Hunting with lions

It’s hazy, almost misty, the grass still green on the flat ground where the pan used to be but has now dried up. Herds of Eland and Waterbuck are making the most of the only greenery in this dry dusty landscape. I’ve stopped to type here, the morning still cold and fresh, in the hope that a badger might too decide to hunt frogs and other little things left behind from the wet days of the pan.

It was dark already last night, the moon not up yet and I was cruising my usual areas. A couple of impala alarmed to my right. I was away from the river on higher country. Savannah country with medium sized Acacias dense enough to obstruct my view into the distance, but easy enough to drive through. I left the track heading west and ducking between the Acacias was a female leopard. She had obviously been hunting but was now more concerned with my presence. She avoided me using every bush as cover, but after a while settled down and then lay down in a thicket of Acacia. I could only see the top of her head. This was yet another leopard in the same small area I’ve been concentrating on. There’s a density of these cats here that I’ve never witnessed before. A White-tailed Mongoose came foraging by. The leopard ducked low. The mongoose carried on north and I never saw the leopard again. I don’t know if she followed after the mongoose or disappeared while I was distracted.
I slowly headed north across the river. A jackal was frantically mobbing something not too far away. Arriving in the area the jackal went quiet but then I found what all the consternation was about. A lioness lying next to some Thilacium bushes. She stared at me for a second or two and then relaxed looking around. The bush was quite thick here. Small bush country with a few big Acacias. She yawned. A little while later a 2nd yawn. But before the proverbial 3rd yawn, she was up half walking towards me and past. I turned to follow her and scanning the area picked 2 more pairs of eyes. 2 male lions. They were keeping their distance from her and of course from me. I could see eyes to the south, impala scattered through the bushes. The lioness was now focused advancing at a fast walk. The ground here was bare and hard allowing her to move freely with little sound. She was using the bush as cover moving behind each one until its cover ran out and then behind the next one. She disappeared behind a bush and when I saw her again she was barreling towards the impala, but she was too far to launch an attack and with the moon already peering over the tree tops her cover was quickly blown and the impala took off. The bewilderment on her face at not having caught anything was priceless. But for someone who’s seen this time and again, I wasn’t surprised she’d missed. She obviously wasn’t relying on stealth or an ambush attack. She was running in to cause confusion and have impala running in all directions hoping one would run over her. While standing around in her bewildered state another lioness joined her, rubbing her face along her body as if to say “Don’t worry my dear, there will be another time”.
These girls took me south in the deep riverine. It was fairly open here. A bushbaby jumped easily out the way, bouncing from branch to branch into the higher canopy of an Acacia galpinii. The lions reached the river and walked northwest in the sandy riverbed. I followed up on the bank. A long way behind us the males followed. They would no doubt come rushing in if the girls killed and steal their kill from them. A lion roared several times to the south. The lions I was with kept quiet. Were they on hallowed ground? They crossed the river. I now had to rely on Joanie. The bank I was on was steep, but going down is never really a problem. Would I be able to get out the other side? Joanie worked hard crossing the soft sandy river using her lowest gears to grind her way across. I found an area on the far bank that wasn’t sheer and had a slight slope. Joanie worked her magic, her front wheels instantly grabbing the firmer ground and hoisting us up the bank. On top there was more sand, from the cyclone, where the girls were now resting. I couldn’t see the boys, but they were no doubt fully in control of the whereabouts of the girls. We slept here a couple of hours. Every now and then a baboon coughed from high up in its roost north of us. Was the cooler weather getting the better of him? I dosed off and must have missed the yawns but saw the girls heading north. They crossed back over the river. This time beyond Joanie’s capabilities, the banks sheer on my side and dense Croton on the far bank. We tried going round, but it was a long way and I never did pick up the girls again.
The sun is now high and the waterbuck have returned to graze. And……. no sign of any badgers… ☹

