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.
A nyala dominance display
As a field guide, spending time with wild animals and observing their behaviour is always special, no matter their species or size. One animal that has always fascinated me is the nyala. Nyala bulls in particular have a very interesting way of asserting their dominance, and we happened to come across two bulls in full display while out on a recent drive.
‘’What are they doing?’’ my guests asked, understandably intrigued by the long fringe of hair standing to attention along each animal’s back.
“They’ve got goosebumps”, I replied, causing a few laughs, but went on to explain that the technical term is ‘piloerection’. Dominant males raise their long, dorsal hair-fringe and lift their fluffed up tails over their rumps, exposing the maximum amount of white colouring in order to appear larger. Unlike giraffes and many other herbivores that fight each other for territory or females, nyala bulls that perform this full-out display almost always win without coming to blows.
Piloerection can be seen on impalas as well, but not as a display of dominance. On cold mornings you’ll see them lift the hairs all over their bodies to trap a layer of heat while they wait for the day to warm up.
Like most of the guides here at Kapama, I’ll never get tired of sharing sightings of interesting animal behaviour like this with my guests.
Written by: Chane Blignaut
A bit of bushveld comedy
A number of days ago while out on safari, my guests and I spent a few moments enjoying a sighting of a spectacular giraffe bull picking away the tiny tasty leaves from a very thorny Acacia-tree with his long and dexterous tongue. Beside him, swooping back and forth from perch to perch around him, a fork-tailed drongo quickly took center stage.
These little black birds have discovered that it is far easier and energy-efficient to follow larger animals than to actively search for food themselves, so they have evolved a symbiotic relationship with many herbivores, tagging along as they move through the bush and catching the insects they flush out.
This feisty fork-tailed drongo dipped and hovered from perch to perch, pausing between swoops to watch for his next treat. He was so intent on catching insects that he didn’t notice the giraffe’s big tail swishing to and fro, so as he took off towards his intended target he met the hard flick of a hairy tail coming the other way.
He didn’t seem to know what had hit him! Stunned, he floated very slowly to a nearby branch to gather himself. Unaware of the accident he had just caused, the giraffe carried on nonchalantly through the trees, munching leaves and disturbing more insects his poor sidekick was too dazed to notice.
Despite feeling a quite sorry for our little drongo, and even after all the sightings of much bigger, more charismatic animals, the comical moment with this mismatched pair was easily the highlight of my guests’ trip.
Written by: Garry Bruce
Kapama Southern Camp
Even mongooses love sunbathing
When you think of an African safari you can’t help but think of the heat. Out here in the South African Lowveld, however, winter mornings and evenings can be bitterly chilly.
On one such morning, just as the sun was rising and the air was warming up, my guests and I noticed movement on a tall dead tree. Naturally, we stopped to have a good look with our binoculars.
It was a band of dwarf mongooses scrambling up and down the tree, searching for the best spot in the sun. These adorable little creatures had just emerged from their cosy den in an old termite mound at the base of the tree, and their antics in the bare branches above were their way of warming up after a freezing night for a day of hunting for insects, eggs, and lizards.
These beady-eyed, sociable creatures are cute and entertaining at the best of times, but on this morning as we sat curled up in the vehicle much as they were in the tree, we couldn’t tear ourselves away from their cuddling, grooming, and tumbling play.
Smiling, we left this little band of sun worshippers to their sun-loving ways.
Written by: Mark Burns
Some cats just don’t like to share
In Kapama, we’re lucky to have a couple of relaxed resident leopards that carry on about their business as if we’re not there. One such leopard, a female, was recently spotted enjoying a hard-earned impala kill with her two cubs, high up in a tree and out of reach from the hyenas lurking below. Leopards with kills often stick around for a few days, so the morning after this incredible sighting we decided to head off early with the hope of spending more time with them.
Bleary-eyed, wrapped up in all manner of jackets, blankets, scarves, and gloves, and clutching hot water bottles to fend off the crisp winter chill, we set off into the pre-dawn darkness. As we approached the huge jackal-berry tree where the previous night’s show had taken place, we scanned, but didn’t immediately spot her. If it weren’t for Freeman, my tracker, and his well-honed leopard spotting skills, we might have missed her.
“Over there.” He pointed, casually. We turned as she melted into view against a backdrop of exposed granite rock. We approached slowly, trying to get the morning sun behind us to maximize the golden light that makes wildlife photography so rewarding at this time of the year.
But something was clearly not right. She was moving away from the jackal-berry tree, but kept glancing back, and as she got closer we noticed that she was injured. The small laceration on her stomach area didn’t seem to slow her down, but she wasn’t as fit and healthy when we had left her the previous night. Why was she injured? Where were the cubs? And why did she keep looking behind her?
All three questions were answered with the sudden appearance of a very large male leopard with bloodstained jaws. He had obviously stolen her kill and she was injured in her attempt to protect her cubs.
As the leopardess moved away, calling softly for her unseen cubs, he stalked out from behind the jackal-berry tree, scuffing the ground with his hind legs and spraying to mark his territory. As if she’d had enough of him, she bolted past the vehicle and disappeared down into a dry riverbed. Not 15 meters away from our vehicle, the large male growled angrily as he watched her leave.
Over a warming coffee stop in a patch of sunlight, we mulled over what we had just seen and tried not to worry about the missing cubs. Sometimes, the most incredible and memorable sightings are those tinged with sadness, but we all agreed that it’s generally best to trust nature’s way and to be thankful for the opportunity to witness it.
Written by: Garry Bruce
Kapama Southern Camp
Note: The cubs are still alive and well and are well on their way to being as relaxed as their mother.
A giraffe affair
We often spend our guests’ final drives checking off any animals on their lists we haven’t yet found. One of my favourite animals to watch and photograph is giraffe, and recently we’ve come across a few male giraffes in the behavioural act of ‘necking’, a kind of dance between two giraffes flinging their necks at one another. Sometimes it’s between two young giraffes play-fighting like brothers, but sometimes it’s the real thing.
Male giraffes use their necks and heads as weapons to establish dominance, and males that win necking bouts impress more lady-giraffes and have greater reproductive success. There are two types of necking: low intensity necking, where combatants rub and lean against each other and the male that can hold itself more erect wins the bout, and high intensity necking, where combatants spread their front legs and swing their necks at each other, attempting to land painful blows with their short, stubby horns or ‘ossicones’. The power of a blow depends on the weight of the skull and the arc of the swing, so contestants need to dodge blows and counter with well-aimed swings of their own.
A necking duel can last more than half an hour, depending on how well matched the combatants are, and although most fights don’t lead to serious injury, there have been records of broken jaws, broken necks, and even deaths. After a duel, it is common for two male giraffes to caress and court each other, with the victor even mounting the loser in a show of dominance, proving he is the more ‘manly’ of the two.
It’s easy to sit and watch them for long periods, forgetting the time and violence of their unique dance. Their necks swinging and their long legs moving through the dust to a rhythm only they can hear is absolutely mesmerizing, and when their song is finished, they move off as if they hardly noticed us or the flashing of our cameras.
Giraffes are very iconic animals in Africa; extraordinary creatures that really make guests feel part of our true African wilderness. When you visit us the next time, be sure to ask your ranger to stop and appreciate them for the incredible animals that they are, and if you’re lucky enough to see them “necking”, watch them dance!
Written by: Angie Seeber
Kapama River Lodge