Watching a python devour a nyala in camp
The earth shook as Reazert (my tracker) banged on my bedroom door.
“Hang on, I’m coming.” I said, getting off my bed slowly.
“You know the African rock python?” He asked.
“Yes…” I replied, thinking he was losing his mind. It was one of the few animals I had never seen in the two years I’d been living and working in the bush.
“Well hurry then!” Reazert bolted back towards camp, calling “RUN!” over his shoulder. Confused and more than a little concerned that it was some elaborate prank, I eased out of the door and watched him leave.
He stopped and beckoned urgently. “Run, Francois! There is an African rock python that just bamba’d (killed in Shangaan) a baby nyala outside camp!”
That was all it took for me to turn into the fastest man alive – Marvel would have hired me in a heartbeat! A python alone would have been a dream come true, but very few people get to see a large python on a kill. I bolted to the car to grab my camera.
“Under your seat!” came the shouted suggestion from Reazerd, who was quickly becoming a distant blur. I grabbed it and went full throttle, quickly catching and overtaking Reazert before skidding to a stop at the realisation that I had no idea where I was supposed to be heading.
I looked around. Only in a safari lodge are you likely to see staff members from all over camp running toward a dangerous animal on a kill. I spotted Aneen, our assistant head ranger, and watched as she pointed towards the spectacle – but there was nothing there.
“Where did he go?” We all searched desperately for one breathless minute that felt like forever. Deon, one of the chefs, took the opportunity to frighten the life out of Adolph, another ranger, by running his hand over his knee. If swearing were singing, Adolph would have given even Miley Cyrus a run for her money!
Then I spotted it. The snake had reappeared from under some foliage and slithered past us to chorus of camera clicks. Filled with joy, tinged with sadness for the young nyala, I witnessed one of the thrilling relationships nature has to offer – the one between of predator and prey.
All of us – four rangers, three trackers and the kitchen head – huddled nearby and watched as the 3 metre-long African rock python devoured the baby nyala before making her way back to her lair. After a meal that size we knew we’d be lucky to see her again within the next six months, if ever.
It was pretty incredible to everyone there, no matter how many times they’d seen one, but for me – my first – it was beyond amazing, and I thank my lucky stars that it was real and not the prank I was expecting at that first excited rattle on my door…
Written by: Francois van Rhyn
Kapama Southern Camp
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