HI, and welcome to my blog! I am a field guide in a private game reserve in South Africa and below you will find stories and pictures of my amazing job!

October 25, 2010

Recent Sightings

Mother and cub on their way to a common duiker kill

Curious 9 month old leopard cub next to the land rover

Lioness enjoying early morning sun

Reaffirmation of bonds between sisters

The best way to spend the heat of the day

October 22, 2010

The Great Escape

We left the lodge with the intention of tracking lions this morning.  We soon picked up tracks and began the hunt.  After one and half hours we about to give up and go and view the cheetah which had been found nearby.   We decided to check a waterhole close to us as our search had led us to nothing but dead ends thus far…  With no sign of the lions we were about to head out of the area when we heard the unmistakable sounds of a buffalo in severe distress.  A full grown buffalo weighs nearly 900kgs and has such a formidable set of horns that only one animal could be the cause of its death throws.
We set off through the bush following the bellows.  About 100m in we were rewarded for our morning of hard work with an awesome sight.  In front of us was a bloodied buffalo gallantly fending off 5 lionesses and a male!  Although out numbered, he was not going to taken easily – even with 2 females on his back and rump, he was chasing his attackers through the bush, thrashing his huge horn at his pursuers.  Time after time, the lions were repelled by the power and unrelenting desire to survive of the buffalo.  The lionesses were taking turns slicing into his rump with their teeth, leaving a gaping hole around his tail.  Claw marks peppered his flanks as their paws sought purchase in the tough skin.  The power and surprising agility of the buffalo was able to regularly shake them loose and left them scurrying for safety from the scything horns.  To be caught by the horns could spell disaster for the lions.  Blood stained their jaws and paws as they strove to bring their folly down and apply the death grip to the throat.  The male lion kept attempting to get his jaws locked around the throat of the bull but could not find a strong enough grip faced with such adversity. 
In light of the chaos on the battlefield in front of us, we kept our distance and were unable to get good pictures (though one of my guests got some good ones that I hope to post on here with his permission at a later date).  The buffalo was crashing through the undergrowth in raw panic and we did not want to get in his way!! 

We watched transfixed for about 10 minutes and thought that the buffalo had no chance.  It was just a matter of time.  The lions were visibly tiring though and during their attack, the buffalo saw an opening and took it.  Fueled with adrenaline, the buffalo made a break for it, running through any obstacle in its way, his bloodied rump and tattered tail sharp contrast to the greening bush.  The exhausted lions had nothing left and abandoned the chase.  We were disappointed not to see the kill but were left with a sincere appreciation for the strength of the most formidable of the big 5.  Overgrown cows on steroids they may be but one has to respect their power and resolve – not many animals would survive a 6 vs 1 encounter with fully grown lions! 

October 20, 2010

Martial of the Skies

A fairly quiet morning game drive was made extra special with an amazing sighting of a martial eagle sitting in a marula tree next to the road.  One of our biggest eagles, it stands and impressive 90cms tall, with talons about 2 inches in length!  A aerial predator so powerful that it can kill small antelope.  Rumour has it that if it closed its talons around your hands, its would be strong enough to crush the bones!

Who Says Lions Can't Climb Trees...

Had one of my most amazing sightings at Sabi Sabi to date last night.  Owing to its location I have no pictures to back it up so I will have to try and describe it to you all…
Bush lodge was surrounded by cats last night – we had a male and female lion sleeping next to the waterhole in front of the lodge and a leopard with an impala kill in a tree about 100m away on the open area.  After watching the lions for  10mins and having to field questions about whether they were even real due to the alarming lack of movement we went for a closer look at the leopard.
Illuminated by the spot light, in the branches of a weeping boer bean tree we watched for 10 minutes while the beautiful young male finished off the rib cage and skull of an impala ram.  There is something magical about watching nature’s most beautiful design draped effortlessly over the branch of a tree, especially in the glow of a spotlight – it captures the golden yellow of the velvetine coat and intricate perfect of its markings so well.  The leopard is the true enigma of the African night.  Anyway, enough artistic license…  We are parked about 7 metres from the trunk of the tree with only a narrow gap between us and some impenetrable bush to the side.  The carcass is about 2 days old and beginning to smell somewhat ripe but thankfully the wind is blowing away from us…  However, nothing is forever and very soon the wind changes direction and fills our nostrils with the intoxicating aroma of decay.  Whilst unpleasant for us, this is like ringing the dinner bell for a slumbering lion!
Within seconds, Rondy, my tracker, tells us to look behind us and across the open area, heading straight towards us, is the lion.  An impressive sight backlit by the moon, he trots straight past the vehicle, so close he brushes the side and causes some of my guests to visably shrink into their seats.  The next thing we know, he has scaled the tree with surprising ease, sending the leopard scrambling to the higher branches and to safety.  The lion, now perched in the tree (lacking the grace of the leopard I might add) proceeded to polish off what was left of the impala, crunching bones in the rib cage like toothpicks.  The ease with which he climbed the tree definitely left me with a mental note that scaling a tree if being chased by a lion may not always end well…  We watched entranced at the spectacle, the whole scene punctuated by the soft growling of the leopard high above, obviously irritated having relinquished its kill, but not stupid enough to compete for it.  That in itself is enough to give you goose bumps – the sound is like distant thunder and seems to come from somewhere behind the pit of its stomach!
Eventually the lion starts its somewhat ungainly dismount from the tree – its lack of a lockable wrist bone causing him to almost lose his balance repeatedly.  We then followed him to the open area and sat next to him while he reaffirmed his territorial dominance by calling.  This is a sound that when sat next to him cannot be done justice in words.  One has to experience it first hand and at such close proximity to appreciate it fully.  Those of you that have been lucky enough to witness it with me or on other safaris will know exactly what I mean. 
As we were very late in getting back to the lodge, we left him ambling up the road with the swagger of a champion that has no fear.  The guests and I left feeling humbled and grateful for another awe inspiring evening in the bush

October 18, 2010

Close Encounter of the Feline Kind

This incident happened a few weeks ago but as it was my closest and most perilous encounter to date, I think it deserves to be my first official blog...

