finding leopards is never easy because they are solitary and elusive; finding them two days in a row is something special; and witnessing a silent territorial tug of war is an extremely rare sighting indeed. Something unforgettable for us all.
Story: Adolph Niemand – ranger at Southern Camp
Photos: Lily Murphy
Edited by Keri Harvey
Lions are a favourite request from guests visiting Kapama – and yes, we do have really excellent sightings on the reserve. As we left for a morning game drive recently, guests were excited about what the bush might reveal – but they also really did want to see a lion.
We were driving slowly towards the south-eastern section of the reserve to track a big male lion from where he was seen the previous night. En route, we stopped briefly to soak up the magnificent African sunrise and listen to the inhabitants of the bush wake up. Our experience was rudely interrupted by a powerful roar. It was some distance away, but still very loud.
The guests instantly had big smiles on their faces. Everyone knew it was the roar of a male lion, and in unison they said: “Let’s go and find that male.” We headed to the area where the sound was coming from, and before long found his huge paw prints in the sand. His tracks seemed to go around in circles as we followed them for ages by vehicle. Was he playing hide and seek with us? It sure seemed like it.
After just over an hour, we decided to stop for a coffee break and to resume tracking him afterwards. As we started round two of our coffee and hot chocolate, we noticed lion tracks that were fresh and promising. When we followed these, we came across more lion tracks belonging to other members of the pride.
Our mission seemed fruitless, though, and we needed to turn back to the lodge. Suddenly, tracker Douglas Masinga spotted movement far down the road. It was the male lion – and there were more, too. At last.
Excitedly we edged closer to observe. As we watched, something caught the attention of the lions walking down the road – there were warthogs grazing nearby. The lions showed interest, and I told our guests to be patient and to wait, to see what would happen.
Quickly the lions were in formation to ambush the warthogs. At lightning speed, one of the older and more experienced females ran towards the warthogs and made a kill right in the open – and a mere 20 metres from our vehicle.
Everyone was speechless. All they managed to say was: “Wow, amazing.” And they kept their gaze on the action. It’s rare to see a lion kill, and even more rare to see one so close up. But expert tracking by Douglas and plenty of patience paid off, and an unforgettable memory was made.
By Jeffrey Mmadi – ranger at Buffalo Camp
Edited by Keri Harvey
As we left the gates of Southern Camp, a herd of elephants blocked our way. They were enjoying the ‘fruit of their labour’ – browsing on trees they had pushed over. They had us captivated for 20 minutes, as we watched how they nimbly used their trunks to strip leaves from thicker branches and place them gently in their mouths. Elephants need to eat an enormous amount every day to maintain their bulky bodies, so they are constantly either looking for food or eating it.
But today it was lions we were really after. A pride had been moving around the lodge the previous night. We’d heard them and seen their tracks near the dam. Before long, we found the exact spot the lions had slept the previous night, and I stopped the game drive vehicle to explain this to the guests. I didn’t have time to finish my story, though. A chaotic ruckus was coming from the dam, so we immediately drove over to see what the racket was about. Two male hippos were fighting – and this was no pretending. They were really fighting hard and giving it their all. Luckily, we were the first vehicle to arrive, so we had the prime position for photography.
I explained to the guests that the two huge males were jostling over territory and the right to reside in the dam. One male was much larger than the other, so the match wasn’t exactly fair. Still, a female hippo watched on like a captivated spectator at a sports game – and the vicious battle continued. For over an hour, we watched in silent awe at the sheer power of the duelling hippos.
We could clearly hear the sound of their enormous teeth crashing together, and the dam surface was strewn with bubbles as the two beasts thrashed and splashed in their fight for superiority. At one stage, the two tenacious males even got out of the water and chased each other on the bank. They were enraged, and neither was willing to give up the battle for the dam. Eventually, we left so that other vehicles could enjoy the impressive sighting – and we presumed the larger of the two hippos won the dam as his territory in the end.
By Bethual Sithole – Southern Camp
Edited by Keri Harvey