Friday, 30 April 2010

Expect the unexpected!

Coming back to drive for a couple days before going on my days off, I was a little apprehensive as the White Lions had left the area, and effectively left us lion less. I know there is a lot more to a safari than lion but for those that visit; it is a chance in a lifetime to view the king of the jungle in its natural environment and one of the most requested animals to view. Strangely enough the most consistently requested animal that we get, is Giraffe. When I asked why a giraffe, I’m often answered because they look non-threatening, cute and graceful. On one occasion on seeing a giraffe my guest commented, she has now experienced Africa, as for her the giraffe typified Africa.

I drift, yet again, getting back to the story at hand. So, at the back of my mind, lions were a worry as we headed out on our first drive. I say back of my mind because we knew that Rockfig Jnr had a kill in the South that she was at with her two cubs that should make for a great curtain raiser for my guests first drive. Slowly heading in a Southerly direction with the drive all planned out, a rookie mistake, we were about to be thrown a curve ball. A call came in over the radio that three female lionesses were located in the West, before it had finished coming through Jacky had already given me a look that told me there was a change in plans, and that we would be responding. As we headed towards the area of the sighting the directions for the best approach constantly changed, never a good sign. It meant the lions were highly mobile and there was the chance that the station in lock and control could loose them. Getting closer we spent a fair amount of time driving around in circles as the lionesses apparently could not pick a direction, I wonder if the are not related to the White Lions, as they have had us running in circles many a time! Finally we caught up to them and it became apparent as to there lack of direction, they were on the hunt. They were stalking Impala, getting closer and closer, they where nearly at the rush and pounce stage, when one of the females on the flank broke. Instead of rushing towards the Impala she ran off into a nearby bush growling, with which the remaining two followed suite, a scuffle ensued and it was only as a hyena high-tailed it, or I should rather say, tail tucked between its legs, in the opposite direction, that we realised what was happening.

Worries put to rest, we continued on to visit Rockfig Jnr and her cubs. Mom was soundly asleep in some high grass not far from her Impala kill, while her cubs were down in the riverbed working off their meal by chasing one another around, and anything else that happened along. Think a few francolins saw their lives flash before their eyes.

The following morning we were in for an even bigger surprise, it was the morning of The White Lions return, need I say more. That’s what I love about working here in the Timbavati, every day is filled with a surprise, and often more than one! If the White Lions were not enough, Kuhanye was found with another Impala kill, this was her third within a week. For a small female leopard she is a very capable and successful hunter, and apparently one with a big appetite.

That afternoon we were to return to Rockfig Jnr and her cubs, as they were still in the same spot but there was a new development. That morning they were visited by a Timbavati Male lion, who tried to get his paws on the impala that Rockfig Jnr had killed the previous day, luckily that evening Rockfig Jnr had hoisted it into a large Leadwood tree alongside the riverbed. Returning that afternoon to catch up on the saga, we drove up the riverbed only to find Rockfig Jnr high up in Appleleaf tree on the opposite bank from her kill. There was no sign of the cubs, which certainly must have taken cover in the thick surrounding vegetation. As we sat there, looking up at the kill, the male lion appeared on the bank, as if on cue. He made his way down the bank to the base of the tree with the kill, where he half-heartedly attempted to climb it. From his actions it appeared that he may have spent the day trying his luck, and now this was his final attempt. After a short while he gave in and proceeded up the bank and off to the South. Spending a little more time with Rockfig Jnr we decided that we would follow up on the male lion.
With Jacky’s help, it was not long before we caught up with him again. He appeared to be on a mission and as we followed him onto an open plain, he began to make his mission known. Getting some way ahead of him we killed the engine, in the hope that he would roar again. He did not disappoint, and began to build up as he approached the vehicle cresending as he passed us. If you have never heard a lion roar, it is one of the most powerful sounds I have ever experienced, not to mention one of the loudest. The sound enters you and the emotion you experience is indescribable, leaving you with goose bumps from the encounter. I should also add that you could actually feel the sound vibrate through the vehicle as he roared! A pure adrenalin rush! On our trip back to camp our guests broke out into song, “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion roars tonight!”
With each drive, things just got better and better, what would the following morning bring? What could it possibly bring! The morning started off slow, so Jacky and I headed off to the area that the White Lions where last seen hoping to pick up on their tracks and get a better view of them. As luck would have it we found the tracks and Jacky got to work on following up on them. While I left him to do what he loves, the rest of us responded to a sighting of Kuhanye, in the hope that while visiting her Jacky would find the White Lions. After spending some quality time with Kuhanye we headed back to Jacky, who we had arranged to meet at a certain spot, as we were operating that morning without a radio. A technical glitch, to say this made tracking near impossible would be an understatement, and I won’t be forgetting to charge the battery any time soon! It’s no wonder he came up empty handed, but not to be defeated he would return after breakfast with Morris to try again.
On our way back to camp a call came in that I had to double check I heard correctly, Wild Dog had been sighted just a little North of camp. Typical, I was nowhere near and Wild Dog are extremely difficult to follow. Taking a chance, we responded, and again fortune seemed to favour us, as the dogs seemed to be settling down. Finally getting to the sight, we found them chasing one another around before going to rest among some Mopani Trees. What a great surprise!

