Sunday, May 11, 2014

King of the Jungle

Stereotypes are way too simple, you know: black rhino are shy and retiring, the lion is the king of the jungle ... ranger Frances Hannah explains that what you expect is not always what you get.

I was approaching a block of open plane grassland, the male lion and lioness were well hidden in the long grass but I could see the other vehicle on a sighting in the distance.  I was making my way towards the other vehicle when a young black rhino bull stepped out of the thicket to my right and gave us a fantastic sighting, head held high, curious yet timid.  Once he grew bored of our clicking cameras he moved back into the thicket of knob thorns and out of our view, or so we thought!

We carried on towards the lions; the male was sitting in eager anticipation; he clearly was waiting for something from the female that she was not willing to give him.  As we were enthralled in the lion sighting I saw a dark figure come stomping out across the plane.  Mr rhino was not putting up with coming second best and he was making a direct beeline for my vehicle.   I changed gears to reverse, ready to get out quickly if needed, the young bull sniffed the air, he was out of range of the female lioness, but was about to walk straight past the male lion!  My heart was beating as the ground between the rhino and my vehicle grew less and less.  As soon as the bull got whiff of the male it was like a trigger went loose!  The rhino bull turned suddenly to face the lion a mere 20 metres to his left and our majestic male lion became petrified and skulked low into the grass.  The rhino bull gave one grunt and went full charge towards the lion!  The male lion took off like a cat caught eating the pet budgie; the rhino was galloping behind him with no signs of giving up the chase!

The black rhino chased the male lion right out of the grassy planes, over the road and off into the next field where the rhino diverted off up the road.  The male lion gave a few roars and moans, obviously feeling very foolish for being chased by a young rhino bull!  When the male lion returned to his grassy rest spot, his ego bruised and reputation dented; he felt as if he needed to re establish his manhood, so he went up to the female with determination and all he got was a paw to the face and a very unwelcoming growl!   Who did we say was the king of the jungle again??

Friday, February 7, 2014

Meet the cubs ...

Meeting your offspring for the first time can be quite an event – even if you are a lion, as our ranger Frances Hannah explains.

We found the three big brothers slumped lazily by the dam.  It was early morning and the air was still so I didn’t expect much from these lazy lumps of fur. But then one brother stood up suddenly and made a beeline for the river.  I followed at a distance thinking he’d prefer to lie in the soft sand of the dry river as opposed to the hard dam wall where his brothers had hogged all the shade.  Behind me the other two brothers had also become interested and were slowly bringing up the rear.  I reverses off the road slightly to make way and we saw their interest was in the sandy coloured female running down the sloping hill towards us!

She was charged with attitude and gave her first suitor a few paws around the head – there was a bit of a scuffle with snarls and flying tails!  Then a hot pursuit as the lioness trotted off up the road behind us with an eager male lion behind her.  The brother further up the road in front of us didn’t seem perturbed as he continued climbing up the slope.  A second lioness suddenly emerged from the long grass to meet the curious male.  She guided him half way down the slope in perfect view for our cruiser.  She urinated on a patch of grass in front of him and left him to be engrossed with her scent. But where had the lioness darted off to? Did she have a kill? Or something better!!??

The grass was long and I could just make out the lionesses figure as her honeyed colour melted into the background, but then my guests in the back began to get excited in a hushed yet determined whisper they gasped “here she comes, with some small ones!”

There they were: the 10 week old lion cubs that were the hottest property in the park!  The first cubs of our lions, and my very first sighting of them!

Mom gingerly nudged the brown speckled, blue eyed cubs closer towards ‘potential dad no1’. My heart was racing considering how the male would react, would he attack, defend, or destroy?  He was hovered over the females urine patch, still besotted with the smell, when suddenly he looked up and was met with a small bundle of fur that was seated at his paws staring into his large eyes.  The male looked startled and bent down towards the cub with a determined stance.  We all held our breath for this was the moment of truth.  The big male lion sniffed the cub’s head, then threw back his head and gave out amore of a grunt than a roar.  He turned on his back legs and fled the meeting as if dealing with a bad smell.  “Daddy” scampered away, seemingly intimidated by the new kids on the block!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sometimes it’s the little thing that make all difference.  We’ve been having Bush Dinners every Wednesday and Saturday during October (book now, we still have some vacancies), but planning the occasion meant the girls had to have some serious input.

So we got a bush toilet!  It’s porcelain, it flushes, and guests can enjoy dinner drinks without having to worry about the consequence.

The bush dinners have proved extremely popular. The evening game drive ends in the bed of the uMsunduze River at a natural crossing.  We set out the tables with white linen for a 3-course meal, parking the game drive vehicles as a shield on one side and lighting a bonfire on the other.  With the clear skies of the past few weeks and light from the moon the lantern and candle-lit setting is quite beautiful.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Guests love lions.

They love to look at them, photograph them, and tell everyone how close they got to them.

