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!

January 3, 2014

Old Friends

          Over the past 7 years I have been fortunate enough to witness countless wildlife sightings and events and each and every one of them holds a special place in my heart.  It’s so difficult not to anthropomorphize and become attached to individuals and family units when you spend 8 hours a day with them.  It’s like watching a fly on the wall documentary where life events unfold in front of my eyes and all I can do it witness them happen.  There is exhilaration and heart ache on a daily basis as the predators especially wage their immortal battle against survival.  

          When you have spent a prolonged period of time in one area, the characters of this soap opera become like old friends and you become emotionally entangled in their plights.  For 3 years I watched the southern pride of the southern section of the Sabi Sands ply their trade and dominate the lion dynamic with unerring power; but earlier this year my time in that area came to an end and I bid farewell to my adopted family with whom I had spent countless hours viewing. 

One of the young Southern Pride males decides to hone his hunting skills

          The mighty Southern Pride has recently undergone a variety of change with the sub adults becoming more and more independent and forming regular splinter prides as they battle to find food for so many mouths.  Recently I was fortunate enough to catch up with some of the members of this magnificent pride as they made a rare foray into the western section where I was freelancing for a few days between other commitments.  It was an emotional moment for me when I heard the radio crackle to life and inform me that my old friends had been located close by.  I made a bee line to the sighting, my heart racing with the anticipation of seeing how Father Time had treated these youngsters that I had watched being groomed into independent hunting machines.

One of the young Southern Pride males at around 18 months old

The Southern Pride, lead by Mandleve, in their prime

One of the many cubs I saw during my time with the Southern Pride

          The 8 or so members that had trekked far from their pridelands had been drawn by the unmistakable smell of decomposing flesh.  It is not only the predators that wage war against each other.  Survival is imperative in every organism and sometimes threats must be forcibly removed.  A raft of hippos is made up of a dominant male and his harem of females; but young males within this social structure will only be tolerated for so long.  As their size and testosterone levels swell, so does their threat to the dominant male and from time to time, the dominant male must flex his muscles.  That day it seemed, the biggest fish in the pond had dealt out a warning to all that his status as king was not up for debate.

Eating a young hippo is tiring work!

2 of the Southern Pride females feast on the hippos carcass

          A 4 or 5 year old hippo is a welcome wealth of protein for a hungry pride and the southern splinter cell made full use of this opportunity.  The rain lashed down on us as the lions gorged themselves on the fatty meat and guests were transfixed by the brutality and simplicity of life in the wild.  Trying to explain my emotions are harder than I anticipated.  I felt a strange comfort and feeling of normality watching the pride enjoy their spoils.  It’s strange how close you become to wild animals and to see the size and power of the maturing males, males whom I had watched grow from only a few weeks old filled me with a strange sense of pride.  My overwhelming thought was whether or not they would recognize me, my smell or my voice.  Surely a familiar scent would find its way to their nostrils or a tone or pitch would resonate within their sensitive ears…  Secretly I was hoping for some moment of recognition; some sign that the time we shared together had left some sort of mark on these dramatic predators.  But alas, nature does not have time for remembrance and I had fallen into the old trap of becoming too involved with my work.

One of the young males peers out from behind a glistening spider's web, his face black from the mud surrounding the hippo 

A young male keeps watch for any pesky hyenas

The young males are maturing into beautiful specimens

          There indifference to my presence may have been a bitter pill to swallow for a moment but I am not na├»ve enough to expect the impossible.  The simple fact that I had the opportunity to view these behemoths of the Sabi Sands lion dynamic was reward enough.  It was a moving moment to be able to see how these once young, defenseless cubs had matured into powerful and graceful adults.  Soon it will be time for them to move further afield, to leave the battle grounds of male competition and live below the radar until they have finished their development, possibly returning to claim their own kingdom.  I have no idea when or where this might take place but I hope to be able to share in this, their greatest challenge.  To follow a wild animal throughout the trials and tribulations of their life is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  I look forward to news of their impending rise to power and long for the time that I can see the next generation of kings. 

Through the eyes of the Southern Pride I have shared so much