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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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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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…

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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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New little find

A Civet was sniffing around next to the track. Just ahead of it the bloodstain in the track was a dead give away. The blood had soaked into the hard grey soil. A clot of blood was still wet. All around it were marks of confusion, a struggle and then the distinct drag marks heading south. Something was dragging something big that it had just killed. I decided to follow the Civet. We were no doubt both looking for the same thing. The Civet had its nose to the ground in this small Acacia country. It was easy going. The ground was hard making the drag marks not that easy to see, so for now I was relying on the civet. A sandy patch, from the cyclone, showed the Civet wasn’t on the drag mark. It seemed to be crossing them, this way then that. We got to a donga and down went the Civet, but the drag marks didn’t and followed the donga and headed southeast. I never did see the Civet again and anyway couldn’t get into the donga with Joanie. It was sandy up here and easy to follow the marks. Past a Sand-paper bush, some Thilacium bushes scattered around and an Albizia in flower that has been trashed by elephants but still making a living. There was a Nyala-berry up ahead. The only big tree this side of the donga. The other side was tall riverine, ideal place to hide a carcass. The Nyala-berry was surrounded by small Thilacium bushes a couple of feet high. These evergreen bushes provide good cover. The drag marks went straight to the tree. When I got closer she stuck her head up from between the bushes, a female leopard.
She was about to bolt when I switched off and she relaxed. I couldn’t see the carcass and she wasn’t about to show it to me. The leopard had dragged the carcass about 300m to get to this chosen tree She kept looking towards the tree. The night was still. Not as breeze. Several Scops owls chirped to the south in the dense riverine. A Fiery-necked Nightjar called “Good lord deliver us”. Very appropriate in the setting. In the east, a faint glow showed dawn was approaching. As with many Nyala-berry trees an anthill grew around this tree. Or did the tree grow around the anthill? Coming out of the anthill were several huge stems of the tree. Through the stems I thought I could see the body of an impala. I reversed back and went round. From the northern side I had a clear view of the impala carcass mounted on top of the anthill amongst the tree stems. About half of it had been eaten AND!!! there was a leopard cub feeding! It must be 3 to 4months old. It wasn’t too phased with my presence and continued to feed, its stomach already well on its way to bursting. Dawn was coming fast and the riverine was now alive with a chorus of birds, mainly doves. Ground Hornbills also boomed their approval at the coming dawn. The cub eventually retired into the Sand-paper bush thicket adjacent to the Nyala-berry. The mother was still lying amongst the Thilacium bushes, when an eland cow popped out of the donga about 50m away. She was walking cautiously, scanning ahead with every step. Then came her surprise. 10m behind followed her tiny calf, only a few days old. She must have been hiding it in the dense riverine and was now ready to take it to join the herd. A risky process until she got there. I have no doubt if the leopard didn’t have her own kill, she would have been extra keen. Life played the calf a lucky card today. Maybe one that will allow it to live a great life. It’s often the young that get taken. Easy prey when they haven’t yet honed their survival skills. I too had a lucky break in my youth. A story for another day…

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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…

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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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