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River Walk


Badgers, Badgers, Badgers, where are you? I decided to take to investigating things along the Save River. This river is huge and along the Sango section is about a kilometre wide. It’s made up of several channels with islands of dense vegetation in between. A sandy river, which I love. And it’s perennial, but only with one or two channels flowing all year. I left Joanie parked under the dense shade of a Natal Mahogany. The riverine vegetation here is almost impenetrable and the only way through to the river is along a game path. Preferably an elephant one. I found a path leading into the ‘jungle’. It looked pretty closed in, but was used by elephants, so it had to be good for me. The path was overhung with Flame thorn, (Acacia ataxacantha, which is loaded with stout hooked thorns.) that seem impenetrable. But when the ellies have been through the thorns hook into their flanks and get ripped away from the main plant, leaving the branches smooth and so making access relatively painless. Those thorns don’t bother the ellies. In places I had to crouch low to get under some of the branches, branches that elephants just barge through. The path zig-zagged through the dense undergrowth eventually coming out at the river bank. It was a couple of meters high here, but the elephant traffic had gorged out a slope to the sandy river. I tumbled down the soft sand onto the river bed. The sand here was more coarse. Animal tracks littered the whole river, a lot of them not distinguishable, just depressions in the sand. Elephant and buffalo stood out. Both of these beasts would not be good to bump into in the dense vegetation, but out here on the open sands I felt safe. This channel was about a hundred meters wide. Flowing only in a narrow stream about a meter wide, the water meandered from this side to that, back and forth. The water was shallow, only a couple of inches deep, and cool and fresh on my bare feet. No chance of crocs in these shallows. I headed upstream enjoying the sand flowing between my toes. I felt totally wild and free. Sandy African rivers are an absolute delight to me and whenever I can I will walk and rest on their sandy bottoms. The island to my east had tall grasses growing up its bank, with game paths leading into the dense vegetation of figs, mahogany’s, nyala-berry’s, Acacia albidas. An elephant trumpeted not too far away. A little further north another channel came in from the east. I followed it to a little pool up against the island bank. The water was dark and deep. Who was lurking in there, although I didn’t see any croc tracks around. I climbed the steep bank with it’s creamy soft sand that felt like something you wanted to bottle. Three Mahogany trees stood together providing dense shade. The soft sand below them was disturbed by elephants that had taken advantage of the shade too.
Ant-lion tracks criss-crossed the soft sand as they moved around before burrowing their funnel-shaped traps. This sand was perfect for these guys as any insect walking along the crest of the funnel would quickly fall to the bottom where the ant-lions lay lurking with their pincers ready to grab anybody battling to escape their trap. I heard an elephant feeding close by but the foliage was too dense to see anything. There were lots of little paths leading through it but too dangerous to be caught in those thickets. I found a clearing further north and to the south saw an elephant standing under a Mahogany collecting the soft sand in his trunk and tossing it over his back. I could just imagine how cool and soothing it was. There was a gentle breeze from the north, which must have wafted in his direction, as he suddenly took off south, thankfully, crashing through the bushes as if they didn’t exist. A second elephant, that I hadn’t seen, disappeared behind him. They were gone, my moment with them ever so brief. I carried on north up the riverbed. In places in the sand, holes had been dug by elephants, always looking for the cleanest, coolest water, water that had filtered through layers and layers of sand and wasn’t exposed to the hot sun. Fresh buffalo dung patties plastered the edge of flowing water. Now my dilemma, besides not seeing any sign of badgers, the western bank was choked with fig bushes. Several game paths went through it, but the buffalo dung was fresh. Were they still lurking in the thickets? I took the path least used, watching my every step, searching the bush ahead. The path joined and crossed others. A Grey Lourie alarmed at me. Would that start a stampede? Eventually I came out into the open on the vehicle track. No buffalo. All was good…