Guests love lions.  Except possibly the guests from this weekend.  New to game reserves, the couple were happy to have ranger Frances take them reasonably close to a male who was relaxing.  However the male woke up and joined by his brothers came nearer to the game drive vehicle and settled down to call out to the females.

Rangers call it "vocalising".  The guests called it "shattering".  Nothing can really prepare you for the visceral experience of your first lion roar, especially one at close range.  The vehicle vibrates with the powerful resonance and your chest cavity quite simply shakes.

In ranger raptures, Frances turned round from the driver's seat to her guests to enthuse about the quality of the sighting, only to find one quite overcome by the experience.  It was enough, more than enough.

On the guests' request Frances avoided the lions for their remaining drives.

Of course other guests were disappointed they only got to see our boys sleeping, which lions do most of the time (18 to 20 hours a day!!).

Monday, October 29, 2012

Supper Snacks

On the sundowner drive yesterday we caught up with our three “big boys”, the male lions.  I had four guests in the car, and as the first fellow ambled along the clicking of camera shutters increased markedly.  Lion #1 was followed by # 2 and a little later by #3, and they were quite content to settle in the grass.  Showing off for the cameras they rolled around, yawned and stretched and #3 even came closer to the vehicle, about 5 metres away, flopping down and acting pretty much like any cat.

While we were concentrating on #3, out of the corner of my eye I saw movement, and we all got to see #1 jump up and pounce on something.  #2 joined in what must have been an unsuccessful hunt, but #1 was quicker and we heard great squealing.  I managed to get the vehicle closer and we saw #1 had caught a small warthog and was settling down to eat, with the most graphic crunching and munching sounds.  #2 was keen to get a share, but was more distracted by the closeness of the game drive vehicle and the whirr of camera shutters.  #1 took this moment to move his kill a little further away, chewing and chomping even more furiously. #2 quickly followed to grab what he could.  Poor #3 was left right out of the action.

When dinner was done the boys settled their stomachs with more stretching and rolling, (and posing for cameras), and then it was time to for us to move on.

Male lions generally mark the lions’ territory, and they range over a few kilometers moving far away from the female hunts.  So the boys have to fend for themselves, and sort out their own supper snacks.  Nature is quite OK with this, one of the other spectators to this hunt was a male Nyala who kept an eye on much of the proceedings from a safe distance, until caution got the better of him and he slunk away into the bush.

As for Duze and guests, it was time to head to a different spot for our own sundowners and marvel at the big cats’ display (and bemoan the camera batteries which were now flat!).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Rhino Update

After all the great rains, everything is a lot greener, which means a lot of food around and therefore all the game has started giving birth.
This is young mother with her calf, only a few days old and still wobbly on its feet.  It is nice to see how well she is taking care of it.  Rhinos have an amazing maternal bond with their offspring. They are very protective, which makes it very difficult for predators to catch any of the calves.  This mother will protect her calf until it is about 2-3 years old, then it will have to fend for itself, for the mother would more than likely have another calf on the way, and it would be difficult for her to protect them both. It is possible that this calf might join another female who is calf less or another group of sub -adult rhinos, due to safety in numbers.  When rhino calves are about 6.5-7 years old they are sexually mature, and the males especially  will then try and find a mate of  their own with which they can bread.  Rhinos are not monogamous , as their gestation periods are very long, and it takes them a while to reach sexual maturity,  so this means that one female can only give birth to one calf about ever 2-3 years, so a male rhino will have to impregnate as many females he can so the rhino population can grow.

Rhino’s can Reach a dashing age or 30 years, and then they will still be able to give birth to 1 calf every two years, but rhino like any other animal also has one major enemy, man, unfortunately that is one to many.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Monday Madness at a waterhole!!

A waterhole in the African Wilderness on a warm afternoon can be a huge magnet for the game, attracting a wide variety of animals desperately searching for water.  Keeping this in mind, one warm November afternoon we decided to do a short game drive focusing mainly on waterholes.  Our section in the reserve holds 10 waterholes with a regular supply of water.  We started with the biggest of all surrounded by fever trees giving way to the open savannah.  Except for the resident hippos there was no activity in the vicinity, at least the hippos were very active and kept us entertained.  Now was the time to judge our patience.  The wait began!  Slowly as the temperature soared, animals like warthog, wildebeest and impalas started appearing in ones and twos.  And within a few minutes something triggered the change and then appeared 5 white rhinos followed by buffaloes in small groups.  What seemed like a quite waterhole now was the circle of animal mayhem.  With the temperature rising so rose the tension.  Big buffalo bulls and rhinos started pushing each other for the best wallowing spots.  Disturbed by all of this, the hippos decided to prove their point and chased the buffaloes away for a while.  It was surely a delight to watch and something that our young guests will not forget for years to come.  At one time we had the following animals at the waterhole.

5 White Rhinos                    Hippos
90-100 Buffalo                    Crocodiles
Wildebeest                          Impala
Waterbuck                          Variety of water birds