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
Witnessing the birth of an impala
Every day is a unique opportunity to connect with the African bush and on this day I was most fortunate in driving by a truly remarkable sighting. It was an impala ewe with something hanging between her legs.
I was on my way to pick up my guests from the nearby airport and enjoying the beautiful drive in my open safari game drive vehicle, the sound of lions roaring and birds chirping filling the air. I stopped when I heard distress calls from a herd of impalas since this is usually a clear indication that a predator is lurking nearby. It was then that the impala ewe caught my eye and I immediately realised that the thing hanging between its legs was the impala’s calf – still in the process of being born.
The rest of the herd called the alarm again, I searched for the cause of their distress with a combination of concern and excitement. Seeing nothing, I laid down my binoculars and just then a leopard bolted out of the bush, scattering the startled herd. The laboring ewe tried to delay the birth of her newborn lamb, but it was too late. The tiny calf fell to the ground in a bloody mess and the ewe sprung to the safety of a nearby thicket.
The leopard was nowhere to be seen and the distant alarm calls from the scattered herd told me it has moved off. Surprisingly, this calf had gone unnoticed.
Alone, it stretched its long, skinny legs and stood up to take its first few wobbly steps. Its mother returned, together they made their way back into the thicket and out of harm’s way.
Heaving a sigh of relief, I made my way to the airport and shared my remarkable sighting and excitement with my new guests. It’s rare moments like these that makes life in the raw African bush so special.
Written by: Gregory Heasman
Kapama’s new baby giant
Elephants are big, bold and beautiful, not to mention being up there with dolphins and chimps in terms of intelligence. With their beautiful long lashes, wrinkly trunks and Africa-shaped ears, you can’t help but love them, and baby elephants take cuteness to a whole new level. And guess what? Kapama is one elephant calf richer!
One morning, my guests and my tracker, Richard, and I went searching for the herd. It was their last game drive at Kapama and elephants were the only animals they really wanted to and hadn’t yet seen. I mentioned to Richard that I had seen a fresh tree pushed over on the road near the waterhole– a clear sign of elephant activity – just next to Southern Camp. “Yes, I also heard them this morning. They might still be nearby,” Richard said.
We hadn’t driven far when the silence was broken by the sound of trees breaking all around – they were very close to camp indeed. Moments later two elephants hurried across the road to the nearby waterhole, and I suddenly brought the vehicle to a halt. My heart thudded and the sound of cameras clicking became evident. We waited for the rest of the herd to follow, but they remained deep in the bush.
“Let’s carry on. Maybe it’ll give these guys some time to come out so we can try again,” I explained. Just as we set off to drive further into the reserve, a movement far down the road at the waterhole caught my eye… big flapping ears! At last!
“Ah, look at the baby,” one gentlemen guest exclaimed. I turned around and saw the new elephant calf, about a month old, only a few metres away from the game drive vehicle. After being carried in her mother’s womb for almost two years, a teeny tiny giant stood sheltered between the tree-trunk-sized legs of the herd. Ten elephants stood nearby, cooling off in the water. You can probably imagine the excitement and sheer delight on my vehicle.
The tiny giant was very interested in our vehicle and ventured close enough to give us a sniff before racing back to stand beside her mom, who remained splashing peacefully in the water near the Land Cruiser. In the African bush, every moment has the potential to be extraordinary.
Written by: Liesa Becker
Kapama Southern Camp
Breakfast on my doorstep
I’m a new ranger at Kapama and have been guiding here for about 3 weeks. One morning, I was woken early by the loud, unhappy screeching of a guinea fowl, but it was only when I left my room on my way to work in the pre-dawn gloom that I very nearly stumbled over the reason for its distress: a Verreaux’s eagle-owl on the ground right in front of my bedroom door, its feathery meal clutched in its talons, but as I walked closer to the sighting the guinea fowl saw an opening and managed to escape while it sidestepped the large bird of prey.