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Elephant comes to visit

2nd August 2019
Things are warming up fast here and I’m loving it! A warm wind came in from the east late in the afternoon. Even after dark I was still dressed in shorts and not even in my sleeping bag. Bliss. The mopane woodland consisted of tall slim trees as if planted for timber. There was very little undergrowth, so visibility was great. Compared to down on the alluvial soils around the river, there’s quite a bit of grass up here in the north. A big herd of impala were dwarfed in the woodland. As I drove past something spooked them and they ran straight towards me. I scanned around with my spotlight and not far north of them were some other eyes. I left the track heading east. It was easy going, no fallen trees stumps. The elephants haven’t got hold of these trees yet. A small drainage line ran north/south. Lining the drainage line were Raisin bushes and small sickle bushes, which provided cover for the eyes I was following, now moving south along the drainage line. A gap in the bush and I saw her, a leopard hunting the impala. Not far behind her, another pair of eyes. Her youngster nearly a year old. They both stopped in the drainage line, looking south where the impala had been. After a while the mother had a change of plan. She turned back north and her little one followed. Maybe they were going to approach the impala from another side. I followed along the edge of the drainage line, seeing them now and again. It was getting rocky. Just to our east was a huge flat topped mountain where all these rocks had come from. The cats then moved east and I was snookered. I waited a while in the woodland. What little sound there might have been was muffled by the wind and the stars had disappeared with a complete cover of clouds having moved in, keeping it extra warm.
It was late in the night when I snuggled up under a Nyala berry tree. I was woken by a rumble just to my right. An elephant. I couldn’t see it but could hear it shuffling along. That sound like someone shuffling around the house in slippers. Amazingly quiet for such a huge beast. It was coming closer. I didn’t want to use my light as that might spook it or challenge it. It was moving round the front of Joanie. As it got in front of me I saw his silhouette against the now clear starry sky. He was about 10m away. Too close for me to do anything. I decided to lie back and just enjoy the time with him. He was picking up Nyala berries in his trunk and eating them. He knew I was there but kept coming closer and closer reaching with his trunk under Joanie to get to some berries. He was right next to me and could easily have reached out and touched me. Every now and then I’d see a little flash of starlight on his tusks. They weren’t big. Slowly he carried on round the tree picking up berries and soon continued on to the next tree. How very special to be able to spend just that brief moment with this huge gentle giant!
I took a detour on my way home to see how the wild dogs are doing. When I got there the puppies were all out lying snuggled together in the sun. They’re now about 3months old, in their cute phase and will probably be leaving the den soon…

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Mating leopards

Driving with the orange glow of sunset was behind me, I was approaching a number of Nyala berry tree skeletons with an array of vultures. Had they come to bed here for the night, or was there more? I stopped a little further on and busied myself with getting dressed for the night. Well of course I was dressed already, but this was readying myself for the cold. For some reason it always seems to take forever, but then I do have time on my side. I had stopped near the area where I saw the leopard yesterday. A young Nyala berry tree stood guard over the track in front to my right. Further to my right, south, the bush got thicker going into the dense riverine along the river. To my left was fairly open savannah with medium sized Acacias. I was just pulling my overall on when peering from behind the Nyala berry a big male giraffe had come to watch my antics. He too obviously had time on his hands. He was a handsome dark brute, his ossicones appearing to touch the evening star way up there, while he stood absolutely motionless staring down at me. My insignificant little self down under. Just then a leopard grunted behind him. The giraffe didn’t change a beat and continued to look down at me. The grunt was slow and deep. Most likely a male. It sounded too old to be my friend. I continued to get dressed. Yes it takes time… A couple of minutes later, a much more refined grunt behind me. A female or my little friend. Finally dressed I headed back west in the direction of the ‘female’. I drove through a patch of soft sand, deposited from the cyclone, and among some small Acacias, I saw her crouched low. She wasn’t happy to see me. Keeping her body as low to the ground as possible she turned on herself and disappeared behind a bush.
Appearing the other side she shuffled quickly across the track and disappeared into the dense undergrowth. Not being able to follow her I drove on a little down the track and stopped to listen. A Scops owl was calling from a tall Acacia. Eventually, with all quiet, I decided to try and photograph the vulture silhouettes against the stars. Heading back on the track I’d come along I was shining my spotlight from side to side. It was very open to my north. To the south, young Acacias blocked my view. Then through a clearing I saw some eyes. I took the gap, the Acacias doing a good job of scratching Joanie. Ahead of me was that donga (gully) from the cyclone and on the other side were 2 leopards! The male had joined up with the female. He was chilled but she immediately ducked into the donga. He didn’t lose time, followed her into the donga, and I just had to sit there and listen to them mating. A most awesome sound! A short while later she left the donga using every little bush she could to conceal herself, sneaking across in front of me until she reached an Acacia tree.

