This morning on drive we encountered a beautiful herd of African elephant right close to the edge of the road. The elephant took their time crossing the road and we watched them for a total of about 20 minutes as they did so. What amazes me when I watch these gentle giants is how they can be so quiet and yet so noisy at the same time. The elephant has got a special sponge-like pad in the feet below the toes and this helps the elephant to be exceptionally quiet when they walk. These sponge-like pads act as shock absorbers aiding the elephant in ascending embankments and negotiating narrow pathways. The noises these animal produce is not actually directly from them. When elephant walk they often feed at the same time. Elephant are very powerful and magnificent animals with enormous strength that very few trees can withstand. If an elephant cannot reach the very top nutritional leaves of a particular tree they will simply push the entire tree over. This act is naturally very noisy with the breaking of branches and the crashing of the tree itself. Although you do not hear the animal itself you will most certainly hear the destruction that follows it. As a ranger this is also often the method we would use to locate the elephants in the first place. Using the echo of noise of breaking trees is an obvious give away as to the elephants’ exact location.
This morning while on drive we had a very interesting encounter. We were experiencing some very nice cool and overcast weather with a slight drizzle. We hadn’t expected to see much game due to this. However, as luck would have it, we did manage to find a beautiful lioness and her two boisterous cubs on a fresh impala kill. But, this was not the normal sighting. This was coffee with a bang. We had planned to stop for morning coffee and tea at one of the dams where we could sit in the bird hide out of the rain. Diving down the road towards the dam myself and my tracker were focused on finding hippo tracks and hadn’t paid much attention to the bush around us. Pulling up next to the bird hide we planned on getting off the vehicle and setting up our usual coffee display. Luckily for us my tracker has eyes like an eagle. Before my guests could get off the vehicle something had caught his eye and he warned me to stop the guests. He asked me to pull slightly forward and low and behold there just a few meters off from where we had parked was a lioness and her two cubs, with the kill a short way off. We had the most incredible sighting watching her and her cubs devour their prize. She was very unaffected by our presence and continued her morning duty of sleeping as much as she could. It was a treat to experience the ‘king of the jungle’ at such close range.
Shortly after the sun set behind the horizon, when the Woodland Kingfishers, Fork-tailed Drongos and several Flycatchers where attempting to catch the last of the insects before returning to their nests for the night, a lioness emerged from the brush. As my guests enjoyed the sighting and got caught up in photographing her, she was joined by a young male and second female. They slowly began to move away from where we had originally sighted them. We followed them slowly where they proceeded towards a pool of water a short way off. A Red-billed Oxpecker was sounding a warning call in the distance which seemed to echo across the waters edge. While the lions quietly drank, a large herd of buffalo appeared. It was very impressive to witness the lions strategizing and taking up different positions without being noticed by the buffalos. As the buffalos where approaching, some of the calves started to run in excitement towards the water. One of the lionesses proceeded to stalk the youngsters and actually charged one of the calves which was roughly 20m from her. However a mother’s love should not be underestimated. When the cow realized her calf was in danger she fiercely defended it by charging the lioness. In doing this the buffalo suddenly became aware of the presence of the three lions. Some of the buffalo scattered into the bush disappearing while some of the older bulls attempted to chase the lions off. The lions then scattered in all directions leaving the buffalo to calmly resume their positions at the edge of the water and life at the dam became calm once again.
When you find a Honey Badger, which has the most well known reputation in Africa as the most tenacious and stubborn animal and a porcupine in the same hole, there is bound to be a confrontation which will most likely not end up well for either of the two animals. Needless to say both animals came off second best, that is to say there was no winner that we could tell. What happened after each one scampered off in a different direction, we will never know but, each looked equally injured. So, the story goes that either the porcupine or honey badger went down the wrong hole and were met with a very agitated opponent, one of the most ferocious fights I have seen in the bush ensued with the honey badger walking away with a few quills for his troubles and the porcupine looking very bedraggled with a few gashes to show for his efforts. It just shows you that not only the big and hairy put on a good show. And, a long story short I shall not recommend anyone going head first into an inviting hole in the ground. Porcupines and honey badgers, as with many other mammals, will use abandoned holes normally made but aardvarks digging into the base of termite mounds of which the termites abandon their efforts and move on leaving a well built, insulated and safe home. Warthogs will also use these holes as their home.
People often mistake the life of a male lion as a very luxurious affair, but to the contrary it is quite the opposite. We often see the male lion sleeping and dozing the whole day while the females do all the hunting and raise the cubs. Life as a young male starts out nice, with the mother protecting and feeding the cubs, but as soon as they reach adolescence and start to show interest in a female the wheel drastically turns. When this occurs the dominant male/males will chase their son/sons out of the pride to fend for themselves. The next few years are extremely difficult and only a handful of young males will survive this period. The lucky survivors might team up with their brothers to form a coalition and finally challenge another dominant male or even their father for a pride. Sometimes the combined efforts of two or even three young males are not enough to defeat a large, powerful and experienced male. The privilege to be a dominant male lion is not a right but has to be earned through hardship and bloodshed.