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… ☹

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Leopards corner

There are vultures flying overhead. Didn’t think I looked that ready to be their meal. I thought they were onto something but for now are just catching the first thermals of the day.
Driving along the river on the edge of the tall trees, the ground is bare. Grey dusty alluvial soils. A herd of impala came running from the west and across the track in front of me. A small herd of kudu were also on the run. And about 200m away from them another herd of impala were running east. What were all these guys running from. I stopped and while listening got myself ready for the night. Changed into warmer clothes. Changed tripod heads. Set up the lights for the night. Downed some smoothie. Even after all of this, I was still none the wiser as to what had these guys running. It was just getting dark now and I was already using my spotlight. About half a kilometre on chaos broke out. Ahead of me another herd of impala were roaring crazily and south of them other impala snorting frantically. That intense snorting had to mean a predator was around. I found the impala on the edge of the riverine where that donga from the cyclone runs east. The same donga I’ve found my young male leopard in several times. The impala ran from me into the riverine. Presumably if there was a predator they wouldn’t be running towards it. I drove the area between the donga and the riverine. It was small Acacia bushy country. The ground hard and bumpy with furrows from the cyclone.

Sitting up in a little open patch was a leopard. At her feet was a female impala that she’d just killed. She seemed a little apprehensive with my approach but soon settled down and we became buddies for the night. Having just killed the impala she was still on edge as lions and hyaenas would happily steal her prize from her. It was already cool, the moon was rising and crickets had started up their tunes for the night. A couple of Scops Owls were joined by a Barred Owl, it’s call more like a Scops Owl on steroids. The shadows cast by the moon were still long but being in a gap in the trees, the white stomach of the impala stood out almost iridescent. The leopard eventually settled down at the back end of the impala and fed. A jackal was shouting a few hundred meters to our east. Had something heard the kill and was approaching? The night was soon quiet again, but for the song of the owls and a Three-banded Courser. The leopard finished feeding and lay next to the carcass. Several times a leopard called some distance east of us. The moon was well into the sky, the shadows had shortened and the leopard left the carcass without moving it and headed off east. I decided to guard her trophy for her. She came back several hours later, grabbed her prize by the neck and dragged it north into the donga. At least there it was a little out of sight of other predators. Lions were roaring somewhere south of the river and another responded not far east of us. Was it on it’s way? For the next few hours lions roared all around and the leopard stayed put. Everything was quiet now, except for the lions. The air was still but a little chilly. The moon was still up when dawn crept in. I moved some distance away from the kill as I knew the leopard would be nervous of me being there. I have yet to understand this. I was with her all night parked not even 20m away and she was happy to feed and rest with me around. Come day and I was parked about 100m away and she went into hiding. She took cover behind a bush and continued to stare me down. Quite scary. I have seen this behaviour time and again with lions and leopards. It’s as if they’re blind at night and cometh the day they suddenly realise what this beast that’s been following them is. With her carcass in the open I knew she’d be wanting to get it out of sight of vultures. As I backed off several hundred meters she came in immediately, picked up the impala by the neck and dragged it somewhere into the forest…

