(You know the drill about image size by now).
This week has been dominated by one particular animal: the lion. Everyday we have had beautiful sightings of all different lions, whether they have been drinking at our camp’s waterhole or prowling the dirt roads at night, they have been nothing short of entertaining. It was Monday morning however, that proved to be the highlight of the week.
The morning was overcast and the sun hadn’t broken through the cloud cover, a firm breeze definitely favoured the predators. As I was driving I noticed a big cat scat (the size that only a king could produce) and tracks bigger than my hand (again, the size that only a king could produce). After the spoor entered harder ground it became tougher to follow so I jumped off the vehicle and walked. The tracks entered one of our designated sunset spots which is shaped like a lightbulb and just as I was about to enter the rounded part of the area I stopped. Normally I would have carried on following the tracks, but there was something not quite right, an eerie atmosphere surrounded me, yet I could not quite place my hand on what it was. I decided to carry on following the tracks in the car and turned on my heels. I drove where I had walked and ten metres on I hit the edge of the area, I looked down towards the waterhole, nothing. I started to turn my car and then something caught my eye. My heart skipped a beat in my surprise. Looking up at me from behind a log were two huge amber eyes. The pupils contracted and fully focused on us. A dark maned, majestic male lion stood, staring. He must have heard the commotion of me walking around and wondered what was going on. He started walking back the way we had driven and of course we followed, I overtook him a few times, stopped at an angle and enjoyed every moment. He came within half a metre of the car and the collective intake of breath from my guests as he did so was a great experience for all.
Now we came to a Y junction. He stopped. We stopped. Oxpeckers trilled indicating a potential prey animal. The wind was blowing in our faces, the lion sniffed the air and made his decision. Making his way to the right he entered the bushes and like the flick of a lightswitch his whole demeanour changed. His muscles became tense and his paw-placement was precise. Unknowingly a kudu bull stood thirty metres away, browsing on a small shrub. We sat in silence, the engine off. We lost view of the lion as he intricately made his way around a rock or two. We waited, the wind stayed true, the lion came back into view. We waited. He was fully poised, ready…
Now it is times like these when I would love to have a heartmontior attached to me. The ridges and troughs that our hearts go through in this job must ages us by years. My heart was pounding, it was hammering outside of my chest going at one hundred miles per hour. The adrenaline was pumping hard, my hands were shaking as I held the camera waiting for that moment. We could be about to witness something magnificent, something amazing. A pang of guilt rushed over me as the other guides waited for the hunt to finish (no-one had seen the lion but our protocol insists that no-one can enter a sighting during a hunt). The guilt was quickly washed away as the lion approached, seven metres… The kudu was still oblivious. Silence.
A quick burst from the lion wasn’t enough, the kudu detected the danger and with a bark he bound off into the thick bush as fast as his legs would carry him, his exposed white tail was all we saw leaving. Hunt over. The lion didn’t even try to give a full chase, he knew it was over and he also disappeared deeper into the thicker bush. With the adrenaline still pumping we made our way from the area, since the lion had also disappeared from view we went to search for something else, hoping it would be just as exciting.
Although the hunt was a fail (how many times have I said that in the last year!?) the anticipation and amazement of watching an apex predator try to outsmart his prey is an amazing thing to witness. It also outlined how difficult it is for single cats to hunt, they have to get so close to the animal before the can pounce because they aren’t fast enough once the prey starts running. It was truly a fascinating sighting.
On a wonderful sidenote, the dogs have also made sure they weren’t forgotten about, the pups are growing fast and are looking fat and healthy. We have had a number of cooler mornings before the heat of the day has hit which has resulted in us seeing all fourteen of our pack run around and play without a care in the world. We have also seen them eating an impala ram who was unfortunate enough to fall victim of their lethal ways. They have been magical sightings that keep wowing guests and guides alike.
Finally, I am off to Kruger with my Dutchie, after ten weeks of working and waiting she finally arrives. My next post will be after our Kruger trip where I will bring you all the wonders and spectacles from “the park”.