South Africa Safari – Day 10

What day 10 lacked in variety it made up for in quantity. One again we started the day by tracking a pride of lions on the hunt. It was clear that they sensed nearby prey but we never figured out what they were after. We stayed with them for over 30 minutes and they stalked through the dry grass before moving on.

Click on any image to enlarge it.

We explored the veldt for about 40 minutes before coming upon a few elephants at a watering hole. Unlike yesterday the light was good and we stopped to watch these magnificent animals.

We moved on but almost immediately came upon the rest of the herd. For a moment we thought we were going to see a scuffle as two males challenged each other. However, the smaller of the males showed good sense and backed down.

We drove ahead of the herd and parked at a second water hole and waited. Within minutes the herd arrived and began to fill up. Along with the herd was one baby elephant. It was so young it had not yet learned how to use its trunk to drink. It was so cute as the baby got down on its knees to drink water directly with its mouth. The adults kept the baby surrounded at all times in what was clearly a protective maneuver. There was lots of other activity around the water as well. There was some pushing and shoving by some of the elephants. Some waded directly into the water while the others remained on the bank. This continued for about 30 minutes. Then the herd reversed course and headed back into the bush.

With the departure of the elephants we resumed our search. We came across a few Cape Buffalo. I must admit that I find these beasts fascinating.

Cape buffalo, King's CampAfter about 50 minutes of exploration we found a leopard hidden in the bush with fresh prey. (An antelope or Impala I think.) We watched as the leopard ripped the fur from the carcass and then tore in to the meat. Despite the grisly scene in front of us you could not help but admire the beauty of this animal.

Our afternoon drive began with more elephants. It was probably part of the same herd that we saw this morning. We grabbed a few shots and moved on.

We decided to see if the leopard from this morning was still there – and she was. She was still working over her prey. A somewhat older cub briefly made an appearance but then quickly disappeared back into the bush.

Mother and cub

Mother and cub

As we drove around we spotted a few rhinos but not much else. Finally, around 5 pm, we came across a pride of lions. They of course were doing what lions do best – rest. We watched them lay about and groom each other. Then slowly they started to show some signs of life, eventually heading over to the water for a drink. By this time the sun was down and it was starting to get dark. (i.e.: some of the following shots were taken at ISO 12800) We left them as they were getting ready for their evening’s adventures.

South Africa Safari – Day 3

Day 3 rolled around and it was another great day in the bush. Within the first hour we had already seen and photographed impala, a crocodile, a malachite kingfisher, an Egyptian goose, a fish eagle, a lilac breasted roller and a spotted hyena. Not bad for the first hour.

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Then Richard got a call on the radio that one of the other rangers had spotted a female leopard with 2 cubs. The opportunity to see leopards was one of the primary reasons that we had come to South Africa, so we were very excited.

When we arrived at the location we found out that the cubs were hiding and that mom was out hunting. This was disappointing because the rules in the preserve state that if cubs are unattended you can only stay for 10 minutes. To hang around longer than that might draw attention to the cubs and put them at risk from other predators. However, just at that moment we saw some movement and up popped one little head. The cubs were moving. For the next 5 minutes or so we got to watch as they climbed around on the rocks and through the heavy brush. These two were just beautiful. However, we had to leave.

For the next couple of hours we continued our explorations. Shortly after leaving the cubs we came across some steenbok, the smallest antelope in South Africa. They are also very skittish and take off quickly when approached. White-backed vultures, impala and warthogs rounded out the first part of the morning.

Each morning we would finds a nice shady spot, that appeared to be devoid of man-eating carnivores, and pull over for some coffee and a bush breakfast. This gave us a chance to stretch our legs and have a bite to eat. Our boxed breakfast usually consisted of a croissant, yogurt, juice, a few other items and coffee. It was always tasty and enough to stave off starvation until we returned for lunch.

Bush breakfast with Tom, Richard, Like and Cathy

Bush breakfast with Tom, Richard, Like and Cathy

We heard of the radio that the mother leopard had returned to her cubs so we headed back to where we had left them earlier. We arrived to find that mom was back and she had brought a kill back with her for the cubs to eat. Only mom and one cub were visible and they were both under some bushes and hard to see. We were also the 3rd vehicle on site and really could not get a very good angle to see them. We found the best spot that we could, parked and observed. Even though we weren’t in a great spot for photography we were able to watch the mother and cub interact. After a while the other cub came out of hiding and began to nurse.

Eventually mom decided to move over to a large rock and rest. She was posed perfectly for a photograph but once again we were at a bad angle. Richard put the land rover into gear and crashed through the under brush and over some sizable trees to get us to where we could have a good view.

And there she was in all her splendor. We had the opportunity to photograph her unimpeded by branches and bushes. Eventually she left. It was time to go hunting again.

The other two land rovers left first and then Richard started ours. Problem! In driving over the trees to get us into position they had wedged at an angle under the vehicle making it impossible to back up. Unfortunately in front of the land rover was a sand filled wash. If we went forward we would almost certainly get stuck in the wash, but backing up was impossible.