She pulled up behind the tree trunk, then peaked around to see me. We watched each other for a while as she kept peering over to her mate. Having satisfied her curiosity and realising I wasn’t a threat she walked normally into the dense riverine following after the male. I tried to follow, keeping to the southern edge of the donga. Eyes to the west. But it wasn’t them. A civet lay close to the ground, somehow believing it was concealed. I drove closer and closer and it stayed put. Eventually I was out the car photographing it, until after some time it got up and sauntered off into the bush…

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My leopard friend

The lions were roaring to the south but I couldn’t work out how far it was, especially as they’d woken me from my nap. The riverine vegetation between me and them was no doubt cutting off their calls, so they were hopefully closer than they sounded. I crossed the river south through the dense Croton and out onto the savannah where I stopped to listen. That sexy tiny slither of a moon was just above the eastern horizon. Dawn would be here soon. It was still and chilly. A Scops owl chirped to the east and another responded to the south. Their little chirp, so repetitive and with perfect timing between each call, and yet still it adds that extra soothing peace to the night. Not to be out done, a Pearl-spotted owl started up right next to me, it’s calling rising higher and higher and finishing off with a long drawn out whistle. Such a typical sound of our bushveld. This called was answered by another 2 Pearl-spotted owls calling to the west. I felt like I was witnessing an owl sing off. The Scops’s kept going and the Pearl-spotted’s seemed to be rising their pitches higher and higher. As the orange of dawn crept in on the eastern horizon so the owls went quiet. The lions didn’t entertain me again. Ground Hornbills were now thundering their calls down the river. Just then a Jackal was mob calling north of the river, where I was earlier. I had crossed the river, through the riverine and was crossing the huge gully formed by the cyclone. That gully where I’d filmed my leopard friend some time ago. I crossed the gully and there he was again, stalking around a small acacia. It was day and he was a little nervous. I switched off. He came out from behind his bush and walked, his body slung low, almost imagining he was invisible to me. He crossed into the gully, out the other side and headed off into the forest. I presumed he was the reason for the jackal going crazy. But then the jackal started up again, still further north. It was open savannah. The jackal wasn’t far away and continued to shout as I approached. Not wanting to scare him, I moved around him to the east, as I kept looking west with the light in my favour. I was watching him intently as Joanie eased along and then… CRASH!!! Both front wheels landed smack bang into a hole and Joanie came to a grinding halt. My knees slammed into the dashboard. An old warthog burrow was the culprit. Thankfully with the work I’d done on Joanie last week, she held out strong and no damage was visible. With a bit of low range 4×4-ing I was soon out of their. The jackal not concerned with my problems continued to shout. Another jackal arrived from the east. They greeted with the first jackal rolling on its back submissively. Soon another jackal arrived. They all rummaged around the area for a few minutes, the 2 new arrivals also seemingly wondering what all the performance was about. Off they went north and didn’t return. What all the shouting was about was a mystery. I think maybe my leopard friend had slunk off without him seeing and he continued to shout anyway…

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Joanie has a make-over.

It was nearly a week ago now when I heard many extra rattles coming from Joanie. I pulled up on a clear sandy bar where I could crawl around in the clean soft sand and do a good investigation of the underneath of Joanie. It wasn’t long and I found several rattles with some steel pipes from the bull-bar broken. A closer look revealed a seriously broken chassis. The cross member in front was broken cleanly off on both sides. All just years and years of metal fatigue and of course with a little rough driving thrown in… I took it easy back to camp and then the long process started.

I stripped her right down and rebuilt the front part of the chassis. 5 days!!!! later and she’s better than new.

Leopards were mating again last night. In the same area I’ve had them before. This time we were down in the tall open riverine where, right now there is no under-storey. The ground cover on the alluvial soils is all but non-existent. The dry season is really upon us, and we’ve still got 4 months before the rains. The stars seemed extra bright with no sign of the moon until the early hours. The mating sounds came from the south. I followed the Southern Cross as it peeped just above the tree tops. It was easy going and I only had to divert slightly off my direction for the odd fallen tree. I stopped to listen again. It was quiet and still down there. Only a few crickets chirped and some impala, still in rut mode, roared off in the west. Then a leopard grunted to my north. I had somehow missed them. I picked up on a track and headed north and was crossing the river to the east when I saw her sitting proud on island in the river. I couldn’t get there, but managed to go round onto the opposite bank and watch her from there. She was sitting proud looking around and then like water slunk off down the bank and disappeared. Was she off to find a secluded spot to be with her mate? They were quiet for the rest of the night and it was only at dawn as I left the area that I got brief glimpse of the male as he melted away yet again…

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