What an amazing day out in the African bush! I have been guiding for 5 years and can honestly say that today has been one of the most exiting days I have ever experienced.
It all started this morning when we headed out for our morning safari. After driving for about 30 minutes, we came across the tracks of 8 lions from the pride of thirteen. We followed the trail that they had left and after 10 minutes as we took a corner they were all laying in the road, fat and lazy. There was still blood on some of the youngsters’ faces, so it was quite clear that the lionesses were successful in hunting last night. After a while, they started to move around and we followed them through to one of the most picturesque dams on the reserve, where they flopped back down again after having a cool refreshing drink from the dam as the cold air was still rising from the water’s surface.
We continued the drive, and passed a huge number of general game from giraffe to the ever favourite warthogs. As we were taking some photos of vervet monkeys causing mischief in the tree canopies next to the Klaserie river, we heard the unmistakeable noise of a warthog being killed on the opposite side of the river. We made our way around to the other side and following the deathly squeals, we came across three lionesses still busy finalising the kill. Shortly after the commotion stopped, the reserve went quiet, with the silence being broken by the alarm calls of the vervet monkeys whom also picked up on what was happening. The two daughters of about two years old started eating and the mother quietly disappeared into the thickets, only to return a few minutes later with the newest addition to the little family, a strong willed and extremely adventurous little male cub of only a few months old. As the little one was being cleaned by mom, the two older sisters were having a five star meal with bones cracking and skin tearing.
As time for game drive came to an end, we started heading back to the lodge. This return was quickly interrupted with a colleague coming across a male leopard very close to the area we were driving in. With leopard being as elusive as they are, there was no other option but to take full advantage and we made our way over were we found him having a late morning siesta after a few failed attempts at impala.
With the excitement of the morning drive in the guests’ minds, we headed out again for the afternoon drive, and to be honest I had no idea how we were going to compete with the magical drive of this morning. We barely left the lodge when we found ourselves amongst the herd of elephant, casually feeding on all sorts of vegetation, with the little calves putting up a great show as they were roughing it up amongst each other. We spent about 30 minutes with these gentle giants before setting off for the rest of the drive. We went through a bit of a quiet spell and we took some time to focus on the smaller things out there, especially the little feathered friends one can so easily forget about with the huge diversity of life in the African bush.
We stopped for a relaxing sun downer as the sun was setting behind the Drakensberg mountains, painting the sky with a tapestry of colours from red to orange to purple. As everyone was standing around making small talk, soaking up the peaceful serenity of the moment, the same distinctive warthog call echoed over the grasslands. This time, even the guest recognised the sound and without needing to give any instruction, all of them where on the vehicle, ready to start the search for the culprit of another warthog killed. This time it took us a bit longer as the predator was obviously a lot more skilled in hunting than the young lioness of the morning. Seeing that the squeals only lasted a few brief seconds, followed by the silence, that can only be created when an animal has drawn its last breath. Finally we came across the warthog, tucked away in a dense thicket clump on top of a termite mound, but absolutely no sign of a predator… Suddenly, a movement in the thicket gives her position away. A young female leopard appeared from out behind the curtain of trees and shrubs, putting herself between us and her dinner for tonight… At least, that is what we all thought, until a small little ball of fur appeared next to her – she had a cub with her, still dark in colour due to the young age of the little one. It was unclear whether the little one was male or female, but it was quite obvious that it thought it was a fully grown leopard, staring us down from top to bottom, showing absolutely no fear for the huge metal animal staring back at it. After both mom and cub realised we are no threat to their dinner, they disappeared back behind the thickets as quick as they appeared earlier.
Being convinced there can be no more surprises as big as the ones we were fortunate enough to experience during the two drives, we made our way back to the lodge once again, only to bump into the most unexpected sighting for the day – a mere 100m away from the lodge entrance. My tracker stopped me as we approached the lodge and through the yellow grass we saw a rock making its way towards the vehicle. There was a moment of silence as everyone tried to keep their composure after seeing a moving rock when it suddenly appeared from the long grass into the road… A pangolin, one of Africa’s most unseen animals! People spend their whole lives looking for this strange creature, never to see it. Personally this has only been the second one I have ever seen my whole life. It swaggered across the road, pausing for a few seconds to glance at us and then moved into the grass once again on the other side of the road.
Story by Piet (River Lodge)