Stay out of the long grass

As guides we are always asked “How often do you see The Kill”. This is a tricky question to answer because the vegetation, time of day, species and mainly luck all play a role. Many times we are able to watch hunts, but to actually see one of Africa’s Big Cats grab hold of something is very rare. Usually we watch them stalk, allowing the animals plenty of room, and keep the noise and lights to a minimum. Fortunately the prey animals at Kapama are just as used to us as the cats are and don’t associate us with danger, so our impact on the success or failure of a hunt is minimal. Once they are in range or are in the perfect ambush spot it is just a question of patience. This can mean sitting for 2 minutes or half an hour until a sudden explosive rush and then a mad scramble through the bush by predator and prey at speeds that have to be seen to be believed. By the time we catch up with the action it is usually all over, one way or the other.

All that said, sometimes it just all comes together. So on a bright, clear summer afternoon we were able to watch a lioness stalk and kill a warthog in the open. The hapless warthog had no idea that its time was up and that the lioness had positioned herself perfectly ahead of its path. The grass was just so long after our summer rain that the Warthog simply did not see the lion until she walked within a meter of it. The lesson learned was that if you can’t see where you’re going, don’t go there!







These pictures are stills taken off a video, and though not clear, tell the story better.

Mike Kirkman-Senior Ranger,Kapama Karula

Rhino vs Lion

Today I was lucky enough to see two of our sub adult lions playing around and irritating a mother rhino and her calf.  The whole thing started when we were following the two youngsters and their mom. The lioness walked straight past our vehicle and laid down for a rest. Quite a distance into the bush we noticed two rhinos standing, starting to settle down for the night. This off course got the attention of the 2 sub adults and brother and sister started stalking the rhinos side by side. Seeing that it was already dark and rhinos in general don’t have good eye sight the lions got to right next to them.   The next moment the two jumped on the backs of the rhinos, holding on for dear life. (They did not make 8 seconds).  The rhinos quickly got rid of the two inexperienced lions on their backs and stood back to back facing the lions. This game carried on for a few minutes before the rhinos decided that enough was enough and they chased the youngsters away.

I was sitting there still trying to take it all in when I suddenly realized: We’re the only real danger here. Although careful of the lions, the rhinos were never really scared or in danger at any stage. The only danger to them is the humans. They walk past us every day and don’t even realize that they are staring their biggest enemy in the face.

The number of rhinos poached in 2010 was 333. In March 2011 we’re already standing on 62. Where is this going? Will there be any rhinos left in a few years from now? I don’t think we realize how big this problem is and that it needs to stop.  Where I used to just drive past a rhino and think that I’ll still see many, I now stop, look and appreciate.

By: Marilize Minaar – River Lodge Ranger

Lion Lunch

Earlier this week me and my guests were very lucky indeed. As we found our dominant male lion and a lioness we noticed they were hunting. A quick scan around told that they were eying some warthog not even 15 meters away. It all went down very quickly after that with as an end result a warthog piglet firmly grasped by the lioness. Very quickly she silenced her prey, so it will not attract the unwanted attention of other predators, including the male.

The male in the mean time went after his own prey but missed. As we stayed with the female she became very quiet and took her kill into a thicket and kept looking around quite anxiously, she was looking out for the male. Eventually he came back and started looking for her as he did hear her make a kill. In the end he found her and even though she tried he managed to steal her kill from her leaving her with nothing. In lion society the biggest and strongest one get the best and most food, so the lioness had to go on and try again. A very interesting sighing with plenty of action.

By: Roel van Muiden – River Lodge Ranger

Male Lion

Male Lion

It was the coolest surprise ever! I went on game drive two hours earlier than normal… just to go and find the elephants.Driving around the corner close to the Klaserie River, I almost drove over the male lion. It was really such an awesome experience… and being the only car out at that time of the day we could spend about 40min with him. You can see the wild look in his eyes. He had a giraffe kill close by so he was paranoid about the vultures seeing his supper.

By: Veruschka – River Lodge Ranger

Karula Midday Madness

Because of the rain during the morning safari some of my guests decided to sleep late.  After breakfast we set out again to make up for lost time.  I wasn’t expecting much activity as it was quite hot by this stage… But were we in for a surprise!

