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
One afternoon drive, we already had a great beginning with seeing two male Leopards having a territorial dispute. The older male Leopard ended up getting pushed out of his territory and the younger male won territory that he could finally call his own! A little while later we had found a pride of Lions, one male and two females lounging around like lions do!!! Finally we decided that this was too much action for one day and a drink was needed. We stopped at a waterhole, with the sun setting just behind it.
We had just served everyone with drinks and chatting about the day’s events, and all of a sudden my tracker Tully asked us to keep quiet! It was as if someone had switched the radio off, we were deadly silent! Not far from us we heard these strange snorting noises and Tully explained that this was very unhappy Impala’s. So we very quickly packed up to go find out what was
upsetting these Impala’s so much. Drove one block switched off the engine and listened, drove to the direction of the snorting and switched the engine off and listened. We found the Impala’s all facing the same direction and as we looked beyond them we saw this little white body lying on the ground. As we drove closer i could not believe my eyes, we had just witnessed Africa’s largest snake- the African Rock Python kill a young Impala.
Males can get up to 4.5metres and females 5metres and easily weigh 55kgs, that’s a lot of snake for some people to handle. Their diet is varied but they can consume small antelope, monkeys, fish, monitor lizards and even small crocodiles have been recorded. Today this Python had killed a young impala, and it was through the mothers distress calls that we had gotten this phenomenal sighting. African Rock Pythons seek prey with their heat sensors, ambush and then use strength rather than venom. As the animal exhales the snake constricts and with every breath until the prey is exhausted of oxygen. Once the prey stops breathing the Python then releases his grip and goes towards the head and starts to consume his hard earned prey. At this time the snake is at its most vulnerable to predators, so he swallows the prey surprisingly fast. Once the Python has devoured his prey he goes into hiding like a cavity of a tree or maybe an old Aardvark hole, so that the digestive juices can take over!
It just goes to show that the bush is extremely unpredictable, you never know what’s around the next corner and if you us all your senses you just might just get so much more…
Morah-Leigh Cooper-Ranger, Kapama Karula
Whenever watching Animal planet, National geographic, Discovery or any wildlife program, there is always a sighting which really stands out above the rest and as a Ranger you’re hoping that someday you will be there to capture a similar unique moment with your camera…and today, it happened to me.
We left the lodge a bit earlier this morning to an area where the Lions were seen the previous evening, hoping to track them before they disappear into the thickets. Hiding, from the blazing African sun.
20 minutes into the drive, approaching the first waterhole, my tracker alerted me to a strange but violent sound, a call which neither of us is familiar with; a call from a young Hippo fighting for survival against a big Lioness.
We approached the area with caution and were amazed and shocked of this rare but unique moment… a single female Lion trying to overpower the brutal strength of this beast. Lions are opportunistic hunters and will overcome any animal of their size and even much larger prey when they are hunting as a pride, but are also alert of any canines or injury to themselves which will affect their hunting capabilities in the future.
The lion tried so hard to get to the vital parts of the Hippo but she failed to get him down. By this time the hippo was bleeding profusely but still he didn’t give up. After a few minutes of rough “fighting” the lion stood back just to “take a break”… I think at this time she realized that she couldn’t take down the hippo and then started calling for backup. There was no reply from any of her pride members and as harsh as the fight started as disappointingly it ended for the Lion. The hippo got away and the Lion moved on looking for easier prey.
She didn’t manage to kill the hippo, but she did leave a lot of painful scars on the thick skin of the young Hippo.
This was one of the moments I am glad that I had my camera…. Long live the Hippo