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 20, 2010

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