I grew up fishing along the coastline of Cape Agulhas, where the warm Mozambique current meets the cold Benguela current at the southern most tip of Africa. My father is an avid and incredibly skilled fisherman. Time after time I’ll cast within meters of his line and time after time I’ll be carrying his fish home in the evening. He tells a story of when he was growing up fishing along the same coastline and being such a keen fisherman he would go out morning, noon and night. Heading out one day after lunch a friend said to him, “James, you know the fish don’t bite midday. Where are you going with your fishing rod?” Like game drives, morning and evening are thought to be the best fishing times. Smiling, he replied as always, “time and tide wait for no man” and headed out anyway. Lo and behold (I’m sure you have guessed where this story is going) he returned with an enormous mussel-cracker fish… Or so his story goes.
Last week Bruce Arnott and I found ourselves in just that position, meandering around the beautiful Northern section of Londolozi at midday. We had decided to spend the whole day out in the bush, intending only to return for a brief lunch back at camp.
As rangers in training, we are encouraged to spend as much time as possible out in the bush to immerse ourselves in the wilderness, to learn about our environment and to become increasingly aware of our surroundings. Spotting animals, identifying birds, recognising smells and sounds like the bark of a bushbuck as it spots a leopard, the sound of an ox pecker overhead alerting one to the potential presence of buffalo or giraffe.
After a fun morning out, we were heading in the direction of camp. With Bruce at that helm we climbed out of the Manyaleti River and came into a clearing. We were met by a large herd of impala and wildebeest huddled closely together, about 100m away, all staring in our direction, ears perked forward.
We slowed our pace, looking around for the cause of the apparent unease. Then we understood. From out of the bush, between us and the herds of antelope, walked a large, weathered, dark-maned lion.
The lion kept walking out into the clearing seeming to be completely oblivious to the two large herds of antelope gathered about fifty meters from him, frantically alarm calling at him as if to say, “we see you, there’s really no point in hunting us now”. Some of the braver wildebeest even ran in closer to get a better view of the lion as he walked around in circles, sniffing the ground.
After doing a stop start, snaking loop around the area, the lion slowly started heading towards the herd, still supposedly disinterested in their presence. We decided to move into a better position, hoping to get the lion walking right past our vehicle as we expected him to soon find a suitable resting spot in some nearby shade.
As we hoped, the Matshipiri male walked right past us. He disappeared around the back of our vehicle and as we turned, we saw him amble out toward the herd of impala just behind us, who were still anxiously keeping an eye on him. Then suddenly, he looked up and ran forward, disappearing out of sight behind a small thicket. Through the brush, Bruce caught a glimpse of him again and noticed something in his mouth. We rounded the tree and to our disbelief saw, clenched in his jaws, a large impala ram!
We watched in as much surprise as the rest of the herd of impala as this unfortunate, and seemingly dozy ram was dragged off by the lion. The herd had been alarming at him for ages, he had applied no stealth and yet he had managed to catch one. We couldn’t quite believe it.
Did he just happen to find himself close enough to the impala and tried his luck? Or was he intentionally ignoring the antelope, edging closer and closer, without causing them to dart off, until he was in perfect position? There is a common misconception that male lions don’t hunt and that lions hunt only at night. This male had proven both of these fallacies wrong in one fell swoop.
He had also reminded us that no matter the time of the day, you should always have a line in the water, so to speak, because as was proven to us, you always stand a chance of seeing something amazing out here when you least expect it.