I glanced back at the eagle-owl, which was nowhere to be seen. I gave a step forward to have a look at the injured little guinea fowl and all of a sudden I felt a wave of air rushing through my hair. As I looked up I watched as the eagle-owl swooped down unseen from the roof and instantly injured the guinea fowl only two metres away from where I was standing. Noticing my presence the owl took off, carrying its breakfast to an African Thorn tree at the nearby waterhole.
It was amazing to get close enough to admire the eagle-owl’s big pink eyelids, mottled feathers and its sheer size. Later that afternoon it flew away from the waterhole, taking what remained of his prized kill with him, I wondered if it was taking the remains of the guinea fowl to its nest. In persuit of its nest, I followed while respectively keeping my distance. The sound of chirping chicks became more evident and at about 15 metres from the waterhole the owl started to slow down as if it was about to make a landing. My eyes caught a stick nest (constructed by other birds), I couldn’t see if there was any chicks inside, but the sound was clear enough to hear the little owls, the eagle-owl has landed, passing the food into the nest.
As you might know by now, the Verreaux’s eagle-owl or giant eagle-owl (Bubo lacteus) is a large, nocturnal, African bird of prey. It is Africa’s largest owl and the third largest owl species in the world, and a close-up encounter such as this is incredibly special. Interestingly enough, it hunts at night for mostly small to medium-sized mammals, like monkeys, hares, and hyraxes, as well as birds up to the size of a bustard, so a guinea fowl would be a perfect light meal.
It’s not every day you see these magnificent nocturnal hunters, especially in the middle of the day and so close and on the ground, but no matter what the situation, if you encounter a Verreaux’s eagle-owl, stop what you are doing and enjoy the special sighting, you never know where the eagle will land next!
Written by: Matthew McDonald
Kapama River Lodge
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
Up close and personal with lions
It was the 22nd of August 2015 and I can vividly recall how beautiful the hot and cloudless spring afternoon had been. I was manager and host for the evening at Kapama River Lodge, and earlier that afternoon I stood on the boma deck and watched as two young male lions lazily flopped down on a small island in the dry riverbed after drinking from the waterhole. From my vantage point, they seemed as harmless as two big house cats dozing the day away. Little did I know that they were not alone – their whole pride was waiting in the wings for the show to begin.
After dinner, when all the guests were sound asleep, I walked towards reception and suddenly we all heard a very loud and sudden shout. I rushed toward the riverbed and found one of the guides, face to face with a lioness in camp! One glance told me that the whole pride was inside the lodge’s fenced area.
It was a strange combination of feelings that gripped me as the guide backed away and made his way back to safety: I kept my head and instructed the guide to check on all the guests and ensure that they stayed safely in their rooms.
Once our head of security arrived, we discovered what had happened – the pride had chased a giraffe right into the camp fence. The lions had followed the giraffe in and made their kill in darkness.
Our first priority was to get the lions out of the lodge as soon as possible. Our head ranger, Liezel Holmes, and some of her rangers, the reserve manager, head of security and their teams joined us in an effort to move the giraffe carcass back outside the fence line perimeter. The lions were still within the boundaries of the camp, but the hope was that they would follow their kill once we were all out of the way. It took nineteen men to move the giraffe carcass.
The scattered pride eventually returned to feed off their hard-won kill, and for the remainder of the week our guests were treated to some spectacular in-house game viewing. No TV documentary could ever match the feeling of being in camp with a pair of binoculars and a proper camera lens, and what better way of watching a pride of lions feed than from the cool water of the swimming pool or the comfort of a lounger?
Each day we watched the carcass dwindle, and soon it was light enough to drag off to the shade at the dry river’s edge. Four days later, having eaten their fill, the lions abandoned their kill to the hyenas and vultures and by the sixth day there was nothing remaining but a hollowed out skull and a scrap of skin.
The rest, as they say, is history and the 22nd of August 2015 is a day I’ll never forget.
Written By: Thomas Ndobe
Kapama River Lodge