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Mob attack

There was no sign of the baboons this evening. Little was left of the impala carcass and the cub was making sure to get the most of it while mom chilled about 20m away from me. She was already coming to accept me. With his full tummy the cub bounced out the tree and tumbled with mom. It was some time later in the night I heard clambering up a tree. The mother leopard had climbed a Leadwood about 50m away. Then I saw the brute, a male lion at the base of the Nyala-berry. Hopefully the cub was out of harms way, but the lion was only interested in scavenging, being the prize scavengers they are. He found the carcass on the termite mound. There really was nothing left but bones and a little skin. Even so he ducked off with his scraps and disappeared into the donga.
Dawn arrived fresh and crisp. The sky was clear and soon the sun peeped over the Chimanimani mountains. I wasn’t sure if the leopards were still around. A jackal suddenly shouted his mobbing call not even a hundred meters to the east. The leopards or lion must be there. I couldn’t see the jackal as it was obscured by the small Acacias. Cameras up and ready to roll, I drove towards the mobbing sound. Coming round the bushes I saw a number of baboons around too. Just then all hell broke loose. Elephants had completely trashed a False Marula tree that was now lying in pieces on the ground. The Capparis creeper that had been growing in its canopy lay as a thicket on the ground. The ground all around was hard and bare with the next lot of bush about 30m away.  It was surrounding this thicket that all the action was taking place. Baboons had cornered the mother leopard. She had nowhere to go as they made threatening advances at her. Was her cub in the thicket with her? Eventually she couldn’t take it any more and went on the attack. A big male baboon in front of her took the brunt of the attack as she threw teeth and claws at it. The moment was brief and then she ran pursued by an angry crazy mob of about 20 baboons. They were close enough to bite her as she ran for a dense thicket. It was an unbelievable sight. The leopard running for its life with this mob all psyched and on the rampage. Like angry mobs of people demonstrating, except these guys were ready to kill. But she made it and reluctant to follow her into the thicket the baboons left her. There was another commotion in a Nyala-berry back in the west. When I approached about 15 baboons fell from the tree desperate to get away. Did they think the mother was returning? What were they doing up the tree and what was the commotion all about? There was still a baboon right in the top of the tree. Also in the canopy of this tree a Capparis creeper had made its way to the top. Capparis creepers are armed with small hooked thorns. Then the screaming growling sound again. It was coming from the creeper. The cub had tucked itself deep into the thorns right on the edge of the creeper and just above it a baboon was trying to get to it. The cub stood fast lashing out at the baboons advances making a lot more noise than you’d expect from such small fur-ball. With all the other baboons having left the tree, this baboon was taking chances if the mother returned and eventually realising it, he left. Mother and cub had each survived their own scary mob attack…

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Lions trying to hunt with me around

6th August 2019
The temperatures just keep climbing and I’m loving being able to drive around in shorts until late into the night. It was nearly dark, I came around a corner, bush on both sides, and a young male lion ducked out of sight behind a bush. Not 10m away was a group of impala and they too took off with my sudden arrival. I must have disturbed his hunt 🙁  Usually in areas where the animals are used to vehicles, predators will take advantage of the vehicle disturbance and go in for the kill, but sadly this young male was more scared of me than he was hungry and disappeared into the bushes, and the impala got to see another day.  Not much further on in the riverine woodland I came around another corner to find myself staring up the huge grey backside of an elephant. He didn’t seem too phased and kept on sauntering down the road, his head swaying from side to side, glancing briefly at me with each sway. When the woodland opened up he took the path west and very quickly melted away into the dense foliage, as those huge beasts somehow do. I was chilling next to this Baobab in the middle of the night when a leopard called repeatedly to my north. The calling was coming from the flat open country dotted with Mustard bushes with their crowns draping low to the ground. The cracked mud that covered the plains after the cyclone had now been trampled to a fine dust. I stopped a couple of times to listen and the leopard kept calling. I was close. It had to be somewhere amongst the bushes, but then it went quiet. They sure know how to snooker me. I continued on north following the track off the plains. The bush got quite thick. Mainly Raisin and Mustard bushes. (Golly that sounds like an interesting meal) A few Baobabs were scattered in the mix. I found myself driving in dust, as if a vehicle was ahead of me. Some impala ran off to the west. Scanning with my spotlight to the east I spotted him. He was lying as flat to the ground as he could trying so hard not to be seen. A young male lion with a slight mane. He too was probably hunting impala. I switched off to watch him. He settled down and soon lifted his head to look around. It was very dark. A haze was keeping the stars from lighting up the landscape. The air was still, and the dust I’d been following was probably impala that had run away after the lions had given chase. It was quiet. The lions hadn’t much hope of sneaking up on their prey in this stillness. The sand was soft. Trying to sneak around on it would be impossible as it squelched under each of their huge paws. Tough hunting conditions for any lion. We watched each other for ages. Then he yawned. I waited for the proverbial 3rd yawn and then he moved. He ducked behind a mustard bush. I followed and coming around the bush found him greeting his friend, another young male. They both headed south with me following to the east of them. They were happy to accommodate me and I was only too happy to be part of the team. It was easy driving but bushy country and I kept losing the lions. Keeping my direction south I would pick them up again. They surprised a small herd of impala and charged in but the impala were too quick on their feet jumping out of harms way disappearing into the darkness. I had been with them about an hour when the bush got the better of me and I lost them. I waited for ages hoping to hear alarm calls or the lions roaring, but the night was extra quiet. Just the lone call of a Dikkop whistling somewhere in the east…

