Thursday, 5 January 2012

Satara and the lions: My last stop in Kruger

Sunrise on the S100

Satara: One of my favourite camps, and the last on my Kruger route. It is however very busy at this time of year! The stay started extremely well, with a little bit of the magic that the S100 road is known for. We drove the road as soon as the gates opened, without too many other cars, and soon enough we came across a lone male lion in the distance. The light was low, and he was slowly moving away, so we moved off. Not long after that a few hyena materialized in front of us, carrying the horns and skin of what looked like a Wildebeest, and running, each pulling in a different direction. As our eyes got used to the light, we saw more hyena running about, apparently quite excited, with their tails raised, occasionally emitting yelps or giggles. One of the hyena began to call, a low call, followed by a high pitched one, which is done with their heads close to the ground, possibly to magnify the sound. It is a call which is often done when they are calling in reinforcements, as it can be heard over long distances. We couldn't see what could have required reinforcements, but the hyenas' excitement was enough that we sat watching them as they argued over legs and skin, chasing each other about. 

Before long, two male lion rumps appeared in the air, apparently eating in the longish grass off to the side - the hyena kept drawing nearer to them, but were relatively tentative. We sat there, watching the scene when someone pointed out that there were lions. We told them we knew. They then pointed behind us. As we turned, we saw another two males, with very impressive manes and stature marching purposefully out of the river bed. They had clearly heard the commotion, and were there to investigate. it took them about ten minutes before they noticed the two feeding lions. We had presumed they were a coalition, but suddenly they were on edge, unsure of whether to back away, or move forward. They stood a while, watching, with the other two lions completely unaware. All of a sudden they began to stalk towards the lion rumps in the grass. One obviously spotted the danger, and disappeared quickly, the other still completely unawares. Before he could register his brother's absence, the two newcomers were off after him, and they sprinted across the dusty S100, with us struggling to keep up, and keep them in sight. It is one exciting thing to see a male lion in full tilt - gone were the sleepy images of male lions who barely lift a head in acknowledgement of your presence: these were impressive killers, their gait powerful and their strides each full of intent. 

We lost them a few kilometres later, but did find yet another male lion, keeping his head low as he smelt the bushes and ground where he walked. 

The prudent male who kept his head low and out of the way

Alarming Impala

Wood textures
Many of our drives around Satara have produced large herds of buffalo and elephant. One herd of buffalo must have had upward of 400 animals, many calves, and some huge old bulls in it. They are very impressive, as the they materialize out of the trees, and continue to do so for ages, a seemingly never ending supply of horns and hooves. In the sighting pictured below, the animals took turns drinking and swimming in a large dam. A hippo was not well pleased with their presence, and would swim right up to them, stopped centimeters from their legs and yawn and open his mouth in a very disgruntled manner. He gave up when a big herd of elephant began streaming down on the opposite side of the dam, obviously realizing there would be no peace until they decided to leave of their own accord.

Satara camp
Cheetah just after sunset

Clearly the cats have been good in the area, and in the three days we have spent here so far we have had a number of lion sightings, as well as two cheetah late one night, and a leopard early one morning. The leopard sighting was the result of what I call (jokingly) my 'Mad Bush Skills'. I had heard some guinea fowl making a 'brrrrrrr kakakaka' sound repetitively, and had a vague recollection of hearing this sound before while watching a leopard in Etosha National Park. Guinea fowl are noisy animals, with many calls, but this time I was sure that the call meant 'predator'.  We sat for about 10 minutes, scouring the bush, before out on the road infront of us popped a beautiful female leopard, her eyes bright and round in the predawn light. She didn't stick around for very long, but it was rewarding none the less, and seieng this cat is always a great thrill!

The S100 delivered again on our second day at Satara, this time with a sighting of two male lions and a female. One of them was presumably keen on mating with her, as she kept on slapping him away whenever he came too close. I had my head out of the window while photographing, up until the point when the lions head filled the frame and I realized he was moving past out vehicle not a meter away from me. 

A bit close for comfort

New Years Day on the tropic of Capricorn
It has been wonderful having someone to share driving with, and to braai with - I have really enjoyed the evening sitting out on the stoep, stars above and the smell of braai wafting past my nose, having a chat about the day, and looking forward to the next. I even had the opportunity to test out my new telescope, and got some serious close up views of the moon's craters, crystal clear and bright in the night sky. I cannot wait to get a night where there is less of a moon, to look at some stars close up! The memories I have of Sossusvlei and the telescope there (although a lot bigger than mine) and the incredible time I had!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! I am enjoying all your posts prior to a Kruger visit in late Feb 2012