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
I have been a game ranger for six years, and every morning when my alarm clock wakes me I wonder what sightings and surprises the African bush holds for the day. It’s mid-winter, and cold as I gingerly get out of bed to prepare for the morning game drive. I can see the setting moon through a gap between the curtains, and the stars wink at me from a distance. Outside is still dark and completely silent.
As we depart from Buffalo Camp for the morning game drive, I look back to check on my guests sitting on the vehicle. It looks like everyone is wearing every single item of clothing they brought along on safari. They’re bundled up with clothes layered like onions – beanies, scarves, gloves and double-lined jackets. The unspoken belief is that if we persevere through the cold of this winter morning, the African bush must reward us. “Let’s go,” they say enthusiastically, from beneath the blankets, which are the final layer for warmth.
It’s not long before my trustworthy tracker, Foster, points out clearly visible lion tracks in the road ahead. There’s not one, not two, but many tracks, and they are all fresh. It seems this pride, like us, was up early and on a mission of their own – despite the cold winter morning temperatures.
Before long, we are rewarded and find a pride of eight lions. They are alert, curious and also cold. Some move cautiously closer to the vehicle, and in their amber eyes I can see they are intrigued by the vehicle’s engine radiating welcome warmth. One lioness in particular seems laser-focused on the vehicle but, an instant later, her whole demeanour changes. Eyes, ears and body are suddenly on high alert. I see a similar and instant change in every single member of this pride, and then I also notice a herd of wildebeest not far away. They seem edgy and unsure of their next move; surely they must sense danger nearby.
I soon realise that the vehicle is serving as support in the lions’ plan to ambush the wildebeest, and before long they explode from behind the vehicle in different directions towards the herd. The sudden burst of energy, the swift and agile movement of their limbs and the seemingly choreographed hunt is almost too fast to follow. The guests gasp as the lions charge towards the panicked wildebeest herd.
And then… success for the lions. A wildebeest falls and the lions have breakfast, as the African bushveld starts waking up around us. Our reward, in turn, is an outstanding sighting and an unforgettable experience for each person on the vehicle.
The moral of the story: sometimes your warm and cosy bed is not the best place to be on a cold winter morning in the African bush. Just a little discomfort and cold can yield enormous reward, like witnessing a lion kill.
Written by Joe van Rensburg – Ranger, Buffalo Camp
Edited by Keri Harvey
On a pleasant night safari the other day my guests and I were coming towards the end of the safari drive, when out of the blue we happen upon one of the rarest sightings I have ever experienced. It all started earlier during the drive when we found the young Southern Male lion fast asleep at Sunset dam. This male normally likes to associate with the youngsters and lionesses of the Moria pride (named after one of the areas on the reserve). Later that evening on the way to the lodge I thought I would go past Sunset dam again and sure enough found the same magnificent Male lion heading towards us in the middle of the road.
I pulled off the road and allowed this massive cat to pass mere meters away from the vehicle. The guests loved the thrill and exhilaration to have such an powerful animal go past this close, and also the fact that he trusted us enough to actually come this close, without paying us any notice. We followed him down the road and he then suddenly veered off his direction clearly showing signs of having picked up on a smell needing closer investigation.
At first we thought he might have picked up a females’ scent and as he moved closer to a bush pandemonium broke loose. He suddenly launched himself into the air behind the bush with a massive African Rock Python biting him on the muzzle. With enormous power he flung the python of his nose and darted back into the road. You could see that this was quite an unpleasant surprise for him and after a few rubs he continued down the road. African Rock Pythons can reach a length of about 6-8 meters and grow up to about 50 – 70 Kg in weight. This is pure muscle and they are extremely powerful snakes.
Obviously this would be quite a hearty meal for a Lion but I am sure this male would think twice before taking on such a powerful reptile again. We couldn’t help but smile when it struck us that this is probably the best example of the age old saying ” don’t bite off more than you can chew…”
Ranger Mike Powell
One morning my guests asked to leave half an hour earlier so we left at 06:30am. After driving for about 30 minutes we found some fresh rhino tracks and decided to follow them. After following for a while, we found lion tracks on top of the fresh rhino tracks – the lions were close.
Tracking for only 10 minutes, we found the lions. They were stalking some kudu by the looks of things. As the lions started running, we tried to follow. As we were driving through the bush, I heard what sounded like two cats fighting so we rushed over to see what was happening.
My tracker turned around and shouted “LEOPARD LEOPARD” and we saw the leopard in a tree with the three female lionesses anxiously waiting below it. Suddenly, the leopard jumps out of the tree with hopes to get away but instead had to face the three aggressive lionesses. After a while, the leopard decided to run as fast as her legs could carry her and get away, otherwise she would certainly lose her life.
Unfortunately, the leopard was too slow and one of the lions grabbed her on the neck. At first we thought it was over but as soon as the lion’s grip was slightly too loose, she took the chance and ran into a warthog hole for safety.
Luckily for the leopard, she got away with her life but this does not happen very often. If lions get the chance to kill any competition they will take it. These three lionesses lay down close by the warthog whole until finally they gave up and moved away.
My guests and I were shocked at what had just happened but we were all glad that the leopard was alright.
Bryan – Kapama River Lodge
Finding lions is an amazing and rewarding experience, especially when we find our newly extended pride of thirteen lions. My tracker Alfi and I decided to look for this pride so that the guests could see the cubs – three that are around seven months old, and six that are now around two months old.
We went to a dam where they had been spotted the day before. Unfortunately, they were not there. So we followed some tracks as far as we could. Eventually, we lost them in a block. We decided to check another nearby dam. As we came around the corner, there they were – all nine cubs playing and tackling each other.
A few days before, I had seen the three older cubs bullying one of the younger cubs. However, on this day, all six of the younger cubs were giving their older siblings a hard time. When there is just one it is easy for the older cubs to bully the younger ones but when all six are together, the roles are almost reversed.
As we sat there enjoying this amazing sighting, we heard one of the adult females calling from a distance. Immediately, the cubs stop what they are doing to listen. As we turned our heads to the direction of the call, there she was looking at the cubs. She came down next to the water’s edge and all nine cubs ran up to her, rubbed up against her and greeted her with as much love as they could. The love soon changed into playing and jumping all over her.
This encounter between the lioness and all the cubs just shows us how family orientated these big cats are as well as why their bonds are so strong, which in turn contributes to their success in the wilderness. Their dependence and reliance on each other is one of the factors that make them so strong and majestic.
My guests and I will never forget this great encounter between these lions.
Kim Pretorius – Kapama River Lodge