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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…

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Happy Father’s Day

16th June 2019
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to the 2 Legends in my life. Sadly they both died when I was 5. My dad’s dad, Harry Wolhuter as the first game ranger in the Kruger National Park, is well known to many for his legendary feat of killing an adult male lion armed only with a knife after it had pulled him from his horse. His book ‘Memories of a Game Ranger’ is a fascinating read of life back then.
I had little time to get to know my dad Henry and have had to live my life hearing from friends about him. At the time of his death, aged 44, he was already Head Ranger in the Kruger National Park. I have few memories of him, but I do remember the day we went to a wild dog den. I don’t remember much about the den or anything, but I do remember the smell of the puppies in the back of the Land Rover. We had taken puppies from a den to be sent to a zoo. I think it was one of the first times this had been tried. All other ‘memories’ I have of him are from friends who always sang his praises as an incredible bush person who loved the scouts he worked with and spoke their language as one of them. He was totally in tune with wild Africa and nothing scared him. When you lose your dad at such a young age, you aren’t aware of what you are losing and you can’t remember much about him. Whenever I meet people who remember him, I’m always asking about his character, but the one thing they could never tell me was how he spoke. It was the year 2000, when the son of Colonel James Stevenson-Hamilton, the first warden of Kruger who had employed my grandfather, his son also James, called me up in White River, “Come on over, I’ve got something for you.” I went to their farm Gibraltar, outside White River. The farm I remember from my days as a kid where his mother, Hilda, had taught us little boys how to do pottery. We were useless at it but is sure was fun slinging mud onto that pottery wheel. I sat down with James and his wife Jennifer and he pulled out an old, yes I mean old, Uher tape recorder. Remember those reel to reel recorders. We huddled around it and listened to a recording made in 1957 on the same recorder the recording was made. First was Harry telling h

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

KiKi gets to see her first lion

06th June 2019
How surreal. I was in camp last night and up before 3 am going through the edit on my current hyaena film. Of course I was deep in my sleeping bag sitting at my desk watching footage of hyaenas and lions, when real lions roared on the track passing camp. I removed the headphones to be sure it wasn’t coming from my screen. Tempted as I was to follow I also had to get this other work done. AND it was warmer staying in my sleeping bag. The night had gone quiet. Other lions roared quite a way north and I expected ‘my’ lions to respond. It stayed quiet for a while and then I heard the screams. Those unmistakable screams of a zebra in distress. It was like a high pitched drawn out scream and then quiet. Several baboons alarmed on hearing the zebra in distress. Then another brief scream. Out of my sleeping bag I boarded Joanie, jumping into another sleeping bag. I knew it wasn’t far to go. I crossed the track past our camp driving into the short Umbrella-thorn Acacias. At times thickets of them blocked my path but it was easy enough to go around them. A jackal ran off to the south. I stopped to listen. There was growling, squabbling over a carcass to my west. More jackals, then I found the lions. 8 of them feeding on a young zebra. Although with lions it can’t really be called feeding as the fighting is intense and at times the smaller and younger animals go hungry. The adult male seemed convinced I was about to steal his dinner. He stared me down, his tail swishing crazily from side to side growling his obscenities at me. Realising the others were feeding away frantically while he was preoccupied with me, he soon resumed to his feast. I left the real lions to return to the ones on my computer screen. So surreal.
KiKi was awake at dawn. Saskia bundled her into piles of clothes and we bundled into sleeping bags back in search of the lions. These would be KiKi’s first lions! She had her own little toy lion Leo and knew what sound he was supposed to make, but now it was for real. Saskia was driving and KiKi was with me deep in my sleeping bag riding on the camera box. It was now light, which takes the guessing game out of things one can’t see in the dark. For the lions it seemed to mean the same thing. They had lost their courage of the dark and as we approached, bolted, one of the young males leaving with the remains of the carcass. KiKi was unimpressed trying to see what we were getting so excited about as the lions disappeared into the savannah. She was more impressed with all the jackal rushing around picking up scraps. We tried to follow after the lions but they weren’t having any of it.
Already loaded with our tea basket we headed east along the boundary. There wasn’t much to see along the straight road in mopane country. Saskia brings KiKi out here most mornings. We got to the mounds of sand, the wild dog den. No sign of anybody, but they had left their ‘calling cards’ all over the place. We continued on east and there in the distance were shapes running towards us. The dogs were on their way back from the hunt. They always seem to be competing with each other to see who can get home first to feed the mother and pups. We stopped as one by one they came running towards us, ducked into the bush for a few meters and then back on the track behind us racing for home. We raced after them getting to the den when the screaming started. The alpha female, when begging for food makes this screaming high pitched sound as she gets the adults to regurgitate food for her. Still no sign of the puppies. They must be at least a couple of weeks old now so will soon be out. Not even 5minutes after the packs’ arrival at the den and all was quiet and still again. The alpha female well fed and the rest of the pack resting after a successful hunt. It was tea time…