As I'm sure some of you are aware (especially those of you that have been to the lodge), walking is an integral part of the bush experience.  For those of you less fortunate people who have not visited a lodge, one of the main attractions is a do a walking safari.  In other words, its just you and bush.  The experience is  worlds apart from the vehicle based safari - no humming of engines, no radio crackling in the background and most importantly, no peace of mind that you're in a land rover capable of outrunning all the dangerous animals tht you encounter!

Most of the times, walks produce no animal sightings and its just a chance to get up close and personal with the bush.  Listen to the orchestra of bird calls, watch the insects go about their busy daily schedule, learn about trees and their medicinal uses etc.  However, there is always the chance that around the next corner, a member of the famed big 5 is awaiting you...  To ensure the safety of our guests, we are trained in approaching, though more often bumping, these animals.  And the only way to do this is practise, and by putting ourselves purposely in harm's way!

Anyway, to the story...  On an afternoon off, myself, Rika (my fioncee), Margueriet (a fellow guide) and Malcolm (our walking encyclopedia and bush mentor) decided to walk to an area where we heard that a male and female lion were seen mating that morning.  The is not a good idea under general circumstances as imagine how you would all feel if 4 people walked in on you whilst you were enjoying...well, lets just say, each other.  However, this is a very real possibility and whilst every situation is different, experience is key.

So, off we go, armed with two rifles, that myself (leading the walk) and Rika are carrying, and a bag of nerves.  The only info we had was that they were close to the road by a 2-track left by an off roading land rover.  I have to admit my heart was pounding the adrenaline was beginning to flow like a beer funnel at a frat party!  Its amazing how acute your senses become when you're placed in a situation like this - your pick up every movement of the grass in the wind, rustlings in the bushes around you become deafening as you strain for a clue to their position.  Within a few minutes we caught a glimpse of the lions lying under a tree about 30 metres from us.  Luckily for us they had not seen us and because our view was limited by the vegetation, we decided to walk in a big loop and check fom the other side.  Thus far, everything had gone according to plan - we had seen the lions and not been seen, and more importantly my boxer shorts were still unsoiled!

We took note of their position under a small clump of trees and made our way to the other side as planned, stopping every 10metres of so to make sure we were not being hunted by 2 animals quite capable of ripping us apart in seconds.  This might be a good time to point out to the safari virgins amoungst you that a male lion can weigh up to 250kgs (I weigh about 80kgs....no fat jokes please!) and can run about 60mph (I cannot run at 60mph...) and lets not forget their teeth and claws (I have 4 fake teeth and bite my fingernails...on paper I'm the slight underdog!).  However, after finishing almost a complete circle around their last known location, finishing in the cover of a similar cluster of trees, we had not seen them.  This led us to the conclusion that they had moved off without our knowing it.  A sensible assumption.

We all started to relax and I, as lead rifle, turned around to Malcolm, and in a normal voice instead of a whisper asked what we should do.  What happened next is a bit of a blur as it all happened in the space of a few seconds, but the expression on his face will be etched into my mind til the day I die.  He froze and his eyes went so wide, his eyelids almost folded themselves over the top of his head.  For a moment I thought he was joking.  Then I turned around...  Looking at me from a distance of about 4 metres were the 2 lions.  The distance is not an exaggeration and I suggest that you all take a moment to pace out 4 metres from where you sit reading this and imagine a male lion standing there in all his maned glory.  Also bare in mind that a fully grown male lion would come up to about my chest with his head raised.! 

Obviously I am writing this so you can probably work out that we survived.  In short, the lions were so fast asleep they had been completely oblivious to our stealthy approach and only woke up when I spoke.  Mercifully, we gave them such a fright that they took one look at us, turned tail and ran.  I would like to put this down to us being an intimidating sight but I can't.  We got very lucky.  I could embelish this with graphic details of bowel movements and screaming like (manly) girls but as I said it all happened so quickly that we didn't even have time to raise the rifle to our shoulders, let alone compute what was happening and what we should do!  The ran about 50 metres away and turned back to watch us and we made a controlled but hasty extraction from the area.

It was a close call but an invaluable lesson to never drop your guard on a walk as you really don't know what is around the next corner.  All it took was for there to be some knee high grass in front of us and we were totally unaware of these mighty cats slumbering in the grass!         

Some Uploaded Photos to Start

The southen pride on the move

Dominant male leopard patrolling his territory

Beautiful elephant bull

Mother and 1 month old rhino drinking at sunset

Dominant male flexing his gums
(I know picture is oversharpened - still playing with new camera!!!)

The Flehman Grimace