Richard put the land rover into its lowest gear and struggled forward. After much lurching and bouncing about we freed ourselves from the trees and dropped into the wash…where we promptly became stuck in the sand. Richard and Like tried for about 10 minutes to get us out with no success. Richard asked us to get out of the vehicle and walked us through the brush to the nearby trail that served as a road and told us to wait there for them. He then went back and he and Like pulled out a Come-Along hand winch to try and pull the land rover from the wash. I thought about asking him to leave his rifle with us but he was already gone.

So Tom, Cathy and I are left standing in the middle of the road all by ourselves wondering if momma leopard is going to return at any minutes. I was also thinking “why don’t they just call one of the other land rovers back to pull us out of the wash.” I figured that it had something to do with male bravado and a code of independence in the bush. However, having tourists eaten by leopards couldn’t be good for business.

Finally we heard the land rover start up and saw Richard come bouncing through the brush and out onto the road. On the drive back to camp I asked Richard why he didn’t call for help to get out of the wash. His reply was along the lines of what I expected. Apparently there are no consequences to getting stuck at Londolozi, as long as you can free yourself. However, if you have to call for help the leather ammo pouch that each ranger carries on his belt is replaced by a pink ammo pouch for a month!

Our afternoon game drive could be named the day of elephants. They were everywhere that we went. We did see some other animals such as nyala, cape buffalo, a maribou stork, giraffes and wildebeest, but largely the afternoon was devoted to observing elephants.

We saw several herds of elephants that afternoon. There were large bull elephants and young ones too. The young ones were cute. One was so young that he had not yet figured out how to control his trunk.

We stayed out past sunset on this day. It was already dark as we were heading back to camp when Richard stopped the land rover and turned the key off. We looked ahead of us and about 30 yards away was another herd of elephants, walking down the road directly toward us. Richard whispered to remain silent and to not move. The elephants continued to come directly toward us, lead by a large bull. As the elephants approached the land rover they split into two columns, one on each side of us. As each one passed, it turned its head slightly to look at us, and continued on. What was amazing was that this all took place in almost complete silence. All we heard was the slight rustle of grass from the elephants walking by. These huge animals passing silently by us in the dark,only a few feet away was one of the most spiritual moments of the trip.

sunset, elephant, LondoloziThe evening meal at camp was always an elaborate affair with gourmet food and wine. Every two or three days we would have a bush dinner to create a special atmosphere. These were indeed special (although sometimes a bit cold) and memorable.

Dinner at Londolozi Game Reserve, South Africa.

South Africa Safari – Day 2

Cathy photographing Londolozi lion pride.

Cathy photographing Londolozi lion pride.

5:00 in the morning comes early in the bush. It seems that my head had just hit the pillow when the alarm rang. Time to get up, brush our teeth, grab our gear and head out. We met on the deck at the camp for a quick cup of coffee and a biscuit. No one wanted to drink too much since we would be out in the Land Rovers for 3 to 4 hours driving on bumpy trails. And you never know what might be behind the bush you choose!

It was a beautiful morning although the sun was not yet up. We had been driving for about 20 minutes when Richard stopped the Land Rover and shut it off. On the trail, about 30 yards in front of us was a pride of lions consisting of 4 adult females and 9 cubs! And they were headed directly for us. The sound of shutters clicking was like the sound of machine gun fire as we all started taking pictures. The little ones were just so damned cute. They veered off the path as they got near to us and headed down to the river. Richard repositioned the land rover and we got some fantastic shots of the lions drinking from a water hole. They then moved to the dry river bed for a morning of playing, grooming, nursing and sleeping. We spent about an hour and 15 minutes observing and photographing these guys.

Click any photo to enlarge

Once the cubs settled down for a nap we took off. As we drove around we spotted various animals including some Impala and a Warburg eagle.

We stopped in one area and Richard was describing leadwood trees to us. Leadwood is very dense, termite resistant and doesn’t float on water. The tree itself may live for 1000 years. However, as Richard was explaining all of this Like held up his hand. He had heard a bird give an alert call and then he said he heard a leopard in the distance. While the rest of us piled into the land rover and headed off in one direction, Like grabbed a hand-held radio and took off on foot. Within minutes Richard got a call from Like that he had spotted the leopard (no pun intended). Richard turned the land rover around, left the trail and started crashing through the underbrush, following Like’s radioed directions.

Like

Our tracker – Like

Talk about great tracking. Using his hearing and tracking abilities Like had guided us directly to our first leopard. It was a beautiful female. However, she was restless and didn’t stay in one place for very long. We tracked her for a while and they lost her in the brush. However, we located her again a short while later by the river bed. Watching this magnificent animal was a thrill and we spent almost 2 hours with her.

As would be the pattern, we had lunch back at camp every day at about 1:30. No sandwiches here. Every day was as elaborately prepared lunch. We were usually accompanied by a number of vervet monkeys that were always looking for an opportune moment to swoop in and make off with some goodies.

Having seen a leopard in the morning we went looking for a cheetah on our afternoon drive. We took off at about 3:45 and after driving around for about 30 minutes we located our prey. It did not require expert tracking, though. This cheetah looked like it had just finished eating a cape buffalo by itself. I don’t think that this animal had any intention of moving in the next 18 hours. So much for getting to see a cheetah stalk and bring down an antelope.

Hope you’re enjoying our story and photos. Come back tomorrow for day 3.

Day 2 animals:
Lions, impala, leopards, vervet monkeys, cheetah, Warburg’s eagle, little bee eater, chacma baboon.