True to his word Jacky and Morris followed up on the White Lions during their break, and found them not more than fifty meters away from where he ended his search that morning. They must have been watching him again!

The next drive we were paying major wildlife tax and I could only hope it was pre and not post sightings. Impala were even hard to come by and my “go to birds”, had also seemed to have joined the game of hide and seek. Things were to pick up substantially that afternoon with the White Lions being found and the Wild Dogs reappearing, this time on an airstrip. This offered us great views and as the sunset we followed them down the airstrip, as if running with the pack before they turned to the East and disappeared among the Mopani.
The following day confirmed that we had paid pre wildlife tax, with a day filled with a number of exciting sightings. Rockfig Jnr and her cubs were seen for the first time since their experience with the Timbavati Male. The White Lions were found with the remains of what looked like a Kudu. My two personal favourites had to go with the time we spent with a relatively large breeding herd of Elephant and the Wild Dog and their Impala Kill. The Elephant were very relaxed and we were able to get right amongst them, while they fed, drank and carried out a number of social interactions. It was as if we were part of the herd for the 45 minutes that we spent with them, an unforgettable experience and one that never seizes to amaze me.
We where again fortunate enough to be in the right place when the Wild Dogs brought down an Impala and this time round we got to see the pack feeding. In my books it’s always a privilege when you get to see these endangered creatures.
It was an amazing driving spell and I could possibly say my best to date and this was before heading out on final drive. The morning didn’t get off to a good start, with it requiring ponchos before leaving camp. This was soon forgotten, five minutes from camp to be exact, when we spotted two hyena at the base of a tree, when we looked up, their was Argyle Male looking down in disgust at his two captors. As hyenas are prone to a short attention span they soon left, allowing Argyle Male to return to earth. He proceeded to walk right alongside the car nonchalantly, as if to try restore his bruised ego.
I would have called it quits there but during all of this a call came in that they had found three lionesses with a Maghlatini Male in the North West. If that couldn’t be bettered, on the way there we learnt that he was mating with one of the females. On our arrival all the lions were resting, but it was not long before one of the females got up and went over to the male and presented herself to him, at which he stood and proceeded to mate with her, seemingly oblivious to the gallery of spectators. It appears to be the same three females from earlier in the week and also the same ones that we saw with him at Voeldam over a month ago.
Leaving the honeymoon couple to their business we decided to visit the White Lions one last time to round off an amazing drive.

The guys were on fire that morning, also finding Rockfig Jnr and cubs, as well as another three female lions not far from the Maghlatini Male and his three females.

Here I was worried I was never to see lion again!