Dining like a king
Deep in the African bush lies a variety of creepy crawlies, lazy leopards and cheeky monkeys, but most will agree that the fearsome lion is the most incredible – when he’s not asleep! The king of predators often keeps us on the edge of our seats, and on this particular day, it kept us holding our breaths as well.
“Lion! Lion!”, hissed one of my guests as he caught a glimpse of tawny fur through the bush. I hit the brakes not far from a lioness lying prone in the grass and was delighted to discover she wasn’t sleeping, but stalking! A glance in the direction of her focused gaze revealed a delicious herd of buffaloes marinading in a mud pan.
“Rassie, isn’t this lion a little small to catch a buffalo?” another guest asked hesitantly. “On her own, yes, but I have a feeling she’s got her eye on one of those calves…”
Suddenly, four more lionesses jumped out of the bush, scaring the buffaloes into the tickets. The air was filled with anticipation and the sound of thudding hooves, and there was no way we could keep up with the action. Instead we waited on the road to listen for the kill.
Four minutes passed in absolute silence, giving the dust just enough time to settle before being kicked up again by the whirlwind herd of buffalo in the road behind us. They stopped and turned, anxiously staring into the bushes, so we crept back to take a closer look. The lions had caught a small buffalo calf, much to the dismay and the milling herd, which lingered, stomped and mobbed the lionesses until they backed off and relinquished their injured meal. The buffalo herd surrounded the calf and wasted no time running away, with the lionesses hot on their heels once more.
The chase went on for another thirty minutes, with the injured calf lagging further and further behind. Its mother persisted in fighting off the hungry cats, until the pride split up and managed to separate her from their prey for good. The buffalo herd finally admitted defeat and left the lions to their meal.
Mother nature never ceases to amaze, and although this wasn’t everyone’s idea of an enjoyable sighting, it was truly awesome to see nature unfold before our very eyes.
Written by: Rassie Jacobs
Kapama River Lodge
In search of Kapama’s big cats
Everyone loves a good predator sighting, and there’s no greater thrill than getting close to the big cats that call Kapama home. Our bold lions, elusive leopards, and elegant cheetahs never fail to get the adrenaline pumping, and we are really fortunate to be able to get close to them without disturbing their natural behaviour.
Kapama’s lions are particularly relaxed around vehicles, possibly because they are innately confident within the protection of their pride, but mostly because many of them have grown up with the smells and sounds and chatter of game viewers. This makes them wonderful subjects for photography, especially when their cubs are out and about, amusing our guests.
Getting as close to a leopard or cheetah, though not impossible, is a little more challenging. Nevertheless, there have been many special occasions where I have enjoyed memorable sightings of a lurking leopard or a cheetah feasting on a fresh kill.
On one such occasion, my Argentinian guests were desperate to see a cheetah. It was their last evening drive and though I knew that chances of finding one were slim, we headed out to the north western farm to seek out a speedy spotted cat.
The bark of an anxious nyala alerted us to the presence of a predator so Shadrick, my tracker, jumped off to see what he could find on foot while I drove around the block. When we both came back empty-handed we decided to cut our losses and go and check on a kudu that had been taken down by lions the previous night instead.
The well-fed lions and their cubs entertained us for a while, and we’d all made peace with our cheetah no-show by the time we left them to find a spot for sundowners. But just as we passed where the nyala had called earlier, the snorts of nervous impala brought us to a halt once more.
“There she is! There she is!” came a cry from an ecstatic guest behind me.
Sure enough, there was the cheetah they were so desperate to see, stalking through the bush and away from stares and snorts of the unhappy impala as if she hadn’t been there all along. It just goes to show, those spots really are fantastic for camouflage, and just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there.
Written by: Chane Blignaut
I’ve been a ranger for a long time, but I’ve never been a fan of snakes. They don’t necessarily frighten me, they just creep me out a little – especially if I need to touch them. It’s inevitable to come across them from time to time in the bush. Sometimes it’s a deadly black mamba and sometimes it’s a harmless spotted bush snake, but of all the snakes in South Africa, the one I mind the least is the African rock python.
We’ve been very fortunate with African rock python sightings at Kapama over the last few months. A young, half-metre-long one was spotted on a recent night drive, sluggishly crossing the road in front of a ranger and his guests, and another, much larger one was observed cooling off in the waterhole near camp. My best African rock python sighting was of a two-metre-long snake basking in a sunny patch in a tree, lying so still that a turtledove landed right in front of it. The snake struck out so quickly we barely had time to blink, and within seconds it had wound its muscular form round and round its prey, squeezing the life out of it before swallowing it down.
African rock pythons are one of the six largest snake species in the world, the largest in Africa, and can grow to a length of six metres (19 feet). Their long, stout bodies are beautifully patterned with blotches of brown, olive, chestnut or yellow, often joining up in a broad, irregular stripe, and their triangular heads are marked on top with a dark brown ‘spear-head’ outlined in yellow. They’re usually found near water, preferring evergreen forests or moist, open savannahs, and they eat anything from birds and rodents to monkeys or fish. Fully-grown pythons have been known to hunt small antelope and even crocodiles. Being non-venomous constrictors, they strike and grab with the help of many small, backward-curved teeth and crush their prey by winding tighter and tighter with each exhalation.
Like all snakes, they’re ectothermic (or cold-blooded), and therefore depend on their environment to regulate their body temperature. This explains why the small one spotted at night took its time to cross the road and why the large one near camp needed to cool off in the water in the heat of the day. The fact that they can get big enough to consider a human child a convenient snack can be quite frightening, but it’s also their size that makes them vulnerable to hunting for food and leather.
I may not like snakes all that much, but finding an African rock python (even a small one) is always a treat – especially if they keep their distance…
Written by: Pieter Barwise
Kapama River Lodge
The circle of life
A few days ago, on a calm and sunny morning, one of Mother Nature’s spectacles unfolded and my guests and I were fortunate to be allowed to witness it.
We were heading towards the southern plains, where I’d heard rhinos had been spotted, when something unusual caught my eye. It was a black-backed jackal growling at a female blue wildebeest – much too large for a jackal to consider taking on – so I stopped to figure out what was going on. Upon closer inspection, I realised that the reason for the standoff between her and the jackal was a stillborn blue wildebeest calf.
The wildebeest cow edged closer to the jackal, shaking her head, stomping and snorting threateningly. Then, without warning, she turned and walked away, resigned to the fact that there was no hope for her unmoving calf. Within seconds, the air became dim as vultures waiting in nearby trees flocked in for the feast and the jackal, no match for them, backed off with a wild howl. The sound was unexpected, and was followed by an equally unexpected yet delightful surprise: three young jackal pups! They crept out from under a nearby bush and sidled over to their mother, who led them away from the flurry of feathers and off to safety.
There’s no room for happiness or sadness in sightings like these – only awe and gratitude for the chance to witness the circle of life run its course in the African bushveld.
Written by: Alister Kemp
Kapama Southern Camp