We had found a huge male leopard a few hours before but struggled to follow him because of the rain.  We now went in search of him again and were rewarded with a much clearer view as he climbed a few termite mounds and peered into the burrows, obviously in search of a warthog breakfast.

We were slowly heading back to towards the lodge, easing past a lone buffalo bull along the way, when one of the other rangers gave us a call on the radio.  He informed me that there was some suspicious behaviour up in the skies and so we rushed off to investigate.  Upon arriving at the scene we were astonished to see literally hundreds of vultures in hurricane formation directly above us.  We watched as they came hurtling through the air at breakneck speed towards a dark object lying in the grass.  It was difficult to see exactly what animal they were squabbling over through the writhing mass of feathers.  Our first clue eventually came bounding up to us in the form of a baby wildebeest, clearly confused.  It immediately became apparent to us that his mother had been killed sometime that morning.  He ran up to the vultures, bleating as he went, searching for his mother.  This caused the vultures to scatter and a yellow-billed kite that was “waiting in the wings” took this opportunity to make a half-hearted attack on the youngster.

We were amazed that the calf’s bleating had not attracted any predators as the sound is like someone ringing a dinner bell.  Not long after a black-backed jackal arrived but was clearly more interested in the carcass than the live bait.

A little further down the track we stumbled upon a pride of three lions, one adult female, and two sub-adults (male and female).  They were the obvious culprits of the murder as they all had full bellies and were now sleeping it off in the shade of a river bushwillow thicket, completely ignoring the cries of the young orphan.

This is one story which does not have a happy ending, however, as later that afternoon during the evening safari the lions began to stir again.  They made a beeline straight for the wildebeest calf, made short work of him as if he were a rag doll and dragged him down into the riverbed to be eaten at their leisure.

All photo’s by Rob Overy

Cameron Pearce – Head Ranger, Kapama Karula

Boxing Day Bloodlust

Thuli (my tracker) and I set off early on Boxing Day with one goal – to track down the Lions which had evaded us on our last two safaris.  We had hoped it would be a belated Christmas gift to our guests, who were dying to see them. 

We had not even covered half a kilometre before picking up the tracks.  They stood proud in the mud as it had poured with rain the night before.  We followed the trail easily but moved slowly while we read the story told by the soil.  We could see that the Lions were hungry.  They had paced back and forth, split up repeatedly and charged after many different antelope. Some of the antelope had slipped and fallen but there was no sign of a kill and still no Lions!  We kept working the trail for the next hour but eventually it headed into a thicket which cut us our chase.  By this stage I could tell that our guests thought we would never see anything and so we moved off to view a large herd of Buffalo grazing nearby before heading back to Karula.

On our way back, as we were turning into the Karula entrance, Thuli looked to his left and saw the three tawny figures moving off down the road – a hundred yards from where we had started that morning!  Everyone was ecstatic as we followed the three Lionesses closely.  Almost immediately they crouched down in the road and in the distance we could see a huge kudu bull.  The excitement was palpable while the lions waiting for the Kudu to move into thick bush.  Eventually he did and they began to encircle him and set their trap.  Fortunately for him there were more Kudu in the bush that spotted the cats and they all ran off giving their alarmed barks.

The Lionesses had begun to settle down again when one spotted a flicker in the bush and charged around the thicket.  The other two quickly realised what was happening and charged around the other side.  The only thing we could hear was the thundering hoof beats.   By the time the Kudu saw them it was too late.  She slipped in the mud and they overwhelmed her.  She managed to get to her feet at one stage but the Lions showed their strength and smashed her to the ground once again.  With two last groans she was gone.  It was over as quickly as it had begun. 

While the Lionesses were feeding they pulled out what appeared to be the liver (which is surprisingly large) but on closer inspection it had white stripes all over.  It was in actual fact a foetus, ready to be born a month or two later!  Very sad and tragic, but interesting nonetheless.

One of my guests, Mr Alan Silver from the United States, managed to keep his composure and get some fantastic action shots.  Thank you for these Alan!  The story would be nothing without them.

Cameron Pearce – Head Ranger, Kapama Karula