On a recent safari with guest Jackson Steele, his wife and friends, one sighting in particular stood out for us all. Jackson takes us through it below:
Game Drive #5 of 16 – Wednesday, August 28 – afternoon drive…
Our afternoon game drive was transformed into an unforgettable safari highlight by a radio call that a very young giraffe was lying dead, guarded by its mother.
En route to the scene, we could see a column of vultures circling overhead in the distance. Arriving on site at 4:30pm, we found a roughly 150 lb dead baby giraffe near a knobthorn tree, with the mother hovering nearby. About 50 yards away in the bush lay the Tortoise Pan male leopard. From puncture marks on the corpse’s neck, we surmised that the feeding mother had strayed too far from her calf, and that the leopard had taken advantage, but before it could feed or hoist the corpse, he was driven away by the return of the mother giraffe.
30 minutes after our arrival, a young hyena came to the scene and settled down 50 yards from the corpse and 75 yards from the resting leopard.
After another 30 minutes, a second hyena joined the first. For the next hour, the mother giraffe never strayed far from her lifeless calf, returning time after time to lower her head a few feet from the corpse. This stalemate continued, and looked like it might go on interminably, giving our Land Rover Defender a chance to slip away a couple of hundred yards for wine and gin and tonic, without missing out on any action, although as the minutes dragged on and on, we began to wonder if we could wait out a resolution.
With sunset at 5:30pm, it was completely dark by 6:15pm, with no change in the on-scene dynamics, and at that point, it appeared unlikely anything would change before our self-imposed 7:00pm departure deadline. Luckily, the dynamics began changing shortly thereafter, eventually resulting in what our ranger Rob Jeffery said was one of the most memorable experiences of his guiding career.
In the twilight we noticed the leopard gradually creep out of the bush to a point only 25 yards from the fallen prey. The two hyenas also noticed, and while the cow giraffe moved off a bit, the hyenas moved forward, forcing the leopard off the scene, then settled back down to wait for the mother giraffe to hopefully leave. We then heard the hoofbeats and alarm calls of running zebra up the long incline in the distance. At about that same time, the hyenas began moving steadily toward the corpse, although the mother was still standing guard, never leaving her calf’s side. When the hyenas got too close for comfort, the mother giraffe charged them, letting out a long, loud guttural alarm call.
As the hyenas scattered, pandemonium broke out as the 14-strong Ntsevu pride of lions, who apparently had been hunting the zebras and had clearly heard the alarm call of the giraffe, charged down the hill at full speed, hurtling by on either side of our Land Rover. Pursued by the 6 adult lionesses, the mother giraffe fled, and was fortunate to avoid tripping in the darkness and was thus able to escape as the pursuing lionesses soon returned. By then, the 8 younger members of the pride also were on the scene, and the hyenas had wisely vanished.
The pride began feasting on their good fortune, and at that point, everything seemed settled, except for the lions competing with each other for the meat of the young giraffe. However, out of the brush behind, a young bull elephant charged the feeding lions, temporarily scattering all but a couple of the adults. Having had its fun, the elephant retreated back into the bush and the pride returned to finish their dinner.
We continued to watch for another 15 minutes or so, finally leaving the scene 7:45pm to return to camp for our own, more civilized dinner.
Post by Jackson Steele, Londolozi Guest