Wildlife’s natural instinct prevails
If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you should always expect the unexpected, especially if you are working in the wild. Every typical day at the office can instantly turn into an exhilarating day with multiple adrenaline rushes. I have had a few experiences like this, but what I experienced the past week was by far the most incredible experience in the bush.
One summer’s day we sat in Kapama River lodge surrounded by trees and live birdsong, suddenly, I heard an ear-piercing sound and as strange as it might seem it sounded like a cow. “Since when do we have cows at Kapama?”, I asked myself. Muddled by the question I jumped out of my chair and sent it flying back into the wall. I ran out of the office and down the wooden walkway to find the origin of this strange yet familiar sound. A lion is preying on a buffalo at the Wellness Centre!”, Marelize, Kapama River Lodge receptionist, said eagerly.
Sabelo, Kapama River Lodge barman, overheard our conversation and said, “Well, what are we waiting for?” We ran towards the Wellness Centre, anticipating that we were going to see this sighting up close. Out of breath and struggling to get hold of my camera, I never thought twice about what might happen once we got to the Wellness Centre.
We stood in awe at the rim-flow swimming pool overlooking the waterhole. What we were expecting to see was far from what we saw; this was a sight like no other. Three buffalos wandered into the waterhole, where a hippopotamus had hidden its youngster. The hippo stood in the water with a buffalo in its mouth and at the same time the other two buffaloes were fighting off the hippo. The hippo, with its natural instinct, had instantly noticed that her youngster could be in harm’s way.
After a few minutes the buffalo managed to escape from the hippo’s death-grip, and we were relieved that it was over, or so we thought. We noticed that the hippo’s sharp teeth had pierced through the buffalo and thus the buffalo sustained extensive abdominal injuries.
As we recalled the unexpected sighting of that summer’s day we became aware of the beauty that lies underneath the cruel nature that occurred at the waterhole – wildlife with its natural abilities to protect its own.
Written by Darren Mdhluli
Lazy lions and a little luck (not for the buffalo…)
Kapama Private Game Reserve is vast and its lodges are generously spaced across the property, so wild animals from the reserve frequently come into contact with the camp borders and are spotted by guests and staff. These sightings can be some of the most memorable and exciting for everyone lucky enough to witness them, especially when predators are involved. We recently had one such amazing sighting on the outskirts of Buffalo Camp.
Cape buffaloes love water and can usually be found close to perennial water bodies, wading into the water to cool down in the hot Limpopo climate, so we weren’t surprised when the small waterhole in front of Kapama Buffalo Camp attracted a lone buffalo bull, which lay down in the shallows. At about the same time, Buffalo Camp rangers and their guests followed a pride of lions, two mature females and their five sub-adult offspring, into the area. As they came across the buffalo in the water, everyone prepared for some action.
In an attempt to evade an attack, the buffalo moved deeper into the water. Lions don’t enjoy getting wet, so this was a good plan – at least it would have been had the buffalo been able to wait out the patient pride. Unfortunately (for the buffalo), the entire pride parked off under the trees at the back of the camp, near the staff accommodation, and kept their eyes on their prize. One curious sub-adult male approached the fence to investigate the gathering crowd of staff members watching the show, but eventually lost interest and retreated to the shade. When the worst of the afternoon heat had subsided, they all moved back to the edge of the water to wait out the tired buffalo. Eventually, after many hours of standing in deeper water, the old bull moved back into the shallows to rest, and no sooner had he laid down than one of the lionesses pounced for the kill.
The pride feasted, providing a spectacle and great photographic opportunities for the four days it took to consume the carcass. Incredible moments occur when you’ve got the wild on your doorstep, and this is one we aren’t likely to ever forget.
Yesterday morning after breakfast we set out on a bush walk with a group of German guests. Normally every walk is preceded by a thorough safety briefing, explaining in detail what should and shouldn’t be done in case of an emergency or encounter with dangerous animals. The guides are normally armed, as is legislation in a dangerous game area, and it is really just a safety precaution if a dangerous situation arises and enables us to adequately protect ourselves and our guests.
We left the lodge after the briefing and some distance into our walk we entered a small clearing on the eastern sector of the reserve when suddenly I heard a snort and saw a big Buffalo bull erupting from the bush around 25 metres away from us. I immediately gave the command “stop” to my guests and shouldered the rifle as solitary buffalo bulls are renowned for their unpredictability and somewhat aggressive behavior towards humans on foot. Strangely enough they understand that when we are in a vehicle we poses no immediate threat, but on foot they are extremely aggressive and alert to our presence and would not hesitate to defend themselves.
The buffalo stared at us for what seemed an eternity then tossed its head, snorted and trotted of in the opposite direction…. what a relief, and I was quite happy to see the back end of that bovine disappearing away from us.
This little incident certainly got our attention, and luckily the rest of our walk passed without any other “hairy” situations and me and my guests thoroughly enjoyed what nature offered. Of course we had plenty to talk about when we eventually arrived back at the lodge.
The aim of a bush walk is never to go out and see how close we can get to animals, or how much reaction we can get from them, and we as guides understand that we are in their domain, and we need to take the back seat to stay safe and prevent any kind of unwanted reaction from dangerous animals to ensure ourselves and our guests safety.
Sebastiaan Jansen Van Vuuren
Ranger – Kapama Main Lodge
A few days ago one of my guests asked to go on a bush walk after breakfast. Earlier, during the morning safari we had seen a group of three buffalo bulls moving eastward close to Karula. Keith was very keen to learn some bush craft and so I saw an opportunity to show him how to track down big game.
Most people assume the Cape Buffalo to be a fairly placid and docile creature at first glance. But this is an animal which has built up a fearsome reputation over centuries of big-game hunting. As most of you will know, the “Big Five” are the most dangerous African animals to hunt on foot. What most people don’t know is that the Cape Buffalo is considered to be the worst of the bunch. We are talking about an animal which is 1 700lbs of pure muscle, charges at speeds of 35mph and has earned the nickname of “Black Death”. This all sounds very daunting but the situation was in our favour as we would be a small party and we would cover some fairly open terrain.
So, after a thorough briefing we headed out along a sandy road to pick up the tracks. Our eyes strained as the road was baked hard from the rain a few days before. Eventually a few scuff marks gave the buffalo away and we turned off in their direction. We followed the spoor for about ten minutes before we lost them. As we paused to search for any further signs I heard something – a group of Red-billed Oxpeckers. These are the birds which crawl over large mammals removing ticks, dead skin cells, ear wax, etc. They are usually an excellent early warning sign that danger is nearby.
After another briefing we set off in the direction of the bird calls. After only two hundred yards we came to a shady thicket where I was sure the Buffalo lay resting. I explained to Keith that to continue any further would be suicide. As we turned to move off we spotted one dark outline – “Buffalo!” We crouched down on our haunches and watched the great beasts milling around for a short while before deciding that discretion was the better part of valour. As we came out into a clearing we looked to our left and noticed that the Buffaloes had moved in the same direction as us! I then noticed that the wind had changed and was now taking our human scent directly towards them. They immediately picked it up and came in our direction at an alarming pace.
The only cover available was for us to head back into the thick bush and I told Keith in no uncertain terms to make it quick! After a further hundred yards of dodging Buffalo we made it up onto a termite mound. As we looked back we could see the Buffaloes snorting, stomping and still searching for the pesky humans, in the wrong place of course. At this stage we could afford to have a good chuckle and once we had returned safely to camp I’m sure Keith realized he had experienced something most people can only dream of!
Cameron Pearce – Kapama Karula Head Ranger