six days of action
Reception informed me that my guests staying for six days had just arrived and I decided to meet them at lunch to introduce myself, find out a little bit more about them and take their drinks order for our afternoon game drive. I walked away from their table leaving them to enjoy their lunch and I remember that day and that feeling like it was yesterday. I was excited but a little bit nervous at the same time. Excited: they were friendly and I knew hosting them would be great fun. Nervous: they had been to Sabi Sabi before and they had had amazing sightings, ones that would be hard to beat. Little did I know that it was going to be six days of action.
Leaving Bush Lodge that afternoon I was looking for anything and everything to impress my guests - first impressions last, they say. While focusing on the smaller things as well I called myself into an area where they had found leopard tracks. I love tracking and I always make sure to involve the guests, it makes finding the leopard so worth the while.
Although I was eager to track and find the leopard, Mother Nature wasn't. She pulled out all the stops; beautiful kudu bull, impala males fighting and then a large breeding herd of elephants. In and among the females I noticed a very large elephant bull. Knowing that these large bulls follow and find breeding herds when they are ready to mate I informed my guests of their behaviour and that they should keep their eyes on the bull.
There were other females close to him but the bull kept walking and rubbing against this one female. Keeping our eyes on the male we noticed tension between the females surrounding the bull. Deep rumbling sounds came from the females while pushing and rubbing against one another. It happened so fast for such a large animal. Somehow the very large male elephant lifted himself onto the female in front of him. I guess all of us on the vehicle hoped to see mating elephant that day but none of us expected it to really happen. Just as unexpectedly as the commotion began, it cleared. We sat for some time, astonished by what just happened, before we left the elephant to continue our game drive.
The days to follow
The days that followed were just crazy and beyond mind blowing.
We went from mating elephants and leopards to no love at all. We were beside ourselves when we heard that the rangers had found wild dogs. We joined the sighting with the expectation of seeing wild dogs interact with one another and not with lions. The lions appeared from nowhere and when they got sniff of the wild dogs it turned into a chase with the wild dogs running for their lives. The lions were clearly on a mission. That evening they brought down a blue wildebeest. We joined the sighting witness lions feeding on a carcass which is an experience I would like to share with any guests. When around a carcass each and every lion is for himself, fighting for his or her share.
I just couldn't believe our luck. We had seen so much and it was not nearly the last of it. On the fourth day we saw leopard as well as wild dogs bringing down an impala not even ten meters in front of our vehicle. I sat stunned in my seat, not from witnessing two kills in one day but from wondering what else we could still see that would top this.
Second last day
Knowing what I know now, I should never even have worried about the sightings like I did the day my guests arrived. Five of their six days were packed with action. For our evening game drive I decided to take a slow drive down to the southern section of our reserve to find hippopotamus. Making our way to the hippo we came across a relaxed honey badger. Sightings of honey badgers are few and far between, not to even to mention a relaxed sighting like the one we experienced.
There is a resident hippo in Earth Lodge's waterhole and my plan was to arrive shortly before he left the safety of the water to forage. For the largest part of the day the hippo would hide in the water with only his nostrils showing. Our timing was perfect. We had just long enough for me to cover the most important aspects of a hippo before he became active. He threw his head back as a threat display and then slowly he emerged from the water. The guests were surprised by his size and just that alone made the sighting worthwhile. I love it when everything falls in place like you planned it.
The sixth day - guest's day of departure
I remembered waking up wondering how I was going to beat the last five days. We had a good morning game drive but compared to the last five days, I think we all agreed it was a peaceful and for the first time quite an uneventful game drive. The lions we tracked were found close to Selati Camp already hiding from the sun in thick bushes. We saw a lot but there was no "action" as we referred to it.
My guests signed up to join the Community Tour later that morning. As we left Selati Camp for the Community Tour we noticed a small herd of buffalo. Something was wrong. They looked uneasy with their noses up sniffing the air. The lions we had found while on game drive earlier that morning weren't too far away. It was hot and it would be unusual for lions to move at this time of the day but I couldn't help but wonder if they were on the move. We waited for a few minutes but had to leave knowing that we had a Community Tour booked. Then, as we came around the bend we found a lioness in the road.
She was crouched down in a stalking position with her sights fixed on the buffalo a few meters in front of her. I stopped and switched off my vehicle. The lioness used every muscle in her body to crawl as close as possible to the buffalo closest to her. The very long grass gave the female the upper hand. She inched closer until she was right underneath the buffalo's nose. I couldn't believe my eyes - the amount of determination and concentration the lioness placed into her stalking. Within a split second the lioness launched herself from the grass towards the buffalo. The buffalo was clearly surprised and it looked like the adrenalin exploded within its body. It was like an explosion of lions, buffalo and grass everywhere. It all died down as quickly as it ignited, only for us to stare in shock and at the same time, disappointment. Even though the lioness was right underneath the buffalo's nose, she missed it.
I have always been amazed by how quickly a hunt dissolves and animals continue as if nothing just happened. The rest of the lionesses and cubs appeared from behind the bushes and tall grass greeting one another. As soon as everyone was accounted for they leisurely walked down the road. A decision had to be made and it was clearly not a difficult one for my guests. Without hesitation they asked if we could cancel the Community Tour and follow the lions.
The temperature was on the increase and the chances were good that the lions might fall down under any tree to rest for the day but instead, they kept going. We followed the lions for quite some time without them resting until we reached a very large herd of impalas. The impala were in the distance and oblivious to the lions presence. Although we couldn't hear anything but birds, it looked like someone shouted an instruction for the cats to fall into place. The lionesses, each with two cubs in tow, crawled towards their ambush positions. We were strangely enough positioned where we could see everything. It was beautiful to watch three females, each with their cubs behind them, as they took their ambush positions to the east of where we were and another female which was clearly going to spook the impala into running into the three lioness's direction. We waited patiently.
The tension in the air was like an elastic band being stretched further… further and suddenly there was a snap. The impalas exploded towards us. There were lions and impalas everywhere. We didn't know where to look. We were surrounded by impalas; then a lion came past. It was chaos. We heard no distress call. We heard nothing. They missed again.
The lions celebrated relocating one another with a head and shoulder rub. As soon as the pride was together they walked down the road once again. We followed them until they found a large Marula tree with lots of shade underneath and the pride settled there for the day and the whole of the evening game drive as well.
It had been an amazing six days. We had some fantastic sightings of leopards, lion, wild dogs and elephants mating. As a ranger I have seen some incredible sightings but never before had I seen so much in six days. I call it my six days of action.