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Lions hunting in riverine forest

5th June 2019
I know just a presence and me driving around the area that I plan to work, all help getting the animals to accept Joanie and me. So a lot of my nights are spent doing just that and at the same time looking for potential action or just potential animals that I can follow to help them realise I mean no harm.
Driving through the riverineI I wasn’t expecting to see their tawny shapes. A lion and 2 lionesses were dwarfed by the huge trees. He was hanging back as the girls moved to my right with purpose. I couldn’t see what had caught their interest. But their gaze didn’t last and the 2 girls rested up under a grove of Nyala-berry trees. I didn’t join them as there was a veil of webs hanging from the trees like puppets on a string, caterpillars descending on their webs to the ground as they headed off to pupate. These caterpillars are pretty harmless but piles of them would know doubt get squashed in my moving around the car and I wasn’t too looking forward to a green lotion on my skin or sleeping bag. The male lion had plonked himself down just where he was when the girls did. About 50m east of them a small pair of eyes was watching the goings on, a genet perched in the fork of a Leadwood tree. Some impala roared to the south. The girls were up heading slowly south. There was baboon chatter in the direction of the impala. They hadn’t seen the lions, but the lions were sure to have their cover blown if they continued and wisely turned back and headed north.

They were moving thorough the huge open woodland of Nyala-berry’s, Leadwoods, Raintrees, Umbrella thorns and Sausage trees. All majestic trees in their own right. There was no cover on the ground and very little leaf litter. The lions could move freely and quietly all spread out. A few Croton bushes and some small Acacias provided them with little cover. A pair of eyes ahead coming towards us. The lions hadn’t seen it. A female leopard was walking straight towards me. Lions and leopard hadn’t seen each other. About 30m apart the leopard saw the lions. You could almost see her eyes widening in shock at what was beaming down on her. She drew her body close to the ground, almost flat and slunk off to the side. She didn’t run away. She wanted to see these brutes pass her by, which they did completely unaware of her presence. Once they’d past she moved on south. 
Plenty of eyes ahead. A herd of impala. We were still in big tree country, fairly open but with scattered bushes. Enough cover for the lions. They were on it. Keeping themselves spread out, they approached. There wasn’t much effort to conceal themselves and try as they did to lower their body’s to the ground, they were no match at mastering the act like the leopard did. There was no tactic in the lions’ hunt. About 30m from their prey they all attacked running blindly into the herd. Their ‘tactic’, if you could call it that, was to cause chaos and have impala running everywhere. If one ran over you, you grabbed it. I lost the lions in the advance. If they had caught an impala there was bound to be lots of growling and fighting over the small carcass. I waited listening. The impala were quiet. Somewhere down there a pair of Giant-eagle Owls were hoot-grunting to each other. It sounded like an interesting conversation. Twenty minutes later and there still wasn’t a peep from the lions. I drove around, but couldn’t find them.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail