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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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…

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Prickly affair

The sun had set a while ago, but the moon almost full, was making sure it didn’t really get dark. I was just coming out the riverine having crossed the river and there he was, my friend, the young male leopard. There was a slight clearing where a dead Acacia galpinii stood. One of its main branches had fallen to the ground but was still attached about 2m up. The huge branch lay almost parallel to the ground and in that ‘typical’ leopard pose he was lying along it. It was as if he’d been waiting for me to go hunting, cos as I arrived he dropped off the branch and headed west. I tried to follow but the bush was too dense. I went back to the track, headed north and then followed it west a couple of kilometres before turning back. The night was warm and I was still in my shorts. The moon was only just bobbing around over the tall Nyala-berry trees as I continued east. Eyes to the south coming out of the riverine. I left the track moving around some young Acacias and found them again. It was the young male leopard coming towards me. (Was he really interested in my company?) I stopped. He sniffed at the base of a young Nyala-berry and continued on north. He was in great shape and looking fairly well fed. Some holes among some Sida bushes had him sniffing there too. There was a slight rise further north. When he could he stopped to peer over it scanning the area. Impala were about a hundred meters away feeding. Keeping himself low to the ground he glided towards another Nyala-Berry tree. Around the base of the tree were a number of excavations. Old and new warthog burrows. He was easily distracted and was sniffing around them, the impala appearing to be a distant memory. The excavations were ‘big’ and he lay down in one only his head sticking out. A pose I’ve seen him do on several occasions before. There didn’t appear to be anything there. He got up, “Ah yes, those impala”, the mind of a youngster. He moved into the shadow of the tree cast by the moon.

There was an old Nyala-berry log lying there, which he snuggled up against lying on the ground. The impala were feeding about 70m away. He waited as if hoping they might come closer. I was looking around in the moonlight and to my south moving around the small Sida bushes was a Genet. It seemed to be following his tracks and heading straight towards me. Then it veered off west to the base of another Nyala-berry. Just then the leopard got up but moved east, in a slow hurry, ignoring the impala. Something else had caught his attention. At another Nyala-berry he moved around the base south, came back sniffing and moved around to the north. As I came round the tree I saw the porcupine. In his casual way the leopard walked up to the porcupine obviously not expecting what was coming. With its quills flared like a raging bulls nostrils it charged backwards into the leopard. The sound of rattling quills and the porcupine stamping its feet on the ground, together with the backwards charge had the youngster jumping up and backwards like only a cat can. Round 1 goes to the porcupine. The porcupine trotted south its quills still flared. The leopard was close behind. They moved into a Sand-paper bush thicket that hung low to the ground. Big mistake by the porcupine because now its flared quills got caught up in the branches if it charged backwards. The leopard realised this and approached from the front. Porcupine turned. Leopard moved around again. The porcupine turned. Reaching his paw out gently as if testing to see if something is hot, the leopard tested the quills but got a huge fright again jumping back when the porcupine stamped its feet. The stalemate went on for a while. Then bored with the game the porcupine slowly moved out the bush and continued south. Leopard followed but he’d trot around ahead of the porcupine and wait for it, only to jump out the way when it got to him. It appeared this rodent had outsmarted him as they disappeared into the Croton thickets along the river bank…

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Surviving the masses

It was very windy. I suppose that typical wind we get in August. There was a blanket of cloud rolling in very slowly from the east. It looked like a smooth blanket, its front edge soft and round just catching the last rays of the sun turning the edge pastel pink. A strange beautiful sight of threatening weather. I was arriving back at the leopard kill. There were baboons in the area heading back to their roost. Then all craziness broke out. Baboons screaming and shouting from the Nyala-berry tree. When I’d focused in, the mother leopard was lying on the carcass surrounded by baboons. They weren’t scared and would happily kill her cub. Where was it? She was standing her ground probably protecting her little one someone there. She was facing the donga, her back to me and to several baboons sitting in the Thilacium bushes  at the base of the Nyala-berry. A big male baboon climbed a broken branch that lay on the ground, its broken end on the termite mound where the mother was. He was jumping on the branch trying to intimidate her. It worked but not the way he wanted. In a flash she spun round and launched herself at the branch. There was that wild commotion again, baboons screaming everywhere. A very intimidating situation for any mother. The baboon on the branch was quick and somehow (their tails are always upright) managed to disappear his tail between his legs. Other baboons rushed the anthill. The mother stood fast. She could protect herself up there with the donga providing a safe backdrop that the baboons couldn’t approach from. She had chosen her battle ground well. The sun had set a while ago, the wind had died down and the baboons were still standing their ground not going to roost yet. Some impala had joined the baboons in the donga, feeding all around them. An interesting sight considering there was a leopard only 15m from them. Commotion broke out again as the mother launched herself at another baboon climbing the branch. There was still no sign of the cub. Did the baboons grab it in that first advance when I was arriving there? It was now nearly dark and one by one the baboons peeled off heading west to their roost. (I can hear them now in their roost probably only a 100m away. Dawn will soon be on the way. Will they be back to torment the leopard?) There was one big male baboon, still sitting at the bae of anthill watching the leopard. Only when it was dark did he move off. It was now quiet. That same quiet I’ve often spoken of. Not a sound. Not even crickets down here. The wind had died down completely. The moon shone a lovely light on the scene. (Last night when I got here the moon had long gone to bed.) The Thilaicum bushes stood dark in ‘bright’ light coloured sand. The anthill was in complete darkness. The Southern Cross was perched above the Nyala-berry. That blanket of cloud had turned white, lit by the moon and was still advancing. The only sound now was the mother crunching on the carcass.
With my light on I noticed movement in the leaves above her. Her cub. It had obviously taken refuge high up in the Nyala-berry and with everything being safe, was coming down to feed. They fed and disappeared into the donga. In the middle of the night they were back feeding again. The moon had dipped below the western horizon. It was really dark. The cloud had arrived and it was warm.
Male baboons are now (as I type) greeting the coming dawn with their booming barks. It will be light soon. Will they be back to torment the leopards or have the leopards moved off and will only return after dawn when the baboons have gone?

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Elephants by the moon

16th July 2019
I was mid-stride on my way out for the night, had crossed the river and stopped to get some scarf-age around my neck as the chill became real. Reaching down to get my scarf I noticed an empty opening. That special gap where my flask with my smoothie lives. I’d left supper and breakfast at home! Back home I went. And probably just as well cos coming out later I happened upon these elephant bulls drinking. Water was being pumped in to the pan and they were taking turns to be sure to get to the freshest water as it arrived. Actually they don’t really take turns. The dominant bull there at the time keeps it all to himself. When another more dominant bull arrived he just barged in, no queueing. If you’re the boss you drink first. And it’s amazing how fussy these guys are wanting clean water. Some of them will wait their turn, half an hour or more. 6 bulls came to drink which kept me busy for about an hour. A long way off a kudu had been repeatedly barking down towards the river. The track took me most of the way there. The kudu had stopped barking but I kept following my pointer star, north off the track in tall riverine vegetation. The understory was pretty open. I straddled a log, but must have mis-judged the straddle and my wheel caught it shooting it up into the engine. It didn’t sound good. I reversed and found my steering was tight. On examining the damage, thankfully Joanie was fine and the stump had just missed the sump, but the tie rod was properly bent. Eventually managing to remove the stump I was on the way again but with the tie-rod bent, the steering was everywhere and I had to call it quits for the night and limped back to camp.

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