As with most people that come on safari to Londolozi, the wilderness – or as we refer to it as the bush, is their happy place and being out on long drives is a priority for them. This was no exception to a recent set of guests that visited us. For them, their safari was a chance to escape their busy, frantic lifestyles and disconnect from all the real-world problems.
We’ve recently been talking a lot about a reunion with nature being key to one’s wellness, and so there was no doubt that being immersed in nature would be healing for these guests.
Winter provides the perfect opportunity for longer game drives as the midday temperatures are very pleasant and the days are a lot shorter.
The Lone Lioness
As we headed out early in the morning we heard on the radio that a lioness was found by herself.
Immediately we asked ourselves “which lioness could this be?”, and “why was she by herself?”.
We were intrigued by this and found ourselves near to the sighting and so we decided to join them. When we arrived we saw the lioness had a floppy right ear, probably from a tussle with another lion at a kill or while bringing down a recent meal. Upon closer inspection, we saw that she also had fairly fresh suckle marks and swollen mammary glands indicating that she had, or still has, young cubs. This was very unlikely to be the Ntsevu female with the five young cubs as we were on the opposite side of the reserve to where she has been seen recently.
Often a lioness with young cubs will separate themselves from the pride and remain within relatively close proximity to the den. The den would be somewhere safe and confined, ideally a dense riverine thicket, or cluster of boulders. While the lioness hides her cubs, the rest of the pride continues to roam about hunting and can cover fairly large distances in a single day. The lioness would then need to hunt and provide for herself and cubs by herself.
She spent the morning walking with serious intent and so we knew she was on the hunt.
Firstly she saw a herd of impala and immediately began to stalk them. Sadly she had no luck from that herd as she was seen shortly after beginning her stalk. The next attempt was directed at a warthog who narrowly escaped. Her morning consisted of many attempts at hunting, walking from one herd to the next hoping to opportunistically find prey. The intensity of this female was driven by the urge to provide for her cubs, as this will help strengthen and boost her pride in the future. It is the new young females that are raised within a pride that add speed and agility in hunts, and so nurturing her cubs to adulthood is important to the survival of the pride. It is the older lionesses who have invaluable experience and act as the anchor and use their strength during the hunt.
Makomsava – The Leadwood Forest
After spending a while following the lioness, and with her having no luck, we decided to give her some space and hope that she would be successful without the presence of the vehicle nearby. By this point, it was the perfect chance to find a stunning spot for a cup of coffee and something to eat. My favourite spot is the Leadwood Forest in the north, the most ideal place to enjoy our delicious breakfast basket.
We had been in the Leadwood Forest for a little while and as it was approaching noon we heard the iconic call of a fish eagle flying overhead. Simultaneously we smiled at each other and without a word, looked up. In doing this we realised it was not only a fish eagle soaring above us but also a number of vultures.
Vultures Lead Us to a Leopard
Normally when we see vultures circling we try and assess if they are searching for thermals to gain altitude or whether they are descending. If we see them all dropping out of the sky in the same direction then it is quite likely that there is a carcass nearby. In watching these vultures closely we noticed one land in a tree not too far from us. Then a second, a third, and a whole lot more… We quickly packed up the breakfast and got back into the vehicle to go and have a look.
We crossed through the Manyeleti River and up the opposite bank trying to look for any further signs of a kill. Suddenly some vultures took off and flew away about 50 meters from where we were. Tracker Advice and I looked at each other in confusion and began discussing whether it was a false alarm or not. We decided to continue over in that direction, eager to piece the puzzle together.
Advice excitedly stood up on his tracker seat to get a better look, without saying a word he fist-pumped the air and then smiled.
This meant success as he gently whispered “leopard”.
It was the Xinzele Female initially laying on a termite mound with a kill nearby. It is very unlikely that vultures will descend to the ground to feed on a kill if the predator is on-site. So we thought that maybe the Xinzele Female had moved off slightly to rest in the shade of a nearby tree allowing the opportunistic vultures a chance to swoop in and try their luck. She probably came charging back in not allowing any of the vultures to capitalise on the free meal, causing them to take to the skies again. She then dragged the kill under a dense bush hiding it from the vultures and went off for a drink before settling in the shade again.
A small female often found in NW Marthly. Similar spot pattern to her mother the Ingrid Dam Female.
We continued on with our day-long mission with the idea of returning back to the leopard a little later on with the hopes of her hoisting it for us to watch. By the time we returned she had already taken the kill up into a tree to keep it safe from hyenas.
There was something special about being out in the reserve all day with the small group that we were. We spent good, quality time with the animals at a time when we would usually all be back at camp. We often assume they mostly sleep in the shade but we found that that is not always the case. There is actually a lot more than that goes on during the day making it so much more exciting and thrilling to enjoy a long winter’s morning out in the African wilderness.