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
As we left the gates of Southern Camp, a herd of elephants blocked our way. They were enjoying the ‘fruit of their labour’ – browsing on trees they had pushed over. They had us captivated for 20 minutes, as we watched how they nimbly used their trunks to strip leaves from thicker branches and place them gently in their mouths. Elephants need to eat an enormous amount every day to maintain their bulky bodies, so they are constantly either looking for food or eating it.
But today it was lions we were really after. A pride had been moving around the lodge the previous night. We’d heard them and seen their tracks near the dam. Before long, we found the exact spot the lions had slept the previous night, and I stopped the game drive vehicle to explain this to the guests. I didn’t have time to finish my story, though. A chaotic ruckus was coming from the dam, so we immediately drove over to see what the racket was about. Two male hippos were fighting – and this was no pretending. They were really fighting hard and giving it their all. Luckily, we were the first vehicle to arrive, so we had the prime position for photography.
I explained to the guests that the two huge males were jostling over territory and the right to reside in the dam. One male was much larger than the other, so the match wasn’t exactly fair. Still, a female hippo watched on like a captivated spectator at a sports game – and the vicious battle continued. For over an hour, we watched in silent awe at the sheer power of the duelling hippos.
We could clearly hear the sound of their enormous teeth crashing together, and the dam surface was strewn with bubbles as the two beasts thrashed and splashed in their fight for superiority. At one stage, the two tenacious males even got out of the water and chased each other on the bank. They were enraged, and neither was willing to give up the battle for the dam. Eventually, we left so that other vehicles could enjoy the impressive sighting – and we presumed the larger of the two hippos won the dam as his territory in the end.
By Bethual Sithole – Southern Camp
Edited by Keri Harvey
I have had many interesting questions on drive from guests – some quite thought-provoking, and some that are just down right difficult to answer (and sometimes, not because they are intelligent questions!) One of the most common questions, however, is what hippos eat, and ultimately, how do they live in harmony with the other dam dwelling animals, especially crocodiles. The easiest way to answer this, I find, is by telling them an old African Folktale:
“When God was giving each animal a place in the world, the pair of hippos begged to be allowed to live in the cool water which they so dearly loved.
God looked at them, and was doubtful about letting them live in the water: their mouths were so large, their teeth so long and sharp, and their size and appetites were so big, He was afraid that they would eat up all the fish. Besides, He had already granted the place to another predator – the crocodile. He couldn’t have two kinds of large, hungry animals living in the rivers. So God refused the hippos’ request, and told them that they could live out on the open plains.
At this news, the two hippos began to weep and wail, making the most awful noise. They pleaded and pleaded with God, who finally gave in. But He made the hippos promise that if they lived in the rivers, they must never harm a single fish. They were to eat grass instead. God said that they were to show Him every night, that they were only eating grass. The Hippos promised solemnly, and rushed to the river, grunting with delight.
And to this day, hippos always scatter their dung on the river bank, so God can see that it contains no fish bones. And you can still hear them laughing with joy that they were allowed to live in the rivers after all”. (From: When the Hippos were Hairy and Other Tales from Africa: Nick Greaves)
People are always amused with this story, and children roar with laughter. Sometimes, though, this is the only way to explain things. It makes the drive more fun, and it often has a hidden meaning that people can think about. There are many African Folktale stories out there and usually only just about every animal you can think about.
Story by Angie (River Lodge)
Whenever watching Animal planet, National geographic, Discovery or any wildlife program, there is always a sighting which really stands out above the rest and as a Ranger you’re hoping that someday you will be there to capture a similar unique moment with your camera…and today, it happened to me.
We left the lodge a bit earlier this morning to an area where the Lions were seen the previous evening, hoping to track them before they disappear into the thickets. Hiding, from the blazing African sun.
20 minutes into the drive, approaching the first waterhole, my tracker alerted me to a strange but violent sound, a call which neither of us is familiar with; a call from a young Hippo fighting for survival against a big Lioness.
We approached the area with caution and were amazed and shocked of this rare but unique moment… a single female Lion trying to overpower the brutal strength of this beast. Lions are opportunistic hunters and will overcome any animal of their size and even much larger prey when they are hunting as a pride, but are also alert of any canines or injury to themselves which will affect their hunting capabilities in the future.
The lion tried so hard to get to the vital parts of the Hippo but she failed to get him down. By this time the hippo was bleeding profusely but still he didn’t give up. After a few minutes of rough “fighting” the lion stood back just to “take a break”… I think at this time she realized that she couldn’t take down the hippo and then started calling for backup. There was no reply from any of her pride members and as harsh as the fight started as disappointingly it ended for the Lion. The hippo got away and the Lion moved on looking for easier prey.
She didn’t manage to kill the hippo, but she did leave a lot of painful scars on the thick skin of the young Hippo.
This was one of the moments I am glad that I had my camera…. Long live the Hippo
Whilst passing John’s dam early this morning we spotted an adult female hippo whose body was mostly submerged with only her chin resting on the sand. As we were watching the hippo through our binoculars we noticed something small moving next to her right ear. Upon closer inspection to our delight we realised that it was a brand new baby hippo – probably only a few days old!!! A female hippopotamus gives birth to a single calf, about 8 months after mating with a male. A female generally only has one offspring every two years .Newborn hippos are relatively small, weighing from 55 to 120lbs, and are protected by their mothers, not only from crocodiles and lions, but from male hippos that, strangely enough do not bother them on land but only attack them in the water. Hippopotamus calves are born either on land or in shallow water. In water, the mother helps the newborn to the surface, later teaching it to swim. Giving birth in the water helps the mother to conserve her energy and reduces the chances of the young becoming a victim of an animal on land. They generally suckle milk from their mothers while underwater. In the water, young ones are often seen resting their heads, or standing, on an adult’s back, usually their mother’s, because the effort to keep afloat tires them too much. Until a calf is strong enough to walk far, the mother leaves it with other females to babysit when she goes to feed. Young hippos can only stay under the water for about half a minute, but adults can stay submerged for up to 6 minutes. Young hippos can suckle under water by taking a deep breath, closing their nostrils and ears and wrapping their tongue lightly around the teat to suck. This procedure must be instinctive, because newborns suckle the same way on land. A young hippo begins to eat grass at 3 weeks, but its mother continues to suckle it for about a year. My guests noticed a red substance on the skin of the adult female. Many guests have heard the myth that hippos sweat blood. This is untrue. Hippos often bask on the shoreline and secrete an oily red substance. This liquid is actually a skin moistener and sunblock that may also provide protection against germs. Since the mother Hippo often needs to be in water that is too deep for her young, you will see them riding on her back. If she stays in shallow water then the sunlight will be able to dry her skin and to sunburn. While Hippos are known to be highly aggressive and loners, the mothers are very good caregivers. They offer guidance, interaction, and learning so that their young can be strong and healthy as they mature. We look forward to monitoring the progress of our new hippo over the coming months!!!!!!
Sarah-Estelle Sangster-Ranger,Kapama Karula